Speech to Parliament: Clean Energy Legislation

I speak in support of the amendment to be moved by the member for Port Adelaide to establish an emissions trading scheme. For me, this debate is about the appropriate action that we should be taking on climate change.

For me, that issue comes down to one question. There is one simple question that members of parliament need to ask themselves: should we take action now to mitigate the effects of a changing climate on our economy and our environment into the future, or should we purely be concerned about the present and maximising current economic gains and advantage at the expense of future generations of Australians?

That is the dilemma that is posed by the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] and associated bills.

I believe that we as members of parliament are custodians of the welfare of Australians in the present but also into the future. We have a moral and economic obligation to act with an eye to the future. We have a responsibility to consider the advice of scientists and economists and put in place policies that mitigate the effects of climate change on our kids and on future generations of Australians.

And that is what a price on carbon is all about. That is what the renewable energy target is all about. That is what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is all about. And that is what the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is all about. The bills before us seek to repeal those actions, seek to stop those actions, seek to stop that investment in the future mitigation of climate change.

The government, in introducing these bills, believe that MPs' only obligation is to the current generation, to the exclusion of the interest of future generations of Australians, and that is the great shame in what is going on with these carbon tax repeal bills.

I am not a scientist. I do not purport to an expert on climate change. But I have read the evidence, I have assessed the reports of experts, and the conclusions of the studies and reports are, in my view, inescapable. They are summed up quite succinctly in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the fifth by this international body of scientific experts on climate change. In the executive summary the first point they make is:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

That is the view of scientific experts about what is occurring in our climate.

We have a responsibility to act reasonably. A reasonable and sensible person, in my view, can only reach one conclusion: that man-made climate change is occurring and that if we do not mitigate the incidence of the warming of our planet then we will see damaging consequences for our, and the world's, resources, environment, infrastructure and economy.

Future economic and social development will be damaged by additional costs associated with adapting to climate change. The longer we wait to deal with climate change, the more drastic the action we need to take and the greater the cost. So I say to all parliamentarians in this debate: think about your kids. When we talk about this it is about our kids. The cost of delaying action will be passed on to our kids in the future—with interest. If we do not do something today we pass on that cost and it will cost us more.

What are those costs? Reports have been quite conclusive. There will be changes to agriculture. Sea level rise will damage private property, this will push up insurance costs and we are already seeing this. Infrastructure will be damaged. There will be health effects associated with hot weather. And we will get more incidents of extreme weather events—droughts, cyclones, high winds.

The difficulty that many face with this challenge is that it is in the future. Many of the reports point to the fact that climate change will get more and more severe if we do not do something about it, so it is very much a problem that people see in the future. Those with a narrow-minded view believe that we should not worry about the future, that we do not have an obligation to mitigate the costs now because all our responsibility is in the present. But there are present-day examples of climate change and they are occurring right in our neighbourhood.

In the Pacific, climate change is not a looming threat, it is a present danger. In any international forum associated with Pacific islands these days, in the Pacific Islands Forum and in the Pacific Islands Development Forum the No. 1 issue on the agenda is climate change. And the view of the leaders of the international community about Australia's action on climate change is pure condemnation. This is the view of Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands:

Tony Abbott must listen to the scientists and not play politics with the survival of Australia's friends in the region. We expect a lot more from our big brother in the south and we hope Australia will tone down the rhetoric on this issue, especially being president of the Security Council. We need Australia to show leadership on this issue as it's life or death for us.

Australia needs to get real. Scrapping a carbon price goes completely against the grain of what the world is doing. It looks like three billion people will be living under a carbon price worldwide by 2020. We need Australia to be a leader in that process, not a laggard.

That is the view of the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, a leader of one of our closest friends in the Pacific. It is pure embarrassment for Australia to have the foreign minister of another nation say that Australia is a laggard when it comes to climate change. He is not alone, unfortunately. Last week Fiji's interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, when opening a regional summit, singled Australia out as 'selfish'. He said there was 'collective disappointment and dismay' in the Pacific at the failure to address climate change.

