Thursday, 21 November 2013
Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013, Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading
Sadly, today will be a very dark day in Australian history when we vote later on this Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013. It is quite Orwellian to have legislation before the chamber that will give polluters a licence to pollute, yet those opposite have the temerity to call it 'clean energy legislation'. Once this vote occurs today, the reality is that this side of the chamber—the side on the right side of history—will lose. We will have to take a step backwards, a regression. We all know the facts. No-one doubts them. The reality is that humankind is creating a change in the climate. Look at the C02 emissions and the parts per million—the Keeling Curve information. Those facts were not in dispute when I was first elected to this parliament back in 2007. Everyone elected at that time made a commitment to act on climate change. Today we are going to see a backward step. I hope that in years to come, in 20 or 30 years time, the grandchildren of those opposite will track them down to their retirement home and give them a good head butt and say: 'What were you thinking? You ignored the science, ignored the facts and ignored our future.'
I have a four-year-old son and an eight-year-old son. I have to look them in the eyes today and say, 'I am worth more than you.' I have to say to them that their children will not be worth as much as me. That is effectively what we will be doing today if we vote to support this repeal. The reality is that all Australians, and me as a Queenslander, are the highest emitters per person of any developed country in the world. My understanding is that Queensland is the worst state in Australia per person. That is why we need to make a serious change with clean energy legislation.
Let us look at the facts, not the hysteria we saw from Henny-Penny running around before the election. We have seen a 6.1 per cent decrease in emissions in the electricity sector which is the equivalent of 12 million tonnes. For the sake of the Prime Minister, I will clarify that: 12 million tonnes of C02 weighs 12 million tonnes. It is gas that is invisible to the naked eye. But I am assured by the scientists that 12 million tonnes of C02 weighs 12 million tonnes, which is the equivalent in layman's terms of taking about 3.5 million cars off the road.
The price that we put on pollution is working. But it does impact on people's wallets. That is the reality and we have never shied away from that. That is why we have called on people's better nature to understand that if we do not act to kerb emissions, the planet will pay a price, your children will pay a price, your grandchildren will pay a price and your great grandchildren will track down your names and say, 'Shame, shame, shame.'
The reality is that we are going to get another mechanism, this indirect inaction plan. It is untested. There is not one economist who says it will work. Scientists and farmers understand that there are serious concerns about it. When we questioned the bloke who did his thesis in this area about this, he said: 'We'll find soil carbon will work. That will deliver 85 million tonnes.' The science is out there on soil carbon. I think they are drifting into magic dirt territory if they think that soil carbon is going to be the only answer. Some experts are saying it could be as low as five to 10 million tonnes. In terms of planting trees, let us get real. You would have to plant the entire area of Victoria and Tasmania with trees to have that sort of offset. I am all for planting trees—I am a big fan of it—but let us get real. To get that sort of offset you would have to get rid of all the grazing land in Australia and put it under trees. To think that Liberal Party, the party created by Menzies, the man who believed in markets, would run away from a market mechanism and say, 'No, the public servants in Canberra will be able to get the best deal in terms of offsets.' With all due respect to those wonderful people in Canberra, a market is the most effective mechanism.
The other problem for those public servants is: all the low-hanging fruit has gone. Because we have had effectively a price on carbon for a year, all the great mechanisms have already been taken up. So these public servants are going to be scrabbling around. I can understand why it is a vagrant scheme, because there is no obvious means of support. No-one is able to say how it will work. I do not know how the free marketeers opposite are able to still cling to it when all the facts they have talked about have turned out to be a complete fabrication. That odour of mendacity about their election campaign has been exposed. The price of a lamb roast has actually gone down. They said the economy was going to come to a screaming halt. The last time I checked the stock exchange had gone up by about 33 per cent—a third—with a price on carbon. We always were committed to having a market price rather than a fixed price. That is the reality. In fact, I seem to recall we had a deal with the Leader of the Opposition at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, negotiated by the member for Groom. We had a deal until the leadership change.
We believe strongly that climate change is real. We do not just say it because it is politically expedient—which is what John Howard has revealed. He said it in 2007 because it seemed like it might get him some votes. Believe me, this is not something that is necessarily a vote winner but it is the right thing for the nation. Those opposite who have a heart and believe in science and believe in their children's futures know that that is the case. The market mechanism that we believe in would operate much more efficiently.
I am particularly worried about this commitment to our 2000 targets to be achieved under the indirect inaction plan, because both the Prime Minister and the minister responsible said, 'We will not put extra money in if indirect inaction does not achieve those targets.' It is almost like window-dressing of the worst kind if they are not prepared to put extra money in to reach those targets. The reality is: since the legislation came into effect on 1 July last year, carbon emissions have dropped 7.4 per cent. Renewable energy generation has surged 30 per cent, and more than 150,000 jobs have been created. I heard for three years that it was going to be the end of our economy. Hydro-electricity, gas and other renewable energies have also had a surge. The reality of this indirect inaction plan is that it will be a major stuff-up. It will not produce an emissions reduction. If we cannot go to climate change negotiations and say, 'We have done our bit', we cannot be the middle-power leader in this area—with our proud history of being a nation that leads the rest of the world, going back to Doc Evatt and the setting up the United Nations. I will even mention Billy Hughes after World War I. We have always been a middle power that has helped lead the world in terms of doing the right thing. The onus on us to do the right thing is even more severe because we are such a heavy per-person emitter.
This is populist politics of the very worst order. The appeal to people that 'You don't have to think of your neighbours' is very short sighted. The reality is that we are surrounded by islands. We are an island continent and we are surrounded by low-lying islands with lots of people. When sea levels start rising in the next five, 10, 15 or 20 years, where will they be heading? Will they just drown quietly, waving politely, saying, 'Tough luck for us?' No, of course they will head for higher land. And Australia, as a wealthy country, will be the first port of call. So it makes economic sense for us to do the right thing by our neighbours as quickly as possible. The reality is that we have higher wages in Australia. The best way to be competitive is not to lower wages but to have technological advances by investing in things like the NBN. Technological advances in a carbon-constrained economy means that we will be able to compete and lead our neighbours and the rest of the world. Instead of those scientists moving to China, India or one of the other countries that are investing so heavily in carbon pollution reduction, those businesses could operate here and we could be a world leader.
Obviously there are a million defence reasons that I would have been prepared to talk about a few weeks ago but, in the current climate, I will not talk about them. The reality is that it makes sense to do what we can to be able to look our neighbours in the eye and say, 'We know you are island nations and we are doing what we can to protect your environment. You could argue that we need to do it because there is a moral responsibility; however, for economic and defence reasons, we need to get this right. The policy that those opposite, who are on the wrong side of history, are going to vote on today will be a great individual item of shame for them when they look back on their political careers and note that on this day they voted against history, they voted against their children, they voted against their grandchildren. As I said at the start of my speech yesterday, it is like having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and they are only listening to the devil.
I rise today in this chamber to deliver on an election promise to get rid of the job destroying Labor-Green carbon tax that drove up the cost of living and operational costs for businesses for all Australians. I am speaking in support of and later voting for the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and the coalition government's commitment to abolishing Labor's carbon tax, the Clean Energy Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
From the outset, let me say that this bill is what the Australian public expected from this government: the scrapping of the carbon tax. The carbon tax was a bad idea and that is why I voted against it. The carbon tax was based on a lie and that is why I voted against it. The carbon tax has not been good for Australia nor my electorate of Paterson and that is why I voted against it. The carbon tax has massively increased the cost of living, it has forced the closure of businesses, it has killed off jobs, and it continues to create risk and uncertainty for industry and big and small business alike. That is why I voted against it. The world's biggest carbon tax has hit all of our industries particularly hard and given our overseas competitors a distinct price advantage in a price point competitive market. The former Labor government never understood that most of our industries, due to international competition, are price takers and not price setters. That is why I voted against it. The coalition government is committed to abolishing the carbon tax and will not stop until the job is done. That is why at the conclusion of this speech I will vote to repeal this insidious tax.
In repealing this legislation, the Clean Energy Act 2011 and five associated charges acts will be repealed and arrangements will be made to collect all of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 carbon tax liabilities. The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 will be amended, giving the ACCC new powers to monitor carbon-specific prices and place prohibitions on carbon-specific price exploitation and false or misleading representations, in relation to the carbon tax repeal. From July 2014, industry assistance schemes like the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, the Energy Security Fund and the Steel Transformation Plan will be wound up. Once the Climate Change Authority Act 2011 and Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act 2012 are repealed, we can then proceed with abolishing the Clean Energy Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Once these are repealed, the second round of personal income tax cuts, which were legislated to commence on 1 July 2015, can also be repealed and the tillage tax offset can be abolished. The bills also make minor amendments to related legislation by removing references to carbon units, prescribed international units and carbon tax reporting requirements.
The message is clear from the Australian people and businesses, get rid of the carbon tax, and that is what we are here today to do, determined to get the job done. Unlike Labor, we will not say one thing before an election, only to do the complete opposite once elected. Of course, I am referring to Labor's 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. By getting rid of the carbon tax, we will reduce the burden on families and businesses. If anyone here questions the pain families and business owners are feeling from this tax, they only need to look in their own electorates.
There are many real-life examples of businesses in and around my region and within my portfolio that have felt the effects of the carbon tax. I would like to share the pain that Labor have inflicted on them. I would like to tell you again about the Weathertex plant at Tomago, one of the oldest continuous employers in the region. It used to be called the Masonite factory but now produces Weathertex boards for both the domestic and international markets. It employs around 100 locals and generates $23 million in domestic sales and, importantly, $2 million in exports. The CEO told me that, even though the business has a negative carbon footprint, they were being slugged with a half a million dollars a year carbon tax bill across their coal, gas and electricity. As I have said before, what Labor did not understand, and still does not understand, is that many businesses like Weathertex are competing in price sensitive markets. Any increases in production costs make them less competitive, which means fewer sales and less Australian jobs.
Another example from my electorate I have talked about previously is the largest dairy owned by Dallas Clarke and based at Wallalong. It closed because the carbon tax made it unaffordable to continue trading. There were two significant factors for the closure. While the low cost of milk contributed, the main reason was the increase in electricity costs. Just the carbon tax increases alone in his electricity bill were $609 in July and $600 in August 2012, and that is not to mention the increases in the off-peak rates that have risen out of all proportion. Those that know something about the dairy industry know that they produce milk during the off-peak rate period. His power bills went up from $4,850 a month to $6,000 a month, making his business unsustainable. His milk prices dropped to around 45c per litre yet his electricity prices have increased out of sight.
It does not end there. Tailor Made Fish Farms at Bobs Farm have raised their concerns with me in the past that the carbon tax has been undermining their business. Tailor Made Fish Farms is a successful local business involved in innovative aquaculture and hydroponic technology, producing fish and vegetables for the domestic market and proven technologies for the international market. Tailor Made Fish Farms is the largest producer of barramundi in New South Wales and is internationally considered an industry leader in its field, consulting with companies in Australia and abroad. Affordable electricity is crucial for the ongoing viability of businesses like Tailor Made Fish Farms due to the very competitive and price-sensitive market. The fishing industry is an extremely price point sensitive market, largely being a price taker rather than a price setter. Without our intervention by abolishing this tax, this business would be forced to either absorb the additional carbon tax cost, thereby reducing profit margins, or pass on the cost to consumers, thereby reducing competitiveness and jeopardising jobs. These are real people I have been talking about—real people working hard to maintain a business, supporting families through employment, not the faceless men hiding behind the fictitious gold at the end of the rainbow that they believed the carbon tax would lead them to.
