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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 983

Mr COULTON (1:35 PM) —I am a little flabbergasted at the previous speech from the member for Newcastle. I hope she does not injure herself as she falls off that fence that she has been straddling for the last 20 minutes. I fear that poor old Grandad, who fought so hard for miners rights at Rothbury years ago, is turning over in his grave at the selling out of the coal miners of the Hunter Valley. Indeed, over the last 12 months I have had hundreds of emails from coal miners terribly concerned about the future of their jobs and the industry which they are so passionate about.

I have spoken twice previously in this House on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and for the sake of my constituents I am speaking on it again. I heard the speech from the member for Oxley about an hour ago, and he said that he has been watching people in this debate speak about things that they do not believe in and have no commitment to. I can tell you that I have a commitment to this issue. I believe this is probably the single biggest issue that we as a country need to deal with in our generation. If we do not get this right, our country in the near future, as well as in future generations, will be paying for this for years to come.

Since this legislation was first introduced, the Prime Minister has been getting some criticism that he has not being doing a very good job of explaining it. I do not think the Prime Minister does anything without carefully thinking it through. Being foolhardy and careless is not one of the Prime Minister’s weaknesses. The reason he has not done a very good job of explaining it is that the more he explains it the more devastating the effects on Australia become.

We have heard some fantastic presentations in this House, particularly from the members on the government side, about the effects of global warming, the reality of global warming, rising sea levels. I remember the member for Isaacs had half his electorate underwater at one stage. You will get no argument from me: climate change is a real issue. Whether it is going to be as dramatic as the member for Isaacs and the contribution from before Christmas from the member for Makin, just to name a couple, have claimed, remains to be seen; but we would be foolhardy to ignore that climate change is something that we need to address.

No-one from the government side has made that link, has stood up here and said, ‘You need to support the CPRS because this is how it is going to reduce the temperature of the globe.’ Not one person on that side has said, ‘This is why you need to support this bill.’ They have been very emotive about climate change, and they have been very derisive, claiming that those of us who want to dare challenge the great world leader in environment change, our Prime Minister, are deniers, dinosaurs and worse. Not one of them has defended their legislation. If they could explain to me how this legislation is going to reduce the temperature of the globe; how it is going to make it rain in the upper catchments of the Murray-Darling, so that we can return agriculture to full production; how it is not going to put the suburbs of Port Phillip under water, I would vote for it—I would support it. But they have not done that.

The other thing that is quite fascinating is that last year we had this build-up to the world conference in Copenhagen, and the Prime Minister got himself appointed as a Friend of the Chair—sort of like the hall monitor of Copenhagen. He might have got a little badge that said ‘prefect’ and got to buzz around. He changed his timetable so that he could be there with the President of the United States and could be in all the shots as our world leader in fixing the climate. Of course, Copenhagen was somewhat of a disappointment, I suspect, to the Prime Minister. From my own point of view, what happened at Copenhagen was not surprising.

But it is like Copenhagen never happened. I was in this House at 10.30 last Tuesday, the 2nd—I remember it very clearly—and the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, Mr Combet, was introducing this bill into the House for the third time. And guess what that day was? It is not a big deal in Australia, but many of you will have seen that great movie Groundhog Day. Last Tuesday, 2 February was Groundhog Day. I had to pinch myself that I was not sitting on the set of some bizarre movie as the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change reintroduced this bill. It was like the world had not moved on. It was like the United States had not rejected a cap-and-trade scheme and had started speaking about direct action.

The member for Newcastle’s speech was a classic example of, ‘If we say something earnestly enough, and we say it often enough, it must be true.’ On the fact that this legislation would have a devastating effect on the members in her electorate—the members of the steel industry, the coal industry, the port industry—she just said that was not the case; therefore, it must not be the case! The member for Paterson was right to highlight the hypocrisy of her, and the government she is a part of, when they trumpeted in the Newcastle Herald photos of Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Rudd in their hardhats, opening new rail links and commissioning port facilities for the export of coal, an industry that this CPRS intends to tax to the hilt. How is the coal industry going to innovate? How are the electricity industry generators in the Hunter Valley, and the people the member for Newcastle represents who work in those generators, going to adapt to a lower carbon future if the top of their profits is taken off, is taxed?

