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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10738

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (09:47): I am pleased to have this opportunity to add my support to the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills which set Australia on its path to a clean energy future, a path to a clean energy future that will see our economy transformed in ways that will cut our national emissions of carbon and drive innovation and improvements in efficiency in both existing and emerging industries; a path to a clean energy future that provides for generous compensation to pensioners and families, provides assistance to industries to protect and grow jobs, and delivers tax reform.

As I have said many times in media interviews, my support for this package of bills, the introduction of a carbon price and the other measures that go with it, should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, it was only two years ago that I was up on my feet speaking in support of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, not once but two or three times, and every time the CPRS came back before the House I voted in favour of it. So it should not come as a surprise that, given another opportunity in here to vote on putting a price on carbon, I will act consistently with what I have done in the past and vote for it. We are here with these bills before us again, and faced with this decision yet again, because the reality and the challenge of a changing climate, a warming world, has not gone away. It has not gone away since the defeat of the CPRS two years ago; it has not gone away in all the many years that this parliament and international forums have been presented with increasingly alarming scientific evidence and asked to respond. It is not going away just because some choose to ignore it or deny it. Successive governments starting with John Howard's signing of the Kyoto protocol and commissioning of the Shergold report, and the Rudd government's negotiations over the CPRS have brought us to this point. Now is the time to finish the job they started and pass these clean energy bills. There is no value to Australia in continuing the uncertainty and delay over something that scientists tell us requires urgent action and that economists warn us will only get more difficult and costly to our economy the longer we leave it. As I made clear in my speeches on the CPRS, I strongly support the direction the government is taking. I agree that Australia should do our bit to respond to the threat of climate change and I agree that we should do that by putting a price on carbon. This is not an article of faith for me, rather it is an issue like many others that demand the government of the day to make a decision and take action. Our Labor governments and the Howard Liberal government before us were presented with this problem as one needing attention and a response. Our government and the Howard government before us sought advice from scientists, economists and other experts as to the dimensions of the problem and the range of solutions available to us.

On the basis of that advice, our government and the Howard government before us came to the same conclusion: that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that we should reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and that the best way of doing that is by means of an emissions trading scheme. That led to both parties going to the 2007 election promising to introduce almost identical emissions trading schemes to cut carbon pollution. I do not remember the Leader of the Opposition getting all hot and bothered about John Howard's emissions trading scheme when he proposed it and started legislating for it back in 2007, a scheme that we now know—and the member for Wentworth confirmed last week—was very similar to the one we are debating today.

This debate has been characterised all along by the inconsistencies of the opposition leader and his determination to never ever let the facts get in the way of his unrelenting scare campaign. The facts start with the science. Although it is going over old ground it is worth restating in this debate why we see the need to do what we are doing to reduce carbon emissions. I could go to any number of sources to support my conclusion and the conclusion of those of us in government that we can be confident in accepting the scientific consensus on climate change and using that as the basis for our judgments about whether and how to take action. There are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Academy of Sciences all telling us the same thing. Professor Garnaut summarised his reasoning for accepting the mainstream science on climate change in his 2011 report:

The vast majority of those who have spent their professional lives seeking to understand climate and the impacts of human activities on it have no doubt that average temperatures on earth are rising and the human-induced increases in greenhouse gases are making major contributions to these rises. They are supported in this by the learned academies of science … in all of the countries of scientific accomplishment.

So much for the world government conspiracy to corrupt scientific data. Depending on what day it is and on what audience he is addressing, you might find the opposition leader accepting the scientific consensus that we should cut carbon emissions or you might find him ridiculing that very same science. Luckily there is a rational voice within the opposition, the member for Wentworth. He tells us that it is absolutely Liberal Party policy to accept the scientific consensus that the globe is warming and that human greenhouse gas emissions are substantially the cause of it. Labor and the Liberals are agreed on the climate change science. The member for Wentworth in the same speech confirmed that both parties are agreed on the need to cut emissions and the extent to which we intend to cut them. Just as the Labor government is pledged to cut emissions in Australia by five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020, we have it from the member for Wentworth that it is also the Liberal Party's policy to take action to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. This is the same unconditional target adopted by the Rudd government and the Gillard government and pledged at Copenhagen. Labor and Liberal are agreed on the target for emissions cuts.

The next fact is that if you want to meet that target for a reduction in the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, the most effective and least-costly way of doing it is to put a price on carbon. There is almost universal agreement among economists that the best way to meet emissions reduction targets is through a market based mechanism putting a price on carbon. In response to that pricing signal, business and consumers will do what they always do—innovate, look for value, create solutions, find cheaper and better ways of doing things. In that way a price on carbon will lead to lower emissions and will drive the economic reform that we need to build the modern competitive industries and the skilled productive workforce that the 21st century demands.

The world is not going to wait for us; it never has. Australia accepted that challenge in the eighties and nineties, floating the dollar and bringing down the tariff wall and transforming our industries. It was not easy at the time, but we have been reaping the benefits of that change to an open, competitive, outward-looking economy ever since. It is why the government has adopted a similarly market based approach to meeting this latest challenge of reducing carbon emissions and starting the transition to an economy based on efficiency and clean energy. This is a very comprehensive package of legislation. It is based on the best scientific and economic advice, including extensive Treasury modelling. It has been the subject of broad consultation and intense debate for at least the last four years.

