Censure Motion of the Prime Minister
– Inaction on Climate Change
31 October 2006
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.44 p.m.)—I second this censure motion and say that this is indeed a debate about leadership. Never before in human history have we seen a fossil flip-flop. During question time those opposite said that I wanted to get rid of fossil fuels. Well, there is one fossil I want to get rid of—and he, the Prime Minister, just spoke in the debate—because he is an impediment to the action that is required if we are going to avoid dangerous climate change.
Let us have a look at what we saw today. We saw at least seven different positions put by the Prime Minister between two o’clock and a quarter to four this afternoon. We saw a Prime Minister struggling for relevance in a debate about the future, because he is stuck in the past. He does not have the courage to show the leadership that is necessary, not just for this generation but for generations to come. This is a Prime Minister who has been in the job for too long. He has changed. On 19 December 1997 he described the Kyoto protocol as a win for the environment and a win for Australian jobs. That was consistent with statements from John Anderson, Warwick Parer and Robert Hill, the last Minister for the Environment who actually was prepared to stand up for the environment. On 30 March 2000, at the Australian Financial Review’s Third Annual Emissions Conference, after the release of a discussion paper in 1999 calling for a national emissions scheme, Robert Hill said:
There are those who foolishly believe that Australia has something to win by derailing the Kyoto Protocol.
Well, we know who the fool on this hill is. He sits opposite there and he is unable to make the decisions that are necessary. Today is a historic day. The Stern report is a comprehensive analysis of the economics of climate change, of what will occur if we take action and of what will occur if we do not take action. It makes three main points. The first is that you need to be a part of the international agreement and, as it highlights, that international agreement is the Kyoto protocol. Today we heard a change in the rhetoric. The Minister for Foreign Affairs discovered climate change two weeks ago, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, even though he was the foreign minister when we signed Kyoto. We heard him refer to the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol which was undertaken in Montreal at the international climate change conference last year. By consensus, the international community—at that stage, 158 nations, now 165, that have ratified the Kyoto protocol—every single nation in the industrialised world except for Australia and the United States, agreed to begin the discussions for the second commitment period post 2012.
We are establishing the biggest global market in the world, the carbon-trading market. But what do the government say—the government that is allegedly committed to the operation of the market? They do not want a bar of it. They want command economy style solutions. They will provide up-front funding for one-off projects, but one-off projects will not be enough. You need to harness the power of the market if you are going to be able to deliver whole-of-government solutions to address climate change—and that is the key of the Stern report. Recommendation 2 of the Stern report says that emissions trading is the key and that you need to move to an international emissions-trading scheme.
What is happening at the moment? You have a European trading system off and running, you have the north-east states in the US establishing an emissions-trading system, you have California establishing an emissions-trading system and you have discussions taking place right now between Europe, Japan and the north-east states of the US about linking those systems so that you build a bigger market and get the technological change through. We are not a part of it. In two weeks time when the conference of the parties meets in Nairobi there will be two parts of the conference. The first will be the UN section, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and we will be there. The second will be the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol, which will discuss the architecture of the post-2012 system of the most important economic driver in the global economy, but we will not be represented at the table. Now, if you are the United States, if you are 25 per cent of the world economy, maybe you can get away with that. But, Prime Minister, for Australia it is a complete abrogation of responsibility. That is the second point that was made.
The third point that the Stern report makes is about technology. You need technology transfer. Everyone agrees with that. How do you get that technology transfer? You need market based mechanisms. It clearly identifies that is the case, and in practice in question time today we saw the evidence of why that is necessary. We had a question from the member for Throsby about the Roaring Forties project opened in China, which the Minister for the Environment and Heritage was happy to open. He did not put it in the press releases that it was being funded under Kyoto, but it was a project that was backed 100 per cent by the clean development mechanism of Kyoto. They talk a lot and they essentially blame India and China—it is all those poor countries. I am waiting for them to blame Tuvalu and Kiribati for their sinking! It is an offensive position. They are all international agreements. What has occurred under every significant UN agreement is that the industrialised world takes the lead. We created the problem; we have a responsibility to show leadership.
