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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 7539


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (13:47): In making a contribution to the debate on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills, I will be making most of my remarks about the great state of Western Australia, our economy and the impact of climate change. We know that WA is a very strong and prosperous state, but it is also one that is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. However, the very good news is that our own Treasury's modelling shows that the WA economy will continue to grow, even after a carbon price is introduced, and that Western Australia will outperform other Australian states. Contrary to Tony Abbott's dire predictions, the Australian economy as a whole will also continue to grow after a price is put on carbon. While our economy continues to grow at a rate that is the envy of the rest of the world, we will also be doing something to protect the environment that supports life—all of our lives.

It would be irresponsible for Western Australians like me to put our sandgroper heads in the sand on this issue because we do not want to confront the fact that we have a highly successful but very carbon intensive economy. We must remove this link between our economic growth and emissions growth. After all, in my opinion, pricing carbon is not about putting WA's carbon intensive industries out of business—not at all. It is about giving them the very best possible opportunity to adapt into the future. It is about providing an incentive to make change and become more efficient and less polluting. Businesses are always keen to cut their input costs, so putting a price on pollution has been proven to be the best way of providing an incentive to create less of it. It is about getting Australian business ready for the future—a prosperous clean energy future. It is the same for Western Australia's households. Many ordinary WA households have already installed energy efficient light bulbs and hot water systems, and some have already installed electricity-generating solar panels.

There have been numerous hysterical claims that pricing carbon will have an unbearable impact on our cost of living, that industry and jobs will be destroyed. I have even had people writing to me and saying it will destroy the Australian way of life. This is simply not true—and shame on those opposite for contributing to this scaremongering. Overall, the price on carbon will see prices rise by less than one per cent. That is less than a cent for every dollar spent. In fact, for most items it is a lot less than that. The price of food will go up, on average, less than $1 a week and clothing by less than 10c; some prices will go up a bit more.

The carbon price is not a tax on Australians. It will be paid by around 500 of the largest polluters in the country. But, because some industries will pass on price impacts to their customers, we are giving people tax cuts and payments. In fact, nine out of 10 households will get a combination of tax cuts and increased payments. This assistance will mean that households that manage to cut their energy costs will be able to pocket the difference. That is more than I can say for the actions of WA's Premier, Colin Barnett, who has increased household electricity costs by more than 50 per cent over the past three years, with no support for even our most vulnerable pensioners, let alone families. So shame on you, Mr Barnett.

We know that much of the world is already taking action on climate change and that 90 countries, including all major emitters, have pledged action on climate change, including our top trading partners: China, Japan, the US, the Republic of Korea and India. Another six of our top 20—New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands—are all implementing or piloting carbon trading schemes. Ten states in the US have emissions trading schemes and an 11th, California—which is, I think, the world's eighth largest economy—is about to follow. In Canada, many provinces are also taking action. So I am sick and tired of hearing those opposite say on the one hand that they believe human induced climate change is real but on the other hand that what Australia does to reduce emissions does not matter anyway. It does matter.

If you accept the science, as I do and the government does, then we know we need to act on climate change and we need to start acting now. What Australia does matters very much. It matters because if a rich nation like Australia does nothing, having built its wealth from cheap, non-renewable energy, then the rest of the world can point to us as an excuse to also do nothing and certainly not more than they are already doing. It matters because we are among the first countries to suffer the very real impacts of climate change, with scientists telling us to expect longer droughts, continued acidification of our oceans, more severe cyclones, more natural disasters and the destruction of species and ecosystems. I cannot think of anything that could be a greater threat to the Australian way of life.

There is perhaps one greater threat, and that is Mr Tony Abbott's sham policy of direct action, which is nothing more than a plan to tax WA families about $1,300 by the year 2020, money he simply wants to hand over to the big polluters. It is a nonsense policy and it is not a policy that will work. Mr Abbott has been unable to find a single economist that supports his climate change policy, so frankly I am stunned that coalition members, who supposedly support a free market, would think that such a plan has any merit. Personally I am proud to be part of a political party that is taking action to ensure Australia has a clean energy future.

The Gillard government is acting on climate change. We are acting because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for our environment, our economy and our society. It is sensible policy and it is in the national interest. That is why we are acting. We have listened to the scientific evidence that says climate change is real and that carbon pollution is contributing to it. We have listened to economists who tell us that putting a price on carbon is the cheapest and most efficient way to cut pollution. As I said earlier, we must remove the link between our economic growth and emissions growth. This change will not happen overnight. We need to give our economy and our community the opportunity to adjust to this change. That is what our clean energy future plan is designed to do. It will be cheaper in the long run if we start now.

For a state like Western Australia, with its high emissions profile, it is important that we price pollution now. Western Australia will still be mining, refining and exporting long into the future, and companies will now have a great incentive to do it more efficiently. The problem is that, if we do not act to price pollution, we run a very high risk of our local economy being dependent on out-of-date and highly polluting ways of doing things. This approach would be a complete dead-end for Western Australia, WA jobs and WA industries. It would be a terrible outcome for Western Australia, but it is not the worst case scenario.

Imagine a world where we do not act on climate change, where we do not price pollution, where we and the rest of the world do not do enough to help protect our fragile environment from climate change, where other countries point the finger at a rich nation like Australia—with a high standard of living and high per capita emissions—and say, 'If Australia won't act then why should we?' This would be a complete disaster for Western Australia. I despair to think what this would mean for our West Aussie lifestyle and jobs, not to mention farming and all of the plants and critters that form  part of our wonderfully diverse environment.

Thankfully, I believe we can do this. We can price carbon. We can look after our environment and we can ensure Western Australians can look forward to a prosperous future. Western Australia needs climate change action. Despite our intensive economy, our fragile environment means we need a clean-cut energy future as much or even more than the rest of the country does. Climate change is a serious and imminent threat to many more of WA's unique natural assets, located through the breadth and length of our wonderful state, and a threat to our unique way of life, tourism, agriculture and many economic opportunities.

I believe scientists when they tell us that Western Australia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts in the developed world. Even after what has seemed a relatively wet winter, our thirsty land has soaked up most of the rain that has fallen. There has been very little run-off for Western Australia's dams. Our climate is getting hotter and the south-west of our state is getting drier. We have had a shocking decline in rainfall over the past 30 years.

Science tells us that climate change will lead to the loss of many native animals and plants. Larger changes could sound the death knell for WA's World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef. We have already warmed the planet by a degree over the last century. There is nothing in the environmental record in terms of ice cores, tree rings or sediments that you will find that reflects the scientific record of today. You have to go back 15 million years before you can find a record of CO2 in the atmosphere that is as high as it is today. We will already have to live with the impacts of climate change. The window for action to prevent these impacts has sadly already closed.

Debate interrupted.