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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10045


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (12:31): If I ask the member for Warringah or the member for the Cowper at the table whether they want to live under an emissions trading scheme, I suspect their answer would be no, yet the joke is that they already do. The New South Wales Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme was introduced on 1 January 2003. To quote from the website:

It is one of the first mandatory greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes in the world.

The new Liberal-National government in New South Wales maintains this scheme and it covers the seats of Warringah and Cowper. It is this same greenhouse gas abatement scheme that the member for Warringah himself openly says is the backbone of Liberal and National party policy on climate change nationally.

I have advocated for a price on carbon through emissions trading since my first speech in this chamber. At that time I said that I looked forward to working with members and ministers on both sides on water quality, catchment management, natural resources management and renewable energy issues throughout the Mid-North Coast. We as a region are really well geared to address these other local issues if we can get some offset returns through the emissions trading scheme. My view over the past three years has not changed; if anything, it has firmed. At the last two federal elections at which I stood, in 2008 and 2010, I was open and honest with my communities and said that, if elected, I would be working on pricing carbon via emissions trading. I have remained consistent and today have delivered on those election commitments. Unlike many others who chop and change or describe themselves as weathervanes on climate change, my word is my bond and I do what I can to uphold that bond.

So I stand up for the new economy of Australia, I stand up for jobs and I stand up for fewer taxes, and I do this by strongly supporting Australia moving to an emissions trading scheme in 2015. On behalf of the 90,000 residents of the Mid-North Coast, I personally chose to participate in the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee process—a unique cabinet process established to make sure that this time moral challenges will actually be delivered. My position on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and associated bills is therefore well known to all. I will support these bills. I also expect the members for Melbourne, Denison and New England to support these bills and therefore expect these bills to pass.

After all the discussion and debate on this issue over many years, I hopefully have time to say three more things. First, I say why I support these bills. They are the same reasons I have stated every time this issue has come before the parliament and they are the same reasons I have stated in open letters and public forums throughout my electorate over many years. At elections in 2008 and 2010, I publicly and openly supported a price on pollution in emissions trading markets. Unlike almost every other Australian politician, my position has not changed. In my view, common sense tells me to seek and trust expert advice. If your child is sick, you go to the local doctor for trusted medical advice. If you are planning to retire, you seek trusted financial advice. The issue of climate change is no different. Even the most conservative Australian scientific advisers, including the CSIRO, who we have trusted for 70 years, tell us that climate change is a risk demanding a response. The most conservative Australian economic advisers insist that the lowest-cost response is to make the biggest emitting businesses reduce or pay for their emissions. I have chosen to respect and accept this expert advice on both the science and the economics. In my view, politicians who reject this advice ignore the scientific risks and accept higher long-term economic costs.

The features of this package before the House that improve on the old CPRS—that at one point, I remind everyone, 148 out of the 150 members of this parliament publicly supported—are many. Included in the improvements negotiated through the MPCCC is a better governance model with the independent Climate Change Authority. Members can check unsuccessful amendments last time around with the CPRS and will see my consistent position on this. It is important that this is now a governance feature piece. I am pleased this suggestion helped as a circuit-breaker in the trench warfare on emissions targets between the Labor Party and the Greens that had stalled this issue for too long. This is an important improvement that removes the toxic debate and focuses decisions on independent science and independent economic advice.

Secondly, we have increased benefits to protect pensioners, retirees and low- to middle-income earners from consumer price changes of less than one per cent. Thirdly, we took the opportunity for tax reform, turning Ross Garnaut's very good work into Ken Henry's very good tax reform work, and achieved substantial tax reform as part of the agreements reached. Fourthly, we worked to assist key industries and helped small business to adjust, including $150 million for adjustments in the important food processing sector and financial support for small business. Fifthly, we have allowed new resource and development funding that will allow us to keep pace with the world in both renewable energy and in carbon farming. Sixthly, we now have a $1.8 billion land sector package that does push back on behalf of marginal lands, pushes back on concerns of the international peak soils crisis globally and pushes back on behalf of the high loss of biodiversity in Australia's unique ecosystem. I thank those who took the time to participate in the land use forums that I hosted in the parliament earlier this year, at a critical time in the decision-making process around this. It did and does matter.

Finally, and I think importantly, we have negotiated Indigenous enterprise in land use and the targeted land sector provisions for Australia's original—and, in my view, best—land managers. I am pleased to hear that the two groups who are already hitting the phones to environmental planners on this topic are agriculture companies and individuals as well as Indigenous enterprises, both looking for ways to value-add to the 18 bills before the House today.

