Monday, 14 July 2014
Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading
Madam Speaker, I rise to continue my remarks in this debate on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014 and related bills. Before the debate was interrupted by the 90-second statements, I was drawing attention to the claims made by the Prime Minister over the last three or four years—in his magical mystery tour around Australia in his high-vis jacket—explaining to Australians that to price carbon—to put a cap on carbon pollution—would act as a wrecking ball through the Australian economy. He got sick of that metaphor and moved to talking about 'a cobra strike' to the Australian economy. At other times, it was to be 'a python squeeze' on the Australian economy; or that cities that we have known and loved for decades would literally disappear off the Australian map—Whyalla, a city in the iron triangle in South Australia and dear to my heart, would disappear, according to the Prime Minister; Gladstone was at mortal threat of disappearing from the map of Australia as well, in spite of having a pretty healthy economy last time I visited the town. This was a series of hysterical, mendacious claims made by the now Prime Minister while he was opposition leader, seeking to undermine a response to climate change. Falsehoods and overreach characterised this prime minister's hysterical, mendacious campaign. After last week's goings-on in the Senate, we are now seeing the falsehoods, the overreach and the chaos of last week all coming together in the debate in the House today.
There has been some focus by the opposition on the cost-of-living claims made by the Prime Minister over the last three years, because he was utterly definitive about that. He was utterly definitive about what the impact of a price on carbon would be on Australian households. We tried to test him on this today, but we tried in vain because the Prime Minister refused to repeat the guarantees that he gave over the last three years about just what businesses would have to pass on; and about what price reductions to which Australian households. We asked him about his earlier claim that the carbon tax would result in a $10 increase per week to the grocery bill of average Australian households—not a figure that we can find in any report, in any piece of advice, or in any claim made by an expert or a commentator. We asked the Prime Minister to repeat that claim, and to repeat his guarantee that the passage of these repeal bills would result in grocery bills going down by $10 per week for Australian households. And he can't—of course he can't, because Woolies has confirmed that those prices did not go up in the first place! Woolworths has confirmed that, and other retailers have confirmed it as well. It was a falsehood. It was overreach. And that is why the Prime Minister would not repeat the response.
The height of the farce was the Minister for Agriculture, who should know better, trying to scare Australian households—particularly the carnivores among them—that a leg of lamb would cost $100 under the carbon tax. Well, as the member for Charlton pointed out, today a leg of lamb, 2.2 kilograms, costs around $26. We asked the Prime Minister—and maybe the Minister for Agriculture had overreached, and it had not quite reached $100 dollars; but what would be the reduction by the end of this week, if these repeal bills go through? And again, the Prime Minister chose to duck the question—because he knows it was all a farce. It was all a falsehood. It was all overreach. It was all designed to stoke this political campaign to scare Australian households about a proper climate change response. He said that the carbon tax would result in a $6,000 increase in the price of a new house. When asked to guarantee that the price of a new house would come down by $6,000, in line with the promises he made before the election—that in repealing the carbon tax, what had gone up would automatically come down—of course he ducked the question, because to do otherwise would be to mislead this parliament. First, because the price of a new house did not go up by that amount and second, because it will not come down. He was asked to repeat his guarantee that farm costs would come down by $12,000 a year—and of course, he did not repeat that guarantee because—again—to do so would be to mislead this parliament. It was a falsehood then, it is a falsehood now, and he is not able to guarantee it.
As I said in the earlier part of this debate, before the 90-second statements, it would be nice—given that the member for Sturt is seeking to curtail this debate—if the parliament actually had before it the amendment that the government and the Palmer United Party have cobbled together to deal with these issues. But none of us have been given the courtesy of even seeing the amendment, so that we can make a decision about whether it deals with the concerns that have been raised with us by Australian households—given the promises the Prime Minister made—and are being raised with us by Australian businesses. By contrast, I have already circulated the amendments that I intend to move to this bill. They are the same amendments we exposed as a draft piece of legislation before the election; the same amendments I moved in this place in December; and the same amendments I moved in this place a few weeks ago to reflect—to a T—the Labor Party's election policy: that we support the termination of the carbon tax, but only on the condition that it is replaced by a meaningful climate change policy: an emissions trading scheme.
