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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11323


Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:19): After decades of debate, the time for talking is over. The science is in. It is now time to get this critical reform in place. Other nations are already acting. They know that, in a competitive, globalised 21st century world, the successful economies will be those that adapt early to a carbon constrained future. Labor is not prepared to ignore the threat, ignore the science and ignore the economists. We cannot say that this is someone else's problem. We all share the one planet; we are all citizens of the world. It would simply not be fair to leave it to our children and grandchildren to deal with the consequences of our inaction. If we do nothing, dangerous climate change will impact on this and future generations.

As minister for transport, I feel a particular responsibility. Here in Australia, transport accounts for around 15 per cent of total greenhouse emissions, a little lower than the global average of around 18 per cent. The vast bulk of this is from road transport and light vehicles, which are responsible for around 87 per cent of transport emissions. That is why the government is taking action to reduce greenhouse emissions from our vehicles. But we are doing this in a measured and fair way. Under the government's climate change plan, businesses that use vehicles of less than 4.5 tonnes—such as cars, utes and light commercial vehicles—will be permanently excluded from paying the carbon price when they fill up at the bowser. This means that the carbon price will have no direct impact on the fuel bills of many small and larger businesses—the couriers, taxi drivers, tradesmen, hire car companies and minibus operators. The government is also excluding the family car and ute. Families in the regions do not have a bus or a train station down the road like families in capital cities often do. Similarly, tradies cannot replace the work ute easily. So light vehicles will be permanently excluded from the carbon price. Looking at the rail and maritime sectors, the carbon price will have only a modest impact.

To offset the effect of any rises, nine out of 10 households will receive assistance. This means more than four million households will receive assistance via tax cuts for any increased prices that they may pay. Importantly, we are increasing the income tax free threshold from $6,200 to $18,000, taking a million Australians out of the tax system. This is important economic reform.

In the case of heavy vehicles, operators will have a two-year transitional period to reconfigure their fleets and renegotiate contracts with customers. From 1 July 2014 a carbon price will apply to the fuel used by trucks over 4.5 tonnes. The government has already stated that the agriculture, fishery and forestry industries will be permanently excluded. Trucks powered by CNG, LNG, LPG or biofuels will also be permanently excluded. Once in place in 2014, the carbon price will have only a marginal impact on fuel bills. In fact, it will be tiny compared with the fluctuations we see regularly at the bowser from variations in world oil prices. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has calculated that the extra cost of driving a B double from Sydney to Melbourne under the carbon price at today's diesel prices will be around $35, or seven cents a litre.

Let us look now at how a carbon price will affect air travel. From day one—that is, from July next year—an effective carbon price will apply to the fuel used by domestic airlines. To maintain the competitiveness of Australian carriers, it will not apply to the fuel they use when flying internationally, at least until there is a global carbon price. We are also allowing large liquid fuel users, such as airlines, to voluntarily opt in from 2013. This is because a carbon market already operates in the EU and our international carriers may want the ability to trade across markets. It is worth repeating: a market for the price on carbon already exists and Australian companies competing internationally want the ability to trade across markets. The carbon price will have only a small impact on domestic airfares, less than many of the extra fees airlines already charge. For example, it is expected to add about $2 to the cost of a seat on a flight between Sydney and Melbourne and around $1 on a flight between Sydney and Armidale. Any increase would occur against the backdrop that flying is five times more affordable today than it was two decades ago as a result of earlier Labor reforms such as the deregulation of the domestic aviation market.

Once fully implemented in 2014, the carbon price will have little impact on the cost of the daily commute. The expected rise is only one half of one per cent, significantly under the eight per cent that was added by John Howard's GST. The figures done by the New South Wales Treasury—which the New South Wales government attempted to distort—highlight the reality that the cost increase will be minimal.

