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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 5924

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (17:01): As a parent of two young children I naturally worry about their future. I am concerned about the world they will grow into as adults and whether they will have access to a decent education and jobs. I am concerned about the environment they will inherit from us as a generation of decision makers. It is in this context that I am dismayed. I cannot believe that we are debating this issue in the Senate this afternoon, because, like most Australians, I believe human induced climate change is real. I believe we need to take action to mitigate the effects of human induced climate change for the sake of our children and of generations to come.

Today, after years of studies, inquiries and consultations, the Gillard government is taking action. The Gillard government is delivering on its commitment to price carbon and to deal with the issue of human induced climate change in this country. We are delivering on a pledge that Labor made in 2007 to the people of Australia to take action on climate change, action that has been developed by a multiparty climate change committee, which those opposite in the coalition were invited to take part in. They were invited to be part of the consultation and the plan to deal with carbon pollution and our children's future in this country. They rejected that opportunity and would not participate. They stuck their heads in the sand when it came to this issue.

The Gillard government's actions have been overwhelmingly endorsed and supporĀ­ted by most economists, by scientists and by environmentalists, all of whom say that pricing carbon is the right approach to tackling one of the most important social and economic issues of our time. But it is also the least costly option—the option that will produce the least burden on taxpayers in Australia.

Labor's plan will protect our environment, create jobs and deliver assistance to households as they make the transition into a clean energy future from a polluting, carbon based industrial age. Our scheme will tax the 500 biggest emitters of carbon pollution in this country. We will ask them to pay for the privilege of pumping carbon pollution into our atmosphere and our environment. Most of the revenue raised from the scheme will go into supporting assistance to households and families to ensure they can make the transition into a clean energy future.

The other half of the revenue raised will go into assisting businesses to also make the transition into a clean-energy future. The Steel Transformation Plan, which is a plan to provide assistance for the steel industry, was opposed by those opposite. The jobs and competitiveness package, designed to ensure that we remain a competitive international trading partner and international first-class place to do business, was opposed by those opposite. The local support package was opposed by those opposite. The package for small business was opposed by those opposite. And support for community organisations to ensure that they can make the transition into a clean-energy future was opposed by those opposite. Our plan will ensure that our nation and our economy keep pace with the transformation that is occurring in the international economy in respect of carbon pollution. Our plan will ensure that our country moves from the industrial age into a renewable age.

When we read this matter of public importance this afternoon we get to the crux of the issue. What this debate is really all about is the politics of economic envy and cynical vote buying from those opposite. When it comes to the big economic reforms in our nation, when it comes to the reforms that generate investment and deliver growth for our economy, that create wealth and jobs and deliver fairness for Australians, it always falls to Labor in government to deliver for the people of Australia. When it came to Medicare, what did those opposite do? They opposed it. The foundation of our health system, delivering fairness and efficiency in our health system, was opposed by those opposite. When it came to superannuation, $3 trillion worth of investment in our economy and our nation was opposed by those opposite. When it came to the economic reforms of the 1980s—reductions in tariffs, the floating of the dollar and the creation of an open, market based economy—those opposite were green with envy because, again, it came to Labor in government to deliver. Far be it from me to make these claims this afternoon. The best way to highlight what the government is doing in pricing carbon and the support we have in the wider community comes from those working in the industry and from businesses. I draw the Senate's attention to the evidence of Ms Bridget Ryan, senior policy manager with Pacific Hydro. Ms Ryan gave evidence to the Senate Select Committee on the Scrutiny of New Taxes, chaired by Senator Cormann, which is looking at Labor's plan to price carbon. On Thursday, 1 September 2011, she said:

Pacific Hydro is a wholly owned renewable energy company which has been successfully developing and operating renewable energy assets for 20 years—

in this country. It is owned by approximately five million Australians. Five million Australians are shareholders in this company. They have investments worth $2 billion in Chile and Brazil. Ms Ryan said to that committee:

Importantly, the Clean Energy Future package announced recently by the federal government includes the continuation of the renewable energy target and direct funding initiatives such as those through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Agency, and, most importantly for this committee, the introduction of a price on carbon. This provides a best practice suite of measures to address climate change.

In the energy sector, there has been a lot of uncertainty regarding investment in the sector. What did Grant King, CEO of Origin Energy, say about Labor's plan? He said:

The particular arrangements the government has announced in respect of the electricity industry provide sufficient certainty for industry investment in power generation such that consumers can expect to enjoy a continued reliable supply of—

energy. What did David Cameron, the British Prime Minister say about our plan? He said:

I was delighted to hear of the ambitious package of climate change policy measures you announced on 10 July and wanted to congratulate you on taking this bold step.

But my favourite quote on this particular issue comes from a person who is well known to Australians, a person who, although he is not expert on carbon, certainly knows a lot about expelling hot air—none other than the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, who said some years ago:

If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax?

A ringing endorsement from the Leader of the Opposition, no less, of what Labor is doing in attempting to price carbon:

A carbon tax is a part of our strategy—

that is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition said—

and then we will move to a market based mechanism—

another ringing endorsement of Labor's policy to deal with the issue and take action on climate change by the Leader of the Opposition. Then, all of a sudden, the Leader of the Opposition sees, in a cynical manner, a chance to buy votes on this issue and he changes his mind. Then we get the scare campaign aimed at terrifying households, aimed at stifling business opportunities, aimed at holding back our economy, ensuring that we do not make the transition into a renewable future. All we have from the opposition is a scare campaign—no reliable, effective, expert policy to deal with the greatest social and economic challenge of our generation. Labor's plan will deliver jobs and assistance to households and will ensure we make the transition to a renewable energy future.