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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10031

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (11:30): The Australian economy is in transition. We are confronted by many challenges, not just climate change. Our high dollar is impacting not just on our manufacturing base but on other big export earners, such as education services and tourism. Natural disasters have also played their part in reducing our capacity and competing for resources. There is also the uncertainty in the global economy. Against all of those challenges and uncertainties Australia is better placed than any other developed economy to absorb those challenges. We are the only developed economy in the world to have avoided the last recession. We have posted incredible job growth—750,000 jobs since we came to office four years ago—growth that recovered quickly from the downturn and from the disasters. We have room in monetary policy. We have a huge pool of domestic savings in this economy that will be set to grow further, courtesy of a compulsory superannuation scheme that was introduced by Labor and that will be continued and expanded under a Labor government.

Those successes that I talk about all came from our preparedness as a nation to confront the challenges we faced in the 1980s and 1990s—the need to open our economy, to seek new markets, to become competitive and productive and to diversify our economic base. It was a Labor government again that led those reforms. The floating of the dollar, the cutting of tariffs, the controlling of inflation and the implementation of national superannuation and Medicare were all bold reforms. Some of them were unpopular at the time and some of them were contested, but all of them were necessary because they laid the foundation for our prosperity and are the reason why today we are the envy of the rest of the developed world. It is against that context that the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills become so important. Climate change is just another challenge. If we handle it properly and boldly we can be set up for even greater sustainability, both environmentally and economically, looking forward.

Our planet is warming. Human behaviour is a significant factor. Climate scientists around the world are telling us that carbon pollution is causing climate change. Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists, those who specialise in studying our atmosphere, agree that climate change is caused by humanity. We have compelling advice and on that evidence we have to take steps to change human behaviour in a lasting way to lower the carbon footprint and to cut pollution. We also need to do that in a clever way that rewards good behaviour. We owe it to our future generations, but the current generation can benefit as well because a carbon market that rewards good behaviour is a market that will reward creativity and innovation. It will play to our strengths and create new job opportunities.

Treasury has estimated 1.6 million jobs will be created by 2020 under the proposals that we are putting forward. As the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government the challenge is: what slice of that job growth action can the regions secure? It is a challenge they are rising to. There are new manufacturing jobs, new service jobs and green jobs from green energy solutions. I have spoken much about the patchwork economy and I have visited many of those patches, our regions.

I have held 16 carbon forums around the country in the last two months. Those forums were organised by regional development bodies and were attended by community leaders and stakeholders. All of those forums and all of the RDAs have two common themes built around seizing the opportunity, firstly, to diversify the economic base and, secondly, to embrace a cleaner energy future. Both themes embrace not only economic opportunity and jobs but also liveability—a cleaner, healthy environment for them and their children.

Communities, local government and businesses set their own targets to reduce emissions well before our package was announced. They had determined what needed to be done. They were looking for how they could be helped to achieve their agenda. This package of bills supports that agenda in so many ways. These bills ensure that nine out of 10 households are compensated. The price effect of the carbon price is low. It is less than 1c in the dollar. Remember that the GST added 10c to every dollar spent. This opposition has the gall to complain about the cost impact of these proposals. Compensation will be made through increased pensions, direct payments and tax cuts. The assistance is permanent and it will increase, and, if people change their behaviour, those payments will make them better off because they are compensated as if they do not change their behaviour. But under our Low Carbon Communities fund we will help low-income households make the efficiency improvements.

Industry too will benefit. There is a significant package of grants and access to loans through the Energy Finance Corporation available to industry to assist them make the transition to cleaner energy options. We do not expect them to do it on their own.

Likewise, in the skills and jobs space there is significant assistance. It is going to be very important to develop the skills to strengthen our capability to get the competitive advantage that will be sought not just here but around the world, and there is a $9.2 billion Jobs and Skills package to develop green job skills to build our capability to develop better our competitiveness, a competitiveness that a carbon market will value and will reward.

