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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11320

Mr FORREST (Mallee) (09:04): I am pleased to have an opportunity to put my thoughts on the Clean Energy bills on the record. The Clean Energy Bill, and the accompanying bills, being rammed through parliament by this government defy all that Australians see as fair and honest. In addition, they simply do not make sense. In my view, this debate is not necessarily about climate change itself but how to tackle and manage it. It is the way we tackle the emissions that are alleged to be the culprit that is in dispute here today in the parliament.

My position on climate change is quite clear, and always has been. I have been putting forward motions before this place from as far back as the mid-1990s indicating my concern about the impacts of climate change. In the mid-1990s I expressed concern about the impacts of climate change, particularly in regard to precipitation, especially in my electorate. I have been proposing ameliorative measures for years: scientifically based precipitation enhancement research and piping the efficient Wimmera-Mallee domestic water supplies, just to mention a couple of initiatives that I have promoted. I think it is very sad that in indicating opposition to these bills one is immediately labelled as a climate change sceptic. This is simply not the case, and I reject the proposition if it is made about the member for Mallee.

There are several positions about climate change. One is that the climate of this fragile planet has always been changing, and there is plenty of evidence of that. In some instances this climate change has been quite dramatic, even cataclysmic. The second position is that the current phase of change is caused by human activity and therefore we can have an impact on it if we change our ways, particularly our prolific consumption of energy. I believe that a realistic position is somewhere between these two propositions. Then there is debate in the scientific community about what is causing these changes. This is where the debate gets much more controversial.

Every day my office is bombarded with positions from both points of view about carbon. Thankfully, I have a masters degree in science and I therefore understand the scientific process and have the capacity to make some sense of it all. Science requires that a proposition gets put and then a line of research is undertaken to test the particular hypothesis. In this set of circumstances this can be undertaken by computer mathematical modelling, which is extremely difficult when you are dealing with the vagaries of the weather. The mathematical variables are considerably immense. In my own masters degree research I undertook mathematical modelling, using a computer, and had a lot of difficulty getting the boundary conditions which control the mathematics to give stable mathematical solutions. It therefore does not alarm me that the results from this modelling inspire such vigorous discussion, even amongst scientists. However, I come down on the position of the benefit of the doubt. I am convinced, however, that much more effort needs to be undertaken to understand what is happening precisely and whether carbon is the great bogeyman it is made out to be. In the meantime I accept the need to address the changing of our ways.

Regardless of the merit or otherwise of the arguments for carbon abatement, this issue of a new tax must be put before the electorate, in a democracy as rich as we have in Australia. This is my first response. And I am committed to the concept that it was immoral for the Prime Minister to engage in prevarication during the last election with her oft-quoted statement: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'—only then to turn around and introduce this legislation. This is of great concern to my constituents, and it is not a fine leadership example for future generations. So much so, and so oft-quoted is this, that some people in my electorate now have, as their mobile phone ringtone, that message: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. It appals me that this kind of behaviour reflects badly on all of us in this place, that the public have got to the point where they cannot trust us to be persons of our word.

I remember when John Howard made his comment during the 1996 election about the coalition's intention of introducing a GST. He used the term 'never ever'. And how the other side taunted him over that. It is true, though, that he did change his mind, in the national interest, believing that to move to a broad based consumption tax which gave opportunity for growth income for governments was a badly needed area of reform. The difference with John Howard was that he had the courage to put it to the Australian people at an election. I remember that campaign. I remember all the hard work I had supporting such an initiative myself and explaining it to the Australian people. A mandate was sought and a mandate was achieved. This is the exact opposite to what this government has done. These bills should be deferred until that kind of process is engaged in, and the Australian people can be involved.

Australia has made great advances in emissions reduction, and there is widespread concern that this legislation will actually slow down our progress in making our environmental footprint smaller. The world has had a good default position on emissions, particularly over the past 30 years. That has seen more effective waste management, the removal of CFCs, and greater efficiency in power generation, motor vehicles and whitegoods, with compulsory energy ratings. It is working and great gains have been made.

In my own electorate we have the prospect of the largest photovoltaic solar power station in the world. I am always impressed with our farmers, for example, with their adoption of satellite technology and no-till practices that have reduced fuel and chemical use. Some have gone further and are boosting soil carbon using their engine emissions, and there are also plans by local government to utilise pyrolysis technology in waste management in my electorate to produce biofuels and biochar. The technology works, and it is short-sighted to make an assumption that all Australians are environmental vandals. What must be understood also is that Australian farmers are price-takers and unable to pass on the costs associated with the carbon tax. And I note there is no compensation proposed, so I am concerned about the position of my primary producers.

