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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10038

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (12:01): I heard the intense argument coming from the shadow minister for education, apprenticeships and training regarding this package of clean energy legislation, but the reality is that he is on the record with a few interesting comments of his own. On 27 July 2009, he made these comments on Sunday Agenda:

Let's not forget it was the Opposition that first proposed an emissions trading scheme when we were in government. The idea that … the Liberal Party is opposed to an emissions trading scheme is quite frankly ludicrous.

We are on our way towards that goal and I think there is too much protesting by far going on on the other side for no reason other than simply to obstruct the progress of this nation. Again, in December 2009, he said:

… we took an emissions trading scheme to the last election. We believe in climate change action.

Judging by today's speech, you could have fooled me that he really believes that. Mr Pyne said on that day:

I believe passionately in climate change action.

Today he is passionately telling us that there is nothing wrong and we should advance no cause. Somewhere in the middle perhaps lies the truth, although I would not be absolutely confident of that in this context.

I welcome this day. I am very proud to stand here as a Labor member to add my voice to those of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, my colleagues and fellow travellers in this place to support this historic legislation. Today, after years, decades even, of public debate on climate change, it is our Labor government, through these landmark clean energy reforms, that is setting our country on course for a secure, sustainable, clean energy future. Let no-one be tricked by those who seek to diminish and dismiss the importance of this challenge. For years, governments all over the world have wrestled with the reality of climate change. And no government has taken as measured, as methodical or as inclusive an approach to this issue as the Gillard Labor government.

There was exhaustive debate in the last parliament about an emissions trading scheme, two major reviews by Professor Ross Garnaut and no fewer than 35 parliamentary inquiries. No one issue has had so much parliamentary scrutiny. The public scrutiny has been even longer and just as intense. There were the policies for action on climate change that Labor took to successive elections, through to the government's formulation of our Clean Energy Future package at a macro level. At a micro level, the Clean Energy Future materials all householders received over the last month have ensured that, despite those who would spread fear and alarm, the detail and reality of our careful and household centred package of support is now available to all. We have spread the message and the facts—the real information—far and wide. At Kariong, in my own electorate, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government provided a carbon pricing forum just last week. We have been comprehensive and inclusive in our approach—because that is the Labor way.

Now it comes to us in this House to act. I strongly believe that our role as members in this place is to make the difficult decisions, not for the short term or for narrow political interest but for the long term and the national interest of our constituents. I am so proud to have as my leader here in this place a strong woman, our Prime Minister, who is committed to leading our nation, taking determined action for the long-term national interest. I have absolute confidence in her.

The future of my children, my nieces and nephews, my former students and their own children—all these young people—matters to me. I care deeply for their future and I know that I am absolutely in unison with the thousands of Central Coast residents who are dedicated to building a great future for our kids. I will leave no stone unturned in doing everything I can to make sure that there are jobs and opportunities for our young people where we live. This is the Labor way—rising to the tough challenges and faithful to those ordinary Australians who live alongside us as equals, not beneath us or subordinate to us. It is the opportunities and jobs for the future of the Central Coast that I am most excited about when I look at the package we are debating today.

As the minister for regional Australia explained last week at Kariong, a clean energy future will allow regions like the Central Coast to diversify their economies in a way that was formerly unimaginable, by encouraging the uptake of new skills and by the development of smarter, clean energy economies. A price on carbon will provide an incentive to cut our carbon footprint, create sustainable environmental jobs and drive different renewable energy options.

I know that the people on the Central Coast are avid early adopters of the massive uptake of various solar energy initiatives we have seen across the coast at federal and state levels. As a region we want our fair share of the projected $100 billion that will go into renewables by 2050. And we on the Central Coast want our fair share of the 1.6 million new jobs that Treasury modelling is projecting by 2020. We want a future for our children that embraces a sustainable region not only in terms of the environment but also in terms of the work and opportunities that our growing community needs. The people on the Central Coast love where we live. We are committed to making sure that, for our time of custodianship of this land, we act in a way that allows our children and their children's children and further generations after that to enjoy our place. That is why Labor is determined to undertake this major structural economic reform in a way that not only meets the environmental challenge but also ensures that we make sure our people, ordinary working Australians, do not bear the burden of this major structural economic reform.

That is why nine out of 10 households will receive assistance through some combination of tax cuts and payment increases. Two in three households will get tax cuts or increased payments that cover their expected average price impacts, and over four million Australian households will get assistance that is in fact 20 per cent more than their expected average price impact. And, yes, this assistance to households will be permanent, ongoing and indexed to the CPI.

On the same day that the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government was holding a forum in my electorate, the Leader of the Opposition was also on the Central Coast, deliberately spreading his poisonous misinformation about this assistance. To the Leader of the Opposition I say this: this government is about caring for older Australians. All you are about—and all you revealed on your visit to the coast—is a capacity to scare older Australians. So I repeat: the Gillard government's household assistance under this legislation will be permanent, ongoing and indexed to the CPI. That will include very many households on the New South Wales Central Coast.

