I rise today to speak on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. We are here today to discuss the Abbott government’s continued attack on science and on the Public Service. We are here today to witness the continuation of the Abbott government’s tactic of destroying agencies whose expertise does not match with the ideology of the new government. We are here today, yet again, to be dismayed by the Abbott government’s continued attack on openness and transparency. And we are here today because those on the government benches do not wish for frank and fearless advice from the Public Service, just hollow echoes of their own thought bubbles. This is a disappointing development in Australian politics, and it is not in the interests of the nation.
This attempt to destroy the Climate Change Authority comes on top of the government’s closure of the Climate Commission and AusAID, the abolition of the science portfolio, the loss of hundreds of jobs from CSIRO and the earlier attempt to destroy the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. While in this place we often disagree on policy, never have we disagreed upon the need for public debate to be informed by expert advice—that is, never before the election of this current Liberal-Nationals government. We may disagree on whose expert advice is best, but never before has a government in this country sought to destroy agencies simply because their expert advice is not to the liking of the government’s blinkered, narrow-minded belief system. That is what we are witnessing today. The Liberal-Nationals government is seeking to destroy the Climate Change Authority because it does not like the advice it provides and it does not want any government authority at all to be able to measure how well or—more likely—how poorly its Direct Action policy is or is not working.
The Climate Change Authority, in a measured and sensible manner, provides expert knowledge about action to counter climate change both in Australia and internationally, the efficacy of those actions and the adequacy of those actions. The Climate Change Authority completed its first review of the Renewable Energy Target in December 2012, recommending keeping the renewable energy target at 41,000 gigawatt hours. The Climate Change Authority has commenced work on the first review of Australia’s emissions reduction goals. The targets and progress review will recommend short-, medium- and long-term emission reduction goals and assess Australia’s progress towards its medium- and long-term emissions reduction targets.
In its targets and progress review report to the government, due to be released in February 2014, the authority will review Australia’s progress towards its medium- and long-term emissions reduction targets; recommend a 2020 emissions reduction target; recommend a national carbon budget and indicative national emissions trajectory; discuss how Australia might meet its trajectory, budget and target, including how different sectors of the economy could contribute and the role of international emissions reductions; and, as required by legislation, recommend caps on emissions under the carbon-pricing mechanism. In framing its recommendations, the authority draws upon existing and new analysis of a wide range of issues, including the accumulating body of science and underpinning concerns about climate change; the extent and nature of ongoing international arrangements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; how any global efforts to reduce emissions might be shared among nations; and the economic and social implications for Australia of different targets for reducing emissions.
The Liberal-Nationals government do not want to hear the outcome of this report because they know it will say things that their members in the ‘climate change is crap’ brigade do not want to hear. They do not want to discuss how Australia might meet its trajectory, budget and target because they have no intention to meet any of these.
Even in the draft report, which is publicly available on the climate change agency’s website—and I am sure the Liberal-National government will try to hide or expunge it as they tried to expunge the Gonski report—there are a number of points they do not like because these points expose how dishonest they have been when debating climate change science and climate change economics. The draft report highlights that significant action is being taken on climate change by the international community. China has pilot emissions trading schemes planned for seven provinces and cities. The first began in 2013 and there are plans to design a national emissions trading scheme—that is right: China, the world’s most populous nation, a Communist nation, is adopting a market based emissions trading scheme while the Australian Liberal-National government, the Abbott-Truss government, is introducing Marxist-style direct government intervention into the economy.
On this issue the Chinese Communist government are acting more liberal than the Australian Liberal Party itself. To put it another way: on this issue the action by the Australian Liberal Party is more Marxist than the actions of the Chinese Communist government are. I am surprised that Minister Abetz can keep from choking when trying to explain this direct action policy. China has renewable energy targets, feed-in tariff support for solar, wind and biomass power, a policy of closure of inefficient small- and medium-sized coal plants and industrial facilities, appliance and building standards, an energy efficiency target, industrial energy efficiency retrofits and vehicle fuel efficiency standards.
The United States of America has subnational emissions trading schemes in California and nine north-eastern states, subnational renewable energy targets, financial incentives supporting renewable energy, proposed national regulations limiting emissions from fossil fuel power plants, appliance and building standards, industrial energy efficiency assessments, vehicle fuel efficiency standards and vehicle emissions standards. The European Union has an emissions trading scheme amongst its 28 member states and Norway, a renewable energy target and support for cogeneration, feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, appliance and building standards, an energy efficiency target, vehicle emissions standards and renewable fuel production incentives.
