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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 4012

Carbon Pricing

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (14:06): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. How will the government's plan to take action on climate change through pricing carbon see lower carbon pollution, more tax cuts and assistance for families and pensioners?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:06): I thank Senator Singh and congratulate her on her first question in this place.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, resume your seat. When there is silence on both sides we will proceed.

Senator WONG: As I said, I congratulate Senator Singh on her first question in this place. I am sure she will make an outstanding contribution to this place on behalf of her state and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. I am very pleased to take the opportunity to respond to the senator about why it is important for us to price carbon and why we must reduce pollution. The government plans to ensure we do this in a way that very much recognises Labor values.

As the Prime Minister has said, on Sunday the government will announce the full details of the carbon-pricing package. The government is pursuing a market mechanism for putting a price on pollution because this is the most effective way to reduce pollution. As we have approached the path of designing this package and the challenge of tackling climate change, as always we are guided by our Labor values of fairness and equity. That is why we have been working to ensure that in this package nine out of 10 households—some seven million households—get assistance through tax cuts or increases to payments or a combination of both. The vast majority of these households will not pay an additional cent as a result of pricing carbon. In addition, as we have made clear, we will put in place a buffer for three million low-income households of 20 per cent. We have made commitments to pensioners and to self-funded retirees who hold Commonwealth healthcare cards that they will also get assistance.

This is a big reform, but it is a necessary reform. It is important we price pollution so we can reduce it, it is important we price pollution so we can drive investment in clean energy and it is important we price pollution to recognise our responsibility for future generations. (Time expired)

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (14:09): I have a supplementary question, Mr President. Can the minister outline to the Senate the implications for the budget of taking a different approach to tackling climate change? Will these flow through to households?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:09): This is a major economic reform, an economic reform that will transform our economy, and like previous reforms those on this side will approach it in a fiscally responsible manner. We know of course that is not reflected in the policies of the other side. We know that the direct action plan promulgated by those opposite is, as Mr Turnbull says, a recipe for fiscal recklessness.

Senator Joyce interjecting

Senator WONG: Senator Joyce, that is what Mr Turnbull describes your policy as. As Mr Abbott himself admitted on 7.30 last night, the coalition's plan will be a hit on the budget. It will cost some $30 billion funded out of the budget, funded out of higher taxes—$720 per household in this country. That is the fiscally reckless plan promulgated by the opposition. (Time expired)

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (14:10): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. Can the minister outline to the Senate what support, if any, she has seen for taking an alternative approach to tackling climate change?

Senator Joyce interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce! Yes, that is you. There is no need to look behind.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:11): There is very little support for the opposition's alternative plan. In fact, even within the opposition there is very little support for this alternative plan. We heard Senator Joyce himself making it very clear publicly that the opposition's plan would be ineffective. Unlike the government's policy, which has been supported by many leading economists—and I note a price on carbon was supported by, amongst others, former Liberal leader John Hewson—not a single economist of any reputation supports the opposition's scheme. Do you know why, Mr President?

Senator Ian Macdonald: What about the 60 per cent of Australians?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator WONG: The Liberal Party used to believe in market mechanisms, but that legacy has long gone. The reason for it is clear: Mr Abbott will always put politics over policy; pragmatism over policy every time. (Time expired)