Today I would like to start with a quote from the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott:
The climate change argument is absolute crap…
It is a short quote and, I will give you, it is a sharp quote. It completely embodies the vicious and distasteful anti-intellectualism of the Abbott government. The expert opinion of tens of thousands of scientists—highly qualified, well-respected and peered reviewed—can be swept away with one short, ignorant, foul-mouthed phrase.
Scientists spend their lives dedicated to finding out how the natural world works: what is happening, how it is caused and occasionally how it can be stopped. Science does not work the way that politics does. Unlike those opposite, scientists can admit when they get things wrong. In fact, a key point of the scientific process is in scientists trying to prove their own hypothesis wrong. Once they have tried to disprove their own hypothesis, their work gets sent to a peer-reviewed journal where a group of highly respected scientists then try to disprove the paper author’s results. Only after a panel of experts scientists have tried to find any fault with the submitted paper and have not found one is the paper published. On top of that, when scientists do manage to find fault in the conventional wisdom, they are not stigmatised and they not rebuked; they are congratulated by their peers. If the wisdom you have overturned is large enough, you may even get a Nobel Prize.
The arguments in support of climate change are not ‘absolute crap’, no matter what Mr Abbott and those opposite believe. The arguments in support of climate change are the result of millions of hours of research by tens of thousands of scientists who critically analyse their own and their peers’ works, using the scientific method—the method that has resulted in the current technological marvels of our current day society.
These arguments are the best understanding of how the environment has changed due to human action and they will stay the best understanding of how the environment is changing due to human action whether the current government believes it or not. These arguments will stay the best understanding of how the environment is changing due to human action, even though the government has closed the Climate Commission. These arguments will stay the best understanding of how the environment is changing due to human action, even though the government is getting rid of hundreds of scientists at the CSIRO. It is extremely disappointing that we have reached a stage in our society when scientists are politicised by the government. It is extremely disappointing that government agencies can be closed down because the Prime Minister or government ministers are ideologically opposed to their research. Instead of listening to expert opinion, they act to silence them. We have seen, last year and this year, the attempts by the government to close down for purely ideological reasons the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board.
Mr Abbott did not tell the Australian people that Australia would be a nation that no longer cared about science, that no longer had a vision of Australia as a major player in the scientific world. And he did not say he would get rid of the science minister, a ministry that Australia has had since 1931. Just because the previous shadow minister, Sophie Mirabella, did not win a seat does not mean you cannot put someone else in there as science minister. You could have chosen someone else. You could have chosen Senator Macdonald, for instance! Mr Abbott did not say his cuts to public servants would include sacking hundreds of scientists from CSIRO, an organisation whose achievements Australians are rightly proud of, and he did not say he would close the Climate Change Commission. Just one day into the new Abbott government, the commission was razed to the ground—a body designed to make clear the science and economics of climate change.
I would like to take a moment to mention two of the recommendations from the Climate Commission report, The critical decade, that those in government may have found inconvenient:
We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental consequences of a changing climate. Many of the risks scientists warned us about in the past are now happening…Three years into the Critical Decade it is clear: substantial progress is being made globally to reduce emissions.
However, far more will need to be done to stabilise the climate. If you actually allow an independent body to explain the science and economics of climate change to the Australian people, they might decide Tony Abbott’s direct action policy is ‘absolute crap’ as well.
This government is not serious about getting frank and fearless advice from its agencies, only advice that fits their ideological world view. The Abbott government does not want it known that 99 countries, covering 80 per cent of global emissions and including all of the major emitters, have pledged to reduce or limit emissions by 2020. The Abbott government wants to hide that information from the public. It also wants to hide the fact that Australia’s rating on the Climate Change Performance Index has dropped to 57th, out of 61 countries, due to the coalition government’s policies. I guess it is not surprising from a Prime Minister who believes climate change is ‘absolute crap’, but it is extremely shameful.