I turn to two particular aspects which will be of interest to the people I represent. The first of those is the assistance that individuals and households can expect to receive as a result of this reform. The first point to make in that regard is that the carbon price is not a cost to be paid by individuals. This legislation requires just 500 of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, those companies that emit 25,000 tonnes or more per year, to pay a price of $23 per tonne for the gases they emit. In Central Queensland that equates to the major coalmining companies, Stanwell Power Station and a handful of other businesses. The carbon permits that companies are required to purchase will generate significant revenue for government which leads to the second and very important point.

Over half of that revenue will be returned to families, to workers, to pensioners, to self-funded retirees and to students in the form of either tax cuts, higher Centrelink payments or both. What that means for people in Capricornia is that for most of them any costs that might be passed on to them from companies that have to pay the carbon price will be at least partially compensated and, in most cases, completely covered by the extra money they will have in their pockets from tax cuts and pension increases. For example, there are almost 20,000 pensioners in Capricornia. Single pensioners will receive an extra $338 per year and couples up to an extra $510 in their pension payments. On average the expected increase in costs due to a carbon price for a single pensioner will be $204 per year. With the increase in their pension payments they will be $134 better off. Out of 64,000 taxpayers in Capricornia, around 47,000 will receive a tax cut and out of those 47,000, 39,000 will receive a tax cut of at least $300. We want to support households, families and pensioners while we make this economic transition. The price on carbon will drive that transition and the revenue it raises will allow us to help low- and middle-income households meet any resulting costs. Updated Treasury modelling shows that those costs to consumers will be minimal and for most households more than met by the compensation measures. The average household food bill is estimated to increase by only 80c per week and the overall rise in the cost of living for an average household would be just 0.7 per cent in the first full year of the carbon price. That compares to a cost-of-living jump of about 2½ per cent with the introduction of the GST.

The opposition scare campaign just does not stand up to the facts in this debate. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in Capricornia where opposition members and the Coal Association have been making the most overblown and fanciful claims about the impact the price on carbon will have on the coal industry. I have lost count of how many times I have been asked to respond to their latest warning that this spells the end of the coal industry. The trouble for the opposition is that the mining companies would not stick to the doomsday script. It started with Peabody's multi-billion-dollar bid for Macarthur Coal the day after we announced the details of the carbon price. Then it kept going because the companies, their shareholders and their banks have obviously judged that the future is too bright and the opportunities in the coal sector are too valuable to slow down their investment activity even for a couple of months for the sake of keeping up the pretence about the impact of the carbon price.

Day after day the opposition soldiers on with its scare campaign while the people of Central Queensland can see with their own eyes the evidence of a mining boom that shows not the slightest sign of slowing down. I will give a snapshot of what has been going on in my electorate since this package was announced in July. I met with Xstrata who told me they are full steam ahead with their Wandoan Coal Project—that is, a mine, hundreds of kilometres of railway line and a major new port facility at Balaclava Island. Representatives from Indian company Adani did a roadshow to Bowen to talk up the opportunities coming their way with the expansion of the port at Abbot Point to ship out the coal from Adani's mine in the Galilee Basin. Landholders in the Central Highlands held mass meetings over concerns that not one but three companies are each proposing to build their own individual 500 kilometres of railway line from the Galilee Basin to the coast. BHP was reported as insisting on fly-in fly-out operations in the Bowen Basin because it does not know how else it can fill the hundreds of jobs it is projecting in the region in the coming years. BHP is also encouraging steelworkers from other parts of Australia to come and fill jobs in its Bowen Basin projects. QR National confirmed that it is going ahead with an expansion of its rail network between the Bowen Basin and the Hay Point/Dalrymple Bay coal-loading terminals. Vale came to see me last week to tell me about their long-term plans to lift investment in their coal business in Australia. Proponents of the Fitzroy River Coal Terminal are working hard to progress their project, with huge interest from coal producers in the Surat and Bowen basins. And ABS figures released last week show that a record $207.2 million was spent exploring for coal in the June quarter. That is a jump from the December quarter, and of course that jump happened after the details of the carbon price were announced.

This was all summed up best in a headline in the Australian newspaper's business pages last month: 'Watch what miners do, not say, about the carbon tax'. Exactly. When it comes to the future of the coal industry, my advice to central Queenslanders is to follow the money, because that exposes the opposition's scare campaign as a complete sham. The money trail tells the real story: that investment in mines and infrastructure, the search for workers and the investment by members of the opposition in mining company shares continue to grow.

I am confident that there is nothing in this legislation for my electorate to fear. In fact, there are opportunities in embracing a lower carbon future that I have not had time to detail today: opportunities for farmers and graziers through the Carbon Farming Initiative; opportunities in renewable energy, like Mackay Sugar's cogeneration plant using biomass from sugarcane; and opportunities to improve efficiency in the meat-processing sector, which I know local plants are already investigating.

I attended my first briefing on emissions trading in 1999, my first year in the parliament. We have marked time on this issue for long enough—12 years now. Let us get this debate behind us and get started on the real work of creating a clean energy future for this nation.