Thursday, 16 June 2011
Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011. Right from the very start I must rule out this perception the government is trying to put forward that the coalition do not agree with achieving the same targets in CO2 reductions in the same time frame. In fact, the coalition have a bipartisan view on achieving a five per cent reduction on 2000 emissions by 2020. Just the means by which the coalition will go about achieving the outcome are different to those of the government. The coalition do not believe that you need to hinder, impede or penalise people with a tax; what you need to do is incentivise and create opportunities for people to put into practice measures that will reduce emissions.
In producing this bill the Prime Minister expects the coalition to trust her with the missing regulations. The Australian people have already had proven to them that they cannot trust this Prime Minister, that her word and her leadership mean nothing. On Channel 10 on 16 August, the Prime Minister said:
There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.
Four days later, in the Australian, she said:
I rule out a carbon tax.
Here we now have a government, led by Prime Minister Gillard, that have put forward a bill without regulations and that says, 'Trust me, we will get it right.' The coalition is very mindful about giving this government blank cheques because, based on their track record—and we only need to look at the Home Insulation Program, Green Loans Program and school halls program—their programs have not been delivered with good governance. Why should the taxpayers, the community at large or the coalition support this government when they say, 'Trust us'? They have shown through their ineffective management they cannot be trusted.
As I said, the coalition in essence agree with the principle of this bill—a bill which lacks the detail of regulations. The coalition's direct action plan, also as I said before, agreed to reduce emissions by five per cent by 2020, but we agreed to do it by creating a fund to buy back greenhouse emissions through more tree planting, better soils and utilising smarter technology. This is the way to go.
This bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee and that committee's report contained a dissenting report by the coalition, signed off by Senator Richard Colbeck. I will quote the opening comments in this dissenting report:
The Coalition is strongly supportive of the practice of storing carbon in our soils and landscape.
A Coalition Government will implement a climate change strategy based on direct action to reduce emissions and improve the environment.
Direct action on soil carbon will be the major plank of our strategy, supported by other direct action measures that will reduce CO2 emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 based on 1990 levels and deliver significant environmental outcomes – without the need for a great big new tax.
To facilitate direct action, a Coalition Government will establish an Emissions Reduction Fund to support CO2 emissions reduction activity by business and industry.
Through the Fund, we will support up to 160 million tonnes of abatement per annum by 2020 to meet our 5 per cent target. This is a once in a century replenishment of our soil carbon.
Significantly improving soil carbon also helps soil quality, farm productivity and water efficiency, and should be a national goal regardless of the CO2 abatement benefits. Through the Emissions Reduction Fund a Coalition Government will commit to a ‘once in a century’ replenishment of our national soils and farmlands.
The dissenting report is worth reading. It is worth adhering to because there are ways and means of achieving outcomes without introducing a great big new tax. The principal coalition concerns raised in this Senate inquiry included:
I thought it would be pretty important to have all the information available before this government asked the House to commit to legislation without knowing the details of regulations. The other concerns included:
This government is asking the parliament to put on a blindfold, ignore reality, ignore its past performance and just pass a piece of legislation which will give an open slather to this government to destroy any ounce of credibility or direction in relation to reducing emissions, because it has obviously not thought through the whole process. There is no need to rush through legislation without the supporting regulations. I am sure the member for New England would agree with that, as he is someone who quite rightly questions and reviews regulations in relation to farming practices from time to time. I am sure he would be uncomfortable in passing legislation without the detail that is required for this to have an ounce of credibility.
As I said before, we only need to rely on the Prime Minister's own statements when she guaranteed there would be no carbon tax under the government that she led. The Prime Minister not only has misled the people but also is a hypocrite. How can we be assured that through this legislation the detail will not change through regulation and the impact will not be distorted?
I believe the carbon tax is bad news for Australia. It is bad news for industry. In this House in the last few weeks, I have quoted from the Tourism and Transport Forum report which said that the introduction of a carbon tax would lead to some 6,400 job losses in the tourism industry. The majority of those job losses would occur in regional and rural Australia—in areas like Cairns. Cairns is struggling to survive under the perfect storm that has affected tourism: the floods, the cyclones and the high dollar. These things have had a dramatic effect on the tourism industry in Cairns. Would it be able to sustain the additional cost pressures of a carbon tax, particularly when page 4 of that report says 'outbound tourism will be the beneficiary of this carbon tax'?
