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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1273

Senator CHAPMAN (2:00 PM) —I direct my question to the Minister for Climate Change and Water. By how much will electricity prices rise as a result of Labor’s mandatory renewable energy target?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I thank the honourable senator for his question. I again make the point that I made yesterday, which was this: at the last election Australians did vote for a government that would take action on climate change. I think the Australian people understand that the costs of failing to act, the costs of neglecting to act, will be far greater than the costs of responsible action now. What they have on this side of the chamber is a government which will take responsible action by ensuring the least cost path through this economic transformation to shift the Australian economy to a lower carbon future. I am waiting to see exactly what the opposition’s position on climate change is. On the one hand they want to play short-term opposition politics with it, yet Mr Nelson seems to believe that the challenge of climate change is ‘the most significant economic, political and moral challenge that will face our generation’. The question is really whether those on the other side agree with their leader that this is an issue—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I raise a point of order going to relevance. This is question time, where the opposition can ask questions of the minister; it is not for the minister to try to deflect the issue by asking questions of the opposition. She was asked a very simple question: by how much will electricity prices rise as a result of Labor’s mandatory renewable energy target? Anything other than that is simply irrelevant.

The PRESIDENT —Ministers have always been allowed considerable latitude in answering their questions, but I would remind the minister that the question did relate to electricity prices and ask her to resume her answer.

Senator WONG —Amongst the range of policies to tackle climate change with which we went to the election were, of course, first, an emissions-trading scheme and, second, a renewable energy target. We on this side of the chamber do believe it is necessary to ensure that you bring renewable technologies into the market over time. We understand that in terms of shifting this nation over time to a lower carbon future we have to bring more renewable technologies on stream. That is why we are committed to ensuring at least 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply comes from renewable sources. It is a transition mechanism that will help prepare the electricity sector to contribute to the significant emissions reductions that will be needed to address climate change.

But again I ask: who on the other side actually supports their leader? Is it you, Senator Bernardi, who is in the camp of people who are sceptical about climate change? Is it you, Senator Chapman? Do you believe this is an issue?

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I call Senator Wong to order to address the chair and not directly refer to senators across the chamber.

Senator WONG —You are quite right, Mr President. Through you I say this: I rarely agree with the Leader of the Opposition but I do agree with him on this issue—the challenge of climate change is likely to be ‘the most significant economic, political and moral challenge that will face our generation’. That is why we will implement our policies, including a renewable energy target and the emissions-trading scheme. We will do so methodically and carefully. We will undertake economic modelling, as I have already indicated in this place, to carefully assess the impact on the Australian economy. We will have a very clear eye on ensuring Australia’s future prosperity because we believe tackling climate change is about preparing for the future and ensuring that Australian families and this nation are better prepared for the challenges of the future.

Senator CHAPMAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that, despite a lot of bluff and bluster, the minister has failed completely to answer a very simple question about the cost of living. So I ask as a supplementary question: how can the Labor government claim to be helping struggling families with the cost of living when it has put in place policies which will drive prices up?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —As I said, I think Australians know many things, and they certainly know two things. One thing they know is that the cost of neglecting to act on climate change will be greater than the cost of responsible action now. We know that from Stern and we know that from Garnaut. The other thing they know is that those on the other side have absolutely no answer when it comes to the issue of climate change because too many of them on that side do not believe it is a reality—from Senator Minchin all the way down.