House of Representatives Speech- Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013

I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. The most fundamental duty of the government, above all others, is to act in the national interest. From the time that he knifed the member for Wentworth for the leadership of the Liberal Party some four years ago, the current Prime Minister has worked against the national interest on the vital issue of climate change. He has taken the Liberal Party and The Nationals from their position of support for the pricing of carbon.

  I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. The most fundamental duty of the government, above all others, is to act in the national interest. From the time that he knifed the member for Wentworth for the leadership of the Liberal Party some four years ago, the current Prime Minister has worked against the national interest on the vital issue of climate change. He has taken the Liberal Party and The Nationals from their position of support for the pricing of carbon.

I know members opposite do not like to remember this but their position at the 2007 election was unequivocally, clearly in support of putting a price on carbon. Not only did they take that policy to the 2007 election but also they took that policy through 2008 and 2009. The member for Fraser yesterday in his speech to the House very eloquently referred to and reminded us all of the speeches that were given so forcefully by so many members of the Liberal Party and so many members of the National Party, in which they professed their support for an emissions trading scheme for our country and for the pricing of carbon.

We know that the pricing of carbon is the most effective, least cost way of reducing carbon pollution. We also know why we need to act. Again, the government are hiding behind a smoke screen where they profess support for bringing down Australia's carbon pollution but, as have so many of my colleagues on this side of the House, I want to remind everyone here why carbon pollution needs to be reduced from Australia and worldwide. Carbon pollution is affecting Australia now and carbon pollution is going to affect Australia in worse ways in the future.

We have seen the increased frequency of natural disasters, the increased frequency of fires, floods and more intense weather events. We have seen drought and extreme weather impacting on our farmers and driving up costs. We have seen the kinds of impacts that climate change is already bringing and these impacts will only get worse. Carbon pollution is affecting the whole world. Right now, rising sea levels are threatening island nations. We were reminded at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held last week and last weekend in Sri Lanka when we heard the pleas for assistance, ignored by our Prime Minister, from island nations. We have seen natural disasters right across the world being supercharged by climate change causing death and destruction on a massive scale, often in nations that are the least able to cope with it. There is a reason that a group has been formed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of the least developed nations of the world because they are likely to be among the countries that are worst affected and of course they are likely to be among the countries least able to afford to deal with it.

I will just remind honourable members of something that the Pentagon, not exactly a left-wing environmental organisation, have said about the threat of climate change. They have not just started saying it recently; the Pentagon have been writing about the threat posed by climate change now for many years. The Pentagon have identified climate change as one of the greatest global security challenges of the coming decades. Often the devastating impacts of climate change that we are already experiencing are only going to get worse. If we do not act, these effects of dangerous climate change are going to get worse, a lot worse, and we are going to experience an increased frequency of more intense weather events.

We should not have to put up with the false debate that was provoked by our so-called Minister for the Environment, who wanted to pretend that people who had drawn attention to the recent intense and catastrophic bushfires in the Blue Mountains were saying that that event was definitely the result of dangerous climate change. Nobody said anything of the kind. He was, as the Liberal Party so favours as its means of argument, using straw-man argumentation, pretending that those who are opposed to you are putting forward an argument which they are not actually making. All that anyone was saying about those catastrophic fires in the Blue Mountains was that they are an example of the kind of more intense, extreme and disastrous event that we can expect if dangerous climate change is not brought into check.

If you accept the science, if you accept any science, you accept all of science. You cannot pick and choose science like items on a menu. You cannot say, 'I accept the principles of physics' and then say, 'But I think the science of chemistry is crap.' You cannot say that you accept the biological sciences that have provided the wondrous benefits of modern medicine from antibiotics to cataract surgery but that you do not accept the science of evolution or the science of genetics. Science is a framework for understanding the world and it is one of the greatest single achievements of our civilisation, perhaps the greatest driver of our prosperity as a modern civilisation, and we should never forget it.

We do not challenge the science of the electric light, even though we do not necessarily understand it. We do not challenge the science of the internal combustion engine when we drive our cars. There is no more reason for policymakers, ministers or anyone in Australia to be now challenging the science of climate change, as people, unfortunately, are being encouraged to do—led by our current Prime Minister. The science of climate change is clear. The consensus across the world of thousands and thousands of eminent and eminently qualified scientists is undeniable. Climate change is happening right now. It is being driven by emissions that humans are producing. If we do not act decisively to reduce those emissions, the consequence for our nation will be dire in the short term and very likely catastrophic in the longer term.