We are repealing the carbon tax because the carbon tax was based on a lie. It was a clear case of a dirty deal done dirt cheap just so that the Labor Party could stay in power—a dirty deal that sacrificed the economy of the nation so that they could stay in power. Labor were prepared to sell out a nation with a dirty deal done dirt cheap, just for their own political benefit. But this deal has not been cheap. In fact, it has been very expensive. And yet, from the rhetoric in their speeches and statements, the Labor Party are still not listening to the Australian people.
Families have paid the price, through increased electricity bills, and what have they had to sacrifice? The quarterly CPI figures released on 24 October 2012—the first since the carbon tax was introduced—saw a 15.3 per cent rise in electricity prices, with household gas and miscellaneous fuel prices seeing a 14.2 per cent rise. This was the largest quarterly increase ever, two-thirds of which, on average, came from the carbon tax. Business has paid the price. Labor squandered the hard-earned cash given to them by businesses and continued to raise the carbon tax. The carbon tax is estimated to have accrued $16 billion over two years, for no change in domestic emissions, and the former government's own figures showed that domestic emissions would rise to 637 million tonnes by 2020.
Australia's carbon tax of $24.15 per tonne currently covers around 370 liable entities across 60 per cent of total emissions in industry sectors such as electricity generation, industrial processes and off-road fuel users. We cannot let this squandering continue. Australian families and businesses need the carbon tax removed. Removal of the carbon tax will reduce cost-of-living pressures on households and businesses alike. Some examples of the benefits families will see include: on average, families will be $550 better off per year; average household electricity bills will be around $200 lower than they otherwise would be in 2014-15 with a $25.40 carbon tax; average household gas bills will be around $70 lower than they would otherwise be in 2014-15 with a $25.40 carbon tax; business compliance costs are expected to fall by around $87.6 million per annum as a consequence of repealing the carbon tax; and the costs of transporting in Australia will not increase because of fuel cost increases to do with the carbon tax in 2014.
Last year, I watched powerless as the Kurri Kurri aluminum smelter was forced to close its doors and leave hundreds of Hunter residents jobless. The carbon tax had forced up the company's energy bills and played a significant part in the decision to close its doors. Local businesses are struggling.They are doing it tough. We just cannot afford another local business like this to close its doors. I am now in a position to remove this tax, and I intend to vote yes—yes because I no longer want to see Australian businesses close down; yes because I want no more job losses because of the carbon tax; and yes because I want to reduce electricity prices, which are placing more and more pressure on the average Australian battler.
We promised to eliminate the carbon tax. We have a mandate to scrap this tax. We are doing this because the Australian people have told us this is what they want. We are doing this because this is what Australian business and industry have told us they want. This is what the vast majority of the Australian public voted for. We have listened to the Australian public and we will undo the damage of Labor's dirty deal done dirt cheap.
The repeal of the carbon tax also represents a major contribution to the government's deregulation agenda, by removing about 440 pages of legislation and reducing business compliance costs by about $100 million a year. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will have new powers to monitor prices and take action against businesses that charge unreasonably high prices or make false or misleading claims about the effect of the carbon tax repeal on prices. Maximum penalties for price exploitation will be set at $1.1 million for corporations and $220,000 for individuals. Under the repeal legislation, business compensation schemes associated with the carbon tax will be scrapped from 1 July next year and the Climate Change Authority will be abolished. The first round of personal income tax cuts, which started from 1 July last year, will be maintained; however, a second round, which had been included in Labor's original carbon tax compensation package, will be scrapped.
Without the carbon tax, there is no further need for compensation measures. We will axe the carbon tax on fuels used in shipping, rail and air transport and on synthetic greenhouse gases. Also, shortly we will repeal the mining tax and measures attached to that. These and many other sensible solutions are being carefully and properly put in place. These are outcome focused and will keep us on track for the government to reach the same reduction in emissions, of five per cent by 2020, that Labor promised to deliver but struggled to show any evidence that they were achieving. In fact, the data available has shown little to no decrease in emissions and has shown that Labor were never going to come close to reaching their targets.
It is obvious Labor have not been listening. Australian families have told us they do not want this tax and business have told us they do not want this tax. The government has a mandate to rid this country of this tax once and for all. This is what the Australian people voted for. This is what they expect from this government. The carbon tax was always a bad idea. By getting rid of the carbon tax, we will reduce the burden on families by reducing their electricity bills. This government is pro jobs. By getting rid of the carbon tax, we will get the monkey off the back of small business. The Australian people want the carbon tax scrapped, and this bill will deliver what the Australian people want.
Again I remind you that our target is the same as the previous government's commitment: a five per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. But we have a better way to meet that commitment. Labor clearly knows this tax is hurting our country. It was one of the main reasons businesses and families ousted them. They never wanted the tax. This is why Julia Gillard declared there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. This is why Kevin Rudd declared on 16 July 2013 that he had 'terminated' the carbon tax—except the truth is he had not. This is why, after the 2013 election, the member for Grayndler wanted to set the carbon tax rate to zero. Now the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, with his carbon steel sword and band of faceless men will have us believe the carbon tax is in Australia's best interest and what the Labor Party really wants. The real truth is that this is vital legislation for the Australian economy. This is vital legislation for Australian families. This is vital legislation for the survival of business. We need to abolish this tax and today I am here today to vote down this tax.
My sincere congratulations—a well-deserved position.
I just want to take this opportunity in the debate today to indicate that I am supporting the position put by both the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister supporting the amendments that the shadow minister has proposed to the House. This side of the House, the opposition, went to the election with a very clear position. Our position was to abolish the carbon tax and to introduce an emissions trading scheme. I have been very strongly supportive of that position, and our proposition before the House absolutely carries through on the commitments that we took to the election in that way.
The government claims that these bills are about, and much of their contribution to the debate has been about, the component that abolishes the carbon tax. However, the bills before us do much more than that—hence our problem with them. Firstly, the bills remove the legislated cap on carbon pollution. So, in effect, they take away any of the discipline that it is required to deliver what is supposedly a bipartisan target—and one which the previous speaker for the government again confirmed to this House that they support. Secondly, the bills abolish the entire framework for an emissions trading scheme and so are completely contradictory to the position we took to the election. Thirdly, they abolish the Climate Change Authority. Heaven forbid you should have an independent expert in existence providing advice to this government, because if there is one thing they are consistent on it is that they do not like anybody who is an expert in their field. Finally, as many government speakers, including the previous speaker, have confirmed, they break promises that those opposite made to their communities in the election campaign by abolishing tax cuts for households in future years.
Our responsibility is to come to this place and stay true to the commitments we made to our communities in the election campaign; that is how a democracy works. A mandate means you have mustered the numbers on the floor of this chamber, and the government may well muster the numbers on the floor of this chamber for the bills that they have put before us. Our mandate is to stay true to the position we took to our electors and which they returned us on. And I am absolutely of the opinion that the amendment put forward by the shadow minister meets our mandate from, and our commitment to, the people who were elected us and so returned us to this place.
Indeed, I contested the 2007 election with the ALP's policy of ratifying Kyoto and introducing a carbon pollution reduction scheme. I will not again go through the fact, which is well documented, that those on the other side, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister, John Howard, were very keen to see us have a carbon pollution reduction scheme, to be a world leader, as the then Prime Minister said, and were eloquent in outlining the great advantages to our economy and our environment for the future by acting on climate change. Of course, that was flipped on its head when there was a change of leader on the other side.
But we have been consistent. I contested the 2010 election where we had a commitment to introducing an emissions trading scheme and which, post election, with the hung parliament, resulted in the introduction of the initial fixed price period. I contested the most recent, 2013, election with a commitment to scrap the fixed price period—that is, as we have described, to scrap the carbon tax—and move to an emissions trading scheme.
I am happy to be a member of a party that has stayed consistent on our responsibility to the future and to the people who will follow us. As decision makers in this place, we stood up and took responsibility when it was required. We did not put it off for future generations to solve. This is our children's future. It is not only their future in terms of the environment in which they will live and the challenges they will face with that environment as we see increasingly problematic weather conditions. It is also about the future of their economy and their jobs, because early movers, whenever there is a major shift in the economic foundations of the world, are the ones who do best in that time period. The early movers in the industrial revolution were the most advanced nations of recent times. The early movers in a carbon-restrained future will be the most successful nations in the longer term. This is what we should be doing. This is our responsibility in this place.
As was said at the beginning of this debate—and I remember many across both sides of the House making this point before the 2007 election—the cost of action is less than the cost of inaction. Business as usual is not an option. Despite the emus on the other side wanting to put their heads in the sand, business as usual is not an option.
Those opposite have shifted with the winds of the leadership struggles within their own party on this most important challenge. Even former Prime Minister Howard now claims that his own avowed, well-argued, often-outlined position on the need to act and for Australia to be a world leader was, he tells us now, only a rather cynical political position. And it was much more easily abandoned because a more popular position emerged. That is not leadership. That is not responsibility. That is not taking up our task in this place on behalf of the generations that will follow us.
The current Prime Minister went to the last election promising to scrap the tax, and we are available to support that. But he also retained a commitment to the targeted carbon pollution reduction, and he has claimed that, when all of those actions are reconciled under the direct action policy, they will have an impact on the reduction of carbon. That in itself is an inaccurate claim, and is the basis of much of our problem with the position put by the government.
The impacts are real. The science is settled. The choice we face here is how and when to act. The new Prime Minister has a fundamental problem taking the advice of anyone with expertise in the field, not only the scientists but also the economists.
The shadow minister outlined the long record of the Prime Minister's attack on the science. In July 2009 he said:
I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.
In October of that year he described climate science as 'absolute crap'. Nothing ambiguous there.
In March 2011 he said:
… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.
In March 2012 he said:
… I don't believe that the science is settled.
These assertions are simply wrong.
This year NASA reported—and I quote directly from their report:
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.
In September this year the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the result of the work of 209 lead authors and more than 600 contributing authors, indicated that the world's climate scientists are 95 per cent certain that a process of global warming has been underway for some decades and its major cause is human activity. This is not 'so-called' or 'not-yet-settled science.
So what are the effects? The warning has, and remains, the danger of significant and devastating changes to the world's climate. On almost any night now climate events are in our news. They are not at the end of the news any more. Damaging climate events are more frequent, they are more intense and they are more damaging, and this has very serious implications for a nation as exposed to climate change and its impacts as we are.
The shadow minister reported to this House that the last year up to October has been the hottest 12 months on record. The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, in their latest State of the climate report, restated the warning that the number of hot days in Australia will increase, as well as advising that droughts and intense cyclones will become more common.
The Leader of the Opposition in his contribution to this debate made the point that our world is approaching a population of 7 billion people, and the threats from climate change will intensify and not diminish our need to act. As we see the increase in prevalence and the increased intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, heatwaves and bushfires and their devastating effects on our environment and significant cost to our local and national economies, it is only becoming increasingly clear that we have a responsibility to future generations to act.
The action proposed by the government, their vaguely named and described 'Direct Action' policy, was most accurately described by the member for Wentworth. I will use his words—he said they are nothing more than:
… a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.
Prior to the 2010 election, the Treasury stated in the blue book prepared prior to that election, 'A market-based mechanism can achieve the necessary abatement at a cost per tonne of emissions far lower than any alternative direct action policies'.
More recently, in October this year the Sydney Morning Herald undertook a survey of 35 prominent university and business economists on their views on the government's Direct Action policy. Only two of them believed it was a better policy than a market-based mechanism. Three of them, to be fair, rejected both schemes, but that meant 86 per cent of those surveyed were of the view that the emissions trading scheme was a better economic method of addressing the challenge.
