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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11426

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (16:33): Earlier this afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition suggested that the carbon price would lead to a trillion dollars being lost. I have to refer the Leader of the Opposition and members opposite to the comments of Sir Nicholas Stern, who has said:

… the economic cost of inaction … would far exceed the economic cost of action—

so it is absolutely pointless to talk about whether we will lose this amount or that amount if you do not take into account the alternative.

If we are considering how well qualified the Leader of the Opposition is to make such an observation, we need to ask ourselves: how much does he actually understand about carbon dioxide and the climate change debate more broadly? In July he described carbon dioxide as an 'invisible, odourless, weightless, tasteless substance'. Apparently, carbon dioxide is some kind of 'damned elusive Scarlet Pimpernel', impossible to find or capture, and the clean energy regulator is engaged in an exercise in futility. Yet, just 11 days earlier the Leader of the Opposition had said that both the government and the opposition accept that Australia should reduce its emissions by five per cent by 2020. How are we going to reduce emissions of something that is, according to the Leader of the Opposition, weightless—

Mr Ewen Jones interjecting

Mr KELVIN THOMSON: And that was an exercise in futility! Indeed, he was a minister when the Howard government passed legislation requiring businesses to report their CO2 emissions. If carbon dioxide is weightless and as elusive as he claims and if chasing it is an exercise in futility, why on earth did a government of which he was a member require businesses to measure, monitor and report it? The Howard government's National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 established a national framework for reporting greenhouse gas emissions by corporations. The reporting framework required, by 2010-11, approximately 700 companies that emit more than 50 kilotonnes of greenhouse gases to be involved. If carbon is weightless, as the Leader of the Opposition claims, what on earth was the Leader of the Opposition doing requiring businesses to monitor and report their emissions?

The Leader of the Opposition is also of the view that tackling greenhouse gases is an exercise in futility because other countries, according to him, are not doing likewise. For example, he said:

There is no way that America is going to put a price on carbon anytime soon. There is no way that the Chinese and the Indians are going to put a price on carbon until their peoples have a comparable standard of living to those of the advanced Western world.

The reality is very different. Ten American states including New York have already put a price on carbon pollution from their electricity generators. California, the world's eighth largest economy, will start a carbon trading scheme in 2012. China has announced that it will introduce emissions trading commencing in key cities and provinces including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, and India has introduced a clean energy tax on coal. These are just a couple of examples of the Leader of the Opposition's total lack of interest in climate change detail. He also said:

Under the Clean Energy legislation, the Climate Change Authority will not set emissions limits or caps. It will make recommendations to the Government. The Government will set the caps through regulations. These will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and disallowance.

The Leader of the Opposition was wrong again. He cannot maintain a position on climate change for more than five minutes. In July he said, 'I've never been in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.' In fact, he was a senior minister in the Howard government that went to the 2007 election with a policy of introducing an emissions trading scheme. He also said previously, in July 2009, 'I think that if you want to put a price on carbon, why not just do it with a simple tax?' Furthermore, he said, 'Climate change is real, humanity does make a contribution to it and we've got to take effective action against it. I mean, that's my position and that's always been my position.' Not true! It has not always been his position. The member for Wentworth said he is a self-described weathervane on this issue.

More seriously, the Leader of the Opposition has tried to scare pensioners. He said, 'The compensation to pensioners is temporary. The tax is permanent.' Wrong again. The fact is that the Gillard government will provide permanent increases in pensions and benefits. There will be lump sum payments from May-June 2012 followed by increases in fortnightly payments from March 2013. Pensions, allowances and family benefits will then keep pace with the cost of living as they are indexed in line with the consumer price index.

He has misled the House over electricity prices, saying:

… the Western Australian Treasury modelling predicts that Western Australian households within three years will be paying more than $2,120 a year for power compared with $1,515 a year now.

In fact, the Western Australian modelling that he referred to actually estimates the average increase in household electricity bills due to the carbon price to be $111 a year—just over $2 a week. The impact on electricity prices is taken into account in the government's household assistance package. So he is wrong again. He has been misleading about other prices as well. He said:

… according to the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association the price of a new house will go up by at least $5,000 under a carbon tax.

In fact, this estimate was produced before carbon price policy was announced. It assumes no industry assistance, which means that it significantly exaggerates the impact of a carbon price on housing construction. In fact, the government is providing $9.2 billion of assistance to manufacturers of building materials, shielding these products from 94.5 per cent of the carbon price. He has been misleading about jobs. He said:

There will be 45,000 jobs lost in energy-intensive industries. There will be 126,000 jobs lost mainly in regional Australia.

In fact, the modelling by Treasury and other sources has consistently shown that the economy will continue to grow strongly under a carbon price, with 1.6 million extra jobs being created by 2020.

He has been misleading about industry impacts generally. He said that 'the carbon tax ultimately spells death for the coal industry'. In fact, Treasury modelling of the former CPRS showed that with a carbon price in place coal industry output would grow by 66 per cent by 2050—hardly the death of the industry. As well as misleading the public about the industry impacts, he has misled the Australian public over the budgetary impacts. He said, 'When people buy their carbon permits abroad, what will happen to the Australian government is that they won't be able to afford the carbon compensation after 2015.' In fact, the government will sell a fixed number of carbon permits each year to big polluters. This is where the revenue will come from. There will be no reduction in revenue due to the international linking. So he is wrong again.

Moving to a clean energy future will provide new economic opportunities for Australian workers. Jobs will continue to grow under carbon pricing; they will be created in new and fast-growing clean industries such as renewable energy, carbon farming and sustainable design. These new industries will help to improve Australia's international competitiveness. I believe Australians are hungry for action to tackle carbon emissions. This is certainly true of my electorate, where thousands of citizens belong to GetUp! and other local groups. I am certain that the climate change challenge is not going to go away. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and wish it away. We must press on with this work. I believe that future generations are going to judge us on our performance over this issue.

One side of politics is prepared to face up to its responsibilities. The other side opportunistically wants to kick the problem down the road and leave it to someone else to fix. It is a shocking abdication of responsibility, and the opposition stands condemned for it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The discussion is now concluded.