SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (7:35 PM) -I thank Senator Cameron for the lead-in, although I think it is high time to dispel some of the myths that Senator Cameron and others want to peddle, and they want to peddle them in this debate as much as they have in any other climate debates of recent times. First and foremost I want to dispel the myth that this is, somehow, still a debate about science. It is not a debate about science. Certainly, from my perspective, it is by no means a debate about science. As the coalition spokespeople and our leader keep reinforcing, time and time again, this is by no means a debate about science. It is not a debate about whether we should take action or not take action. By no means is it that. It is a debate about what action we should take, about what action is appropriate, and about the transparency, processes and mechanisms used to get to that action. These are the important attributes and aspects of this debate. It is not a science debate.
To answer the challenge that Senator Cameron threw up: I accept the science. I have said many times in this place before now that I am not a scientist. I am not a climate scientist. I look around me and I do not see any other climate scientists, or any scientists, in the room either. However, I acknowledge the balance of the science and accept that the world should be acting. I am disappointed, indeed, that the world is not acting in unison in the type of way that would allow far more effective action to be taken overall than can be taken in a world where we see very piecemeal commitments from most of the major emitting nations, nations far larger in the size or scope of their emissions than Australia.
Senator Cameron also wanted to talk about whether or not we could have green jobs and green industries. He cited the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, at length. The answer is yes, we can have those green jobs and those green industries. We can have them and we should have them, but we do not need to have a big new tax across the entire Australian economy to have them. What we need is to drive the type of targeted investment in those industries that is necessary to facilitate their growth and necessary to facilitate the investment and innovation that will get them into the state of efficiency where they can compete. We do not need taxes across everything in the belief that somehow that is going to drive innovation and investment in those sectors.
This debate is a contrast of stories. It is a contrast of the approaches of those who went to an election knowing what they were doing, knowing what they wanted to plan for, committing to it and still standing by it and of those who went to an election saying or doing anything and back-pedalling and backflipping as fast as they could after the election. If we look at the contrast, we see that the coalition went to the last election with the direct action policy that was released more than a year ago now. It remains our policy. At its heart remains the $10.5 billion emissions reduction fund. This policy is the bedrock of our plan. We took it to last year’s election. We are standing by it after last year’s election. No doubt we will finesse it as we approach the next election to make sure that it meets the needs for that election and beyond, but we stand by the approach, the plan and the mechanisms of our policy.
Contrast that with what the government did. They went to the last election having backflipped and back-pedalled on their policies during their term in office, having changed Prime Minister in unprecedented circumstances. They threw up a climate change convention, a random selection of punters from the white pages. They threw up a cash-for-clunkers scheme to get old cars off the roads. Those were their great climate change policies at the last election. And, of course, they made rock-solid, rolled gold promises that there would be no carbon tax. Their solution was the cash for clunkers and the talkfest of the convention. Those were the things they were going to do.
We on this side are still committed to our policy, whereas the government have ditched every single climate change initiative or policy they announced during the election. They have thrown them all out in favour of doing exactly what they said they would not do. Let us look back at some of the words of the Prime Minister, not the first and most often quoted words at present-I will come to those-but words she spoke in March 2009. At that time, she said:
I think when you go to an election and you give a promise to the Australian people, you should do everything in your power to honour that promise.
Well, she went to an election as the Leader of the Labor Party, as the incumbent Prime Minister, having rolled Mr Rudd to secure that job. During that election, on not one occasion, not two occasions but many occasions, she ruled out introducing a carbon tax. She point-blank ruled it out. In the days leading up to the election, she stared down the barrel of the television camera and spoke directly to the Australian people, as the media training had told her to do, and she said as she stared down that barrel:
There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead …
It could not have been any more black and white. It could not have been any clearer. This was the promise she gave to the Australian people. If we go back to her earlier words, where she claimed ‘you should do everything in your power to honour that promise’, one has to wonder why she has not lived up to those words. She has done nothing in her power to honour that promise-nothing at all.
This Prime Minister has simply decided to overturn all that she said, to bail on it all, all on the false premise that somehow the new parliament has demanded it. But the new parliament did not demand it; the Prime Minister has offered it. That is what has occurred. The Prime Minister has offered it to this new parliament. She has offered it to the Greens. Indeed, if we take a look at exactly what the Greens have said in recent times, Senator Milne said, ‘We have ownership of this policy because it’s one that we proposed.’ Those are the words that Senator Milne has used since the glorious doorstop press conference announcement outside the Prime Minister’s office last Thursday, when we saw the Prime Minister, Minister Combet, Senator Brown, Senator Milne and two Independents from the other place all there patting each other on the back for an announcement of this almighty reversal of policy intention by a government.
The government stand condemned, because it is bad policy. It is policy that will cost Australian jobs, that will push prices up for Australian households and that will inflict pain. The government equally stand condemned because it is a policy they said they would not deliver. We stand by our policy, a policy that would deliver action on climate change but would do so without the negatives they impose. (Time expired)