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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 4290

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (11:22): I also rise to speak on the Carbon Tax Plebiscite Bill 2011, a private member's bill. I must say right from the start that this bill is an absolute sham. This bill is nothing more than an attempt to score cheap political points. We would not expect anything less from those opposite. They are led by a man who does not believe in climate change despite the evidence and despite the science.

There used to be members of the Liberal Party who stood for placing a price on carbon, but the sceptics took over. The climate change deniers took control. In one fell swoop they turned the opposition's climate change policy on its head. Those opposite used to belong to a party that believed in climate change. Those opposite used to belong to a party that wanted to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Those opposite had an emissions trading scheme as part of their policy—but not anymore; not since the climate sceptics seized control. Those opposite have descend­ed into a party focused on mindless nega­tivity. The only motive that those opposite possess these days is to oppose everything and wreak havoc and destruction.

Those opposite do not seem interested in constructive policy debate and formulation. It is a real shame, because those opposite used to believe in climate change. For instance, we have heard a number of times in the debate here this morning that former Prime Minister John Howard believed in climate change and that he took a policy of an emissions trading scheme to the 2007 federal election. Former Prime Minister Howard said, 'Fundamental to tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to have a price on carbon, because you cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless you have a price on carbon.'

There are a number of senators among those opposite who also believed in placing a price on carbon, and it is disappointing that they have backed away from this commit­ment. What we are left with today is an opp­osition which resorts to political stunts and mindless negativity. To make matters worse, their leader, Mr Abbott, is on the record saying that, even if we waste $80 million of taxpayers' money on a glorified opinion poll, he will not necessarily accept the results. That is right; Mr Abbott is committed to pressing ahead with a plebi­scite and spending $80 million even though everyone knows he will completely ignore the results. This is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

At this point I want to quote a former senator, Senator Fielding. I have probably never quoted Senator Fielding before. I have not often agreed with him but I think he got it right on 21 June 11, when he said, in response to a question about supporting the carbon tax plebiscite bill: 'It is really just a political stunt—an expensive, glorified opinion poll—and it is not going to be binding. Tony Abbott said that even he is not going to abide by it. So it is just a total waste of taxpayers' money and I will not be involved in such a political stunt.' He said:

Seriously, why should we waste $80 million on a glorified opinion poll just because Tony has got a problem?

That was absolutely right. Spot on. Senator Fielding at that time got that completely right. It is a stunt. It is a stunt that was probably thought up on the run, as Mr Abbott is always on the run. It was a little thought bubble and it has not worked well for Mr Abbott because people have seen through it. They have seen that this is just a waste of taxpayers' money.

We now have an opposition who come into this chamber and preach fiscal responsi­bility when in fact their own actions demon­strate that nothing could be further from the truth. They are fiscally irresponsible. Week after week we come into this place and are faced with private members' bills put up by members of the opposition which appropriate funds, but they fail to offset these proposed new spendings with any savings measures.

In addition to that irresponsibility they are also blocking $6 billion worth of savings. Those opposite are all talk and no action when it comes to fiscal responsibility. Whilst those opposite continue to play political games and preach fiscal irresponsibility, we on this side of the chamber are getting on with the job of placing a price on carbon and taking action on climate change.

As the government has made clear, this Sunday we intend to announce the full details of our carbon-pricing plan, which will help us tackle climate change and transition Australia's economy to a clean energy future. Whilst I have made contributions to similar debates in the past few days, I think it is important to recap the main features of the carbon price. The carbon price will only apply to the biggest polluters in the Austra­lian economy. This means that the biggest polluters will be required to pay for every tonne of pollution they emit. As the govern­ment has made clear, this is the most effective and the cheapest way for us to build a clean energy economy. The government has also been steadfast that all revenue generated from the carbon price will be used to support households with assistance, to support jobs in the most affected industries and to invest in clean energy.

Our position on placing a price on carbon is in stark contrast to those opposite, who are far more interested in running a scare campaign and in political point-scoring than taking action on climate change. This is hardly surprising, considering those opposite are led by a number of well-known climate change sceptics. Mr Abbott's own climate change policy would cost $30 billion. It is taxpayers who would be left to foot the bill, rather than the big polluters. Under Mr Abbott's plan, households would not receive any assistance to cope with rises in the cost of living; instead, they will be hit with an extra $720 at tax time.

