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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 7820

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (19:50): It is with great pleasure that I rise this evening to provide my contribution to this debate on what is known as our clean energy future package of bills. Some time ago in the Northern Territory I conducted a survey of constituents under the age of 25. I asked them to highlight for me what their three top issues were. Overwhelmingly—it will not come as any surprise to people—more than 80 per cent of the responses indicated that the environment and climate change were what most concerned the young Territorians that I represent in this chamber. It is certainly that element of my constitu­ency that has been congratulating and urging this government to continue to take these steps—and that is exactly what these bills are all about. These bills are a plan to cut carbon pollution and to drive investment in clean energy technologies—technologies and infrastructure like solar, gas and wind. These bills will actually help build the clean energy future that the young generation—the young people that I represent in the Northern Territory—is expecting us to do now as a federal government. They are expecting us, wanting us and encouraging us to take this lead. They want us to show some leadership, to start taking some action on climate change and to deal with it. These bills will assist in ensuring that we do grab hold of a future that is a clean energy future. These bills will ensure that the big polluters will pay—not the people. This is a price that will be paid by around 500 of our biggest polluters and not ordinary Australians. Contrary to what those opposite want us to believe, this is about making the polluters pay, and so millions of Australians will actually pay less tax. What people need to appreciate is that these bills not only deal with climate change but also invest a lot of money in renewable energies and future energy technologies. And they have wrapped up massive tax reform for this country.

I want to spend a few minutes highlighting why it is so necessary for us to move on climate change and to put a few of those points down on the record for the sceptics opposite. The Northern Territory is the least populous of Australia's states and territories. We are home to only a mere one per cent of the population. But, even though it is so small, the Northern Territory produces 3.3 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike most other jurisdictions, we have emissions that derive predominantly from bushfires, savannah burning, not from industry or power generation. Our power generation is gas rather than coal-fired, which in the context of this legislation gives the Northern Territory a significant advantage in terms of emissions per capita. Despite the apparent insignifi­cance in its contribution to greenhouse emissions and global climate change, the Northern Territory is far from immune to the adverse impacts of climate change. I think that is why so many young people in the Territory are tuned in to wanting to see action on climate change. We might be a small player when it comes to what is happening nationally but we are a big player when it comes to the impact of what is happening to the Northern Territory with the changing climate.

As most people would be aware, the Northern Territory has two very distinct climate zones: the Top End of the Territory and Central Australia; they are at least 1,400 to 1,500 kilometres apart. The Top End has a tropical climate, high humidity and two seasons—the wet and dry seasons. By contrast, the Centre, which includes Alice Springs and places like Uluru, is semi-arid. Predicted changes in climate conditions may affect natural systems and human settlements in the Northern Territory. There are also potential impacts and costs to the Northern Territory's industries, environments and people. In the coastal zone, for example, climate change will lead to rising sea levels and potentially greater storm surges, which will impact our coastal communities, infrastructure and ecosystems.

Not only will climate change impact on the Northern Territory; it will have a very significant impact on the people that I represent on Cocos island, which is less than one metre above sea level. Picture that: less than one metre above sea level. I take no more than about 10 steps away from the airstrip at Cocos island and I am in the water at the beach there. The research that has been undertaken tells us that climate change will have a significant impact on that little island community.

Across the Northern Territory, between 260 and 370 residential buildings have been identified as being at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of 1.1 metres. A rise such as that will put over 2,000 kilometres of road at risk as well. Darwin is especially vulnerable to riverine flooding and more intense cyclonic activity. The impact on infrastruct­ure is expected to be extreme under a business-as-usual climate scenario, including major threats to vital port infrastructure. In Darwin alone, we know that the number of days over 35 degrees is expected to increase from 11 a year, which is what we currently get, to over 69 days by 2030 and nearly 300 days by 2070, unless we do something to reduce the emissions and be part of global action to address climate change.

Coupled with the extremely high humidity that Darwin experiences during the wet season, the higher temperatures are expected to adversely affect levels of human comfort—that goes without saying. We will see increased mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue fever. Also, we know that there are a number of deaths in the Territory related to heat—10 last year. We are expecting that to rise to at least 126 a year by 2050. These are really stark statistics and they are telling us that we have to take action now and do something about this. We know that the number of cyclones is expected to decrease, but the proportion and intensity and, therefore, the more destructive categories of cyclones are expected to increase.

I want to highlight that earlier this year we released a report entitled Kakadu: vulnerability to climate change impacts. It identified some of the likely impacts if, in fact, we do not take action to address climate change. The freshwater environments of Kakadu are likely to experience increased salinity as a result of rising sea levels, which are predicted to go from eight centimetres up to around 30 centimetres by 2030. The scientific research, which we have embraced on this side of the chamber, is validated and accredited. As a result, we believe that it is time that we as a government take action to turn this figure around or prevent it from happening. We know that in a place like Kakadu those sorts of statistics will result in fundamental ecosystem changes, placing severe pressure on many species of plants and animals. Huge tracts of melaleuca swamp are likely to be destroyed and, along with those, the critical habitats that they provide for many waterbirds and aquatic species.