The member for Sturt might agree that Direct Action is a meaningful climate change response, but, along with the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment, you are about the only three people in Australia who share that view. For 4½ years that policy has been in the marketplace, and in that time not one single expert or commentator has come out and said that Direct Action is a serious climate change policy. Not one has said that it will achieve its stated objectives. Not one has said that it is anything close to worth the billions and billions of taxpayer dollars that this government intends to dole out—on behalf of people in the gallery, people listening around Australia—to people who pollute for a living to change the way they operate and to make changes that they were probably intending to make anyway.
The problem, at the end of the day, is that this Prime Minister and this government are stuck in the past. They concocted the Direct Action policy at a particular time in history, when this Prime Minister took the temptation dangled before him by Senator Minchin to take the leadership of the party provided that he turn his back on the election commitments he made as a candidate in the seat of Warringah at the 2007 election to support an emissions trading scheme put forward by John Howard. That was an ETS that had a wider scope than the ETS that I am proposing today in our amendments. The member for Warringah turned his back on that commitment, broke the promise he made to the people of Warringah, took the temptation dangled before him by Senator Minchin to become leader of this party. At least the Treasurer had the moral fortitude to resist that temptation, to stick by his principles and say that he would not take the leadership. He knew that a market-based mechanism is the best policy response to climate change. No-one has got up and denied that speculation. Not one person has done that.
The rest of the world has moved on. The Prime Minister might be stuck in 2009, in the aftermath of the Copenhagen conference, but the rest of the world has moved on. The United States has moved on. China has moved on. South Korea is moving to put in place an emissions trading scheme in only a matter of months. China started its seventh emissions trading scheme only a few weeks ago. The older schemes in that country are trading at a higher price than those on which the Labor emissions trading scheme would trade, according to Treasury advice. These bills shall only be accepted if Labor's emissions trading scheme amendment is also accepted by this House.
Before I call any member, I wish to advise that in his speech the honourable member for Port Adelaide said that these were the same amendments that he had moved at the end of last year—I think he said December; I think they were November. In fact, they are not. They are the amendments that I ruled as not being in conformity with the standing orders. They were subsequently moved more recently with changes that brought them into conformity, but I think it is important that the record stands corrected.
I thought it might be helpful to set out important matters that happened in and around the Australian Senate for the public interest. During last Wednesday night, Palmer United senators considered a draft amendment for the repeal of the carbon tax. The draft amendment was one the government and the Palmer United team had negotiated. Based on advice the Palmer United senate team received on Wednesday night, the position to them was clear. It was not mandatory for any savings brought about by the repeal of the carbon tax to be passed on to consumers of natural gas and electricity; our senators required that there be a mandatory pass on. This is not what the Palmer United team wanted.
If Australian families, industries and citizens are not going to receive the reduction to their electricity and natural gas bills, the Palmer United Senate team resolved that it could not, in moral conscience, vote for the repeal of the carbon tax. Palmer United took a positive approach and re-drafted the amendment to the effect of delivering reductions to electricity and natural gas, and clarified this with the government, who were supportive of that action. So, the benefit of the repeal of the carbon tax is that it would deliver a real reduction to generators of electricity and producers of natural gas and to the consumers of those commodities.
Palmer United supports the bill and the amendment that will be brought forward in the detailed consideration of the bill. The amendment to that bill—proposed today, I believe, and to be moved by the government during the detailed consideration stage later today—will allow and guarantee a reduction in electricity and gas to all Australians and to all businesses. If such changes are not passed on to consumers and enterprises, any entity not doing so will be subject to 250 per cent of the cost savings that have not been passed on to the consumers. This requirement applies only to the suppliers of natural gas and electricity or a bulk SGG importer in respect of supply of synthetic greenhouse gases. These requirements affect fewer than 100 entities in Australia but impact upon the lives of 23 million Australians, who have suffered under the carbon tax for too long a period.
