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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10775

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (12:18): Since coming to this place in 2005, there have been very few opportunities to speak on climate change that I have not participated in. I have been in those discussions probably because before coming here, in my business dealings I worked very closely with the renewable and sustainable energy sectors. My involvement with these sectors was to assist in overcoming challenges to commercialising their new and innovative technologies, challenges in raising funds for research and development and challenges in demonstrating to the market that cleaner energy technology is commercially viable in a modern Australia.

The one consistent thing I have said in all my contributions associated with the climate change debate in this House and in business is that we do need to have an appropriate price on carbon. Without that we will not have effective change. Without a price on carbon there would be absolutely no incentive to move from a primitive and highly polluting energy source, as well as the cheapest power generation sources in the world—that is, relying on our brown coal stocks. People may not appreciate that, whilst it is all those things, we have 800 years supply of brown coal left. Why would we consider changing to cleaner energy technologies for this country—such as carbon capture and storage, clean coal, greater utilisation of gas fired power and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal as well as some of the cutting edge ones being developed in this country such as harnessing wave and tidal power? By the way, Australia is one of the leading researchers in these fields.

Why would we change when we already have the cheapest power in the world? The answer is pretty clear. Devoid of all the politics and the rhetoric, we know we must change our approach to protect the environment for our kids and for future generations. We know it is the right thing to do. As parents, we try to give our kids a better life than we had, a natural inclination of parents—and it flows through a few of us as grandparents. It is in our DNA to protect and assure the future of our offspring. In the same way this government is committed to delivering better environmental outcomes as well as positioning ourselves to take advantage of the emerging and highly competitive international economy.

Leaving politics aside, most people know that we need to engage in an effective methodology to address climate change. Most Australians agree that there is a need to act, not ignore the consensus of scientific opinion when it comes to our environmental future. The overwhelming majority of scientists report that climate change is occurring and that carbon emissions are the principal cause of these changes. The other major scientific consensus is that governments need to act to protect the environment. Simple research shows that as a parliament we have been talking about climate change since 1988. Since then there have been more than 35 inquiries as to the best way to tackle climate change. More recently we have seen the outcomes of the reviews conducted by Peter Shergold, commissioned by John Howard's government, and the recommendations and report of Professor Ross Garnaut. Despite being commissioned by different parliaments and despite their being of different political persuasions and different governments, the economic position both sides arrived at through those reviews was remarkably similar. The recommendations were remarkably similar—that the most effective, least costly and most efficient method of driving change in this regard is to have an appropriate price on carbon. It is not just members on this side of the House that have subscribed to that view. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition in his book Battlelines said:

The Howard Government … proposed an emissions trading scheme because this seemed the best way to obtain the highest emission reduction at the lowest cost.

This time last year, Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, said:

My views on climate change—the need for a carbon price, the fact that market-based mechanisms are the most efficient ways of cutting emissions—

and, he went on to say—

my views are the same today as they were when I was part of John Howard’s cabinet, and those views were held by the Howard government.

Indeed, last year, the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, told the Sydney Morning Herald:

… inevitably we will have a price on carbon … we will have to …

But, given this debate, as we move to put a price on carbon while those opposite only want to talk about 'a new tax'—a very simplistic line—let me remind you of what Tony Abbot had to say about carbon pricing in July 2009. His contribution to the debate back then was:

I also think that if you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax …

That was the line of the Leader of the Opposition. You want to talk about hypocrisy? You have it in spades when it comes to the opposition's approach to dealing with climate change. I think this shows the level of concern of some of those opposite about finding the right thing to do to protect the future of our community. They will, every time, put politics ahead of community.

Dr Jensen: Oh, come on!

Mr HAYES: They know what the right thing to do is; they have expressed that time and again. I know the member for Tangney may take a slightly different view of that, but he will have to admit that these were actual statements made by his current leaders in terms of how they should approach what they say is climate change. They commissioned their own inquiries and they went to the 2007 election with a very similar scheme to that proposed by Labor, one which was fundamentally designed to put a price on carbon. As some type of black joke on the electorate at large and to exploit politics to its full, Abbott now says:

I don't think we can say that the science is settled here.

