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Thursday, 11 February 2010
Page: 1153

Mr BEVIS (10:45 AM) —Every bill that comes before this parliament is important in its own way, but just rarely—just occasionally—we have bills before us the importance of which goes well beyond the current moment. The bill before us today is one of those. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 is not just a bill that is important for the here and now. This is one of those occasions where, in the years to come, our children will ask us what we were doing and what we did about this when we had the opportunity. Our grandchildren will ask us those questions. This is one of those rare occasions when the nation needs and expects those of us in this place—all of us, but especially those in leadership roles—to demonstrate that leadership and to demonstrate some statesmanship qualities.

For a while last year, it appeared that that might be the case. Sadly, that all fell apart on 1 December last year, when, by the slenderest of majorities, those opposite decided to jettison that approach in rebuffing the then Leader of the Opposition and taking a completely different course. Until a couple of months ago—December of last year—there was bipartisan support for this package of bills. Looking back on that, it seems as though the trust the government placed in some of those opposite involved in those negotiations and agreements was not justified. Perhaps last year the government should have focused on a public campaign rather than relying on the word of many of those opposite. But we did take the senior Liberal spokespeople at their word. Sadly, that has been proven to have been a mistake. Those opposite could not honour their word.

The agreement that was reached between the government and the Liberal and National parties has been dishonoured by a majority of those opposite. I am reminded of the words of the shadow Treasurer, the member for North Sydney, Joe Hockey, on 1 December last year. He said:

The Government put on the table a deal. We accepted that deal. I sought to honour that deal.

That was true of the member for North Sydney on 1 December last year. Sadly, it is not the case for the member for North Sydney today, it would seem. Certainly it is no longer the case for a majority of those opposite. It is a harsh criticism to level at anybody, and I would not level it at all those opposite, because I know there are members on the opposition benches who still hold this matter to be important, but precious few of them appear willing to actually vote according to their conscience and best judgment. When you look back on those days in November and December last year, amazingly it does seem as though the Liberal Party was hijacked by the member for O’Connor, Wilson Tuckey, and the National Party senator Barnaby Joyce. Who would have thought that possible? But that appears to have been the outcome when you look back on the events in November and December.

But let me move to the bills before the House, because they are important bills. I wish, indeed, that we could go further. I wish that there had been more progress made at Copenhagen, because I would like to have seen us, as citizens of this world and as leaders in this country, go beyond where we are at the moment. But the government has been responsible and correct in putting these bills before the parliament in the context of the various pressures, both here and abroad, that we confront.

At the core of these bills is a cap-and-trade system. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and similar schemes referred to as ETSs—emissions trading schemes—all rely on a cap-and-trade principle. I just want to outline very briefly what that means. The cap puts an upper limit on how much carbon pollution Australia can produce. The government issues a number of permits equal to that cap. The government then reduces the limit or the cap in the years ahead, reducing the amount of carbon pollution that is produced in our country. The cap takes into account a range of factors, including our international obligations, economic conditions and what other countries are doing. Once the cap has been set, large polluters that want to continue to produce carbon pollution will have to pay for the permits. Organisations can then buy and sell these permits from each other. The more carbon pollution a firm produces, the more it has to pay. The financial incentive is there for every company to produce less pollution and thereby pay less. It is a simple system. It is one that is used or being pursued by 30 countries in the world and, indeed, already a number of states in the United States of America—notably the large-economy states on the west coast—and some of the Canadian provinces.

It was a point well understood by the member for Wentworth when he spoke so eloquently in this House a couple of days ago. He said:

I note that the government does not set the price of carbon; it sets the cap on emissions and the rules of the scheme, and then it is up to the market, the laws of supply and demand, to set the price. It does not give quotas to particular industries or firms. The cap is across the economy and is set at a level of emissions which will over the relevant period enable us to meet our target. These permits can be purchased from the government or from other permit holders, or can be offset by purchasing a carbon credit from someone, like a farmer, who is taking action which reduces atmospheric carbon.

The member for Wentworth got it right, and nearly half of those opposite agreed with him only a matter of weeks ago. Today they falsely stand in this parliament and say that this is the wrong course to follow, whereas only a little while ago they stood behind their then leader and supported it.

It is important to understand that by selling those permits the government will raise a substantial amount of money from the big polluters, so those who want to pollute will have to pay in order to be able to continue that pollution. The government then takes that money, under our scheme, and gives it to householders to ensure that they do not bear the brunt of increased costs.

