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Thursday, 3 November 2011
Page: 8191

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (15:45): I rise to conclude the second reading debate on the Clean Energy legislation. I acknowledge the contributions of all senators in this place. I also acknowledge the contribution of those senators who have in previous parliaments added their voices in support of a carbon price. I want to also acknowledge the contributions of the many public servants, both now and previously, who have developed these policies under three successive governments, which has led to the bills before the chamber today. At the commencement of my remarks, I want us to consider the path that has led us here. You would have thought from some of the contributions to the debate that we have not been here before. We should not forget that we have been here before. The goal of putting a price on carbon was set well before the bills entered the parliament. The threat of climate change has certainly not materialised in the life of this parliament, and neither has the policy response. In fact, we have had some 37 parliamentary inquiries since 1991 in relation to climate change. While those opposite like to forget this, Prime Minister Howard took a carbon pricing mechanism to the 2007 election.

From 2007 to 2009 there was bipartisanship on the issue of climate change. We did not agree on every detail but we compromised and negotiated firm in the knowledge that the challenge required action. But in 2009, after the change in leadership on the other side, the opposition shifted from that approach to an approach that is based on scaremongering, deceit, a denial of the science and the creation of an environment of fear—a blatant negativity that contrasts poorly against the magnitude of the task.

The case for climate change could not be clearer. We know that scientists have been warning governments around the world for many years that there is a clear consensus among climate scientists that climate change is real, is currently being observed and will have significant future impacts if no action is taken to reduce emissions. Institutions such as the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Academy of Science—along with science academies around the world—agree that human activity is almost certainly causing climate change. One might recall that even Margaret Thatcher recognised this. For the parliament not to act when faced with the weight of evidence that is before us would be an abrogation of our responsibility to the Australian people.

In the course of this debate, we have heard the well-worn mantra of denial from those opposite. Some of the positions from those opposite remain extreme. Senator Bernardi's position, for example, is telling. He has made clear to the Senate—and I will give him his due: he has at least been consistent, unlike Senator Brandis—that he is not convinced that man's actions have increased emissions that destroy our climate and he remains unconvinced of the science. It is truly remarkable that in 2011 in this place we have senators who refuse to accept the science and who continue to refuse to accept the advice of the best scientists from Australia and the world on this issue.

We on this side of the chamber accept the science and also accept the responsibility of action. We recognise the economic imperative of action, because while the scientists are clear in their advice so too are the economists, and there is an undeniable economic imperative to climate change. I heard Senator Sinodinos suggest, in the speech just given on another matter, that this was not an economic reform. With respect, I believe that he is wrong. The same reasons that led the Prime Minister whom he so honourably served to a view that carbon should be priced remain salient today.

Pricing carbon is an economic reform. It will have a powerful effect on our economy. It will see us use energy more productively. It will see us produce more—have a greater output for a given level of energy input. It will direct domestic and international capital, and this is one of the points that the opposition have never grasped: a carbon price also acts as a signal to investors. It says to investors that they should not just invest in the old economy but also invest in the new economy, the clean energy economy—the economy that we know will continue to grow as the world consistently moves to place a premium on low carbon goods and services.

We know that this is a carbon constrained world, whether those opposite rail against it or not. The countries that will be able to compete in that world will be the countries that have put in sensible economic reforms. That is why carbon pricing is part of Labor's broader economic agenda. It is about ensuring that the Australian economy can take advantage of the opportunities as they arise. We do not want to condemn this country to catch up when it comes to low-carbon jobs. The low-carbon goods and services sector is already worth at least $4.8 trillion and employs some 28 million people. It is a sector growing at four per cent a year—faster than world GDP growth. That is why we are determined to do this, and that is why we are determined to put the national interest first, even when it is not easy for us to do.

It is unsurprising that it is the Labor Party who has been prepared to introduce this reform, because in its history Labor has always looked to the future wellbeing of Australians, not only today but also tomorrow. Labor has always looked at how it is that we ensure not just the jobs of today but the jobs and economy of tomorrow. Think back to the reforming Labor governments such as those of Prime Minister Hawke and Prime Minister Keating, governments which laid the foundation of the economy we have today, governments which laid the foundation of the economic reforms that mean we have had the prosperity we have seen in the last decade. This is a party that recognises that if you want to secure prosperity for tomorrow, if you want to secure jobs for tomorrow, you cannot shy away from policy challenges in the face of the sorts of scare campaigns that this nation has been subjected to under Mr Abbott.