He says:

… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.

This is devoid of any real political leadership; this is just rank opportunism.

The bills before us give effect to the emissions target shared by both sides of politics. Yes, it is a bipartisan position that we have a five per cent reduction on the 2000 levels of emission by 2020. I know from discussions and the street meetings in my electorate with my constituents that most people simply do not believe that the Liberal-National party share the same emissions targets as the government. I suppose the coalition do not want to talk about it all that much. They cannot decide amongst themselves if they believe in climate change; is the balance of opinion now held by the sceptics?

The bills before us today also provide that the charge on carbon emissions be paid by only the biggest polluters. We have defined big-polluting companies as those that emit 25,000 tonnes or more of carbon dioxide each year. In effect, this limits the number of those who will pay the carbon tax to a little over 500 companies. Pricing carbon in this way will act as a price signal, providing an incentive for big polluters to address efficiency and to engage in new methods and technologies to limit or lessen their financial liability. In a competitive industry, simply passing on all the costs does not make good economic sense.

However, I acknowledge that some costs will find their way through the economy and will have an impact on consumers. It is for that reason that these bills also seek to address the financial impacts, particularly on families. In fact, nine out of 10 households will receive financial support to cushion the likely impacts of carbon pricing on the overall economy. Most of the money raised through the carbon tax will be used to cut income tax, increase pensioner payments, assist self-funded retirees and provide higher family payments. It has also given the government an opportunity, once again, to pursue further tax reform by increasing the tax-free threshold, which will now see people earning less than $20,500 per year paying no tax at all.

While these bills establish an initial carbon price of $23 per tonne of carbon emissions, most importantly, they also provide for the development of a cap-and-trade system—an emissions trading system, a system that was actually embraced by both sides of this parliament not all that long ago, one that the opposition even took to the general election in 2007. Yes, these bills will enable that to occur.

As opposed to the notion of 'a simple tax', as once advocated by the Leader of the Opposition, under an emissions trading or cap-and-trade system, we will place a cap on carbon emissions. Despite a growing population in this country, emission levels will therefore remain capped. This, together with the target of a five per cent reduction in emissions from 2000 levels by 2020, means a reduction in the annual amount of carbon dioxide pollution of 160 million tonnes by 2020. I am reliably told that this is the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road—if we had that many cars.

This shows that it is possible to make very substantial inroads into our pollution levels. That is why those opposite shared that emissions target. Those that designed it took the view that we needed to act to do something about climate change and that we needed to act in a way which would have an actual impact—by sending a price signal—but which would also protect the economy. Over the longer term, these measures are capable of achieving an 80 per cent reduction in emissions from 2000 levels by 2050. These are real and achievable outcomes. These are things to work for. Establishing a price on carbon will provide business with the certainty it needs to set about making structural adjustments for the future. It will also allow business to respond to the development of a clean energy economy.

Devoid of the politics and away from the shock jocks, redneck radio and the climate change deniers—and there might be one or two on the other side; I am sure one of them is about to speak soon—the science is clear. Other than the member for Tangney—he is a good friend, but I think he knows I am somewhat critical of his scientific views on this subject—there is scientific consensus that climate change is real, that it is occurring and that human behaviour has had an impact.

We need to deal with our carbon emissions. The consensus is that the most efficient and effective way to do that is by putting a price on carbon—notwithstanding that back in 2009, as I said, the Leader of the Opposition was of the view that the easiest way to do it was to have a simple one-off tax. Whether they base it on Peter Shergold's review or Professor Ross Garnaut's report, I think most people on both sides of this parliament know what needs to be done. Both sides of parliament know what we need to do to future proof our economy and both sides of parliament should be committed to doing what they have always said they would do. Above all, we need to act and we need to act now. Transition towards a cleaner energy economy is achievable and is the most effective way of protecting our future. I commend these bills to the House.