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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 8022

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (17:34): It seems quite a long time since the moving of the adjournment last night. I had expected to be completing this speech on these so-called clean energy bills somewhat earlier today, but there we are. When the adjournment was moved last night one of the issues I was discussing in relation to these bills and my shadow responsibilities was the impact on housing in Australia that will occur after the implementation of this legislation. I was speaking last night about the increases that will result, particularly in rents, as investors in new houses are forced to pass on the costs of servicing those larger mortgages to their tenants.

When you increase the cost of building new homes you inevitably also slow the growth in new housing stock and push up the price of existing homes. We already have a shortage of rental properties, so an increasing shortage of rental properties will only see more low-income earners and more welfare recipients pushed into what is often known as marginal housing. A number of senators in the chamber are familiar with the issues around homelessness. I am not sure that I understand a policy that is ultimately going to exacerbate social problems such as this. It seems to me to be ill conceived. Equally perversely, the additional costs of new housing construction are going to punish those who want to build a house, as modern, newly constructed houses have the highest levels of energy efficiency and therefore the lowest contributions to carbon emissions of Australia's housing stock. It will deter the construction of new, more energy efficient housing, and this is at a time when Australia already has a chronic national housing shortage, which stands at 202,400 as of June 2010 and is expected to exceed 300,000 by 2014. I would really like to have more current, more up-to-date, figures but for reasons known only to members of the government the National Housing Supply Council was not reappointed for an extended period after the last election. In fact, it was in limbo for months and months, notwithstanding the fact that the relevant aspects of the red book for that portfolio indicated that it was a priority action. So we are awaiting a State of supply report which will show Australians and, more particularly, investors what the state of shortage is. In ignoring the important issue of the national housing shortage—and it is extremely frustrating in the estimates process to seek answers as to when we will see a new State of supply report—the government also ignores the fact that the implementation of the carbon tax as it is constructed under this legislation will only exacerbate the problem, and that is a matter of great concern to members of the coalition.

We think, as members of the Liberal and National parties, that there is another way to go about this, and numbers of my colleagues have spoken about that previously. Overwhelmingly, Australians want to see something done about climate change and want to see Australia doing its part. Rather than using the blunt object of carbon pricing, the coalition's plan is to address climate change and to reach its five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020 by positive, direct action.

Senator Chris Evans: Oh, come on. Put your heart into it.

Senator PAYNE: Well, Senator Evans, I can certainly assist with that. I could in fact bring some light-heartedness to the chamber if this were not so serious. What we see, particularly in New South Wales—and I do not know if other senators are experiencing it as well—is what could only be described as hysterical misinformation spread by members of the government about the coalition's position on these issues.

It is the stuff of politics that ministers visit electorates and shadow ministers visit electorates—it is the toing and froing of the political process; we are all used to it—and a couple of months ago I was very pleased to welcome the shadow minister for health and ageing, the Hon. Peter Dutton, from the other place, to the federal electorate of Lindsay in Western Sydney to meet with senior staff and officials from Nepean Hospital. Nepean Hospital is a very important tertiary hospital in Western Sydney. It serves, as I am sure you would be aware, Madam Acting Deputy President Stephens, a very important part of the Western Sydney community, not just around Penrith but also in the lower mountains and further afield.

Mr Dutton's visit to Nepean Hospital had us contemplating the impact of a carbon tax on a hospital like that, and the end result of that contemplation and our discussions on that day indicated that they would be facing an increased electricity cost of approximately $300,000 a year with no compensation, as the Energy Users Association assessments indicate. Not unreasonably, Mr Dutton and I raised this issue in the local community. We raised it through the local media and asked the local member, Mr Bradbury, what he thought about this potentially increased cost of $300,000 and how a hospital like Nepean Hospital, already stretched to the limit but doing an exceptional job at all levels of its operations, was going to deal with an extra $300,000 in electricity costs. I thought it was probably quite a reasonable question. It is his local hospital, they were keen to know how we thought they should deal with it and I was keen to know how he, as a member of the government, thought it should be dealt with.

As I indicated in my previous remarks, there is absolutely no contention on the part of the coalition that nothing should be done in relation to climate change. That is a fallacy. It is an untruth and it is something that we will contest when that point is raised at every opportunity because we have a policy in relation to direct action. So when I asked the local member in Lindsay what his response was to this potentially increased cost for Nepean Hospital it seemed strange to me that he chose not to answer that question but rather to issue a press statement which said that failing to act on climate change will come at a great cost to the health system over time. No-one is arguing that we should fail to act—nobody at all in this particular discussion—but he went on to say:

Without taking action, Australia is expected to experience higher rates of infectious and vector-borne diseases as well as food and waterborne diseases.

If that is not hysterical scaremongering, it is hard to imagine what might fall into the category of hysterical scaremongering. One expects that the vector-borne, and certainly the waterborne, diseases are going to head down the Nepean River to the weir in Penrith and infect the local community if we are not addressing climate change.

I reiterate the point that nobody is suggesting that climate change should not be addressed, but the contention of the opposition is that this is not the way to do it, that this would be a cost on all Australians—a cost on business, on families and on individuals, and one which they should not be expected to meet by a government that did not tell them the truth before the last federal election. The price of addressing climate change should not be lower standards of living and it should not be the exporting of the problem, along with Australian jobs, as I indicated yesterday.

In relation to what the impact will be on housing, in particular, I have indicated that the Housing Industry Association, for example, estimates an increased cost of $5,000 for the construction of a house. Any realistic person in this place, in this chamber or the other one, will know that in the community $5,000 extra is a deal breaker. Five thousand dollars extra on your budget when you are counting every single cent to build your new home is literally a deal breaker. Why should Australian families who want to look after their children and support themselves by building their own home—realising what is often cliched but is in fact very important: the great Australian dream of owning their own home—be faced with that impost because this government refuses to consider other options? We say that it is an unreasonable approach, that it is not an approach we will support and that in fact it is legislation we will oppose and repeal if we are elected to government at the next election.