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Clean Energy Bills


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (11:46): This is the third time in as many years that we have been called up to speak on a package of carbon price bills in this chamber. Unlike the first two opportunities, I am delighted to rise to speak on this occasion. What a difference an election makes. This package, the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills, is a credit to Senator Christine Milne, who brought great appreciation of the policy imperatives and seized a moment of opportunity last August for Australia to change course. The package is also of course a credit to the leadership of Senator Bob Brown and credit to our member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, his team and all of the people who fired up around the country last year to deliver a historic win and a very finely balanced parliament. So I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody who pitched in last year, because this is your win.

To the extent that the Hansard record survives the shocks to come over the next few decades, I hope the future has a sense of humour. The contributions from opposition MPs in this debate have ranged from carefully measured but ultimately pointless, as Senator Humphries's contribution just was, through carefully cultivated scientific illiteracy to the purely infantile. In particular, I reject some of the more embarrassing contributions of my Western Australian Liberal colleagues that as a Western Australian MP I think paint us in an extremely negative and regressive light.

Western Australia is not just a quarry, an expanding hole in the ground out of which the surplus can be magically restored. We are also the state that elected the nation's first Greens MP, the state in which Greens state MPs held the balance of power for a decade and a place where community activism has rescued old-growth forests, waged a successful 30-year campaign against uranium mining, saved the Ningaloo Reef from unrestrained development and is in the process of taking the Kimberley coast back from the gas industry. When we set our minds to it, Western Australians know how to get things done. That is what makes me all the more ashamed of some of the contributions by my Western Australian opposition colleagues.

Just to pause for a moment on the politics of these bills as we in this chamber stand poised to pass this historic package of legislation, the government have taken on the carbon mafia and they are being punished for it. But I say to government MPs: this too shall pass. There is real political courage here, and I want to acknowledge it. The carbon price, as Senator Humphries reminded us, is unpopular. Why would that be? It is because Tony Abbott, Senator Barnaby Joyce and their colleagues have been criss-crossing the country telling people that the carbon price is going to give them leprosy. Of course it is unpopular. The campaign that they have run is essentially a thin facade of mad, self-interested hysteria stretched altogether too tightly over a framework of complete fiction. It is in the process of being demolished by reality. The three-word arguments that you have been running work beautifully on bumper stickers, but they bear no relationship to the structure of the package, and that I think is where you are going to come undone.

Senator Humphries gave us a sketch of their laughable direct action policy that even they cannot find a single credible economist to support. My question to coalition MPs, particularly the just under 50 per cent of you who voted for Malcolm Turnbull last year who do have a clue about the genuine public policy issue of climate change, is: if this delusional so-called direct action policy delivers a five per cent emissions reduction target, as you insist, what are you going to do about the other 95 per cent? Or are you really that far in denial?

The challenges in front of us are severe. In Western Australia, our electricity grid is sparse and is premised on depleting vulnerable point source coal and gas supplies. Regional communities and industries are heavily exposed to rising gas and distillate prices, and the Varanus Island gas plant explosion vividly demonstrated to us the risks of highly centralised fossil fuel infrastructure. Premier Colin Barnett has been doing his bit to put our natural resources in hock to a regime playing a much longer game than us, in his great tour of China. So now Western Australia's coal resources and much of our gas resources are in the hands of an Indian industrial conglomerate and soon perhaps a Chinese sovereign energy company. Well played, sir! Towns like Collie and Karratha in WA have a perilously narrow economic base. They will need genuine transition planning within the present generation, as the iron laws of resource depletion and the far more serious imperatives of climate change take hold.

The greatest liability that we have, particularly in this building, is the institutional mindset that holds that the present state of exponentially increasing resource extraction and the consequent political paralysis that comes with it must remain the case forever. Snap out of it. The challenge before us is this: to turn Western Australia's sundrenched hinterland into a national resource-to turn our windswept coast and farms into generators and our unmatched wave resource into an energy asset. We have long had the desire to do it. The passage of these bills gives us the tools.

I tip my hat to Professor Ray Wills of the Sustainable Energy Association, Australia's largest and most diverse sustainable energy business chamber. Professor Wills's relentless advocacy on behalf of green energy entrepreneurs and some pretty big energy incumbents over many years has laid the foundation for the period of unprecedented innovation and investment that must now follow. This is because, for the first time, this package of bills gives industry the tools to start that job in a serious and systematic way.

Consider the Western Australian goldfields, a hub of engineering and fabrication skills drenched in one of the best solar resources on the planet, day in, day out, with a high capacity transmission line running back towards the Perth metropolitan area. Goldfielders know a few things about success in the face of unlikely odds and ambitious infrastructure projects. So let us set a date for the commissioning of the CY O'Connor solar thermal power station and bring utility-scale baseload solar power to Western Australia. The design will be based on plants already up and running in California and Spain. The defabrication and the maintenance must all be local.

The start-up of one, single, large power station of this kind will do more than anything else to blow away the tired myth that this cannot be done, and the fossil industry knows that when the baseload myth disintegrates in the face of an actual commissioned plant in Australia, their arguments do not really have a great deal left. We can finally cut our ties with an economy based on digging up and burning stuff. Concentrating solar thermal plants in the goldfields of the mid-west and the Murchison Gascoyne are the baseload platform on which a whole range of variable renewable energy technologies can at last take their place.

