The carbon tax repeal legislation is about to be passed by the House of Representatives for the third time and the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has argued against them in an impassioned speech to the chamber.
Shorten lamented the lost opportunity that began in 2009 with legislation of which he said the nation could have been collectively proud.
A range of commentators have described this speech as one of Shorten’s most impressive. Others feel it is indicative of the ALP’s parlous position that it came on the day the demise of the Gillard government’s signature achievement became inevitable.
- Listen to Shorten’s speech (22m – transcript below)
- Watch Shorten (22m)
Hansard transcript of Bill Shorten’s speech to the House of Representatives on the carbon tax repeal legislation.
In late 2009, this nation was on the verge of making a decision about which we could have been collectively proud.
We could have made this parliament a place of inspiration.
A national response to climate change supported by Government and Opposition.
A policy of government and opposition that built upon the previous government’s decision – a government not of our party – consistent with the best practice in the world.
That debate took this country to a higher level.
The myths, fears and uncertainties would be set aside, not just for the national interest but for all generations, for all future time.
But from that time, that hope of developing a national commitment for action has been frittered away.
For this Prime Minister’s part, he wrested away the leadership of the Liberal Party from the person who believed most in the evidence, and the need for a response.
For our part, we walked away from calling an election which the nation was entitled to have.
We did the second best.
We worked to achieve a national response.
We settled for second best, transforming international pricing into a carbon tax.
But we were right to have international pricing.
We were right to support an emissions trading scheme.
We were right to have climate change as a political priority of the previous government.
We were right to establish the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
We were right to back the Renewable Energy Target.
We were right to listen to the scientific world.
We had a responsibility to work within the political realities to achieve the best national outcomes for the best international response.
For this, we do not apologise.
From this, we do not resile.
We are not sceptics.
We believe the science.
We understand that what is necessary is an effective international solution.
In that international solution, we aim for best practice, to be among the leaders, working with the progressive, continuously testing the facts.
In that international solution, we want practical outcomes – the best solutions – not vague promises.
We would prefer to be part of a national consensus, but where we cannot, Labor shall advocate our position.
We want to nurture the debate.
Last week’s staggering display of this Government’s special blend of blustering arrogance and craven incompetence made one thing abundantly clear.
Only one party in Australia has a serious, substantial and credible climate change policy – the Australian Labor party.
Mr Deputy Speaker
There is no doubt our earth is warming and our seas rising – or that humankind is the cause.
The US Department of Energy has calculated that the burning of fossil fuels has caused some 1.3 trillion tonnes of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere.
And researchers from the Woods Hole Centre have calculated that a further 0.7 trillion tonnes have been released as a consequence of de-forestation and changes in land use.
That is 2 trillion tonnes of a heat-trapping greenhouse gas released into our atmosphere – at a rate many times faster than the previous 800,000 years.
Each of the last three decades has been warmer on average than any other in modern times and 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st Century.
Sea levels have risen by about 20cm on average over the past century – and the rate of increase has been much greater in recent decades.
There is no evidence to refute any of this – or any genuine scientific counterargument in the climate change debate.
This is not ‘absolute crap’, Prime Minister. It is the inescapable truth.
And if we do not act, the consequences will be severe.
It is predicted we will endure more droughts, more bushfires and more floods, more storms – more extremes.
Indeed we are already seeing more extreme weather events, influenced by the warming experienced thus far.
The damage to our coasts, our farmland, our forests and our animal life will be irretrievable – and irreversible.
In 2014, the question before this Parliament, the question for our nation, the question for humanity is not whether we need to act on climate change.
It is, as President Obama has said:
whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late
We must decide today whether Australia will step up and play our part.
Fulfilling our responsibility, doing our fair share means setting appropriate emissions targets – and building the policy infrastructure to help us meet them.
That is what Labor did.
Because any serious policy solution to climate change must, sooner rather than later, include an Emissions Trading Scheme.
This is where the world is heading.
Next year, in Paris, world leaders will gather to develop the next set of emissions goals for 2030.
Australia can choose.
We can attend that conference proud that we are making our contribution to a global effort, or we can slink in embarrassed by our lethargy.
We can go as a country with an integrated, effective ETS or as a nation with no climate policy.
The Governments of the world, both progressive and conservative, are making their choice clear.
Today, 39 national and 23 sub-national jurisdictions – accounting for almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions – have implemented or are on track to implement carbon pricing instruments, including Emissions Trading Schemes.
Already the world’s emissions trading schemes are valued at more than $30 billion.
