Carbon Emission Limits

31 Oct 2013 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation regarding carbon emission limits.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: One of the last duties of the former premier Mike Rann was to make some announcements in December 2010 regarding intentions to set carbon emission limits for new electricity production, which he described as 'by far the toughest in Australia'. Consultation was to begin in 2011 with a bill to be introduced into parliament to set 'a maximum carbon content for electricity generated from any new plant in South Australia'. My questions are as follows:

1.Can the minister provide the house with an update on the consultation process and explain what has happened to the time frame?

2.Can he explain why this consultation process has taken so much time?

3.Can he explain why this, as well as a number of climate change issues, have fallen off the government's agenda since Mike Rann's departure?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:23): I thank the honourable member for her most important question, but I have to indicate that in fact the major gist of her question goes to a minister in another place, the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, so I undertake to take that particular part of the question to the minister in another place and seek a response on her behalf. However, I can make some preliminary or general comments about climate change and what we are doing as a state.

As I have said before in this place many times now, the climate is, of course, changing. Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity are contributing to this change and if we do not tackle this as a state and as a country—and, indeed, as a world—we will face significant human, environmental and economic costs. The State of the Environment report released in 2013 is wideranging and explains the effects of climate change that have already been seen and the more challenging changes that we need to prepare for.

Global average temperatures rose by just over 0.7 degrees in the hundred years from 1910 to 2009. There has been a clear decline in average rainfall in southern Australia since 1970, which has been linked to rising temperatures, and most analysts would say that this drying trend is likely to persist. We are also seeing increased climate variability. Increased climate variability is leading to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves.

Australia, sir, as you probably know, has an international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020. I note with interest that the Climate Change Authority has released a draft report for consultation on this particular target suggesting that it could be revised. I understand that the draft report indicates that Australia's commitment to cutting emissions by 5 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 could leave Australia behind other countries.

I am advised that the draft report has not recommended a final tougher target but has canvassed options for emissions reduction targets of a level of 15 per cent reduction by 2020, with a trajectory range of between 35 to 50 per cent by 2030, and they are high aspirations. There are other targets they talk about as well. In addition to looking at the target, I understand that the draft report looks at Australia's progress in reducing emissions. Given that past experience is part of the context for considering future reductions in emissions, the authority has incorporated its response in this requirement in the draft report.

The draft report outlines the emissions experiences and outlook for different sectors of the Australian economy. It provides insights into the opportunities and challenges for effecting further sectoral reductions in emissions in the years ahead, and it highlights several areas where future reductions and emissions might be pursued. I understand at the macro level, and relevant to the consideration of appropriate emissions reduction targets for 2020 and beyond, the review indicates that over the past two decades Australia has achieved solid economic growth while halving its emissions intensity and that has been calculated as emissions per unit of GDP.

I understand that the Climate Change Authority will accept submissions on the draft until 29 November, so honourable members who may have an interest in this might care to make submissions. The final report is due to be handed to the federal government by the end of February 2014. I sincerely hope that the federal government will pay attention to this draft report. It is a debate we need to have, and I would like to see the independent voices of the scientific advisers maintain this debate, rather than shut down by the loud voices of people such as Mr Andrew Bolt and his ilk.

This draft report has been released in the wake of a new federal government that has made a series of very disappointing decisions in this area to date. Again, I encourage them to rethink their policy on the basis of solid science. The Coalition, I am advised, intends to introduce legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority. The authority was set up by the former Labor government, as the former government saw the importance of having expert advice on carbon pricing and climate policy.

I do not have a lot of hope because one of the very first acts of the new Prime Minister was to abolish the minister of science. There is no minister for science in the federal government anymore, and that speaks volumes, I think, for the approach the new federal government is going to be taking to dealing with difficult policy decisions—ignore the science listen to Sharman Stone. She is the expert now. Listen to Sharman Stone. She wants to take away all our water rights. That is who they will be listening to at a federal level, not independent scientists.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Sharman Stone? Charmaine is a better sounding name isn't it? Whatever her name is—the honourable member.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The Hon. Mr Lucas is talking about my inner bogan. Perhaps we can get together and talk about our shared inner bogans later on. There is an awful lot to be proud of in being a inner bogan. I have many traits that could be ascribed to that without having the mullet the Hon. Mr Stephens used to have many years ago.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: That hurt! It is a very sad environment in Canberra at the moment—an environment which saw the first act of the new Abbott government close the Climate Commission just a week before the world's leading climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, handed down its assessment on the status of global climate change. This contrasts greatly to one of the former federal Labor government's actions, which was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol regarding climate change.

