Sep 17, 2007

National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Bill 2007 – Second Reading

National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Bill 2007 – Second Reading

17 September 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (7.18 p.m.)—After 11 years of inaction and denial on climate change, the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Bill 2007 represents a hastily cobbled together attempt by the government to look as though it is doing something, just before the election is called. The bill establishes a single national framework for reporting greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption and production by corporations by 1 July 2008. By the 2010-11 financial year the reporting framework will apply to approximately 700 companies that emit more than 500,000 tonnes.

This bill has been developed, however, without appropriate consultation with state governments, industry bodies or environment groups. Given that the National Emissions Trading Taskforce, established by state governments, put out a discussion paper last year, it is extraordinary that the federal government has not consulted with them properly. Given the importance the economic transformation to a carbon constrained economy will have for industry, it is extraordinary that there has not been proper consultation with them. And, given the importance of climate change as the moral challenge for our generation, it is extraordinary that there has not been proper consultation with environment groups. But of course this is a government that has been in denial over climate change for 11 years.

In 2003 the Treasurer put forward a submission to cabinet for an emissions trading scheme. It was supported by his department, it was supported by the Department of the Environment and Heritage, it was supported by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources and it was supported by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. But it was not supported by the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister stuck in the past and not capable of making the leap forward into the policies that are required of a modern government in the 21st century, a Prime Minister who does not have the support of the majority of his own cabinet colleagues. Even they have realised that he is so out of touch with what is needed for leadership in this nation in 2007 and beyond that they informed the Prime Minister collectively last week that they had come to the view that it was time he retired.

We also know that the basis of the Treasurer’s submission to cabinet in 2003 was the number of reports that were produced by the emissions trading group in the Australian Greenhouse Office. The group did all the research and produced the reports but the government’s response was not to implement the policy but to abolish that group. When Labor raised—as we have continued to do day after day, month after month and year after year—the need for a price on carbon and the need for market based mechanisms to drive the transformation to a carbon constrained economy by having a national emissions trading scheme, the Prime Minister’s response and rhetoric up until last year was that this was a Labor tax. I remember debating the current minister’s predecessor, Senator—

Mr Turnbull—Were you a senator then?

Mr ALBANESE—Unlike you, Minister, he was prepared to debate at forums occasionally but not very often; he was prepared to engage in that. He used to argue that emissions trading was a tax, that this was Labor’s new tax that was going to ruin the economy and jobs. But of course what we have here is finally a government being dragged into the end of the last decade. That is where they are up to now.

I say that because in 1997, when Australia signed the Kyoto protocol, we signed it on the basis that market based mechanisms were the key to driving that change. We signed it on the basis that, to quote the Prime Minister of the time, it was a ‘win for the environment and a win for Australian jobs’. We got a very good deal out of Kyoto. We got the second highest target, of 108 per cent, in the industrialised world. Only Iceland has a higher target.

But we got more than that because, in order to get Australia in as part of the system, the countries which met at Kyoto in 1997 agreed that you could take into account land-use changes and they agreed that that could be retrospective back to 1990. So we got this 108 per cent target, but in reality it was much more generous than that because we know that if it were not for the land-clearing decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland state Labor governments, to stop broad-scale land clearing in their states, Australia would be massively over our very generous target. As it is it, is unlikely that we will hit our target anyway.

If you look at the projections from the Australian Greenhouse Office, you note—and these are the last ones that I looked at—they have us increasing our emissions by 27 per cent by 2020. We know that we need to stabilise emissions and turn them down. Australia is one of the few industrialised countries on earth to be going in completely the wrong direction. If you look at the countries that have been successful in driving down their emissions while having sustained economic growth, such as the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany, one of the lessons you learn is that they have used market based mechanisms to drive that change through. They have recognised that those mechanisms are an essential part of driving that new technology. When we talk about the policy changes that are there, it is not just about having emissions trading; it is also, in terms of ratifying Kyoto, about getting access to the clean development mechanism and other mechanisms that do engage a developing world to drive that change through.

You only have to look at the draft Sydney declaration and compare it with what came out of the Sydney declaration to realise how isolated Australia is on these positions because the two documents are very different. The original draft declaration that went forward spoke about welcoming ‘the initiative by the United States to convene a group of major economies to seek agreement on a detailed contribution to a post-2012 global arrangement’. But after this was added ‘under the UNFCCC’. And then this was added:

We pledge our support for the initiative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in convening a High-Level Event on Climate Change.

The countries that have ratified Kyoto—which is every industrialised country in the world except for Australia, the United States and Kazakhstan; they are the only three countries to have signed the Kyoto protocol but not ratified it—want truly global action. They want action through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Later this year, in a couple of months time, there will be a really significant meeting which will be held in Bali, and at that conference there will be two streams: firstly, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and, secondly, the third meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol. They will be discussing what the post-2012 changes and improvements will be to the Kyoto protocol.