One of them, the internationally renowned Australian economist, Justin Wolfers actually said:
… direct action would involve more economic disruption but have a lesser environmental pay-off than an emissions trading scheme.
BT Financial's Dr Chris Caton said any economist who did not opt for emissions trading "should hand his degree back"
The Prime Minister's view of these 'rascally' economists would probably not surprised the House. The article reports:
In 2011, Mr Abbott took a swipe at some who had criticised the Coalition's scheme, saying "maybe that's a comment on the quality of our economists rather than on the merits of argument''.
It's those rascally economists again.
The bills before this House remove a cap on pollution, so there is nothing in the response to the challenge we face that will provide the discipline needed to meet supposed agreed targets. This is not action. It will fail the environment and it will fail the economy. It does not even pass the basic test of risk management that a government owes future generations.
Only last week that other rascally progressive, the British Prime Minister, outlined this very issue. He said:
… I'm not a scientist but it's always seemed to me one of the strongest arguments about climate change is, even if you're only 90 per cent certain or 80 per cent certain or 70 per cent certain, if I said to you there's a 60 per cent chance your house might burn down do you want to take out some insurance? You take out some insurance.
There is a cost to this lost opportunity in particular, and in the short amount of time remaining to me I just want to make two points. One is that Australia can, has been and could be a world leader in innovations in renewables, in energy efficiency, in new production processes and methods if it were backed by a scheme in this nation that drove viability for those sorts of innovations. And, as a small aside, I would add that the provision of fibre to the premises under Labor's NBN would have assisted in unleashing, through the upload capacity it would provide, a whole new arena of energy monitoring and management on a scale that would be a significant opportunity for new business and export markets. Sadly, that is not the case.
I would like to finish with a local story of global achievement in this space from my own backyard, Wollongong. In August this year a team of students from the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra, Team UOW, won first place in the solar decathlon in China. China is part of the most recent addition to the US Department of Energy solar decathlon team. The decathlon was hosted Datong and the Wollongong team beat 19 the teams from around the world. They were the first team from Australia to successfully gain entry to the solar decathlon and were offered positions both in China and the US. They were the first team ever, in any of the competitions, to demonstrate how to retrofit an existing home and they achieved the highest overall score in any solar decathlon competition in history. My great congratulations to Professor Paul Cooper, Marty Burgess from TAFE and the wonderful students on an outstanding result.
The public listening to this debate today must wonder whether they are living in a parallel universe. On 7 September we had an election. In December 2009 Tony Abbott was elected leader of the Liberal Party fundamentally for one reason: he stood on a principled position that he believed that the carbon tax as enunciated by the Labor Party was not the right direction for Australia, he did not agree with the position that his own party was adopting and he put a contrary position. It was adopted by the majority of the Liberal Party. He was elected leader. For the next four years he campaigned, as the Labor Party said in this place and in the public arena, up hill, down dale, in every business, in every household, making sure every Australian knew the position that the coalition held dearly—that is: (1) that climate change is real, (2) that humans have an impact, (3) that carbon dioxide is a contributor and (4) that the Labor Party's policy to answer this problem was wrong. That simple. So the public must be wondering why we stand in this place, hour after hour, debating something that they have already spoken on.
I hear quite a few of those opposite, both in this place and in the other place and also in the public arena, saying, 'We have a mandate.' Well, in 2010 you went to an election saying, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' under your then leader, but you changed your position.
Ms MacTiernan interjecting—
Can I ask a question to the member interjecting when she gets up to speak. Answer this to the public: if you are going to maintain this policy position, is it going to be in isolation or are you also going to retain every other policy position you took to the 2013 election, such as taking a tax cut to the Northern Territory—there's a thought bubble for you—or perhaps relocating the Navy from Sydney to Brisbane? Is it one in, all in, or is it cherry picking for political purposes against the will of the public?
Can I also take those opposite to the notion that 'the Labor Party got elected and we have to represent the views of the public on this issue and that in the other place, the Senate, we still hold the numbers'. For those opposite, only half the Senate goes to an election at any one time and you lost a whole third of your senators—gone, wiped out—because the public did not want what you had to offer. I say to the shadow Treasurer there at the table today, here is the challenge for you: go to the seat of Griffith over the next two months, get out there on the doorsteps of the people of Griffith, knock on their doors and say, 'I'm here to reintroduce the carbon tax—tell me what you think.' Turn up to the small businesses, the cafe owners, and say, 'I'm your carbon tax man and I'm here to help.' I can just see that happening, because yesterday he got up in here and gave the most confected piece of oratory you have heard for some time; it was a piece of theatre.
What I hope to bring to this House in the next few minutes are the real-life experiences of the people of Fisher, the businesses that have been hurt by this tax, who have not been able to employ some of their neighbours as a result of this tax which has caused them heartache and who expect me as the representative not only to vote against what the Labor Party put up and for the repeal bills but also to bring to this place their stories so that perhaps that can have some impact upon those opposite.
Before I do, though, many of those opposite have talked about the Direct Action Plan, that this is a fig leaf and the fact that we have not put out into the public arena what we are going to do on day one. We have enunciated in detail the principles behind it, the money that will support it and what we aim to achieve. But unlike the Labor Party, who gave us things like pink batts which killed our fellow Australians and cost a billion dollars to have rectified because they acted before they thought, we will not follow those practices. This is what this government will do. First of all, terms of reference were released on 16 October. Submissions closed only a couple of days ago, and my understanding is that several hundred organisations and individuals made submissions, putting their ideas forward on how this should work. These submissions will be evaluated. There will then be a green paper released, in mid-December, which the public can have involvement with, about how this should work, so we do not make the mistakes and follies of those opposite in wasting billions of dollars and costing lots of other hardship that I have already referred to. Then, in approximately March or April next year, the final white paper will come out so that we can actually have a policy that people can have confidence in because they have been brought into the confidence of the government and have been part of the process. So, far from it being a fig leaf, this is a proper, dedicated process to ensure that taxpayers' money is well spent to get the outcomes that the country deserves.
Let me now turn to real-life experiences. The first time in my campaign office I had a call from Bill Henneberry, who is a trawler operator, he said: 'I just don't know where to turn. No-one is listening. I'm listening to these debates but no-one is hearing me—no-one is hearing what I have to put up with.' Typical of the last shadow minister who spoke, there was not one story about anybody in the Wollongong district that she represents that had come to her about the real-life experience. There seems to be a disconnect between the Labor Party, its rhetoric and the public. What I hope to put before us today are some of those real-life stories. Bill said: 'When you get on your trawler and you go out to sea, the motion of the ocean and the diesel motors obviously create a lot of vibration. I have to have world's best refrigeration on my vessel. To do that there are copper pipes, and these copper pipes lead to gauges and to the refrigerants. One tiny leak would sometimes cost me a few hundred dollars. Today when that tiny leak comes it is costing me virtually my livelihood, thousands of dollars, and it is happening.' But he said, 'The sad part is I cannot get any guarantees from the refrigerant mechanics because it's not possible under the conditions I work. They fix it today and it's broken again tomorrow at a cost of thousands of dollars, not a few hundred—and thousands of dollars of profit means tens of thousands of dollars of product having to be caught.' So how do you deal with that? How do you turn up to a bank and say that you need an overdraft for these sorts of things. When he turns up and docks—as all the trawler operators do at the Maloolaba Bar Spit—you then have the wholesale operators, who have actually gone to the University of the Sunshine Coast and spoken to the power retailers, saying, 'Science has told us that we are now on the borderline of being better off financially if we put in a diesel generator on the pristine Maloolaba Spit.' Wow! Now there is an environmental impact from the Labor Party! Let us start putting fumes from a diesel generator onto the Maloolaba Spit because it is less expensive than plugging into the grid. This is how idiotic some of these policies are that we have heard from the other side. I would just like to hear any one of the opposition get up and tell me where these people are wrong. I would like them to go to the Maloolaba Spit and explain to the people there why they have got it so wrong as operators and trawler operators.
Or Maleny milk—and I spoke about them the other day. Here is an innovative family supporting eight other dairies, keeping the dairy industry alive in the hinterland the Sunshine Coast. They have had to go back to an old technology that was actually removed in refrigerants because it was unsafe rather than risk the cost that they would have to bear through leaks. IGA supermarkets tell the same story. Ros White from IGA had to pay $25,000 for the loss because of one leak, and they are trying to compete against Coles and Woolies. But do this mob opposite care? No, they talk in highfalutin terms which show no regard whatsoever for the people of Australia that employ and invest and are the backbone of our country—and whose stories deserve to be heard in this place.
There is also Michael who is the wholesale butcher from Uppercuts meats. He is also a strawberry grower. How much more Australian can you get? I just challenge the shadow Treasurer when he comes up to campaign and doorknock about his will to keep the carbon tax in the seat of Griffith. Come up my way—you have my invitation. The previous member did invite the former Prime Minister up so I am sure that it is within my right to invite the shadow Treasurer up. Come and meet these people. Sit down and talk to them and hear firsthand. So there is the challenge and I invite you to do so and hear firsthand from the people who have had to wear the brunt of what you have put forward.
On 4 November, the Sunshine Coast Daily had a headline: 'Confidence sky high'. It said:
SUNSHINE Coast business and tourism leaders have credited the new Federal Government with a boost in business confidence across the region.
And it later went on:
CCIQ Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay regional manager, Kimberly Lynch, said the Tony Abbott government had received strong backing from the business community because of key promises.
She called on the government to deliver on its pledges to cut company tax, repeal the carbon and mineral resources rent taxes and deliver key infrastructure such as the Bruce Highway upgrade.
We have already delivered on the start of the Bruce Highway with $80.7 million.
We have got two bills before this House right now and today the Labor Party is going to have to stand in this place and answer for the fact that it will not listen to the Australian people. One member after another has spoken about this—and the member for Paterson before me articulated exactly the same sorts of stories in his region around Port Stephens. So many other members of the coalition have done the same, but no-one on the opposite side in the Labor Party seems keen to listen. The confidence that is so necessary on the Sunshine Coast to rebuild our economy, to get young people into jobs can falter today, and if it does not falter today because we have the numbers, when it goes to the other place in the Senate, unless the Greens and the Labor Party lay down their ideology and stand up for Australians and acknowledge that there is a democratic process which leads to elections that people fight elections on, and that the majority should be what this government and this parliament stand for, then we are going to be back at square one.
In closing, other matters that have been raised with me on this issue are around how we can be sure that if we are able to get this through the parliament that prices will come down. Other members of the coalition have spoken about this. This was something that confronted us when we introduced the GST in 2000 as the Howard government. We learnt from that and gave strong powers to the ACCC. Over $1 million in the form of penalties can be attributed to businesses and $220,000 for individuals. These are very substantial penalties should people try to transgress and profit by lying to the Australian public.
We have also started to deliver on the reduction in red tape. There are 1,000 pages of legislation here—1,000 pages of legislation are being repealed. The regulations that burden business will be removed—not all of them, but it is a damned good down payment. This range of bills before us today show the stark difference between Labor and the coalition. Labor will not listen to the Australian population. They sit in their ivory towers and look down upon the people of Australia who have said that enough is enough. The people have voted and supported Tony Abbott and the coalition's plan, and I call on the opposition today, as individuals, to stand up for the election, to repudiate their leadership and to support the public of Australia and the economy of Australia.
