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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 10268


Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (09:53): I rise to support the bills before the House today. I have watched some of the discussion and debate as it has progressed so far through the House, when I have been able to, and I just want to make the point that when the opposition outline their concerns about these bills—why they will oppose them and their worries about the impacts on prices for families, small businesses and so forth—I am yet to hear any analysis of their own policy and the impacts that that will have on prices and the cost of living for families, small businesses and all these people they claim to be so concerned about. There has been absolutely no reference to that that I have seen in any of the contributions from those opposite. It is as if their own policy does not exist, 'Let's not mention it—maybe nobody will notice that we actually have a policy that will have a far greater impact on the cost of living for families, pensioners and small businesses'.

Indeed, I would suggest to many of those listening to the debate that they have a look at the opposition leader's contribution, which I think had about one minute at the end of his entire contribution that addressed his own policy but which, of course, did not outline what the costs of that would be for all the people they purport to be so concerned about. I reject the basis of their argument to start with; it is quite clear that the impacts of our proposed scheme will actually be significantly smaller, for example, than the introduction of the GST was. We do not hear them talk about the GST impacts and the flow-through in the economy either—strangely enough in this debate.

Our scheme is designed so that the money from those who pay it—the big polluters—is then directed back to those who face those cost increases to enable them to manage that transition in our economy. So it is a scheme that actually addresses the very issues that they are claiming are the basis of their opposition to this bill, while their own scheme addresses none of those issues. I think there is an inherent and significant deception in the way that they present their arguments. In particular, if they want to turn up in workplaces and in communities like mine in the Illawarra then they had better come prepared to answer what their own scheme is and what it will cost. Indeed, when Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Joyce attended a rally in Wollongong the community made it quite clear that they expected a better standard of debate than what they were willing to contribute with their scaremongering.

In my contribution I want to canvass briefly the issues in terms of what is contained in the bills, the context within which they sit in our plan and just reflect on some of the local implications. I have spoken about these on the many occasions in this House where we have debated the introduction of a price on carbon—indeed, in debates that we had when those on the other side were boasting that they were the first people to think of putting a carbon price in place. How long ago those days may seem to some except, perhaps, to the member for Wentworth.

The 19 bills that are in consideration jointly put in place the legislation required to give effect to the government's commitment to create a carbon-pricing mechanism in line with the plan announced on 11 July 2011, Securing a clean energy future: the Australian government's climate change plan. The Clean Energy Bill 2011 creates the carbon price mechanism and the Clean Energy Regulator Bill 2011 sets up the regulator as a statutory authority to administer the mechanism and to enforce the law. The Climate Change Authority Bill 2011 sets up the authority as an independent body that will provide the government with expert advice on key aspects of the mechanism and the government's climate change mitigation initiatives. There is the Clean Energy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 and a variety of separate bills related to those elements of the mechanism which oblige a person to pay money. Additionally, other bills are included which cover further elements of the plan—specifically the Clean Energy (Excise Tariff Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011 and the Clean Energy (Customs Tariff) Amendment Bill 2011, which impose an effective carbon price on aviation and non-transport gaseous fuels through exercises and customs tariffs, and the Clean Energy (Household Assistance Amendments) Bill 2011, the Clean Energy (Tax Laws Amendments) Bill 2011 and the Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates Amendments) Bill 2011, which implement the household assistance measures which I will discuss a bit more in my contribution about the local implications of these.

The time to act is now. It is clear that scientists have advised that the world is warming and that the high levels of carbon pollution risk environmental and economic damage. No responsible government can ignore this advice, and when those opposite were in government they did not ignore it. The CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the academies of science from around the world have all advised that the world is warming, and high levels of carbon pollution risk environmental and economic damage. In Australia and across the globe 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record. Each decade in Australia since the 1940s has been warmer than the last. Australia as a nation faces significant environmental and economic costs in a warmer, more unstable climate. Climate scientists advise that extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves and bushfires are likely to become more frequent and severe. These threaten our homes, businesses, communities and industries. For example, the recent Climate Change Risks to Australia's Coast report found that as many as 247,000 existing residential buildings, with a value up to $63 billion, are potentially at risk from a 1.1-metre sea-level rise.

Countries around the world are already taking action on climate change—89 countries, representing 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of the world's economy, have already pledged to take action on climate change. Globally, more money is now invested in new renewable power than in conventional high-pollution energy generation. China is now the world's largest manufacturer of both solar panels and wind turbines.

In this context, this government's plan for a clean energy future will, firstly, dramatically cut pollution. The government's clean energy plan will cut pollution by at least five per cent, compared with 2000 levels, by 2020, which will require cutting net expected pollution by at least 23 per cent in 2020. I should indicate that those opposite also have the same target. This is equivalent to taking over 45 million cars off the road. The government is committing to, by 2050, cut pollution to 80 per cent below 2000 levels.

Secondly, the plan will unleash innovation and investment in renewable energy worth billions of dollars. This is the opportunity in the plan. Large-scale renewable electricity generation, including hydro, is projected to be 18 times its current size by 2050. Total renewable generation, including hydro, will comprise around 40 per cent of electricity generation by 2050. Thirdly, the plan aims to transform our energy sector away from high-polluting sources like brown coal. The government will negotiate to close down 2,000 megawatts of high-polluting coal fired power generation, creating space for new clean energy supplies. Fourthly, it will store millions of tonnes of carbon in the land through better land and waste management.

