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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10782


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (12:48): Today I rise to speak in support of our proactive plan to take action to reduce the harmful effects of climate change. I rise to speak in support of putting a price on carbon pollution. I rise to speak in support of the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and the related package of bills, which will provide the foundation of a clean energy future in this country.

Although I always welcome the opportunity to speak to issues of environmental sustainability and the future of our nation, as I said in February last year when I spoke on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation, this is not a debate that can go on forever. There is no longer a genuine debate in the community as to whether we trust the science of climate change. They have already made their decision. There is only a debate in the caucus of the Liberal and National parties as to whether man-made climate change is occurring. I think it is time the opposition caught up with reality.

I just heard the member for Tangney passionately espouse peer reviewed science that questions whether climate change is real or due to any human activity. I would say to him: yes, that may be so, but it is well and truly in the minority. I would like to draw to the attention of everyone to a website called skepticalscience.com. It is put up by an Australian scientist, John Cook, who I know has been nominated for a Eureka Award. At his own expense and with the assistance of his wife, he puts up all the arguments from sceptics, which at times seem quite rational. I can understand why sometimes people put forward alternative views. He also puts up the scientific answers and the peer reviewed data it rests on. I do recommend everyone look at skepticalscience.com and I put on the record my praise and appreciation for Australian scientist John Cook.

As the most recent report from the Climate Commission noted:

This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience.

Our nation is the world's 15th largest total emitter and has the highest per capita emissions in the world. The time for action on climate change is now and it is up to us in this place to make tough decisions in the long-term interests of our nation. The choice that we will make when we come to vote on this legislation is a choice between the past and the future, between doubt and belief, between action and inaction. We on this side of the House will not stand impotent in response to these challenges. As a government, we have a responsibility to the Australian people to take action. To do any less would be to abrogate the public contract that we have entered into with the people of Australia to promote their welfare and the welfare and success of our environment as well.

To my colleagues in this parliament and to the men and women of the branches of the Australian Labor Party, I say that these are tough reforms. Due to the misinformation campaign coming from those members opposite, the task of explaining these reforms has been made even tougher and more difficult. It is for that reason that we will work to ensure that our voice is more concise, more truthful and better heard than the voice of our opponents. Reform is never easy, but we cannot afford to walk lamely along the path to reform, heckled by the slogans of fear and disbelief. If we were to halt now, after we have already waited so long, we would be condemning Australia and our children to an uncertain and polluted future. This package of 18 bills implements the government's commitment to creating a clean energy future. This is a chance for Australia: we can create a clean energy future. This is a chance for the international community of nations: together we can create a clean energy future. Through these bills we are acting on climate change and we are doing it in a distinctly Labor way. It is only a Labor government—not a Liberal government or a Greens government—that would get the balance right. It is a federal Labor government that will price carbon in a way that will protect jobs and make the big polluters, not Australian taxpayers, pay for that pollution. It is a federal Labor government that will sustain industry, particularly trade exposed industries, and provide certainty for business while mandating change. It is a federal Labor government that will ensure, by offsetting cost of living pressures, that pensioners and low-income earners are supported. It is a federal Labor government that will invest in the future energy needs of Australia by incentivising renewable energy developments, thereby investing in a cleaner environment as well. That is the Labor way; it is the way that I believe in.

We will never turn our backs on the industries in Newcastle and the Hunter. We will never turn our backs and walk away from the metalworkers, the miners or the manufacturers. A jobs and competitiveness program will support jobs in high-polluting but trade exposed industries, through the allocation of free carbon permits—or almost free carbon permits. Supplemented by a Clean Technology Investment Program, investments in research and development and the Food and Foundries Investment Program, this reform package will clean up our economy while supporting workers.

On Thursday we heard the member for Paterson and the member for Canning ask who is standing up for the Hunter and speculate about what workers in my electorate think of pricing carbon. What I can tell the member for Paterson is that the Australian Labor Party are standing up for the Hunter. What I can tell the member for Paterson is that support for renewable energy and the continued development of non-renewable energy sources are not mutually exclusive. What I can tell the member for Canning is that members on this side of the House consult with our electorates and, in particular, we talk to workers and they know that we will always endeavour to keep people in jobs because we recognise, always, the dignity of work. Although the concern of the member for Canning for the jobs of workers is respectable, I fear that he has been misled by his own party room. What they may not have told him is that the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Tomago, which he mentioned, will be shielded from 94.5 per cent of the carbon price. Construction consultancy Davis Langdon has said that the impact on the cost of aluminium will be negligible, rising by only 0.16 per cent. I have met with Tomago Aluminium and we have had frank discussions. They are fine with the way things are and the way things are in this legislation. They are of course concerned about the long-term prospects, and as long as they require shielding there will be up to 50 per cent shielding—if the rest of the world has not changed. So they understand that, they make me understand that, and we understand that we need to work together.

We recently heard the member for Paterson predict that 31,000 jobs would be lost in New South Wales by 2030. What he did not tell the House was that the same report found that employment in New South Wales will continue to grow under a carbon price. What he tried to hide from the people of New South Wales was that modelling by the federal Treasury shows that around 400,000 extra jobs will be created in New South Wales by 2020 under a carbon price. According to the Climate Institute:

All credible studies show strong employment growth under a pollution price and in the transition to a low carbon economy. It’s estimated we’ll see an additional 1.6 million jobs between now and 2020 whilst cutting pollution by at least 159 million tonnes.

That is a win-win. They continue:

Even the coal industry is expected to see between 10,000 and 16,000 new mining jobs above 2008 levels.

