Sustaining Prosperity – Speech to LEAN Forum at NSW Parliament House
4 May 2005
Tonight I want to present a brief overview of the role that environmental policy has in Labor’s agenda.
The Labor Party’s task is to ensure that environmental issues are central to the economic and social policy debate, not isolated.
Labor must challenge the view promoted by conservatives that there is a choice to be made between economic and environmental objectives, and between jobs and the environment.
Environmental sustainability must be a core component of economic strategy.
Tony Blair, who faces a critical election tomorrow, talks repeatedly of the quadruple bottom line: economic growth; employment; social impact; and environmental sustainability. His Chancellor Gordon Brown strongly believes environmental efficiencies and innovation to be the next major driver of productivity in a growing European economy.
This principle applies across the broad range of environmental issues. Considered as a whole they reinforce the need to invest in infrastructure and continue to modernize the economy to promote sustainability.
In short, to sustain prosperity, we must sustain the planet.
From Opposition, Labor cannot have a detailed policy on every issue. To attempt this with limited resources is to risk the core message about our values being lost.
We should prioritise 4 environmental themes which are clear and campaign hard on these issues.
This represents a fundamental difference between Labor and our conservative opponents.
These issues are: Climate Change, water, sustainable cities and protection of our natural and cultural heritage.
The Labor Environment Activists Network (LEAN) has a critical role to play in promoting Labor’s environment message.
Climate change is central to all other concerns. It must drive more than just our environment policy.
Climate change is a key economic issue. Indeed, I firmly believe there is no greater policy challenge facing the global community.
There’s no need to convince this audience.
Global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past century. The 5 hottest years on record have all been in the last decade. Glaciers that have not retreated since the last ice age 12,000 years ago are now doing so. Continuing increases in average temperatures will lead to rising sea levels, shifting rainfall patterns and a greater incidence of extreme weather conditions such as droughts and tropical storms.
In Australia we can already see the kind of impact that will only get worse as warming advances: many of our major cities are experiencing severe and prolonged water shortages; up to 75% of the red gums on the Murray River flood plains are sick or dying; and coral bleaching has damaged significant parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
Labor’s position on climate change is clear.
We would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, introduce an emissions trading scheme and encourage the development of a strong clean energy industry through an effective mandatory renewable energy target.
And Labor is taking action from opposition. Through the introduction of my Private Members Bill, the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill 2005, Labor has provided a focal point for the campaign.
We do not suggest the Kyoto protocol is perfect, but it is an essential first step and shows what can be done when the international community works together.
It is a global solution to a global problem.
Of the industrialized world, only Australia and the United States have not ratified.
The Government is confused to say the least.
Ian Campbell didn’t think climate change existed until he became the Environment Minister. In fact, he has described his previous views as that of a skeptic.
Now, he agrees it is the greatest challenge facing the global community and said as recently as last Friday 29 April “I have consistently argued that scientists are saying cuts of up to 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are needed globally this century”.
This is a bizarre preamble given that he then argues that any proposed action will “turn out the lights”.
Campbell argues Kyoto would destroy our economy, bur also argues that Australia isn’t ratifying Kyoto because it does not go far enough!
Whilst Ian Campbell is certainly the most confused, there are some in the Government where perhaps it would be preferable for the dignity of our political system if they didn’t state their position quite so clearly.
On the very day that the Kyoto Protocol came into force, 16 February, the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane added this gem to the debate:
“Whether or not those (carbon dioxide) 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. I mean, the Earth is a lot warmer than it was when the glaciers formed”.
Oh dear. This dinosaur doesn’t even have the excuse that he’s a member of the Queensland Nationals.
The proposal by the States and Territories to establish an emissions trading system is welcome, however a national scheme backed by the Federal Government would be far more effective.
Given that Australia is on track to meet our Kyoto target thanks to the decisions of the Beattie and Carr Governments to stem land clearing, there can be no argument that there is a downside to ratification, even in the short term.
By not ratifying Kyoto, Australia is giving the world a jump start to a dynamic driving force of 21st century economies.
Australian companies and our economy is disadvantaged if we exclude ourselves from carbon markets and the developing renewable energy technology markets.
We are already seeing investment go to New Zealand because our absence from the Kyoto framework. It gives them and other countries a competitive advantage.
We all know Australia is particularly well placed to take advantage of the Clean Development Mechanism which provides incentive for investment in clean energy in developing nations such as China, Indonesia and India. 3
Australia has abundant solar, wind and tidal energy potential. And we have the education and research base to exploit that potential.
But the Howard Government’s pathetic Mandatory Renewable Energy Target is not enough to support investment in the growing clean energy industry. In Spain, Denmark and Germany alone the expansion of the renewable, clean energy sector has created about a quarter of a million new jobs in the last few years.
Just yesterday, I was in Port Kembla to see Energetech’s wave energy project. This is Australian innovation at its best using technology developed at Wollongong University. It has an export potential of $5 billion which could be lost without appropriate support.
Tom Denniss, the CEO of Energetech recounts in today’s Illawarra Mercury, that when he first took the concept to Canberra one Government official told him, “if this technology is so good, why wasn’t it invented overseas first?”. Energetech have currently received more funding from North American Governments than Australia.