We stand today on the edge of time, and destiny is ours to grab for our nation. There can be no justification to removing the carbon tax if it does not improve the lives of our citizens. We must have a mandatory requirement that the price of energy be reduced by the savings from the removal of the carbon tax, which no longer has to be paid. We must mandate that the electricity and gas costs for Australian families, single mothers and pensioners must be reduced by the abolition of the carbon tax. There must be a reduction of the costs of energy to our industries and our businesses to ensure their competitiveness and bring down the cost of production and the cost of employing people so more jobs can be created, so more Australians may find satisfaction and direction in gainful employment. The cost of running our schools, our hospitals and our institutions must benefit from lower energy costs.
There is no justification for the carbon tax. The carbon tax sets the price of carbon at a far higher price than applies to the rest of the world. It is higher than the ETS in Europe and much higher than the ETS in New Zealand. We must stand on the right side of history, and the right side of history is standing up for the Australian people, for their livelihood and for their future.
Climate change is a global problem, and it needs a global solution. Australian families cannot bear the responsibility for this matter for the whole world, when Australian trading partners fail to act and are not united on the issue. For Australia to act alone and impose a tax on carbon at this time has only placed a tax on jobs and discouraged investments. The cost of energy for all Australians shows a lack of confidence in our community for investment and growth to allow our business to employ more people and to allow economic stimulation to be undertaken.
Mr Sukkar interjecting—
I was a member of the party over there four years ago. I said it then. This is so we can have more economic revenue and more revenue for government. More revenue will mean more resources for the government, which will mean more hospitals, more schools and a rising standard of living.
If the day comes that our major trading partners of China, the United States of America, the European Union, Japan and Korea set up an ETS then they will know that Australia is also serious about an ETS because our senators plan to move in the Senate an ETS dependent upon our trading partners also acting in that regard. It has been said that when our trading partners set up an emissions trading scheme they will require that their trading partners, including Australia, exporting to their countries pay an emissions trading tax upon the import of those products if their governments do not have an environmental trading scheme. In these circumstances, if Australia does not have an emissions trading scheme, Australia's exporters will be paying a tax to another country instead of to Australia.
Australia needs all the revenue it can get to meet the hopes and aspirations of the people of this country and the people of the world. The world is constantly changing and our ability to adapt to change and to keep an open mind on issues which affect all of us is what really matters. It is not about the Labor way or the Liberal way; it is the right way that is important for Australia and the world.
True to our promise to the Australian people at the last election, Palmer United senators will vote in the Senate to abolish the carbon tax. In so doing, Palmer United senators will support the initiatives that the government will foreshadow later on today in the consideration in detail of the bill. Removal of the carbon tax requires that all producers of energy in this country are required by law to pass on to all consumers of energy the savings from the repeal of the carbon tax. Action by Palmer United senators will make Australian industries more competitive internationally and the lives of our people more manageable.
Carbon tax, as I have said, is an arbitrary tax. It sets a price, as we know, far above the level of the international price of carbon. It disadvantages all Australians and it must be repealed. To introduce an increase in excise and indexation is, in our view, not the answer. If New Zealand can join the international community, why can't Australia? Acting alone, Australia cannot change the world or climate change. We must not act just ourselves as an isolated island where our carbon share is less than one per cent of the world's emissions. We must think of the global situation and a global solution not just ourselves but for all our children and all the children of the world not just in our time but for all time.
Time waits for no man. The challenges we face are not easy but face them we must—and face them we can together. Climate change must have a global solution. There are moves around the world. Many countries are failing to act because they are unsure of how this issue will be dealt with by other nations. Australia has the opportunity to set the standard. We can act as a catalyst for the whole world and set a fair framework which the world can follow. In understanding climate change, we must remain ever vigilant and aware that Australia is part of an international community and, more importantly, of what the global community can do together to make the lives of those who inhabit this planet more secure. Together we can achieve the extraordinary. President Obama of the United States has shown great leadership in encouraging all countries to act on an emissions trading scheme.
