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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 7610

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (18:16): Passing this package of reforms that is before us today is our opportunity to secure a clean energy future for our children and for generations of Australians yet to come. We in this place are required to make decisions today that ensure a better tomorrow. And that is exactly what the package of clean energy bills we are debating today will do. We cannot ignore the overwhelming and compelling scientific evidence that human induced climate change is happening. The CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Academy of Science and science academies around the world have all concluded that human activity is almost certainly causing climate change. The evidence also shows that the only way to curb the impact of human induced climate change into the future is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and cut carbon pollution.

As well as the scientific imperative, we also have an economic imperative to pursue these reforms. We know that 34 countries and 27 cities, states or provinces around the world have an emissions trading scheme operating or under development. Nine countries have implemented a carbon tax and at least two more are considering it, 86 countries have legislated or planned for renewable energy targets and 89 countries, representing 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of the world's economy, have also pledged to take action on climate change.

It is therefore incumbent upon us to act to curb the impact of human activity on our environment—and the time to act is now. We have the opportunity to enact legislation that will guarantee that generations still to come will have a cleaner, brighter future. We must implement the legislative package before us and introduce a carbon price now to ensure Australia remains competitive in an emerging global clean energy economy. If we do not act now, we risk being left behind and we also risk further irreversible damage to our environment and the probability of more extreme weather events.

The Productivity Commission, the Garnaut report and a Grattan Institute study all conclude that price is by far the most effective change mechanism when it comes to cutting carbon pollution. Our own Treasury modelling shows this is the best way forward for Australia's economy. The clean energy future package guarantees generous compensation to pensioners and families, assistance to industries to protect and grow jobs, and extensive tax reforms whilst we cut carbon pollution. The package provides that nine in 10 households will receive a combination of tax cuts and increased payments that will assist with cost-of-living impacts caused by a carbon price and that over one million extra Australians will no longer need to lodge a tax return. Broadly, this package means that everyone earning up to $80,000 per annum gets a tax cut. That means most people will benefit from tax cuts of up to $300. The tax-free threshold will effectively triple and no-one will pay tax on the first $20,000 that they earn. Almost six million households will be assisted to meet their average price impact. And over four million households will be assisted to at least 20 per cent of their average price impact. Moreover, these tax cuts and payments will increase over time.

The fact that those opposite continue to argue against these historic reforms on the basis that families will be worse off is just absurd. In fact, families in Australia would be $1,300 worse off under the policy of those opposite. All the revenue generated from Mr Abbott's $1,300 tax also goes straight to big polluters from households. It really is time to stop the talking and proceed with the clean energy future plan before us. The carbon price mechanism will cut carbon pollution and drive investment in clean energy technologies including solar, gas and wind. The package before us contains a Jobs and Competitiveness Program that will support jobs in those high-polluting industries with competitors in countries where those industries are not yet subject to comparable carbon constraints. We have outlined an $800 million clean technology investment program that will provide grants to manufacturers to support investments in energy-efficient capital equipment and low-pollution technologies, processes and products. Provision has been made to ensure that households, tradies, farmers and small businesses do not experience an increase in fuel costs under the carbon price. Small business will not have to count or monitor the carbon pollution or electricity they use and will not be burdened by any bureaucratic red tape. Moreover, we have excluded agricultural and land sectors from the carbon price whilst ensuring that these sectors still have opportunities to secure economic rewards under the Carbon Farming Initiative. In effect the package of 18 bills before us today will ensure that, by the end of the decade, Australia will have cut 160 million tonnes of pollution from the atmosphere each year, which is the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road. By 2050, we will have taken over 17 billion tonnes of carbon pollution from the atmosphere and will be saving nine out of every 10 tonnes of pollution that would otherwise be emitted if this plan were not introduced.

As of July next year, the biggest polluters in Australia will pay for every tonne of carbon pollution they put into the atmosphere. As we have said time and time again, all the money raised out of the carbon pricing mechanism will flow directly to jobs, clean energy and households. The Treasury modelling clearly indicates that by 2050, with a carbon price, we will have $100 billion invested in renewable energy and that over 40 per cent of Australia's electricity generation will come from renewable sources. The estimates also project that Australia's renewables sector will have grown by up to 17 times.

Australia already has some of the best renewable energy sources in the world, including hydro, wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal, wave and tide. In my home state of Tasmania we already generate around 86 per cent of our energy from renewable sources. We also have significant renewable energy research, industry and government knowledge and capabilities. The honourable Peter Rae AO, Chairman of the International Renewable Energy Alliance and Chairman of the Renewable Energy Development Board in Tasmania, has articulated the opportunities for Tasmania and for Australia to realise these renewable energy targets as we work towards a clean energy future. Mr Rae has suggested that Tasmania's wind resource could provide half of Australia's present demand for electricity and he has identified major growth opportunities for Tasmania to transfer renewable energy into the national grid. It is clear that this legislation gives us the opportunity in Tasmania, and across Australia, to better utilise the renewable sources we already have, to make use of cleaner technologies and to secure a more sustainable future.

Looking at the big picture, introducing a carbon pricing mechanism ensures not only that Australians will benefit from a clean energy future but also that we will meet our international obligations on addressing climate change under the climate change convention and the Kyoto protocol. Introducing a carbon price in Australia will ensure that we support and participate in the development of an effective global response to climate change.

We need to take action at home and internationally. It is in Australia's national interest to play our role to ensure that the average global temperatures increase by not more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Achieving these measures is exactly what this package is designed to do. Unfortunately, those opposite have taken every opportunity to try to thwart this essential move to securing a clean energy future for Australia. They have launched a massive and deceptive scare campaign. Their own policy seems to be one of direct inaction and overt obstruction of any measure to secure a clean energy future rather than any credible alternative to the package before us today.

The debate about pricing carbon and climate change policy is not new. In fact, these policies have been widely debated in Australia for more than a decade, including through no less than 35 parliamentary committee inquiries. The first review of emissions trading by an Australian government was in 1999, some 12 years ago. This was an extensive policy work undertaken by the former Howard government, most notably by Mr Peter Shergold, which concluded that pricing carbon was the best approach to securing a clean energy future. We have had extensive and major reviews on Australia's best policy options for tackling climate change by Professor Ross Garnaut, which have shown that a carbon price mechanism is the best way forward.

It is frustrating to hear those opposite continue to claim that this is a policy that has been rushed or that needs further consideration and consultation. The reality is that the government's clean energy future package was developed through a parliamentary committee process, and the committee met for nine months before completing its work in July this year. Whilst the rest of us are determined to push forward with fundamental reforms for a sustainable future, those opposite seem determined to just sit back and wait. We must seize the opportunity before us to transition to a low-carbon future and prepare Australia for the economic and environmental challenges ahead. The only way forward is to embrace the clean energy package before us today. I commend the bills to the Senate.