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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 7730


Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (12:53): I welcome the introduction of the clean energy bills package into the Senate and I welcome the opportunity to make a small contribution to the debate. It was a day to celebrate when this package of bills passed the House of Representatives. It is a measured and sensible package in its response to the challenge of climate change—a challenge the world has known about for decades, a challenge that Labor has committed to deal with for years, a challenge the Liberal Party committed to deal with through an emissions trading scheme in the 2007 election and a challenge which has been squibbed by the current Leader of the Opposition, to the dismay of many Australians, to the dismay of many Liberal voters and to the dismay of many who sit opposite us in this chamber.

The challenge of climate change is being addressed right across the globe in absolute contrast to what you hear from some who sit opposite—and I say 'some' advisedly. This recent debate in Australia has been appalling, to say the least. The language of the debate from those who sit opposite ranges from disingenuous to downright lies. For them it is the politics not the policy that drives them. Let us first go to the science.

I am a proud North Queenslander. I am lucky to have the Great Barrier Reef and the wet tropics right in my backyard. They are fully deserving of their status as World Heritage icons. They are well managed by the Wet Tropics Management Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, but the impetus to take action on climate change is evident, given the threats they face. The science is absolutely clear: climate change is real and it is caused by the pollution created when fossil fuels, including oil and coal, are burnt. Every decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the last in Australia and 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record both here and worldwide.

Scientists tell us that if we do not act now average global temperatures will continue to increase and place natural ecosystems under significant stress. By 2050, climate change induced coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef is likely every year if average temperatures increase by just two degrees. Higher ocean temperatures and increased acidity levels will cause major changes to coral reefs and reef life. I have talked before in this chamber about ocean acidification.

The threat to our wet tropics rainforest from more intense cyclones and other extreme weather events is very real. We only have to see what has happened in the last five years—very real in a region already too familiar with the impact that seasonal weather events can have. We have strong calls from the Torres Strait to assist them with the increased tidal inundation which, in many respects, may be related to climate change.

Let us now go to the economic imperative. To tackle climate change we need to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels and to find cleaner ways of using them. The advice from economists is clear: putting a price on pollution is the cheapest and most efficient way to reduce our impact on the environment. Presently, emitting carbon pollution is free. While this continues to occur, there is no economic incentive or advantage for cutting pollution. Nothing will change. A carbon price is about changing the behaviour of our country's biggest polluters, making them pay for the emissions they put into the atmosphere and the impact they are having on our environment. Delay will only make our transition more costly and difficult. We need to give business certainty into the future. Doing nothing effectively gives a massive subsidy to polluting industries and that means that renewable energies find it very difficult to compete.

Tourism, more than most sectors, has a real and direct interest in reducing carbon pollution—particularly in North Queensland. The reef, for example, contributes approx­imately $6 billion to Australia's economy and provides full-time employment for more than 50,000 people. Many local businesses and jobs in the tourism industry depend on keeping our environment in the state it is in currently. Treasury modelling shows that the tourism industry has a strong capacity to manage the modest impact from the carbon tax. Services in the accommo­dation and hotel sector, a key element of the tourism industry, will continue to grow under a carbon price. The impact of a carbon price on the airline industry will also be modest. For example, Virgin Australia and Qantas estimate the carbon price will add $3 and $3.50 to the average ticket price.

Tourism is an industry that depends on discretionary income. When the carbon price is introduced next year, the government will provide generous assistance to households. Nine in 10 households will receive tax cuts, payment increases or both. This is expected to boost discretionary income. These are the very same families we want to encourage to our region to take holidays and spend their money in local businesses, and scaremong­ering will not assist in ensuring that our economic situation in North Queensland becomes viable.

We have a great range of opportunities in front of us with the introduction of a price on carbon. The clean energy trade is a huge and growing market and it is where many of the jobs of the future will be. Already we are seeing geothermal work underway on the Atherton Tablelands and incredible work being undertaken at James Cook University about the use of algae as a biofuel. Farmers and Indigenous landholders have great opportunities through the Carbon Farming Initiative, and our research capacity will continue to expand. Our university, James Cook University, is the only Australian university to be recognised as having well above world standards in environmental science and management.

I commend our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and our Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, on managing to deliver this policy through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. I contrast that with members of the House of Representatives from North Queensland whose commentary can only be characterised as scaremongering, misleading and, to be frank, not based in fact. Yes, climate change is complex and so the response to it has to be complex. That means you have to get your head around it. Labor is up to the challenge. I was terribly disappointed to hear the com­mentary from Mr Entsch, Mr Christensen and Mr Ewen Jones in the House of Representatives. It could only be described as scaremongering.

I also note that the contribution from Senator Macdonald in the Senate flies in the face of the science that I referred to earlier. I have been concerned throughout this debate that the language characterised by this debate has denigrated science and scientists. I stand here to support the principles of the scientific process. I also stand here to support the hardworking scientists who research the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University and other institu­tions. They do the hard work in our region to seek the truth and to find the facts that they can then provide to us as policymakers to inform the policy development process. I stand here to support them and not to denigrate them. I thank them for their diligence and their academic endeavour. I commend these bills to the chamber.