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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 10974

Ms KATE ELLIS (AdelaideMinister for Employment Participation and Childcare and Minister for the Status of Women) (11:06): I rise to support the clean energy package before the parliament. I know that it has not been without its controversy and certainly not without misinformation from those who seek to stand in its way, but I am proud to stand here today showing my support for re-election on the critical issue of human induced climate change. In all of the three elections that I have contested to represent the very good folk of Adelaide I have made clear a commitment that I would fight to ensure that Australia meets our responsibility on climate change—a responsibility that we have to the environment, a responsibility that we have to the economy and a responsibility that we have in this nation's long-term interests. Whilst this is complex in the detail in other ways, there is actually a very simple principle behind the determining positions on this debate. If one believes in climate change and believes that we need to act to address it then the only outcome is to support the measures before the House in this bill. We can all see that, for far too long, as a parliament we have argued, procrastinated and delayed. This cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. Carbon pricing and climate change policy have been debated widely in this country for literally decades now, including through a staggering 35 parliamentary committees and inquiries on that topic.

We argued for far too long about ratifying the Kyoto protocol. Eventually we got to the point where John Howard himself concluded that pricing carbon was the best approach and proposed an emissions trading scheme. Following our government's election in 2007, we worked long and hard, in consultation with the opposition, to form a bipartisan agreement on a carbon pricing mechanism, the CPRS. After detailed negotiations—and hard work by many on both sides of the House, I would add—we reached an agreement on the package, but of course we all know what happened next. Having struck this agreement about how to move our country forward on this terribly important issue, the coalition decided to split, to roll their leader over the issue by a single vote, to move in the opposite direction with the election of the member for Warringah as their leader, and to commence their now well-established routine of just saying no to anything that goes before the House.

Despite this, our hard work has soldiered on. Following an election where it became clear that no party had the numbers on the floor of this parliament to pass their climate change policy, we determined that the issue was too important and had been delayed for far too long, and we set out to work on a bipartisan position. So we established the multiparty climate change working group, which the coalition opted to sit out on. This multiparty group has worked hard, has consulted widely, has heard from experts and has come up with the package that we see before the parliament today. This is a good package, and it is one that we must act on now; we must not waste yet another parliamentary term.

Since the announcement of the package, I have had many discussions with families in the electorate of Adelaide about what the carbon price means for them. Most people that I have spoken to do support action on climate change. They believe the science and they expect their government to do something about it. They want a better, cleaner future for their children and grandchildren. What they do not want is misinformation and trash talk. The people of Adelaide, who I am so proud to represent, want to understand these proposals. They want to understand the package and how it will work. They want the facts. They do not want a scare campaign.

I think it is important to spend a moment outlining these facts. A broad-based carbon price is the most environmentally effective and cheapest way to reduce pollution. A carbon price will put a price tag on that carbon pollution so that the 500 most polluting companies in our country will have to pay for each tonne of pollution they release into the atmosphere, not individuals. This establishes a strong disincentive to pollute and subsequently a strong incentive for companies to invest in cleaner technologies and innovate with new operating approaches and less carbon pollution.

Whilst it is these companies who pay and not individuals, of course we realise that some of them may pass this on by increasing their prices. It is for this reason, and to meet modest impacts on costs, that the government is providing fair and generous household assistance, with tax cuts, higher family payments and increases in pensions and benefits that will see nine out of 10 households receive assistance.

These bills allow for a fixed-charge period to provide stability and predictability, allowing businesses to get used to a new system and start planning on how they will reduce their pollution. This fixed charge of $23 a tonne in July 2012 will move automatically to a flexible and market-driven approach from July 2015. From then on the market will set the price of carbon and businesses will be able to buy and sell the right to pollute under an emissions trading scheme, as long proposed by members of both sides of this House.

As was made abundantly clear by the independent Climate Commission, the case for taking action on climate change is very real. In fact, the evidence that the world is getting warmer is unequivocal. The decade from 2001 to 2010 was the warmest on record, and here in Australia every single decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the last. There is a clear consensus amongst climate scientists that human activity is causing climate change and that we need to act, and we need to act now, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions or risk the incredibly serious side effects of dangerous climate change. Australia is a hot and dry continent, and we face risks of climate change above and beyond much of the rest of the world. Research from the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Academy of Science all tells us that we must act to urgently reduce carbon pollution in order to reduce the impact on our planet.

This package will assist with these environmental challenges. The carbon price will see Australia's annual emissions reduced by at least 159 million tonnes in 2020 from where they would otherwise have been. To put this in context, this is the equivalent to taking around 45 million cars off the road. By 2050 we will have taken over 17 billion tonnes of carbon pollution from the atmosphere. Treasury modelling shows that the incentive for business to innovate will be significant. With a carbon price, Treasury says it is likely that by 2050 $100 billion will have been invested in renewable energy and over 40 per cent of Australia's electricity generation will come from renewables. Australia has an opportunity to move to a clean energy future and cut pollution now before that task becomes even more difficult and more costly. These are the realities. These are the very simple facts of the matter.

