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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 643


Dr SOUTHCOTT (5:06 PM) —This is now the third time that the House has considered legislation for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and on each of the previous two occasions the opposition voted against the government’s CPRS, or emissions trading scheme. I would like to say at the outset that it is important that we take strong action on climate change, and an emissions trading scheme is but one possible response to taking action on climate change. So this is not a debate about whether we should take action on climate change or whether we should, as the Prime Minister often says, do nothing; it is about the best approach for the Australian economy—the most balanced approach which will enable us to achieve our environmental goals while at the same time reducing the dislocating impact on small businesses, on families and on households. Given that there is an enormous volume of science in this area—as we all know, there is currently a debate going on in the community—the prudent thing for any government is to take the scientific concerns seriously and, adopting the principles of risk management seriously, respond.

In fact, the Howard government took this approach in government. We set up in 1998 the Australian Greenhouse Office—the first country in the world to have an agency dedicated to raising awareness and coordinating practical responses to climate change. We had a number of initiatives encouraging industry to develop technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We had the Global Initiative on Forests and Climate, a very important way of getting carbon out of the atmosphere by reducing deforestation and protecting forests. While Australia only contributes about 1.4 or 1.5 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, the initiatives that we took under the Howard government saw Australia save 87 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year over the period that we were in government and going right up to 2010. That is the equivalent of taking out the emissions of the entire transport sector—all cars, all trucks, all buses. They were very significant initiatives. There was also the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which brought together the United States, Australia, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and India, who together make up 50 per cent of the world’s population, world’s energy use and world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It got all of those countries working together to use technological solutions to dramatically cut greenhouse emissions.

What was obvious last year was that we were all told that there was a rush to have this in place before Copenhagen. The problem is that it has become very obvious with the Prime Minister that the emperor has no clothes. There was no need to rush to deal with this before Copenhagen. Copenhagen was a disappointment; it underdelivered. In fact, it is almost like a metaphor for the Rudd government: overpromised and underdelivered. But what we have now is a very clear choice between the government’s emissions trading scheme and the opposition’s direct action plan on climate change. There is a choice between a $114 billion tax on electricity and groceries for mums and dads and pensioners and a $10 billion direct action plan—a choice between a great big new tax and incentives for businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Both sides—the government and the opposition—are committed to a five per cent reduction in carbon emissions, but under the opposition’s plan businesses will be given direct incentives to take direct action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions below baseline levels. The direct action plan includes incentives to clean up power stations, to have one million solar roofs over the next 10 years, to plant 20 million trees and to have a once-in-a-century increase in the carbon levels of soils.

One of the things that we have not heard anything about from the government—it has been very quiet, very secret about this—is what the impact of their Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will be on ordinary Australians, on working families, on mums and dads, on households. What we saw in question time today is that even the government’s own ministers—the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, for example—did not have a clue about the impact of the government’s own scheme on families. The Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy did not have a clue about the impact of this scheme on small businesses. There is a very interesting document that has been produced by the government. It is called Cameo analysis of household assistance package, and what it shows when you drill down in these tables is the impact that this will have on families and individuals. Take, for example, a family with two incomes, each $70,000, and three children. This would incorporate teachers, nurses, midwives—many different occupations—and a family like this will be $620 worse off under the Rudd government’s scheme. An individual on an income of $60,000—average weekly earnings, or thereabouts—will be $140 worse off under the government’s scheme. A two-income family, one on $98,000 and one on $42,000, with three children will be $808 worse off.

Consider the case of a single-income family where the principal breadwinner is a tradie, a steel fixer, a welder, a fitter, a plumber or a sparky and earns $120,000, with one child at primary school and one child at high school. This family will be $950 worse off under the government’s scheme. It is very obvious that the government has not been upfront about the impact of the emissions trading scheme and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Look at the situation for individuals. For a single person, once you are earning more than $40,000 a year you are worse off under the Labor Party’s scheme. Once a single-income family with no children earns an income over $60,000 they will be worse off under the government’s scheme. A two-income family with no children, once the parents are on incomes of $42,500 each—below average weekly earnings—will be worse off under the government’s scheme.

That is why the opposition will be voting against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It is now incumbent on the Labor Party to explain the impact that this scheme will have on working families and the impact that it will have on salary earners who are on very low incomes, well below average weekly earnings. That is why the opposition will be opposing these bills.