May 29, 2013

Private Members’ Business – Motion on Climate Change

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Minister for Regional Development and Local Government) (16:03):  I congratulate the Member for Lyne on moving this motion and I want to put on the record my support for the motion. I particularly concur with the comments of the Member for New England, who just very clearly articulated why the responsibility to act on climate change is a responsibility of not just this generation but future generations.

There is a cost of anthropogenic climate change. The cost is due to carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. That has a cost just like other forms of pollution have a cost. And there is a cost from past pollution in an electorate such as mine. For a long period of time, the Cooks River—which I share with the electorates of the Member for Watson and the Member for Reid—was used to pump rubbish into, because the water was free. The rubbish disappeared, according to some people. They thought it did not have an impact. Along that river, industries such as the sugar mills of Sydney pumped pollution into the atmosphere. That had an impact over a period of time whereby the river became one of the most polluted rivers. The costs of that pollution are now being borne by today’s generation, who are spending more money to clean up that river than if an appropriate exercise had occurred then and there had been some foresight in the latter parts of the 19th century and the early parts of the 20th century. I see human induced climate change as a very similar principle.

The earlier we act the better. We know this. Reports such as the Stern report and all the reports from the United Nations and from every serious economist who has looked at this issue say that the cost of acting now is far less than the cost of delay. Common sense tells you that that is the case. The question is: is climate change happening? Yes, the scientists tell us it is. When there are discussions on this, allegedly about the science, we know that on most scientific questions an overwhelming consensus can be regarded as 80 per cent, 85 per cent or 90 per cent, but on this issue the figure is much higher. You can virtually name the scientists who are sceptical about the impact of carbon pollution on our climate. The question is then the method of action.

The Member for Flinders said that he supports markets, except that he does not. He does not support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which was negotiated in the last parliament—negotiation that included the Member for Groom, who played an honourable role in that process.

An agreement was reached between the major political parties about introducing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme using a market based mechanism to drive down emissions as the most efficient way to do it. Indeed, not only was the coup in the conservative party room responsible for the fact that that did not get through; on the second occasion some conservatives of principle in the Senate voted with the government in favour of the CPRS. If the Greens political party senators had just got off their seats, walked across and voted to put a price on carbon, we would have had one operating much earlier, but they chose not to. In many ways the CPRS was broader in its impact than the current system that has been adopted by this parliament. For example, it applied in transport in a much wider way.

What we have now though is a system whereby we have a fixed price which will transition to a market based mechanism, using the power of the market to drive down emissions. We know that it is actually working. In the first nine months since a price on carbon began, emissions in the national electricity market fell by 7.7 per cent. During this same period renewable energy output was up nearly 30 per cent. So it is working. It is doing what we said it would do. What is more, the campaign saying that the coal industry was going to shut, that whole towns like Whyalla and Gladstone were going to disappear off the map, that people would not be able to buy a leg of lamb for their roast dinners on Sundays and that it would have this economic catastrophe has proven by experience, by fact, to be nothing more than a fear campaign.

While it was coming up we saw angry, hostile and violent—both in language and demeanour—campaigns and demonstrations such as occurred out the front of that office, this parliament and my office. I well recall and will never forget the Member for Indi speaking at the rally outside my electorate office in Marrickville next to a sign that said ‘tolerance is our demise’—in multicultural Marrickville that went down really well!— the coffin that was brought outside my office and the threats and intimidation that occurred outside my office. Fear was being whipped up in the deliberate and misleading campaign that people such as the Leader of the Opposition were prepared to be associated with.

What we have now with this motion is an opportunity for the Parliament to confirm that it believes in the science. It is also an opportunity for members, such as the Member for Paterson, the Member for Durack, the Member for Hume and the Member for Tangney, to put on the record their opposition to this. It is one thing to say it at a rally out the front, it is one thing to say it at a rally outside my office, it is one thing to say it on the Alan Jones program, but they should come in here and vote on this motion. They should at least have the courage of their convictions.

There is a lot of nonsense with regard to the alternative plan. Indeed, this week departmental officials told Senate estimates that the Carbon Farming Initiative was expected to achieve just under four million tonnes of emissions reductions. They said that it would produce 85 million tonnes of reduction. Don’t worry about the science and what the evidence is before Senate estimates about the impact of their own so-called Direct Action policy, they will just use magic to deliver 20 times the abatement that is realistically achievable. Based on the latest research by CSIRO, a body of scientists, they would have to reserve up to two-thirds of Australia’s entire landmass for their soil carbon magic to achieve the bipartisan emissions targets that are established.

I note the Member for Lyne very clearly indicated in Parliament yesterday the bipartisan commitment—five per cent from both sides of the Parliament is the commitment. How do you get there? You get there by using market based mechanisms. What concerns me is that not only are there climate change sceptics on the other side of the Parliament; there are also market sceptics on the other side of the Parliament.

I support the motion moved by the Member for Lyne. I think it is quite sad that people who were supporters of the CPRS, such as the Member for Flinders, who argued it was going to wreck the economy because the price was too high now are arguing that it appears to be that the price is too low. You cannot have it both ways. What you do is have a market based mechanism that adjusts over time to achieve a positive outcome based upon the science and based upon our responsibility to future generations. I commend the motion to the House.

Question agreed to.