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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 3281

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (16:09): Let us make no mistake here today: there are many points of difference, as we have had clearly illustrated this afternoon, on the issue of climate change between those opposite and the Gillard government, but none more so than on promises made to the Australian people about the facts on climate change, about the facts on what a price on carbon is, about the impacts of a carbon price on Australian industry and Australian jobs and about the facts of the impacts of a carbon price on Australian families. The majority of Australian people are worried about climate change; they want action on climate change, and they want that action now. Most people are smart enough to figure this out. They just want us to work through this with all the players and get on with it because, contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition would have us believe, a delay damages our economy and, in turn, our environment.

It is an important environmental and economic imperative that we should not continue to delay. I pay tribute to my government, the Gillard government, and members of the crossbenches who are working hard to find agreement so we can get on with what must be done. All these people are working hard through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. It is not easy; there are diverse opinions. But one thing is clear, and that is that we must put a price on carbon. We must put a price on pollution. The Australian people also want a price on carbon; they want to make polluters pay.

So why are we here debating this motion today? It is because those opposite and their leader, Mr Abbott, do not believe that climate change is real. And because they do not believe that climate change is real they will do anything to stop the government putting in place a mechanism to make a contribution towards preventing the effects of climate change on our global and Aust¬≠ralian environment, on our economy, on our industry, on our jobs and on our families. Here we are talking about Mr Abbott's latest wrecking-ball attempt, his latest scare tactic, his latest political stunt—all designed to stop action on climate change.

Mr Abbott now wants a plebiscite of the Australian people on carbon pricing, a plebiscite that will cost an estimated $80 million. But it is nothing more than a stunt designed to distract public debate from the real issues at hand. If he was serious about this he would have bothered to notify the parliament that he was going to introduce a private member's bill, but he did not even consult about his own proposal and he did not make the deadline to put the bill to parliament. Then he goes on radio in Melbourne and says that if a plebiscite did go ahead, if the Australian people who participated in his $80 million scare tactic voted yes for a carbon tax, he would still not support a carbon tax. So he is nothing more than a wrecker. He does not care what the Australian people really think about climate change. He just has the attitude that he will wreck anything positive that the Australian government is trying to do. He is not engaged in real policy debate on the question of climate change confronting this nation. He does not want the Gillard government to push ahead with tackling climate change by charging polluters for every tonne of pollution they produce. But the opposition can pull as many stunts as they like—that does not change two basic facts before us. No. 1: climate change is real. No. 2: it is in our economic and environmental interests to address climate change.

This week, as the Science Meets Parliament event takes place again, I am reminded of statements made by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, FASTS, who have commended the government on consulting on the most important starting point for this debate, and that is the science. FASTS commended the government for using science to guide its climate change reform plans. They said:

It's time for Australians to embrace sensible science and reject cheap politics.

The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies' chief executive officer, Anna-Maria Arabia, said:

While politicians debate the ins and outs of the proposed carbon tax, FASTS calls on all sides of politics to put peer-reviewed science ahead of cheap political arguments … When the Bureau of Meteorology warned tropical cyclone Yasi was on the way, no one doubted it. Why should we treat warnings from some of Australia’s top climate scientists on climate change any differently?

FASTS calls on all political parties to listen to the experts, to focus on the evidence—including the same experts and evidence that advised Anna Bligh during the natural disasters that hit our shores earlier this year.

In March 2010 the Bureau of Meteorology said their observations clearly demonstrated climate change was real. Nothing has changed.’

The peer-reviewed verdict is in. Action on climate change is too important to be derailed by naysayers and luddites. Action by governments, business, and the community must be fuelled by certainty, not doubt …

So we as politicians, as representatives of the Australian people, should be driven by a basic desire to build consensus on this question so that we can make progress on an important problem facing our nation and our globe. We must work with the Australian community responsibly. We must take them on the journey to do what we know must be done; and that is exactly what the Gillard government is doing. But it is not only scientists who are calling on us to put a price on carbon. Leading market economists have also taken up this cudgel. Earlier this month, we saw 13 of our most prominent economists calling for such a price on carbon, because they know that a price on carbon is good for our economy.

The former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, the Grattan Institute director, Saul Eslake; St George chief economist, Besa Deda; Citigroup Global Markets' Paul Brennan and Westpac chief economist, Bill Evans all have declared that putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce carbon pollution. This eminent group have all described a price on carbon as 'a necessary and desirable structural reform of the Australian economy.' The Chief Economist of Westpac Bank, Mr Bill Evans, who was a signatory to the open letter, said:

The move to more efficient, cleaner energy through a well designed market mechanism to price carbon is a major and desirable structural and economic reform which will help Australia competitively position in a global low carbon economy.

This reinforces, yet again, that every credible participant in this debate knows that the only responsible thing for our nation to do is to price carbon. But what will happen to our economy if we do as Mr Abbott bids us? He bids us to do nothing, and he tries to scare us by saying that a price on carbon is a threat to our economy. But the real threat to our economy—to our competitive position—would be to do nothing. It does not come from a price on carbon; it comes from Mr Abbott's throwing out of his economics handbook and from his continued focus on perpetuating myths about the impact of a price on carbon.

The manufacturing industry is a good example. The Leader of the Opposition has been out and about making all sorts of outlandish claims about the impact of a price on carbon on Australia's manufacturing sector. But he is misleading manufacturers when he makes these claims—claims like 'industry will be wiped out'. The simple fact is that there are big consequences for the Australian manufacturing sector if we do nothing. The Australian government is not pretending there will not be challenges for industries as they adjust to a carbon price. But I promise you this: this is a Labor government that will provide the best support for the best possible adjustment. We have no choice but to begin this trans¬≠formation. It is quite conceivable that, if we have do not have an appropriate price on carbon in our economy, we could face other nations imposing border tax adjustments on our exports, tariffs that would penalise Australian exporters for not producing in an economic system with a price on carbon in place. Countries are already making moves towards making this reality, and we cannot expect to do nothing when the world is acting. If we do nothing, Australian industry will get left behind. It will become uncompetitive. We know that, in order to support jobs and compete in the next century, a century which will be increasingly characterised by a move towards the clean energy and technology of the future, we need to act now. We need to be an economic leader in the field. But we are already in danger of falling behind. Many other nations are adjusting their economies to a carbon constrained future. They are adjusting much more rapidly than Australia is, because they are not being held back by a bunch of powerful climate change deniers, who are being led here by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott. The Leader of the Opposition once supported action on climate change and on pricing carbon, but all the opposition can offer now is denial of basic scientific facts, denial of basic economic facts and rank political opportunism.

The Gillard government, on the other hand, is very mindful of the position of the manufacturing industry given the strength of the Australian dollar and rising commodity prices. The Leader of the Opposition is misleading manufacturers when he makes over-the-top claims that industry will be wiped out by a price on carbon. A price on carbon is not the foremost challenge facing Australia's manufacturing sector; we have to work together to support the manufacturing sector, and part of that is adjusting to a price on carbon and maintaining the efficiency of the sector as we move to put a price on carbon. The simple fact is that, if we do not price carbon, the manufacturing sector of the economy will get left behind. A carbon price is a major economic reform and an incentive to reduce pollution, to support jobs and to drive investment in renewable energy and low emissions technologies. If we cannot keep up in these sectors, which will be the global growth opportunity sectors in the future, there will be no hope for Australia's manufacturing sector. A price on carbon will create incentives throughout our economy to reduce carbon emissions.

The matter of public importance before the chamber is yet another political stunt; it makes no contribution to getting on with addressing the policy settings on climate change. (Time expired)