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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 956

Mrs GASH (11:42 AM) —Finally we have some common sense and plain speaking in regard to climate change and carbon emissions. Let me say upfront that I am not a climate change sceptic, nor do I believe most Australians are. What I am saying is that we must address this issue from a front where we can all participate, not be told that we have to pay a hefty tax, as is the case in this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills, for something that makes absolutely no difference to carbon emissions. The residents of Gilmore know that the coalition fought to have agriculture excluded from Mr Rudd’s ETS. We had meetings of farmers in Nowra and Ulladulla and we had Senator Barnaby Joyce speak to about 200 farmers at a property in Pyree, one of our largest dairy farms. Without exception all that attended wanted to do their part, but not at the expense of losing their farms by having to pay a tax on all their cows. I also need to mention here that, whilst we had a few emails supporting Mr Rudd’s ETS, they were outnumbered by about 20 to one with the overwhelming majority against it.

The coalition’s policy will allow for incentives, not penalties, for direct action on the environment and climate change. It is a win for common sense and creativity. It does not ask every man, woman and child, and cow, to pay a hefty tax. It invites those who take part to join us and create five per cent emission reduction by 2020. This plan is not about selling people a piece of paper that allows them to pollute; it is about taking real action to make a long-lasting difference. There will be no permits to pollute and buy your way out. Our incentive based plan instead invites people with effective project ideas to put their hands up and make real changes that do not push up prices for businesses and consumers.

The plan involves direct action, is easy to understand and costs $3.2 billion over the next four years compared to Mr Rudd’s ETS, which will cost $40 billion in the same time frame. Key components include an emission reduction target to provide direct incentives to industry and farmers to reduce CO2 emissions; a once in a century replenishment of our soils through investment in soil carbon; a green corridors initiative that will see 20 million trees planted by 2020 to re-establish urban forests and green corridors; development of clean energy employment hubs; a commission to study replacing high-voltage overhead cables in our cities with underground cables, and how good that would be; support for large-scale renewable energy generation and emerging technologies, and a new solar sunrise for Australia—a $1,000 rebate for either solar panels or solar hot water systems for Australian homes; $100 million for our solar towns and solar schools initiatives and $50 million for a geothermal and tidal towns initiative.

This component of the policy, in particular, is a real opportunity for Gilmore to showcase what we already have and to receive assistance to do more. We have a truly unique eco-village proposal for Kangaroo Valley: a ‘future park’ that needs about $1 million to transform a former sewerage site into a marine science facility developing aquaculture, seaweed for medicine and food. We already have a freshwater marine science laboratory at the Shoalhaven campus of the Wollongong university, and this will allow us to expand on the work being done there.

The future park is a creative environmental project that is ready to go, with initial work already being carried out by key stakeholders, including the Shoalhaven City Council. I would like to pay tribute here to Pia Winberg for the extraordinary amount of work she has done on this project. The future park is a great example of innovative thinking coming out of the South Coast. Had the government not changed at the last election I know that we would have funded this project, because it met all of the conditions of the now defunct area consultative committee. However, despite twice submitting an application for funding to this government, under the Jobs Fund, the project has been rejected, which makes me wonder just how serious this government is about significant environmental projects which also create jobs, such as the future park.

The Shoalhaven is also in a great position to be part of any solar town initiative due to its natural assets. Being on the coast we are ideally placed for wind farm technology, a proposal already being investigated by the southern region councils. Our REM scheme is also worth noting. It will turn recycled effluent material into water for irrigation purposes on local farms to assist these vital producers in our region, who are so susceptible to droughts and rising costs. The whole Shoalhaven community is to be thanked for this, with around 85 per cent of those initially surveyed being willing to pay an extra $189 in their rates each year for four years to see the project go ahead. This has directly saved 16 farms in and around Nowra from folding because of the drought. Again, this highlights the vision and the willingness of the Shoalhaven people to make a real difference where the environment and agriculture are concerned.

As I mentioned before, this makes us ideal candidates for large-scale renewable energy initiatives that involve the entire community. Furthermore, the largest ethanol producer in the country is also in my electorate of Gilmore. This is an industry we are very pleased to support, and especially their environmental farms, where literally everything is used and reused. Nothing is wasted and the cattle are thriving. Our coastal location gives us a distinct advantage when it comes to utilising the country’s greatest renewable energy assets: sun, soil, wind and surf. We have also had great success as a community with Green Corps projects and with Work for the Dole, an initiative that actually started through a pilot program in the Shoalhaven.

