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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1015

Carbon Pricing

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:15): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. Does the minister agree with statements by the Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Ferguson, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that, 'There is a lot of concern in industry about the carbon price the government have locked in, given where Europe is,' and that this could be 'to our disadvantage as a nation'? Is the government considering any changes to the carbon tax to ensure it is not to our disadvantage as a nation?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:15): I welcome a question on climate change. I have been wondering when the tactics committee would finally let Senator Birmingham ask this question, but apparently Senator Cormann pulled rank.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, just address the question.

Senator WONG: I do welcome the question and I am pleased to be fought over. I am asked about what would disadvantage Australia, and I make the point that continued uncertainty when it comes to carbon pricing would disadvantage this country. It would continue to delay that move by investors to invest in clean energy, to invest in low-pollution ways of doing business. We on this side have our eyes firmly fixed on the future. We understand that you cannot be a first-rate economy unless you are also a clean energy economy—something John Howard understood but something the current Liberal Party have forgotten.

It is the case that our policy does include a price floor which acts as a safety valve for investors in low-emissions technology by establishing a minimum price for the first few years of a flexible price period. But I also make this point: if the opposition are so concerned about the level of a carbon price, perhaps they would like to tell us and the Australian people why they support a policy which would impose a carbon price over double what the government is proposing. Treasury analysis says your policy will cost more than double per tonne of carbon than what the government is proposing. You come in here and you talk about a carbon price—you say you worry about it—but you are busy seeking, should you win government, to implement a policy which would cost business more and Australian families more. (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:18): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why is the government so intent on pressing ahead with the world's largest and most complex carbon tax, which would make Australia's most environmentally efficient businesses less competitive than their highest emitting competitors overseas while costing local jobs and be 'to our disadvantage as a nation', to quote the Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Ferguson?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:18): What would make this economy less competitive is if Mr Abbott were able to implement his policy, which involves Australian working families paying higher taxes, giving it to big polluters and hoping that this might reduce emissions. That is what would make our economy less competitive. We have been very, very clear about the importance of supporting competitiveness and jobs. Our package has been put together with that very much in mind. Apart from the assistance under the Jobs and Competitiveness package, one of the ways in which that is done is by ensuring we enable international linking. It is extraordinary that those on the other side no longer believe in international trade when it comes to carbon. Senator Sinodinos, who in his maiden speech in here said he was— (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:19): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. If, contrary to Minister Ferguson, Minister Wong and the Gillard government are so confident that imposing the world's largest carbon tax is doing the right thing by families, businesses and our economy, why will the government not let the Australian people pass judgment on that great big new tax before forcing Australians to bear the cost of it and exposing our nation to international disadvantage?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:20): We are a Labor government and we always seek to do the right thing by Australian families. Remember, Mr President, it was those opposite who implemented Work Choices and who are seeking to take back the family tax benefit increases that are part of the carbon package. It is those opposite who are seeking to take back the increases to the disability support pension, the increases to the age pension, also part of the clean energy package. It is those opposite who are saying to Australians, 'We want you to pay more to reduce emissions.' That is the message from the opposition: 'We want you to pay at least double the cost of what the government is putting forward and we will ask you to do it without assistance.' So do not come into this chamber, Senator Cormann, and lecture us about families. You are the ones who want to make sure working families pay more and you are saying to those high emitting companies, 'We want you to pay less.' They are the same priorities that see you wanting to ensure that you give a tax break to wealthy miners over Australian families. (Time expired)