Also, in terms of the farm sector there is a $1.7 billion package for carbon farming and biodiversity. Farmers do not pay the tax but under these initiatives they can be big winners. They can be winners through the Biodiversity Fund which enables them to access grants to improve soil and vegetation quality thereby lifting productivity. That is going to be of advantage because it will improve their farm outputs. But it is also a valuable service export to a world that increasingly is being challenged by the food security issue. There is also the additional opportunity under the Measures for Carbon Farming, where in the development of the capture of carbon, the measurement of it and the storage of it, they can trade the credits.

As for local government—because I have the responsibility for local government—here too there are significant opportunities in terms of landfill. We know that landfill generates methane. We are looking to encourage more innovative solutions for local government to reduce landfill waste and emissions, initiatives that involve recycling.

The Lismore City Council is a great case in point in recycling all of its organic waste. There is the capturing of methane gas for electricity, which is happening in the Shoal Bay waste disposal site in Darwin City. There is the flaring of gas, which is happening in the Moreton Bay Regional Council. And there is the diverting of compostable household waste away from landfills, and that is happening in the Hobart City Council organic waste measures. These are opportunities that we want to continue to encourage—to have the councils see the opportunities that are there in the challenge that we must embrace.

So this is a package of measures available to assist in making the transition, a package designed to reduce carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020. Interestingly, that is an objective shared by both sides of this parliament because it also happens to be the coalition policy, although you would not believe it when you listen to them. Both Labor and the coalition therefore agree on what needs to be done. The question is: how do we achieve it? This package of measures is our 'how'. The coalition package of measures, Direct Action—and I do not hear them talk about that much these days—has been ridiculed by all objective analysts. It gives no assistance to small business and it will make households pay an extra $1,300 per year. Yet they cry crocodile tears in arguing that ours is going to price people out of existence.

The Leader of the Opposition has become the Dr No of Australian politics. It is not surprising when you think of his background, because his background is around boxing and debating. He became the opposition leader and he is always looking for an opponent to knock down, and he always seeks the no case when it comes to a debate. His inflexible opposition to the measures in these bills—and they can complain all they like about the lack of time to debate this—means that we know what the end result will be under his leadership. It will be to say no. He will listen to no reason because he is hell-bent on opposing everything that is put forward. But in the opposition blindly following him down this path, they will be denying households their tax cuts and pensioners their pension increases, and imposing under his proposals another $1,300 on top for all households. They will be denying industry access to the land grants and they will be denying farmers the carbon farming initiatives.

I have had the opportunity over the last couple of months to visit many regions that are looking at innovative solutions. I have been to Geraldton and the midwest Gascoyne region of WA. They see themselves as the second Pilbara, but they have committed themselves as a town and a region to become carbon neutral. They are looking to renewable energy sources to power the huge growth that is going to happen. They have got private investment interested in coming there and they see this package as underpinning that commitment.

I have also been to Whyalla in South Australia where the Leader of the Opposition, Dr No, went and said that they would be wiped off the face of the earth when this package came in. I went to sites that were looking to increase job opportunities, sites involved in rare earth extraction. Because China has closed their exports of rare earths, there is the opportunity to extract and process rare earths. Why are rare earths important? Because they underpin green technology. They underpin smart solutions in terms of lighter ceramics and the sorts of technology, manufacture and fabrication that we are going to need for the challenges that are ahead.

Australia is the best placed of any country in the world in terms of its resources, its innovation and its capability. What we want is a market that recognises and values those things and that is why this package, the suite of measures that we are introducing, is designed to create that market to advantage and secure Australia's future going forward. We do not expect people to do it on their own and we have a series of transition measures that we are talking about. I have seen local government, I have seen businesses, I have seen regions rise to the challenge. They know what needs to be done. This side of the House also knows what needs to be done. We have taken the hard decisions. This is the same reform that we were prepared to embrace in the eighties and nineties to set the country up and that is why these bills need to be supported today. (Time expired)