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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4310

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (22:09): First and foremost I am a senator from Tasmania, and tonight, without forgetting all the moral, scientific and economic imperatives of putting a price on carbon for the rest of the world, I rise to put on record the cost to Tasmania and Tasmanians of the Abbott government's self-interested, ideological and cynical attempt to kill Australia's price on carbon, remove the clean energy package and remove the first serious attempt to show global leadership on putting a market signal on CO2 as a pollutant for greenhouse gases. Why? Simply to get themselves elected and deliver for vested interests in the big end of polluting town. For a state like Tasmania—one that leads the nation in the production of renewable energy and, thanks to its former Minister for Climate Change, Greens MP Cassy O'Connor, has the most ambitious targets for climate action—the price on carbon is a reward for clean energy that means millions to the our bottom line, millions that translate to jobs and services that all Tasmanians rely on every day.

The majority of Tasmania's energy is generated renewably and managed by Hydro Tasmania, a company owned by the state government. Tasmania is the only state in Australia that generates the majority of its energy through clean sources—currently around 86 per cent, and 100 per cent is not an unrealistic target. Clean energy is a competitive advantage for Tasmania, and that is exactly where we need to focus our political energies if we are going to create more wealth and jobs.

Why is the price on carbon adding to or leveraging off this competitive advantage? Mike Sandiford, Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute at University of Melbourne, highlighted in The Conversation yesterday that it gives Tasmania a significant 'relative' advantage in electricity pricing:

… the average carbon tax component paid by a domestic consumer in Tasmania is less than 0.5% of the total bill …

…   …   …

Compare that to Victoria with its reliance on high emissions brown coal power. There the carbon tax accounts for almost 50% of the wholesale price, and contributes around 10% to the average retail bill.

He goes on to say in the article:

Because of the low emission intensity, the carbon-tax contributes a negligible direct component in the wholesale power prices in Tasmania, adding just 1.8% to wholesale prices in 2013-14. With wholesale prices currently accounting for around 20-25% of retail prices, that means the average carbon tax component paid by a domestic consumer in Tasmania is less than 0.5% of the total bill, or about the same as the inter-annual variability in inflation. In other words, the direct effects of the carbon tax for Tasmanian consumers is in the noise.

And we certainly know about that in this place! He goes on to say:

… it is clear that Tasmania is benefiting in relative terms. In absolute terms wholesale prices have risen, but still remain below long-run average.

…   …   …

In a world in which carbon is priced Tasmania will be advantaged very significantly, and the higher the price the bigger the advantage.

Most importantly, the price on carbon generates jobs and a massive, important dividend for the Tasmanian government. Last financial year Hydro Tasmania reported a profit of $238 million. In their annual report Hydro Tasmania stated on page 22:

Of the $238 million profit for FY2012/13, $140 million is attributable to the combination of the carbon price and—

increased generation during the fixed carbon price period.

Hydro Tasmania went on and attributed $70 million annually directly to the carbon price. That is $280 million over forward estimates.

As part of its ownership of Hydro Tasmania the Tasmanian government receives payment from the company every year. Last year the Tasmanian government received $125.6 million. This represents—and I have got this directly from Saul Eslake, who is on the board of Hydro Tasmania—13.5 per cent of the state government's own-source revenue, or their non-Canberra revenue. Let's put this in perspective: the $280 million carbon price benefit to Tasmania over the forward estimates is equivalent to $1,452 per annum per Tasmanian household over that period. That equates to roughly 932 teachers or 824 nurses per year, on average, in terms of training costs.

It is seldom acknowledged that this financial windfall and jobs bonus is due in a very big way to my party, the Greens. We drove the clean energy package and reforms, and, yes, it was the Greens, in power sharing with Labor, who delivered the price on carbon.

The Greens have delivered for Tasmania. One day, when the crass politics of division runs its course, this will be respected. Added to the loss of services to Tasmanian families from the repeal of the carbon price, TasCOSS, for ACOSS, has estimated that Tasmanian families will be $1,600 per annum worse off under this cruel budget through hits to pensions, the unemployed, the sick, single parents and family benefits. According to ACOSS Tasmania has been penalised more than any other state. That is a $3,000 per household hit directly from current coalition policies. This has not even started to look at the future impacts of government cuts on students, hospitals and schools.

Also, the economy is crashing. The data on consumer confidence and retail sales tells a very damning picture. Every business I speak to, Senator Bushby, is furious. So much for the Liberals being strong on the economy. Maybe the so-called, self-styled three amigos—Northern Tasmania's three Liberal MPs, Eric Hutchinson, Brett Whitely and Andrew Nikolic—should call themselves the three banditos, because they are robbing Tasmanian families. As any bandito will tell you, the poor, the elderly, the sick and the young make the easiest targets.

Any Tasmanian senator or political leader who is thinking of backing Abbott's agenda needs to consider and be able to answer one question: how will that lost $280 million be replaced—where will the funds, services, and money for hospitals, money for schools, money for the homeless, and money for the mentally ill come from? And where will the jobs come from? Just last week Hydro Tasmania said they were laying off 100 people because of the repeal of the carbon price. What other competitive, sustainable advantages will you invest in? That question has never been answered by the Liberals—and, God knows, I have asked enough times.

New Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who I welcomed to the Senate this morning, has passionately—and, I think, genuinely—stated that she will 'cross the floor to stand up for Tasmania'. I think all Tasmanians would expect that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of education and health funds and hundreds of jobs are worth standing up for, and I expect her to join the Greens and cross the floor on the carbon repeal bills. She either stands with Prime Minister Abbott and the three banditos, or she stands with us. She is, in every sense of the word, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Her decision will make it clear which she thinks is which. It will be the first and possibly biggest decision she will make in her career in the Senate.

Even today, listening to the debate in the chamber, after many years of debate—and I have only been here for two years but I have heard it hundreds of times—I hear the same slogans, the same distractions and the same recycled spin from the Abbott government. They are trying to distract attention from their cruel budget, from their abysmal polling figures and from the fact that June polling finds public support growing for carbon pricing laws.

As I stand here tonight I cannot help thinking what other Australians are doing right now. Many are probably preparing to go to bed, some are watching Q&A, but I am here giving a speech on the benefits of a package that my party has helped deliver to this country and for my state, which we have never really been acknowledged for, and which we are about to lose because of cynical short-term politics and politicking, because of one party's grab for power. I know that I will be on the right side of history on tackling dangerous climate change. I know the price on carbon is good for Tasmania, and it is a reform the Greens are proud to stand up for.

The PRESIDENT: I just remind senators that we need to refer to members in the other place by their correct titles and be careful with our language when we are referring to members of the other place.