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Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Page: 843

Senator CAROL BROWN (3:53 PM) —I rise today to speak on the matter of public importance motion and to counter some of the claims made by those opposite. Firstly, let us be very clear right from the start: when the Prime Minister outlined the proposed carbon price mechanism last week she made it clear that this is an essential economic reform, and that it is the right thing to do. If we delay now we risk being left behind as the global economy transitions towards a low-pollution economy. It is a public policy responsibility to respond to the findings of the overwhelming majority of scientists on climate change. The scientific evidence is clear and we will act on it.

Placing a carbon price on pollution is the cheapest and fairest way to cut emissions. A price on carbon is essentially a price on pollution, and this is the most effective way to transition to a clean energy economy. The Australian economy is an emissions-intensive economy. The method of pricing carbon is the best way to encourage businesses to stop polluting and to get them to invest in clean energy.

As part of the renewed focus on clean energy, the Labor government have proposed a two-stage process for a carbon price mechanism. Firstly, we will start with a fixed price period of between three and five years. After this time we will transition to an emissions trading scheme. If the government are able to negotiate an agreement with the majority of both houses of parliament and to pass legislation on putting a price on carbon it is our intention to start the scheme on 1 July 2012.

I will point out to those opposite, and this goes right to the crux of today’s MPI motion, that every cent raised by placing a price on carbon will go to households, to businesses and to tackling climate change. We have been very clear right from the start: a carbon price will impact prices on certain goods and services. This is the whole point of a market mechanism; it sends a signal and markets respond. The carbon price will be paid by businesses that emit large amounts of pollution.

But what is disappointing is the disingenuous scare campaign coming from those opposite relating to the impacts for consumers. Over the past few days we have heard political scaremongering and mistruths from those opposite. They have been employing fear tactics of the highest order. This is exactly what we have come to expect from those opposite, because after all they are a party with a leader who is now a renowned climate change sceptic. For those opposite, it is worth remembering that under the leadership of the Hon. John Howard, who many would deem to be a fairly conservative member of the Liberal Party—indeed, I believe he is a fairly conservative member of the Liberal Party—those opposite actually had a climate change policy in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election. It placed a price on carbon through an emissions trading scheme.

Those opposite also had an agreement with the government to place a price on carbon before the sceptics, led by the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, and Senator Abetz, took over the leadership of the party and reneged on the deal. With the climate change sceptics reigning supreme in the Liberal Party we are faced with this political point-scoring and fearmongering. It is not helpful in the debate and it does nothing but alarm people unnecessarily. But it is hardly surprising those opposite have opted to take this low road.

We will ensure households receive assistance to cope with the changes that a carbon price brings. For those opposite to lecture this government on cost of living is beyond belief. In our time in government we have done more to ease the cost-of-living pressures faced by households than those opposite ever contemplated in their decade of government.

We have reduced the tax burden on families—not once, not twice but three times. We have abolished Work Choices, increased the pension, increased the childcare rebate and introduced the education tax refund. All of these initiatives were delivered within our responsible fiscal rules. We are also pressing ahead with new initiatives to combat the cost-of-living pressures; that is why we are delivering an increase of $4,000 in family tax benefit part A, extending the education tax refund to uniforms, giving the option for families to receive childcare rebate payments fortnightly and introducing paid parental leave for mums and dads.

We also understand that central to dealing with the cost-of-living pressures on working Australians is the government’s plan for a stronger economy, because a stronger economy means more jobs and better wages. Nothing could be more apparent than this government’s commitment to tackling cost-of-living pressures, and for those opposite to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.

Let us be clear why we have announced our intention to place a price on carbon, as the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency highlighted in the other place yesterday:

Climate scientists are telling governments all over the world that carbon pollution is contributing to climate change. The scientific consensus is overwhelming and the government respects the climate science. A government in that circumstance has a public policy responsibility to act upon that advice in everyone’s interests and we simply need to make a start in reducing carbon pollution in our economy.

It is the responsible action for our government to place a price on carbon; we have delayed for too long. We must act now. If we do not act, Australia risks being left behind. This will hurt the Australian economy and cost Australian jobs. There has been too much uncertainty for too long. Businesses need certainty so they can plan for the future and maximise the opportunities that will rise from this reform. And this is what we are doing; we are stating our intention to price carbon, to give businesses some certainty.

And what are the opposition doing? I will tell you. Those opposite, led by Mr Abbott, have taken a reckless position and are threatening to wind back our price on carbon. As the Prime Minister has said:

… the Leader of the Opposition has confirmed that he now holds the most reckless political position taken by a national leader in the last 15 years. After we have priced carbon, given businesses certainty and households assistance, he is committed to ripping all of that up—the most reckless political position taken by a national leader in 15 years.

At a time when we are providing businesses with certainty and taking action on climate change, Mr Abbott and those opposite want to tear it all down. If we delay any longer we will miss the boat. The global economy is already shifting to a clean economy. Thirty-two countries and 10 US states are already moving towards an emissions trading scheme.

Australia has the highest emissions per capita in the developed world—even higher than the United States. It is our responsibility to take action now. If we do not act we risk Australian businesses and households being left behind. The global economy is already moving to cut pollution, and if we are left behind it will hurt our economy and cost jobs. We have already had positive research released by the Climate Institute about the job creation prospects of pricing carbon. The facts and the science are clear: the benefits of taking action on climate change in the immediate future far outweigh continual delay. The Labor government has always been committed to taking action on climate change.

On the other hand, Mr Abbott is taking a reckless and irresponsible position. As the Prime Minister highlighted on radio and in parliament, Mr Abbott is sending a terrible signal to international markets that Australia is a risky place to invest. By saying he will repeal a carbon tax, Mr Abbott is damaging our international reputation. This is a dreadful position to be taking. It is particularly concerning for businesses that have made decisions to invest in Australia based on a carbon price, especially in the energy sector where we want to see clean energy investment.

Whilst Mr Abbott maintains that position now, who knows what his position will be in the coming months? In the short time of just 2½ years Mr Abbott has had at least eight different positions on climate change. Mr Abbott has flipped-flopped all over the place between support for an emissions trading scheme and his statement of absolute climate change denial. Only the Labor government has a plan to cut pollution and to begin to tackle climate change. Even the former Leader of the Opposition, the Member for Wentworth, Mr Turnbull said:

… politics is about conviction and a commitment to carry out those convictions. The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is ‘crap’ and you don’t need to do anything about it.

This highlights that Mr Abbott is a climate change denier; he does not believe in the science and has no plan to tackle climate change. The government do have a plan for the future, and we want to give businesses and households certainty. All Mr Abbott wants to do is partake in a scare campaign to score political points. (Time expired)