Quite clearly Kyoto was a first step. As with all international agreements such as this, the nations of the industrialised world, because they were the cause of the problem and they also had the economic strength to show leadership and take action first, were given specific binding targets under Kyoto. The task is to get the rest of the world including China and India to move forward. But it is very hard when, having negotiated such an extraordinarily generous deal, Australia walked away from its commitments under the Kyoto protocol.

The post-2012 regime will not be something new. We have forgotten that there is none of this rhetoric about new Kyoto and all that nonsense—that has all disappeared, gone. Even the Australian has stopped its front-page headlines of ‘Kyoto dead’ and there being a new framework. It has stopped that. It has come to the reality that Kyoto is the driving force that everyone except for those three countries has decided upon. The question is: how you influence the post-2012 regime? Australia, because of our vulnerable environment of where we are positioned and our climate, has a lot to lose by dangerous climate change. We also have a lot to gain because of where we are positioned through the economic opportunities that would come about if we were not isolated on this issue.

At that Bali conference, the post-2012 discussions, which will not be finalised there, will largely be influenced by what is happening now. I hope that the minister understands that the first commitment period of Kyoto has not even started yet—it is 2008 to 2012—let alone decisions about how it will take place in practice. Of course there have to be improvements. We are talking about a global economic transformation, about mechanisms such as the clean development mechanism being a driving force there. We are talking about the joint implementation measures for which Australia could have significant economic opportunities for investment if we were a part of it. Those changes will influence what the second commitment period post 2012 will look like. But we are not a part those discussions and our officials and bureaucrats go along to those meetings and just take notes. They are not able to participate; they are not around the table.

I hope that Australia is able to be represented at both forums. Certainly, if the election was being held at the time it should be—which is right now—then there would be the opportunity. If Labor are elected we will ratify the Kyoto protocol and once again be a part of the global system. We know the pressure that would then be on the United States to come in and be part of the global solution. Indeed, the structure of Kyoto is an American design. It was not designed by the Europeans. It was designed bearing in mind what George Bush senior’s administration did in dealing with the sulphur dioxide issue in emissions trading and having those market based mechanisms there. I think it is tragic that whilst the rest of the world is moving ahead—and I have sat in an emissions trading room in London where emissions trading is actually taking place successfully—all we are doing here in legislation in Australia in 2007 are some preconditions for emissions trading. Way back in 1998 the Sydney Futures Exchange spent millions of dollars developing a system because they wanted Sydney to be at the centre of the action when it comes to what will be the world’s biggest market.

I also want to take the opportunity in this debate on climate change to reflect on an ad I have just seen on television, an extraordinary ad about the Climate Clever campaign, given that during question time on 16 occasions in four days the Prime Minister said that this campaign did not exist. There were 16 occasions over four days. During question time on 23 and 24 May the Prime Minister denied on five occasions that he had approved a climate change advertising campaign and then during the sitting week, 28 to 31 May, for a further 11 questions he remained in denial, misleading parliament 16 times over four days. What is the basis of this policy: using taxpayers’ funds to pretend that the government is actually doing something.

There is nothing wrong with the idea that individuals should take action to reduce their carbon footprint. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But what is required is government leadership. It is absurd to suggest that the climate change challenge can be met by people turning off their taps or taking individual action. It actually needs leadership from government and from industry. That is why you need an emissions trading system. That is why you need a significantly increased mandatory renewable energy target. Unless you have that, you will not get the drive in investment in solar, in wind, in tidal, in geothermal and in the innovation that is required.

In 1996 we were 10 per cent of the world’s solar industry. Today we are two per cent. We have gone down enormously during that period. We have companies packing up and moving overseas. We are the only country in the world where renewable energy production, manufacturing plants, are actually closing down. They are closing down because the government has not put those mechanisms in place.

The government’s response was to have a campaign that it is so ashamed of in terms of its record that it denies the campaign even exists. When we asked very specific questions in this parliament about the little old lady with the kettle—we clearly had copies of the ads and waved them around in parliament—the government denied it because the government has, of course, been in denial about climate change. In the Age on 30 May, this is what Michelle Grattan said about that process:

It was the day that John Howard looked panicked rather than prime ministerial.

… … … Howard had got himself into an absurd and unnecessary position by trying to deny the e existence of planned climate change advertising on the ground it does not exist until it gets the ministerial tick. He simply sounds devious, stubborn and slightly crazy. He has, over several parliamentary days created a bigger problem than he needed to have.

It is not surprising that the government is embarrassed about its performance on climate change. It has been a part of holding the world back when it comes to taking action on climate change. That is why, at the 11th hour of its term, the government is introducing legislation not to have a national emissions trading scheme but just to have the first step to set up a precondition.

There is no more apparent area in which the government shows that it is simply incapable of providing the leadership that is required to move the nation forward than that of climate change. Climate change requires guts, which the Treasurer certainly does not have. He has just sat back and allowed the Prime Minister to do it all, even though he had an emissions trading proposal before the cabinet in 2003. Climate change requires courage and vision in the interests of future generations. (Time expired)