According to the Business Review Weekly, while the European renewable energy is booming, Australia is missing out on investment worth $3 billion as a direct result of Government decisions. Australian companies like Macquarie Bank are investing in massive renewable energy projects in Europe.
In June 2004, a German company bought the rights to world class solar energy technology developed by the University of NSW and Pacific Solar.
To make matters worse for Australia, funding for the photovoltaic rebate program (PVRP) runs out in June unless next week’s budget provides ongoing funding.
In modern economies, those who stand still are destined to watch others go past them.
The second and related policy challenge is of course water.
In my view the Government has failed to deal with water issues with an appropriate sense of urgency. The COAG water reform process begun in 1994 has been allowed to stall and we have failed to provide any environmental flows to the Murray in over 8 years.
Historically, the development of Australia’s water resources has brought great benefits. However, past policies and investments have not always recognized our variable climate and river flows, or the natural limits of our rivers and landscape systems.
Australia needs a national water policy framework that articulates a long term vision for the management of rivers and water resources across Australia. This policy must meet the needs of our rivers, industries, rural and urban communities for coming generations.
The Murray is Australia’s most important river – and it is on its last legs.
In November 2003 the Federal Government committed to giving the Murray 500 billion litres within five years. So far not a single drop has actually been returned.
This was a response to Labor’s earlier policy commitment which allocated $500 million over 4 years to secure increased flows.
Labor’s commitment included adding 1,500 gigalitres in annual environmental flows into the Murray. That’s the equivalent of adding 3 times the volume of Sydney Harbour.
Labor remains committed to providing leadership on the Murray and the broader issue of water management.
The 3rd major policy area is in policies to develop sustainable cities. Just as Tom Uren created the Department of Urban and Regional Development and Brian Howe had Better Cities, a new Labor agenda must be created around improving the quality of life for the majority of Australians who live in our cities.
This is an area that has always been neglected by the conservatives.
Labor will be developing policies that connect people to their local communities and connect communities with each other.
We can see action promoting sustainability in many of our local communities. Building standards which promote greenhouse friendly homes and commercial buildings; sustainable schools programs and provision of public space are all occurring as a result of local initiative.
However, there is no Commonwealth leadership on these issues.
There is no national cities policy. The Commonwealth have completely abandoned this critical area.
Indeed in some areas Commonwealth policy is an impediment to good public policy such as in the fringe benefit tax advantages for company cars rather than the use of public transport.
PROTECTING OUR NATURAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE
The 4th major policy area for Labor to pursue is in protecting our heritage.
Australia is blessed with many natural wonders which deserve protection and enhancement. The Government has failed dismally on these issues.
There are only 7 sites currently listed on the National Heritage List. This was meant to comprise all those places which help to define us as a nation. So far none of our 16 World Heritage sites including Kakadu, the Tasmanian Wilderness, Shark Bay or Fraser Island are listed. Nor are the Sydney Opera House or Port Arthur.
Of course, we now know that in spite of the Prime Minister’s unequivocal commitment that it would be the first site on the List, Anzac Cove has not only not been protected, it has been changed forever by the Government’s request for roadworks and carparks.
Given the Government’s standards exhibited at Anzac Cove we should be grateful that traditional owners manage Uluru, or the Government would have installed escalators to ease access to the top of the site.
In the coming period, Far North Queensland will be a focus. Like with Kyoto, Labor has initiated a Private Members Bill, this time to protect the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and exploration. We will pursue further policies in cooperation with the Beattie Government to ensure protection for Cape York.
The Labor Caucus has unanimously supported a principled position on another iconic part of our natural heritage – Tasmania’s forests. Our position based on:
• A sustainable forest industry plan, developed in consultation with unions, industry and the Tasmanian Government and based on the use of plantation timber, selective use of native timber, value adding and downstream processing;
• No overall loss of jobs in the forestry industry; and
• Further protection of identified Tasmanian high conservation old growth forests, rainforests and other ecosystems.
It is clear for forest policy generally that rather than a high volume low value industry, the best economic, employment and environmental outcome is a low volume high value industry.
These 4 issues of climate change, water, sustainable cities and protecting our natural and cultural heritage represent a real vision for Labor to contrast with the Howard Government.
Climate change is the common feature of these issues. The economic opportunities which arise from climate change mean these issues should be front and centre of our drive for innovation and economic modernisation.
Climate change will be a central factor in the quality of life of generations to come.
Government failure on this issue highlights the strategic differences between the major political Parties.
The conservative agenda is all about short term politics whether its climate change, skills, industrial relations or infrastructure as demonstrated by the regional rorts program. Only Labor has the vision to deliver policies aimed at securing our long term prosperity.
Twenty years ago Governments still ran education campaigns against littering on the ground. Now, no child has to be told “don’t litter”.
Ten years ago Governments moved towards recycling our domestic waste. Now, everyone diligently separates their bottles and paper products from other waste.
Previous generations would have seen this objective as ranging from optimistic to a bit strange.
I am sure that ten years from now consideration of the impact of human activity on climate change will be a natural part of our everyday lives.
Labor’s task is to lead the community and LEAN can play an important role in campaigning for Labor on this most vital of issues.
An effective agenda on the environment is essential to Labor’s ability to sustain prosperity.
Our coming generations know this – as anyone who visits a Primary School can verify.
We tell our children to listen to their elders. I agree with Tony Blair that ,when it comes to the environment, we should listen to our children.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.