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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 1053

Mr CHESTER (6:35 PM) —I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills and again at the outset state my opposition to the legislation. A lot has changed, to say the least, since the last time we spoke on this legislation. It is important to note that as of last week Australian families do have a very clear choice—a very clear choice between the Labor government’s massive new tax on everything, which no-one understands, and our plan for direct action with practical environmental measures and no new tax, and it is something that people can actually understand.

I am not sure whether it is a factor of the government being too arrogant or too lazy, but it has failed to explain to the Australian public exactly what it is trying to achieve with its massively complex Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. In my electorate, the minister for climate change has been invited on many occasions to come to the Latrobe Valley. The local newspaper ran quite a campaign encouraging the minister to come to the Latrobe Valley and to explain the CPRS to the power workers and to the families in my electorate and be honest with them about the costs of the scheme being proposed by the government. I know I have personally extended an invitation to the community cabinet. In December of 2008 I wrote to the Prime Minister and offered him the opportunity to come to Gippsland, to visit my region and to run through a range of issues. Most obviously the emissions trading scheme was to the forefront of the minds of most people in the electorate.

I understand that community cabinet has many demands in an election year—they are probably too busy barnstorming the Labor marginals and the Liberal target seats in the suburbs to come out to Gippsland, but if they do need to make up their quota of conservative seats they are very welcome to come to Gippsland at some stage. I will certainly make them feel welcome. I think the minister for agriculture, the minister for industry and resources and the parliamentary secretary for bushfire reconstruction can all attest that I have been quite an amenable host when they have had the opportunity to come to Gippsland. I would be happy to put the kettle on for the community cabinet; if they cannot all make it at once, that is fine. I think that the minister for climate change in particular really needs to take the time to come to Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley and explain to my community what the costs of this massive new tax will be.

I said that the people of Gippsland would obviously treat the cabinet with a great deal of respect. They are a respectful community in Gippsland; they are not going to be lining up to cause any scenes. But I can assure you that the government should be showing the people of Gippsland just as much respect. It is ignoring the very real concerns of families across Gippsland at its peril. If the government has nothing to hide, come to Latrobe Valley and tell the truth about the impact this massive new tax will have on jobs in regional areas like mine.

In the absence of a visit from the minister to explain the emissions trading scheme, we have to rely on other sources of information. On the specific issue of jobs I want to focus tonight on a report by an independent consulting firm called Buchan, which was commissioned on behalf of the Wellington Shire Council to undertake a study. The report is titled The carbon pollution reduction scheme impacts on Wellington shire. It is an interesting report because it highlights the significance of this fundamental restructuring of the Australian economy, and it further highlights the failure of the government to be honest with regional communities like mine. I have said before that the broader Gippsland impacts could be enormous if industries are disadvantaged as a result of the ETS from the obvious increase we are going to see in electricity prices, particularly for our dairy farmers, who will not be compensated, to the costs to food manufacturers in my region, to the oil and gas industry and to small businesses, who, again, will not be compensated for any increased costs under this scheme.

An Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry report found that rural and regional areas will be adversely affected, and it could lead to increased urbanisation across Australia. A New South Wales government report found that regional areas could have a 20 per cent decline in economic activity. Any of the reports that have come out have mentioned regional areas and, inevitably, have mentioned Gippsland/Latrobe Valley as a region that is most exposed to such a scheme.

The Buchan report that I referred to is specifically focused on Gippsland, and I will cut to the chase in terms of the impacts that have been uncovered in that report. Gippsland workers have direct exposure to five of the emissions intensive industries identified by Access Economics as being most exposed to the CPRS legislation. Naturally, brown coal and power generation are at the top of the list, along with natural gas, gas distribution and petroleum and coal products. It is recognised in the Buchan report that the impacts on these sectors under the no international trade scenario are greater because businesses are not able to buy carbon credits from lower emission businesses offshore. I will quote from the report:

Major impacts of the CPRS are experienced in a number of sectors, including electricity supply, oil and gas extraction and gas distribution. There are significant impacts on the electricity supply sector, both output and jobs, because most of Victoria’s generating capacity is brown coal fired in the Latrobe Valley.