The response of this government has unfortunately been to pull out of every single international climate change initiative, to withdraw funding for policies and programs that were supporting climate change eradication, particularly in the Pacific. What an embarrassment when Indonesia, a country that Australia is an aid donor to, went to the Pacific Islands Development Forum last week and announced $20 million in funding to fight climate change in the Pacific because Australia has pulled out of all those international actions. What an embarrassment for the nation of Australia, the leading economy in the Asia-Pacific region, to be moving backwards on the greatest challenge facing our neighbourhood.

In the Marshall Islands, unfortunately, communities are already being displaced. Communities that have inhabited islands for thousands of years are already being displaced. A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to meet some students from Tuvalu and Kiribati, young leaders of their countries, who were pleading with Australian politicians not to ignore them, pleading with us to help them tackle this ever-present threat to them. Crops have dried up, so the traditional foods these communities have survived on are no longer there. There is a distinct lack of water. Sea level rise is damaging private property and infrastructure is being inundated. Not only that; the populations of these countries are becoming more and more unhealthy. Diabetes and obesity are on the rise because natural crops are drying up and populations in these countries are now being fed by tinned food imports.

Climate change is happening now, it is happening in our backyard and scientists say we need to do something about it. Unfortunately, the attitude of the Liberal-National Party is to ignore that.

Labor introduced a carbon price because that was the advice of expert economists—that a market based mechanism is the best way to approach climate change, that it is the cheapest and most efficient way. It is a polluter pays system. A polluter pays for the damage they do to our economy and to our environment and the results speak for themselves. Carbon emissions from the electricity market have fallen by seven per cent since the carbon price was introduced. Renewable energy generation in the electricity industry has increased by 25 per cent. In the first year of the carbon price, 15,000 jobs were created.

Our economy has grown, inflation has been low and unemployment has been relatively stable. We have linked it to international schemes. There are other emissions trading schemes coming online throughout the world. The 30 European nations have an emissions trading scheme. South Korea has an emissions trading scheme. Provinces in Canada have an emissions trading scheme as do states in the USA. New Zealand has an emissions trading scheme and five provinces in China—about to be six—have an emissions trading scheme.

We have seen the commercialisation of projects totalling about $10 billion through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in Australia. That is the record of a price on carbon in our community in Australia, but what are we doing? The coalition, the Abbott government are seeking to stop that progress. They are seeking to repeal the price on carbon. The crazy thing about this whole thing is here we have a Liberal-National coalition, the so-called advocates of market based economies, now advocating a system which gives direct subsidies to polluters. So we are going to move away from the system in which the polluter pays to a system in which the taxpayer pays. Taxpayers provide direct subsidies to big polluting companies in the hope that they will reduce their carbon emissions over time. This is absolute lunacy and it goes against the very being of what the Liberal Party stands for in a market-based mechanism to deal with externalities in our economy. It makes no sense at all. It is a subsidised system, providing direct subsidies to polluters.

Where do you think the money for those subsidies will come from? It will come from the pockets of taxpayers. Taxpayers will fund direct subsidies to big polluting companies to ensure, they hope, that they will reduce their carbon emissions over time.

Ninety-eight per cent of economists believe that this system will not work, that it is the wrong way to go, that it will be more expensive for our economy and that over time it will not reduce emissions. The reason it will not reduce emissions is that you do not have an economy-wide price on carbon, you do not have a market-based mechanism.

Under a market-based mechanism the price is set for carbon pollution in our economy and we allow businesses, households and individuals to make their own decisions about how they reduce their impact on carbon emissions over time. We allow the market to make the decision about how pollution is reduced. When the market does it, the market finds the cheapest, most efficient way. That is the basis of a market-based model. That is Liberal Party philosophy, by the way, but it has been completely thrown out the door for cheap political gain, for maximising economic gain in the present rather than having an eye to the future, rather than thinking about the interests of our kids and future generations. That is why this policy must be condemned. That is why Australia is being embarrassed in the international community. That is why we are being seen as taking a backward step when it comes to a responsible approach, the cheapest, most efficient approach, to deal with climate change and carbon emissions. I say to members opposite: think about our kids in this debate.

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