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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 10966


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (10:37): I am very pleased to be speaking on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. As many people on this side of the fence who have spoken before me have said, these are very important bills. I have long supported the need to tackle the effects of climate change on both our economy and the environment. I have gone on record on this issue on a number of occasions.

Climate change has been in local, national and global discourse for quite some time. It is an issue that challenges the hopes and aspirations of present and future generations. It is also an issue that has caused much emotion, passion and contention on both sides of the debate. I say 'both sides of the debate' because I recognise that there is a difference of opinion on this issue amongst members here in this place, in the community and in my own community. That difference of opinion has been brought home to me in the many emails and letters I have received from my electorate. Some have asked me to support the bills before us and others have asked me not to support them. I have been asked to be a hero and vote against these bills and I have also been asked to secure their future and vote in favour of them. I respect the views put to me by my electorate. One could say that you could be a hero in support of this legislation, and that is what I am doing here today.

It is my view that climate change is a real phenomenon and that human activity is a contributing factor to this change. Many years ago when I was a child I used to wonder where the billowing white or grey clouds that emanated from the various industrial sites in my home town of Melbourne went. I had a particular fascination with the white clouds over the Amcor paper mills in Fairfield. I always wondered what the effect of a few hundred years of such pollution would do to the atmosphere. It does not surprise me that today's young people, including my own children, also wonder the same thing. In the days when I was a child there were no answers to my questions and there was no local, national or global discussion. There was no scientific voice and no political voice. Today, however, there is. There is discussion and there are answers. We may not all agree with them, but human activity and its effect on our planet and climate is a real concern and must be considered.

A new generation of Australians are asking us to act on this defining issue of our time that is pertinent to our future and their future. It is a challenge that requires leadership and a policy approach that gives Australia direction in rising to this challenge and preparing us for an economy geared towards a clean energy future. The government has responded to this defining issue of our time, and before us is significant, far-reaching and progressive legislation that harnesses the need for us to do something significant to arrest climate change that threatens our natural environment and has action designed to protect our future on this planet.

We have to act in a practical and defining manner. Importantly, we have to act collectively as a global community. There is no other way. In doing this we have to look to, and concentrate on, the immense opportunities we have as a nation to capitalise on Australia's innovative capability in a new, developing economy. I say this in particular because many people, including my constituents, have expressed concern about the possible loss of jobs. The action taken by the government through these bills will not destroy jobs and job opportunities. On the contrary, this action provides for a whole new range of job opportunities and new jobs in the new, emerging green economy.

We are changing the way we live our lives and the way we make things. We are doing it for the sake of our future. We are not alone in our endeavours to take action on climate change, as the opposition would have us believe. We are not a lone ship sailing on uncharted waters. As we look to strengthening our economy and position it for the future we have to examine the economic direction of our trading partners and recognise the economic trends and forecasts of global development and the low-emissions products and technologies that will power the clean energy future. These are the markers of the future global economy.

Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, and a price on carbon will be the driving force for growth and opportunities. Without it we will be squandering not just our environment but our potential in vast manufacturing and innovative capabilities. Imagine if our research and development were geared towards a 1980s style economy whilst both industrialised and developing economies are investing in the development of technologies for the 21st century? What markets would we tap into and which markets would look to us? It would take a lot more than the opposition's policy of spin to convince our trading partners that Australia is part of the future and that we are a part of global economic and social development.

These major economic transformations are not taking place in isolation, as I have said. Our top five trading partners—China, Japan, the United States, Korea and India—and another six of our top 20 trading partners are implementing policies for a clean energy future with billions of dollars of investment in developing that clean energy future. These are opportunities and we are in as good a position as ever to grasp them. The trend amongst our top global trading partners to use energy more efficiently and to cut energy waste in an effort to save money, drive productivity and cut emissions will allow Australia to tap into these opportunities before us. This is what these bills seek to do.

As global investment in clean energy and energy efficiency continues to grow, the economic benefits that will arise through these bills will increase productivity through innovation across a range of industries, creating not only green jobs but jobs in our traditional sectors. Manufacturing has a strong presence in my electorate. The reality is—and my constituents recognise this—that advanced manufacturing is the hallmark of a modern, technologically sophisticated economy. In the 42nd Parliament, I was chair of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation and the consistent, verifiable evidence from patterns that arose out of various inquiries of the standing committee was that companies with innovative technologies are twice as likely to report increases in productivity and up to four times as likely to boost their employment. They are also 41 per cent more likely to report higher profits.

