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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7800

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (15:51): If I have ever heard a speech of so much negativity delivered with crocodile tears, that takes the cake. Let me take the crocodile tears for a start. First of all, they said they wanted to ask questions about the impact on regional development. The shadow minister who spoke, the Leader of the National Party, is shadow minister for regional development. Not only has he not asked me a question this week in parliament about regional development, he has not asked me since we have been returned. Not only that, in the Leader of the Opposition's speech in reply to the budget, there was not one mention of regional development within that speech. The regional rorts program that they presided over was an absolute disgrace and we know why. The Howard government in office was on the record as saying that it never saw a clear rationale and a constitut­ional basis for Commonwealth involvement in regional development. So do not give us this cant and hypocrisy about your concern for regional development. Look at the history.

The history of this country is that it has been Labor governments that have always been the dynamic and the momentum for regional development. The Whitlam govern­ment, the Hawke government, the Keating government, the Rudd government and now the Gillard government are the ones that have taken the initiative. When the Howard government came to office, they abolished the Department of Regional Development and they declared that they saw no clear constitutional rationale for that involvement. Not only is the Labor Party the best party to manage regional development; it is the party best equipped to manage the challenge of structural adjustment. There is no greater structural adjustment confronting this economy than the challenge of climate change. That is why we are facing up to it.

The Liberal Party really seriously need to question its credentials. What we are propos­ing is the movement towards a market based mechanism which we use to adjust for the challenge of climate change. I would have thought that the party that prided itself in the principles of the market and free enterprise would have embraced this but, no, what do what we see from them? They have embraced, through direct action campaign, industry intervention and business welfare. They have embraced a mechanism that will impose on every individual in this country a $720 a year ticket to pay for those business welfare measures. And they have the gall to come into this place and talk about cost of living and impact on consumers—$720 from every man, woman and child in this country per year to pay the big polluters. We actually believe the reverse should be the case.

We believe that the tax should fall on the big polluters. We believe that that tax should move to a price on carbon so that the market clears it and we believe in compensating households for that cost. This is the principle of the compensation: nine out of 10 house­holds will be compensated for the impact on them. Pensioners will get a 20 per cent supplement.

Our measures are designed to get people to change their behaviour, to reduce their carbon footprint and to reduce the impact of climate change. If they follow that behav­iour, they will be get a net gain from the benefit because we are compensating them to stand still but encouraging them to make the changes. If they make the changes, they will be better off. Under the Liberals, of course, with their direct action campaign, they will be worse off—$720 a year worse off. I must say the modern Liberal Party under Tony Abbott has become an absolute disgrace. Not only is it driven by negativity; it has turned its back on all the principles on which it claimed to be formed.

The principle of the market mechanism is terribly important in this equation because, if the market is clearing, the market rewards better behaviour. Let us take the case of coal because there has been a lot of talk about this. In comparison to the coal production of other countries, if the market mechanism is established properly coal to coal there will be a benefit to our coal producers vis-a-vis the rest of the world. That is why we need a market mechanism that is internationally recognised. But if people move to gas, and the market mechanism prices the relativity, then there are benefits to the industry producing the gas. This is rejected by those who sit on the other side now but it was not rejected by them, including by the shadow minister who just spoke, when he sat in the Howard government's cabinet and they adopted the very same approach—a market mechanism. What they are advocating today is not what they sought to implement when they were in government. I ask the public to judge on that basis. They have done a complete backflip in terms of what they were arguing when they were in government compared to what they argue today.

Let me also make the point about the hypocrisy of their position. Their policy, like ours, is to make an unconditional commit­ment to a five per cent reduction in greenhouse gases. That is correct. Both parties have that bipartisan position. The real issue here is: how do you achieve that? We are proposing an initiative—the details of which will be fully released on Sunday by us—and they are proposing their direct action campaign. Not only will their direct action campaign cost the individual $720 a year; it has been ridiculed by all the experts, including Professor Garnaut, whom the Leader of the National Party was so keen to quote in his speech recently, as well as the Productivity Commission. Direct action is not an answer. It is costly, it costs consumers, it costs the public purse and the reason they run the fear campaign is because they do not want to talk about that and embrace it.

