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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1769

Mr STEPHEN JONES (6:32 PM) —The scientific evidence is clear: carbon pollution is contributing to climate change. Every government around the world is attempting to come to grips with the challenge, and no responsible government can afford to ignore it. The time for a-head-in-the-sand approach to this challenge expired long ago. As the highest per capita emitter of pollution in the world, Australia has an obligation to act. We cannot leave this challenge to the rest of the world or to future generations and ignore our own responsibility. Australia has to act by cutting pollution and driving investment in clean energy. This is an essential economic reform and it will require nothing less than a restructure of the Australian economy.

At the last federal election Australians voted for action on climate change, and the Gillard government is responding to that. Those opposite are carrying on like this is the biggest surprise of their lives and that they have previously never heard of putting a price on carbon. They are clearly ignorant of the fact that the final report of the Garnaut climate change review of 2008 outlined the options that are available for a responsible government to deal with climate change. They were either a carbon tax or some form of emissions trading scheme or a hybrid scheme of both.

It is time to end the political, petty bickering and to replace it with leadership that is in our long-term national interest, and Prime Minister Gillard is showing the way on this issue. The Prime Minister has outlined a two-stage plan for a carbon price mechanism that will start with a fixed-price period for three to five years before transitioning to an emissions trading scheme.

The Climate Institute’s report out today highlights the enormous opportunities that a clean energy future offers us. The report states:

Delays and half measures to tackle pollution and climate change will risk these new job and investment opportunities for Australia’s states and regions.

The report also states:

In 2010 global clean energy investments hit record levels at $243 billion and this is expected to accelerate in coming years.

Importantly, it says:

Australia lags in current investments and will fall further behind without action on pollution to stimulate clean energy uptake.

We agree. This is in line with what the government is saying. We know that a carbon price is the cheapest and fairest way to cut pollution and to build a clean energy economy. We also know that the Leader of the Opposition has had so many different positions on the issue of a carbon price that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Indeed, if a political Kama Sutra is ever published—and I know a lot of Australians do not like to think of these two concepts in the one sentence—it will have a photo of the member for Warringah on the front cover.

This is a remarkable achievement in a short space of time. We know that, like all on the coalition side, he supported the former Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to take an emissions trading scheme to the 2007 election. We also know that he supported at various times the passing of the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The member for Warringah is on record as saying that an emissions trading scheme was a sensible policy; he said this as lately as 4 October 2009. We also know that at some stage political opportunism set in and, in order to usurp the leadership of the member for Wentworth, the member for Warringah decided that climate change was, in his famous words, ‘complete crap’. At some stage, amongst all of these policy backflips, the Leader of the Opposition is also on record, as lately as 29 July 2009, supporting a carbon tax. Confusing and contradictory? I cannot think of any other way to characterise this, at least not in polite company.

All of this leads us to the current position, where the member for Warringah is once again opposed to a carbon price and, in partnership with his shadow minister for climate change, the member for Flinders, is trying to boot up a scare campaign. What we have heard since the Gillard government’s announcement is a scare campaign in full swing. We expect a lot more of it.

You would never believe that there was a time when those opposite believed in market mechanisms. The Liberal Party believed in the market. Indeed, they told us so for long enough, but not in this space. We now have a Liberal Party that has disowned the free market in favour of political opportunism. The coalition’s direct action policy is the most costly approach to climate change, and they have not yet answered the key question, which is: where will the funding for their policy come from? Direct action will not be environmentally effective, nor will it achieve the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that we need. It is inefficient, it has a high cost and it involves government picking winners to try to choose the right projects. It is the coalition’s high-cost policy that will cost Australian taxpayers dearly. These subsidies are nothing more than deferred taxes.

On this side of the chamber we know that the best way to stop business polluting and to get them to invest in clean energy is to charge them when they pollute. Only then will the businesses with the highest levels of pollution have a strong incentive to reduce their pollution. The government will then use every cent to assist households and families with their bills, to help businesses make the transition to a clean energy economy and, importantly, to tackle climate change. Putting a price on carbon is not a tax on Australian families, but it is a charge on pollution, and it is that economic reform that is going to be what drives us into a clean energy future.

The Gillard government is very conscious of the cost-of-living pressures facing families. The carbon prices will be paid by businesses that emit large amounts of pollution, and we acknowledge that this will have some price impacts for consumers. But, because we are a Labor government, we will ensure that any price impact is fair, and assistance will be provided to households. While decisions on factors such as the starting price and assistance arrangements have not yet been made, it is far too early to be talking about impacts, and anybody who does is clearly engaging in nothing more than speculation.

The government will propose that the carbon price commences on 1 July 2012, subject to the ability to negotiate agreement with a majority in both houses of parliament and pass legislation this year. The Gillard government is committed to beginning this vital economic transformation because it is in our long-term interests. Important decisions will be considered over the next few months regarding the detailed features of the carbon price mechanism, including the starting price, the length of the fixed price period and the assistance arrangements for households, communities and industry. This is going to be an important debate that we cannot allow to be given over to the scare campaigns being unleashed by those opposite. What is at stake is not only the future of our environment, the way we live in Australia, the future of our economy and whether we are able to drive the sorts of investments and incentives in clean energy futures, green jobs of the future and green industries of the future to transform our economy; it is also whether these important economic reforms can be driven through the current parliament and whether we have an appetite for the sorts of political and economic reforms that are going to transform our future.

The Australian public can be confident that these decisions will reflect Labor’s long-term commitment to the national interest and not short-term political interest. We have a will to fight this through to the very end. We will not bow to the scare campaign that is being unleashed by those opposite, because we know that it is in the interests of the country and in the interests of future generations that we take effective and efficient action on climate change. The need is now and the need is urgent. I commend the motion to the House.