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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10760

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Social Inclusion and Minister for Human Services) (11:17): It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate about the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. The former Labor Premier of New South Wales Neville Wran told the state Labor conference in 1983 that:

I know it was not everyone who thought it was such a great thing to save the rainforests, but I make this prediction here today: when we are all dead and buried and our children's children are reflecting on what was the best thing the Labor Government in New South Wales did in the 20th century, they will come up with the answer that we saved the rainforests.

Were it not for the efforts of the Wran government those majestic ancient rainforests of the Northern Rivers would not exist today, yet with the passage of time we forget about how controversial that move was. It was opposed by some very powerful interests in industry, the media and the parliament. It was even opposed by some in the Labor Party at the time, including a senior minister in Wran's government, Don Day, whose electorate was one of those affected by the decision. Of course, it was vigorously opposed by the state Liberal and National parties. Thirty years on, very few would argue that the decision to preserve these forests for future generations was not a momentous and unambiguously positive achievement. It was an achievement that took leadership, strength of purpose, character and foresight—qualities that Neville Wran possessed in abundance. I think the same applies in this debate.

Earlier generations of Australians remember Ben Chifley for the first Australian made car, for the Snowy scheme and for his 'light on the hill' vision of equality for Australia's future. My generation remembers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating for modernising our economy, opening our nation to the world and giving all Australians economic security in retirement through the introduction of compulsory superannuation. On the environment, they are remembered for saving the Franklin River and Gordon River wilderness in south-west Tasmania and for winning World Heritage listing for the Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland.

When the time comes for future generations to remember the contribution of this Labor government, led by our first female Prime Minister, I think one of the things they will remember is that we took the courageous first steps to control pollution and get serious about tackling the impact of dangerous climate change on our nation's economic and environmental future. As the Prime Minister said in her contribution to this debate, carbon pricing and climate change policy have been widely debated in Australia for decades, including through no less than 35 parliamentary committee inquiries. In fact, I think Margaret Thatcher first raised this in Britain many years ago. The first review of emissions trading by an Australian government was undertaken by the Howard government in 1999—12 years ago. Indeed the systems that we have for measuring carbon output were agreed under the Howard government. Extensive policy work was undertaken by the former government, which concluded that pricing carbon was the best approach and that using a market based approach was the most likely to work.

Environmental protection at least cost is the aim. Economic and employment growth continues with increasing incomes and new clean energy jobs. This is something that we should all agree on. Professor Ross Garnaut has conducted two major reviews on Australia's best policy options for tackling climate change. The bills we are debating were developed through a multiparty committee process that met for nine months before completing its work in July 2011. It is now time to put these constant reviews and discussions over generations behind us and act. We have the leadership, vision and foresight in this generation to take the significant steps that help to secure our nation's economic and environmental future. It is not an easy debate because reform of this magnitude is never easy, yet the reforms that will be put in place through these bills before the House today are crucial for our nation. Unfortunately, those opposite have said that they will be opposing these bills—not because they have a clear answer, as the member for Forde suggested, about how they might have an alternative approach. The 'subsidies for big polluters' policy of the opposition has no backing from any credible scientific or economic expert in this country. They are opposing these bills because it is the lowest card on the deck, the card that the opposition leader always plays: it is the 'no' card—oppose, oppose, oppose. It is the same approach that the Liberal Party took in the 1980s and 1990s when they opposed the introduction of compulsory superannuation, with the member for Mackellar, who is not in the chamber at the moment, leading the charge telling us that giving working people economic security in their retirement would be the beginning of the end for Australia. It would be the beginning of creeping socialism for Australia. For years the Liberal Party wanted to abolish Medicare—something that John Howard made crystal clear in his Future Directions blueprint in the 1988 pre-election period that said:

Australia's health care system is in a shambles. The real villain is Labor's doctrinaire commitment to a universal government health insurance system, Medicare. By discouraging self-provision, by increasing health funding from the taxpayer and removing disincentives to overuse of medical services, Medicare has created a system obsessed with cost at the expense of quality, security and comfort.

I would challenge any of those opposite to say now that Medicare was a mistake.

People have popularly quoted John O'Brien, the famous bush poet, saying:

'We'll all be rooned,' said Hanrahan,

'Before the year is out.'

in relation to this debate. I think it is an appropriate description of the level of debate at the moment. It has been said before: 'We'll all be rooned by superannuation; we'll all be rooned by Medicare; we'll all be rooned by the modernisation of the Australian economy and the protections for our environment.' And yet, in each of these instances the opposition have proven completely wrong.