Let's have a look at the new Prime Minster's track record. He is abolishing three entire bodies dedicated to tackling climate change: the Climate Commission, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority itself. He has failed to appoint a minister for science, and he wants to repeal the most effective and efficient way of taking action in relation to climate change. This echoes very closely his tactics in terms of the boats. First of all, it was, 'Look at all the boats that are coming! Look at all the boats!' and then it's going to be, 'Let's buy all the boats,' and now it's, 'Look over here; don't look at the boats. Look at this shiny thing over here; don't look at the boats.'

That's exactly what he's doing about climate: 'Don't look at the science. We are going to axe the science minister. Don't look at the information coming from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because we've done away with it. Don't look at the information coming from the Climate Change Authority because we've cut it to pieces.' That is how we see this federal government approaching policy in this country. We should all be very, very scared of the future under this new Prime Minister.

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: I'm not scared: I'm looking forward to it.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, some people are just deluded forever.

The PRESIDENT: I am tempted to call order, but I won't be.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: This new Prime Minister is going to pursue a policy, called 'direct action', which even his own federal election candidates could not articulate. He claims to have a direct action policy which will establish an emissions reduction fund to create a so-called green army and explore soil carbon projects.

Well, Mr Abbott, leading economists have overwhelmingly rejected this direct action policy and have backed carbon pricing. A Fairfax media survey reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 28 October that, of 35 prominent university and business economists, only two believed that direct action was the better way to limit Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and that 30 (86 per cent of them) favoured the existing carbon price scheme.

An internationally-renowned Australian economist, Justin Wolfers, of the Washington-based Brookings Institution and the University of Michigan, said he was surprised that any economist would opt for direct action under which the government will pay for emissions cuts by businesses and farmers from a budget worth $2.88 billion over four years.

So, that's what the Hon. Mr Tony Abbott is going to do—not actually embrace the economic argument around emissions trading. He is going to reach into the taxpayers' funds and dole out $2.88 billion to direct action to pay businesses who are polluting. Professor Wolfers said direct action would involve more economic disruption but have a lesser environmental payoff than an emissions trading scheme under which big emitters must pay for their pollution.

BT Financial's Dr Chris Caton said that any economist who did not opt for emissions trading 'should hand his degree back'. I don't know what degree Mr Abbott has, but I am pretty sure it's not one that Dr Chris Caton would recognise. In light of this reality—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Look who's talking, David.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: In light of this reality that we face, it is even more important than ever that the South Australian government is taking action to help South Australians deal with the impacts of climate change. Our leadership dates back to 2003 and 2007, when internationally-renowned thinkers provided insight into what South Australia could do to address climate change.

In 2007, South Australia established the frameworks for rising to the challenge by enacting Australia's first dedicated climate change legislation, releasing a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in South Australia and beginning a climate change awareness-raising campaign. This enabled the South Australian government to support those desiring a better and cleaner future for South Australia and the world.

Entering into agreements with willing members of industry and the community promoted climate change awareness and prepared the community for a potential carbon price and prepared for a changing climate. Those willing to invest in large wind energy projects were provided tax rebates and smaller investors—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: And he's got 45 minutes to go.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —were provided legislative and financial support to use solar panels. South Australia then moved to policies such as legislation for energy—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, the honourable members are kicking up because they don't want to hear the successes. They don't want to hear about a government that is actually kicking goals in this area. They want to talk to a government that's got no plan and that matches their own no-plan zone.

In 2010-11, South Australian emissions were almost 9 per cent lower than 1990 levels, and you should be giving credit to the government that led that. South Australian emissions were almost 9 per cent lower than 1990 levels. In addition, over 25 per cent of South Australia's electricity generation now comes from over $2 billion worth of privately-funded wind farms. An additional 2 per cent comes from solar panels.

It is a government of South Australia—Jay Weatherill's Labor government—that has the plan for the future. We will combat this issue, even if we have to go it alone against all the Eastern States naysayers and the Sharman Stones of the world who want to take away our water and who want to take water out of the River Murray.

Where do the state Liberals stand? Do they stand with the rest of South Australia? Will they stand up for South Australian water rights and the River Murray? No. They are out there with their hands in the back pocket of the federal Liberals saying, 'Please look after us. We will take whatever is on offer.' The South Australian government, the Labor government, still stands up for South Australia at every stage.