Climate Change Debate

Ms BIRD: I just want to take this opportunity in the debate today to indicate that I am supporting the position put by both the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister supporting the amendments that the shadow minister has proposed to the House. This side of the House, the opposition, went to the election with a very clear position. Our position was to abolish the carbon tax and to introduce an emissions trading scheme. I have been very strongly supportive of that position, and our proposition before the House absolutely carries through on the commitments that we took to the election in that way.

The government claims that these bills are about, and much of their contribution to the debate has been about, the component that abolishes the carbon tax. However, the bills before us do much more than that—hence our problem with them. Firstly, the bills remove the legislated cap on carbon pollution. So, in effect, they take away any of the discipline that it is required to deliver what is supposedly a bipartisan target—and one which the previous speaker for the government again confirmed to this House that they support. Secondly, the bills abolish the entire framework for an emissions trading scheme and so are completely contradictory to the position we took to the election. Thirdly, they abolish the Climate Change Authority. Heaven forbid you should have an independent expert in existence providing advice to this government, because if there is one thing they are consistent on it is that they do not like anybody who is an expert in their field. Finally, as many government speakers, including the previous speaker, have confirmed, they break promises that those opposite made to their communities in the election campaign by abolishing tax cuts for households in future years.

Our responsibility is to come to this place and stay true to the commitments we made to our communities in the election campaign; that is how a democracy works. A mandate means you have mustered the numbers on the floor of this chamber, and the government may well muster the numbers on the floor of this chamber for the bills that they have put before us. Our mandate is to stay true to the position we took to our electors and which they returned us on. And I am absolutely of the opinion that the amendment put forward by the shadow minister meets our mandate from, and our commitment to, the people who were elected us and so returned us to this place.

Indeed, I contested the 2007 election with the ALP's policy of ratifying Kyoto and introducing a carbon pollution reduction scheme. I will not again go through the fact, which is well documented, that those on the other side, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister, John Howard, were very keen to see us have a carbon pollution reduction scheme, to be a world leader, as the then Prime Minister said, and were eloquent in outlining the great advantages to our economy and our environment for the future by acting on climate change. Of course, that was flipped on its head when there was a change of leader on the other side.

But we have been consistent. I contested the 2010 election where we had a commitment to introducing an emissions trading scheme and which, post election, with the hung parliament, resulted in the introduction of the initial fixed price period. I contested the most recent, 2013, election with a commitment to scrap the fixed price period—that is, as we have described, to scrap the carbon tax—and move to an emissions trading scheme.

I am happy to be a member of a party that has stayed consistent on our responsibility to the future and to the people who will follow us. As decision makers in this place, we stood up and took responsibility when it was required. We did not put it off for future generations to solve. This is our children's future. It is not only their future in terms of the environment in which they will live and the challenges they will face with that environment as we see increasingly problematic weather conditions. It is also about the future of their economy and their jobs, because early movers, whenever there is a major shift in the economic foundations of the world, are the ones who do best in that time period. The early movers in the industrial revolution were the most advanced nations of recent times. The early movers in a carbon-restrained future will be the most successful nations in the longer term. This is what we should be doing. This is our responsibility in this place.

As was said at the beginning of this debate—and I remember many across both sides of the House making this point before the 2007 election—the cost of action is less than the cost of inaction. Business as usual is not an option. Despite the emus on the other side wanting to put their heads in the sand, business as usual is not an option.

Those opposite have shifted with the winds of the leadership struggles within their own party on this most important challenge. Even former Prime Minister Howard now claims that his own avowed, well-argued, often-outlined position on the need to act and for Australia to be a world leader was, he tells us now, only a rather cynical political position. And it was much more easily abandoned because a more popular position emerged. That is not leadership. That is not responsibility. That is not taking up our task in this place on behalf of the generations that will follow us.

The current Prime Minister went to the last election promising to scrap the tax, and we are available to support that. But he also retained a commitment to the targeted carbon pollution reduction, and he has claimed that, when all of those actions are reconciled under the direct action policy, they will have an impact on the reduction of carbon. That in itself is an inaccurate claim, and is the basis of much of our problem with the position put by the government.

The impacts are real. The science is settled. The choice we face here is how and when to act. The new Prime Minister has a fundamental problem taking the advice of anyone with expertise in the field, not only the scientists but also the economists.

The shadow minister outlined the long record of the Prime Minister's attack on the science. In July 2009 he said:

I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.

In October of that year he described climate science as 'absolute crap'. Nothing ambiguous there.

In March 2011 he said:

… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.

In March 2012 he said:

… I don't believe that the science is settled.

