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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11343

Mrs ELLIOT (RichmondParliamentary Secretary for Trade) (10:46): I am very pleased to be speaking on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. These bills will give effect to our plan to move our economy to a clean energy future. They are designed to ensure Australia's economic and environmental future. The issue of climate change is of major concern in my electorate. And that is not just from the perspective of the need to act for the future of the nation and the world but also from the very local perspective of protecting the unique and special coastal areas and pristine landscapes that we have on the North Coast. Without a doubt, many people in my electorate are very concerned about taking action on climate change. It has been an issue that they have consistently raised with me over the years.

The need to act is very urgent. The fact is that the rest of the world is acting. Particularly in light of that fact, it is absolutely urgent that Australia acts. The advice from the world scientific community is very straight forward: global temperatures are rising and the cause is carbon pollution. In Australia and around the globe, 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record. In Australia, each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the last. What is now beyond any reasonable doubt is that human activities are the cause of the changes that we are witnessing in the global climate. We must all accept that Australia will be greatly affected by any rise in temperatures, both environmentally and economically.

Increased carbon pollution in the atmosphere is putting the world's environment at very serious risk. It has been estimated that average global temperatures may increase by up to 6.4 degrees Celsius above 1990 temperatures by 2100. It has been estimated that, by 2100, sea levels may rise by between 0.5 metres and 1 metre above 2000 levels and that the acidity of the world's oceans may increase significantly.

Looking at a very local incident, we had some very severe and harsh coastal erosion at a seaside town called Kingscliff in my electorate of Richmond. The erosion was very severe. Many locals put forward their concerns about climate change and their view that we need to act on climate change. When we see impacts like these on our communities and our villages, it highlights for everyone the real and immediate danger that climate change poses. We can only imagine how much worse problems like this could become if we do nothing. If we do not act, it is quite frightening to think of the extent of it.

Increased temperatures are likely to change the frequency and severity of cyclones, storms, floods and other extreme weather events. We can also expect that rainfall patterns around the world will change, making some places drier and other places wetter. Studies indicate that warming of more than two degrees Celsius will overwhelm the capacity of many of our natural ecosystems to adapt. With that level of warming, for instance, the survival of the Great Barrier Reef will be in jeopardy as higher ocean temperatures and acidity levels cause major changes to coral reefs. There are delicate ecosystems on the North Coast, such as those around Mount Warning and the Nightcap National Park, and right across the Green Cauldron. This is one of Australia's National Landscapes. They will be placed under even further stress should average temperatures rise as predicted.

Rising temperatures will not just damage our environment but will have a massive negative effect on our economic prosperity as well. And the longer we are delayed by the climate change deniers in tackling the problem the more it will cost us and the worse the impacts will be on our economy. These include the economic costs that come from floods, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events. Climate change will lead to sea level rises that can damage coastal property and infrastructure. Our nation is predominantly a coastal society. About 85 percent of the population lives near the coast. It has been estimated that coastal assets valued at more than $226 billion are at risk of damage from inundation and erosion by 2100. If we look at the North Coast in my electorate and over the border into south-east Queensland, we can see how vital these coastal regions are. One of our main industries is tourism. We need to act to protect those areas, because they are the backbone of both the North Coast and south-east Queensland. We need to act to preserve the beautiful landscapes and beaches to ensure the future of tourism in those areas. We also must look at one of Australia's most important economic sectors, agriculture. It has been estimated that the effects of climate change on agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin could see a decline of up to 92 per cent by 2100 as a result of longer and more frequent droughts from unmitigated climate change. With the Murray-Darling Basin accounting for a large share of Australia's farm production, this could undermine our capacity to grow and produce our own food.

I am very pleased to be speaking on these bills because the Gillard government's Clean Energy Future plan will cut 160 million tonnes of pollution from our atmosphere a year by 2020. This is the equivalent of removing 45 million cars from our roads. The Clean Energy Future plan will introduce a carbon price into Australia's economy. It will put a price tag on every tonne of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere by the country's biggest polluters. The carbon pricing mechanism will apply directly to around 500 of the biggest polluters in Australia. Indeed, a price on carbon is the most effective, efficient and economic way to tackle climate change. Every dollar raised will go to support jobs and households and to invest in clean energy and climate change programs.

To help meet the costs passed through by some businesses, the Gillard government will ensure that Australian households will be compensated with tax cuts, higher family payments and increases in pensions and benefits. Looking at my electorate of Richmond, more than 51,000 people will receive household assistance through increases in their income support and family assistance payments and even more will benefit from tax cuts. In fact, nine out of 10 households will receive assistance through tax cuts, extra payments or both. On average, households will see cost increases of $9.90 a week, while the average assistance will be $10.10 a week. Overall, the estimates are that prices will rise by less than one per cent.

I will go into the detail of some of this household assistance. It means up to $338 extra per year for single pensioners and self-funded retirees; up to $510 per year for pensioner couples combined; up to $110 per child for a family that receives family tax benefit part A; up to $69 extra for a family that receives family tax benefit part B; up to $218 extra per year for single income support recipients and $390 per year for couples combined for those people on allowances; and up to $234 per year for single parents in addition to the increased family payments that they receive.

A very important part of this package is tax reform. The tax reforms being introduced as part of the package will increase the tax-free threshold from $6,000 today to $18,200 from 1 July 2012. This is a very important reform. It means that over a million Australians will no longer need to lodge a tax return. It will make a huge difference to many Australians. From day one of the carbon price, 1 July 2012, every taxpayer with income below $80,000 will receive a tax cut, with most getting at least $300 a year. These tax cuts will be permanent and they will increase. On 1 July 2015 a second round of tax cuts will apply as well. These tax reforms are a very important element of this overall package.

The government's plan includes a range of measures to support jobs in manufacturing industries as they make the transition to a clean energy future. The government's $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program will help improve energy efficiency in manufacturing and support research and development in low-pollution technologies. So we are not just supporting jobs in manufacturing; we are also investing in those very important jobs of the future, particularly in those areas of renewable energy. We know how economically important it is that we have that major investment in those very important areas.

In contrast to the Gillard government's positive Clean Energy Future plan, all we see from the Leader of the Opposition is a negative and dishonest scare campaign when it comes to the issue of climate change. We know that he has said before that he thinks climate change is 'absolute crap'. He has made that comment previously. He wants to let the 500 biggest polluters off the hook and instead slug households to pay polluters. The fact is the Leader of the Opposition cannot be trusted with either our economy or our environment. We also know that the opposition have said that they will take back the compensation from the hands of householders. Only a couple of weeks ago we had the shadow Treasurer confirming that. He said he would be taking back that compensation. Well, I would like him to come and tell those more than 50,000 people in my electorate that he is going to take away their pension increases and their increases in family payments. That is exactly what the opposition intend to do and that will have a very severe impact on many people within my electorate.

I would like to ask the members of the opposition here today to consider the words of the Prime Minister when she introduced the bill to the House. The Prime Minister asked the members of the opposition to consider whether they are on the right side of history. Placing a price on carbon is the right thing to do. We must, as a nation, take these actions now to ensure that we begin our journey to a clean energy future. It is a future that will ensure our economic prosperity and protect our environment and our environmental surrounds. It is very important that we do both. Indeed, these clean energy bills will do that, ensuring our economic prosperity into the future and preserving our environment for future generations. I commend the bills to the House.