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Take note of Minister Wong's answers on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 19 Mar 2009

I rise to support the motion to take note of the answers from the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong, on greenhouse gas emissions targets. In referring to the targets, I want to comment that Dr Brian Fisher would be the least authoritative person when it comes to any assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, Treasury modelling or whatever. I remind the Senate that Dr Fisher was Chairman of ABARE for a long time. He peopled ABARE with climate sceptics, and that is one of the reasons we have had such a poor performance over 10 years whilst ABARE was in his control. When I came in here it was Dr Fisher who, in answer to questions about Peak oil, said: ‘Put climate change to one side. By putting climate change to one side, we can run our vehicle fleet on liquid coal.' That is in an era of climate change. Anyone who can say that with a straight face in a Senate committee on oil cannot be believed on anything in relation to climate change. If he wants to put climate change to one side, then I would like to put Dr Brian Fisher to one side when it comes to any assessment or analysis of what he has got to say.

The issue on the government's targets is this: the government has been out there saying a five per cent reduction is unconditional, and I accept that, but it has been laying it on by saying that it will go to 15 per cent and the parameters of that are ‘where all major economies commit to substantially restrain emissions' and ‘all developed countries take on comparable reductions to that of Australia'. The latter category is annex 1 countries-‘comparable reductions to that of Australia'. I asked today what the criteria for that was because the community has to know whether there is any realistic capacity or intent of the government to go to 15 per cent. That is the critical issue here.

What we discovered from the answer today is that we could not get an answer to what a ‘major economy' is for the purposes of this definition. We could not get a definition of what ‘substantially restrain emissions' means. We could not get an answer for which countries constitute major economies, and we could not get an answer to what criteria constitute ‘comparable reductions to those of Australia'. What that means is that there will be legislation before the Senate where the people of Australia, through their parliamentarians, are being asked to decide on an emissions trading system with parameters between five and 15 per cent, with people being misled into thinking that 15 per cent is a realistic proposition. The only way you would not be misled into thinking that is by having parameters so you could actually see whether the government has properly used its discretion over those definitions. Instead of that, we will have to vote on this before we have any understanding of what terms such as ‘major economies', ‘substantially restrain emissions' and ‘developed countries taking on comparable reductions to Australia' actually mean.

From what the government has said to date, there is a very dubious criterion being applied to population and comparable efforts. This is an extraordinary effort; the head of the climate department tried it on again in the economics committee last night by saying of contraction and convergence, ‘Well, that meant everyone had to be equal'. I asked him why that is not fair and got this convoluted answer about some countries having more hydro resources. In fact, Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, so it is hardly an excuse. The whole issue here is that the government has absolute discretion in applying these criteria and the community and parliament are not going to know what those criteria are before they vote on the legislation. It gives the Australian government maximum wriggle room on ‘15 per cent' in Copenhagen. Furthermore, Australia has not said whether Australia will go higher than 15 if the rest of the world goes through all these criteria the government has set or whether they will block a global treaty if the rest of the world tries to go beyond 15. These are issues that are critical for the Australian people to know before this legislation comes before the parliament for a vote.


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