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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 951


Senator BILYK (2:40 PM) —Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Can the minister explain to the Senate how the government plans to assist households in the transition to a low-carbon future?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I thank Senator Bilyk for her ongoing interest in these issues. The government believe climate change is real. We believe that taking action is absolutely essential to deal with that climate change. We all know that the most efficient way to tackle climate change and reduce pollution is to put a price on carbon. This is exactly what we have committed to do. We have always said in the Labor Party that we will help households as we make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Our highest priority will be helping individuals, pensioners and families. We will support those Australians who need help with increases in the cost of living, especially pensioners and other low-income earners. That has been a consistent position of this government throughout the debate on the response to climate change.

A carbon price is a price on pollution. It is the cheapest and fairest way to cut pollution and build a clean energy economy. The best way to stop businesses polluting and get them to invest in clean energy is to charge them when they pollute. The businesses with the highest level of pollution will have a very strong incentive to reduce their pollution. The government will then use every cent raised to assist families with household bills, to help businesses make the transition to a clean energy economy and to tackle climate change. The government’s resolve is clear: households will come first and assistance will be targeted at the people who need it most. That has been our policy both through the last term of government and through this term. We are looking to tackle climate change seriously and we are looking to make sure that any assistance that is available is directed primarily and firstly to households to help them make that adjustment.


Senator BILYK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate why it is important to assist households to make the transition to a low-carbon future?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —As I made clear, households are the government’s No. 1 priority. We are about putting a price on carbon so that big polluters pay and big polluters change their behaviour. We are not embarking on this policy path because we want to make it more expensive for households to make ends meet, but we are acknowledging that there will be an impact on prices. As John Howard and others have all recognised, you cannot have a serious debate about this issue without recognising that there will be impacts in the economy. You cannot pretend that that is not the case. We are not only engaging in what is a serious response to changes in our environment but also engaging in major economic reform that will benefit the economy in the long term, right down to the household level. It is important that, in doing that, governments have a focus on assisting those who most need assistance—households, particularly those of low-income earners and pensioners—to make sure that they are receiving that assistance. (Time expired)


Senator BILYK —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister also outline to the Senate why household assistance is a critical element of the government’s carbon price plan?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —We have made it clear that we recognise that the impact on households is a critical part of this response. We know that households need assistance as we make the transition to a low-carbon future. That is why we are focused on assisting them to respond. We are moving to a position where there is a penalty in the economy for big polluters. They will pay a price and that should impact on their behaviour. We know from international experience it will impact on their behaviour, but there are flow-on impacts in the economy that we will have to deal with. The government have made absolutely clear that our focus will be on assisting households to adjust to the changes in the economy, to assist families with household bills, to help businesses make the transition. These are the priorities we will apply to any revenue raised as part of the carbon pricing system. So we are very focused on making sure that households are assisted as we adapt to the changed environment. (Time expired)