India has a coal tax, an energy efficiency trading scheme for the power sector, renewable energy targets, vehicle fuel efficiency standards and vehicle emissions standards pending. Japan, Canada, South Korea, South Africa and New Zealand have taken substantive action to tackle climate change. There ends the furphy that no other nations are doing anything about climate change.
When you combine all those countries you can see that substantive action is being taken by countries representing an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and carbon dioxide output. You can see why the government do not want an agency that explicitly collates and releases that data, because it is not in the Liberal-National government’s interest for that information to be widely distributed amongst the Australian population. Mr Abbott and his friends are happy for there to be a widespread belief that there has been no international action on climate change. Indeed, they have dishonestly pushed that view strongly over the last six years. The Abbott-Truss government is not going to like the Climate Change Authority’s targets and progress review report because it will recommend a higher target than five per cent on 2000 levels. That can be clearly seen in the draft report which is already released. The draft report says:
The Authority presents two options:
a 2020 emissions reduction target of 15 per cent below 2000 levels, with a 2030 trajectory range of 35-50 per cent; or
a 2020 target of 25 per cent with a 2030 trajectory range of 40-50 per cent.
The Authority will recommend a single 2020 target and a single 2030 trajectory range in its Final Report.
Either of these recommendations the Abbott-Truss government will find extremely embarrassing. That is because Tony Abbott has recently confirmed that his government has abandoned its longstanding policy to reduce Australia’s emissions by between five and 25 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020, a crucial and internationally scrutinised goal that had retained bipartisan support since 2009, despite significant international action, as I outlined. It is no real surprise to see Tony Abbott walking away from his early support for Australia’s commitment—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Order! I ask you to refer to the members in the other place by their proper titles.
Senator BILYK: Tony Abbott? That is his name.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Prime Minister?
Senator BILYK: I can refer to him as Tony Abbott.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Mr Abbott.
Senator BILYK: Okay, Mr Abbott.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells: You get worked up when I have a go, so do it properly this time.
Senator BILYK: Oh, a little bit precious over there.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I just ask you to adhere to the standing orders.
Senator BILYK: Anyway, it is no real surprise to see Mr Abbott walking away from his early support for Australia’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. He has made it clear on a number of occasions that he sees no particular problem with carbon pollution. But it is disappointing that, rather than listening to the expert advice given by the Climate Change Authority, he will close down the agency instead.
The explanatory memorandum for this bill gives an explanation of why the Climate Change Authority is being scrapped:
The Government has a long-standing commitment to abolish the Climate Change Authority (CCA) because it is not needed.
… … …
Abolishing the CCA will make a significant contribution to delivering a smaller climate change bureaucracy.
What a hollow attempt at an explanation. I would say the government do not think it is needed because they do not intend to achieve any tangible outcome from their Direct Action policy—not even the 5 per cent reduction on the year-2000-level target that they appear to be walking away from.
This bill also scraps the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board, although you would not know it from the short title of this bill. There is very little about the scrapping of the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board in the explanatory memorandum, which does not even give a fig leaf of an explanation as to why this board is to be scrapped. There is not one word. I find it utterly bizarre that the government, especially the National Party with their alleged concern for rural Australia, is scrapping this board.
This is not a tin-pot board that meets once a year to discuss something of no importance. This is a board that has administered tens of millions of dollars of grants, and yet the Liberal-National government do not give one word of an explanation in their explanatory memorandum of why they want it scrapped. It is utterly remarkable. Talk about lack of transparency! Were you all too busy backflipping on education to finish writing the explanatory memorandum?
For senators and those listening who may not be aware, the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board was established under the Climate Change Authority Act 2011 to provide advice to the Australian government on the implementation of the Land Sector Package, which is part of the previous Labor government’s Clean Energy Future plan. It has funded and supported a large number of projects since its inception.
From its 2011-12 annual report we can see some of the projects that the board has funded:
The first round of the Filling the Research Gap program has provided multi-year grants to 58 projects to the value of $47.3 million to support research into emerging abatement technologies, strategies and innovative management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the land sector, sequester carbon and enhance sustainable agricultural practices.
The first round of the Action on the Ground program has provided multi-year grants to 59 projects to the value of $25.2 million that are supporting more than 420 farmers from across the county to trial on-farm practices and technologies to demonstrate how farmers can reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions or increase the sequestration of carbon in soil on their properties.