As with all my fellow members of the House of Representatives, it is my privilege to again have the opportunity to be part of the consideration of laws and policies in this place. But I am sorry that the first time I speak on legislation in the 44th Parliament is in relation to a set of bills as short-sighted as the ones we debate here. These bills can only be described as backward. They take the Australian economy backward; they stand to undo the very significant progress that has been made since 2007; they put us in retreat from the global challenge of addressing climate change; of reducing our reliance on finite hydrocarbons and building a world-class renewable energy and energy efficiency sector. And they do so without any reasonable claim to logic or reason or science or without any claim to consistency of position, and when the one claim the government will make—that the election provides a mandate for undoing some apparently intolerable electricity price increase—is without basis.
Those opposite know that the carbon price impact was both minimal and fully compensated for low- and middle-income households. Inflation in Australia under the Labor government, like interest rates and unemployment, settled and remained at historic lows. It is absolutely right to say that in Western Australia between 2008 and 2012 electricity prices increased by something like 60 per cent, but they did so courtesy of the state Liberal government without the faintest upward influence of a price on carbon and without a cent of compensation.
When Mr Abbott was the Leader of the Opposition he claimed that putting a price on carbon would mean the death of the steel and aluminium industries and said that it would swing like a wrecking ball through the Australian economy and spell the annihilation of the domestic coal industry. Andrew Crook from crikey wrote in January this year:
Australia’s leading resources stocks have spiked since the Gillard government’s introduction of the carbon tax, despite doomsayers from the conservative side of politics predicting share market carnage in the wake of the impost.
… … …
The best performing individual members of the index over that time were Bluescope Steel (+91%), Mirabella Nickel (+84%), Papillon Resources (+77%), Linc Energy (+70%), Northern Star Resources (+60%) and Beach Energy (+57%).
So there is the overheated rhetoric and then there is the reality. It is understandable that a government built on slogans will feel compelled to deliver on them, hence the matching of simplistic slogans with simplistic policy.
I also note that the new government has it in mind to make repealing the price on carbon its first grand symbolic gesture, but it would be a terrible shame if such a gesture had the wholly negative effect of wrecking the transition Australia is in the course of making to a low-carbon economy and tearing down the contribution Australia has made and is making to a global change that can occur only if nations turn aside from narrow self-interest and if political parties turn aside from hollow, hip-pocket populism.
I do not believe that symbolism is without value or that symbolism and substance exist separately from one another. I am very proud that in 2007 the Labor government commenced with the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and with an apology to Indigenous Australians, including the stolen generations. One act looked responsibly and with regret at our past and resolved upon a long-awaited and profound gesture of healing that has already proved the basis for greater reconciliation. From that symbolic and substantial act has flowed renewed commitment and action when it comes to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and that commitment is shared. The other act, ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, looked responsibly and with apprehension at our future and resolved upon a course of action that puts the Australian economy and Australian households on the least-cost path to addressing climate change.
By contrast, the coalition government has chosen the unravelling of action on climate change as its first symbolic and substantial gesture. This is profoundly nihilistic. I want to mention the damage that will be done by these bills if they were to become law by referring to three categories. The first is the effect that these bills will have on the burgeoning renewable energy and energy efficiency industry and on the amazing growth and innovation we have seen in the last six years when it comes to household sustainability.
When Labor came to government there were fewer than 8,000 household solar PV cells installed across Australia as a result of incentives provided under the Howard government. Today there are more than 10,000 household solar PV systems in my electorate of Fremantle alone and more than one million across Australia. This is one example of how leadership by government and the strong enthusiasm of the wider community can bring sweeping change. Over time the scale of the subsidy has decreased because the scale and viability of the Australian solar industry have increased. Households, streets, neighbourhoods and suburbs are being transformed and this transformation is lessening the demand for coal- or gas-fired power, it is decreasing household carbon emissions and it is reducing electricity costs.
The same work on a larger scale has been occurring through the Clean Energy Future reforms, through the funding that a price on carbon enables. In my electorate of Fremantle alone we have seen support provided to promising endeavours like the Carnegie wave energy project, a technology that uses underwater buoys fixed to the ocean floor to generate electricity and emission-free desalinated water at the same time. We have seen the family garden supplies company Richgro in Jandakot supported in their move towards 100 per cent on-site electricity generation through a two-megawatt anaerobic digestion waste-to-energy plant. We have seen Magellan Powertronics in Bibra Lake develop an innovative grid power support system that will boost the capacity, reliability and efficiency of electricity networks in regional Australia. We have seen the city of Fremantle become the first carbon neutral local government in Western Australia and South Fremantle Senior High School become the first nationally accredited carbon neutral school in Australia.
All of these investments, all of these business and community actions are only the beginning. Imagine what we would see if the clean energy reforms continued, if the funds derived from the price on carbon pollution could continue to move us towards a properly level playing field between high-carbon and low-carbon technology—between coal, gas and oil on the one hand and solar, wind and wave on the other.
This is one of the easiest points of comparison between the Labor government's reforms and the current government's retreat. Under our scheme polluters paid a price for carbon emissions; under their scheme the government will pay polluters to reduce emissions. Under our scheme the funds raised from the carbon price supported renewable energy production and energy efficiency innovation; under their scheme taxpayer funds will be used to pay the polluters themselves for pollution reduction. So it is polluter pays versus paying polluters.
I was very interested to read in Monday's Australian the National Generators Forum Executive Director, Tim Reardon, note that electricity demand had declined by about 10 per cent since 2008 and was near 2005 levels. What is more, the news on emission reduction is even better. As Mr Reardon explained:
The decline in demand for electricity combined with the growth in renewable energy has resulted in carbon emissions from electricity falling to levels last experienced in 2002.
This is a fantastic outcome and proof of the value of the reforms of the Labor government and proof of the terrible risks involved in the bills before us.
The second point I want to make in terms of what is being put at risk relates to the issue of climate change and health. In 2009 the world's leading medical journal The Lancet stated that climate change is the biggest health threat of the 21st century. The World Health Organization warned of the fundamental threat to human health from climate change, including extreme heat leading to deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease, especially for vulnerable people including the elderly, increases in air pollution, extreme drought and its impact on farmers and food security, as well as other extreme weather events, such as floods and cyclones, that can result in increased hospital admissions. There is no doubt that a warming climate, and a climate with more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, will present serious health consequences. It is no accident that representatives of Australia's firefighter unions were at the GetUp! rallies around the country in support of action on climate change last Sunday. They spoke of the impact on their work and on their local communities of more frequent storms and bushfires.
Experts in the field note the risk of an increase in the rate and range of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Ross River virus and Murray River encephalitis. Under certain modelled scenarios it has been suggested that by 2050 we may experience a considerable southward extension of the dengue infection zone. I fear that the government's intransigence on this issue means there are no plans to assess our health vulnerabilities and to build health capacity and infrastructure to reduce health vulnerability to climate change. While Australia is in a position to ameliorate some of the health impacts of climate change as they occur, it will do so at considerable expense and with the usual opportunity costs that apply when an increased disease and injury burden makes a call on limited health resources and funding. We are conscious, too, that the most acute health impacts of climate change will be upon the world's poorest people, including our regional neighbours, and these will be impacts whose toll is also felt in Australia.
Which brings me to my final point, a point I have made on a number of occasions in this and other areas of policy consideration: the need for all countries, including Australia, to find more and better ways to look beyond our own self-interest in forming genuinely global responses to problems that can only be solved through coordinated global action. There is no better example of such a problem than climate change but there are others, including the management and protection of shared environmental assets, especially the ocean, the Arctic and Antarctic, and the use and stewardship of key resources like water. If we cannot be part of concerted effort and cooperation in tackling these challenges we can be sure they will go unsolved.
Australia has always been an agent of cooperation, a leader of concerted action; that too is at risk with these bills and with our recent actions in the international arena. The Australian government has not only failed to send ministerial representation to the UN's annual climate summit in Warsaw, it has also refused to support the UN's Green Climate Fund. As Giles Parkinson has noted in a Crikey article this week entitled 'Australia a 'wrecking ball' at UN climate summit', the Green Climate Fund is 'a crucial piece of common ground between developed and developing countries'. It is the mechanism intended to help poor countries adapt to the major development challenges posed by climate change. Australia and Canada have also now refused to commit to a similar fund agreed to at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to help poor countries of the Commonwealth, including those in our region, adapt to climate change. Australia's good reputation as a constructive participant in helping to solve global and regional challenges is being diminished by the day, and I would hope this matters to at least some in the government.
The Prime Minister once described himself as a 'weathervane' on the issue of climate change. He did not mean, unfortunately, that his view was based on some responsiveness to climate data. He meant that his position blew this way and that according to his sense of the politics and his sense of the political advantage that might be had, both in relation to the internal politics of the then opposition and in relation to the broader public view. And so here we are, debating a set of bills designed to swerve the Australian economy and the Australian way of life dangerously away from pursuing action on climate change, away from an emissions trading scheme that all the experts agree is the best means of allowing the market to find the least-cost way of reducing emissions and leaving us instead with a system that shifts the cost of carbon pollution from those who produce it and profit from it to the Australian government, the Australian taxpayer, the Australian people. Here we are debating a set of bills designed, quite carefully, to make achieving carbon emission reductions less likely and more expensive; bills designed to make the burden on polluters smaller and the barriers to low-carbon technologies larger; bills designed to take out of our market economy a price marker that (1) reflects a real and serious cost and (2) that acts to encourage and reward the millions of Australians who want to reduce their carbon footprint.
This is one of those truly fundamental issues: we are dealing here with an existential issue for the planet, not just a series of political debating points. We are aware from the reports of many scientific bodies of the severe damage that a two-degree temperature rise will cause, and this is the reason for the international consensus over a number of years now to try to contain the global temperature rise to two degrees. However, the more recent science points to temperature rises of between four to six degrees if urgent concerted action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions. That will be, without any hint of hyperbole or exaggeration, catastrophic for life as we know it. I therefore cannot support the kind of retrograde, short-sighted approach that these bills represent to Australia's climate and energy future, to our social and economic future, to the future of the planet we share with other people and other species.
I rise today to speak to the package of carbon tax repeal bills 2013. I will respond to some of the comments made by the member for Fremantle a little bit later as I speak. This debate marks an important milestone for our government, and particularly for the families and communities of our nation. I am privileged to be a part of a government that deliver on their commitments and is true to their word. The difference between the Abbott government and our predecessors could not be more clearly defined. The carbon tax legislation was passed through the Senate in November 2011, after the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard had stated her now infamous words 'There will never be a carbon tax under the government I lead'. Now, several years later, the coalition have listened to the Australian people and we are responding.
We were elected with a mandate to scrap the carbon tax and reduce costs for business and households, to boost jobs and manufacturing, and to restore Australia's international competitiveness. And that is exactly what we are doing. The coalition has acknowledged that we must take affirmative action to reduce the effects of climate change and we will do so.
The member for Fremantle earlier was referring to the challenges faced by our planet, and particularly focusing and talking about some of the challenges faced in the developing world in our region and by our nearest neighbours. We are committed to working with our region and our nearest neighbours to make a difference in their lives. But if the carbon tax has done little to reduce emissions in our own nation how is it likely to have an impact on our region and our nearest neighbours?
We will take direct action to reduce carbon emissions in a practical, affordable way inside Australia. We remain committed to a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. The real issue here is that Labor has never given the Australian people hard evidence of the difference the carbon tax would make to emissions. The carbon tax bills were indicative of a Labor government who became dependent on taxing and placing additional burdens on the Australian people, without any real impact on emissions.
In fact, it seems that the only response the Labor government could come up with during challenging times was to create additional taxes and levies, burdening families and businesses in our local communities. In the electorate of Macquarie since the carbon tax was introduced I have met with countless families and individuals who have been struggling with the impacts. Macquarie is a vast and varied electorate, yet there are some key drivers of the local economy—small business, agriculture and tourism. All of these sectors have felt the repercussions of the rising cost of electricity and gas because of this tax.