In voting for the abolition of the carbon tax, Palmer United senators will move later on in the week to establish an emissions trading scheme which would only become effective once Australia's main trading partners also take action to establish such a scheme. These actions must be set based on the actions of our leading trading partners—China, the United States of America, the European Union, India, Japan and Korea. We need to ensure that the jobs and enterprises of all Australians will not be disadvantaged.
We in Palmer United encourage all members of this country to support the government in their initiative to ensure that the benefits from the abolition of the carbon tax flow on to our industries and to our people. The world will know once we act that they can be sure that Australia will respond to a global emissions trading scheme that promotes international trade and prosperity.
As John Kennedy said many years ago:
For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.
When truth triumphs over injustice everyone is a winner. The inconvenient truth is a truth that what we must face together—not alone and isolated on an island but together as a united international community that can bring about real change.
The Palmer United Party's role in the Senate is to keep faith with the Australian people. Listening is one of the most important things we can do in this place and in the Senate. By listening we can learn from others and make changes before change changes us. As Australians we must put the interests of our people before our own individual interests and the interests of all people of the world ahead of all else.
As has been said, we need an open mind. This is called for by the need for a better mutual understanding and mutual respect. An open mind will enable us to have an objective and realistic understanding of each other. We can discover not only what divides us but what we have in common. We have more in common in the common future that binds us together. At least we can see to it that the differences will not result in clashes and confrontation. An open mind will also enable us to be more appreciative, accommodating and supportive of each other's concerns and priorities.
Despite all the talk about climate change in the world, we are still a developing world with a huge population and we still face various problems of unbalanced development, poverty and environmental degradation. We seek a better world for Australia and for all citizens of the world so that one day man can be what he was meant to be: free and independent.
The abolition of the carbon tax is the first step in allowing Australian enterprises to compete, increase exports, employ more people and, more importantly, allow Australians to pay lower electricity and gas prices and relieve some of the pressures that have been placed on families right across this nation. That is why Palmer United took a stand in the Senate—to ensure that all Australians would be dealt with fairly by the abolition of the carbon tax.
I rise to my feet to talk on the amendments that the Minister for the Environment is moving. I cannot help but notice that on Monday afternoons we do not have matters of public importance debates. They are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But, to my way of thinking, this is a matter of public importance. This is a position that was taken to the election. As much as those opposite would like to argue that they terminated the carbon tax pre-election and replaced it with an ETS, that policy was resoundingly defeated at the election. The Minister for the Environment, the Prime Minister and the government today have a solid mandate—have always had a solid mandate—to repeal this tax.
I note that I follow the member for Fairfax, because my background is in the business world, not the political world. My point of difference with those opposite is that I understand the role this tax has played in the last six years in my electorate of Reid as it has filtered through every line item in the expenses of every P&L of every local business, and that is the part that those opposite just do not get. I exclude from that the member for Indi and the member for Fairfax, because they have run businesses. They understand that a business has a revenue side and an expense side to its P&L. They understand that, through the GFC, consumer confidence was shot to pieces. People sat on their hands and saved at six times the rate they did under the Howard government. At the same time, with the introduction of the carbon tax, you had the ratcheting up on the expense side of every line item that this fed into. Every small and medium sized business in my electorate of Reid and right throughout Australia was hit with a double whammy.
Small and medium sized business, which we never talk about in this chamber as much as we should, employee 70 per cent of the people in this country. They have been and will always be the engine room of the economy. At a time when they needed us, we turned around and whacked them with a tax that filtered through every line in the expense side of the P&L. Traditionally when a business is hit with increasing costs it will increase its prices to maintain its margin. In accounting terms it is EBITDA. Due to this double whammy it was in the unique position where not only could it not do that; in most instances it had to decrease its prices. What do small and medium sized businesses do, as they have always done in times of controversy? They augment their business model.