China’s seven pilot Emissions Trading Schemes alone cover a quarter of a billion people – the second largest carbon market in the world, second only to the European Union’s.
South Korea will introduce its ETS on 1 January 2015.
Mexico put a price on carbon in 2013.
The European Union has had an ETS for many years, and many European countries have applied their own carbon pricing on top of the European system, including France in 2013.
In the United States, Oregon and Washington are exploring carbon pricing options, and California – itself the world’s 8th largest economy – already has an ETS in place.
As does New York and eight other states in the USA’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
This growing international trend means every year more people are trading more emissions in more markets, for more money – and we can vote today for our economy to be a part of this.
We can vote for a flexible and viable ETS – compared to heavy regulation and intervention.
We can vote for an ETS that doesn’t just favour renewable energy – it favours all low emissions energy.
Labor’s ETS provides an added commercial incentive for better carbon capture and storage, natural gas and clean coal – delivering more benefit for Australian industries.
And Labor’s ETS is ready to link to the world’s biggest emissions trading market – the European Union.
Mr Deputy Speaker, our world is moving forward on climate change.
And if Australia goes backwards – we will be going alone.
Nations on every continent are taking new action and creating new economic opportunities for their people.
World leaders recognise, what former Republican US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson recently called:
The profound economic risks of doing nothing.
Paulson, a powerful conservative has said that ‘Waiting for more information before acting’ is not ‘conservative’.
It is taking a very radical risk.
This Prime Minister is no leader.
He is incapable of identifying the risks and costs of inaction.
He is sleepwalking his way to a major climate policy disaster.
A disaster for the Australian economy and our environment.
A disaster that guarantees Tony Abbott will be remembered forever for his environmental vandalism.
While the Prime Minister dithers over his dodgy deals with the crossbench, Labor’s policies continue to deliver economic and environmental benefits.
Since we put a price on pollution two years ago, emissions in the energy sector – the main industry covered by the carbon tax – have dropped by 10.4 per cent
Since the Renewable Energy Target was introduced, $18 billion has flowed into Australia’s renewable energy sector.
Under Labor, wind power generation – tripled.
The number of jobs in the renewable energy sector – tripled.
And the number of Australian households with rooftop solar panels increased from under 7,500 to almost 1.2 million.
Abolishing the RET will put Australia out of step with the rest of the world – and it will cut us off from the next wave of international investment in clean energy.
Already, after 9 months of this Government talking down the RET – and lying about its impact – Australia has slipped from 4th to 8th on Ernst and Young’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index.
Australia is one of 144 countries in the world with a set of renewable targets – and Labor believes we should lead the world as a supplier of clean energy.
If we are strategic, if we are smart, Australia can power our future prosperity with solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy.
This is not just about taking advantage of our country’s natural gifts: the sunlight that bathes our continent and the waves that break upon our coastline.
It means Australian researchers, scientists and investors leading innovation and creating economic growth by developing new energy technology and boosting energy efficiency.
This is precisely what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are helping achieve.
The CEFC is a productive and profitable enterprise, generating genuine value for taxpayer money.
By leveraging private sector investment in low emission technology, the CEFC steps up to help Australian start-ups capitalise and commercialise ideas.
Last year, every dollar ($1) the CEFC invested generated two dollars ninety ($2.90) of private sector investment – yet this Government is so blinded by its ideology that it wants to abolish this organisation.
And it wants to get rid of ARENA too.
Right now, ARENA leads the way in supporting Australian environmental innovation and investing in Australian genius.
ARENA provides funding for institutions like the University of New South Wales’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, which has, for the past three decades, set multiple world records for silicon solar cell efficiency.
And alumni and researchers from this Australian institution manage some of the world’s largest solar energy companies.
ARENA grants are also supporting Australian researchers investigating new and more efficient energy sources:
Tidal Energy in Portland.
Algae as a biofuel in Townsville, Parkville and Whyalla.
Solar thermal energy storage in Newcastle.
Geothermal energy in the Cooper Basin.
And the Climate Change Authority has been doing its important job well: providing authoritative, transparent information and policy advice – as does the Productivity Commission, as does the Reserve Bank.
There’s only one reason the Prime Minister wants to abolish the Climate Change Authority – because it tells the truth.
Mr Deputy Speaker
Labor’s climate change policy was shaped by scientific and economic experts.
We enhanced the Renewable Energy Target and we created the Climate Change Authority, CEFC and ARENA, because we are determined to fight climate change on every inch of ground – and with every weapon in Australia’s intellectual, economic and policy arsenal.
Labor has built for Australia the architecture for reducing our emissions in the most efficient, most economically responsible way possible.