This means that in order to capitalise on our strengths in the manufacturing sector we need to be innovative. Innovation is not about stalling and it is not about regression to old technologies, but rather about taking advantage of opportunities by using capability to reach our potential. It involves a drive towards new technologies that tap into not only the heightened demand for manufactured inputs to clean-infrastructure projects stimulated by the government's new investments but also the global marketplace that is geared towards a clean energy future that will drive investment and productivity. Importantly the manufacturing industry and manufacturers which have a strong presence in my electorate will be assisted by tailored programs worth $500 million for steel manufacturers, food processors and metal foundries and forges with an $800 million grants program that will help manufacturers invest in low-pollution technologies.

What is important for me is what the clean energy bills mean for the people of my electorate and how jobs and households in Calwell will be supported as Australia undertakes the important economic reform of assisting businesses and households transition to a clean-energy future. I ask the people in my electorate to focus on what the bills do for them. Every dollar raised from putting a price on carbon, which puts the onus of payment on Australia's biggest polluters, will go to support jobs and households and to invest in clean energy programs through a combination of tax cuts, higher family payments and increasing pensions and benefits. The government's household package bills will help my constituents deal with any additional financial pressures.

Up to 25,000 pensioners in Calwell will receive in their pension payments an extra $338 per year if they are single and up to $510 per year for couples combined. More than 18,500 families in Calwell will receive household assistance through family assistance payments, up to $110 for each eligible child for families receiving family tax benefit A and up to $69 per year in assistance for families receiving family tax benefit B. More than 700 self-funded retirees in Calwell will receive an extra $338 per year in assistance for singles and up to $510 for couples combined. More than 6,600 jobseekers in Calwell will get up to $218 extra per year for singles and up to $390 per year for couples combined. More than 3,000 single parents in Calwell will get an extra $289 per year. More than 4,300 students in my electorate of Calwell will get up to $177 extra per year. In total more than 52,600 people in my electorate of Calwell will receive household assistance through the transfer system through Centrelink.

On top of this, taxpayers in Calwell with an annual income of under $80,000 will all get a tax cut, with most receiving at least $300 per year. Taxpayers with annual incomes of over $80,000 per annum will also get a slight tax reduction. Importantly no-one will pay more tax. One of the things I most welcome is that many people in my electorate will pay less tax because the government will more than triple the tax-free threshold, from $6,000 to $18,200 per annum. This means workers earning less than $18,200 will not have any income tax withheld from their regular pay. When combined with low-income tax offsets workers will not pay any net tax until they earn $20,542 per year. This is more than a threefold increase in the statutory tax-free threshold, meaning low-income earners can now earn up to three times more without the need to fill in a tax return. I am confident that as we make use of our local manufacturing and innovative capability, coupled with the household and business assistance packages, communities such as those in my electorate of Calwell will be amongst the greatest beneficiaries of our clean-energy future.

In closing I return to what I said initially and I have been saying for some time—that is, as I engage with my constituents I have been consistently impressed by how young people in particular have a heightened sense of the need to protect the environment. They understand almost instinctively that we need to preserve the finite resources of our planet. These matters are very much a part of their psyche and it gives me great hope when I see their level of understanding. I know that we can feel optimistic about a future in their hands, but the reality is that at this moment their future is in our hands. We are the generation who have the power to make the important decisions on their behalf. We are the generation who need to overcome our own prejudices, our crystallised perspectives, even our day-to-day habits and we must break free from our old paradigms to act to address this urgent issue.

We must remind ourselves that this challenge is an intergenerational challenge. The decisions we make now are as much about ensuring that this prosperity is sustainable into an uncertain future as about markets, research and innovation. We have to ask what kinds of jobs our children will have access to in the future and what kinds of opportunities will be open to them. What will the future look like if legislators today ignore the possibilities of a clean energy future? What kinds of jobs and apprenticeships will be available to the next generation of young Australians?

It is the possibilities that are open to them through the passage of the bills before this parliament that is most encouraging. I have full confidence in Australia's ability to tap into all the possibilities associated with the global push to tackle the effects of climate change through fundamental social and economic reform. It is for these reasons that I commend the bills to the House.