What have been missed in this chamber are the flow-on effects that this tax has had in the real world. Not enough people in this chamber come from the real world. Their background is not in business. What happened in the streets of Reid—through Auburn, through Homebush, through Flemington, through Concord, through Five Dock, through Wareemba and through Drummoyne—is that business changed the way they operated. They did it, as they have always done, in two major ways. They augmented their trading hours or, in the case of family businesses—which are the vast majority of small businesses—they increased the hours that they worked themselves, cut casual wages and started augmenting their trading hours. These things feed in. Here is the vicious circle which businesses in Reid and throughout Australia have operated in for the last six years.
We argue about youth unemployment in this country. Everyone, on both sides, thinks this is an issue that we must confront. And they are right. But here is the kicker. Casual employment has and will always be the entree for university students and young people to find a career. In the streets of Reid it has dried up. On the western side of my electorate youth unemployment is running at 20 per cent. One in five 18- to 24-year-olds cannot find a job. Here is a light bulb moment. Why don't we get out of the expense side of the P&L of businesses and restore some profitability so that they might then put on some staff? That is what is being missed.
Australia has been built on the back of cheap power. It has been our competitive advantage. Our pay and conditions have been derived as a result. Every 1 July, based on business profitability, we have a minimum wage increase. If businesses are not profitable, we will not get that. We are seeing that now, with real wage decreases. I cannot believe that anyone could stand up in this chamber and argue to the contrary. We need to help business, not hurt it.
It was a breath of fresh air when the member for Mallee, in his 90-second statement, spoke of some innovative environmental businesses in his electorate. Last Friday I sat with one such business in my electorate, Suntech, at Sydney Olympic Park. They are the smarts for the Chinese solar energy business. The carbon tax is not important to them. What is important, in my humble opinion, from my commercial background, is how this will be attacked commercially. They told me that storage is the key. The University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland are leading the world in this space.
I say to the member for Melbourne that what happens is that commercial enterprise enters the frame—not government, not legislation, not taxation and not regulation. Private enterprise enters the space. This is what we have and will continue to see.
Vector, a power company in New Zealand, are running an amazing trial—financing techniques. No-one has even spoken about them in this chamber. In the not-too-distant future, as storage capacity and lifetime increases, we will see companies like GE and Macquarie Bank, which have entered this space in substantial quantities, offer financing packages so that the daily fee for having solar, thermal, fuel cell technology, wind—whatever it may be—will beat the price of day-to-day electricity. It is the same theory that the carbon tax and the ETS apply to but it is happening through a market mechanism that is not an ETS.
Economists love markets; that is true. They also love textbooks. I was an economist before spending 23 years in business. I know that in the real world you do not live and operate in a textbook. Has anyone mentioned the market manipulation of the ETS program in Europe? No, they have not. It is convenient not to. How many economists would it take to change a light bulb? The answer is no answer—they pay someone to do it. They do not operate in the real world. They hire an electrician. People in the real world, the small-business operators, try to change the light bulb themselves. I just find it so frustrating. I have no doubt I will be followed by the member for Melbourne, who will espouse ideology to me. Che sera sera, because I come from the real world; I come from the world of family business.
The member for Fairfax spoke on the amendments that are being moved, and I would like to touch on those, because the Minister for the Environment spoke to those in his opening speech. The $1.1 million penalty will be included in the original bill's complementary amendments. The amendments ensure large supplies of regulated goods—electricity, natural gas, synthetic greenhouse gases. They must pass on their cost savings. They impose a penalty on electricity and natural gas suppliers equal to 250 per cent of any cost savings they do not pass on. They require electricity and natural gas retailers of bulk imports of synthetic greenhouse gases to inform the ACCC and customers of how they are passing on the cost savings.
