House debates

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Carbon Pricing

3:46 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | Hansard source

I am very happy to rise today to speak on this matter of public importance. The topic, the impact of the carbon tax on jobs and the cost of living, is a very significant one. It is important because our moves to price carbon through an emissions trading scheme will make a fundamental change to the nation's economy. Our plan to cut carbon pollution and drive investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure, such as solar, gas and wind, will help build the clean energy future which future generations of this country deserve. It will help our children. It will help our grandchildren. It will reduce our emissions and position Australian business for the development of the global low-carbon economy which is coming. It will position Australia for the jobs that come with that global low-carbon economy, which I know those opposite do not want to think about because they want to put their heads in the sand. They do not want to think about the future that is coming. They do not want to think about what the rest of the world is doing to grapple with the problem of global carbon pollution—

Mr Christensen interjecting

to grapple with the problem of dangerous climate change, which I know the member for Dawson denies the existence of. Instead of actually embracing a package that would secure Australia's future in a carbon constrained world, the coalition is engaging—and we have heard some more of it today—in a hysterical, shameful and misleading scare campaign. Their claim is that the carbon price will drive up the cost of living and that Australians will be worse off. I need to be clear: nine of 10 Australian households will be receiving a tax cut or a pension rise or a benefit rise through our package to help with the cost of living.

It is amazing to see the Liberal Party pretend that they care about the welfare of working Australians, given their track record of failing to provide support. Just two weeks ago our Labor government delivered an excellent budget, which provided a substantial boost to low-income households—again, something that those opposite do not care about—only to have that same excellent budget derided as 'class warfare' by the negative and out-of-touch Leader of the Opposition. If you think providing support to parents to help with sending their kids to school is class warfare, if you think delivering tax cuts for all taxpayers earning up to $80,000 a year is class warfare, then you are completely out of touch and completely beholden to your Liberal mates like Clive Palmer at the expense of ordinary Australians.

The coalition's attitude to this budget shows just how shallow the supposed care that the Liberal Party and the National Party profess for working people really is. All they actually care about is their mates with deep pockets. We are interested in governing for the many and not just for the few. If the opposition cared one bit about the cost of living and about making ends meet, they would be supporting the clean energy package and the budget, because both of them will make millions of Australians better off. You know that the best way to learn about what the coalition really thinks on helping families deal with the cost of living is by looking at what the Liberal Party did when they were in office and what they do when it comes to important votes in this place. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, you cannot believe anything he says unless he writes it down. Better still, look at the actual record of the coalition.

The best way for Australians to have a decent life is through a well-paid, secure job. If we had listened to the Leader of the Opposition, if we had listened to the opposition who voted against our stimulus package in 2009, we would be in a situation where hundreds of thousands more Australians would be out of a job. Around 70 per cent of the stimulus package was infrastructure which has left a long-term legacy for our nation. Not only does the opposition oppose government action to secure jobs; when in office they brought in Work Choices. That was their record in office because they have never had a plan for our economy, except a race to the bottom by cutting pay and conditions of working people. Try dealing with cost-of-living issues when you have had your penalty rates cut or when you have been unfairly dismissed. The Liberals cannot help themselves. Only yesterday we saw more reports that the coalition want to return to what many on that side believe to this day to be their crowning achievement, which was Work Choices. They are talking behind closed doors in their party room, looking at ways they can strip away pay, strip away penalty rates, strip away conditions from working people.

We can hold our heads up high on the cost of living because we got rid of Work Choices. We have acted to make sure that people do have a job which is secure and that when they have a job it is fairly paid with good conditions. We can hold our heads up high because we acted to support jobs during the global financial crisis. And we can hold our heads up high because we have helped with the quality of living as well as with the cost of living by investing in services in health and education after years of coalition neglect. We have acted to improve services and we have acted to reduce out-of-pocket expenses. When we are talking about the cost of living we do need to sort out fact from fiction. There are so many false and misleading claims that have been made by this coalition opposition that I cannot begin to list them all, but they all stem from the Leader of the Opposition's desire to say and do anything to get into office. There is no abuse that he will not hurl, no misrepresentation that he will not make in order to put the position that he wishes to put. Really, they have long ago stopped basing any of their claims on reality. They claim that the price of everything is going to go through the roof, but they cannot add up.