We are doing much more. We are also working to reduce the sector's footprint through smart regulations and by empowering consumers. Already the government is introducing the first-ever mandatory CO2 emission standards for all new cars and light-commercial vehicles sold in Australia. We are working with local manufacturers to set the emission levels, and these will apply from 2015. This will be a big saving for motorists through better fuel efficiency. We are also requiring that all new cars in Australia will display fuel consumption labels spelling out their emissions and fuel consumption in both city and highway conditions. Coupled with our green vehicle guide, consumers will be able to make a more-informed choice about the environmental performance of the car they buy. We are investing in new technologies to better manage the flow of traffic along some of our busiest roads. By using this so-called smart motorways technology we can substantially reduce congestion and carbon emissions while making our roads safer and smoother for motorists.

And we are restoring national leadership when it comes to the growth of our major cities. After all, that is where three in four Australians live. Our recently published national urban policy, Our Cities, Our Future, supports locating new jobs and future employment precincts closer to where people live, thereby minimising the daily commute. In addition to that, we are investing, and have committed, more to urban public transport projects since our election in 2007 than was invested by every government combined from Federation right up to 2007. We have committed to major public transport projects in every mainland capital city in the land. In addition to that, we are investing in innovative projects such as the Gold Coast light-rail project.

Labor has long recognised the risk of climate change to future generations and to the nation's wellbeing. Indeed, the first official act of the Labor government was to ratify the Kyoto protocol in 2007. Personally, this was a proud moment. I campaigned long and hard for Australia to ratify the Kyoto protocol. When I was the shadow minister for environment and heritage, I introduced a private member's bill in an effort to get the then Prime Minister, John Howard, to take action. In 2006 I worked with Kim Beazley on federal Labor's policy paper Protecting Australia from the threat of climate change. This was Labor's blueprint for tackling climate change.

It is worth remembering some of the practical measures in that blueprint: a commitment to ratify the Kyoto protocol; a commitment to a 60 per cent cut in Australia's 2000 level of greenhouse emissions by 2050; ensuring Australia realises the economic benefits of sustainable industry by supporting carbon friendly technologies and emissions trading; a commitment to sustainability by increasing and extending the renewable energy target to 20 per cent by 2020; the development of commercial solar, wind and geothermal energy technologies by Australian research, including a commitment to rebuild the CSIRO; and the establishment of a national sustainability council to monitor the performance of the entire country against agreed sustainability targets.

The similarity of the Beazley blueprint and what is now contained in the bills before the House is striking. Unlike those opposite, Labor has always been committed to practical, real and fair action on climate change. After 12 years of inaction the Liberal Party of course said that they would act at some stage, and they went to the 2007 election supporting a price on carbon through an emissions trading scheme. We, however, had acted and had committed to action well before then. On 14 February 2005, while introducing my private member's bill that would ratify the Kyoto protocol, I stated that 'we must start working actively on climate change because it is an issue affecting Australia's future prosperity'. Six years ago I stood in this place and argued that we needed a planned approach to shift Australia towards a modern, clean energy economy, that the potential for innovation and therefore business investment and growth would be immense. In six years nothing has changed except the urgency of the need to act. We all know that the sooner we act the cheaper it will be; the sooner we act the quicker we can move to a clean energy economy; the sooner we act the more advantage we will gain over our international competitors.

Those opposite simply want to delay and today are moving an extraordinary position before the parliament, once again seeking to delay action on this legislation. The fact is that Australian companies and our economy will be disadvantaged if we exclude ourselves from carbon markets and the growing market in renewable energy technology. Just as science and technology have given us the tools to measure and understand environmental problems, they also help us to solve them. The potential for innovation, scientific discovery and hence business investment growth is immense. With the right policy framework the very act of addressing our challenges can unleash new commercial forces and unimagined opportunities for new jobs, new technologies and new markets. Think of the potential economic benefits and jobs for this nation. If we do not act, our businesses and the national economy will be simply left behind.

What is extraordinary is that those opposite are not just climate sceptics, they have become market sceptics in their opposition to market based mechanisms to provide solutions to the challenges of the future. The opposition puts at risk more than just our future economic prosperity. By pretending the world is not taking action, by pretending that climate change is not real, by ignoring the science, the opposition risks the future health of Australia. There is only one planet and we need to respect that planet. We must not be condemned by history as the generation that knew what the issues were but chose to do nothing about it. The time for words is over—now is the time for action and delivery. That is what the Gillard government is doing with these bills, and I commend the bills to the House.