It was always envisaged that the second commitment period would involve the developing world. But how do you integrate them into the system? You do it through the clean development mechanism of Kyoto. And here is what Stern says:
The Clean Development Mechanism is currently the main formal channel for supporting low-carbon investment in developing countries …
Game, set and match. There is $133 billion worth of projects approved already under the clean development mechanism of Kyoto and Australia cannot participate in it. The Roaring Forties company, a Tasmanian based company, had to enter into a joint venture with a Chinese company—51 per cent Chinese owned, 49 per cent Australian owned—in order to get access to CDM. What Roaring Forties say—and I have spoken to the CEO and Roaring Forties representatives—is that if it was not funded under Kyoto it simply would not have proceeded. If you are a wholly Australian based company, because of Australia’s isolation you are being forced to go offshore, just as Pacific Solar and other Australian companies are registering in New Zealand and Fiji so they can get access to these market based mechanisms.
All three major points in the Stern report are absolutely consistent with the leadership shown by the Leader of the Opposition when he launched the climate change blueprint in March this year. We have been ahead of this game and the government have just been playing catch-up. Why? Because they simply do not believe it. Now in the lead-up to an election campaign we are seeing these one-off announcements. The low emission technology fund was created by the white paper in June 2004. What happened? For almost 2½ years was one cent of this fund spent? No, because we know that this is a government that only spends money in an election year because it is all about the politics, not about the policy. It is all about the Prime Minister’s past, not about what is needed for the future. Solar Systems in Victoria have said that, unless the Bracks Labor government is re-elected in Victoria and the Victorian renewable energy target is maintained, that project might not be able to proceed. That is consistent with what we have seen with the collapse of the renewables industry in Australia.
The Prime Minister is obsessed by reactors—they are his one solution. He will not say where they will go. He will not say where the waste will go. This is a virtual debate; you can have a nuclear industry without any reactors or without any waste. We will not let him get away with it. We will be arguing for renewables, not reactors. We have seen a tragic collapse at the same time as we are seeing the emergence of a trillion-dollar world industry in renewables. What was the percentage of solar in 1996 when we left office? I will tell you. Australia had 10 per cent of the world market—one in 10. What is it now? It is two per cent of the world market.
China, which the government criticises, is spending $9 billion on renewables. China, which the government uses as an example, is moving forward. More than half of the world’s solar hot water systems are in China. What was happening in Australia while the Stern report was being released? We were having a debate in this parliament about the major piece of environmental legislation that exists at the Commonwealth level—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. There were more than 3,000 amendments, over 409 pages, to that act. Do you think climate change got a guernsey anywhere in the act, in the amendments, in the explanatory memorandum, in the debate? Not a word.
We moved amendments to the legislation to include the objective in Commonwealth environmental legislation of avoiding dangerous climate change. It should be objective No. 1. This mob voted against it. We even separated out the amendments to make it easy for them. They did not have to adopt the sorts of measures that are needed—a climate change trigger in the act and other draconian changes they were pushing through. We made it easy for them. It was a very simple amendment to acknowledge that climate change was the most important challenge facing us in terms of environmental issues.
Of course, we know that the Stern report bells the cat. It is not just about the environment; it is about our economic future. What does the Stern report say about that future? It says that we are facing a 20 per cent loss in global GDP. It says that we are facing the losses of two world wars and a great depression—a great depression just like the last one but with much worse weather. That is what we are facing if we adopt the path that this mob want—the path of inaction, the path of inertia, the path to the past. We see this continually in the quotes from the government. In September the Prime Minister said, ‘I’m not interested in what might theoretically happen in 50 years time.’ I have to say that that was topped by the member for Dawson today. The member for Dawson showed that she lives not in the last century but in the one before. She said:
in the United States—
were worried that the whole of America, because they were using horse-drawn carriages, was going to be covered in about three feet of you-know-what.
I tell you what: there might be a lot of you-know-what if we do not take action on climate change. But it will not be because of the horses; it will be the responsibility of the Howard government. I conclude by issuing a challenge to the industry minister, because the government’s rhetoric continually changes. Did you hear emissions trading described as a tax by them today? They changed position: it is no longer a tax. Their position changed between The World Today debate I had with the environment minister at 12 o’clock and later today. They know their position is intolerable. They are poll driven rather than being driven by the science and the economics.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.