We understand that reform is part of the Labor tradition, because it was Labor that put in place the significant economic reforms in recent times—the floating of the dollar, the reduction of tariffs, the deregulation of markets—and it will be the Labor Party and the Labor government that puts a price on carbon. This is a package that is true to the progressive principles that underpin our party. This is a party that is about jobs, a party that supports working families, a party that protects pensioners—and these themes have shaped the Clean Energy package which is before the parliament, a package which unashamedly looks to the securing of jobs through the industry assistance that is in the package, a package which unashamedly looks to low-income Australians and pensioners. It is also a package that looks to participation, because we understand that getting more people into the workforce, giving more people the opportunity to enjoy the dignity of work, is not only good for the nation; it is good for those individuals. The themes that are Labor values have shaped the legislation before the parliament. This is a government committed to supporting Australian households, Australian industry and Australian jobs as we reduce our emissions.

There has been much talk from the other side about the Treasury modelling, and many accusations. But the single set of facts that they simply cannot accept is that we can continue to grow jobs, we can continue to grow incomes and we can continue to grow the Australian economy with a carbon price. They have gone uphill and down dale in search of a proposition to counter that, and they have not found one. The reality is that the best economists in this country, the best scientists in this country, know that this is how we secure the prosperity of the nation today and tomorrow—but, as importantly, this is also how we reduce the risks for the next generations.

At the core of the package is breaking the nexus between carbon pollution and economic growth. As I said, real national incomes will continue to grow under a carbon price. Average incomes per person will in fact increase from today's level by around $9,000 to 2020 and by more than $30,000 to mid-century. National employment will increase by 1.6 million jobs by 2020, with or without carbon pricing, and all state economies will continue to grow strongly. It is the case that some sectors will be affected, so the government, through the multiparty committee, is acting to assist the most affected industries and regions to transition into the mechanism. This includes the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, the coal sector jobs package and other programs to support clean technology.

In relation to the price impact, something massively overstated by the opposition, we know that the price impact will be a 0.7 per cent increase in the CPI—much less than the inflationary impact of the GST. Nine out of 10 households will receive some combination of tax cuts and increased payments, and I again state here that the government's assistance for households is ongoing. Some six million households will receive assistance that covers their expected price impact. Some four million low-income households will receive assistance that is at least 20 per cent more than their average price impact. This is extremely important to pensioners and low-income earners in our society and important to the political history and beliefs of the Labor Party.

When I was last in this place in the second reading debate on the CPRS, after some 63 hours of debate in the last parliament I made this point: there are times in this parliament when we are asked to look ahead, when we are asked to think about those who do not yet vote—perhaps even those who have not yet been born. I ask those in this chamber to think about that responsibility. I ask those in this chamber to not allow this parliament to again fall short on what is a great intergenerational challenge—a challenge that this generation of parliamentarians needed to rise to. Regrettably, on that occasion, as a result of Mr Abbott becoming the Leader of the Liberal Party, we saw a leader torn down, a leader replaced and the Liberal Party decide that it would go to the worst aspects of scare campaigning, the worst aspects of negativity, the worst aspects of opposition on a policy which required so much more—a policy which actually requires some statesmanship from those on the other side, a policy which actually requires some responsibility to be taken, for people to be prepared to say to today's Australians: 'We know this seems hard—reform is hard—but we are doing this because it is the right thing to do.' At some point a generation of members of this parliament, senators in this place, have to say that they are actually prepared to do something that may not be popular because it is right, because they believe they have a responsibility not just to those who vote today but also to their children and their grandchildren.

So it was deeply regrettable that on the last occasion this Senate fell short. It is deeply regrettable that this has become such a partisan issue. It is deeply regrettable that the opposition have decided to be so negative. It is deeply regrettable that this debate—which is about the future, which is such a large and important economic and environmental reform—has been the subject of deceit and a shameless fear campaign. All of these things are regrettable, but we do have an opportunity to right what has been done wrong. We do have an opportunity to say to the next generation: we are prepared in this parliament to take responsibility on this issue, we are prepared to reduce the risk for our children and our grandchildren. I commend the bills to the Senate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.

Question put:

That these bills be now read a second time.

The Senate divided. [16:04]

(The President—Senator Hogg)

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.