Shops in George Street, Windsor, which should be vibrant and full of customers, have been struggling. Michael and Gae, the owners of the well-known Trentinos restaurant in this shopping precinct have told me that over recent years they have noticed customers changing their spending habits—buying one pot of tea between two instead of two pots of tea; and sharing entrees and main meals instead of buying individual meals for each other.
In July this year I met with business owner Greg Zeuschner, Managing Director of Ultra Colour Products. This is a business that is not only strategic in our local community but also in our nation. He provides a particular aerosol paint product that is used in mines. Being an aerosol it needs to be able to be sprayed without producing the potential of fire. To do that it requires him to use a particular gas which has been directly impacted by the carbon tax. This HFC gas has increased by some 400 per cent. This has resulted in an ability for him to compete with foreign imports. The whole question of the future his business is at stake. Repealing the carbon tax will be critical to him being able to flourish and grow his business again.
This flow-on effect of Labor's carbon tax can be seen in other businesses. Colless Foods, based in Katoomba, is another locally owned business that is directly impacted as a result of this tax. Colless Foods is a third-generation catering company which has been hit with the rise in the cost of refrigeration gas, which is crucial to the running of its business. South Windsor IGA is another example of a food and storage based business which has struggled with the cost of refrigeration as a result of the carbon tax. The cost on local businesses of replacing gas in their fridges when they do not have a cash flow has placed significant burdens on them.
These examples do not even scratch the surface of the community's concerns. Of course, the primary impact on business of repealing the carbon tax is to reduce the cost of inputs. Labor's carbon tax has increased energy prices, it has increased electricity and gas prices and it has increased input costs for businesses.
The staggering news is that research shows the carbon tax has actually not worked. A carbon tax survey conducted by the Australian Industry Group in June this year showed that 70 per cent of businesses have not reduced their carbon intensity as a result of the carbon tax. Not only has the carbon tax hurt businesses but it has been completely ineffective. Yet Labor refuses to acknowledge this fact.
Meanwhile, families and pensioners in the electorate of Macquarie are also doing it tough. The Salvation Army Community Welfare Centre in Katoomba have seen firsthand an increase in the number of families coming through their doors over the past two years requesting help with the payment of bills. I have had personal direct contact with many pensioners who are unsure how they will pay their next utility bill. In the electorate of Macquarie we have very cold and very hot temperatures, but particularly in winter it can be in the minuses. In Blackheath there are pensioners that have told me that they have been turning off the heat or not turning it on in winter. They are covering themselves with multiple blankets. In some cases it has snowed. Our pensioners, who have worked hard all their lives, deserve better.
The carbon tax is not cleaning up the environment but it is cleaning out the wallets of Australian families. It is impacting directly on their quality of life. The government has committed to removing this ineffective policy and members opposite have an obligation to finally listen to the Australian people and support the repeal of these measures. Repeal of the carbon tax will put downward pressure on electricity and gas bills. Families as a consequence will be that off. According to Treasury modelling, removal of the carbon tax in 2014-15 will leave average costs across all households and $550 lower than they would be otherwise. Business compliance costs are expected to fall by around $87.6 million per annum as a consequence of repealing the carbon tax. This is a priority for families, this is a priority for businesses and this is a priority for the Australian people. We believe that strong families underpin a strong and flourishing society. We must support families. We must create an economy that gives them opportunities, that rewards people and businesses, and family workers for their hard work.
The debate could not be clearer. On 7 September the Australian people stood up and said no to a carbon tax. They said no to the increased living costs through higher electricity bills and gas prices. The Australian people believe there is a better way to combat climate change and they have put their trust in us to deliver a better way. It is time for members opposite to listen and to take note of the Australian public.
I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. On Sunday, tens of thousands of Australians gave up their morning to show their support for strong action on climate change. Right around the country there was a really colourful and committed demonstration of people's concern about climate change and their support for an effective suite of policies to combat that threat.
It is certainly true that carbon pollution is a problem in our economy and in our country, and that it is impacting on sectors of our economy and country in a way that we have to respond to. A lot of the people who were at those rallies around the country on Sunday—sixty-odd thousand of them—were showing their concern for rising temperatures and more extreme weather, and they were also showing their support for low emissions technology and renewable energy. My colleague the member for Fremantle mentioned the firefighters who were at these rallies. At my one in Brisbane there was a guy named Dean who spoke very powerfully and eloquently about the threat of climate change to his work and life.
Those demonstrations were more than a demonstration of any one issue: more than rising temperatures and extreme weather, more than low emissions technology or renewable energy—much more than that. There was also a powerful demonstration of the type of country that we want to be in Australia. It is my belief that Australia has a pretty stark choice. It can go one of two ways, in this debate and more broadly. The first course is the one that the government has set, which is to belittle scientists, to sack them, to cut their funding, to ignore them and pretend they can be replaced by Wikipedia, to abolish them, and to cut the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that was driving investment in renewable technology. That is the course that the government has set.
Mr Fletcher interjecting—
That is the course that the member for Bradfield supports—the antiscience course. The course that we in the Labor Party support is to be a country that is capable of listening to and acting on expert opinion, finding a way to do difficult things in the economy and in the environment, in an intelligent and beneficial way, a way that safeguards the future of Australia. Those are the two courses that we are choosing between in this debate over the climate change legislation, and more broadly, in the approach that that side of the House versus this side of the House takes.
It is true that only in the political sphere is opinion on these issues so sharply divided. In the scientific community it is a near-unanimous view that climate change is real and caused by humans. Ninety-seven per cent of peer-reviewed scientific climate change papers over 20 years have said that climate change is real and caused by humans, so the scientific community is united as one. This issue also has done the near impossible by uniting the economic community. Eighty-six per cent of economists who were surveyed recently backed in an emissions trading scheme to deal with the threat of climate change in a cheap and efficient way. As my colleague the member for Cunningham mentioned earlier, one of those economists, Chris Caton, said that any economist who does not believe in emissions trading should hand back their economics degree.
What we have here is a government that has been blinded by ideology on this issue. They have been seduced by the political opportunity. They have been cheered on by sections of the right-wing media and they think they know better than the overwhelming near-unanimous view of all the scientists and economists around the world. This is unprecedented in modern times—a government that thinks it knows better than 97 per cent of scientists and 86 per cent of economists.
The member for Fisher earlier on was talking about a parallel universe. Well, there is a parallel universe acting in this parliament where those opposite think that the overwhelming scientific and economic opinion is wrong. That is how we get this bizarre situation of having a Prime Minister who accused a United Nations official of talking through her hat, a truly bizarre and damaging position for a Prime Minister of Australia to take about a United Nations official. Then we have a former Prime Minister who put forward an emissions trading scheme as a policy and now dismisses people who believe in climate change action as 'religious zealots', saying that he would prefer to rely on gut instinct than a near-unanimous view of the scientific and economic community.
The political hero of those opposite, Margaret Thatcher—and we get Margaret Thatcher quotes thrown at us all the time from that side of the House—once famously said that she does not have a reverse gear. Unfortunately for Australia, our new Prime Minister only has a reverse gear when it comes to climate change. He does not have any of the gears that go forward. The whole country and the whole economy has been thrown into reverse by this ridiculous position taken by those opposite. There is some sort of a reverse renaissance going on in Australia when scientists are belittled, have their funding cut and are ignored and rubbished by the government of the day. We do not just have what the Prime Minister described as women knocking on the door of the Cabinet, we also have the experts in our country standing on the outside looking in. This is an embarrassing state of affairs for a country which was so recently praised for the quality of its economic policies during the global financial crisis.
Anyone who knows anything about this issue knows that, if you believe in climate change action, if you believe climate change is real and that it requires an intelligent response, then polluters should pay rather than be paid. They know they should not have a big slush fund that doles out to the biggest polluters in the country without a cap. We know that there needs to be a cap if we are serious about meeting targets and cutting pollution. You have to have a cap on pollution. We know that the cheapest and most effective way to go about it is to unleash the efficiencies of the market. You do not get to pick and choose. Those opposite say they believe in the market. This is a market based mechanism to deal with the threat. If you believe that there is a threat then the cheapest and most efficient way to deal with that is using the market. We also believe that those on the lowest incomes should be cushioned from the price impacts. Instead of that position, the government have a massive slush fund, which is less effective but costs more and which has no hope of seeing us reach the targets that they pretend to have signed up to. There is no cap on pollution. There is no market mechanism. Instead, we have this bizarre Soviet-style command and control.
I have been listening to the debate over the last few days and there is absolutely no interest from those opposite in the facts of the issue. In the last two years, renewable energy is up almost 30 per cent, electricity emissions have been reduced by around 12 million tonnes and over a million households now generate their electricity with rooftop solar. These are all very good things. When you look more broadly in the economy, you have investment going gang busters, you have unemployment levels low compared to the rest of the world, inflation is low and interest rates are low. There is no such thing as the hundred-dollar roast that those opposite were trying to scare people with. The hundred-dollar lamb roast has not eventuated. Towns like Whyalla were not wiped off the map, as they said they would. And we now have crocodile tears from those opposite about the cost of living, while they rip out the schoolkids bonus and the low-income super contribution. We also have crocodile tears today even about the impact of the carbon price on small business, at the same time as they gut the investment allowance. We dismiss those as crocodile tears and just playing politics.
I am told that Australia won the fossil of the day award four days out of five at the Warsaw climate conference. We also know that even though 134 other countries sent ministers to that important conference, the Australian LNP government did not send a minister to that conference. While Australia is in reverse gear on these issues, other countries are getting their act together. It is no longer a matter of acting ahead of the world; it is now about not falling further behind.
We are approaching the end of the debate. A gag has been put on this debate by those opposite, who cannot defend their scientific and economic positions. I have listened to some good contributions to the debate and also a few shockers. The one I want to focus on today is what the member for Ryan said on Monday night. She said that our approach to this issue encapsulated everything about Labor. I think she had a good point. Our approach does say a lot about the Labor Party. It says a lot about our belief in the overwhelming scientific consensus and in listening to the experts, not belittling them and ignoring them. It says a lot about our belief in market economics—in this case, the most effective and cheapest way to take action on the dangers of climate change, far superior to a big slush fund overseen by weathervanes and sceptics. It says a lot about our belief in cushioning the impact on middle Australia, especially those on low and fixed incomes, and not scaring pensioners with rubbish claims about hundred-dollar roasts and towns being wiped off the map. Most of all, it says everything about our belief in putting the future of the country and the right kind of dynamic economy ahead of any short-term political considerations that always seem to win out on that side of the House.
On this side of the House, we are proud of our position. We do want to power the future economy with cleaner energy. We do want to cut pollution. It is as simple as that. We do not do these things because there is some kind of political dividend in it—far from it—but because there is an environmental, economic and national dividend for the entire country when it comes to getting this right. If we have to dig in for a long fight, so be it. We will always stand with the scientists, economists and most of all the people of Australia who want to provide a clean energy future for their kids, who deserve better; not for the political opportunism that we see from those opposite, aided and abetted by the special interests in our community.
Thank you, Deputy Speaker Vasta, and congratulations on your elevation to high office. I appreciate the member for Rankin is a new member. He has his talking points and he has rattled them off. He has done exactly the right thing by his party. Can I start with a couple of things. It was not Tony Abbott who first said that Whyalla would be wiped off the map; it was Wayne Hanson from the AWU. He said that if the carbon tax comes in, towns like Whyalla will disappear. It was Paul Howes the general secretary of the AWU who said that if one job was lost in the steel industry, they would bring it down. What did Labor do? Talk about slush funds—$600 million especially for the steel industry. A little industry like that and it was $600 million to their mates.
