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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2539

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsCabinet Secretary, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innnovation and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (15:53): I want to put on the record that we will not abandon the pricing of carbon. That is the one thing that was raised here by the member for Flinders which he did not actually want to go to in his remarks. We will not abandon the pricing of carbon. This parliament, the parliament elected by the people of Australia, has legislated for the pricing of carbon, and we will not be abandoning the pricing of carbon. It is a mark of the extraordinary extreme economic irresponsibility of the opposition that they would propose even a delay or a modification of the pricing of carbon. But in fact they are proposing here its abandonment.

Mr Hunt interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Flinders was heard in silence!

Mr DREYFUS: I need to make clear that we have joined the world effort to combat climate change, which the Howard government dragged its feet on until the last minute before the 2007 election. But even the Howard government finally got there, agreeing with Labor's policy of introducing a price on carbon, agreeing with Labor's policy of introducing an emissions trading scheme, agreeing with Labor's policy to take action to fight climate change. It was led in that agreement—dragging the rest of the government along with him kicking and screaming—by the member for Wentworth, as the last Liberal minister for the environment.

This gives me an opportunity to put the record straight in relation to some of the fictions that the member for Flinders has been advancing here in the House about the solar hot-water rebate scheme that was closed this week—or closed with effect from 30 June 2012, because rebates will continue to be paid in respect of applications made through to 30 June 2012 provided there was a contract entered into by 28 February 2012. That scheme, far from having being introduced just recently, far from being in some way—as I think the member for Flinders colourfully put it—a successor to the Home Insulation Program, was in fact a scheme commenced on 17 July 2007, when it was announced by the then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, the member for Wentworth. I had an occasion to look for the press release, because I wanted to check when it was announced and I wanted to check the way in which it was announced. The member for Wentworth said:

Funding of $252.2 million over five years will also be provided for up to 225,000 solar hot water rebates of $1,000 for households which install eligible solar and heat pump water heaters in their homes.

That is what the then Liberal minister for the environment, the member for Wentworth, said on 17 July 2007.

Mr Hunt interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Flinders will be silent or he will leave the chamber!

Mr DREYFUS: We in 2009 extended the program to $320 million and have in fact delivered this program. It has now provided rebates in respect of some 250,000 installations and it has been in four budgets. This should be no surprise to any member of this House. It is certainly no surprise to the member for Flinders that this was a time-limited program that has been at all times described as a program for five years. It was described as a program for five years when introduced by the Liberal minister for the environment and it has been described by us as a program running for five years. It has been in four successive federal budgets, there for all to read. Because it was coming to an end in 2012, we have also provided, for run-off purposes, another $24.5 million in respect of rebates that are claimed right up to the last day, 30 June. We will need some funding to make sure that those rebate claims made by Australians are able to be paid. That is the reality of this program. It is a Liberal government initiative continued by us.

But I want to get to the context for this initiative rolled out by the member for Wentworth when he was the last Liberal minister for the environment. The 17 July 2007 media release was headed—and this shows how far the Liberal Party has fallen from economic responsibility and from any real attempt to take action on climate change—'Australia leading the world on climate change'. In it, the last Liberal minister for the environment—and I hope we do not have another one anytime soon—is quoted:

The Australian Government will commence work on a world-leading greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme with careful analysis on a long-term goal for emissions reduction, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Malcolm Turnbull, said today.

'Australia's emissions trading scheme will be the most comprehensive in the world,' said Mr Turnbull.

How far has the Liberal Party fallen from economic responsibility since 2007? A very long way. This is now the party of the $70 billion black hole. It is the party that wants to put up taxes, as demonstrated by the Leader of the Opposition's paid parental leave scheme, which he says he is welded to, that is going to be funded by a new tax on business.

The last Liberal government of this country was completely committed to the pricing of carbon. We remain completely committed to the pricing of carbon, and the parliament elected by the people of Australia has legislated for the pricing of carbon. The opposition needs to realise that abandoning the pricing of carbon—which the member for Flinders calls for in this matter of public importance—would condemn Australia to future economic disruption as we get closer to 2020, because the world is now on track to an agreement to reduce the world's emissions. This is a world problem. Once upon a time the Liberal Party actually understood that. We have it clear that abandonment of sound policy is now a hallmark of the opposition. We have it, for example, in seeing that the opposition would abandon the minerals resource rent tax as well because they do not want the people of Australia to have a boost to superannuation and they do not want the people of Australia to have a boost to infrastructure—they do not want the people of Australia, indeed, to share in the benefits of the mining boom.

I have to admit that, like most Australians, I am getting very, very sick of the opposition's endless negativity. We saw confected outrage this week in relation to the orderly closure of a five-year time-limited program for solar hot-water rebates. We saw it again today from the member for Flinders. We need to be clear about this: climate change is happening, climate change is real, and we have to act. The opposition say that they believe this. They say that they support our emission reduction targets. But instead of supporting policy that is in the national interest they engage in an utterly unprincipled scare campaign. What a joke.