We have heard a lot from the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change about how this tax is going to be redistributed to pensioners and low-income earners—and that, as a matter of fact, some people are going to be better off under this scheme, so it must be good: ‘We are going to save the environment and people are going to have more money in their pockets; it is just those evil polluters that will pay.’ Well, guess who the ‘evil polluters’ are? The evil polluters are those people who, when they wake up in the morning, turn on their lights to see what the time is. When they turn the tap on and the system comes into play and they have a hot shower—they are the evil polluters. When they get on the electric train and travel into the city to work, and use electricity, they are the evil polluters. The irony of that is that, if you get into your V8 Commodore and travel from Campbelltown to the city, Mr Rudd is going to compensate you. I think he is going to give you a cent more for your fuel, if you go in your car, but if you go on the electric train, that is taxed under the CPRS. So you will pay more to go on the electric train from Campbelltown to Sydney than you would if you drive your V8 Commodore! Where is the sense in that?

There was talk about compensating our pensioners, our elderly. In an aged-care facility in a medium-sized town in my electorate already the increase in electricity prices means that every bill they get has gone up by $3,000. The CPRS will probably put their electricity up by another $4,000 a month. Where is the compensation for that? Are they going to say, ‘I’m terribly sorry, Mrs Jones, your contribution to this country for the last 101 years has been magnificent but, because of the government’s CPRS, we’re going to restrict the use of your air conditioner between two and four o’clock in the afternoon’? In Coonabarabran, which is the place I am speaking about, in summertime it gets very hot. ‘But, Mrs Jones, I don’t care that you’re 101 and you’ve paid taxes all your life. You’re an evil polluter. You’re using electricity.’ Where, oh where, is the sense in that? But it is worse than that. There is no environmental impact, because the idea of the CPRS is to make people use less electricity. When you do not have an alternative, you either turn it off or you pay more. If you cannot afford to pay more, you have to turn it off.

The other thing is that a lot of jobs will be exported overseas. There is no greater example in my electorate than in the town of Kandos. In the redistribution of electoral boundaries, it is going to be in the seat of Hunter, and I wonder if the member for Hunter has as much care about the people of Kandos as I do as their present member. The town of Kandos has a cement plant. It employs between 110 and 120 people and it has been there since 1880-something. There are people in that plant who have worked there all their lives and they are the sixth or seventh generation to work in that plant. Under the CPRS, Mr Rudd has said, ‘We will give you a permit for 90 per cent of your emissions—but not all of your emissions, just the emissions in the baking process.’ To make cement, you mine the limestone and the shale, then you mix it all up and crush it up and you bake it using a coal-fired power station and you end up with something called clinker. The final stage of the process is that you grind the clinker up, and that gives you your cement. Mr Rudd said to the people of Kandos cement plant: ‘We’ll give you 90 per cent for the baking process.’ That equates to 30 per cent of the total emissions cost at that plant.

At the moment, the cost of producing cement in Kandos and the cost of importing it from China or Indonesia are about lineball. There is an advantage for the owners of this company because it is located in the central west of New South Wales and has handy access to the large construction areas in Western Sydney and access to western New South Wales. But with a 30 per cent increase in tax, when the competitors from China and Indonesia do not have that, guess what is going to happen. That plant is going to close and they will be importing either cement or clinker from China or Indonesia into Port Botany. That is the reality of it. That town of Kandos has one major employer. There are 1,400 people and one major employer. The town has an excellent high school and a wonderful primary school, and a lot of the other jobs—contractors, truck drivers and whatever—spin off from that plant. If it closes down, a lot of the small businesses—the supermarket, the local butcher, the newsagent, the garage—will be unviable. So the town of Kandos is in real trouble.