I see Deputy Speaker Broadbent has taken the chair. My congratulations to you as well. You have a great role and I hope you are very good to me!
If I could go to some history and talk about how we arrived at this point. In 2007, Kevin Rudd won the election by promising to abolish Work Choices and he also said climate change was the great moral challenge of our generation. John Howard went to that election promising an ETS too, but he promised it in conjunction with the rest of the world. If the rest of the world was going to take action, Australia would participate. We did not say we would do it unilaterally; he said we would do it in conjunction with the rest of the world. Rudd won the election and proposed a CPRS and negotiations began. There was a long period of negotiations.
The difference between us and the Labor Party is that we can set policy inside our party. We are the political wing of our policy. We set the policy. We had a change of policy. We had a change of leader and, yes, he won by one vote. I have been in games of rugby where we have won by one point and we flogged them. You win as you win. Tony Abbott became the leader and our position changed. We said that we wanted to change our policy back to where we were with John Howard, that we wanted to protect our industries from an unnecessary and crippling tax which was never promised and which would cost jobs. So in 2009 the big Copenhagen conference occurred and we saw the rest of the world do nothing. There has been a lot written about what then Prime Minister Rudd said at that conference. We had a team of about 150 over there. We saw the rest of the world do nothing. Then Prime Minister Rudd came back to Australia and he shelved the 'greatest moral challenge of our time'. Such was his commitment to the greatest moral challenge of our time that he just shelved it. He stopped it dead in its tracks. He had the trigger to call a double dissolution election but he chose not to. In 2010 Rudd got rolled by Julia Gillard, who said that the CPRS, the whole thing about emissions trading, needed to be fixed. It was one of the three biggest challenges she faced. Prime Minister Gillard went to the 2010 election saying that she believed action should be taken on climate change and that she wanted an emissions trading scheme. But—and this is a massive 'but'—she said that the community of Australia had walked away and that consensus had to be rebuilt. She proposed a citizens assembly of 150 people to come to Canberra—which would probably look a lot like the parliament—to rebuild the consensus for an emissions trading scheme and action on climate change. That had to happen before Labor could move. She also said, in the last week before the election, that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. The Leader of the Opposition at the time, Tony Abbott, was out there saying that, come hell or high water, Labor was going to bring in a carbon tax. And the then Treasurer, the member for Lilley, said it was some kind of coalition hysteria and that it was ridiculous to say that they would do that.
The Greens, funnily enough, went to the election promising a flat rate carbon tax of $23 per tonne which would grow until renewable energy became competitive—not cheap but artificially competitive through the mechanism of the tax. So on 21 August 2010 we had a hung parliament. The cross benches wielded new power. Prime Minister Gillard negotiated with the cross benches and the Greens by giving them absolutely everything they wanted. In 2011 Prime Minister Gillard fronted the press, flanked by the Greens and the members for Windsor and Lyne, and announced a carbon tax—a flat rate carbon tax, which she said she would never do, because she had not rebuilt the consensus of the Australian population that had to be rebuilt. All those things had gone out the window, but she announced a flat-rate carbon tax of, hey presto, $23 per tonne. She signed a power-sharing agreement with the Greens to make sure this got done. Why she did that is completely and utterly beyond me.
Labor spent the next two years trying to make sense of a promise they did not make, fighting for a position that they did not take to the people, trying to defend a position that they did not believe in themselves. The then member for Rankin come in here and made all these funny jokes and he had his tape measures and he did a little singsong and all this sort of stuff. He was fantastic, but he just kept on getting belted for it.
In 2013 Labor finally dumped Prime Minister Gillard and brought back Prime Minister Rudd. He went to the election telling Australians that he would terminate the carbon tax because it was hurting Australian families. He would terminate it. It would be gone. Under Labor, it would be gone. Of course, he wanted to bring it forward a year and the figures would still stand, but he acknowledged that it was hurting Australia's population; it was hurting the men, women and families of Australia and it needed to go. Labor lost the 2013 election on 7 September. The coalition won with 90 seats. The election was very, very clear. The election was fought on the premise of the carbon tax: if you wanted the carbon tax gone, you voted for a coalition candidate. If you wanted another result, you voted for somebody else. Only 60 seats in this parliament, out of 150, went to someone who does not believe that the carbon tax should go. It was a massive statement by the Australian people that this tax should go.
Post-election, Labor again walked away from the promise they made to terminate the tax. They went to one election saying there would not be a tax, and then they instigated a tax, and then they came to another election saying they were going to get rid of the tax, and then after the election they defended the position of the tax they never promised, and yet they were now prepared to own it. Go figure. I cannot figure that out.
The Abbott government took a series of commitments to the 7 September election, and we will honour our commitments. Central to all of this was the repeal of the carbon tax. No issue could be clearer to the Australian people. I say again: if you want the Carbon Tax gone, you vote for a coalition candidate. If you do not want the carbon tax gone or you want another result, you vote for somebody else. Nothing could be clearer. That we won 90 seats and a very clear majority tells all in this House what the people want. They want this toxic tax gone. I urge the Labor Party to respect this mandate as we respected their mandate to remove Work Choices. I was not here when that happened, Mr Deputy Speaker, but you were. We stepped aside. They won the election fair and square on that issue, and we stepped aside. The then Deputy Prime Minister stood up there with Work Choices, mouse pads and all that sort of thing, and they had a grand old time shoving it down our throats. We passed it. We just waved it through, because that is what the people of Australia wanted.
I come from a part of Australia which experiences cyclones. I represent a city which is the home to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. My city fronts the Great Barrier Reef. I take climate change seriously. When I was elected, I did not know much about climate change. My basic thesis was that everything we do has an impact. I always remember was Peter FitzSimons, the rugby player and author, said when he was talking about gun control. I think it is an apt analogy. If you are in a room with 100 people and you are having an argument and no-one has a gun, there is no chance of being shot. If you are in a room with 100 people and you are having an argument and one person has a gun, you have a very small chance of getting shot. If you are in a room with 100 people and you are having an argument and everyone has a gun, then you have a far greater chance of getting shot. That is like my position when it comes to climate change. If we do not do anything then we take the consequences of that. But what sets human beings apart is that we can understand the concept. We can understand the impact of it and we can manage the impact. It is about impact versus risk. Risk versus assessment. The carbon tax does nothing for the environment—nothing. Even at the end of this thing, if it was still allowed to go, by 2020 we would still have to be purchasing $3 billion to $5 billion worth of overseas carbon credits just to make our plan work, because our emissions are increasing.
The carbon tax paid billions of dollars to brown coal-fired power producers with absolutely no recourse for them to do anything. They gave them the billions of dollars and then they walked away. That is just money down the drain. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a complete and utter sham. If you cannot get finance for your harebrained scheme somewhere around the world for something that you want to try, you can go to the government and get up to $10 billion where there is no real prospect of any commercial return on it. But it is also borrowed money. It does not raise money it needs so we have to borrow the $10 billion to figure this thing out.
The carbon tax was poorly designed and it was put in place at the behest of the Greens to suit a political purpose, no other reason. It was not the Labor Party's reason for tackling climate change. They had walked away from it. This was about securing government and that is all this is about. The carbon tax was a political mechanism done by the Greens and the Independents to keep Gillard in power. Labor lost the election in 2013 because of the Greens' idea, the shared power arrangement they never had to sign. Yet here they are hanging on this very bad tax like Charlton Heston from the NRA saying, 'From my cold, dead hand.'
We will keep jobs in Australia, we will keep manufacturing in Australia. We will not see our industries close while our competitors do not have the same imposts as we do. I have good friends in Townsville in the steel fabrication businesses who sent me a photo the other day of some posts imported from China. That we can send our iron ore to China, that they can make the steel over there, fabricate it as what we want there and bring it down to right next door to their competitor still cheaper than we can do it here says that we are not playing on a level playing field and that our imposts and tax are ridiculously high and very hard for our guys to remain competitive. We will lower emissions by targeting pollution and giving incentives for those to improve their practices. Business understands the need to improve the bottom line. If we can assist with technology or practical methods being initiated and adopted then we are all the better for it. It is that simple. Respect our mandate is my message to the crossbenchers and to the Labor Party. Get out of our way. Get out of the way of good Australians who want a job and want to live in a cleaner world. You all owe them that much. I thank the House.
I rise to oppose this bill and to move the amendment in the terms that have been circulated in my name.
That all words after “House” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
(1) “rejects this bill and the related bills and recognises that global warming is an enormous threat to the Australian way of life and is getting worse; and
(2) calls on the government to take stronger action to protect the Australian people from climate change.”
It is important to step back and remember why we are doing this, why we are having this debate. We are having this debate because global warming poses the greatest threat to the Australian way of life that we are currently experiencing. In the face of that threat, when the first obligation of the government should be, in Ronald Reagan's words, to protect its people, the Prime Minister and his government are choosing a policy of appeasement. At the very time that we need a climate change Churchill we have got a Chamberlain. We have got a Prime Minister who, instead of choosing courage in the face of the threat of global warming, is choosing cowardice.
What the scientists are telling us and have been telling us for a long time is that we are on track to make the kind of bushfires and super typhoons that we have seen recently not just become events that happen every now and then but become a regular part of our way of life. The scientists have told us very clearly that the planet is not like a room where you can turn the thermostat up and down but is like the human body, and if we increase its temperature beyond the narrow band within which human life can sustain itself then we run the risk of runaway global warming and effects that we just cannot control. The body has a core temperature and you do not want it to go more than a couple of degrees above that because you may not know exactly what is going to happen but you know that an organ might shut down and then if it goes too far it might be irreversible and if it goes too far the patient might die. The scientists have told us that the planet is the same and that if we increase it more than two degrees on average we might start seeing things happen that we can no longer control. We could have great melts of the Greenland or the Arctic ice sheets and feedback loops could start kicking in that neither we nor our children or grandchildren are going to be able to reverse.
Alarmingly, what they also tell us is that at the moment we are on track to heat the planet by four degrees by the end of this century—that is the world that it looks like we are going to leave for our grandchildren. What does that mean? It does not just mean that things are a little bit warmer and you can wear a layer less of clothes. What it means, according to the Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World conference proceedings, is that Melbourne turns into Cowra in terms of average temperatures by the end of the century. It means Adelaide's climate becomes analogous to Kalgoorlie. It tells us that when it comes to Alice Springs the scientists say they cannot find a comparator in Australia; there will be none in Australia this hot and dry, it would be like the Sudan. Most scarily, when they ask what Darwin looks like by the end of this century if we continue going as we are at the moment, they say we cannot even put Darwin in the table because 'for Darwin it is unlikely to exist anywhere on the planet'. That is what is in store for us at the moment.
Yes, we have always been a country that is prone to bushfires, but why on earth would you wish more of them on us? But that is what this Prime Minister and this government have in store for us if their policies are implemented. We have seen what their policies mean not just for Australia but around the world as increasingly we are saying to the rest of the world, even though we are the world's highest per capita polluter, 'We just don't care.'
So passing this legislation is tantamount to saying: 'We don't mind if there are more bushfires in Australia and we do not mind if there are more supercharged typhoons like we have just seen, because we are not even committed to the minimum possible pollution reduction targets. We do not care what happens in the rest of the world, because we will not even send anyone of any seniority to the meeting.'