Those opposite should be ashamed that such anti-intellectualism is the hallmark of this new government. They should also be ashamed that they have sold out their own ideological principles. The so-called Liberal Party no longer believes in liberalism. Classical liberal economic theory says that the market is the most efficient mechanism by which to ensure actions occur. This is what they believe—or, at least, that is what they claim to believe. The Liberal Party’s direct action policy is a direct intervention into the economy by the government—what they typically decry as Marxism. When even China, the world’s most populous nation, a communist nation, is adopting a market based emissions trading scheme, the Australian Liberal national government, the Abbott-Truss government, is introducing Marxist-style direct government intervention into the economy. On this issue the action by the Australian Liberal Party is more Marxist than the actions of the Chinese Communist government. If the Liberal Party’s interventionist direct action policy is good, does that mean the ‘market is best’ philosophy that underpins economic liberalism is flawed and thus the economic ideology that underpins the Liberal Party is inherently wrong? Or does it mean that they are cynically proposing a policy they believe will not work—at a cost of billions of dollars to the taxpayer, not to the polluter?
The carbon price becomes an emissions trading scheme on 1 July 2015—a market based mechanism. The Labor opposition wants to make the transition sooner—1 July 2014—and this is what we took to the election. I would like to remind people that the government also took an emissions trading scheme to the 2007 election—which they reneged upon, rolling Malcolm Turnbull and replacing him with Tony Abbott, rather than keeping their promise to the Australian people. That is what their corporate overlords wanted, and it is what they have received.
But it is not only the expertise of scientists that those on the government side turn their backs upon; they also choose to ignore the advice of their traditional friends the economists. I would like to quote from a recent article in Fairfax. It states:
‘Leading economists have overwhelmingly rejected Tony Abbott’s direct action on climate change policy and backed carbon pricing.
A Fairfax Media survey of 35 prominent university and business economists found only two believed direct action was the better way to limit Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Thirty, or 86 per cent, favoured the existing carbon price scheme.
Leading Australian economist Professor Justin Wolfers was quoted in the article as saying he was
…surprised that any economists would opt for direct action, under which the government will pay for emissions cuts by business and farmers from a budget worth $2.88 billion over four years’.
Professor Wolfers would probably be surprised that any economist would support this so-called direct action policy—because it is a complete and utter dud.
Former Treasury secretary Ken Henry called the coalition’s direct action policy a ‘bizarre’ strategy which would involve the government paying big polluters in a scheme that would cost more and reduce productivity. BT Financial’s Dr Chris Caton said:
…any economist who did not opt for emissions trading ‘should hand his degree back’.
Several of the economists surveyed said the weight of international evidence showed carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced more efficiently through a broad based market mechanism such as a trading scheme. The widely esteemed economist Saul Eslake—who just happens to come from my home state of Tasmania—said back in July 2011:
The recent report by the Productivity Commission which looked at more than 1,000 different carbon policies across nine countries concluded unequivocally that market based interventions achieve reductions in carbon emissions at lower cost than interventions based on direct action.
And the OECD released a report last year confirming that countries could achieve higher levels of emissions reductions at much lower cost if they relied on market based policy.
The Australian people are being sold an economic lemon, and those on the government backbench know it. The truth is that a price on carbon pollution can work and has been working. But the Abbott government is now removing effective action on reducing carbon emissions and replacing it with a plan to pay big polluters to reduce pollution—with the funds coming from, you guessed it, mum and dad taxpayers. This is despicable. They do not want effective action on climate change and they are happy to waste billions of taxpayer dollars and throw away their own professed ideology to ensure no effective action happens.
The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquired into the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill and associated bills and reported in December last year. These 11 bills were referred to the committee on 14 November, allowing just 18 days for the bills to be reviewed. Some 37 individuals and organisations managed to make submissions in that short time frame. In their submission to the inquiry, the ACTU made the point:
Repealing the Clean Energy Future package is irresponsible policy making. Repeal:
Discards a fair and inclusive approach to action on climate change through the protection of jobs (through industry assistance) and the provision of assistance to households and communities while driving a reduction in Australia’s emissions.
Throws out mechanisms to incentivise the adoption of new and more carbon and energy efficient technologies; underpin the commercial viability and market potential of low emission technologies; and induce substitution towards lower carbon fuels, products and services;
Removes industry support, resulting in little assistance to industry to remain competitive in the current global shift to a low carbon economy; and
Creates policy uncertainty as there is little support for direct action, creating a climate change policy void and ignores the research showing the need for comprehensive policy to underpin emission reduction activities.
The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists unequivocally rejected the government’s direct action policy. With regard to the goal to keep global temperature rises below two degrees above pre-industrial levels, they said:
We can find no evidence that the government’s Direct Action policy is capable of achieving such a target.