These assertions are simply wrong.

This year NASA reported—and I quote directly from their report:

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

In September this year the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the result of the work of 209 lead authors and more than 600 contributing authors, indicated that the world's climate scientists are 95 per cent certain that a process of global warming has been underway for some decades and its major cause is human activity. This is not 'so-called' or 'not-yet-settled science.

So what are the effects? The warning has, and remains, the danger of significant and devastating changes to the world's climate. On almost any night now climate events are in our news. They are not at the end of the news any more. Damaging climate events are more frequent, they are more intense and they are more damaging, and this has very serious implications for a nation as exposed to climate change and its impacts as we are.

The shadow minister reported to this House that the last year up to October has been the hottest 12 months on record. The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, in their latest State of the climate report, restated the warning that the number of hot days in Australia will increase, as well as advising that droughts and intense cyclones will become more common.

The Leader of the Opposition in his contribution to this debate made the point that our world is approaching a population of 7 billion people, and the threats from climate change will intensify and not diminish our need to act. As we see the increase in prevalence and the increased intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, heatwaves and bushfires and their devastating effects on our environment and significant cost to our local and national economies, it is only becoming increasingly clear that we have a responsibility to future generations to act.

The action proposed by the government, their vaguely named and described 'Direct Action' policy, was most accurately described by the member for Wentworth. I will use his words—he said they are nothing more than:

… a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

Prior to the 2010 election, the Treasury stated in the blue book prepared prior to that election, 'A market-based mechanism can achieve the necessary abatement at a cost per tonne of emissions far lower than any alternative direct action policies'.

Mr Bowen: I wonder what the 2013 blue book said?

Ms BIRD: It would be interesting to see the 2013 book. Do you think we will see it at all, shadow minister? Probably not.

Mr Bowen: Not if the government gets its way.

Ms BIRD: More recently, in October this year the Sydney Morning Herald undertook a survey of 35 prominent university and business economists on their views on the government's Direct Action policy. Only two of them believed it was a better policy than a market-based mechanism. Three of them, to be fair, rejected both schemes, but that meant 86 per cent of those surveyed were of the view that the emissions trading scheme was a better economic method of addressing the challenge.

One of them, the internationally renowned Australian economist, Justin Wolfers actually said:

… direct action would involve more economic disruption but have a lesser environmental pay-off than an emissions trading scheme.

BT Financial's Dr Chris Caton said any economist who did not opt for emissions trading "should hand his degree back"

The Prime Minister's view of these 'rascally' economists would probably not surprised the House. The article reports:

In 2011, Mr Abbott took a swipe at some who had criticised the Coalition's scheme, saying "maybe that's a comment on the quality of our economists rather than on the merits of argument''.

Mr Bowen: It's those rascally economists again!

Ms BIRD: It's those rascally economists again.

The bills before this House remove a cap on pollution, so there is nothing in the response to the challenge we face that will provide the discipline needed to meet supposed agreed targets. This is not action. It will fail the environment and it will fail the economy. It does not even pass the basic test of risk management that a government owes future generations.

Only last week that other rascally progressive, the British Prime Minister, outlined this very issue. He said:

… I'm not a scientist but it's always seemed to me one of the strongest arguments about climate change is, even if you're only 90 per cent certain or 80 per cent certain or 70 per cent certain, if I said to you there's a 60 per cent chance your house might burn down do you want to take out some insurance? You take out some insurance.

There is a cost to this lost opportunity in particular, and in the short amount of time remaining to me I just want to make two points. One is that Australia can, has been and could be a world leader in innovations in renewables, in energy efficiency, in new production processes and methods if it were backed by a scheme in this nation that drove viability for those sorts of innovations. And, as a small aside, I would add that the provision of fibre to the premises under Labor's NBN would have assisted in unleashing, through the upload capacity it would provide, a whole new arena of energy monitoring and management on a scale that would be a significant opportunity for new business and export markets. Sadly, that is not the case.

I would like to finish with a local story of global achievement in this space from my own backyard, Wollongong. In August this year a team of students from the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra, Team UOW, won
first place in the solar decathlon in China. China is part of the most recent addition to the US Department of Energy solar decathlon team. The decathlon was hosted Datong and the Wollongong team beat 19 the teams from around the world. They were the first team from Australia to successfully gain entry to the solar decathlon and were offered positions both in China and the US. They were the first team ever, in any of the competitions, to demonstrate how to retrofit an existing home and they achieved the highest overall score in any solar decathlon competition in history. My great congratulations to Professor Paul Cooper, Marty Burgess from TAFE and the wonderful students on an outstanding result.