Nov 18, 2013

Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (20:24): Everyone in this chamber, indeed everyone in this entire country, knows that they have a personal interest in the health of our environment. This is not just about the environment—of course good environmental policy is good economic policy—it is also about sustainability. We must ensure that we have a sustainable economy that acknowledges that we do live in a carbon constrained future; we must prepare ourselves for that future. We should always strive to be ahead of the curve, to be alert to global environmental issues and at all times to give the environment the benefit of the doubt.

This is also good economic policy. It is called fundamental risk management. And that is where climate change, and all issues which this parliament will consider over this year and years to come, needs to be considered. Indeed Australia being the driest continent on the planet means that we have an extra responsibility. We know what the risks of inaction are and, if we are doing our job as legislators, we should heed expert advice from the scientists and act upon it. Indeed, on the issue of climate change, I do not think there is any doubt about the need for action; there is no doubt that human activity is contributing to changes in the environment. I do not want to reprosecute that case for action today; I will leave it to the scientists who have put through the various forums—through the CSIRO in Australia or through the scientists involved in the IPCC—the facts on the table.

We must act, and we know through economic analysis and reports such as the Stern report in the United Kingdom, or indeed the work that Peter Shergold did here in Australia, that the earlier we act the cheaper the cost of action is. The alternative that has been put forward by the previous speaker, the member for Ryan, and those on the coalition benches, the so-called Direct Action plan—planting trees and storing carbon in the soil—is inadequate to address the problem. It is a bandaid on a bullet wound.

I am all for planting more trees and for soil sequestration and any other type of mitigating action that can be taken to reduce carbon emissions, but based upon what the scientists are telling us, it simply will not be enough. That is why I support a market based solution. That used to be a consensus in this parliament. John Howard campaigned in 2007 in favour of an ETS as a result of the work that was done in the Shergold report. Labor also campaigned in the 2007 election for an ETS. We did so because we understand that it is the power of the market that can drive change in our economy.

The alternative plan, the command style economy plan of the so-called Direct Action plan, simply will not be enough. Earlier this year senate officials told a Senate estimates committee hearing that the coalition’s carbon farming initiative would reduce carbon emissions by fewer than four million tonnes—that is if it is all put in place. The coalition claimed that it would reduce emissions by 20 times this amount. Based on CSIRO research, the coalition would have to utilise two-thirds of the Australian land mass to achieve the emissions reduction targets they say they support.

So let us have none of this nonsense that we have heard opposite about their wanting to get rid of the price on carbon. Indeed, under the legislation that is before this House, the price on carbon will continue up until 1 July next year. If they were fair dinkum at all, they would move so that, once this legislation is carried, then the carbon price would go. But they are not fair dinkum. It is all about politics, as it always has been with those opposite.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which we attempted to implement after our election in 2007, consistent with the mandate that was given not just to the Labor government but to the coalition opposition, was designed as a market based solution. Indeed, Malcolm Turnbull remains a supporter of that position, because he knows that the so-called Direct Action Plan is a farce, and he has said so very clearly.

It is not just the coalition, though, who bear some responsibility for walking away from action needed for this and future generations. If the five Australian Greens senators had got up off their butts and walked across the chamber to vote for action on climate change with the Labor senators and the two Liberal senators who had courage in December 2009, we would have had a price on carbon implemented through legislation then, and today it would have been accepted as a consensus in this parliament.

In the last term, we were able to pass legislation for an emissions-trading scheme with a fixed price until 1 July 2015. Earlier this year, when Kevin Rudd returned as the Prime Minister and I was Deputy Prime Minister, we committed to the abolition of the carbon tax and a move to emissions trading from 1 July 2014, embracing the power of the market in order to drive that change through the economy. That is the position that Labor took to the election and it is the position that we hold today, and yet those opposite are not only sceptics when it comes to climate change; they are also market sceptics. That is absolutely extraordinary. From time to time, the Liberal Party likes to talk about the power of the market, but on this critical issue with such serious implications for our economy, for employment and for our environment, the Liberal Party, instead of using a market based mechanism to drive that economy, prefers to subsidise the big polluters. It is a ‘pay polluters’ scheme that they want.

And where does that money—the billions of dollars that is going to be used to subsidise the big polluters—come from? It comes from taxpayers. So what they want to do is slug ordinary Australian working families in order to subsidise the big polluters. That is their plan—rather than embracing the need for a price signal, one that is understood by the business community and one that would put in place a driver of that change through the economy. Those opposite pretend that they have a mandate for this and that somehow we should just agree with their position. I say this to them. We were elected in 2007 with support for an emissions-trading scheme, which they were also elected upon, and yet they walked away from that commitment.

Yesterday, thousands of Australians marched and demonstrated their desire for action on climate change. Fair Australians who have looked at the science and considered the issues know that our responsibility to this and future generations requires more than just mitigation. They know that taking action to prevent dangerous climate change is far preferable to spending money to alleviate the result of climate change. Common sense tells you that that is the case.

This is a fundamental issue between a political party that understands our responsibility to the future, our responsibility to look ahead, our responsibility to prepare for the change that is required, and those opposite, who say, ‘There is a cost to carbon pollution, but we’ll pass that on to future generations.’ It is reminiscent of those in earlier times in our great nation who built industrial warehouses and factories alongside rivers. Why did they do that, in our capitals and regional cities? They did that because if the pollution from, for example, the sugar mill on the Cooks River, in my electorate, expunged its waste into the river then it was someone else’s problem. They passed on the cost to what is now this generation for the pollution in the Cooks River, the rivers going into Sydney Harbour and other rivers right around our great nation. We see the impact of their saying, ‘We will not worry about waste and externalities’—to put it in economic terms—’we will just pass that on to future generations.’

That is exactly what the coalition would have us do when it comes to carbon pollution. There is a cost to carbon pollution and we need to accept responsibility, not out of any bleeding heart position but because we know that the cost of acting will be far, far cheaper if we act now.

During the 43rd Parliament the Leader of the Opposition at the time, the now Prime Minister, sought power with a political strategy of just being negative. He just said, ‘We will oppose everything.’ In the hung parliament Mr Abbott was so desperate to create the appearance of chaos he refused to back anything put forward by our side of politics. The problem with that is that you now have an incoming government that does not have a plan for the future. It is just what they are against. In all of their measures—repealing the price on carbon, repealing the Mineral Resource Rent Tax, stopping various infrastructure projects going forward—there is nothing positive. It struck me when the Governor-General gave her speech to the opening of parliament last week that this is a government based upon what it is against, not what it is for.

Government requires actual solutions. It requires something more than just being negative. According to the scientists across the nation, we know that when it comes to climate change we need a positive solution—a solution that understands we must be part of international action, yes, but we also have responsibility as the highest per capita emitter in the world to take action ourselves. That is why I support Labor’s position of moving from the fixed price on carbon to a flexible price mechanism through an emissions trading scheme.