Unfortunately, the clamouring of the conservative nay-sayers in the opposition is little different to the clamouring of the merchants of London and the landed gentry of Great Britain of old who argued against the abolition of the slave trade more than 200 years ago. At the time, commerce in slavery represented a quarter of Britain's gross domestic product and opponents of abolition threatened that it would bring financial ruin to the country and fatally wound the economy. But they were wrong; Britain's economy did not decline but accelerated while civil liberties and freedoms meant a new age of recognition and respect. Conservatives then, just as now, were on the wrong side of history.

I believe that Australians are too honest and too civilised to wear such a fear campaign. And we on this side of the House know that when the carbon price takes effect from the start of the 2012 financial year and the sky does not fall, the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues on a Tea Party bender will no longer be able to disseminate untruths and misrepresentations that fly in the face of fact. The Australian people will see that the Leader of the Opposition's plan is no plan at all. Under his plan, every Australian taxpayer would pay an extra $1,300 each year; Australians would be subsidising industry's pollution. Under our plan, in contrast, around 500 of the biggest polluters—not Australian taxpayers—will pay for each tonne of pollution they produce.

'Give me the job or I'll trash the joint!' That is how former Prime Minister Paul Keating described the approach of the Leader of the Opposition. Keating, as always, had the Leader of the Opposition's measure. The Leader of the Opposition will not only trash the joint but also trash the economy, trash the environment and trash the nation—all for political expediency.

Since my election in 2001, I have seen my electorate welcome and subsequently embrace change as, together, we have worked to build a clean energy agenda for the city of Newcastle. It is an agenda that has seen more than $300 million invested in a clean energy future in my electorate, including $20 million for the Clean Technology Innovation Centre, $30 million for the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, $150 million for the Australian Solar Institute and $100 million for the Smart Grid, Smart City project based in Newcastle. These investments came under a federal Labor government and through strong leadership in my electorate with myself and stakeholders. For 11 years prior to that, the Howard government was missing in action on climate change, missing in action on renewable energy and missing in action on clean energy—just as the member for Paterson was missing in action when we began developing a clean energy future for the Hunter to position Newcastle as a hub for clean energy.

On his website, the member for Paterson says that he ran for parliament because he wanted to create a better future for his children and all children. If that is truly the case, he should cross the floor and vote with the government on this legislation. If he wants to create a better future for all children, he should work with the government to create a clean energy future, and he should work with the people of his electorate to build on the clean energy future that we have been developing for the Hunter.

This clean energy reform package will incentivise further investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure by increasing the viability of renewable technologies for consumers—the commercialisation opportunities we really need. The price signal that is there will make it more attractive for investment in new cleaner technologies. According to Treasury modelling, the implementation of a carbon price will see over 40 per cent of Australia's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2050. These reforms will help build the clean energy future our children and our grandchildren deserve—the clean energy future our children and our grandchildren need. I note that in the community—and the opposition certainly gives a lot of support to this idea—there is concern about the impact of increased energy prices on people. But I note that the ABS household spending survey that was released a week or so ago showed that in Australia we spend on average as much on alcohol as we do on energy. We should think about things before we go out promoting the idea that things are costing people much too much; we should look at some of the facts.

But we have seen that it is not only the conservative opposition that have obstructed the path of change. Members of the Greens party in the Senate were unwilling to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation in 2009 and 2010. It demonstrated that their party was also one grounded in political opportunism rather than a commitment to acting on climate change. They demonstrated that they are not a party committed to the protection of workers in the steel industry, the manufacturing industry or the coal industry. It is we who will be making sure of that protection.

However, I welcome the constructive approach that has been adopted by all members on the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. I would like to acknowledge the conscientiousness and dedication of the Prime Minister; the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet; members of the Greens Party; and the member for Lyne and the member for New England. I thank them for their wonderful work.

All major economies are acting on climate change, limiting pollution and unlocking clean energy technologies. Emissions trading schemes now exist in more than 30 European countries and in New Zealand. Carbon pricing systems exist in Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, India, Japan, Sweden and the United Kingdom. And China has the intention of having an emissions trading scheme by 2015. Like dominoes, every nation is gradually introducing measures to cap pollution and transition to a low carbon economy.

Writing yesterday in the Australian, Adair Turner, the chairman of the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change, wrote: 'In Britain there is a general appreciation that a low carbon economy can be a prosperous one, and that the costs of global inaction on climate change would be great.' As the Climate Institute have said: 'There is absolutely no risk of Australia moving ahead of the rest of the world; the far greater risk is that Australia gets left behind.' When we look at the wonders of our natural environment, under threat from rising sea temperatures and weather fluctuations, the imperative to act is clear. As the coral of the Great Barrier Reef bleaches at an increasing rate, the importance of this reform package for the future prosperity of our nation and the ongoing sustainability and biodiversity of our natural environment cannot be muddied with the slogans of fear and hate of those opposite. My colleagues and I know that we must build a better future for our children and our grandchildren. All our words, all our policies and all our actions are directed to this end.

We also know that we have to build a strong economy. We have that and it came about through reform and change. That is why I ask this question of the men and women of my electorate: will you allow inaction on climate change? Of the men and women of my home state of New South Wales, I ask this question: will you entrust the future of our nation to those who had 11 years in government in which to take action on climate change, and yet did nothing? Can Australia afford another three years like the last term of the Howard government? No. I ask all Australians this question: will you accept the misinformation campaign of those opposite or will you work with my colleagues and I in the national interest to build a clean energy future? As the Prime Minister has queried, will you be on the right side of history? With the passage of these bills through both houses of parliament, we will be committing our nation to a great future. We will be turning a corner, and it is a clean energy future that is coming at us right around the bend.