Putting a price on carbon is the most environmentally effective and cheapest way to cut pollution. This is a fact that is well recognised by economists from around the world and by respected institutions such as the OECD and the Productivity Commission. Currently, releasing carbon pollution is free despite the fact that it is harming our environment. A carbon price changes this. It puts a price on the carbon pollution that Australia's largest polluters produce. This creates a powerful incentive for all businesses to cut their pollution by investing in clean technology or finding more efficient ways of operating. It encourages businesses across all industries to find the cheapest, most effective way of reducing carbon pollution rather than relying on more costly approaches such as government regulation. Under this scheme the big polluters, not ordinary Australians, pay.

I want to refer to my own electorate in terms of the household assistance package encompassed in the bills that I referred to at the beginning of my contribution. In Cunningham, more than 25,500 pensioners will receive extra in their pension payments—$338 per year for singles and up to $510 per year for couples combined. More than 9,900 families in Cunningham will receive household assistance for their family assistance payments. More than 1,900 self-funded retirees in Cunningham will also receive extra assistance—$338 per year for singles and up to $510 per year for couples combined.

More than 4,000 job seekers in Cunningham will get extra in their payments—$218 per year for singles and $390 for couples combined. More than 1,900 single parents in Cunningham will get an extra $289 per year. Importantly, more than 3,200 students in Cunningham will get an extra $177 per year—of course, the amount depends on their rate and type of payment. In total, more than 45,000 people in Cunningham will receive household assistance through the transfer system. On top of this, taxpayers in Cunningham with an annual income of under $80,000 will get a tax cut, with most receiving at least $300 per year.

This is a household assistance package which underpins the support for students, pensioners and families to transition through the move towards a lower carbon economy, and I would point out that none of that assistance is available under the opposition's plan, despite the fact that they will have an impost on carbon polluters and that that impost, as they claim in ours, will be passed through. They provide no assistance for families, pensioners, students, or single parents to manage that in their scheme. But you will not hear them talk about that.

I also want to refer to the claims, which the opposition leader repeated in his second reading speech on these bills, that I and the member for Throsby should stand up for local jobs. I can assure him that we do that each and every day, and I guarantee that we have been doing it for a lot longer than he has ever been aware of in the Illawarra.

I ask him, if he is so concerned, to immediately give a commitment to supporting the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011 when it comes before this House. That would be a nice start if he really was worried about the future of people's jobs. Scaring people about their jobs and then refusing to take action to protect those very same jobs is about as low as you can get in political debate . I would hope that he will very quickly give a confirmation that he will be supporting that bill.

The opposition leader's argument also ignores the new and emerging job opportunities that arise from a lower carbon future. I only have a short amount of time left, but I would particularly point the opposition leader to extensive comments that have been made by the Manufacturing Workers Union, which has indicated and identified some real growth opportunities in the manufacturing sector through this new regime and the importance for us as a nation maximising our opportunity.

The Prime Minister visited the Illawarra only the other week with Minister Carr, and we turned the first sod for a new building that was a result of an investment by this government, a $25 million Sustainable Buildings Research Centre for the Illawarra. This is a new facility at the University of Wollongong that will help us move towards a low-carbon future. It will create jobs in the construction industry as well as the education sector. It is a laboratory set up for prototyping and testing new techniques for converting existing buildings to make them more energy efficient. It is being done in partnership with TAFE New South Wales Illawarra, the Yallah Campus, and with BlueScope Steel. So investment in research, development and innovation in the Illawarra is creating new forms of jobs, particularly in the construction sector, to enable us to move towards a more energy efficient, cleaner future. This is a direct specific example of opportunities that arise from taking action on climate change. These sorts of initiatives will create long-term, quality jobs in the future in our manufacturing sector.

The member for Throsby and I understand our regions and we understand their needs, but you do not have to take our word for it. A couple of days after we announced our energy package the Illawarra Mercuryeditorialised on it. Under the heading 'Gong is not ruled by its hip pocket' it states:

Just who is winning the carbon tax debate is anyone's guess.

At one end of the country, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is being screamed at by an irate opponent of the tax in a Brisbane shopping centre.

In Wollongong, it's the brawl in the mall as Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and the Federal Opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water Barnaby Joyce are involved in an angry, heated lunchtime rally.

Meantime, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, hard hat and safety glasses at the ready, continues to leave his own sizeable carbon footprint as he sweeps around the country falsely declaring that the coal industry is dead and the sky will fall in if the tax is legislated later this year.

The shock jocks are going ballistic, whipping up a frenzy and demanding a fresh election, newspaper letters' editors are being run off their feet and the Economic Society of Australia says the move to put a price on carbon is sound economic policy.

It's all highly emotive, scary stuff.

But if you ask the people of Wollongong, the city dubbed carbon central … the scary stuff is not the carbon tax, it's climate change regardless of whether it is caused by humans or natural means.

(Time expired)