I will just take one of the more recent spurious claims of the opposition. I am very pleased that at least a representative of the National Party is here. The National Party leader told parliament yesterday that the cost of—

Opposition members interjecting

Sorry to insult you—that the cost of servicing a domestic refrigerator would go up by $300 a year. But to spend that much, the Leader of the Nationals would have to call technicians to his house to fully replace the refrigerant gas every five days and he would have to do this for a whole year. Whatever will they come up with next!

The opposition's claims stopped being based on reality a long time ago. They will say and do anything to whip up panic. They will hurl any abuse and misstate any fact—like the Leader of the Opposition claiming that the coal industry was going to die. The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency dealt very effectively with that in question time. It is rubbish, like, indeed, the misrepresentations on the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter. We have just heard some of them being repeated by the member for Flinders.

I want to state a few things for the benefit of the House. The government is conscious absolutely of the pressures facing the aluminium industry but the issue needs to be considered in the context of aluminium prices peaking at US$3,300 per tonne but now being approximately US$2,000, a fall of 40 per cent. That collapse in aluminium prices has resulted in numerous closures of older, less competitive aluminium smelters around the world. Hydro Aluminium has consistently identified the strong Australian dollar, low metal prices and current international economic conditions as contributing to the financial problems at the smelter. The company has been clear that their current financial pressures have nothing to do with the carbon price, which is yet to commence—just to remind members of the House.

This was confirmed today in the Financial Review where the company stated—and this is the company talking here, not any suggestions by the government:

The carbon price is not a major issue compared to other factors.

The same report confirmed that the company is already losing $6 million to $7 million a month—and there is no carbon price in place. Of course that situation is a matter of regret, but what we do not need is those opposite coming into this House and pretending that the carbon price, which is yet to commence, is the reason—and that is what we have heard from those opposite—for closures in any part of the country, or the reason, indeed, for any business failure that they can point to.

We have had further spreading of misrepresentation by the member for Flinders in relation to councils. What he failed to say in mentioning the City of Wyndham is that the City of Wyndham supports the carbon price.

A government member: Whoops!

Whoops, indeed. What he failed to say in relation to the City of Wyndham is that the City of Wyndham provides waste services in its very large landfill to between eight and 10 other Melbourne councils and provides with its very large landfill services to a very large number of commercial firms which need to dump waste. Perhaps he did not know this. I have met with the City of Wyndham and discussed with them the way in which they are going to be meeting their obligation, and I did not hear from them any of the hysteria that the member for Flinders has been out and about with today. I did not hear any of the hysteria that the member for Flinders wants to spread. What I heard from the City of Wyndham, and the other councils who attended the meeting with me, was that they understand that the carbon price is coming in; they have made the calculations they need to make in order to be able to deal with it; they support the carbon price and they understand the way in which the mechanism works, which is that there are to be costs passed on. They understand that insofar as there are going to be rate rises for the ratepayers of the City of Wyndham that those rate rises will be in the order of 13c to 40c per household per week and that the household assistance package is $10.10 on average per household per week. So that it is more than able to deal with the small level of rate rises which will be associated with the carbon price, if indeed the particular council does need to introduce those rate rises.

So when the opposition gets up, as no doubt they will again, to tell us that the lights are going to go out or that the sky is falling in or that the beer will go flat, I would say to them: they know just how untrue their claims in relation to the carbon price are. They know the misrepresentations they are making and they are going to be sorely disappointed that we do not have the disasters which they are clearly looking for, because after 1 July we will be holding this opposition to account. I will be looking forward to going to Whyalla and reminding the citizens of Whyalla that their town did not become a ghost town—in fact, that their town is a growing town, despite the fact that we have a carbon price. I am looking forward to going to coal mines around the country and discussing with workers the nonsense that we have heard from the Leader of the Opposition that the coal industry will die. And I am looking forward to going to industry around the country and telling workers the truth, unlike those opposite who think that it is appropriate conduct for them as an opposition to tell lies to the people of Australia about the affect—


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