House debates

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Questions without Notice

Climate Change

2:02 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. What is the best way to tackle climate change and secure Australia as a low-pollution economy for the future?

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Kingston for her question. It is important that we respond to the climate change challenge in a way that sets up our economy for the future and protects our environment for the future. It is important that we note this particularly today when we had the member for Wentworth vote with the government, consistent with his stated principles about the best way of dealing with the challenge of climate change. This stands in stark contrast with those opposite, who articulated those same principles only two months ago but departed from them in today’s votes in the House.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is an emissions trading scheme which seeks to do the following: put a cap on carbon pollution, do so by charging Australia’s biggest polluters, and use that money to provide compensation for working families so that they in turn can use that money to assist in making their homes more energy efficient. It is a totally costed, totally funded scheme. It makes the big polluters pay for their pollution, it uses the money raised to deal with the increase in the cost of living for consumers, and it is upfront about that. Every cent we raise from polluters will be put back into helping families and businesses adjust. On top of that, 92 per cent of households would be provided with assistance. Only the wealthiest households would miss out.

That is our approach. That is the government’s clearly articulated position. The other system—if you can call it a system—is the climate change con offered by those opposite. The climate change con put forward by the Leader of the Opposition does less, costs more and is totally unfunded. Firstly, it does less in the sense that it will result in a 13 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions. That is the calculation undertaken by the relevant authorities. Secondly, it costs more. It will cost the taxpayer three times more. Further, given that it is totally unfunded, that extra cost to the taxpayer will be met either by increasing taxes or by reducing government services, and those opposite have refused to rule out either.

That is before you take into account the other design feature—if you can call it that—of their proposal, the climate change con, which is a hidden penalties regime whereby firms are fined, with penalties, if they go beyond what is called ‘business as usual’. There is no definition about how many companies would be caught up in the secret penalties regime and no compensation for the flow-through impact which that would have on prices for consumers. We provide compensation; they provide not a single dollar of compensation.

This is all completely understandable because, as the member for Wentworth said on a previous occasion, the proposal being put forward by those opposite is simply a fig leaf to disguise the fact that nothing substantial is being done. That is what it is about; it is a fig leaf and we understand why: because, in the immortal words of the Leader of the Opposition, climate change is ‘absolute crap’. Therefore, that is what we have before us: the climate change con of those opposite.

Since the opposition has released its approach, its climate change con, we have had further developments in terms of what others think about the scheme. The original supporters of the scheme—or those drawn upon by the Leader of the Opposition to provide detailed advice on how to construct the scheme—Frontier Economics, have walked away from the scheme at a million miles an hour. They said: ‘We’ve never said anything about whether that scheme is more cost effective than the CPRS. It has been a very limited review in this case.’ The very interesting observation is this: they say: ‘I don’t think it is sustainable in the long term. It is more of a short- to medium-term stopgap measure.’

The BCA says that the only approach for the future is a market based approach, but what we found really interesting was the contribution from ‘Professor’ Hunt of Flinders at the National Press Club yesterday—he who in his university thesis said the only approach for the future on climate change is a market based approach. Yesterday he got pushed on the question of whether this would be their permanent approach or whether it could possibly change in the future. The question asked of him was:

Does that mean you would consider a carbon price or a carbon market in that review, that would be on the table?

What the member for Flinders then goes on to say is, ‘Well, out there in the future, we would consider a market based system as a possible future arrangement.’ But it gets better, because the Leader of the Opposition has been asked about this as well. He was asked the other day:

Is the direct action plan—

that is, his climate change con—

a package of interim measures until you get into something else later?

The Leader of the Opposition responds:

I wouldn’t ever say that it was the be all and end all. I would never say that, I’m not that full of myself..

So says the Leader of the Opposition. He later says that, as far as his direct action plan is concerned, it is a plan for the foreseeable future and that they would go on and have a review in 2015 which would take into account various factors.

So, out of the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition and out of the mouth of the shadow minister for the environment, we have them saying that this plan of theirs is a short-term, stopgap plan. It is an interim arrangement. They leave open the possibility not only of its review but of moving to a market based system. Therefore, based on the words of the Leader of the Opposition, in five years time they would review whether an ETS was desirable and, if it was okay at that time, they would then embrace it. Having just spent the last two months telling us that it is ‘this great big tax’, now they say that in five years time they might embrace this great big tax. Where is the consistency in that? They are seeking to negotiate one event alone and that is the upcoming election.

I say to those opposite that what the Australian people expect on climate change are people who are fair dinkum about it, who have a clear approach and one that works. What we have seen from those opposite is not only one that does less, costs more and is totally unfunded but one which they have a little insurance policy tucked in the closet for—going to an ETS after the next election were they to form the next government of Australia. That is what was said out of the shadow minister’s mouth and out of the Leader of the Opposition’s mouth. Those opposite do not wish to be upfront and fair dinkum with the Australian people. This government will be.