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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 5806

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (16:48): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this matter of public importance discussion and to speak about the government's Clean Energy Future package. It goes without saying that I support the package. I support it because it will cut pollution and drive investment. It will help ensure that Australian businesses can compete and will remain prosperous into the future.

Of course, carbon pricing is not a tax on small business. Under the carbon price, around 300 of the biggest polluters in Australia will have to pay for their carbon pollution. No small business will have to pay it directly. It is true that when big polluters pass on their costs there may be some indirect cost impact on small businesses, such as higher electricity bills; but, as we know, these are projected to be modest.

Treasury modelling has indicated that the carbon price impact on electricity costs will be 10 per cent. The New South Wales Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal estimates that for most small businesses this will be around $5 a week. This small increase has been accounted for in the carbon price's compensation program. The fact is that electricity prices have been rising for a number of years. Electricity infrastructure established in the postwar period is coming to the end of its life and it needs to be replaced.

We know the average electricity bill rose by at least 48 per cent in the last four years and we know that that price rise has been completely uncompensated. Mr Abbott of course calls this a 'fabrication' and 'an absolute furphy', but the fact remains that investment in infrastructure is the key driver behind electricity prices. Nothing can change that fact, regardless of Mr Abbott's wild claims that it is a fabrication and an absolute furphy.

The state based electricity regulators agree that the costs of replacing poles and wires are pushing up prices of electricity for small businesses. The national Energy Regulator agrees. These are the words I heard on the ABC's PM program on 9 August this year:

The National Energy Regulator says consumers are paying more than is necessary because of the amount that has been invested in infrastructure.

Mr Acting Deputy President, do you know who else agrees with that statement? Certainly a number of Liberal Party frontbenchers agree with that statement. One is Mr Turnbull, the member for Wentworth. I know that he has got a lot of form on disagreeing with Mr Abbott—he really disagrees with Mr Abbott any chance he can get. But let me quote what Mr Turnbull said recently:

There is no doubt the bulk of the reason for the 50 per cent, or thereabouts, increase in electricity prices for example in New South Wales over the last few years has been because of investments in poles and wires …

And as the ABC again reported on 9 August:

… Opposition energy spokesman Ian Macfarlane has admitted state government spending on the poles and wires of electricity networks has pushed power prices higher.

But do you know who else has come to the party, Mr Acting Deputy President? Do you know who else now believes that the carbon price is not the primary driver of electricity prices in this country? It is no other than Mr Abbott himself, the Leader of the Opposition, who just this morning, in a bit of a calamity for the opposition in the Senate—an own goal, given that they had already lodged this matter of public importance—said:

It's true that the carbon tax is not the only factor in the dramatic rise in power prices …

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator FAULKNER: Well, Senator Polley, at last a chink of light from Mr Abbott. Even Mr Abbott himself now admits that the carbon price is not the only inflationary factor.

Climate change presents a great challenge to our nation; a great challenge to our economy and our environment. I say it is the greatest global challenge we face, but with this challenge does come some opportunity. What the government is doing is creating the conditions in which Australian innovation can thrive, in which Australia's resourcefulness and resilience can be supported and channelled to tackle this enormous challenge, this great challenge in our history. The opposition says that is not our job; that it will not make a difference; that Australia should wait, let others do the innovating, let Asia create the new jobs. But I do not think that is us. I do not think it is really in the Australian spirit to limp in. I believe that the people of Australia have the ideas, the creativity and the courage to lead the world in tackling these great changes that we collectively face. I say that a carbon price will create new opportunities for a whole range of innovative entrepreneurs and small business owners across the whole wide range of industries, including renewable energy, carbon farming and sustainable design, as just some examples. I would urge the opposition to think again and get on board.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): Order! The time for the discussion has expired.