This legislation, with its associated financial and social engineering, will kill important industries and change the way every Australian lives and works. Food, power, fuel and transport will all cost more because this tax will be embedded right through our national economy. And this is deliberate. It is a market driven mechanism to change the way we behave, we are told—yet most of these bills before us today deal more with compensation. In her speech to the bills, the Prime Minister said around 40 per cent of the revenue raised by carbon pricing will go to assisting emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. However, she also said the bulk of the money raised will be used to fund tax cuts, pension increases and higher family payments.

On one hand the government argues it needs a market driven mechanism to drive us all to change—deliberately to put up the price of electricity, in fact—but on the other hand most of this legislation is about compensation which removes that very mechanism. I submit that a new tax will make it harder for the Australian economy and the Australian people to bring about change. Reducing emissions requires investment, not a tax that is to be redistributed as a sop to the Australian populace in a bid to sell what is becoming the greatest con job in our history. Indeed, I have seen no guarantee the promised household compensation will continue beyond 2015-16, in line with the expected increases in the carbon price. And I have seen no guarantee, even from the government's own modelling, that carbon emissions will reduce with this tax. By the government's own document, emissions are actually going to increase from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes by 2020. So why are we doing this? The government's ambition for wealth redistribution will in fact negate the merit of any market driven emission reduction scheme that may have looked to have been a good idea in the first instance. The Prime Minister also made reference to the judgement of history. History will, in fact, judge this carbon tax as a huge impost on our Australian economy at the very time when it is not needed and more so when we have to export our hard-earned cash to buy carbon credits from possibly some dodgy overseas seller. As an Australian, I am embarrassed that such a Heath Robinson bit of legislation, not guaranteed to have a positive outcome, could be devised and rammed through the parliament. Even the parliamentary committee that reviewed the legislation chose to ignore the immense amount of evidence and submissions faithfully written by people opposed to the timing or the very principle of the tax itself. I believe it is being pushed through the chamber by enthusiastic dreamers who are out of touch with reality and think that at the end of the day they will be judged as heroes. The contrary will be the fact. My contention is that this legislation will leave a legacy that will plunge this nation into economic lethargy for many years to come. Let us be practical in our approach to this challenging topic and not be dreamers. We need to ensure that the Australian economy can continue to grow while we tackle these challenging issues.

What happened to the innovative, practical and thoughtful place that this parliament used to be? Somebody said that if you follow this government's money trail you will find a government that cannot run a business. Higher taxes do not create jobs; in fact, the roll-on effect will be that wages will take a massive hit as unemployment rises and there is less industry capacity to pay as manufacturing in particular goes offshore.

I am also yet to learn what these thousands of green jobs that we hear so much about might entail. Earlier in this debate the Leader of the Opposition questioned government modelling that suggested the carbon tax was going to create green jobs. He told of Victorian government modelling by Deloitte and Access Economics that showed that 23,000 jobs would be lost by 2015 as a result of the carbon tax. Treasury modelling by the former New South Wales Labor government indicated that 31,000 jobs would be lost by 2030 due to the tax. Another study found that Queensland's gross state product will drop by 2.76 per cent by 2020 and other equally terrifying statistics. The opposition leader also drew parliament's attention to a United Kingdom study released in March this year that found for every renewable energy job created 3.7 existing jobs were lost. It was similar in Spain and other European countries.

It is very clear that Australia will be exporting jobs as this carbon tax hits the bottom line of our manufacturing and farming communities because our commodities and manufactured goods will become more expensive while imports will be cheaper. It is already tough with the high Australian dollar. We have seen that with companies like BlueScope Steel. We have seen the struggle that Australian primary producers endure. We have frozen peas from overseas in our supermarkets. A carbon tax on top will lead to even more hardships.

I would urge the government members in here to put this legislation off. Defer it and put it to the Australian people. How much worse this type of thing will become. If government members are right, they should have the courage and the confidence to put it to the Australian people and have a forthright discussion about it. Australians at the moment feel very frustrated that their appeals are not being heard. They are being blocked from having their say. Government members should call an election and seek a mandate, as the coalition parties did with the GST back in 1998. Put it to the Australian people; seek a mandate. If the government members are so convinced that this is right, they should put it to the people.

My conviction is that Australians do not need to be driven and bludgeoned into activity and action on this. Geothermal is gaining momentum and it will compensate for the lack of security of wind and solar. We understand that. Australians demand a very secure power system. Give the Australian people the opportunity and they will respond. They are responding. I say that this legislation should be put off until after an election. (Time expired)