Last time I spoke on this issue in this chamber, I noted just how astounding it was to see how those on the other side of this chamber have wilfully perpetuated their own ignorance. They have deliberately ignored the benefits of our clean energy future plan for reasons of political expediency. They try to maintain that we should not put a price on carbon. I remind the House that those opposite do not even believe what they are saying—and, in particular, the member for Flinders does not believe what he is saying. The member for Flinders is very familiar with the benefits of pricing carbon. After all, he did win a prize for his 1990 university thesis entitled 'A tax to make the polluter pay'.

Mr Hunt interjecting

Mr DREYFUS: The member for Flinders is saying he did not win a prize for the essay, but in fact he did write his 1990 thesis on 'A tax to make the polluter pay'. The member for Flinders, back when he had intellectual integrity, even pointed out the benefits of pricing carbon, including that it produces a strong incentive for firms to engage in research and development. But now he goes on and talks about the opposition's so-called direct action plan, toeing the party line. Indeed, this so-called direct action plan is a policy that he is well aware would cost Australians dearly, because this is the substitute that the opposition puts forward for the economically responsible and environmentally responsible policy of pricing carbon.

To reach the five per cent reduction target using the coalition's so-called direct action plan would impose a cost on taxpayers of something in the order of $30 billion between now and 2020. The so-called direct action plan would lead to bigger costs for households than a broad carbon price, and that is something that the member for Flinders and most of those opposite who have any kind of economic understanding understand. That is well understood by all responsible commentators and all responsible economists. The member for Flinders has had a complete loss of credibility, and he has clearly taken lessons from the Leader of the Opposition, who is, as we all know, the master of negativity.

Because our government is focused on actually governing rather than just playing politics and taking positions, because our government is focused on actually governing as opposed to the bizarre and confected hysteria of those opposite, let me explain why our policy is the best way to address climate change. The clean energy future plan is in fact a huge opportunity for Australian workers and a huge opportunity for Australian business. It is a plan which will cut pollution. It is a plan which will drive investment and create jobs in clean energy technologies and infrastructure like solar, gas and wind. It will help build the clean energy future that future Australians deserve.

Action on climate change can help position Australia to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by a future carbon-constrained global economy. The world is taking action. The world is continuing to take action on climate change. Failing to act, which is what those opposite would have us do, will mean that Australia will not be able to fully participate in the new global economy. Failing to act now would mean missing out on access to new markets. It would mean missing out on the benefits that will flow from a more innovative Australia and it would risk the economic costs imposed by late action.

That is what those opposite seem to have failed to understand. If, as it is now agreed that we will work towards, the world reaches an agreement by 2020 that imposes a legally binding obligation on Australia to achieve very major cuts in our emissions and we have not, as we intend to do, embarked on the path of cutting Australia's emissions—and we are a very carbon-intensive economy—if we have not embarked now, in 2012, on the path of reducing Australia's emissions, then the cost to Australia, the cost to the whole of the economy, to Australian workers and to Australian businesses, will be immense. It will cause immense disruption to our economy. But that is the path that the opposition would have us now embark on. That is what they are calling for when they are saying that we should abandon the pricing of carbon.

The clean energy future plan is one of the most significant industry and innovation policies that this nation has seen. It is over $15 billion invested in creating the jobs of tomorrow, most notably in manufacturing. Those opposite would have our industries stand still as their overseas competitors reduce their pollution intensity and get a head start in competing with the low-carbon global economy, because that is where the world is headed.

Of course, because we are the Labor Party, we are a party that represents working people. We will be making sure that low- and middle-income earners receive assistance as we make these changes. In none of the speeches that one hears from those opposite do we ever hear about the assistance part of the clean energy future package. They never talk about assistance, only hysterically inflated estimates of the costs of imposing a price on carbon. It is important to keep the assistance in mind. We have tax cuts. We have increased payments which are targeted at those who need them most. Labor will make sure that pensioners, low- and middle-income earners and families doing it tough are looked after. The rest of the world is acting. Our economy and our environment will be badly damaged unless Australia acts too. It really must take a lot of collective effort to deny reality so comprehensively as the opposition seeks to do. We do know that many of those opposite like to pretend that climate change is not happening. Perhaps one of the people sitting opposite me at the ministerial table—the member for Flinders, I think—is prepared to accept that climate change is happening, but many of those opposite simply ignore the facts, the overwhelming weight of evidence from the scientific community, that climate change is happening, and they have cobbled together a policy which they have got no intention of pursuing if they ever hold office—their so-called direct action policy. Do not be fooled: this is a policy which is not designed to reduce emissions; it is simply a policy that is designed to give an appearance of action. It is a fig leaf to cover the fact that they do not actually want to take any action in respect of climate change. (Time expired)