I want to go through some of the detail of that compensation: 8.1 million Australian households—that is, nine out of 10 households in this country—will receive direct cash assistance under the CPRS package before us; 2.9 million low-income householders are going to be fully compensated; and all pensioners and carers of people with a disability are going to be compensated. Even 3.6 million middle-income households will receive direct cash assistance, and about half of those will be fully compensated. I give the example of a family earning $100,000 with a fifty-fifty income split, two children aged 10 and 13—they will receive more than full compensation. So the government takes the money from the big polluters and assures that ordinary Australians are compensated so they do not bear the cost. That is a fair, sensible, balanced, socially responsible scheme.

It is also recognised that the CPRS not only cuts emissions but helps support jobs today and into the future. It assists in creating those low-pollution jobs of the future. There is no doubt that, in the course of the next decade, the global economy is going to move in this direction. As a nation we have a choice, not just for the environmental imperatives but for the economic sense of it. We can take up the opportunities now and be at the front of that, engaging in those new industries—in the development of them, in the export of them—or we can hang around and have to face this decision in three, five, seven years down the track and end up importing those technologies from overseas. I know which one of those two options I prefer. I know which one of those two options will give my children and grandchildren the best possible chance of a high-value, decent job with a good quality of living.

The CPRS scheme provides incentives and support for businesses to get engaged in these new industries. It establishes the Climate Change Action Fund to assist small businesses to invest in those new energy efficiencies. It provides a Clean Business Australia program to help increase the energy efficiency of our buildings and large manufacturing processes. And it establishes the Australian Carbon Trust to link public and private funding to help businesses invest. Again, the member for Wentworth, just a couple of days ago, recognised this very point. He said:

An Australian emissions trading scheme, with a carbon price set by the market, would improve business investment certainty. This is particularly the case for projects with a high degree of carbon risk. There is growing evidence that investments are being deferred due to uncertainty about the future cost of addressing climate change.

That very uncertainty is being fuelled by the stupidity of those opposite in adopting the negative approach to this legislation that they are. The member for Wentworth also said in that speech:

Without a clear signal on future carbon costs, these investments will not be optimised.

And that is the position that Australian businesses are in today. They need not have been in that position, had one more Liberal decided to support Mr Turnbull instead of turning their back on the future and going back to the dark ages of the past in the vote with Mr Abbott.

So who else in this debate shares the view of the government—and, until December, about half of those opposite? Support for taking action sooner rather than later is evidenced around the world. I just want to quote a couple. Many have heard of the Stern review, but I guess that, while they have heard the name ‘Stern’, they do not know who Nicholas Stern was. It is worth recording his background. Nicholas Stern was the World Bank’s chief economist. He was the head of the United Kingdom’s economic service and he was also a professor at the London School of Economics. He said many things that are compelling about the need to act early, for economic as well as environmental reasons. One of the things he said was:

… taking strong action to reduce emissions must be viewed as an investment, a cost incurred now and in the coming few decades to avoid the risks of very severe consequences in the future.

It is an investment in the future. We do need to take up that opportunity. I never thought I would quote John Howard positively on anything—but, I have to say, if you are around here long enough, just about everything comes full circle. Prior to the 2007 election even John Howard promised:

Australia will move towards a domestic emissions trading scheme—

that is, a cap-and-trade system—

beginning no later than 2012.

Even Tony Abbott, I might say, in October last year said:

… that’s why I think it makes sense to have an ETS.

His position in October was very different to the one he has today.

I understand there is other business before the House. I will endeavour to conclude very shortly. I just want to draw a quick comparison between the two schemes. Mr Abbott’s proposal clearly does not work in dealing with carbon pollution. It does not place any cap on carbon pollution. Indeed, the assessments in the last week by experts in the department show it increases pollution. It slugs taxpayers instead of the big polluters, so it is the taxpayers who are going to have to pay the bill to fund this money that is going to be handed out to the big end of town. Indeed, it is unfunded, so we do not know whether that money that is going to be given to the big end of town is going to come from cutting school or health funding, whether it is going to come from increased taxes or whether it is going to come from some combination of those.

I began by saying there are few bills that come before this parliament that are of such importance and significance. In the years to come many people, our children and our grandchildren, will ask us what our position was and what we did to address this matter. I very strongly support the package of bills before the House. I urge those opposite to reconsider their stance. I regret that circumstances of the House do not allow me to continue further. I support the bills.