All of this is done with a firm eye on the macro-economy. I can confirm that undisputed, independent Treasury advice identifies our economy will continue to grow and our standard of living will continue to rise, even with a price on carbon. The Australian story for the next 50 years is a good story not a bad one. We really do live in the right place at the right time. Reform for the better suits these times. It is my firm view therefore that the bills before us are the best overall solution to the real climate risks facing Australians of the future and that our generation does owe it to future Australians to resolve this issue now. I acknowledge that many members of parliament and community members do not agree with this decision, but I am confident that at least they understand it and I am confident that consistency in thought is at least respected.

This brings me to my third and final point. In the politics of the debate in Australia, the one thing that has hampered constructive public debate on this topic is the lack of detail, clarity and consistency of the major parties. I include the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Party in this criticism. They have collectively been consistent in their inconsistency on pricing carbon. Today we see the Liberal and National parties, in opposition, showing all care on pricing carbon and absolutely no responsibility. They say they care, but a responsible opposition would at the very least put an alternative policy to the legislature for debate. They have not. They have called for a plebiscite as a demonstration that they have private members' powers to contribute to the parliament, but they deny the Australian people to look at or see the details of this alternative policy.

What have they got to hide? This is not a choice in this House between an emissions trading scheme or nothing. It is a choice between an emissions trading scheme or what I consider a Liberal-National party grants tax that Australia is consistently being denied the details of. I was disappointed again today to see the member for Warringah once again dodge the opportunity to table their alternative for the House to consider. Consider this—and this is not politics at play—if parliament rejects the current 18 bills before the House, those of us like me who have consistently supported action on climate change must consider supporting the Liberal-National parties' alternative option. But what is the alternative?

If I asked the member for Wide Bay or the member for Warringah the following six questions, I am assuming at this stage the answers would be 'yes'. Firstly, do the Liberal-National parties support a five per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 on 1990 levels? My understanding is: yes. Secondly, do the Liberal-National parties support the words spoken by the Leader of the Opposition in the launch of his policy in February 2010 that their policy is modelled on the New South Wales Labor government's GGAS, meaning a lot of emissions reduction at comparatively modest cost? My understanding is: yes. Thirdly, would the Liberals and Nationals establish an emissions reduction fund to invest an annual average of about $10.2 billion in direct CO2 emissions reduction activities by 2020, funded by tax revenue? My understanding is: yes. Fourthly, will the emissions reduction fund purchase 85 million tonnes per annum of CO2 abatement through soil carbon by 2020, regardless of whether soil carbon is in any relevant future international agreement—at an estimated cost of $8 to $10 per tonne—and is this the single biggest investment the emissions reduction fund will make? My understanding is: yes. Fifthly, will the emissions reduction fund be prevented from purchasing emissions reductions from overseas, even if those emissions reductions are verifiable and less expensive than those able to be purchased in Australia? My understanding is: yes. Sixthly, and finally, if a business that already reports under the Howard-Costello-Vaile-sponsored National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme undertakes an activity with an emissions level above its business-as-usual level, will that business incur a financial penalty? My understanding is: yes.

In other words, the Liberal Party and the National Party are pursuing the same reduction in emissions, relying heavily on just one technology, to be purchased at an assumed price by a government fund—with any trade in carbon emissions specifically prevented. Big emitters under this approach face the real possibility of financial penalties if they expand, with no opportunity to buy offsetting abatement from another source. This is a potential job killer and a potential economic growth killer.

With this in mind, there are two more questions I would like to ask and have answered, but the answers at this stage are critically unknown. Firstly, will the Liberal-National party members of this parliament match the $14.2 billion over four years in reduced income taxes, Indigenous employment, soil research, biodiversity funding and higher benefits provided for under the package currently in the 18 bills before the House and, if not, what exact level of reduced income taxes or higher benefits would the Liberal and National parties provide and how would these be funded? Secondly, if the Liberal-National party members of this parliament think they can buy abatement at $8 to $10 a tonne, how do they justify any argument that says the market price in an emissions trading scheme would not be the same?

Surely the price of a tonne of carbon is either $8 a tonne or $29 a tonne in 2015. Which one is true? Again, until this is answered, in my view they debate with false anger. At this stage, on this difference between $8 a tonne and $29 a tonne, someone's policy in this debate is a fraud. I am backing $29 a tonne in 2015 based on all sound economic advice, yet it is unknown how on earth based on this advice the coalition can then buy in at $8 a tonne. What product in history in any market economy can be bought at one-third of its price on an ongoing basis? Do we buy milk at 80c a tonne when it is $2? Do we buy bread for $1 when it is $3? How is this so? Please, member for Flinders, member for Warringah, member for Wide Bay, explain your policy.

I would be grateful if that is answered in this debate. Until then, I strongly support the 18 bills before the House. I strongly support pricing carbon. It is not a tax. We all know you cannot buy and sell a tax. This is a carbon permit trading scheme. It is the smartest, lowest cost, lowest risk solution to the very real science question before us. I strongly encourage this House to this time, importantly, in the national interest, back this package.