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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10461

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (12:47): I must say that the contribution by the member for Bowman really says a lot about the level of debate that has been engaged in by the opposition. There are no details, there is just a whole lot of political rhetoric. He even said in his contribution that he would not go into detail. What he said was misleading and did not paint a true picture of what is happening not only in Australia but also around the world. In comparing it with Spain and the collapse of the Spanish economy he might as well have compared it with Greece or any other nation that is having problems. It has absolutely nothing to do with investing in clean energy.

The clean energy bills are revolutionary legislation, legislation that will work with other measures and measures adopted by other countries to ensure the future of not only Australia but also our planet. I listened to the contribution made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I learnt more about the opposition's policies from the Prime Minister than from the Leader of the Opposition, who used his 30 minutes to hurl insults at the Prime Minister, create fear and make unsubstantiated one-liners that he thought would make a good grab on the news—just as the member for Bowman did.

The legislation before us today is a market based reform which places a price on carbon pollution on around 500 big polluting companies. This carbon price mechanism is designed to reduce carbon pollution by at least 160 million tonnes a year in 2020, deliver tax cuts and increase pensioner and family payments to Australians. It is about putting a price on pollution whilst ensuring that polluters pay, not Australian workers, families and pensioners. The aim of the legislation is to change behaviour by making polluting costly and rewarding clean initiatives and non-polluting behaviours.

This legislation is a blueprint for a clean energy future, a future with investment in clean energy and clean energy jobs. This legislation is about embracing the future and moving to implement the recommendation of the myriad reports and inquiries that have spanned years. It is about action not inaction, the future not the past. Never has there been legislation that has been more vilified and never has the behaviour of an opposition leader been more irresponsible. For this opposition leader it is about living in the Lodge—not about the future of Australians and the best action to reduce climate pollution and address the pressing issues of climate change.

Not only do I question the motivation of the Leader of the Opposition but also I believe that he and his opposition have failed to substantiate their claim that putting a price on carbon would only lead to job losses, increased prices and failure to reduce carbon emissions. Not true. I also believe the opposition have failed to establish that their direct action plan is an effective measure to address climate change. It will require an increase in taxation of five per cent if they are to reach their target in 2020.

I believe that climate change is caused by CO2 emissions and that humans contribute to those emissions. I accept the science. I have visited the Solomon Islands and seen the impact that climate change has had on those islands, just as you have, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have spoken to people who have been forced to flee the islands on which they live because the increased temperatures have led to sea level rises, which have devoured their homes. I saw photos of orchards that separated the National Referral Hospital in Honiara from the sea, and I saw how today the ocean was just metres from the hospital. Recent news reports have shown that the polar icecaps are at their lowest level in recorded history, and the melting of that ice is leading to sea level rises. It is serious. It is not something that we can ignore.

In Australia, we have seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events. This year, we had the floods and cyclones in Queensland that caused havoc. In 2007, the electorate I represent was subjected to an extreme weather event when it and all areas in the Hunter and the Central Coast were lashed by storms, high winds and flooding, causing enormous devastation. There is no shortage of information that shows that climate change is a reality, and that temperatures are rising. There is no shortage of information that shows that CO2 is contributing to these increases, that humans are contributing to the increase in CO2 emissions and that, consequently, climate change is increasing. The government accepts that climate change is a reality and must be addressed. The opposition plays politics, promoting misinformation, as we heard from the previous speaker, the member for Bowman, and failing to provide a viable, affordable alternative to pricing carbon.

In Australia we hear the mantra that, until China acts, Australia should not act. If that is the case, the time to act is now. I recently visited China with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, to see what, if any, action was taking place in China to address climate change. The overwhelming message that the committee received whilst in China was that the Chinese government and the Chinese people accept the reality of climate change. There is no debate there as to whether or not climate change is a reality. Rather, the debate is about how to cut CO2 pollution, and the Chinese government has committed to doing that. China knows its future depends on action to reduce its emissions; that is why China is making a massive investment in research into renewable energies. We visited an ecologically sustainable city, Tianjin. We also learnt about carbon price mechanisms that have been used in some regions of China; in fact, I believe that six such pricing mechanisms have been implemented within China. So China is acting and is putting a price on carbon.

The member for Wentworth knows that climate change and global warming are a reality and he knows that pricing carbon is the only effective way to change behaviour and reduce pollution—and he is not the only one on the opposition side who knows that carbon must be priced if we are to address the issue of CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition does not hold the same belief. He has stated in the past that climate change is 'crap', and his close alliance with anti-climate-change groups proves that he is a climate change denier. His direct action plan is really about inaction rather than direct action. I believe if the opposition gained government at the next election and Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, Australia would see inaction, not direct action, as his plan is costly and would place a tax on all Australians. On Thursday, 15 September, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the coalition's direct action plan would cost 'at least double' the cost of the government's clean energy package. Michael Hitchens, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, said:

We understand … that the cost of abatement might double if we try to achieve the full abatement domestically—

as set out in the coalition's direct action plan.

The article goes on to discuss in some detail how the plan that has been put up by the coalition will cost each and every Australian.

The government's clean energy package will cut pollution and drive investment in clean energy technology. The legislation is about taxing polluters: approximately 500 of Australia's biggest polluters will have to pay for every tonne of carbon they emit into the atmosphere. These industries have been identified by the Prime Minister and the minister, and I do not intend to go into details here; it is all already on the parliamentary record. All the money collected will go to jobs, clean energy and households. The tax-free threshold will be increased to $18,000, and increased payments will be provided to those Australians who need them. Nine out of 10 households will get some form of tax cut or increased payment. The legislation provides for increased payments to pensioners, veterans, self-funded retirees, Australian families and other Australians who qualify for assistance. There will be an initial lump-sum advancement for households before the carbon pricing scheme comes into effect, and this is to ensure that nobody receives any initial disadvantage.

The legislation is about taxing polluters, as I said, not about increasing costs for Australians. It is legislation designed to change behaviour and to ensure our future and that of our children and their children. Over four million households will be better off in terms of the average price impact. On average, households will see a cost increase of $9.90, while the average assistance to them will be $10.10 per week. Almost six million households will be assisted to meet the average price impact on them, and this means they will receive assistance that covers at lease the average price impact of carbon on their cost of living. Around eight million households will get some assistance. They will receive some assistance through payment increases and tax cuts, as I have already outlined. Those households that improve their energy efficiency—and, remember, this is about changing behaviour—will help the environment and at the same time they will save money.

Pensions will increase by $338 per year for seniors and $510 per year for pensioner couples. Concession card holders who rely on essential medical equipment will also be eligible to receive a $140 essential medical equipment payment. Self-funded retirees who have a Commonwealth seniors card will get the same amount of cash assistance as is provided through the pension. Age pensioners, disability pensioners and carers will all be taken care of.

This government is about ensuring that the people of Australia do not bear the brunt of pricing carbon. This is about the polluters paying. Family payments will increase. Families who receive family tax benefit A will receive up to $110 per child per year extra and there will be up to $69 extra for families who receive family tax benefit B. There will up to $218 extra per year for single income support recipients, $234 per year for single parents and up to $390 for couples combined for jobseekers and students per year.

This is important legislation. This is legislation that is about the future. In summary, the government's clean energy legislation will ensure that big polluters pay, that householders receive tax cuts and are compensated for any cost-of-living increases and that there is a clean energy future for Australia, whilst the opposition's direct action plan will cost individual Australians $1,300 a year. The opposition's plan is not deliverable and will become a non-core promise if a coalition government were ever elected; the government's plan is for a clean energy future and will become a reality on 1 July next year.