Sep 13, 2006

Matter of Public Importance – Climate Change

Matter of Public Importance

Climate Change

13 September 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.22 pm)—It is an inconvenient truth that the Howard government is increasingly isolated on climate change. It is an inconvenient truth that between 1990 and 2004 emissions rose in Australia by 25.1 per cent, once you exclude the decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland governments on land clearing. And it is an inconvenient truth for this government that, over coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of Australians will be become more aware about climate change due to Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

I have had the privilege of watching that documentary on a number of occasions, and it is extremely powerful. The former Vice President of the United States puts a great case for why this is the moral cause of our generation, in the interests of future generations—and that is because climate change threatens the very conditions that allow human civilisation to live on this planet. However, this important documentary has been dismissed by the Prime Minister’s Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Ian Macfarlane, who stated, ‘It’s just entertainment; and really that’s all it is.’

That reminded me of one of my favourite songs, That’s Entertainment, written by Paul Weller of The Jam. But Weller used ‘that’s entertainment’ in the ironic sense. It was a devastating social critique of dislocation in Thatcher’s Britain, but from this mob over here there is no irony at all in saying that Al Gore’s movie, which documents the threat to our water supply, the increase in extreme weather events, the potential for over 100 million environmental refugees and the catastrophic future that we face unless we act, is just about entertainment as far as this government is concerned. But we should not be surprised, because on the date that the Kyoto protocol came into effect, the minister said:

"Whether or not those emissions are causing climate change, I don’t know … If you go back across history, millions of years, carbon-dioxide levels go up and down and global warming comes and goes. "

That is an extraordinary statement from a senior minister in the Howard government. Last week, the Prime Minister said he was sceptical about gloomy climate change predictions. Al Gore was asked on The 7.30 Report about the Prime Minister’s scepticism, and he said:

"He’s increasingly alone in that view among people who’ve really looked at the science. … The so-called “gloomy predictions” are predictions of what would happen if we did not act. It’s not a question of mood. It’s a question of reality. And, you know, there’s no longer debate over whether the earth is round or flat, though there are some few people who still think it’s flat, we generally ignore that view because the evidence has mounted to the point where we understand that it shouldn’t be taken seriously."

And that is why we should not take the Howard government’s flat earth view of climate change seriously.

Today, I want to take the opportunity to go through the five arguments that the government advances against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and against taking action to avoid dangerous climate change. The first is pretty simple. They say that it will ruin the economy—but in the next breath they say that Australia will meet the target. The contradiction between the two statements is so obvious. You cannot on the one hand say that it will cause enormous economic damage but on the other hand say, ‘We actually don’t have to make any changes to meet the 108 per cent target, thanks to the decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland Labor governments.’

Mr Hunt interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Flinders will have an opportunity to reply if he remains quiet.

Mr ALBANESE—Argument 2 against ratifying Kyoto is perhaps the most offensive. It is that we should not be involved in Kyoto because the developing world is not involved—China, India and all those countries. That is simply not true. Kyoto has been ratified by 158 countries, including China, India and most of the developing world. The fact is that the developed world created the problem. We created the emissions that have caused climate change. We have a moral responsibility to take the lead on these issues.

On Enough Rope on Monday, Al Gore put it particularly well when he stated:

"Since the end of World War II there has been the same basic architecture for every international treaty. The wealthier countries that have the wherewithal to go first have agreed to take the first steps and then after we find the pathway and chart the course, then the poorer nations, where per capita income is just a fraction of what it is in Australia and the United States, they then join in the work. And the Kyoto treaty, the first of the treaties to come on the climate crisis, is based on that same model."

As it is. We have a moral responsibility, along with the United States—being the two highest per capita emitters in the world—to take the lead. I can assure you, having attended the Montreal climate change conference last year, that countries in our region, like Kiribati and Tuvalu, which are sinking under rising sea levels, and countries in Africa, South America and Asia find it incredibly offensive that Australia and the United States, having signed the Kyoto protocol, have not ratified it.

And the Prime Minister is so unaware of the detail. Yesterday, when I asked a question, he spoke about 2010 targets. There are not any 2010 targets. The Kyoto protocol’s first commitment period is 2008 to 2012.

Mr Hunt—Gee, what’s in the middle of that?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Flinders will be removed if he does not remain quiet.

Mr ALBANESE—And last year the world made a unanimous decision at the Montreal conference to begin the discussion about the post-2012 architecture. The whole world is moving forward, and Australia is being left behind.

Argument three against ratifying Kyoto: that it is about jobs and international competitiveness. Well, have a look at what is happening. John Howard’s failure to plan for the future—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The member will refer to people by their titles.

