Speech to the Senate: Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Senator MINCHIN (South Australia) (7:32 PM) —The government this week are asking the Senate to support passage of a package of no less than 11 separate bills, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills, to give effect to their Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, as they call it. This scheme represents one of the most dramatic and far-reaching interventions into the Australian economy ever proposed by an Australian government. Its passage and entry into force would have enormous impacts on the Australian economy and the economic circumstances of millions of Australians. The government knows there is no Senate majority for this legislation, yet it is determined on what is nothing more than a cynical political exercise.

This legislation should be withdrawn for a number of reasons. Firstly, it proposes a scheme which will not commence operation for another two years. There is absolutely no justification for the government’s insistence that the parliament deal with it now. Secondly, the government is seeking to legislate an emissions trading scheme for Australia well in advance of the UN meeting in Copenhagen in December, which will determine the extent to which, if any, the world is prepared to act in concert on CO2 emissions. It is utter folly for Australia to legislate a scheme prior to the Copenhagen conference. And, thirdly, the United States, currently the biggest emitter, is currently considering the issue of an ETS. It is, in our view, cynically irresponsible to propose that the Australian parliament lock in an Australian ETS prior to the US—as I said, the biggest emitter of CO2—before it determines whether or not it will commit to an ETS and, if so, the nature and design of such a scheme.

For these reasons, the opposition condemns the government for its naked political opportunism in forcing the parliament to consider its so-called CPRS at this time. Not only is the timing of this legislative initiative to be condemned, so too should the very name given to this package of legislation be condemned by this parliament. It is regrettably typical of this spin-driven government to use such a grotesquely Orwellian approach to the description of this legislation. For no more than base political purposes, the government has called its emissions trading scheme a ‘carbon pollution reduction scheme’. This is of course the perpetuation of a cruel hoax on the Australian people, childishly simplistic and misleading. The scheme proposed does not deal with carbon. It purports to deal with something quite separate—carbon dioxide emissions—and the scheme does not deal with pollution.

Whatever the climatic role of human induced emissions of CO2, CO2 is not by any stretch of the imagination a pollutant. CO2 is, as we know, a clear, odourless, colourless gas vital to life on earth. Indeed, CO2 is essential to a healthy environment. One of the most cynical and deceptive manoeuvres of the climate change fanatics is to seek to convince people that CO2 emissions are pollution, to demonise CO2 per se. Anyone with any understanding of science knows this to be a complete falsehood. Indeed the Rudd government knows it too. Its own environment department’s website has a link to the official Australian National Pollutant Inventory, which lists 93 pollutants. Surprise, surprise, carbon dioxide is not listed among them. Mind you, after this speech, I bet some poor public servant will be bullied into adding CO2 to the list. So even the government’s own official list of pollutants, all 93 of them, does not include carbon dioxide.

It is also typical of this deceitful and spin-driven government to so cynically misrepresent the nature of carbon dioxide. Of course this whole extraordinary scheme, which would do so much damage to Australia, is based on the as yet unproven assertion that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are the main driver of global warming. I want to commend Senator Fielding for his questioning of the government over the causes of global warming. The Rudd government arrogantly refuses to acknowledge that there remains a very lively scientific debate about the extent of and the main causes of climate change, with thousands of highly reputable scientists around the world of the view that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are not and cannot be the main driver of the small degree of global warming that occurred in the last 30 years of the 20th century.

No-one, of course, disputes the reality of climate change. Of course the climate is constantly changing—it always has; it always will—but the main drivers of the small degree of warming that occurred in the 20th-century and the extent to which we should be concerned about it are hotly disputed in scientific circles. One of the world’s most eminent atmospheric scientists, Professor Richard Lindzen of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently observed:

The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature anomaly of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations. Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses by politicians, environmental promoters, and, after 20 years of media drum beating, many others as well. Climate is always changing.

That is Professor Richard Lindzen, one of the world’s most eminent atmospheric scientists, who I suspect knows a little bit more about this subject than Senator Penny Wong. On Tuesday, June 23, writing in the Australian, Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, Emeritus Professor of Meteorology at Flinders University, in Adelaide, reinforced this:

Repeatedly in science we are reminded that happenings in nature can rarely be ascribed to a single phenomenon. For example, sea levels on our coasts are dependent on winds and astronomical forces as well as atmospheric pressure and, on a different time scale, the temperature profile of the ocean. Now, with complete abandon, a vociferous body of claimants is insisting that CO2 alone is the root of climatic evil.

I fear that many supporters of this view have become carried away by the euphoria of mass or dominant group psyche. Scientists are no more immune from being swayed by the pressure of collective enthusiasm than any other member of the human race.

To acknowledge the reality of continuing scientific debate is not to say that Australia should not act in concert with other nations to give the planet the benefit of the doubt and to seek a global agreement to contain CO2 emissions. To the extent that anthropogenic CO2 emissions may be a cause of the limited global warming that has occurred, and to the extent that that warming is considered to be damaging, internationally coordinated measures to contain emissions at the least possible cost may be warranted. Indeed, as someone trained in economics, I proclaim the virtue of an approach based on ensuring the most cost-efficient use of finite resources. The world has not measured up to that standard in relation to its use of energy. But, given the continuing scientific debate, it is especially important that a country like Australia only take steps in relation to CO2 emissions that are in concert with the rest of the world and clearly involve the least cost and most economically efficient means of CO2 containment.

