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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2545

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (16:18): The opposition wants us to say no to a price on carbon. But I believe we should say yes to a price on carbon, because human-caused climate change is confirmed by every academy of science in the world and 97 per cent—I repeat, 97 per cent—of practicing climate scientists. No study that contradicts the fundamentals of climate change has not been rebutted.

The opposition peddles climate change denial. The Leader of the Opposition last year described carbon as an 'invisible, odourless, weightless, tasteless, substance'. Apparently carbon dioxide is some kind of damned elusive scarlet pimpernel, impossible to find or capture. Yet the government of which he was a member enacted legislation—the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act—requiring businesses to measure, monitor and report this allegedly weightless and elusive substance.

The fact is that average air temperature at the Earth's surface has continued on an upward trajectory at a rate of 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade over the past three decades. The fact is that the extent of arctic sea ice cover continues on a long-term downward trend, and recent observations confirm net loss of ice from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. The fact is that the sea level has risen at a higher rate over the past two decades.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because climate change will have major impacts on Australia in the future, both on our environment and on our economy. We in Melbourne got a real taste of the future in February 2009 when the Black Saturday bushfires took advantage of Melbourne's 46.4 degrees—it was the hottest day we have ever had—and took advantage of the second driest January since records began. In pre-industrial times, CO2 concentrations were 280 parts per million. They are now 380 parts per million and rising. We are pumping into our atmosphere more carbon than it can deal with, leaving behind a debt for our children—for future generations.

The planet's weather system is a very complex thing, and the changes vary from place to place, from country to country. But the headline impacts are rising temperature, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, inundation of low-lying coastal regions, movement of tropical diseases and more frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts, bushfires, cyclones and floods. In Australia, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is of particular concern. The drought we saw in southern Australia during the first decade of this century and the floods we have seen in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria will be our future if we do not put a price on carbon. I am intrigued that the opposition completely ignores the insurance industry, which is very clear about the impact of climate change on so-called natural disasters and on insurance premiums.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because a price on carbon will cut carbon emissions and drive investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure like solar, gas and wind. It will help build the clean energy future that Australia—and the planet—needs. It establishes a long-term economy-wide target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent from 2000 levels by 2050. That is a bold but science based target which Australia and Australians should be proud of.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because with it will come a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will invest in the commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and low-emissions technologies. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation will play an important role in removing the barriers to investment and encouraging private investors. It is a shame that Australia's world quality renewable energy research has not led to more Australian manufacturing and Australian jobs. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation will be about changing that.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because it will be paid by around 500 of the biggest carbon polluters. It will not be paid by ordinary Australians. It is not a tax on ordinary Australians; indeed, millions of Australians will pay less tax as a consequence of the carbon price. We should say yes to a price on carbon because the government has gone out of its way to protect those industries and jobs that could potentially be adversely affected by the carbon price. There is a $1.3 billion coal sector jobs package to preserve local communities by providing transitional assistance to emissions-intensive coal mines; a $70 million Coal Mining Abatement Technology Support Package to support technologies to fight fugitive emissions from coal mines; a $300 million Steel Transformation Plan to help the steel industry transition to a clean energy future; a $200 million fund for regional workers in the event they are affected by the introduction of a carbon price; a $200 million Clean Technologies Food and Foundries Investment Program which will provide grants for manufacturers in the food processing and metal forging and foundry sectors; and $5.5 billion of transitional assistance for highly emissions-intensive coal fired electricity generators to promote a smooth transition and maintain energy security.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because all of the money raised from it will go to jobs, clean energy and households. The government will not make a cent from it. Nine in 10 households will receive assistance through tax cuts and/or payment increases. Almost six million households will get tax cuts or increases in payments that cover the entire average price impact. Over four million Australian households will get an extra buffer with assistance that covers 120 per cent of the average price impact of the carbon price.

Over one million Australians will no longer need to lodge a tax return. This is fantastic reform, with the tax-free threshold being trebled from $6,000 to $18,000 per year. While on average the carbon price will cost households $9.90 per week, they will get back even more—an average $10.10 per week—in government assistance. This assistance is permanent and will increase. It is not like the Howard government's one-off compensation to pensioners for the GST. The government will review the adequacy of assistance each year and increase it further if necessary. Pensioners will receive an extra $338 per year if they are single and up to $510 per year for couples combined. This increase will be delivered as a new, permanent and tax exempt Clean Energy Supplement.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because the price will help rural communities benefit from carbon farming, and our birds, plants and animals will benefit from measures to protect biodiverse landscapes. Under the Carbon Farming Futures program $276 million over the forward estimates will help farmers and other landholders to benefit from carbon farming. Through the Biodiversity Fund $572 million over the forward estimates will restore and protect Australia's biodiverse landscape. Under the Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund $10 million over the forward estimates will support Indigenous participation in carbon farming. There will be $40 million for the Regional Natural Resource Management Planning for Climate Change Fund, and there is a carbon farming skills package to support green jobs and ensure that landholders have access to credible high quality advice and carbon services. All up, there will be $1.7 billion over seven years for these really important land and biodiversity measures.

We should say yes to a price on carbon because this is what the world is moving to do. Ten American states, including New York, have already put a price on carbon pollution from their electricity generators. California, the world's eighth largest economy, will start a carbon trading scheme this year. China has announced that it will introduce emissions trading commencing in key cities and provinces including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, and India has introduced a clean energy tax on coal. Europe of course has an emissions trading scheme—that is, a price on carbon. I acknowledge that there are plenty of countries around the world that could be doing more, but the idea that we should stand back and wait until everyone else has moved is incredibly short-sighted and irresponsible. Finally, we should say yes to a price on carbon because, as a garden sign in a house in Brunswick in my electorate puts it, 'Say yes to a price on carbon, because my kids are worth it'.