In addition to this, one million Australians will no longer need to lodge a tax return. That is going to be a very welcome piece of news to very many Australians, and particularly to those people who are going to be earning up to about $20,000 now without having to engage with the taxation system. I have spoken to many people on the Central Coast, particularly mothers and grandmothers, who will now consider taking up part-time or casual work because we are tripling the tax-free threshold through this legislation.

Some of those opposite acknowledge that there is a problem with carbon pollution spewing into our atmosphere. That is why their policy goal for 2020 is exactly the same as the Labor goal: a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. But their solution is to pay big polluters to pollute and punish ordinary working Australians. That is the difference between us and them. We in the Labor Party have in our DNA a deep commitment to the ordinary householders and workers who carry this nation each and every day. The Leader of the Opposition's plan is to take $1,300 from ordinary households—from people like those I represent in Umina, Kincumber and Woy Woy—and use their hard-earned money. These constituents on the Central Coast in the seat of Robertson can ill afford the irresponsible $1,300 bill that the Leader of the Opposition would give them. That is right: those opposite would take from the little guys and give to the big guys; they would subsidise polluters and rip off regular families in areas such as mine.

This is the bottom line. It is the dark underbelly that is the reality of the modern Liberal Party, because the buck never stops with them. If those opposite were true conservatives, they would respect the institution of the CSIRO—an institution that a conservative prime minister established. Instead, those opposite have trashed and ridiculed the sensible, mainstream science of that treasured institution. In my role as a member of the Australian parliament, I respect mainstream science and I certainly respect the CSIRO. I respect the intellect and integrity that informs that institution, and I acknowledge the great guidance that the CSIRO and other such learned institutes have provided the Australian public over many, many generations. It is well known that if global emissions continue to increase at the present rates then we face the certainty of dangerous climate change. These are the conclusions of sensible, mainstream scientists—scientists that the Leader of the Opposition continues to call 'crap'.

I support the clean energy bills because they will provide the incentive mechanisms needed to drive private investment in clean energy. As one of the biggest per capita polluters in the world, Australia cannot claim that as a nation we do not have the ability to reduce our national emissions. Furthermore, I do not believe that those opposite can deny that it is in the nation's interest to provide an incentive to invest in clean energy. Indeed, if they were true to their party's policies they would be supporting sensible, practical measures designed to reduce our emissions by five per cent over year 2000 levels. If those opposite were true to their principles they would support a market based mechanism. They would support that to enable the private sector to invest in a clean energy future.

I support the government's market-based solution because it is right, because it makes the big polluters pay for polluting and because it provides a powerful and correct incentive for the industry to invest in a clean energy future. The details of the government's clean energy plan have been debated at length both inside and outside this parliament. It is important to understand that the fixed price of carbon is only a temporary measure and that it will only operate for a short period of time until an emissions trading scheme is implemented in 2015. The charge of $23 per tonne will rise in accordance with inflation over the next three years. According to the fixed-price mechanism, businesses covered by the legislation will be charged $23 for every tonne of carbon pollution they put into the atmosphere.

Finally, I want to bring in a faith perspective to this debate in the House today. I want to put on the record in the chamber the response of Christians who take seriously the words of the Holy Bible, in particular Genesis chapter 1, verses 28 and 29, and Genesis chapter 2, verse 15. They are the elements of the Bible that we often hear about, on the intimate relationship with the earth on which we walk. The intimacy of humankind's relationship with the earth is embedded in these famous pieces of text. The custodianship of the earth and the incredible responsibility that that confers on each of us is to keep the earth and to replenish the earth, and that is not lost on Christians whose faith provides the moral compass of our lives.

The understanding of the importance of the response to the challenge of climate change is well articulated in the Australian space by the Micah Challenge group, who are so active in our communities and determined to ensure that Christians are taking up our share of the burden in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I know that many of those opposite support the Micah Challenge. I know that they worship in communities that support the Micah challenge. They need to heed the very clear advice that impels us as Christians to act to price carbon and to undertake the change to a clean energy economy. It is time for leadership and responsible action, particularly by those who express a Christian faith and have this discourse to inform their conscience and their political action in this place.

This is no time for carping negativity, for selfishness or for cheap political stunts. The future we create for our children and their children and the future we offer all who share this planet with us depends on our capacity to get out of our own way, to abandon selfishness and to act for others. In the long term, millions of others will receive the benefits of this honest and responsible enactment into law of wise custodianship of our earth, our sea and our sky. In the true Labor way, we have ensured that ordinary Australians, for whom we are the voice in this place, will be assisted financially through this major economic reform which will set us on a path to a clean energy environment and 1.6 million clean energy jobs—and all of that by 2020.

I close by encouraging all people of Christian faith and all members of this House to consider the clear advice that impels us to act in the interests of our country and the future of our planet. I commend these bills to the House.