Each of our policy elements works in partnership with the others to deliver the best outcome – a market-based mechanism for tackling pollution.
An ETS guarantees the lowest cost for Australian businesses and for Australian families.
An ETS delivers business certainty and it positions Australia to maximise economic benefit from the growing global trend of pricing pollution.
And it puts Australia on the crest of the wave of the unprecedented new market opportunities in clean energy and green technology.
Giving Australian innovation, Australian ideas the chance to thrive.
The Parliament can vote for Labor’s emissions trading scheme today.
The intricate, carefully calibrated design work has been done.
The international compatibility is assured.
Labor’s ETS is legislated.
It is ready to go.
But this Liberal party, the once great party of the free market and free enterprise wants no part of this solution.
They want to tear down everything that has been built and replace it with an amateur, ill-conceived, centralist, Soviet-style voucher system that gives the nation’s biggest polluters great wads of taxpayer money to keep polluting.
The logic is baffling and the hypocrisy is staggering.
This Liberal Party – the party that, through the GP tax, wants to put a price signal in place to stop pensioners and Australians on low and middle incomes from seeing their doctor, rejects the need for a price signal on the pollution that will determine the health of our planet.
They believe in a market to punish the sick and vulnerable – but they won’t support one that helps the earth.
They are turning their back on the free market and the settled science in favour of Tea Party economics and crackpot pseudo-science.
Make no mistake, Mr Deputy Speaker, this destructive policy will cost Australia dearly in the future.
It will cost our country more, and it will achieve less.
Direct Action is a policy designed solely for the Prime Minister’s personal core constituency – the flat earth society.
It is a policy concocted purely to appease the rag-tag militia of the internet trolls, the cranky radio shock jocks and the extreme columnists.
The ideologues and demagogues who have held the climate change debate hostage for too long.
Direct Action is, as the Minister for Communications said in a more honest time, nothing but a policy fig leaf.
It proves yet again that this is an ignorant government driven by nothing but its book-burning instincts and its tattered ideology.
Above all, the Prime Minister’s climate policy vacuum is a failure of leadership.
A failure of leadership that shows the Prime Minister lacks faith in the Australian people.
He doesn’t understand Australians and he doesn’t respect them.
On climate change, as with the Budget, we see the harmful division between this Government’s mean and narrow view and our generous and decent Australian society.
Australians are bigger, better and braver than this awkward, divisive, backward-looking Government.
They deserve better than this Prime Minister’s lectures and his lies.
They deserve a government that represents their moderate, informed views on climate change –not one that delivers pre-Enlightenment, science-sledging nonsense.
Australians are smart enough to grasp the inevitability of change – they are up for hard decisions.
They can participate in mature debates about the future of our environment and the future of our economy.
And unlike this Prime Minister, Australians can look beyond self-interest and see the national interest, the global interest.
Today this Parliament has a clear choice.
We can enter the history books as the generation that ignored the perils of climate change.
We can be marked down as the generation that surrendered to the selfish, shouting clamour of vested interests.
Or we can guarantee that Australia does its fair share to deal with this global problem.
We can vote for an emissions trading scheme that puts Australia in step with the rest of the world.
Today I give Australians this promise.
Labor will always fight for serious, credible climate change policy.
And we will never surrender to this Prime Minister’s bullying denialism and his government’s extremism.
Sadly we have run out of time to deal with climate change.
The decisions made by us, the representatives of the people, over these final 6 years of the critical decade for climate action, will have an irrevocable impact on the quality of life of future generations.
We all have choices in history.
Some are more important than others.
Today we can embrace the extreme risk of doing nothing.
And when, in the future, it is proved to be wrong.
The costs will not be measured by a wry laugh, an embarrassed smile or a belated and sincere expression of regret from those Opposite.
No apology will suffice.
It will be forever remembered as your greatest folly.
No mistake greater.
No blunder more serious.
Not because we were responsible but because this Parliament did not accept our responsibility.
If we embrace the risk of doing something, then we shall take our place in a progressive world.
Supported by a society that sees this issue as political, but above politics.
This parliament has choices.
Each of us here knows that the political process can be exciting and exhilarating – but we all know that it can be cruel and exacting.
On this side of the House, we know that on the other side of the House and in the other house of this place, there are people of character and commitment no less convinced than we are of the severity of the problem.
For Labor’s part, we will be reaching for higher ground.
Constantly striving for higher ground.
In the blink of an eye of earth’s history, we have seen climate change that is staggering and frightening.
In the blink of an eye that responds, let there be no tears for humanity.