I know that there are some climate change sceptics on that side. They have made that clear, and I had the pleasure—or displeasure—of listening to one proudly stand and boast about that yesterday. But what I find most disgusting is that I know that, in addition to the sceptics, there are some opposite who know that climate change is real. They know that we need to act, but they are failing to stand up and be counted on the right side of history. What I find disgusting is that instead they stand parroting the 34 pages of misinformation and falsehoods that the opposition have now been publicly exposed as encouraging their members to stand and deliver in this parliament and the misinformation they are being encouraged to spread in their own communities. They stand side by side with the radical fringe groups who are intent on arguing that scientists and economists have all got it wrong, whilst they know that this is real and that action is required. They do this because they see it all as a game. They see what we are doing here in the parliament as a game and, like the Leader of the Opposition, that it is much easier in this political game to just say no. This is not about games. This is about standing up to our responsibility; this is about reaching the responsibility that we owe to the people who elect us to this place.

Similarly to climate scientists, economists have made clear the case for immediate action on climate change and, indeed, the hefty costs of inaction. Treasury have undertaken extensive modelling on the economic impacts of pricing carbon and have concluded in that 'the world and Australia can significantly reduce the risks of dangerous climate change and maintain robust economic growth'. More particularly, they have warned that 'delaying action increases the risks and costs of achieving any given environmental goal'.

A lot has been said about jobs in this debate. There has been some disgusting misinformation and there has been shameful scaremongering of Australian workers. Let's talk about jobs. On this side of the House, we are proud to stand by our record on this topic. More than 750,000 jobs have been created since we came to office and now we have an unemployment rate which is the envy of much of the world. This was also the case throughout the global financial crisis. We are a Labor government, and keeping ordinary Australians in work will always be a key priority for us.

The government recognises that the transformation of the economy to a clean energy future presents both opportunities and challenges for industry. Through our Jobs and Competitiveness Program we will support jobs in high-polluting industries with competitors in countries where those industries are not yet subject to comparable carbon constraints. Increased government investment in clean technology will also support manufacturers to make investments in the innovative energy-efficient producing technologies of the future. This in turn will support the creation of new jobs in these cleaner and more efficient industries.

Modelling makes clear that under a carbon price the economy grows, jobs grow and income grows, all whilst we are serving our environmental interests and standing up to the responsibility we have to future generations. In fact, modelling shows that an extra 1.5 million jobs will be created in Australia under this carbon pricing scheme, so how about we lay off on the scare campaigns and grasp the opportunity that we now have to ensure that our nation is at the forefront of job creation in a new age with new industries.

On a final matter, as Minister for the Status of Women, I of course have a particular interest in the economic security of Australian women. We know that the majority of income support recipients and age pensioners in this country are women. These women will be provided with direct financial assistance which will cover more than 100 per cent of their expected costs under a carbon price. Secondly, and perhaps most significantly, the carbon pollution package not only covers the impacts of any cost increases but also includes tax reforms, which will be particularly important for people working part time or hoping to enter or re-enter the workforce. This is particularly good news for women, especially those with caring responsibilities who will be encouraged to join the workforce.

Changes to the tax-free threshold will benefit 3.7 million women with taxable incomes under $80,000, with most receiving a tax cut of $300 per year. These tax reforms will be particularly significant for women who work part time. The tax-free threshold will be more than trebled to $18,200 in 2012-13. Together with the $445 of low-income tax offset, this means that women who earn up to $20,542 per year will pay absolutely no tax. They will keep everything they earn. This is true of these Australian women workers but, of course, it is true of all Australian low-paid workers who fit this category. In fact, half a million people will go from having to pay tax to paying no tax at all as a result of the package of reforms before the House today. They are important environmental reforms but they are also important economic reforms. Of those half a million people who will go from having to pay tax to paying no tax at all as a result of this package, 300,000 are Australian women, and we are working hard to encourage their increased participation in the workplace. Forty-four per cent of taxpayers are women, but sixty per cent of the people who will get this tax cut are women. This is tax reform for working women and women who want to work more, but it is also a tax reform for our national interest, knowing that we need to work to boost participation and increase the number of women participating in the workforce.

I am proud to support action on climate change. I am proud to be a part of a reformist government. I am proud that we are fronting up to our obligations to act for the economy, the environment and the national interest. I am proud that we are standing up and putting facts on the record rather than running around with misinformation and scare campaigns about people's jobs and cost of living increases. The shameful thing is that it has been pointed out to those opposite that they are knowingly spreading misinformation. That is something that we on this side of the House will never do. In fact, we will front up to our responsibility to act now and act for future generations. I urge all members to support these bills and real action on climate change. (Time expired)