Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10745

Ms KING (BallaratParliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing) (10:17): I rise in support of the Clean Energy Bill 2011 in this cognate debate. What we have just seen on display from the member for Mayo is in fact the real raw core of what is actually happening in this debate. The science has not changed in this debate. If anything, the science in terms of the effects of climate change is predicting even worse outcomes. The economics has not changed in this debate. What has changed in this debate is the politics. What we just saw from the member for Mayo is all about the politics of this debate not about the policy. Jamie Briggs, the member for Mayo, on 15 October 2008 said:

In this respect, the planned introduction of an emissions trading scheme will be a key test for both sides of the House. I believe this debate risks being hijacked by extremists who are intolerant of a range of legitimate views.

In 2009 the member for Mayo stated:

I believe an emissions trading scheme is one of the policy levers that can be used to change the energy mix in Australia.

Mr Briggs interjecting

Ms KING: What has changed? It is the politics that has changed. The opposition sniff a political opportunity and that is exactly what they are doing: sniffing a political opportunity, trying to trash the government at every opportunity.

Mr Briggs interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): The honourable member for Mayo has had his opportunity.

Ms KING: It is poor policymaking, and the member for Mayo should be ashamed of himself. In this place he purports to be someone who potentially has frontbench aspirations, someone who is about good policymaking. This is not what this is about, Member for Mayo, this is about absolute and utter pure politics and it shows again that this opposition is determined at every opportunity to trash good policymaking in the interests of its own political opportunity. We are seeing it in the area of immigration and asylum seekers at the moment. We are seeing it across the board in policy making—not having a sense to the advice that is being given, not having any regard whatsoever for what the science says and what economists say, but taking absolutely every opportunity to trash good policy making—and we saw it on display just before.

The need to address the impact of climate change is one of the most important discussions that we, as a nation, will have. The debate is not new. I have been talking about this for the 10 years I have been a member in this place. There are many people who have been talking about it for a lot longer still. The time to act is now. For decades, Australian people have highlighted why we need to act on climate change. Most recently, we saw the former Howard government undertake considerable work in an effort to implement a price on carbon. We have seen climate change policy debated across more than 30 parliamentary committee inquiries. Professor Ross Garnaut has undertaken two extensive reviews into tackling climate change. The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee was established and met for nine months to complete a full review of the approach to tackling climate change. Labor members were invited to the table, as were the Greens, as were the Independents and Liberal and National party members. Only the Liberal and National party members—many of whom, only two years ago under the leadership of the member for Wentworth, agreed to support action on climate change—refused to participate and dealt themselves out of the opportunity to actually get this issue right.

You have to ask yourself what has happened in recent times to change the approach of opposition members, and the answer, as I said previously, is absolutely simple: it is about playing politics, not about implementing good public policy. Like a horde of puppets, they follow the opposition leader in his display of negativity. Instead of listening to the economists, to the scientists, to the advice they are receiving, the established policy—they take advice from people such as Christopher Monckton.

On Thursday, 8 September I spoke at a climate forum at the Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts in my electorate of Ballarat. I spoke to the residents about the government's Clean Energy Future package. I also had the pleasure of hearing from Professor David Karoly, as he spoke at the forum. Professor Karoly outlined the impact that climate change is having on our planet and the impact that humans are having on our climate. The professor's speech was based on science and based on facts. The professor understood the importance of putting a price on carbon. The majority of Australians accept that climate change is real and that human beings are contributing.

The Climate Commission report released in May, The critical decade, provided the strongest evidence yet of the impact of climate change. It showed that global temperatures are rising faster than ever before, with the last decade being the hottest on record. In the last 50 years, the number of hot days in Australia has more than doubled. Sea levels have risen by 20 centimetres globally since the 1800s, impacting many coastal communities. Another 20-centimetre rise by 2050, which the scientists warn is likely, on current climate change projections, would more than double the risk of coastal flooding. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered nine major bleaching events in the past 31 years, where previously it had experienced none. It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused mainly through the burning of fossil fuels, is what is triggering the changes we are currently seeing in the climate. In the report, the scientists warn a rise of more than two degrees Celsius in global temperatures will result in dangerous climate change, with more intense weather events like droughts, floods and cyclones. We have to act.

Not only is there an environmental argument; there is a strong economic argument as well. The Commonwealth, along with the state and territory governments, commissioned Professor Ross Garnaut to look at the impact of climate change on the Australian economy. Professor Garnaut and many leading economists have stated that putting a price on carbon is the cheapest and most efficient way to cut pollution in our economy. This is also an effective way of creating new jobs and business opportunities in Australia's renewable energy sector.

The plan before the parliament has four main elements. The first element is to introduce a price on carbon and to establish guidelines around who will pay this price on carbon and how the government will use the revenue raised from the carbon price to provide support for jobs and to assist households. We have decided to put a price on carbon because it is the most effective and cheapest way to cut carbon pollution. We are introducing a direct charge on around 500 of Australia's largest polluters. It is these large polluters that will pay for polluting our atmosphere. I want to emphasise that this is not a direct charge on individual households. It is not a direct charge on small businesses or farmers.