Achieving the scale of emissions reductions to avoid dangerous climate change will require a range of institutional responses. All such policy decisions should be informed by the best information from relevant experts, including scientists and economists.
The Wentworth Group accepts the advice of economic experts, including the Australian Productivity Commission, that an emissions trading scheme is by far the most cost effective way for Australia to contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change.
The coalition government’s lack of long-term funding commitments for Direct Action further confirms Labor’s view that the coalition government has no long-term commitment to meaningful action to address climate change. Direct action is going to be extremely expensive, even to reach the modest five per cent reduction target by 2020.
To quote the Labor senators’ dissenting report on the inquiry into this bill:
The Grattan Institute in evidence before the Committee highlighted how Direct Action can have no longevity as a policy without further significant budget appropriations.
My understanding from every conversation I have had with the senior representatives of the government is that direct action has been targeted directly to achieve the five per cent target by 2020; that is shorthand, obviously. Many have criticised whether it might even do that. But, just focusing on your question, there is fundamentally no reason why the Emissions Reduction Fund, which is the centrepiece of direct action, could not be expanded. But because it is funded on budget, which is by the very nature of the instrument different from an emissions trading scheme or a renewable energy target, it would require additional budget appropriations in future times to be able to achieve that outcome.
I find it ironic that Liberal-National senators in this place voted to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is making the government a profit of $2.40 for every tonne of carbon abated, while supporting an ineffective, inefficient scheme that will cost the Australian taxpayer a significant amount for every tonne of carbon abated. And they claim to be prudent economic managers! The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is returning four per cent above the government bond rate, while supporting over $2 billion of renewable energy and efficiency projects. While those opposite scream that they have a mandate to repeal the clean energy future plan, recent surveys of voters showed that they do not agree. In a Nielsen poll from late last year, only 12 per cent supported the government’s direct action policy. Voters are not convinced by this policy.
We on this side of the chamber are not convinced by this policy, either. The claims by the government that repealing the carbon pricing scheme will lower prices for households is false. The introduction of the carbon price caused only a 0.7 per cent increase in the CPI.
I would like to quote, once again, the Labor senators’ dissenting report into these bills. It states:
In its submission, ACOSS highlighted the increased network expenditure as a factor that would impact any reductions in electricity bills:
Based on currently available evidence, it remains unclear whether repealing the carbon tax will lead to a significant decrease in household living costs. ACOSS has been advocating for low income energy consumers in energy market reform processes for the past seven years. The drivers of energy price rises are much broader and more complex than the introduction of the carbon price alone including, for example, increased network expenditure.
Industry group COzero noted that some businesses would not see any impact from repeal because of the length of hedging contracts entered into.
Electricity contracts, in particular, hedged contracts, have been entered into by Liable Entities and Counterparties until the end of the 2015 financial year. These contracts have an implied carbon price in them. Regardless of whether the Carbon Tax is removed, or not, these contracts will have to be honored with a carbon component that will have to be either absorbed by Liable Entities, or passed on.
Australian voters should be concerned about the lack of transparency that the government have shown on this issue. They have been dishonest about the current effects of carbon pricing, they have been dishonest about international action and they have been dishonest about the cost and efficacy of their own policy. Clearly, they have no interest in addressing climate change. The fact that they have no real interest in reducing electricity costs, just political posturing on the issue, can be summed up in one quote from Tony Abbott, which, funnily enough, has now been removed from his website:
If you want to put a price on carbon, why not just do it with a simple tax …
Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more …
Those opposite do not care and do not want effective action on climate change. This is just another example where they are trying to implement a joke of a policy that no-one on their side ever believed they would have to implement. I call upon the Senate to reject the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [Provisions] and related bills. These bills are not good policy and will not result in the desired emissions cuts. The Liberal-National government’s direct action policy will waste billions of dollars and will make Australia the laughing stock of the world.
As I said, we have tens of thousands of highly qualified, well-respected and peer-reviewed scientists, but they can all be swept away with one, short, ignorant comment by the Prime Minister. These scientists spend their lives dedicated to finding out how the natural world works, what is happening, how certain events are caused and how they can be stopped. I would remind those opposite that, as I have already said, scientists undergo a very strict process of peer review. So I think it is incumbent on those opposite to actually take some notice. I know they do not think science is a very important issue. We know that, because there is no science minister. But I would encourage those opposite to stop thinking as they have been led and to actually start thinking for themselves in this matter.