We have to act on risk assessment. We do not wait in setting government policy or on deciding a course of action for our nation for absolute certainty in every policy area. Instead, we make risk assessments. We assess the likelihood of particular future events. We assess the gravity or seriousness of those likely future events. If we are looking at a high probability of an event occurring and it is a damaging or disastrous event of great seriousness then we act. We do not wait for certainty before acting. We act on risk assessments. The national interest demands that our nation act and act decisively to respond to this threat. This is the true test of leadership and our current Prime Minister is failing it and failing it dismally.

We have a carefully crafted scheme of legislation with multiple complementary policies. It is a scheme of legislation that puts a price on carbon. It has a fixed price period for its first three years. It puts a cap on our national carbon pollution. We have in this place adopted the most effective and least cost means of reducing carbon pollution. It is not just the Liberal Party and the National Party who used to agree with this; it is every single reputable economic organisation in the world, from the OECD to the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund to the International Energy Agency. All of them absolutely endorse putting a price on carbon as the least cost, most effective means of bringing down carbon pollution.

What is the rest of the world doing? I have heard the lines from those opposite in their script, provided to them by the Prime Minister, in which there is assertion after assertion that the rest of the world is not acting and, like so much else of what our Prime Minister has inflicted on Australia since he became the leader of the Liberal Party at the end of 2009, it is a false claim. All of our important allies and trading partners are acting and we could point to the fact that Europe has acted and not just recently either. Europe acted years and years ago in adopting an emissions trading scheme that applies across western Europe. The United Kingdom has reached a bipartisan consensus. We have a Conservative government in the United Kingdom but there remains a bipartisan consensus in that country. And what a pity it is that the conservative government of this country has not reached the same position as its Conservative political allies in the United Kingdom. What a pity too that it has chosen not to follow the lead given by the present conservative government of New Zealand, which, on coming to power, adopted the legislative emissions trading scheme that had been put there by the previous Labour government. There continues to this day a bipartisan agreement in New Zealand, as in the United Kingdom, on the usefulness of pricing carbon.

California, in a scheme legislated by a government led by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, now has in a government led by Governor Brown, a Democratic governor, introduced from 1 January 2013 an emissions trading scheme which is remarkably similar in most of its features to the scheme that this government is trying to wreck in Australia. The scheme in California covers about 60 per cent of the economy. It covers similar sectors and, like the scheme here which has already worked since it came in on 1 July 2012 to bring down Australia's carbon pollution, the Californians are confident in their bipartisan agreement because the Republicans in California, mercifully, are different to the Tea Party Republicans that have been trying to take over the government of the United States. There in California they hope that it will work.

China, our largest trading partner, has welcomed assistance from Australia in the design of emissions trading schemes and is now this year introducing prices on carbon in seven of its provinces with the assistance, until this government came to power, of Australian experts. But shamefully, while our partners are acting around the world, while the rest of the world understands that putting a price on carbon is the right thing to do, what is the new government of this Prime Minister doing about the challenge of climate change? I wish I could say that the Abbott government wants to do nothing. That would be bad enough. But in fact that would be too generous an assessment.

Before the government gets to its plan of doing nothing with its smokescreen of a fund, which it has not explained what it is going to do with, it is going to first destroy the successful and economically responsible policies that Labor has introduced. One of the first acts of the Rudd Labor government in 2007 was to ratify the Kyoto protocol. In fear of science, in fear of an informed public—you could hardly want a better comparison—one of the first acts of this government of wreckers was to abolish the Climate Change Authority. The CSIRO, while I think of it, is also a victim of this government's rejection of science with massive cuts that threaten to decimate scientific research at Australia's premier scientific institution.

The government are now seeking, in the bills that are before this House, to destroy the Climate Change Authority. They are seeking to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation with an act of what can only be described as extraordinary ideological hypocrisy and economic thuggery. How soon will it be before they attack the renewable energy target?

What Mr Abbott is intent on doing here is taking our nation backwards. Once he has demolished the frameworks for clean energy and for long-term economic prosperity—because this is the direction the world needs to move in—that Labor has put in place, with all the upheaval and the uncertainty for business, about which this government cares not, Mr Abbott is going to get hard to work doing nothing, nothing but spending billions of taxpayers' dollars per smokescreen, billions of dollars on a policy farce hidden behind a euphemistic title, now so typical of the coalition, called 'Direct Action', which in fact should be called 'direct inaction'. And what is the content of that policy? We do not know because they have abandoned the policy that they published in 2010 in favour of a green paper process, and we do not know what the content of their policy is.