Mr ALBANESE—meant that 100 jobs were lost in Tasmania. The Vestus Nacelle wind turbine assembly plant in northern Tasmania will close as a result of the failure of the government to increase the mandatory renewable energy target. We all know about the Bald Hills wind farm, where one theoretical parrot being killed every 1,000 years stopped a $220 million wind farm project. And, in July, the Roaring Forties company, based in Tasmania, announced a $300 million to provide three wind farms to China, which has a 15 per cent mandatory renewable target, but at the same time they are not proceeding with projects in South Australia and Tasmania worth $500 million because of the failure of the government. There is a trillion-dollar emerging industry in renewable energy technologies, and we are not a part of it. Our innovation and our ideas are being taken offshore. Companies like Pacific Solar are moving offshore—an absolute tragedy.

Argument four against ratifying Kyoto is that somehow technology will solve the problem. ‘We are about supporting this new technology’—who is opposed to new technology? Nobody. That is a given. The question is—economics 1A—how do you get that technology to actually be applied and commercialised? How do you bring it on? What do you do? There is something called ‘a market’. You use market based mechanisms. What is extraordinary about this mob is not that there are climate sceptics in the cabinet; it is that there are market sceptics in the so-called right-wing, free-market government who oppose emissions trading and who insist on trying to turn it into a tax when the fact is that there are two price signals that you can have for carbon: one is trading a market based signal. They say a price signal is necessary; that means they must support a carbon tax, because that is the other way that you have a price signal.

Argument five against ratifying Kyoto is related to the first: ‘AP6 is the alternative to Kyoto. We’ve got something else.’ Except they failed to mention that most of the partners in AP6—of course, everyone except us and the United States—is also a part of Kyoto. Korea, China, India, Japan—funnily enough—are part of Kyoto. They missed that one! It is extraordinary. You actually hear them argue: ‘Japan and China aren’t a part of it.’ Where do you think Kyoto is, Parliamentary Secretary? I say that to you.

Mr Hunt interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—Order! The member for Flinders.

Mr ALBANESE—Then we have the response to AP6. Senator John McCain—perhaps the next Republican President of the United States—said this when it was released:

"The [Asia-Pacific] pact amounts to nothing more than a nice little public-relations ploy. It has almost no meaning. They aren’t even committing money to the effort, much less enacting rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions."

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this:

"This pact has no power for legal restrictions. It is a complement to the Kyoto treaty, not a replacement."

The Canadian foreign minister, Pierre Pettigrew said:

"When you want to complement something, you recognise that the real substance is somewhere else. "

That is right. No-one opposes new technology; of course we support that. The question is how you drive that new technology. It is a triumph of hope over experience to suggest that you get new technologies applied without market based mechanisms or without regulation. We support market based mechanisms to drive that change through.

In evidence of that is that in the United States, when the funding debate for the Asia-Pacific pact came on, at first they got zip. They got nothing; they got knocked back. Then, in the end, when this was a bit embarrassing for Australia and the push started, they got $52 million to support the pact in 2007. This is the alternative to the Kyoto protocol! Billions of dollars are involved in the protocol, and they got $52 million. The truth is you need push and pull: the push of new technology and the pull of the market to drive it through. That is why you need strong action.

The work undertaken by ABARE and released by the government at the climate pact showed that emissions would increase by 80 per cent by 2050—that is under their scenario—when we know that there is a scientific consensus that we need a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. Climate change is real and the threat of dangerous climate change is also real. What Labor would do is cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 60 per cent by 2050. We know that, if you have a target, it is like a one-day cricket target: you do not bat out the first 30 overs; you send out Adam Gilchrist to get some runs on the board early because it makes it easy to get to the target later on. That is what the business council’s Global Roundtable on Climate Change has said. That is why they have called for early action.

We would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We would significantly increase MRET. We would introduce a national emissions trading scheme. We would have a climate change trigger in the EPBC Act. We would have specific policies to drive change and the green-car challenge to introduce a hybrid car being made here in Australia. We would make every school a solar school. We should be the silicon valley of the solar energy industry.

What is happening with this government? Where do they stand? It is increasingly isolated. Yesterday in the Sun newspaper in London the front page was ‘Go green with the Sun’. It said:

"Man the lifeboats. Will your town be underwater if global warming takes hold?"

You could log on and find out exactly what the situation was.

Mr Hunt interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The member for Flinders is warned.

Mr ALBANESE—This is the Sun newspaper, not Green Left Weekly. This is Rupert Murdoch’s major UK publication, just as the Daily Telegraph this week has on page 1 an ad for the fact that it is promoting green energy in Australia. Increasingly, this mob just cannot make that leap to the future.

This is what the Sun’s editorial stated:

"Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming. The evidence is now irresistible. Searing summers and dry winters in the UK, increasingly frequent tornadoes and hurricanes worldwide, the shrinking Arctic ice cap … "

I say to the government: get on board before you are the last people on earth who are sceptical about the need to take serious action on climate change. Every day, more people are more conscious about the threat that this represents and the responsibility that we have—not just to ourselves but to our kids and our grandkids—for the survival of this planet.