These round one Filling the Research Gap and Action on the Ground projects cover a broad range of farming practices and climatic and geographic conditions associated with the dairy, livestock (grazing and feedlot industries), horticulture and cropping industries and will help farmers become more sustainable and resilient. The funding for these projects is an investment in the future of Australia’s agricultural sector.
I am surprised—and pretty disappointed, quite frankly—that the Nationals are agreeing to the abolition of a board that is providing tens of millions of dollars of funding to projects in rural communities around the country. I am disappointed that the Nationals are agreeing to the abolition of a board that is making farming more sustainable and more environmentally friendly into the future. They really need to have a good hard look at themselves and have a think about what they really believe and who they really represent.
Can Senator Nigel Scullion explain to the farmers of the Northern Territory why the Nationals are agreeing to abolish the organisation that, through the Action on the Ground grant program, provided funding of up to $548,303 to trial and demonstrate practices to reduce nitrous oxide emissions associated with horticultural and cropping industries in Northern Australia? Can Senators Fiona Nash and John Williams explain to the farmers of New South Wales why the Nationals are agreeing to abolish the organisation that, through the Action on the Ground grant program, provided funding of up to $394,000 to trial minimum tillage practices, including controlled traffic and use of mulches, to reduce nitrous oxide emissions and increase sequestration of soil carbon during the production of vegetable crops in New South Wales? Can Senator McKenzie explain to the farmers of Victoria and to my home state of Tasmania as well why the Nationals are agreeing to abolish the organisation that, through the Action on the Ground grant program, provided funding of up to $540,909 for increased nitrogen use efficiency by cropping farmers in the high-rainfall zones of Victoria and Tasmania? Can Senator Ron Boswell and Senator Ian Macdonald explain to the farmers of Queensland why the Nationals are agreeing to abolish the organisation that, through the Action on the Ground grant program, provided funding of up to $534,364 to improve cattle-grazing practices to reduce methane and benefit soil carbon?
I think the farmers of Australia should be extremely concerned and disappointed at the decision of the National Party to vote against the projects funded under the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board that are improving knowledge and farming practices across Australia. I think those that vote for the National Party as a separate entity from the Liberal Party need an explanation of why they continue to act against the interests of the people they claim to represent.
I am surprised that the Liberal-National government want to destroy a board that now has significant expertise in agricultural science, economics including environmental economics, conservation ecology, greenhouse gas emissions measurement and reporting, greenhouse gas abatement measures, public administration, business management and the management or care of Indigenous-held land. I am surprised that the Liberal-National government want to destroy an organisation that now has significant expertise in overseeing carbon sequestering, enhancing sustainable agricultural practices and planting trees when these are all parts of their own Direct Action policy. You are abolishing the board that has the expertise to push your own policy agenda. That is crazy. It is just remarkable.
The government have come into this place with this bill and the previous bill on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation without presenting a clear case for the abolition of either of these bodies. They have made no argument other than a hollow ideological fig leaf of reducing bureaucracy, while at the same time advocating for direct government action on climate change. How much bureaucracy will it take to administer their Direct Action policy? They have stated that they have a policy to ‘cut bureaucracy’ in the Climate Change Authority, the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, yet will create a massive bureaucracy to administer their Direct Action policy. It is utterly ridiculous, honestly. Ironically, the expertise they will need to administer their Direct Action plan is already possessed by people in the Climate Change Authority, the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board and—you guessed it—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This Liberal-National government will make them redundant and pay their redundancies, only to find that they will need to rehire them through the Department of the Environment when they realise their Marxist Direct Action policy will need considerably more bureaucracy than those that they have sought to destroy over the last few weeks.
Senators in this place should be extremely disappointed with this bill and indeed many of the bills that have been brought to this place under the Liberal-National government. Proper debate in this place should be based on fact, not on ideology. The Australian people should be greatly concerned about the Liberal-National habit of destroying agencies and boards whose advice they are opposed to merely for ideological reasons. As I said, this attempt to destroy the Climate Change Authority comes on top of the government’s closure of the Climate Commission and AusAID, the abolition of the science portfolio, the loss of hundreds of jobs from CSIRO and previous attempts to destroy the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
The Liberal-National government are seeking to destroy the Climate Change Authority because they do not like the advice it provides and they do not want any government authority at all to be able to measure how well or how poorly their Direct Action policy is or is not working. I just find it a bit of a joke. It is a joke, unfortunately, at the expense of the Australian people. I would urge all senators, but particularly those National Party senators who are voting to destroy a board that has granted tens of millions of dollars to Australian farmers, the people they claim to represent, to think again and to vote against this bill.