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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 693

Senator FURNER (7:58 PM) —I do not know what to say. I rise this evening to speak on this matter of public importance and to reiterate the Gillard Labor government’s commitment to take action on climate change. For the past three years, this government has been serious about implementing legislation to help reduce our carbon emissions. As a senator from the state of Queensland, I know what is at stake if nothing is done. Many people rely on tourism in my state. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world and something that we could lose if we do not change our ways. Without the reef, we will lose the beautiful coral and marine life that thousands of people flock to see every year. We will lose our tourism industry, which contributes $6.9 billion to Australian economy each year and 53,000 jobs. Through rising sea levels, we will lose our golden beaches to erosion. In addition, if temperatures continue to rise, it will affect those with sensitive health, including our elderly. Rising temperatures will also affect our agricultural industry, which I am sure that Senator ‘Wacka’ would support. We would also see tropical diseases and pests spread around our nation, which would be detrimental to our health.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crossin)—Senator Furner, I am sorry, but I need to remind you about using the correct names of senators during your contribution.

Senator FURNER —I am sorry; I will withdraw that, Senator Williams. He approaches me in that exchange, but that is fine. To continue, this is why we need to act and why this government is serious about getting the job done.

In our 42nd Parliament, I was fortunate to part of a Senate Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into the exposure drafts of the legislation to implement the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy. In the latter, we heard from all walks of life, including leading scientists, trade unions, government department staff, industrial associations, businesses, community organisations and economists on climate change. The Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy received more than 8,000 submissions. Ten hearings were held around the country and 188 witnesses presented their views on the CPRS.

This level of involvement goes to show that many people are talking about this issue and many believe that action needs to be taken. Throughout this inquiry, climate scientists told us that human activity is posing a great threat to the physical wellbeing of planet Earth. From what we heard over those 10 days, government senators recommended that the government must act on climate change. Unfortunately, those opposite were against the policy, and we saw the bill fail to pass the Senate.

However, the opposition and Mr Abbott operate that way. Their mentality is ‘just say no’. We saw the former Leader of the Opposition Mr Turnbull come to the table to discuss action on climate change and senators willing to cross the floor and vote with the government with amendments. We saw the sacking of that leader, and someone who describes climate change as ‘absolute crap’ took the leadership of the coalition. Five months ago even opposition Treasury spokesperson Joe Hockey said: ‘Inevitably, we’ll have a price on carbon … we’ll have to.’

The Labor government is committed to tackling climate change and moving Australian into a greener economy. We believe that a carbon price mechanism is the right way to move forward with this. If passed, the scheme would come into effect on 1 July 2012. We will have a fixed price period for three to five years before transitioning to an emissions trading scheme. By introducing a carbon price mechanism, we are introducing a price on pollution. This will help reduce the amount of emissions businesses are emitting and help them to invest in cleaner energy alternatives. Businesses that are the highest polluters will be encouraged to seek greener alternatives and therefore emissions will be reduced.

All money raised by the government with this scheme will be given back to the community through household assistance and measures to help businesses become green. While the framework has been released for this, the government will be working with the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to work out the specifics of a carbon price. The specifics which need to be established include the carbon price and the assistance that will be provided to businesses and households during this transition to a cleaner economy. Before we went to the election, the Labor Party were supportive of taking action on climate change. In our last term, we tried on three occasions to pass our emissions trading scheme legislation but were denied by both the opposition and the Greens.

In 1996, John Howard promised to never introduce a goods and services tax. He said:

Suggestions I have left open the possibility of a GST are completely wrong. A GST or anything resembling it is no longer Coalition policy. Nor will it be policy at any time in the future. It is completely off the political agenda in Australia.

In 1999, the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 was introduced, and it came into effect in 2000.

On 27 September, the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee was established by the Prime Minister to explore options on implementing a carbon price. Having the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee involved in the process will ensure that this policy will have input from all members who wish to be involved. This committee will also be supported by expert advisers, including economist Professor Ross Garnaut, who conducted the Garnaut review. Professor Garnaut found that if we sit here and do nothing then the expected rise in temperature will be damaging to our environment and to our economy.

Even without seeing the particulars of this policy, Mr Abbott has already condemned it. The coalition have been using their usual scare tactics to tell the public that putting a price on carbon will drive up the costs of living. We know that electricity prices have been climbing in the past three years. But these prices are set to increase with or without a carbon price. According to the Australian Industry Group CEO, Heather Ridout:

While much concern has focused on carbon pricing, energy prices are going up significantly with or without it. Some of those cost drivers could be reduced by a well-designed carbon price. This could eliminate the policy uncertainty that is damaging investment in new electricity generation.

The government expects pricing to increase under this program but items which are manufactured by greener methods should be cheaper, and the Labor government will ensure that any impact felt by our working families will be combated by household assistance.

In closing, rather than talk about doing the hokey-pokey or something ridiculous—as the previous speaker did—I say that it is about time the coalition got out of their Neanderthal caves and got on board with the implementation of a policy that is going to help our economy and help our future environment.