The starting price for Australia's largest polluters is $23 per tonne. This charge will rise by 2.5 per cent in real terms over the first three years. At the end of the fourth year, when we move to an emissions trading scheme, the price will then be set by the market. Australia's largest polluters will have an incentive to drive down emissions. They will invest in cleaner technologies. No longer will they be able to pollute for free. If they do not do their bit, they will have to pay. Households around Australia have been doing their bit for years. Turning off a light switch, installing solar panels, saving water—we are all doing our bit. Now it is time to see a real drive from our nation's biggest polluters.

We understand that those big polluters may pass on some costs to households. We have not tried to hide that. We have done the modelling and we are saying very publicly that we do expect there will be a small impact on prices. That is why over 50 per cent, over half, of the revenue raised from the carbon price is being paid directly back to households as compensation for that rise. We understand it is happening—unlike the opposition, who are refusing to reveal in detail how they intend to pay for their so-called direct action plan. That direct action plan costs money. Where are they going to get the money from? They are going to get that money from households. We at least have been honest about what we think the price impact will be. We have done the modelling. The opposition are trying to deceive the Australian public on that point.

There is substantial compensation as part of these bills. Treasury modelling has shown that the impact of a carbon price will cost around $9.90 per week. That is less than $1 per week for the average grocery bill and around $3 per week on the weekly electricity bill. Petrol for passenger and light commercial vehicles will not be subject to a carbon price. Although $9.90 a week is not much for some, it is a lot for many, and we do understand that. We do know that it is a cost and it may be very difficult for low- and middle-income earners. That is why we are using the revenue obtained from the carbon price to assist households, on average, by about $10.10 a week. Sole pensioners will receive an extra $338 a year, and pensioner couples will receive a combined additional income of $510 a year. Self-funded retirees holding a Commonwealth seniors health card will receive the same as pensioners and may also be eligible for tax cuts or the low-income supplement. Job seekers will get up to $218 extra a year and $390 a year for couples combined, while students will receive up to an extra $177 a year. Single parents will receive an extra $289 a year. All people earning up to $80,000 a year will receive a tax cut, and most will receive a cut of at least $300 a year.

Our household assistance package is directed at assisting low- and middle-income earners. In addition, we have lifted the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200, which means that an additional one million Australians will no longer be required to fill in a tax return. This assistance to households will be permanent. Also, as the carbon price goes up, so too does the assistance. It is an extremely important part of the package, one which I note pretty continuously that the opposition refuses to actually acknowledge is there and refuses to talk about in any of its debates. In addition to the assistance to households, the remaining revenue will be used to support jobs in high-polluting industries that are exposed to international competition and to support clean energy programs.

The second element of our plan is the $13.2 billion in funding which we will be providing for clean energy projects. It is a significant investment in clean energy projects—investment in renewable technologies like solar, wind, wave and geothermal. Australian companies will be looking to invest in cleaner energy projects as our Clean Energy Future plan rolls out, and this funding will see investment in clean energy technologies to reduce their carbon output. The Gillard government will also establish a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to drive private investment in clean energy technologies. Furthermore, the government will establish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to manage another $3.2 billion in research and development in clean energy technologies. The third element of our Clean Energy Future plan is targeted at helping communities become more energy efficient. These energy efficiency measures are open to small businesses, councils and other community groups. I know the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has been talking to a number of local governments and a number of regional communities across Australia who are very excited about the opportunities in clean energy, who have already been working in this space quite substantially, who are keen to see the investment in jobs that clean energy will bring into their local economies and who are very keen to see the clean energy fund put in place. These measures will help local councils, small businesses and other community groups to become more sustainable and reduce the cost of essential services such as power and water.

Many households, businesses, local governments and community organisations across Australia have already been playing their part to reduce energy use, and we want to see this work continue. We will be providing funding of some $330 million under our Low Carbon Communities program for local councils and communities to access competitive grants. These grants will be open to initiatives such as energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits to council and community use buildings, facilities and lighting.

The Low Carbon Communities program includes two new initiatives. The first is the Energy Efficiency Program for Low-Income Households program, which will provide up to $100 million in grants to consortiums of local and state governments, community organisations, energy retailers and energy service companies to assist low-income households to reduce their energy costs. The second is the $30 million Household Energy and Financial Sustainability Scheme, which will help around 100,000 low-income households better manage their energy consumption.

The fourth and final element of our clean energy fund is an agricultural and land package. This package will bring economic benefits to farmers and other land users who reduce pollution or who can store carbon on their properties. This is of significant importance to people living in rural and regional Australia, to whom it will bring significant benefits and opportunities.

I have outlined here today the importance of tackling climate change. It is the reason we are debating this issue in this parliament, and I do not want that point to be lost in the debate. We have also been debating the reason our Clean Energy Future plan is the most effective way of reducing our carbon input. With the four main elements of our plan, along with strong support from industry and community leaders and strong leadership from across the globe, the Gillard government is acting. Opposition members persist with their mindless negativity on this issue. While they do that, we get on with the business of good policymaking in this country. Labor's plan will cut carbon pollution while supporting jobs. It will apply a price to around 500 of the biggest polluters, not to ordinary Australians. We are acting. It is the right thing to do. It is time for this debate to be concluded and to ensure that these bills pass this House and the Senate. The time to act on climate change is now.