Environment and Energy Committee Report

September 02, 2020

I'm pleased to be standing to speak on the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Amendment (Transparency in Carbon Emissions Accounting) Bill 2020 report that was done by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy. This is starting to look at something that we need to spend more time looking at, and we need to make sure we get it right. Scope 3 emissions are those indirect emissions that come from when we ship our coal overseas or we ship things away and they're accounted for in another country but not on Australia's account. There are a whole range of things that could potentially be looked at on this. I'm really pleased that the committee spent time on it. It is disappointing that they didn't have more opportunity in such difficult times to be able to explore it, but there are a few things that struck me about it.

I certainly understand and support the view that, at this time, any attempt to measure scope 3 emissions is likely to be very costly and really complicated and may not be accurate. But I also note the additional comments made by the deputy chair, Mr Wilson, the member for Fremantle, and Josh Burns, the member for McNamara. I want to draw on some of the comments that they made—that is, that right now, while Australia's system of greenhouse gas accounting and reporting is structured to be in compliance with agreements that are, in turn, covered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, each of us is responsible for measuring emissions.

I was most disquieted by the evidence from the Department of Science, Industry, Energy and Resources, who felt that there wasn't rigour in how you'd estimate scope 3 emissions. Their view was that it would not be a terribly accurate view. Yet, at the same time, we know that more than a quarter of ASX 200 companies are reporting scope 3 emissions already. They're doing it. They're working through the complexity and the cost. That tells you that it can't be prohibitive to do. I think it would be worthwhile to see the department undertake a further assessment—or perhaps it would be their preliminary assessment—on how to do a sample of that and work out what the basis and the quality of the estimates is.

It might be that people wonder why we worry about this sort of detail—that it is, essentially, bean counting. I want to talk about why these things are important and why it's really important, as the member for Warringah said, to get this stuff right. We all know that in a region like mine, which suffers extraordinary fires and floods, all the evidence shows us that rising emissions are going to lead to more extreme weather events and natural disasters. In fact, just this morning I was involved in urging the government to look at the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan that the Climate Council and Emergency Leaders for Climate Action released, the final report of which provides a whole lot of practical, sensible things to do. The basis of it is recognising that we need to be able to reduce emissions. You can't tackle the problem on the surface and not deal with one of the key root causes.
To get this right will mean seeing a genuine commitment at all levels of government. I don't care which party people are in. I don't care what tier of government they are. It's about accepting that the science tells us that we're going to see more and more disasters. As someone who's come out of a horrific 2019-20 bushfire season—and hopefully will not be going into another horrific one—I'm aware that a few years down the track we may well see another one, so the need to measure emissions so that we know whether our attempts to reduce the emissions are effective is absolutely key.

It will be one thing to get this sort of legislation happening. It will be another to see a real acceptance of all the other measures that we can take and an understanding of what works and what doesn't. There are some really practical considerations for people. They might see this legislation and think that it doesn't have anything to do with their lives. One key thing is: in the communities of the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, people's houses burn down in these heightened summers. I experienced it myself in 2013, when my house burnt down in the big Blue Mountains bushfires—my home and the homes of 200 other families. Of that cohort, the majority of us were underinsured. That is a practical implication: the link from a piece of legislation that sits here to what happens when our house burns down and we're told that we can't afford to rebuild it to the new standards. There are lots of things that this parliament can't do, but there are lots of things that we can do. To get the legislation right is one of the things we can do so that these things can be measured.

In my community, in the Hawkesbury, around 20 houses burnt down last summer. Of those homes, only two people have even started going through the pre-DA process. That's something like nine months of being homeless, of having every possession they owned, lost. Through that trauma they're trying to find a way to rebuild, but the big problem that so many people have is that they weren't insured enough.
The insurers are involved in this in a number of ways. They have been saying for years that we need to get this right, that we need to accept that the climate is actually making their business harder and is pushing premiums up and reducing their profits. I've worked with the insurance industry going back 20 years and way back in the early 2000s this was the message they were giving to governments and to the wider community. Sadly, they weren't giving the message effectively enough to their customers and they weren't telling people, 'Your insurance will not cover your rebuild.' They weren't telling people that the standards are changing and the standards keep changing and therefore the cost of a rebuild keeps changing. Any member who has bushfire affected residents will have this same experience.

There probably are things worse than losing your house—I can say this as someone who has lost their home to a bushfire—but you certainly wouldn't wish it on anybody. But even worse than losing your home is being told that you can't rebuild it in the same spot simply because you weren't insured for enough, even though you had paid your insurance for decades and thought that there was no question about it. I remember very vividly the first thought in my mind when I heard my house had burned down. I said to my husband, 'God, I hope I paid the insurance.' The very next day I made a call to the insurance company and was reassured, 'Yes, your insurance is up to date.'

I felt really relieved but, two days later, when the assessors came to my property and said to me what they had been saying to just about everyone in the street, 'No you haven't got enough to rebuild,' we were shocked. It was the first time anyone had mentioned it to us. I had never intended to build a new house, so that was a whole new journey that I had been having for a couple of days, but, to be told that you couldn't even take the first step on that journey, was a real shock. We think that we are very lucky in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury that we only lost 40 houses in the last fire. But, for communities but where the loss is greater, there will a huge number of people who simply can't rebuild and can't buy somewhere else and they will leave the community—and communities have the heart ripped out from them at the very time that they are trying to recover.

That's why I feel very strongly that there is an obligation on this parliament. This is not just about saying that the piece of legislation we have in front of us is not perfect and it's not great and we're not going to proceed with it. I accept the committee's findings that it needs work and that more work is needed on the issue, but I really urge this parliament to look at the hard, and maybe boring, accounting side of emissions counting so that we are able to look at the truth of what is happening. That's what we need. We need evidence, we need fact, we need science and we need to marry those together with goodwill and common sense, knowing that it is up to us to change the rules so that communities like mine and others in this chamber are not ripped apart by natural disasters that we could have done something to mitigate.