It is not just going to be that bushfires will happen more often and that the Murray-Darling is going to start to dry up permanently. We also know that the burden and impacts of climate change are going to fall hardest on those who can least defend themselves. Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you would probably know this, but more people died in the heatwaves associated with the Black Saturday period than died in the fires themselves. The people who will suffer will be the people who are the most vulnerable and least able to insulate themselves from the effects of global warming. We do not just have an environmental obligation, to make sure that we do not completely wreck this planet that we are on, but we also have a social obligation, to make sure that our neighbours, both at home and in other countries nearby, will be able to enjoy the quality of life that we take for granted. Yet, at the moment, that does not look like it is on the cards with this legislation.
This legislation is taking away a package that has been looked at by the rest of the world, who have said, 'Yes, this is the direction that we need to go in.' What it did, very simply, was say to those big polluters who, up until now, had been putting pollution into the atmosphere for free: 'We know you can't keep doing that for free, because it is going to come at a cost to us, and so you are now going to have to pay for something approximating the price of your pollution, and the money that we raise we will put towards low-income households so that, when their electricity bills rise, they are compensated. And we will put some other money towards other projects, including getting renewable energy on track.' That was a very, very sensible proposition.
What we have here from the government is a wrecking of that, and a wrecking of a very far-sighted—but by no means novel—approach to support renewable energy in this country, in the form of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This kind of support for particular industries exists not just in other places around the world but we do it here in Australia. We hear the government saying, 'Why should you subsidise projects that cannot get support from elsewhere?' If you are going to take that approach, be consistent about it. Why do you give a diesel fuel rebate to miners so that they can buy cheap diesel fuel, yet you are not prepared to give a leg-up to renewable energy, when the scientists are telling us that by the middle of this century Australia needs to become a zero pollution economy?
It is not just the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that the government are going to rip up; they are going to rip up the only source of independent advice in this country about what Australia needs to do to do its fair share to combat global warming, the Climate Change Authority. The Climate Change Authority is the Reserve Bank of the climate world. It is providing independent advice to this parliament about how we will meet the legislated caps to 2050 and what we need to do to do our fair share. It is no wonder the government want to rip it up, because it is advice that the government do not want to hear. If there is one thing we are learning very quickly about the government, it is that they will shut down any dissenting voices, especially voices that provide advice that they do not want to hear, and they will withhold information from this parliament and from the people.
That is what is going on, because the Climate Change Authority said that the government's five per cent pollution reduction target is inadequate, is not going to help us avoid the kinds of catastrophes that I have just been explaining and is going to mean we will see bushfires in this country more often. Of course, the government do not want to hear that, so, rather than respond to it, they are just going to shut the Climate Change Authority down, and that is what this legislation does. Worse, they have got nothing to put in its place. There is not an alternative ready to spring up when this legislation is passed. There is nothing. That speaks volumes about just how much the science deniers within this government are running the show.
It is absolutely clear that, as we head into a summer where people will be wondering, 'Are there going to be more bushfires; are there going to be more heat waves; is this now the Australian way of life?' the government are saying, 'We don't care.' They are quite happy to bring a government down and have a debate about a few dollars extra on your electricity bill but, when it comes to the most fundamental duty of any government, which is protecting the country's people and protecting its way of life, they thumb their nose and they say, 'We don't care.' In the future, children and grandchildren are going to look back on this government and it will stand condemned. This government will be remembered as the government that said: 'We will rip up action on global warming, we will turn Australia into an international pariah and we will leave you to clean up the mess that we leave behind. We are going to put nothing in its place.' So I urge the House to reject the bills and to support my amendment.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I second the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne, and I thank him for kindly allowing me a few minutes to say a few words before the question must be put.
I will just briefly list 10 reasons why we must take strong action on climate change, prevent the government from overturning the price on carbon and support the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne. Reason 1: we have a fundamental responsibility to clean up the environment because we are a major contributor to the cause of climate change, and also because we, as a nation, have the money, the knowledge and the wherewithal to do something about the mess we are making and have made.
Reason 2: we should do everything in our power to minimise the intergenerational injustice of climate change. Our actions ripple far into the future, and we owe it to our children to clean up the environment now and to put in place the mechanisms to help keep the environment clean into the future.
Reason 3: extreme weather events are already hurting people. It is not just about the future, because climate change is a present threat and not just one that will impact on our children. From bushfires to wild weather, there can quite simply be no doubt that we are all either directly affected by climate change or greatly concerned for those who are.
Reason 4: we were a global leader on climate change, until the Abbott government proposed undoing all the good work of the 43rd Parliament. As a nation and per capita, Australia is a big part of the carbon problem, and we can and should be a big part of the solution.
Reason 5: climate change is a genuine security and humanitarian problem. Extreme weather leads to global and regional instability, not least because of the damaging effects of wild weather, rising sea levels and the mass movement of environmental refugees. Action is required now to prevent even greater problems—problems that will not be contained by national borders.
Reason 6: a price on carbon also helps prepare Australia for the future global economy. As nations wake up to the importance of climate action they will adapt, and in fact already are adapting, their economies to suit, and if Australia falls behind we will be left behind.
Reason 7: dealing with climate change will boost the Tasmanian economy, because a prospering renewable-energy industry creates jobs and fosters economic development. Already Hydro Tasmania is enjoying an increase of some $70 million in revenue annually on account of the current carbon pricing regime.
Reason 8: there will also be greater business certainty by leaving current climate change policies as they are. No wonder so many business leaders urged the coalition opposition to not make any significant changes to carbon pricing in the event that the coalition won the 2013 election.
Reason 9: climate change is a matter of principle, and we must take a principled stand. Yes, economic arguments have merit, but above all this debate is about accepting the climate science, admitting fault and taking responsibility for our actions.
Finally, reason 10: this is about people being people of their word. John Howard once argued for a price on carbon, as did Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Hunt. So if the Liberal Party is to stand for something then it really should put its political self-interest aside and back the price on carbon.
For my part, I went to the 2010 election arguing for a price on carbon and backed the relevant bills when they came before the parliament. I then went to the 2013 election promising to try and keep the price on carbon, and that is what I am trying to do right now and what I urge the rest of the members in this place to try to do. I second the amendment by the member for Melbourne.
The original question was that these bills be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Port Adelaide has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The honourable member for Melbourne has moved as an amendment to the proposed amendment that all words after 'House' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment to the proposed amendment be agreed to.
I rise to oppose the amendments and to speak in favour of these bills put forward to us by the newly incoming Abbott government—bills which received a clear mandate from the Australian people at the last election. That election result and the policies and approaches that were taken to the Australian people seem to be being denied in this place today.
It is not a matter of morality—of who has got the greatest morality or who believes they have the greatest morality. It is about the facts. To say that members in this House do not care about typhoons, bushfires, the worst that drought can provide to our communities or the impact that policies have on the least advantaged in our society is just wrong.
Such moral superiority should be condemned in this place, because we do care. That is why we want to make sure that those who face the greatest disadvantage will not be hit by a $550 extra cost to their living standards. It is why we want to get rid of a tax which impacts on businesses large and small, families, students and the elderly, and hurts them all equally.
What we on this side of the House do not want to see is a tax which reduces our international competitiveness, drives jobs offshore and hurts our society and communities. That is why we are opposed to this insidious tax—and insidious it is, because, if you look at my electorate, this tax impacts and hurts every town and every community across the 32,000 square kilometres of it. It hurts the largest employer in the town of Portland, Alcoa, which provides over 600 jobs. It hurts the dairy industry. It hurts a company like Murray-Goulburn, which has the largest processing plant in Australia, in my electorate. It hurts it significantly, because its carbon taxation bill is $14 million annually. And they have to compete on the global playing field. They have to compete against European dairy processors, who get free permits allocated at a rate of 92 per cent, yet they get nothing.
If you go to our abattoirs, they are at a disadvantage. If you go to the farmers, whether they be lamb producers, wheat producers or dairy farmers, they all suffer as a result of this tax, some to the extent that their incomes are hurt by between $7,000 and $10,000 per year.
I present the replacement explanatory memorandum for the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013. This explanatory memorandum includes the regulation impact statement approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation.
The member for Denison was right: this is a debate, this is a vote and this is a bill about honouring one's word. This is about the word of the Australian people. This is about the commitment of the incoming government. This is about rectifying a fundamental breach of faith with the Australian people following the 2010 election. So the member for Denison was correct: this is about honour, it is about our commitment and it is about the contract with the Australian people.
The notion of Westminster democracy is this: that we each take to the people our fundamental precepts, our will and our proposal, and they judge, they decide, they determine and they elect, and then we implement. The democratic contract is fundamental, and there could have been no clearer statement prior to the 2010 election than, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' by the then Prime Minister, and prospective and aspiring Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. It was said on 16 August 2010, only five days before that election. It was a contractual statement, it was a fundamental agreement and it was honoured only in the breach.
But there could have been no clearer statement prior to the 2013 election than the then opposition leader's statement that this election will be a referendum on the carbon tax. We took that position to the Australian people. We set it out on day one of the election campaign, we set it out throughout the election campaign and we set it out expressly, clearly and explicitly in the final week of the campaign. There could have been no doubt, no debate and no question as to what the aspiring and incoming government was proposing. It was front and centre, it was fundamental and it was indivisible from our proposal to the Australian people, and the Australian people voted.
Let me remind the House that the Australian people voted to a level which was the second-most significant majority in terms of the two-party preferred since 1977. The Australian people also voted in a way which was the second-most significant parliamentary majority in terms of the floor of this House since 1983. So the Australian people did not just determine: they determined the result of this election clearly, comprehensively and unequivocally. They voted for a government which proposed to repeal the carbon tax, not because this was a debate about science but because this was a debate about honour, truth and committing to our pledges, and it was a debate around mechanisms.
Let me then move to the impact of these changes and to consider the points made during the course of the debate. This is, fundamentally, an electricity tax and a gas tax which we are removing. The impact, as we know, is that household bills, according to Treasury modelling, will be $550 lower than they would otherwise have been in 2014 with a carbon tax. Electricity bills on average around the country will be approximately $200 lower per household. Gas bills will on average be approximately $70 lower per household—real changes that make a real difference to the living standards of Australian families. That is a fundamental commitment, and it is a point which has been repeatedly ignored by those on the opposition benches, whether they are Her Majesty's loyal opposition or those on the crossbench.
In addition, the House repealing the equivalent carbon tax on refrigerants removes from the costs of re-gassing a car air conditioner, I am advised, by $20; a domestic split-system air conditioner by $80, compared with what would otherwise have been the case with the carbon tax; it reduces the costs of re-gassing a refrigeration truck by $550, I am advised, or a cool room at the butchers by $1,000; and even the cooling system at the local club by about $3,100. So these are real, significant and germane statements—real, significant and germane savings.
These are not things which are illusory: these are the real-world impacts of the carbon tax, because it was always designed to increase the price of goods. The theory, the purpose and the nature of a carbon tax is to drive up the cost of goods to cause sufficient pain so that people cannot afford to purchase those goods. That is how a carbon tax is meant to work. That is what it is meant to do—it is meant to cause pain for ordinary families in their day-to-day existence so they cannot continue their activities. That is what it is meant to do. It is meant to drive up the price of electricity. It is meant to drive up the price of gas. It is meant to drive up the price of refrigerants, diesel and other off-road items. And if the opposition were to get their way, as of 1 July 2014 they want an additional tax, which is a new tax on trucks. I call on the opposition today to make it clear: do they want a new tax on trucks? Is that still part of their policy or is it not? I think that would be very informative for the House and the public. Is there still a proposal for a new tax on trucks? That is their policy. That is what we know it to be. That is what we have to presume it will be—unless, of course, they recognise that their own edifice is crumbling.
