SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (4:14 PM) -I am pleased to contribute to this debate and I will certainly return to some of the remarks made by Senator Cameron during his contribution. Notwithstanding the faint praise-or however one may wish to accept it-he gave me during that contribution, there are a number of issues on which I wish to take task with Senator Cameron.
First of all I am surprised that the Australian Greens have brought this motion to the chamber today. I am surprised because I thought in the new paradigm, in the new world in which we are living, that perhaps the Greens had the access to get the answers to the questions that Senator Milne was asking in her contribution directly from the government. I thought that was what the new arrangement entailed. I thought that if Senator Milne wanted to know what principles the government would be taking to Cancun, she would be going into the multiparty committee on climate change and carbon pricing and asking, finding out and getting some answers. It is a little disconcerting to come into this place and find that in the agreement between the Greens and the government we now have the Greens unable to get the types of answers to this key issue on which they negotiated to keep the Labor Party in government after the recent election.
I would have thought that they would ask the questions in the weekly meetings that I understand Senator Brown and members of the Greens of various persuasions have with the Prime Minister and find out the position the government was going to take at Cancun. But they appear not to be able get answers to this important issue-and reasonably important and understandably important to the Australian Greens-from the government to satisfy them in a way that prevents them from having to come into this chamber and pose a motion, pose questions and conduct the debate in the public fray rather than getting some clear answers from those who we thought were their partners in government.
But I do welcome the motion and I particularly welcome the aspects of the motion that call for an equitable contribution by Australia and that highlight that decarbonisation is a global challenge. These are important words to draw attention to within the construct of this motion. It is indeed a global challenge because action on carbon requires unified, comprehensive global agreement. In particular, of course, it requires real agreement from developed nations and from the major developing economies. For all that some have tried to pitch Australia’s contribution as not being significant enough or Australia as not doing enough to put itself ahead of the rest of the world, the reality of this debate is that we will only succeed in tackling climate change, in reducing emissions, if we have genuine global action that encompasses all of those major emitters-all those countries who emit far more than Australia does.
One of the great disappointments of last year was the Copenhagen conference. For all the build-up, for all the hype, for all the thousands of people who converged on Copenhagen, we saw a three-page accord signed. I know that Senator Milne was disappointed by that and I understand the intent of this motion is of course to hope that something better can come out at Cancun than came out of Copenhagen. Insofar as that intent is the case, I welcome that intent, but that will require genuine agreement from all of the other major emitting countries. That will require, echoing the lingo used at the time in Copenhagen, outcomes to be ‘measurable, reportable and verifiable’. That means that, rather than at present where all we are getting are relatively glib contributions or pronouncements from most of the countries who have signed up to the Copenhagen accord, we will need to see some far more concrete commitments as to how reductions will occur.
If that is the case, the coalition has been on the record consistently supporting reductions in emissions in Australia in a manner that is commensurate with those in the rest of the world. Indeed, we have supported them at least at a minimum of five per cent and we will support more if that is what the other developed and developing countries who are major emitters choose to do. We are willing for Australia to take a lead. We think it should. We put the five per cent in place from our policy perspective. We think that is an ‘equitable contribution’ and starting position, to use the words in Senator Milne’s motion. We think to go beyond that then requires global action and that that is where we will see Australia able to continue to make a contribution at an equitable level.
We think an equitable contribution is one that does not drive carbon leakage from this country-that does not push emissions offshore; we think that an equitable contribution is one that does not place undue and unreasonable costs on Australian households, families, small businesses and industry. We think that an equitable contribution is one that, so far as possible, delivers win-win outcomes-outcomes that, yes, you reduce emissions but actually provide benefits for the rest of the economy. These are the types of contributions that we think are equitable contributions to decreasing the amount of carbon in our economy, especially at present when we see such limited activity from the major developed and developing emitters to do likewise. That is what the coalition policy exactly does. It does seek to remove carbon in a way that does not provide for carbon leakage. It does seek to do so in a way that does not impose great costs, great taxes and higher electricity charges on Australian families, businesses or industry. It does so in a way that tries to provide for win-win outcomes.
I note that the government, even today, is reported to be advancing carbon farming initiatives-the types of things that are front and centre in the coalition’s policy. These are the types of things that many members of the coalition have argued for for a long, long time-the types of soil carbon and sequestration opportunities that can provide win-win benefits by sequestering carbon in Australia’s soil, increasing that carbon content and in doing so allowing us to manage our water resources better and enjoy greater productivity. These are the real benefits.
I finish on Senator Cameron’s comments. I noted that Senator Cameron made a very clear and pointed statement about his own party, saying that he did not think that Labor should ever walk away from a contribution to this debate again. Indeed, we see a government that is void of a policy position in this space. We have a Prime Minister who convinced the former Prime Minister to abandon an emissions trading scheme and who went to an election promising not to have a carbon tax. Yet now she is trying to choose between the two without telling the public what the real agenda is. It is time for the government to own up because on this side we know what our policy is.