The Dreyfus Files - The Age
Yesterday marked a defining moment in Australian history. After nearly two decades of debate, a clear plan to tackle climate change, which has majority support from the Parliament, was introduced into the House of Representatives.
The plan consists of 18 separate bills that when passed will ensure a price on pollution that will move Australia towards a clean energy future.
These bills represent the culmination of lengthy and comprehensive Parliamentary scrutiny. Australia's strategy to tackle climate change has been debated at length since 1994 under Paul Keating's government when the House of Representatives undertook a review of the efficiency audit of the Implementation of an Interim Greenhouse Response. Climate change has been the topic of no less than 34 separate parliamentary inquiries since that time, spanning 17 years.
Advertisement: Story continues below When Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the government's plan for a clean energy future, it followed months of consultation with business, with the voluntary sector, indigenous groups and community organisations.
This process built on the extensive consultation and debate around the development of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and before that, major public consultations in every year since 2006 on the development of an emissions trading scheme. And now as we introduce these 18 bills to Parliament, we do so after having consulted on the draft legislation and considered more than 300 submissions from business and community groups.
Over the years that Australia has debated this issue, there has been overwhelming support for pricing carbon from both major political parties. This policy has been backed by every leader of the Liberal Party since John Howard, who took an emissions trading scheme (ETS) to the 2007 election. In the last parliament, the government reached agreement with the then leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, on the design of an emissions trading scheme. The current Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said on ABC's Lateline in 2009: ''We don't want to play games with the planet, so we are taking this issue seriously and we would like to see an ETS.''
There has been so much talk, so many false starts. Now is the time for action.
As the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, said in Parliament on Monday: ''A carbon price is the cheapest and most effective way to cut pollution and drive investment in clean energy. It will create innovation. It will drive productivity improvements in our economy. It will reduce the emissions intensity of our economy. It will improve our long-term competitiveness. The carbon price will allow us to fulfil our obligation to future generations and to meet our responsibility to do a fair share to tackle climate change within and in partnership with the international community - and we must never lose sight of that responsibility as parliamentarians.''
When the government set out the timetable for Parliamentary debate on these, the Coalition cried for more time to debate, more time to re-hash the same tired old arguments that have been rejected time and time again. The time to filibuster and obstruct is over - the time for action is now.
I have just returned from a ministerial climate change conference in South Africa attended by ministers from around the world. They had all been briefed on Australia's response to climate change and their support was overwhelming.
When we acted yesterday, we acted as part of a global effort to take action on climate change. Thirty-two countries have already implemented emissions trading schemes. Japan and China are trialling emissions trading schemes and Korea has committed to introducing a scheme similar to ours. Just last week China announced that Australia's plan will be the model for one of six Chinese pilot emissions trading schemes to be introduced in China in 2013. Jiang Kejun, head of the Chinese government's energy and environmental policy agency, said the pilot carbon trading schemes would trial different designs based on schemes from Australia, Europe and California.
Eighty-nine countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, committing them to action. Globally, more money is now invested in renewable power than in high-pollution energy generation.
The Gillard government's plan for a clean energy future sets in train a fundamental economic transformation that will increase prosperity while it reduces carbon pollution.
Investment and technological development will be strengthened, particularly in key sectors such as renewable energy - and that means new jobs in R&D, manufacturing, construction and maintenance. And our environment will benefit by sustained reductions in carbon pollution.
Importantly, we will secure a clean energy legacy for our children and their children.
This is good policy: it is equitable, it is timely, it is comprehensive and it is effective.
Tony Abbott has impeded this Parliament dealing with the issue of climate change with his toxic behavior, but the time for action is now and the world is acting.
I am proud to say that yesterday, Australia took the next significant step towards acting too.