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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 7517


Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (12:04): Australians have a unique and meaningful relationship with the land on which we forge our lives. Our vast landscapes, from barren deserts to magnificent coastlines, are a part of us. This is despite the fact that many of us live in cities which dot our coastline. When a drought hits we empathise with our farmers, although they often live thousands of kilometres away. When a big swell hits our coastline we feel for our lifesavers who risk their necks to keep us safe. And when we hear of the ice caps melting we wonder what this might mean for our magnificent country and the world as we know it.

We are a unique nation, and our identity stems from our landscape. We have developed our character through our values. We believe in mateship, we believe in backing the underdog and, importantly, we believe in a fair go. I ask my colleagues in this place to consider: is it fair to let our children inherit a nation with a diminished natural beauty and heritage? Is it fair to raise our children to always think of others, yet to permeate hypocrisy in this place? Is it fair to dump the burden of addressing our environmental challenges on the generations to come? With this in mind, I turn to the clean energy future package before this place and I ask my parliamentary colleagues one more question: is it fair to take no action on climate change?

Climate change has been a real cause for concern for our country and our planet for many years. Despite the small pocket of dissenters and the disagreement regarding the depth of the impact, the reality of climate change is irrefutable. In May of this year, the Climate Commission delivered the strongest evidence of this to date. It found that global temperatures are rising more quickly now than ever before, with the last decade being the hottest on record. In the last 50 years the number of hot days in Australia has more than doubled. Sea levels rose 20 centimetres since the 1800s and are projected to rise by another 20 centimetres by 2050. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered nine major bleaching incidents in the last 31 years. Prior to that it had experienced none. Clearly these incidents speak for themselves. Human induced climate change is not only happening; it is speeding up.

As a parent of two young children, I naturally worry about their future. I am concerned about the type of economy they will grow up in, about their education and about their job opportunities. But I am also concerned about the natural environment that they will inherit from us as this generation of decision makers. I believe that we need to take action to mitigate the human induced climate change effects for the sake of our children and of generations to come, and I am proud to be part of a government that is treating this generational challenge with the respect that it deserves.

As a nation we are responsible for about 1.5 per cent of global emissions and remain one of the world's top 20 emitters per capita. As individuals Australians produce more carbon pollution than the people of any country in the developed world. But we also have a reputation as a nation of doers, of people who are not afraid to step up when the going gets tough, and this is rightfully so. As such, the attitude of 'Why bother? We are too small to make any real difference,' is, to put it simply, not us. It is not who we are as a people. We are better than that, and this government is determined to remind every single one of us that we can make a difference. We will make a difference and, not only that, we will be better off for doing so.

Professor Ross Garnaut, along with many leading economists, has advised that carbon pricing is the cheapest and most effective way of dealing with carbon pollution. It is also the most effective way of developing our renewable energy sector, along with the associated new jobs, investment and business opportunities. Australia is uniquely placed to move our economy to a renewable energy future driven by solar, wind, wave and geothermal technologies, in addition to other clean energy projects like biofuels. At the moment around eight per cent of Australia's energy needs come from renewable sources. Compare this to a country like Spain, where 35 per cent of their energy needs are derived from renewable sources. These bills future-proof our nation, ensuring we have a strong, competitive economy with a healthy environment for our children and their children to live in.

From July next year this country's top 500 polluters will pay for every tonne of carbon pollution that they emit into our atmosphere. This is not a tax on hardworking families. It is not a tax on pensioners. It is not a tax on small businesses and farmers. It is a system that will ensure that companies pay a cost for the privilege of emitting carbon pollution that affects us all. The starting price under this scheme will be $23 a tonne and it will rise by 2.5 per cent in real terms over the first three years. The fixed price period will end at the fourth year, when we will move to an emissions trading scheme and a market based mechanism. This will nudge this nation's big polluters to drive investment in renewable energy and catapult Australia into a clean energy future, with a healthier environment, new jobs and other new clean energy industries.

As we move this nation from an industrial age into a renewables age, we will maintain that ideal of fairness. That is why we will return every cent of revenue to assist households, support jobs and tackle climate change. The government has released the Treasury modelling on the impact of the carbon price and it shows that on everyday goods and services the cost impact will be about $9.90 a week, or around 0.7 per cent in terms of the consumer price index. This needs to be put in context. When the GST was introduced it increased the consumer price index by 2.5 per cent. We are talking about an impact on prices one-quarter of the impact of the goods and services tax.

We will be using more than half of the carbon price revenue to assist those who need it most—low to middle income earners. Nine out of 10 Australian households will receive some assistance under this package. The assistance works out on average to be around $10.10 a week, meaning almost six million Australian households will receive the assistance they need to cover the cost increases passed on by industry. Sole pensioners will receive an extra $338 a year, and pensioner couples will receive combined additional income of $510. Self-funded retirees holding a Commonwealth seniors health card will receive the same as pensioners and may also be eligible for tax cuts or the low income supplement. Job seekers will get an extra $218 a year and $390 a year for couples combined, while students will receive an extra $177 a year and single parents will receive an extra $289 a year. All people earning up to $80,000 a year will receive a tax cut, and most will receive a tax cut of at least $300 a year.

We have also made changes to the tax system, lifting the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200, meaning an additional one million Australians will not have to fill out a tax return after this financial year. When this is combined with the low-income tax offset, people will not have to pay any tax until after their income exceeds $20,542. This is a massive advantage for people on low to middle incomes. This assistance to households will be permanent under our scheme, so when the carbon price goes up so too does the assistance. The rest of the revenue coming from the carbon price scheme will be used to support jobs in high-polluting industries that are exposed to international competition, and also to support clean energy programs. The $9.2 billion in assistance that we are providing to trade-exposed industries has been welcomed by many businesses and unions, particularly those working in the steel and aluminium industries. We have reassured coalminers that their industry will continue to grow under a carbon price, and we are supporting those gassy coalmines that emit much more carbon pollution than other coalmining operations with a $1.3 billion support package. This will provide financial assistance to help these industries transition to cleaner energy production.

The government will also establish the new $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to drive investment in clean energy technologies and the $3.2 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency to conduct research on and development of clean energy technologies and we will also call for tenders for the closing down of 2,000 megawatts of high-polluting electricity generation. There will be funding of $330 million under our Low Carbon Communities program for local councils and community organisations to access competitive tender grants to aid local communities to cut their carbon pollution and to reduce their energy costs.

Agricultural emissions have been excluded from the scheme, yet farmers and other landholders will be able to access commercial opportunities utilising their land through the Carbon Farming Initiative. A new and ongoing biodiversity scheme, worth almost a billion dollars over the first six years, will also be established for projects that protect the outcomes from carbon farming.

Australians have a deep seated connection with their land and its future health and prosperity. That is why the government has developed this plan. That is why the government is acting to protect our unique and deeply important national landscape while ushering in a more responsible and rewarding clean energy future for our country that will drive investment in new technology, new industries and jobs growth. The future of this country, its inhabitants and, most importantly, those who will inherit it from us is too important to ignore. Every member in this place has an opportunity to make a difference, an opportunity to stand up and say, 'I believe in this great nation and I believe in its future. Every member in this place has an opportunity to put on record whether they support a fair go for young Australians and generations to come. I urge all senators to support these bills.