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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 3884

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:00): This matter of public importance debate on a carbon tax highlights the void that exists in the opposition's policy formulation. On examination, the policy formulation and constructive debate from those opposite, I am sad to report, is severely lacking. I think that was amply displayed today by Senator Joyce as he went on a frolic in his contribution to this matter of public importance debate. I think that the opposition putting these sorts of debates up highlights exactly where they are coming from. They do not believe in climate change. That is one of the reasons why they have a policy that does not work. Of course, from the contribution of Senator Joyce we now know he is not taking it seriously.

Unfortunately, this lack of policy and constructive debate is nothing new from those opposite. Catchy slogans, misinform­ation and scare campaigns have taken the place of legitimate public policy debate. It appears that the only policy in the opposition's cupboard is negativity. It is extremely disappointing that the sole policy focus that those opposite seem to pursue is to oppose everything. Time and time again we are confronted by an opposition led by a leader renowned for his negativity and lack of policy detail. He does not seem interested in engaging in positive policy debates.

Again, last week we were exposed to Mr Abbott's true colours. In what can only be described as a political stunt gone wrong, Mr Abbott proposed a $70 million opinion poll through the use of a plebiscite. Let us not forget that, even if a plebiscite were agreed to by the parliament and then voted on by the Australian people, Mr Abbott was going to totally ignore the results. This exposed the plebiscite for exactly what it was—a political stunt that fell flat in a day. I think this move to introduce a plebiscite exposes exactly who the opposition are—an alternative government totally devoid of public policy ideas. This lack of policy detail stands in stark contrast to this government, which believes in climate change and which is taking action on climate change by placing a price on carbon. Placing a price on carbon is placing a price on pollution. It is the cheapest and most effective way for us to build a clean energy future. The carbon price will apply to the 1,000 biggest polluters in our economy. As the government has stated previously, all of the revenue from the carbon price will be used to provide house­holds with generous assistance packages, which I will touch on later in my contribution, to support jobs and to invest in clean energy.

Those opposite need to accept that the broad coverage of the economy using a market mechanism, like a carbon price or an emissions trading scheme, is the cheapest way to reduce emissions. The market based approach we have outlined was endorsed by the Productivity Commission as recently as 9 June 2011, in their report Carbon emission policies in key economies, and is the best way forward for Australia. Unlike the direct action regulatory approach of those opposite, a market based approach is endorsed internationally. In fact, that same Produc­tivity Commission report showed us that countries around the globe are implementing policies to reduce emissions and transform their economies. Seven of our top 10 trading partners have adopted emissions reduction policies. The report also shows that there are over 1,000 policies in operation in selected countries aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

In spite of this compelling evidence of global action on climate change, along with the bulk of the climate science, those opposite still insist that climate change is not real or is not caused by human activity. The best they can offer is a direct action policy, which will involve higher costs to the budget, have a greater impact on prices and create higher taxes over time. Their plan is not to assist households either. All their policy does is shirk responsibility for taking effective action on climate change.

In contrast, the government's plan to price carbon will ensure Australia transitions to a clean energy economy in a way which fits within our economic context and that assists households and businesses. Australia's carbon price will not include the agricultural sector, but our scheme will cover the resource sector. That is the best fit for our economy. The Prime Minister has also announced in recent days that there will be no carbon price on any fuels, including petrol, diesel and LPG, for passenger motor vehicles and light commercial vehicles. At his recent address to the National Press Club, the Treasurer, Mr Wayne Swan, released a snapshot of the Treasury's carbon price modelling and, whilst the details of the carbon price package are still being worked out, we know that, under a theoretical carbon price of $20 per tonne, our economy would still grow solidly as we make deep cuts to carbon pollution.

That modelling also showed employment would continue to grow with the introduction of a carbon price, with Australia on track to increase our national employment by 1.6 million jobs by 2020. We have also had modelling that suggests that the demand for low-emissions goods and services will increase dramatically with a price on carbon. This would lead to stronger growth in the less emissions intensive and renewable sectors.

As we have made clear time and time again, the Labor government is committed to taking action on climate change—evidence based appropriate action that is in Australia's best interest. That action is a carbon price mechanism. The government will assist households as well as industry when that price is introduced. As the Treasurer has outlined, around nine out of 10 Australian households will receive some assistance for their household budgets. In fact, the vast majority of those seven million households will not be a single cent worse-off under the carbon price. Low- and middle-income earners as well as pensioners will be the focus of the government's assistance package as these are the people most exposed to cost-of-living pressures. These low-income earners—over three million households—will receive a buffer of up to 20 per cent in tax cuts and payments over and above meeting the price impact of the carbon price. The government also recognises that self-funded retirees will need support. That is why we will be providing financial help for around 280,000 self-funded retirees equal to the extra payments we will provide to over three million pensioners, part-pensioners and carers.

The key point to take from the assistance package is that it will be the top 1,000 biggest polluters who will pay, and the revenue from that will assist households—unlike the scheme proposed by those opposite. The coalition's direct action policy would have the taxpayer footing the bill and subsidising big polluters. Mr Abbott does not believe in climate change, which is why, as I have said before, he has a policy that does not work. In stark contrast, the Labor government is engaging in effective policy formulation through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, which is hard at work on the details of the carbon price package. The plan is to introduce a mechanism on 1 July 2012.

The carbon price will operate with a fixed price. After this time it is our intention to move to an emissions trading scheme. We know that the best way to stop businesses from polluting is to charge them every time they pollute so that businesses themselves will begin to invest in, and transition to, clean energy. We know that we have to act now to try and prevent the devastating impact of climate change. If we do not act now, the climate science is clear that we will see more extreme weather events such as bushfires and droughts, we will have more days of extreme heat and our coastlines will flood as sea levels rise.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fisher ) (16:11): Thank you, Senator Brown. Senator Bernardi, there may be no left turn for you, but thank you for patiently awaiting your turn, given my premature call a little earlier.