Against that background, let me ask a question. Through all of these debates we have heard some very interesting things from our amiable friends in the opposition. We have heard them say things such as this quote from the shadow minister and member for Port Adelaide at the table, that 'we are as one' in wanting to abolish the carbon tax—except they are about to vote to keep it. Weasel words, things which are untrue and inaccurate, and a fundamental deception of the Australian people. They are proposing two things. Right now they are about to vote to keep the carbon tax. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide: the ALP is about vote to keep the carbon tax. And then their alternative proposal is exactly the same as what is already there but for a 12-month discount. This tax, which they want to change the name of but keep, will run to $6, to $12, to $18, to $25, to $31 and to $38 on their own modelling, so within a few short years there is a 50 per cent plus increase in the current tax rate of $24.15.
Let me just remind the House: the opposition's proposal is to have a tax which, in a few short years, will climb by well over 50 per cent, from $24.15 now to $38 on their modelling, as set out in the most recent Australian budget, as set out on 16 July, as set out in the pre-election economic forecasts. Their modelling, their prediction, a $38 tax, is what they are about to vote for. But it does not stop there. As the Prime Minister informed this House only yesterday, this tax will head towards $350—again, on their modelling, their analysis, their projections when in government—by 2050. So this is no discount that they are proposing. This is a lifetime electricity and gas tax sentence for Australian families and Australian businesses. Nothing changes. This is Julia Gillard's carbon tax, lock, stock and barrel, but with a name change and a 12-month discount. It is not an honourable position to put forward.
Let me remind some of the members of the House of what they have said as we have gone along. The member for Port Adelaide has said:
… Labor supports terminating the carbon tax.
But they are about to vote to keep it and their proposal is just to change its name. We have the member for Wakefield, who said at an earlier time, only a few weeks ago:
I think we should abstain in the Senate, allow the Abbott government to implement its policies in their entirety in terms of carbon …
Senator Mark Bishop said:
The strong public position of the ALP prior to the election and in the election was completely rebuffed by the electorate.
Let me just repeat: 'completely rebuffed by the electorate'. That could not have been clearer. The member for Corio said:
We do need to acknowledge the fact that Tony Abbott won the election and we lost, and we need to face that reality and questions of mandate are issues that we need to consider, and where are completely agree with Nick Champion is that we do need to be choosing our battles very carefully …
These are some of the things we have heard. And, of course, my friend the member for Lilley, in an earlier incarnation prior to the 2010 election, said:
… what we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax …
Hysterical—except for the fact that they did implement a carbon tax. And now, 16 and a bit months after they introduced the carbon tax, they are trying to tell us they do not believe in it anymore. They are trying to say, 'We don't believe.'
There are more than 40 members of the opposition benches who voted for the carbon tax. Is there one who now says they support the carbon tax? Is there one who, 16 months on, believes that they got it right? Apparently not. They all opposed the carbon tax, except for the fact they are voting to keep it, they are voting to extend it, they are voting to change its name, but it is going to be here, it is going to $38 and from there it heads north to $350. That is not on our modelling but on their modelling when in government. They were the ones that said $38, not once or twice but three times this year alone, with their official government modelling.
At the end of the day, I return to where I began, with the words of the member for Denison. He was correct: this is about keeping our word. Our word to the Australian people was that we would take real action on climate change, but we would not do it through a mechanism which is fundamentally broken, which fundamentally fails to achieve its task, which relies overwhelmingly on having a tax and then an additional $3.8 billion, according to their modelling, in purchasing from overseas by the end of the decade on a per annum basis. That is why we oppose this tax. That is why we support this legislation. That is why we will be repealing the carbon tax. We will do so, firstly, because it does not work; secondly, because it destroys our competitiveness; and, thirdly, because we gave our word and the Australian people gave their decision. So at the end of the day this is about honour and dignity and the sovereign will of the Australian people. I commend these bills to the House because they right a wrong. An environmental issue is not solved in the way this current tax exists. There is a better way. We will deliver to Australian families and Australian businesses the relief which they so richly deserve and for which they voted.
The original question was that these bills be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Port Adelaide has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The honourable member for Melbourne has moved as an amendment to the proposed amendment that all words after 'House' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. In accordance with the resolution, the immediate question is that the amendment to the proposed amendment be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes, I declare the question resolved in the negative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting aye.
The question now is that the amendment moved by honourable member for Port Adelaide be agreed to.
Pursuant to the resolution agreed earlier, I now put the question that the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and 10 related bills be now read a second time.
Prior to moving that the House consider the bill in detail, I have a statement I wish to read to the House concerning the amendments circulated by the opposition earlier this morning.
My attention has been drawn to the detailed stage amendments circulated by the honourable member for Port Adelaide. I am concerned about the amendments on two grounds: first, it is arguable that they could in fact constitute the initiation of a proposal to impose or increase or change the scope of a charge contrary to standing order 179(a); second, that 179(b) of the standing orders provides:
Only a Minister may move an amendment to the proposal which increases or extends the scope of the charge proposed beyond the total already existing under any Act of Parliament.
If I understand it correctly, there may be some doubt as to the impact of bringing forward the date of the commencement of the emissions trading scheme, which is the substance of the honourable member's amendments. On one hand, the amendments should be allowed to stand as it could be argued the expected and likely effect of the calculation of the proposed liability may not exceed that set by the current law. On the other hand, because there could in fact be no certainty, it would be legally possible that the amendments would have the effect that the liability would exceed that provided under the current law. In my view the uncertainty is too great to allow the amendments to proceed. Accordingly, I am not prepared to allow them to be moved in their present form.
on indulgence—These amendments were circulated this morning. It is an extraordinary circumstance if you wait until the very moment that amendments are about to be moved before you raise with honourable members issues that could have been resolved by redrafting. We have a circumstance where there is a clear political debate, which is significant, which has been happening across the country, and it should be brought to a head within this chamber. And to have a circumstance where it is brought to our attention for the first time at the moment it is about to be moved here on the floor of the chamber does a great disservice to the conduct of proper debate within this chamber.
Madam Speaker, given the numbers within the debate, to have a circumstance where it is not even allowed to be put, and we are not even allowed to have the argument, brings the concept of secrecy to an extraordinary level. I do ask you to reconsider, particularly considering the timing of when this has been brought to the attention of the opposition.
on indulgence—I understand there is no motion before the chair in respect of your ruling. Can I just say very briefly: the Senate and the House of Representatives have long had different views about these matters—and you would be familiar with both, Madam Speaker, having served in both. In the House of Representatives it is very clear that the House cannot capably consider the amendment as suggested by the member for Port Adelaide with regard to revenue or appropriation matters. Such amendments can only be moved by a minister from the executive government. We had this debate several times in the last parliament, with the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business on different sides of the argument.
Speaker Jenkins, Speaker Burke and other speakers have all ruled in exactly the same way as you have ruled today. That is the precedent. Unfortunately, the House is not capable of considering this amendment. But as you pointed out in your ruling, you said that you would not allow this amendment to go forward in its current form. If the member for Port Adelaide is capable of amending his amendment, changing his amendment, and resubmitting it, you might well make a different ruling.
Before I call the member for Grayndler, I would say there is precedent for such a ruling—indeed, one was made on Thursday, 2 June 2011. It did involve myself and a bill that I had brought into this House; it had in fact had a second reading and was basically in line with the sort of situation we are in now. On that occasion the then Attorney-General Mr McClelland made it quite clear, in his submission outlining his reasons, why standing order 179 should apply. His final words were these:
… that message comes from the Governor-General. Similarly, in that case Justice Kirby referred to the discussion in the issue in Lane's Commentary on the Australian Constitution of 1997 and concluded that:
… the initiative for proposed appropriations belongs to the Executive Government, in accordance with s 56 of the Constitution.
Again, the will of the executive being referred to in the message of the Governor-General, with the Governor-General acting on the advice of the executive of the day. So, with respect, Mr Speaker, your ruling is entirely consistent with the standing orders but, more than that, it is entirely consistent with our Constitutional heritage.
And I am upholding that ruling.
On indulgence, and to the point of order, Madam Speaker, which goes to your ruling, which, with respect, I do not think is correct in this instance. At that time would be very familiar with the proposition to which the then Attorney-General responded, because it was indeed the member for McKellar who was trying to do—
exactly what you are now saying was wrong. You will recall at that time that the member for McKellar and other members of the now government benches voted that it was competent for that amendment to proceed.
You would also be aware of the process of the way that amendments are drafted and put before this chamber. The amendments are done by the opposition in consultation with the clerks. It is at that point in time that it is determined upon the best proper a political advice on whether those amendments are in order. In this case, in spite of the fact that this legislation is being rammed through with the gag motion, with very little debate, which is why the amendments were put before the chamber today and are being voted upon just hours after without proper consideration. In spite of that fact, the shadow minister has put forward these amendments in the usual way, having got approval of the clerks, which is when that occurs.
That occurs for very practical reasons, Madam Speaker—
In terms of the processes, your ruling would suggest that you are making a determination that the ETS, effectively, coming in—the floating price—earlier than what is envisaged—
Then resume your seat! Very simply, the member has raised the question that the clerks had prepared these amendments for them.
An opposition member: That is not what he said.
Indeed, it is what he said.
Opposition members: It is not.
There will be silence! Indeed, a similar situation arose with a question of my bill, to which the member has referred. It too was prepared by the clerks and it had had a second reading, and this point was raised at the point of where we were to proceed further.
When this issue was to be dealt with I did speak to the member for Port Adelaide as soon as I could possibly do so because I did not take this question likely. I did do quite a deal of research into the question because of my concern about it. The point is that these are in line with the previous ruling of the Speaker. The member for Grayndler said that we voted against it, which we did, but I accept the ruling of the speaker as being appropriate.
As you would appreciate, we do not have a written copy of the ruling. My point of order is under standing order 179c. I am trying to work out how the amendment that reduces the current pricing arrangements can be seen as an amendment which would increase the scope of the charge proposed not beyond the bill before us but beyond any act of parliament. It is the act of parliament that is the reference point. I am trying to work out how other than by making what might be a political point across the chamber you have reached a conclusion about price?
I am relying on section 179a and 179b:
(a) Only a Minister may initiate a proposal—
A proposal is a proposal and your amendment is a proposal. It is covered by the words:
to impose, increase, or decrease a tax or duty, or change the scope of any charge.
If it assists the House, on indulgence, I would refer to page 420 of House of Representatives Practice. I think that that provides an important guide as to the interpretation here, not just of the standing orders but also of the Constitution. Page 420 says:
It is a long established and strictly observed rule which expresses a principle of the highest constitutional importance that no public charge can be incurred except on the initiative of the Executive Government.
On every reading what this set of amendments attempts to do is to bring forward a variation on a public charge and to change its scope—no doubt or debate.
I have made my wish. I have made the ruling and I have stated it.
Opposition members interjecting—
I have made the ruling. I see no reason why—
Honourable members interjecting—
Yes, you can have it. I can have a copy made subsequently and made available to you.
Madam Speaker, the problem, as you would appreciate, is the debate on what we now have to consider needs to happen within the moment. It is some time since you first said it. We still do not have a copy of it, notwithstanding that the amendments were circulated this morning. I do not want to be in a situation where we have no choice but to move a further resolution.
Well, I would put it to the member that that is a proper proceeding of the House system, if the member wishes to do so. But I think this is a very important constitutional point which was made very ably by Attorney-General McClelland in the previous government. I believe the ruling that I have made as a considered ruling, and one of importance, and upholding a previous ruling, should stand. It is quite open to the Manager of Opposition Business to take another action if he wishes to do so. I invite him to do so forthwith if he wishes to.