Speech on the Clean Energy Repeal Bill

21 November 2013

Available at Hansard or below:

November 21, 2013 at 11:15pm


Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (11:15): I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. On Sunday, tens of thousands of Australians gave up their morning to show their support for strong action on climate change. Right around the country there was a really colourful and committed demonstration of people's concern about climate change and their support for an effective suite of policies to combat that threat

It is certainly true that carbon pollution is a problem in our economy and in our country, and that it is impacting on sectors of our economy and country in a way that we have to respond to. A lot of the people who were at those rallies around the country on Sunday—sixty-odd thousand of them—were showing their concern for rising temperatures and more extreme weather, and they were also showing their support for low emissions technology and renewable energy. My colleague the member for Fremantle mentioned the firefighters who were at these rallies. At my one in Brisbane there was a guy named Dean who spoke very powerfully and eloquently about the threat of climate change to his work and life.

Those demonstrations were more than a demonstration of any one issue: more than rising temperatures and extreme weather, more than low emissions technology or renewable energy—much more than that. There was also a powerful demonstration of the type of country that we want to be in Australia. It is my belief that Australia has a pretty stark choice. It can go one of two ways, in this debate and more broadly. The first course is the one that the government has set, which is to belittle scientists, to sack them, to cut their funding, to ignore them and pretend they can be replaced by Wikipedia, to abolish them, and to cut the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that was driving investment in renewable technology. That is the course that the government has set.

Mr Fletcher interjecting—

Dr CHALMERS: That is the course that the member for Bradfield supports—the antiscience course. The course that we in the Labor Party support is to be a country that is capable of listening to and acting on expert opinion, finding a way to do difficult things in the economy and in the environment, in an intelligent and beneficial way, a way that safeguards the future of Australia.

Those are the two courses that we are choosing between in this debate over the climate change legislation, and more broadly, in the approach that that side of the House versus this side of the House takes.

It is true that only in the political sphere is opinion on these issues so sharply divided. In the scientific community it is a near-unanimous view that climate change is real and caused by humans. Ninety-seven per cent of peer-reviewed scientific climate change papers over 20 years have said that climate change is real and caused by humans, so the scientific community is united as one.

This issue also has done the near impossible by uniting the economic community. Eighty-six per cent of economists who were surveyed recently backed in an emissions trading scheme to deal with the threat of climate change in a cheap and efficient way. As my colleague the member for Cunningham mentioned earlier, one of those economists, Chris Caton, said that any economist who does not believe in emissions trading should hand back their economics degree.

What we have here is a government that has been blinded by ideology on this issue. They have been seduced by the political opportunity. They have been cheered on by sections of the right-wing media and they think they know better than the overwhelming near-unanimous view of all the scientists and economists around the world. This is unprecedented in modern times—a government that thinks it knows better than 97 per cent of scientists and 86 per cent of economists.

The member for Fisher earlier on was talking about a parallel universe. Well, there is a parallel universe acting in this parliament where those opposite think that the overwhelming scientific and economic opinion is wrong. That is how we get this bizarre situation of having a Prime Minister who accused a United Nations official of talking through her hat, a truly bizarre and damaging position for a Prime Minister of Australia to take about a United Nations official.

Then we have a former Prime Minister who put forward an emissions trading scheme as a policy and now dismisses people who believe in climate change action as 'religious zealots', saying that he would prefer to rely on gut instinct than a near-unanimous view of the scientific and economic community.

The political hero of those opposite, Margaret Thatcher—and we get Margaret Thatcher quotes thrown at us all the time from that side of the House—once famously said that she does not have a reverse gear. Unfortunately for Australia, our new Prime Minister only has a reverse gear when it comes to climate change. He does not have any of the gears that go forward. The whole country and the whole economy has been thrown into reverse by this ridiculous position taken by those opposite. There is some sort of a reverse renaissance going on in Australia when scientists are belittled, have their funding cut and are ignored and rubbished by the government of the day. We do not just have what the Prime Minister described as women knocking on the door of the Cabinet, we also have the experts in our country standing on the outside looking in. This is an embarrassing state of affairs for a country which was so recently praised for the quality of its economic policies during the global financial crisis.