We have in Australia abundant resources—solar, gas, wind and other renewable energy sources. Despite the scaremongering of the Liberal Party we need to remind ourselves and the Australian public that this is not a tax paid by mums and dads; it is not a tax paid by ordinary Australians. This is a tax paid by 500 of our biggest polluters. These bills deliver some assistance to nine out of 10 households across Australia. Yes, the largest supports are targeted to those who need them most—pensioners, low- and moderate-income earners and families doing it tough are particularly looked after. Over four million Australian households will receive assistance that is at least 20 per cent more than their expected average price impact. Remember, the price impact of this will be one-third of the price impact of the GST. So people will notice it one-third as much as they noticed the introduction of the GST. Everyone earning $80,000 a year or less will get a tax cut. For most people it will be at least $300 a year. That means that 500,000 people will no longer have to pay any tax at all and one million people will no longer have to submit a tax return.

In 2009 the Labor government delivered the biggest single increase to the age pension in 100 years. In total, a single age pensioner now receives $148 a fortnight more than they did under the Liberal Party just a few short years ago. We are very proud of that achievement. Yet we now have shadow ministers, people who were ministers in the former Howard government, bleating about their concerns for pensioners. These are people who did not do a single thing, when they had the opportunity to, to increase the age pension or any associated payments. There were then ministers, like the current Leader of the Opposition and the members for Curtin, North Sydney, Menzies and Goldstein, who refused outright to deliver an increase in the age pension in all of those years—12 long years in government. And yet, as well as increasing the rate of the pension, as well as increasing the rate of indexation, we are now proposing, as a government and because of these clean energy bills, to also increase the single rate of the age pension by a further $338 each year for singles and $510 each year for couples combined. That means that on average 1.8 million pensioner households will come out ahead as a result of the clean energy package.

Self-funded retirees who hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card will receive automatic assistance before the carbon price starts, through an advance payment of $250 for singles and $190 for each member of a couple, to be paid between May and June 2012. And then, from 20 March 2013, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders will be paid their own version of the clean energy supplement. This will be paid on an ongoing quarterly basis at the same time as the seniors supplement. Each year Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders will receive around $338 for singles and around $255 for each member of a couple in that supplement. That will be the same as the assistance paid to age pensioners.

Labor's package also meets the needs of low- and moderate-income families. Family tax benefit part A will be increased by up to $110 a year per child and families on a single income will also benefit from the single income family supplement—a payment of up to $300 at the end of each year. This supplement will make sure that families on a single income will receive similar assistance to dual income families who may benefit from tax cuts to both incomes. New Start and Youth Allowance recipients will get up to $218 per year for singles and up to $390 per year for couples combined. What that means for a typical family—say, mum, dad and two kids aged six and nine—is that if one parent is earning $52,500 per year and the other parent is working part time and earning $22,500 a year, the family will get an extra $175 in government payments and a $982 tax cut. So in total that family receives about $1,150 a year extra as a result of these bills—the bills that are before the House now that the opposition will oppose.

That is over $600 over and above—on top of—any average expected price impact on that family. That $600 can sit in the bank and people can call on it if they should need it or families can use that $600 to perhaps upgrade to a newer model refrigerator or to perhaps upgrade to newer heating appliances that are more energy efficient. They can reduce their energy consumption further using the improvements in their tax rate and the payments that they are receiving from the government.

It is important to point out that this is in stark contrast to the subsidy for big polluters policy of those opposite. Not only do those opposite want to take back these tax cuts and not only do they want to take back these increased pensions and increased family payments but also the Leader of the Opposition wants those same families to pay from their pockets through the tax system subsidies to big polluters, with no guarantee that any of those subsidies will lead to better pollution outcomes. Those opposite talk about the bureaucracy that is involved in pricing carbon. What kind of bureaucracy is involved in picking winners when it comes to subsidies for big polluters? Is that just going to happen by committee? Are they going to work it out among themselves, are they? The typical Liberal Party answer to everything: take it out of the pockets of hardworking families and put it into the pockets of big business. The trouble is that the Leader of the Opposition is too gutless to admit that his policy takes $1,300 a year from the pockets of ordinary families and pays it to big polluters.

It would be terrific if just for once the Leader of the Opposition did not put big polluters ahead of families. If he put families first, it would be terrific. It would be terrific if the Leader of the Opposition put the needs of small business and the retirement incomes of ordinary Australians before the needs of the big mining companies. It would be terrific if the Leader of the Opposition put the needs of potential future smokers ahead of the needs of big tobacco. It would be terrific if the Leader of the Opposition thought a little bit about problem gamblers rather than about the gambling industry. But we are not seeing that. What we are seeing is constant opposition.

The Australian public needs to understand that this policy will see continued economic growth and continued jobs growth and environmental outcomes that are the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road by 2020 with emissions reductions of at least 159 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020 from where they would have been under a business as usual scenario. I commend the bills to the House.