When the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change stands up here and says that low-income earners are going to be better off under this scheme, can he explain how a cement worker who is currently on about $60,000 or $70,000 a year and is going to go on unemployment benefits is better off? Has he managed to explain that? It is not just my cement plant in Kandos. Professor Garnaut himself said, in the early work done for this government in the lead-up to this policy, that 126,000 jobs will be removed from regional Australia. If anyone wonders why we as the National Party came out early on in opposition to this scheme, it is because we were the sacrificial lambs. Regional Australia was going to pay for this scheme. The people in the leafy suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne may get a pang of conscience, trade the Volvo in and buy a Prius. Maybe they will tick the green square the next time they go to Fiji for holidays and pay a bit more for their airline ticket, or tick the box on their power bill and get some poor fellow in the hills at Crookwell to plant a few trees to ease their conscience when they turn on their hot-water system or their jacuzzi, but they do not see themselves changing their lifestyle. Maybe if they work in the banking sector, the finance sector or a large trading house they think, ‘There’s a bob to be made out of this!’

Who is going to pay? The people of the regional Australia, the farmers. We had a great discussion last year about removing agriculture from this legislation, but they were talking about removing some of the emissions of agriculture and the ability to claim any of the sequestration people can do. But look at the inputs into agriculture: fuel, farm chemicals based on petroleum and fertilisers based on petroleum. So the people of rural Australia, the farmers, the people that feed Australia and 50 million other people around the world, are going to be hit, but their counterparts overseas will not be. Oh, this is a wonderful idea!

What I find astounding as I sit here and listen to the members on the other side who represent regional Australia is how they just stand here and sell out their constituencies. As the Prime Minister stands at the dispatch box at question time and talks about the CPRS and saving the world, they nod and smile in unison behind him as they sell out the people that put them here. It is worse: I have not heard the member for Maribyrnong, that great champion of the Australian Workers Union—whose membership goes right across regional Australia, in agriculture, mining and trucking—come in here and defend this scheme. You can look at the record. I would be surprised if he has. Those opposite have sold out the people that put them here. Put the member for Maribyrnong in front of a mine shaft with a TV crew and he goes like a thrashing machine. Put him in here, where he has to defend a scheme that is going to affect the livelihoods of the people who put him here, and he is silent. The sell-out of the people on that side of the House has been absolutely breathtaking.

We have a debate coming up about direct action versus the CPRS. Before I came into this place, I was involved in agriculture. I understand the enormous capacity of Australian soils to store carbon. It is not a simple process. Despite the rhetoric from that side, Australian farmers are not simple folk. They do not need saving from themselves. The truth be known, Australian farmers are leading the world in their environmental practices. This is an area close to me. In the late 1980s, my brothers and I were doing experimental work with the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in zero-till farming. The carbon level in those soils has grown exponentially over the last 20 or 30 years—not because they were trying to harvest carbon, but because carbon sequestration in the soil goes hand in hand with the ability of a soil to store water. In agriculture in Australia, storing water is what you need to do to grow the crops. We need to draw on that. We need to let these people in rural Australia who have been doing their bit to improve the environment continue to do so. We need to recognise it, encourage them and reward them.

This debate has become one of rhetoric versus practicalities. The people of Australia are waking up. They are waking up to the facts. I will tell you how it happened in the couple of minutes that I have left. They did a poll. Eighty per cent of Australians want to do something about the environment. That is true. We all do. So the Labor Party said: ‘Let’s give ’em something. We won’t go too much into the detail; we’ll just give ’em something. We won’t explain too much about what it is, but we’ll tell ’em it’s good for them.’ What they have done is sold out the people of Australia. They have sold them down the drain. They are making them uncompetitive with the rest of the world for the sake of votes. They have been caught out. This piece of legislation, deservedly, is a dead duck and it should be treated as such.