A recent symposium in the Northern Territory saw experts from around Australia meet in Darwin to discuss climate change and the necessary adaptations to be made in the Northern Territory. Charles Darwin University's Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods says that the NT is already feeling the impact of climate change. It is already seeing quite rapid rates of sea level rise off the northern coastline, averaging about seven millimetres per year over the last 18 years. So the statistics are there, the report is there and the scientific evidence is there. What we need to do now is to take responsibility, to take action and to do it now. We cannot deny the evidence that most of the warming observed globally over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities and that climate change has already affected many of our systems. This snapshot of the challenges the Northern Territory is facing from climate change provides ample reason to support this clean energy package.

We know that, of the approximately 500 businesses across Australia that these bills will target, fewer than 10 operate solely in the Northern Territory. What I want to highlight, though, is that this package of bills aims to do a number of things. It will cut pollution by 160 million tonnes per year by the end of the decade. It will see 1.6 million new jobs created and it will keep the economy growing. It will fund billions of dollars of tax cuts and extra payments for households. We have always been clear that the carbon price will have some price impacts—on average, 0.7 per cent. That is less than one cent in every dollar. This government has always been upfront and honest about the price impacts of this legislation, but we have also been very honest about the fact that this package is targeted so that at least nine out of 10 households will get assistance.

Let me very quickly put this on the record so that people in the Northern Territory know what that means. More than 50,700 people in the Northern Territory will receive household assistance through the transfer system. More than 19,000 pensioners will receive an extra $338 per year if they are single and up to $510 for couples in their pension payments. More than 19,400 families will receive household assistance through their family assistance payments. More than 800 self-funded retirees in the Northern Territory will receive extra assistance, $338 per year for singles and $510 for couples. We know that more than 11,200 job seekers will get $218 per year for singles and $390 per year for couples. More than 4,000 single parents will get an extra $289 per year. More than 3,600 students in the Northern Territory will get up to $117 extra per year for singles, depending on their rate and the type of payment—Austudy, Abstudy or youth allowance.

On top of all of that assistance that we are going to provide to households in the Northern Territory as we implement this package, taxpayers in the Northern Territory with an annual income of up to $80,000 will get a tax cut, with most receiving at least $300 per year. For a dual income family with one child and a joint income of $75,000 per year—which is a typical income in the seat of Solomon, I might say—the average expected costs due to a carbon price will be around $504 a year. They will receive $1,087 in household assistance, so they will be more than $500 per year better off.

So what we need to do is embrace this legislation. We are going to do two things here. We are going to tackle climate change, get on board and be leaders in addressing what is happening to our climate. We are going to be leaders when it comes to ensuring that we inject money into clean energy technologies and infrastructure and we are going to become leaders in reforming the tax system in this country and assisting households. We will support them with funding so that they will actually benefit from this clean energy package.

I would urge everyone to focus on the positives of this government's actions on climate change. For example, the carbon price will have no direct impact on the fuel bills of many small and large businesses—couriers, taxi drivers, car hire companies. Businesses that use vehicles of less than 4.5 tonnes—cars, utes and light commercial vehicles—will be permanently excluded from paying the carbon price. The family car is also excluded.

In the case of heavy vehicle operations, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has calculated that the extra cost of driving a B-double from Sydney to Melbourne under the carbon price at today's diesel prices will be around $35, or about 7c a litre. We hear many critics talk about the impact of these bills on transport costs in the Northern Territory but, as I said, we are looking at 7c a litre—0.7 per cent per item, less than 10c per item. In relation to air travel, which I know some people in this place have spoken about in their contribu­tions to this debate, the carbon price will have a very small impact on domestic air travel. For example, we know that it will add around $2 to the cost of a seat on a flight between Sydney and Melbourne.

We have always been upfront about the impact and the costs of these changes for households. We have been more than upfront about the very generous assistance that we will be providing to households. Households will be better off under this plan. Once fully implemented in 2014, the carbon price will have little impact on the cost of the daily commute. The expected rise is only half of one per cent, significantly under the eight per cent that was added when the GST was introduced by John Howard and the Liberal government. So I am very pleased to be standing here supporting this package of clean energy bills. I am pleased because the rest of the world is acting and our economy and our environment will be badly damaged unless Australia acts too. We know that families will be better off under this plan. We will address climate change. We will be assisting households as we move through this transition.

The Prime Minister said a few months ago that history will determine the outcome of this government and she wants to be on the right side of history. I think in five or 10 years time, when we turn around and have a look at what we have done in tackling climate change, we will be very proud that we as a federal government have stumped up to the hard task, taken on massive reform and taken the opportunity to ensure that we tackle climate change, that we do make a difference to what is happening to our environment and to the climate around us. We have done it in such a way that families can benefit from this, can be part of this and can be pleased to be part of it. I have had hardly anybody come to my office complain­ing about these bills or complaining that they will not be effective. I have had more than enough people come to my office to congratulate us. I have done massive mail-outs around the Northern Territory and we have been overwhelmed by people who have come through the door and overwhelmed by people who have telephoned us to say: 'I am pleased to see that you are part of a government that is starting to tackle climate change. I am really pleased to see that you have also included us in your package so that we will benefit from this as well.' Overwhelmingly people in the Northern Territory have supported and embraced this package, particularly young people. They want us to get on with this job and make a difference, not only to their lives, their climate and their environment, but to the lives of the people who will come after them.