The report goes on to produce a table which forecasts the difference in employment and output by 2025 compared to what would occur in the absence of a CPRS program. I quote again in reference to the three municipalities of Wellington Shire, East Gippsland Shire and Latrobe City:

In the case of the no-international-trade scenario, employment across the three areas will be down by almost 3,000 jobs in 2025 compared with a base case of no CPRS, and output would be $325 million lower.

That is alarming news for Gippslanders and it probably explains why none of the government ministers have come to Gippsland and Latrobe Valley to explain the impacts of this massive new tax.

Here we have an independent source predicting the impact on my electorate alone will be 2,893 fewer jobs by 2025. This flies in the face of every reassurance and every guarantee by the government. It probably explains to me and to the people of Gippsland why we are being ignored in this debate—why none of the ministers have bothered to come to our region. They know that there is going to be a major impact on regional communities, and Gippsland is going to be at the pointy end of it. It also flies in the face of every other effort being undertaken right now in our region to try to create jobs, to develop Gippsland and to provide opportunities for our young people as they go through the education system and perhaps take on a trade or go on to university or remain in our communities. We have been trying to promote Gippsland and Latrobe Valley as great places to live and work, and here we have the government with a massive new tax and an independent report finding that by 2025 the impact will be 2,893 fewer jobs in my community. Families in Gippsland have every reason to question the policy being put forward by the government and they have no reason whatsoever to trust the Prime Minister and a Labor government which is hiding information like this from our community.

If the forecast is not accurate—and I am not saying it is—I ask the minister to give me her predictions. If I am wrong I am happy to be corrected on this point. It is not a figure I have made up; it is a report by the Buchan Consulting group commissioned by the Wellington Shire Council. If they are wrong, come to Latrobe Valley and tell us where it is wrong. Come on down, any time at all. We welcome the minister in the Latrobe Valley to explain to us what will happen to the jobs in our region under the proposed CPRS legislation. There is no question that there will be impacts on key industries in my region, and I am concerned that it is going to hurt the job prospects of Gippsland families right now and also in the future.

The other issue that I have spoken about before when we have had the opportunity to debate this legislation is that of energy reliability in this brave new world that the Labor Party likes to talk about. Energy reliability, security of supply and access to cheap baseload energy have been the cornerstone of Victoria’s development. The Latrobe Valley has obviously been the centrepiece of that. The power industry in the Latrobe Valley is something that the community has quite rightly been very proud of for many decades. One of the great disappointments of this whole debate has been the way the brown-coal power generators have been vilified and, by association, the people of Latrobe Valley have been vilified in this debate. I think it is a source of great discomfort to people in my community that they have been portrayed as somehow being evil polluters dirtying the environment for the rest of Australia. It is something that the government has to take some of the blame for, in the sense that we had government propaganda campaigns running on TV in 2009 that were very much directed at the brown-coal power industry. Also, we have members of parliament scoring political points at the expense of people who have worked very hard and are very proud of their achievements on behalf of the broader Victorian economy.

Energy reliability and security of supply are critical to the future economic growth of our nation. The simple fact is that if our power generators in the Latrobe Valley are not financially viable under this government’s ETS we are in for one hell of a shock in terms of reliability of our power supply. It is a simple fact that our community has become dependent on a reliable supply of power. Our industries and our households are dependent on it. Yallourn Power Station management has indicated that it has reduced its maintenance load due to uncertainty about what the government intends to do in terms of its ETS legislation. When you have power stations reducing their maintenance programs it is only a matter of time before reliability of supply is affected. Other generators have expressed their concerns in the strongest possible way about their financial viability in the wake of this government’s massive new tax, if it ever gets through the parliament, which I sincerely hope it will not.

