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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 4684

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (15:32): It seems that Senator Heffernan was taking note of all coalition questions during question time today. There is one particular aspect that I would like to focus on. Whilst the PBS was not a subject canvassed in any sense during question time today—and I doubt the accuracy of the way that Senator Heffernan has characterised the situation—and I could possibly spend all my time talking about the strength of the Australian economy, I think it is worthwhile to note that four of the coalition's five questions focused on matters related to protecting our environment, and I commend the opposition for that. The tone of that approach was something that I would probably question, but four of their questions related to protect­ing the environment and I think that that is a worthwhile focus for our question time today.

I will spend a moment on just one of those. Senator Fifield raised questions about community organisations and how they might manage the transition. Indeed, he did not raise the issue of transition; he mentioned increases in running costs. But as he and many of his colleagues who supported a carbon tax in the past know well, it is not about increasing running costs but about promoting more environmentally sensitive behaviour, including by organisations such as the Scouts and other community organ­isations. Householders will be compensated for any increased costs that might arise, but community organisations are also going to be supported in making transitions to more environmentally sensitive behaviour.

On the general point, I am pleased that this has been a subject for question time today because the government is committed to introducing a carbon price. It is the right thing to do for our economy and our environ­ment, and we will keep explaining our policy to the public. A carbon price will put a price tag on the pollution of around 500 big polluters, and more than half of the revenue raised will be used to assist households through tax cuts, increases in family pay­ments, and higher pensions and benefits. Senator Arbib added further information about the other support for community organisations to make the transition to more environmentally sensitive behaviour.

What Senator Fifield highlighted was that the alternative policy, the Tony Abbott policy—which will subsidise polluters, cost households $1,300 a year and generate a $70 billion black hole—is in denial. What Senator Fifield highlighted is that direct action is not about real action. It is not about assisting community organisations to make a transition to more environmentally sensitive behaviour. It is not about using a price signal to drive change in behaviour. In the nature of his question he highlights very well that direct action is not about real action but is of course, as was also highlighted today, about a very expensive plan to subsidise the big polluters. This is why, as Senator Wong pointed out, no credible economist supports the coalition's policy.

This week we have heard the discussions around how this $70 billion black hole might be filled. The discussions have been around the coalition refusing to indicate what they may do for future services or pensions. It includes, as I mentioned before, a significant increase in costs for households. This is a weeping sore for the coalition. For Tony Abbott and the coalition, this big black hole and their failure to show any plan that will demonstrate real action on the environment is a weeping sore. As we pay more attention to this issue, courtesy of question time today and other opportunities the coalition willingly give us, Australian households and the Australian public will eventually under­stand the Gillard government's policies on environmental issues—and on this occasion, the carbon tax—and the lack of any real, genuine alternative.