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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8499

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (11:51): I rise to conclude the debate on the clean energy future legislation. It has been a long path to this day, a long path to get here. I start by thanking the many people who over many years served both Prime Minister Howard and in the last parliament and in this parliament served the government of the day to bring forward this policy and this legislation. I also say thanks to my personal staff in the last term who did so much work on the policy, much of which is reflected today. I want to particularly acknowledge the extraordinary work of Minister Combet and his team in the gallery today—a job extraor­dinarily well done. I also acknowledge the work of the Deputy Prime Minister but also, most importantly, the Prime Minister, who has had the courage and fortitude to deliver this reform. It is a reminder to this chamber that reform in this country is often opposed and that it requires leadership to deliver. Most of all I thank the members of the Australian community who in the face of the worst scare campaign we have seen in recent history have continued to say, 'Yes, we will act. Yes, we want to act.' I pay tribute to the many people—those here today and those beyond—who have turned their faces away from the fear and loathing campaign that Mr Abbott has engaged in.

Today marks the beginning of Australia's clean energy future and in a few moments we will commence voting on a package that delivers for future generations of Austra­lians. This is a historic moment. This is a historic reform, a reform long overdue, a reform which represents a clear divide in politics in this country between those who look to the future and those who are mired in the fear campaigns of today, those who speak to hope and optimism and those who want to drum up fear, those who want action on climate change and those who simply want to deny and oppose. We on this side accept the science. We accept the need to act. We also, like John Howard and Mr Turnbull, accept the advice of economists and accept that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient mechanism to reduce emissions.

This is a Labor government that is determined to get the big things done, to do what is right, to put the national interest first even when this is not an easy thing to do. I say to all of those in this chamber: this is a Labor reform, a reform that reflects Labor's belief that we have never secured the prosperity of this nation by looking backwards. We have never secured the prosperity of this nation by standing still. We have never secured the prosperity of this nation by shirking reform. If that were the case, we would never have done things such as floating the dollar. We would never have brought down tariffs and we probably would never have got rid of Work Choices, which Senator Abetz so strongly advocated. This is a party that delivers reform, even when it is hard, for the future of the nation.

We are putting forward the bills today in a package that is true to the progressive principles of our party, a party that is focused on creating jobs, a party that since being elected has seen over 700,000 jobs created in the Australian economy. This is a package that we know will increase jobs, and this is the set of facts the opposition cannot bear. We can grow jobs. We can grow our incomes. We can grow our economy and put a price on carbon. They can never accept those facts, as advised by Treasury, by experts, by economists and by scientists.

Labor is a party who supports working families, and that is why we have unashamedly prioritised working families in the assistance which forms part of the package before the parliament—tax reform that triples the tax-free threshold, makes tax cuts and increases payments. We are the party that looks after pensioners, a party that has delivered historic reform to the age pension, which we have added to in the package before the parliament. This is a Labor package, a significant economic reform but a reform that looks after working Australians as we move to a clean energy future, consistent with Labor principles.

I stood in this chamber some two years ago to watch the parliament fall short of the challenge that faced the nation. Today I stand here confident the parliament will rise to the challenge. We have been debating the need to put a price on carbon for many, many years. There have been some 37 parliamentary inquiries since 1991. There have been policies on both sides, including policies from Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull, to put a price on carbon. We have been debating it and arguing it, but today we deliver.

It is important to remember why we are doing this and how this reform speaks to us about our responsibilities, because this is a reform not just for today but for tomorrow. It is a reform for our children. It is a reform that is about listening to the next generation and ensuring that their voices are not drowned out by the din of opposition and vested interests that we have seen on display today and in the months previously. It is a reform which recognises our need to act for the future.

We in this place do have an enormous responsibility and a great privilege, and it is of leadership. There is an onus on us to do what we believe is right for the nation today but also for the nation tomorrow. This is why this has always been such a difficult reform—because it is a reform where we are asking this generation of Australians to do something today in order to reduce the risk for future generations, in order to secure prosperity tomorrow, in order to build a different economy, a different set of jobs, a clean energy future. It has been a hard reform because they are asked today to do something for future generations, and that is why we have failed on so many occasions. It is to the credit of the senators in this chamber and of members in the other place that finally we have a parliament that is prepared to say: 'We will take responsibility. We recognise that we have the onus of acting not just for today. We recognise that we have a responsibility to people not yet born. We recognise that this is hard. We also recognise that this will be the subject of a ferocious fear campaign, but we should not be deterred.' It has taken us a long time to get here. Many people, including some from the other side, have worked hard to bring it to this point. Many people in departments across the government and personal staff as well as ministers have worked hard. What we are doing is ensuring that we fulfil the responsibility that is upon us in the chamber to look to the future. I commend the bills to the chamber.

The CHAIRMAN: The time allocated for consideration of the remaining stages of these bills has now expired.