I have to be honest and add that the Tourism and Transport Forum has said it will support a carbon tax provided it gets exemptions. It would seem that the people who are supporting a carbon tax are those who are seeking exemptions. In that regard, I only need to quote Paul Howes, the industrious union leader, who said that a carbon tax was fantastic and then had to turn around and qualify that by saying, 'As long as there is not one job lost and as long as you provide exemptions for my steel industry.' We are now seeing a raft of politicians on the government side agreeing to a carbon tax as long as their community is exempt—much like the tourism industry report last week that said that they will support a carbon tax provided they are exempt or that certain sectors are compensated.
I want to go through a few employment figures in relation to the Hunter Valley. Employment in the Hunter Valley will be directly affected by a carbon tax, yet we have heard nothing from the members from that area. For example, the member for Newcastle's electorate has an aluminium industry and Tomago Aluminium directly employs 1,070 people and employs 250 contractors. There has not been one word from the member for Newcastle seeking exemptions under a carbon tax for the aluminium industry. Port Waratah Coal Services in her electorate employs 395 people, and particularly 16 apprentices. Her electorate also has the major coal export port in the Southern Hemisphere, but there has not been one word in support of that industry from her. The Forgacs Group, who are building a lot of the modules for our air warfare destroyers, employ 540 permanent employees and 38 casual employees—that is, 578 people employed in shipbuilding and heavy engineering in her electorate, but there has been no word in support of those people whose jobs will be at risk. The member for Newcastle also has One Steel based at Mayfield in her electorate. All of these industries, just to name a few, will be massively impacted by the introduction of a carbon tax. But she has become the 'Silent' Billy Jack of politics in relation to standing up for her constituents. But she is not alone.
The member for Hunter has not only the broad majority of coalmines in his electorate but also Hydro Aluminium Kurri Kurri that has 537 direct employees and about 2,000 indirect. When has he stood up for his constituents, all of whom are at risk of losing their jobs? How do you compensate a person whose job is gone? You can say, 'They can retrain or they can go into other industries,' but the best thing you can do for any individual is to give them a job. Give them a rewarding career and provide them with an adequate income for what they do. Time and time again, we are seeing Labor members backing up their Prime Minister—who delivered policy contrary to what she said just days before the election—to the detriment of the people whom they represent. The members for Newcastle and Hunter are not alone. The member for Shortland, Ms Hall, also has coalmines in her electorate. In addition, Mr Combet, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the architect of a carbon tax, has coalmines in his electorate. These members are all prepared to sell their people and their industries up the river to push forward a policy that they rejected prior to an election.
A report that came out this week said that there would be massive job losses in the coalmining industry. In fact, there was talk of some 18 mines closing and 4,000 jobs going. Even Minister Ferguson, the Minister for Resources and Energy, confirmed that there would be job losses and that coalmines could possibly close. But nowhere do they detail which mines and from which regions those job losses would be effected. As they go forward with these proposals and this legislation, it is incumbent on ministers and governments to state clearly whose jobs will be affected. The easy position would be for everyone to agree to a carbon tax provided they are exempt—and that is all that has happened. People who are agreeing to the carbon tax in industry are saying, 'We will support this provided we get exemptions, provided we get compensation.' How does that change that effect?
In closing, I see a lot of school children up in the gallery. They will probably agree with me on this if they think back. I have three teenage children and I quote this example quite regularly. My teenage children understand the need to make a difference and they talk to me all the time about climate change. I believe climate change is real. If it was not, you would not have coal, you would not have gas and you would not have oil—all products of climate change. But can I get my teenage children to turn off their bedroom lights, their computers, their bathroom lights or the television? The answer is no. They understand the need but the actions do not match the rhetoric. What we need to do is provide greater education so that people know that individually they can make a difference. That is what the coalition's direct action plan is about—individuals making a difference to reduce CO2 emissions. I cannot support this bill because it has no detail nor any substance.