Anyone who knows anything about this issue knows that, if you believe in climate change action, if you believe climate change is real and that it requires an intelligent response, then polluters should pay rather than be paid. They know they should not have a big slush fund that doles out to the biggest polluters in the country without a cap. We know that there needs to be a cap if we are serious about meeting targets and cutting pollution. You have to have a cap on pollution. We know that the cheapest and most effective way to go about it is to unleash the efficiencies of the market. You do not get to pick and choose. Those opposite say they believe in the market. This is a market based mechanism to deal with the threat. If you believe that there is a threat then the cheapest and most efficient way to deal with that is using the market. We also believe that those on the lowest incomes should be cushioned from the price impacts. Instead of that position, the government have a massive slush fund, which is less effective but costs more and which has no hope of seeing us reach the targets that they pretend to have signed up to. There is no cap on pollution. There is no market mechanism. Instead, we have this bizarre Soviet-style command and control.

I have been listening to the debate over the last few days and there is absolutely no interest from those opposite in the facts of the issue. In the last two years, renewable energy is up almost 30 per cent, electricity emissions have been reduced by around 12 million tonnes and over a million households now generate their electricity with rooftop solar. These are all very good things. When you look more broadly in the economy, you have investment going gang busters, you have unemployment levels low compared to the rest of the world, inflation is low and interest rates are low. There is no such thing as the hundred-dollar roast that those opposite were trying to scare people with. The hundred-dollar lamb roast has not eventuated. Towns like Whyalla were not wiped off the map, as they said they would. And we now have crocodile tears from those opposite about the cost of living, while they rip out the schoolkids bonus and the low-income super contribution. We also have crocodile tears today even about the impact of the carbon price on small business, at the same time as they gut the investment allowance. We dismiss those as crocodile tears and just playing politics.

I am told that Australia won the fossil of the day award four days out of five at the Warsaw climate conference. We also know that even though 134 other countries sent ministers to that important conference, the Australian LNP government did not send a minister to that conference. While Australia is in reverse gear on these issues, other countries are getting their act together. It is no longer a matter of acting ahead of the world; it is now about not falling further behind.


We are approaching the end of the debate. A gag has been put on this debate by those opposite, who cannot defend their scientific and economic positions. I have listened to some good contributions to the debate and also a few shockers. The one I want to focus on today is what the member for Ryan said on Monday night. She said that our approach to this issue encapsulated everything about Labor. I think she had a good point. Our approach does say a lot about the Labor Party. It says a lot about our belief in the overwhelming scientific consensus and in listening to the experts, not belittling them and ignoring them. It says a lot about our belief in market economics—in this case, the most effective and cheapest way to take action on the dangers of climate change, far superior to a big slush fund overseen by weathervanes and sceptics. It says a lot about our belief in cushioning the impact on middle Australia, especially those on low and fixed incomes, and not scaring pensioners with rubbish claims about hundred-dollar roasts and towns being wiped off the map. Most of all, it says everything about our belief in putting the future of the country and the right kind of dynamic economy ahead of any short-term political considerations that always seem to win out on that side of the House.

On this side of the House, we are proud of our position. We do want to power the future economy with cleaner energy. We do want to cut pollution. It is as simple as that. We do not do these things because there is some kind of political dividend in it—far from it—but because there is an environmental, economic and national dividend for the entire country when it comes to getting this right. If we have to dig in for a long fight, so be it. We will always stand with the scientists, economists and most of all the people of Australia who want to provide a clean energy future for their kids, who deserve better; not for the political opportunism that we see from those opposite, aided and abetted by the special interests in our community.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): I thank the member for Rankin and want to acknowledge him as a new member. I welcome him to parliament.