The government is prepared to inflict enormous economic pain on regional areas like Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley for very insignificant environmental gains. This is a Labor political strategy. It was a political strategy going into the last election; it is a political strategy coming into this next election. It is not an environment policy. Everything from the timing of the proposed legislation before the House prior to the Copenhagen summit last year to the comments of the Prime Minister and other ministers has been about trying to achieve some sort of political advantage on the back of community concerns over the forecast impacts of climate change. I believe the government has become so obsessed with its political strategy that it has turned its back on Australia’s national interest.

We had the Minister for Finance and Deregulation last week speaking about ‘frauds’ and ‘phoneys’ and describing our plan as ‘Regional Partnerships on steroids’. But he brushed over his massive tax on everything and the government’s repeated claims that it is going to take action to save the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu. The absurdity of the Prime Minister’s proposition, when he stands here day after day in question time telling us that his action, this CPRS, this massive new tax, is going to save the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu, deserves further examination.

We all accept that Australia emits just 1.4 per cent of total global emissions, and both sides of this chamber are committed to reducing that amount by five per cent. So we have a five per cent reduction target of 1.4 per cent of total global emissions. Now, even the most ardent believer of every climate change forecast, and every piece of climate change science, does not try to commit this con on the Australian public. There is no-one else out there saying that Australia reducing its emissions by five per cent—remembering, again, that we account for 1.4 per cent of the global total—is going to somehow solve the problem, is going to save Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef. It is an outrageous con. It is part of the phoney campaign that this Prime Minister continually runs. It is a scare campaign with no substance whatsoever. It is about time that those opposite stood up to their Prime Minister and actually pointed out to him that he is the laughing stock of regional Australia when he comes out with these ridiculous claims. Cutting our emissions by five per cent, when our total contribution to global emissions is 1.4 per cent is sweet—

Dr Stone interjecting

Mr CHESTER —Well, we won’t go into the colloquial terms that people would like to use to describe it! But it is remarkably insignificant and ridiculous when put in context with what the Prime Minister claims he is going to achieve with it.

While we are talking about con jobs and being honest with the Australian public, you really need to ask: who were the dills, the peanuts or whatever you want to call them on the front bench who tried to pass off a few hot summer days in Victoria towards the end of last year as evidence of climate change? One after another they stood here at the dispatch box and tried to claim that a single hot weekend in Victoria proved that man-made climate change was real. It was summer. It was hot. But one weekend of hot weather proves absolutely nothing. We are talking about long-term climatic trends, not a single hot weekend. It would be just as stupid for me to stand here in this place today and say that it is raining outside; therefore climate change is over. It is this futile, juvenile, stupid argument that has been put forward in this place which has added to the confusion in the community.

Under the Rudd government’s model we run the risk of jobs being exported from Australia to nations which do not even have a comparable scheme. A fear that is regularly expressed to me in my electorate is that we will be sending our jobs offshore. We will also export our carbon emissions to those nations, and the net result will be a deterioration in the world’s environment because the nations which take the jobs have less stringent environmental protocols than Australia. If we have learnt anything from the Copenhagen fiasco it should be that there is no prospect of a global agreement anytime soon, so any scheme which transfers jobs from Australia in high-emitting industries to foreign nations is likely to result in a poor global environmental outcome. And I fear that this scheme will add to economic uncertainty in Australia and export jobs to foreign nations, resulting in increased global emissions.

I call on the Prime Minister to start being honest with the Australian public, to actually try and explain the emissions trading scheme and admit what the costs will be in terms of job losses and household cost-of-living increases—and admit that the claimed environmental benefits are insignificant without a global agreement. As I indicated the previous time I spoke on this legislation, this government has asked us to vote to give foreign companies a competitive advantage over our own businesses, to vote for more expensive power and transport costs, to vote for more expensive food and to vote for increased costs for small businesses. But at the same time the government failed to make the case and answer basic questions about the impacts of this legislation. We do not know how much it will cost to build a house in Australia. How many jobs in regional areas will be lost? How does Australia cutting its emissions, without global consensus, achieve anything whatsoever? What will be the impact on the household income, for example, for a dairy farmer with a higher electricity bill which will not be compensated? And the minister for aged care did not even touch this subject the other day, when she was asked in question time: how much will aged-care services increase as a result of this legislation? The government has a strategy for spin but has not trusted Australians with a full explanation of the complexity of this massive new tax and how it threatens job security without achieving significant global benefits.