In the context of this motion that is before us, which talks about the impact on regional development, let me just make this point: the circumstances that we as an economy confront today suit the agenda for regional development. We are trying to adjust the patchwork nature of the economy and, when you think about it, the regions are the patches. If the argument is that we have to sustain the economy beyond the resources boom, which is the economy in transition, which our budget underpinned, it is essential that we get local input and local engagement from the patches and embrace that transitory nature that challenges us. So we are an economy in transition. The regions need to respond and they need to respond in a way that also factors in the impact of the climate change debate. We are better placed than any country in the world for two reasons. First of all, we are the only developed country in the world to have avoided going into recession during the global financial crisis meltdown—there are a number of reasons for that, which I do not have time to go into here—and we are the envy of the rest of the world. Every time I have attended international confere­nces, countries have come up to me and said, 'How did you do it? How did you avoid it?' The second point that is in our favour is that we engaged, because of previous policies by both governments, but initiated by the Hawke and Keating government, with Asia at a time when it was not popular to do so. We engaged with Asia, which is now the fastest growing region in the world. Not only have we avoided the recession, not only have we got this engagement with Asia, that is what is continuing to fuel our resources boom. But the resources boom will not last forever and that is why we need to position ourselves and ensure that the economy diversifies. The best way to get that diversification is to engage the regions and that is why the policy prescription that we have set down, including in the budget, is all about doing that.

Climate change is part of the transition. We are seeking to take advantage of the market mechanism we are working to estab­lish to better position ourselves to make that transition. Cleaner coal, gas and renewables are all commitments that we are making. But it is not just us arguing that; the regions themselves are embracing this. I say to the member who has already spoken in this debate and to those who follow him: when they talk about the threat to regional Australia, they should get out properly in the regions instead of spreading their fear campaign and ask the regions how they are facing up to this challenge.

It is very interesting that, through the regional development structure we have established, just about every one of the regional development organisations in this country is embracing the challenge of climate change and looking to undertake initiatives that do develop green jobs and do give them cleaner living environments. Some examples of that are developing a renewable energy strategy in far west New South Wales, collaborating with neighbouring regions on climate change on the mid North Coast, supporting the uptake of alternative energy sources in the Northern Rivers, reskilling of existing occupations on the Central Coast, immediate development of a green economy strategy in the Murray region and environmentally sustainable housing design and construction in Ipswich and West Moreton. They are not proposals that we have suggested. These are proposals that the locals themselves have been developing.

I will mention a couple of good examples very briefly because I visited the Gascoyne region of Western Australia and Geraldton. Geraldton has committed itself to becoming a carbon neutral city. They want to source through renewables the energy base upon which the iron ore development in that area, which will become a second Pilbara, is powered. The region itself is coming to grips with it. The Leader of the National Party talked about windmills replacing things. He ought to get down to the Eyre Peninsula and see the wind power initiatives that are already down there. That region wants to turn itself into a renewable energy sourced region.

I say to the member who spoke: do not just go out and run the negative argument. We know how well negative arguments can work. We have practised them before. But in the end, truth comes to bear. In this case what we are seeing is the opportunity out there. The regions understand not just the threat those on the other side would have us believe is going to come from our initiative but they see opportunity. That is where we should be challenging regional Australia, not scaring them. We should actually be encouraging them to grasp the opportunity, take the initiative, seize the moment and diversify their economic base. All of the regions should be tasked with this initiative by us saying, 'You identify how you want your patch to work better.' The vast bulk of the regions are embracing the renewable energy strategy, the green jobs strategy and the challenge of climate change.

Members opposite should support their regions in meeting the challenge. They should support their regions in grasping the opportunity. They should stop the fear campaign. By the way, once the full details are out on Sunday, they will be looking like very hollow people indeed. The fear campaign can only work for a certain distance. The truth of the matter is that the detail out there, the compensation measures, the industry support measures, the commit­ment to actually leading on this, the understanding of our intrinsic strength, the understanding that we do need to diversify the economic base and actually prepare the regions and support them in doing it, will win through. In the end, as I said at the beginning, the only party that has ever had this commitment to regional development is Labor. Labor will again do it and we will also ensure that the structural adjustment is done in such a way that people are helped to make the adjustment, not be threatened by it.