Hundreds of projects were successfully completed in conjunction with local Landcare groups and farmers for the benefit of not only the local environment but also the young and unemployed people involved. In fact, there is much excitement in the region about the possibility of capitalising on these fundamental tools once again, under the coalition climate action policy’s ‘green army’ component. The people of Gilmore and the rest of Australia want to put ideas forward and support our environment with some government assistance. They do not want stockbrokers in Sydney getting richer while they pay more for the cost of living.

The coalition, in its plan, is recognising the good work that is already being done and helping it to continue. It capitalises on what we have most of in this country—sun and soil—without putting a great big tax on everything. As earlier noted, the coalition’s direct action plan includes a $2.5 billion emissions reduction fund to support carbon reduction activities by business and industry. For the record, I would like to point out the ways in which this approach is different from the government’s emissions trading scheme. Firstly, it is cheaper. Our policy will cost in total $3.2 billion over four years, as opposed to $40 billion. It harnesses the creativity and willingness of people to participate without simply slapping them with a tax for polluting as though that is enough to make a difference. It focuses on practical, tangible benefits. It will not cost jobs. It is not a great big new tax. It will achieve the agreed five per cent emissions reduction target and, importantly, it will not hurt businesses.

The government has failed to explain its ETS to the Australian people and has admitted that the cost of essential products and services will go up, putting pressure on jobs and household budgets. Electricity prices will shoot up by an extra 19 per cent for households in the first two years, and that is just for starters. Small businesses, which will not be compensated under the government’s plan, are already expressing fears about how input cost increases will affect their business. Australia’s 750,000 small businesses contribute over one-third of our total GDP and employ five million people. In fact, Gilmore alone has some 12,500 businesses, with many jobs dependent upon them.

All of this is put at risk by advocating a dramatic increase in costs. In contrast, the coalition will not penalise ‘business as usual’. This provides certainty for businesses and puts their balance sheets in a better position to allow them to actually make positive and effective changes. If businesses go above their usual level of emissions output, they can expect a penalty based on the size of their businesses and how much they have exceeded their level by. On the other hand, businesses that reduce their emissions below their historic average will be able to offer those CO2 abatements for sale to the government, which provides them with a direct financial incentive. Farmers will be able to take part in this in many ways: through carbon sequestration in their soil and through solar and even wind or geothermal technology, and through the planting of trees on their property—a low cost action that would involve a financial reward for them. Electricity generators may decide to invest in gas-fired plants and reap the rewards. Families will face no extra costs and will be offered $1,000 to help install solar panels or solar hot water systems, an initiative I know many families in Gilmore will welcome.

All of these opportunities will mean that families and businesses can participate if they choose. We are inviting them to work with us to create a cleaner, more sustainable environment. The coalition’s plan will not contribute to rising electricity prices or goods and services cost increases. As a result, families will not need any form of compensation. We are confident we will find the money needed in the budget to cover the cost of this policy. I am looking forward to seeing a fully costed set of budget measures being released before the upcoming election.

Finally, I would like to add that community consultation will be an important part of the coalition’s direct action plan. We believe in the importance of engaging the community rather than telling them what is best by insisting that they support a proposal they do not even understand, as is the case with Mr Rudd’s ETS. To do this we will be conducting a series of public forums around the country. That process will begin over the next couple of weeks. It will not be the talkfest that amounted to nothing, like Mr Rudd’s 2020 summit. If he was after policy direction he should have looked at his own backbench and asked them what the people in their electorates were telling them. For example, the members for Throsby and Cunningham might have been able to tell him that people in the Illawarra are nervous about how an ETS might affect vital employment industries in their region. Instead, these forums will be an opportunity for members of parliament to sit down with local residents and genuinely engage in discussions. I know that people in the soon to be new parts of the Gilmore electorate—that is, the Shellharbour area—will be pleased to have the chance to make comments, ask questions and learn exactly what the coalition are putting on the table. They want to be involved and exercise their democratic right to have a say, and I fully intend to give them this opportunity, to fully brief them on the policy and to listen to what they have to say.

It is also worth nothing that extensive information has been released publicly about the coalition’s direct action plan, with 30 pages of policy details, plus question and answer sheets, having been made available some weeks ago. That compares to the five lines that Labor took to the last election. It was not until we started to question Mr Rudd on his ETS, and the tax Australians would have to pay, that the community realised what Mr Rudd actually had in store for them.

In closing, Labor speaks about a global problem. It is. Yet we do not know which countries will do what and nor does the Labor Party. I would like to say how pleased I am that this side of the House has demonstrated good faith with the Australian people by putting forward a policy that encourages participation and fosters creativity rather than just forcing people to pay a dirty big tax and keep their mouths shut. It is a policy we can all understand and, what is more, as Australians we can all make it work.