I could not miss the opportunity to remind the Senate of the work of Carnegie Corporation in my home town of Fremantle, who are rapidly moving to commercialise their brilliant wave energy system that promises to produce electricity or fresh desalinated water around the clock-free from the ocean. Fremantle is also making great progress towards its own wind energy generator to power Fremantle Harbour, demonstrating that not all the jobs and investment will be in regional areas. But, of course, we know that most of them will.

In particular, I want to point out another project that has been stalled and is starving for funds until this package is able to pass this parliament, the Narrogin bioenergy endeavour, which has been under study in the wheat belt for many years now and has just lacked that final kick to get it over the line. It is my firm hope that this package will give that project and many others the funds and the institutional support that they need to get up and running. This package obviously will not get us to 100 per cent renewable energy status, but it will start us along the way. That is the important thing and it is the key difference between this package and the friendless CPRS that this parliament rejected twice.

We know that climate change, if it is not addressed, will have grievous impacts on Western Australia. Many have spoken, justifiably, about the Great Barrier Reef. I want to speak up for its Western Australia equivalent, the Ningaloo Reef on the north-west coast, which rivals the GBR in beauty and biodiversity. It also supports a multimillion dollar tourism industry. It is under threat from warming and acidifying oceans. If current trends in the climate continue, the south-west of Western Australia will potentially experience 80 per cent more drought months by 2070, and that will wipe out one of the world's most biodiverse botanic regions, at enormous cost to us all. In Western Australia up to $30 billion in assets-that is, more than 20,000 residences, 2,000 commercial buildings and 9,000 kilometres of roads-are at risk from sea-level rise. Along the west coast and southern coast, the sea level is actually rising faster than most of the world average or the average around Australian coasts.

We do not believe that this package or that Australia acting unilaterally will fix all of these things. This goes to the more ignorant comments from some of the coalition participants in this debate about if we pass this package, such as Senator Joyce asking by how many decimal places this package will reduce the temperature of the world. It completely misreads what is going on here. The whole planet needs to join this effort, and I certainly would not want to be stuck in a lifeboat with a hole in it with coalition MPs, who would be sitting up the back with their arms folded, demanding that they would not be bailing until everybody else was.

We know that the package is not perfect. As Senator Milne acknowledged, the transport aspects of this package are a real missed opportunity. There are perverse incentives and there are things in it that will be need to be fixed. I think it is extremely unfortunate that the government has not listened to groups like the Australasian Railway Association, the Bus Industry Confederation and other transport advocates who have analysed these flaws and proposed sensible solutions that in no way undo the basic architecture of the package.

We know, however, that other things will be needed. There are some promising signs, for example, in the National Urban Policy. This shows the way, I think. We have the beginnings of major institutional reform outside the price instrument so beloved of economists, but we will not know if these things are worth anything until we see substantial resources shifted into public transport, cycling and urban consolidation and renewal-not little $20 million pilot projects but large-scale, sustained investment.

The freight task is still planned, as far as I can tell, essentially in a fossil vacuum. There is very little institutional appreciation of the importance of rail in tackling a much larger fraction of our freight task, and if the government does not see fit to fund the infrastructure by, as they have done, excluding petrol from this package then funding will need to come from consolidated revenue instead of vastly expensive and obsolete urban freeway infrastructure.

Many, many people have contributed to this win. I have already mentioned Professor Wills at the Sustainable Energy Association, but I want to pay particular tribute, as Senator Hanson-Young did, to young Australians who have absolutely stepped up into something of a campaign vacuum and really taken this campaign forward. I am speaking in particular of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the people who have been storming this building and visiting electorate offices around the country. In my home state Ellen Sandell, Jane Stab and Nick Taylor from the AYCC are just doing the work. It is not all particularly glamorous but they are getting out there, banging on doors and making sure that the voices of the people who will actually be bearing the brunt of the policy decisions we make in the here and now are heard in this building and are heard in electorate offices everywhere in the country.

I also mention groups like Micah Challenge, who have taken the very important step of recognising the importance of climate in abolishing global property, groups like Oxfam, who have also taken the lead, and, of course, the Australian Conservation Foundation and climate action groups all around the country who have played such an important part of bringing this campaign forward. I want to pay particular tribute to Matthew Wright and the team from Beyond Zero emissions for showing us that it can be done. Maybe the model for 100 per cent renewable Australia will not be precisely as they have proposed, but they have taken the bold step of just doing the engineering work that should really have been done by state and federal governments and putting a serious challenge on the table in front of policy makers to say, 'The engineers and the technologists say this can be done. Over to you, policy makers, make it happen.'

In WA the folks at Sustainable Energy Now, a wonderful group of engineers and energy advocates, have simply done what Western Australian energy authorities should have done a long time ago and come up with a model for how to get to 100 per cent in Western Australia on the south-west integrated system. It is a superb piece of work and it deserves to be resourced.

Other groups such as Doctors for the Environment-and, in particular, I single out Dr George Crisp in Western Australia-are reminding us of the consequences of getting this wrong. And there are people like Kamala and Alex, from Safe Climate Perth, who are doing the grassroots work. They are really quite tireless in linking these issues to larger issues of global poverty and global inequality.

The Greens know that this package is only the first step but that this is the real thing. It is the first turning of the ship away from a fossil dependent economy towards a society whose prosperity is founded on the gigantic and essentially infinite flows of renewable energy. That tortured, groaning and shrieking sound coming from below decks is Mitch Hooke and the Australian Coal Association recognising that this really is the first turning of the ship, that the world has changed and that it will not be changing back.


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