Clean Energy Bills - Speech in Parliament

Mr GILES (Scullin) (10:30): How extraordinary that the Deputy Prime Minister talks about this parliament respecting the mandate of the government after the debate we have seen on this budget of broken promises.

I rise in opposition to this package of 11 bills before us. I note, in doing so, as per the member for Port Adelaide, that this debate today represents the culmination of what has been, as he put it, a hysterical and mendacious campaign. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to be able to speak once more in this debate to put on the record again my views on tackling climate change. I am very proud to be part of the Labor Party that stood up for carbon pricing under Kevin Rudd, under Julia Gillard and now under the present Leader of the Opposition. I am proud to be part of a party that looks to the evidence and, in doing so, looks to our future.

Yesterday I did not get the chance to speak on the direct action or, rather, the carbon farming initiative legislation. The gag that was imposed once again betrayed the lack of confidence this government has in its policy settings, and rightly so. The member for Charlton, in his contribution, put to rest the straw men that constitute the best the government can put up in this case, as we saw through the contribution of the Deputy Prime Minister. I urge members opposite to look at Hansard to consider the contribution of the member for Charlton in yesterday's debate and perhaps compare that to the international overview that the Deputy Prime Minister offered us a few minutes ago.

Fundamentally, this is a government that does not have the courage of its convictions. This is a government that is continually afraid of debate and afraid of scrutiny. This is particularly disappointing in a debate such as this, a vital debate around Australia's future. This debate, or rather the management of it, over the past few months demonstrates the lack of bona fides the government has in the area of climate change, and that the tawdry political fixes that brought the current leadership of the government together are hurting Australia's economy as well as our environment. Of course it has not been a great couple of days for the environment minister—or the person we are to refer to using that title—because, whatever he may be, his record on the environment is less than zero.

Mr Bowen: The artist formerly known as—

Mr GILES: Yes, 'the artist formerly known as', as the shadow Treasurer says. I could not get the minister to respond to me in question time yesterday despite my best endeavours to help him out. But I do hold out some hope that he may be able to revert to type. Perhaps he can, in light of yesterday's events, dust off that thesis of his and walk away from the tragic history of the coalition's retreat from rationality and reality in the challenge of climate change.

We have seen some progress in the debate on climate change in very recent days. The Palmer United Party, it would seem, has looked to the evidence and to the future and has indicated it will support the continuation of the RET, the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This is good news, great news and a sensible development. In carbon pricing, the position is less clear, but I am hopeful. In that regard, I look to some comments of the Climate Institute from last night. They look to the fact that Mr Palmer is open to a meaningful debate, an evidence based debate. Mr Connor from the Climate Institute said:

It should be recognised that Mr Palmer has come a long way today and declared he has an open mind on the issue.

An open mind is really what we all should have in this challenge, and I hope members opposite in the coming weeks will follow Mr Palmer's example. I note also that the Climate Institute's polling indicates that Australians are demonstrating that they have an open mind on these matters. Despite the campaign of hysteria, the mendacious campaign waged by members opposite, Australians are seeing beyond this hysteria and more Australians now want to keep the current carbon laws rather than repeal them, and the majority clearly think that the Abbott government should take climate change more seriously. This is progress, and I am sure it is a curve that will continue.

This is a cynical act of a deeply cynical government which always goes to the lowest common denominator. In this case, the lowest common denominator means the climate change deniers, although at least they are honest. It is those who have conjured up this absurd policy that really are to blame here because in their hearts they know better, which is why they have been hiding from the debate.

As I thought about my contribution in this debate, I thought about two matters that have been consistently put by government members in the debate on the budget: the refrain, the pompous refrain that Labor is all politics and no policy—a favourite of the Treasurer—and the feigned concern for questions of intergenerational equity. I think both need to be applied to this debate. When I think about this politics charge, is this not the purist politics on the part of those opposite? They cannot find a disinterested expert to back in their position, and media releases from the likes of the Minerals Council are no substitute for that sort of evidence based analysis from disinterested parties, economists or climate scientists.

This is of course all about a price that has been paid in the leadership of the Liberal Party. It is all about the internals of the coalition giving way to the hard right. Concerns of intergenerational equity, spoken of so often in the debates on the budget, go to the heart of this debate. It seems pretty elementary to me that concerns of equity and sustainability go hand in hand. How can any of us deny our children and their children the quality of life that we have enjoyed, in particular, the opportunity to take pleasure in our wonderful natural environment? On this point, a few moments ago, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia put the proposition, in effect, that what we do in Australia is immaterial. This is morally bankrupt. A developed economy, a high-emitting economy like Australia must play a leadership role. We must do our share in meeting this great global challenge. The alternative is unpalatable and morally wrong.

What is at stake today? We see 11 bills to amend a number of acts as well as some consequential amendments to a range of non-carbon related acts. What is at stake here is the abolition of the price of carbon and the removal of the ETS without any mechanism to take its place; the removal of important industry assistance, including support for Australian jobs through the steel transformation plan; the abolition of the Climate Change Authority, although we have had good news on that; and the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, although again there are grounds for optimism there—and that would, of course, cease any commercial term loans to help new, ambitious renewable projects over the estimates. I also note that this is legislation that is designed to work retrospectively if adopted after the end of this financial year—a presumption we should always be cautious of.