I want to contrast, in the time I have left, the government’s plan with that which has been put forward by the coalition in the past week. Now we have a real choice, which Australian families will welcome, between direct action, which they will understand, practical environmental projects they can work with and appreciate in their own communities, and this great big new tax—which, again, the government has just been too arrogant to try to explain.

One of the great benefits of direct action—and particularly in my community of Gippsland, where there is, I must confess, still quite a bit of division in the community about what the causes of climate change are—is that it does not really matter whether you believe activities by humans are causing the climate to change; these are positive environmental measures in any circumstances. On that point, I think it is foolish of us to believe for a second that the science is completely settled. I, for one, have a view that we live in a very variable climate in Australia; it has been changing for many decades. And the practical custodians of the land, our farming sector and people in it I speak to, are very much aware that they work in a variable climate and they adjust to it all the time. Whether or not it has been affected by emissions from human activities is not particularly relevant to the position being put forward by our plan, where there are real opportunities to invest in the future of productivity—for example, of agricultural land by sequestering carbon in the soil. So these are practical environmental measures. This is direct action which the community can understand and which will still achieve the five per cent target that has been agreed to by the Labor government. One of the other great benefits of the scheme being put forward by the opposition is that it is incentive based. It may allow for production, for example, to increase on some of our less arable land, through sequestering carbon in the soil to improve food security in what is very much an uncertain and variable climate at the moment.

I believe the practical, direct action will be welcomed by our agricultural sector and the farmers I referred to before as the custodians of the land, because they are some of the great beneficiaries under this plan. Our farmers are the real, practical environmentalists in Gippsland. They are the ones who have been adopting technologies as they have come online, who have learned new skills and who have made their land more productive. They are the ones who are actually out there getting their hands dirty and doing that practical work while we have bureaucrats in faraway offices telling them what to do.

You would never hear from the minister for agriculture, for example, what a great job Australian farmers are doing, because, if you ask him, anything to do with the agricultural sector is all about climate change and it is all the National Party’s fault. So our plan supports practical environmental measures, which makes sense regardless of your views on man-made climate change.

But, as I referred to earlier, one of the most disappointing aspects of the debate so far from my perspective is that it has unnecessarily divided Australians for, I believe, the government’s political advantage. The government is being deliberately divisive for those purposes. The advertising campaign I referred to earlier has scared people, particularly children. You hear them coming out with it in the schools. I know we all visit schools on a regular basis. They have been terrified by some of the advertising material that governments have been putting forward.

I would rather see us debate this issue in terms that we can all agree on, particularly the sustainable management of the environment. There is not a single Gippslander that I have met who has not got a passion for the environment of our region, and they will support practical environmental measures every day of the week. The people of Gippsland have embraced the Landcare movement. They have been huge supporters of Landcare. It is somewhat ironic that, when we hear talk about the environment, we have the situation where the government has actually cut the funding for Landcare facilitators.

Mr Windsor —It’s a disgrace.

Mr CHESTER —It is a disgrace. And we have the hypocrisy of the minister for agriculture talking about climate change and talking about the environment but, when it comes to that practical environmental work and investing in the future of our communities through Landcare, the government going missing.

I know the minister will come out and say we have 56 facilitators. Well, that is 56 facilitators across all of Australia—56 facilitators to work with 100,000 Landcare volunteers. I would suggest to the minister that he should be engaging more with the Landcare movement and supporting them in their efforts, rather than lecturing us about climate change and cutting back on that practical environmental work which has enormous support in my region and right throughout Australia.

In conclusion, Gippslanders are great environmentalists. They are interested in this debate. They are doing the hard work on the ground—the practical, environmental, hard work on the ground—and they are adapting to what is a variable climate. They accept that, and they are acting on the science that has found better ways to make their land more productive. Gippsland families, however, do not support this big new tax, and they will be voting against the legislation.