The government’s CPRS clearly fails that test. The case against this scheme was convincingly made by my colleague the member for Goldstein, Mr Robb, in his speech on this bill in the House of Representatives. I also commend the work of my coalition colleagues on the Economics Legislation Committee in their reports on these bills and of Senator Xenophon on his minority report, which is a well-argued condemnation of this CPRS. I should also make mention of the critical analysis of this CPRS undertaken by the Select Committee on Climate Policy, chaired by my colleague Senator Colbeck, which exposed the CPRS’s many, many flaws.

Not enough is made of the reality of Australia’s circumstances in the consideration of measures to contain anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Australia contributes a little over one per cent of the planet’s CO2 emissions. If we were to completely shut down the Australian economy tomorrow, Australia’s CO2 emissions would be fully replaced by China within nine months. It is indisputably the case that nothing Australia does on its own can have any impact whatsoever on the earth’s climate. The deceit perpetrated by climate change fanatics that an Australian ETS will save the Barrier Reef is utterly contemptible. The manic determination of the government to impose this scheme on Australia also ignores the reality of the Australian economy.

Australia’s economy and our higher standard of living have been built upon our access to relatively cheap and abundant supplies of energy generated by coal-fired power stations. This is regrettably not well understood in this parliament let alone in the wider community. It was my privilege to serve as Minister for Industry, Science and Resources for three years in the Howard government, an experience which reinforced this fundamental reality about Australia: all the great manufacturing and value-added industries of Australia, which this Labor government professes a commitment to, have been built on and are sustained by access to cheap, reliable energy derived from coal. That is why an ETS, essentially an energy tax, is such a threat to this country. As Terry McCrann so accurately said in the Australian of 20-21 June:

...an ETS threatens to kill the Australian economy. It is a direct attack on our core comparative advantage: bluntly, the production of CO2.

Power generated from cheap and abundant coal is a, perhaps the, core building block of both our standard of living and our entire economy.

That is a reality which this government wilfully ignores. What we see here is a Labor government sacrificing workers in energy-intensive industries on the altar of green votes. The cruel joke is that all those thousands of jobs to be destroyed by Labor’s CPRS will be in vain, because this scheme will make absolutely no difference to the global climate. Most Australians clearly do not understand what an emissions trading scheme is, how it would work and what its consequences would be. That is perfectly understandable. I suspect most of the Labor caucus has no idea, either. Essentially it will be a very substantial tax on energy, and that is why Labor’s flawed CPRS is such a threat to our economy, dependent as it is on relatively cheap supplies of energy. Hence the utter folly of Australia designing and implementing this scheme ahead of the rest of the world.

Labor’s CPRS is a serious threat to many regional economies and the jobs they support, and I commend Senator Fiona Nash for her eloquent espousal of their cause. In my own state of South Australia it is estimated that it will cost 2,000 jobs by 2020 in the minerals industry alone. As a senator for South Australia, I do not see how I can possibly vote for this legislation, nor do I see how any government senators representing South Australia can vote for it. While the financial capitals of Melbourne and Sydney may relish the creation of a new financial instrument to be traded by 20-something bankers, the people of a state like mine will pay the price in a higher cost of living, in industries and jobs destroyed and in a reduction in competitiveness—all for zero environmental gain.

It is also reprehensible that Labor would seek to legislate this serious attack on the Australian economy at a time when, as Mr Rudd constantly reminds us, we face a very serious set of economic circumstances. Mr Rudd loves to remind us of the seriousness of the so-called GFC and its threat to Australia. Indeed, it is his justification for the most massive explosion in government spending, government deficits and government debt seen since the 1930s. Yet, while talking endlessly about our serious economic situation, he seeks to fit Australia up with a set of concrete boots called his CPRS. As Geoff Carmody, one of Australia’s most eminent economists, wrote in the Financial Review on 23 June this year:

The CPRS is 'the GST from hell', delivering negative protection. Why should any country unilaterally tax its exports and effectively subsidise its imports, for no global emissions reduction?

At a time when policy should be wholly directed at maximising the efficiency, productivity and international competitiveness of the Australian economy, Mr Rudd seeks to impose a unilateral massive new tax on Australian industry and consumers which will damage our economy and do nothing to combat global warming. The government’s pursuit of this legislation at this time is nothing more than an act of vanity on the part of Mr Kevin Rudd. This most vain of prime ministers wants to strut the stage at Copenhagen in December with a legislated ETS in his back pocket. He and his government propose to sacrifice Australia’s national interest on the altar of his vain desire for international acclaim from the vast UN bureaucracy being built around climate change policy.

The Australian parliament should not even be considering legislation for an ETS until we know the outcome of the UN’s Copenhagen conference and the US Senate’s consideration of the Waxman-Markey bill. The Australian people agree with this view. An Australian Newspoll conducted on the weekend of 24 to 26 July showed that 53 per cent of Australians wanted their government to either delay the introduction of an emissions trading scheme until after the Copenhagen conference or not introduce an emissions trading scheme at all. On that basis, and for the reasons I have outlined to the Senate tonight, I urge the Senate to reject this package of bills.