As the member for Port Adelaide has mentioned, the House and the Senate have already dealt with these bills. Then as now, we saw from this government procedural games seeking to prevent meaningful debate in this place. I simply say that the self-satisfied cleverness of the Leader of the House is obviously pleasing to him but makes even clearer the case that this is at its heart a mean and tricky government without the courage of its convictions. There are parallels between this government's aversion to debate, this notion of policymaking as a game, and its aversion to the science of climate change.

As I have previously said in this place, I believe that taking effective action on climate change is the most urgent priority facing Australia. Unlike members opposite, I believe that putting a price on carbon must be at the core of taking effective action. I believe the scientists of climate change, not the member for Dawson, and I believe the economists on how we should respond to meeting this great moral challenge. And of course there is a consensus in both of these communities of experts that flies in the face of the actions of this government. I refer members opposite to September's fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is important reading, and I urge them to have regard for those findings.

While we have heard the numbers plenty of times, I think and hope they are worth repeating. Perhaps, like Mr Palmer, members opposite may develop open minds. Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists concur that climate change is drive by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. I am not sure about the Minister for Agriculture, and I hope that he makes a contribution to this debate. I look forward to hearing his contribution on these matters as I always look forward to his contributions in this place. Also, 86 per cent of economists, normally the friends of members opposite—normally the friends of last resort on economic matters—support an ETS as the cheapest and most efficient way to reduce carbon pollution. The contrast with the lack of support for so-called 'direct action' is striking.

Labor has consistently promised to put a price on carbon. I was elected to this place on this basis and I will continue to act accordingly to support a price on carbon. Putting a price on carbon is, of course, the most efficient way to allocate capital to cleaner ways of producing and using energy. We need also to put a cap on carbon pollution. We need to continue to support the development of our renewables industry, a job-creating industry, and we need to retain the Climate Change Authority so the Australian people can continue to have the benefit of that. It is what this government fears the most in this area of policymaking and right across the board: high-quality, independent advice to drive considered public policy debate in this place and in the community. We need to replace a backward policy, a policy that is all about a political fix—an internal political fix at that—the Liberal Party policy, which simply will not work, with one that will: an emissions trading scheme replacing the carbon tax with a market based mechanism that caps pollution and lets businesses determine the most effective and cost-effective way to operate under that cap. I am sure the Minister for Small Business in his heart of hearts would look to that example. As we know, there is a wide range of modelling, in particular from Treasury, that tells us that in earlier years we would also significantly reduce the cost of living as well as reducing the cost of carbon. We would reduce the cost of living while maintaining Australians' capacity to enjoy a decent standard of living into the future.

I think I should touch briefly on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—not least because my capacity to participate in the specific debate in respect of that legislation was, unsurprisingly, gagged. I think I should make mention of the fact that that body has been a great success and will return real dividends. In its first months of operation it has been strikingly successful at providing loans to organisations, and over time we see the capacity to make investments that would account for 50 per cent of the five per cent emissions reduction by 2020 target at a profit to the taxpayer of $2.40 a tonne. In 12 months we have seen great success; but, despite those successful operations—again, in defiance of the evidence—through these bills the government is again seeking to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This is a government that has been unable to see past its ideological blinkers and appreciate the role the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been playing in facilitating investment in renewable energy that would otherwise be missed by normal commercial banks. It is the sort of innovative public policy that Labor is up for and members opposite are in denial about.

The choice today is stark. We have a choice to be open minded like Mr Palmer—a choice to stand up for our children and their children—or to blink in the face of this great moral challenge, to blink, as the Deputy Prime Minister has rightly put it, from our moral responsibility to play a leadership role, to blink and reduce our future to meaningless, misleading three-word slogans. The choice before us fundamentally comes to whether it should be polluter-pays or paying polluters that guides Australia's policy approach to this area. The coalition's approach is focused on the creation of an allegedly $2.5 billion emissions reduction fund, the core of Direct Action, which would pay Australian companies to reduce pollution. So, where the Labor focus is to cap the amount of pollution that can enter the atmosphere and then have a system for business to find the cheapest way to reduce pollution, the coalition will simply use taxpayers' money to pay big polluters.

I note, briefly, that independent research and modelling undertaken by SKM-MMA and Monash University Centre for Policy Studies shows that this fund will see pollution increase to eight to 10 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020, will reduce pollution by a third less than Labor's policy, will require significant additional investment to achieve the 2020 target, and will see both costs and pollution increase over time. In doing so, it will subsidise the pollution of businesses that do not make changes.

Despite these issues and the posturing by the coalition, there is still no comprehensive approach that marks anything like a credible alternative to Labor's policy. So, we in the Labor Party want to tackle climate change in the most cost effective way possible. That is why we support replacing the carbon tax with a system that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and lets business work out the cheapest and most efficient way to operate within that cap. The science is settled here, and the way forward is clear. To turn our backs on science, economics and, indeed, the rest of the world is not an option. To mortgage our future on the farce that is direct action is not an option. I know that Labor stands on the right side of history in this debate.

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