The government remain committed to putting Australian households first. We have already confirmed that more than 50 per cent of revenue raised from a carbon price will be used to assist households, with further details of the assistance package to be released on Sunday. We know already that the govern­ment will assist households as well as industry when the carbon price is introduced. The government have made it clear that nine out of 10 Australian households will receive some form of assistance for their household budgets. We have also said on numerous occasions that most of those seven million households will not be worse off under a carbon price.

The government are committed to ensuring that low- and middle-income earners as well as pensioners are looked after under the government's assistance package, because we know that low-income earners are the Australians who are most exposed to cost-of-living pressures. That is why we are supporting low-income earners with a 20 per cent buffer or safety net. This means that over three million households will receive an extra 20 per cent in tax cuts and payments over and above meeting the price impact of the carbon price. We also know that self-funded retirees will require support when the carbon price is introduced. That is why we will be providing financial help for around 280,000 self-funded retirees, equal to the extra payments that we will provide to over three million pensioners, part-pensioners and carers.

We know that petrol forms a big part of the household budget, so we have announced in recent years that there will be no carbon price on any fuels, including petrol, diesel and LPG, for passenger motor vehicles and light commercial vehicles. This provides another example of a deliberately run scare campaign by Mr Abbott to mislead the public. He has been running around for months trying to scare people into thinking that petrol will be part of the carbon price, and we know now that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Mr Abbott has claimed more than 20 times in the past four months that the cost of petrol would rise.

Recently, the Treasurer made an address at the National Press Club to highlight the benefits and opportunities presented to the Australian economy under a carbon price and, as part of his address, released modell­ing from Treasury showing that, under a theoretical carbon price of $20 per tonne, the Australian economy would still grow solidly whilst also making deep cuts to carbon pollution. This modelling also showed that employment would continue to grow with the introduction of a carbon price, with Australia on track to increase national employment by 1.6 million jobs by 2020.

As we have made clear time and again, the Labor government are committed to taking action on climate change—evidence based, appropriate action that is in Australia's best interests. That action is a carbon price mechanism. We have opted to introduce a fixed-price phase of between three and five years to begin with, because it gives busi­nesses certainty and helps them make a smooth transition to a full emissions trading scheme. It will also give businesses the time to understand how a carbon price will affect them and give them time to change their business practices so they are better prepared for the introduction of an ETS.

We know that a carbon price will result in an increase in prices; we have been upfront about this. When you introduce a market mechanism, you have to expect that the market will respond. However, as I pointed out, under the government's plan we will provide assistance to households to offset the change in prices under the introduction of a carbon price—and, as I have mentioned, the government will not be keeping the money raised as part of the introduction of a carbon price; we will be ensuring that the money collected is used to help families and households with household bills.

The global economy is moving towards a clean energy economy. Thirty-two countries and 10 US states are already moving towards an emissions trading scheme. We cannot be left behind. We have the highest emissions per capita in the world, even higher than the United States, and for too long we have talked about taking action on climate change. We cannot delay any longer. We need to provide businesses with certainty so they can begin their transition to being part of a clean energy economy. The science behind climate change is clear: scientists are telling us that carbon pollution is causing climate change, and the government accept this science. In Australia, 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record, and each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the preceding decade. We must take action. Australia is facing huge economic costs from climate change across a range of sectors. If we do not act soon, we risk being left behind. It is essential we act now. A carbon price mechanism is essential. The carbon price will act as the primary driver of an economic transformation which will set Australia on the path towards a clean energy economy and achieve real emission reductions.

The difference between the two major parties is stark. We believe climate change is real and taking action is the right thing to do; the opposition are led by sceptics who do not believe in climate change and do not want to take real action. We want the biggest-polluting companies to pay for each tonne of carbon pollution they produce; they want to reward big polluters and make taxpayers foot the bill. We want to build a clean energy economy; they will endanger our prosperity and jobs. We want to support households and pensioners with an assistance package; they want to slug families $720 to subsidise big polluters.

The time to act on climate change is now, and that is what we will continue to do. The government believes in climate change and is committed to taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by placing a price on carbon. But we are not the only ones; many economists, community leaders, busin­es­ses and industries all believe that we need to introduce a carbon price.

In summing up, Mr Deputy President—and I congratulate the Deputy President on his appointment; I had not formally added my congratulations to the chorus of congratulations he has received—I urge the Senate to oppose this sham of a bill. I urge the Senate to see this bill for what it is: scare tactics and sham policy. It is a bill that would waste $80 million of taxpayers' money. Tony Abbott has not even committed to accept the outcome of a plebiscite. He must have thought this bill up while he was running around the place. I urge the Senate to oppose this bill.