The amendments are currently being finalised and will be moved this afternoon. But they are all aimed at one thing: getting out of the expense side of not only small, medium and big business—business irrespective of size—but getting out of the expense side of the family home. In just the same way that small business operates with budgetary constraints in mind, so do family homes. And the families in Reid have spoken loud and clear. They spoke at the election. They spoke to me in the lead-up to the election and they have spoken to me post-election. Whilst I said at the start of this speech that there is no MPI today but how important this was—and I have made comment in this chamber before that some of the behaviour here at times reminds me of kindergarten—that MPI space between 3.20 and 4.30 every afternoon reminds me a lot of kindergarten, because it is a time when fairy tales are told. It is a time when history is rewritten.
The history is clear—the history and the impost on business irrespective of size, in the electorate of Reid and right across Australia. The jury is in. Irrespective of what those opposite want to stand and argue—that yes, they are still terminating the carbon tax and want to move to an ETS—that was the policy they took to the last election. That was the policy resoundly dismissed and defeated at the last election. To argue any differently is quite simply political spin. I rise today to commend the minister and speak in support of this bill, and I look forward to the political groundhog day that we have had since 9 September last year finally coming to an end, when this is hopefully passed in the Senate, so that we can get out of the expense side of business irrespective of size and households in my electorate and right around Australia.
It amazes me that as I rise to my feet today to speak on the carbon tax repeal legislation we still do not actually have a written copy of the government's amendments before us. I think that is symbolic of the chaotic way the government is handling this most important issue. I agree with the member for Reid on one thing: this is a most important issue, because we know for sure and certain, as sure as we can be, that carbon pollution is happening, that it is causing climate change. We are as sure as we can be about any scientific fact. In fact, someone recently compared it to the fact that there are still some people who would say that smoking does not cause cancer, but it is really not the sort of risk any sensible person would take. It is the same thing here.
We have some guy up there—I do not know who he is—saying that this is rubbish. The vast majority of the world's scientists agree that climate change is real, that it is being caused by humans and that it is being caused by carbon pollution. One other thing we know for sure and certain is that the cost of not acting today will be borne by future generations, and it will be borne at a much higher rate than the cost of reasonable mitigation strategies today. We are leaving for our children not just an environmental disaster but the economic cost of dealing with that environmental disaster. And we have a responsibility, not just because we as parents and grandparents consider the sort of world that we want to leave our children but because, per capita, Australians are one of the greatest emitters of carbon pollution in the world. We have a responsibility to be part of global action to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change.
Labor has always been consistent about the need to act on this. Back in the day, John Howard was also committed to action on climate change. In fact, we had both John Howard and Kevin Rudd going to the 2007 election saying that they would introduce an emissions trading scheme, because climate change is real, it is happening, and we need to do something about it. And that is what we have been working on since 2007: a real, fair dinkum scheme that will actually reduce carbon emissions over time. Our carbon pollution reduction scheme—the first one that was negotiated between Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull as Leader of the Opposition back in the day—would have done that. It would have achieved that. Unfortunately the member for Wentworth, the Minister for Communications, who is actually a believer in climate change and someone who is prepared to stand by and have the courage of his convictions and not be weathervane on this issue, was defeated by just one vote by his own caucus. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Greens went on to help. The Tony-Abbott-led Liberal Party actually blocked that very important motion.
We now have the Green interjecting, trying to defend the indefensible. You know that if you had agreed to that legislation we would have an emissions trading scheme in place now that would already be acting to reduce carbon pollution. We would not be having this debate today, and the member for Melbourne knows that.
We are already seeing the effects, the beginnings of climate change around the globe. We are seeing it in Australia, in extreme weather events more frequent and more extreme. The last 13 years of this century were the hottest years on record. We are seeing hotter days, higher sea levels, and more severe storms, droughts and fires. We are seeing all of that. In Australia it is costing us already, but have a thought for our neighbours as well, those Pacific Island nations that are actually making plans to remove their whole population when their nation becomes uninhabitable. Think about what is happening not just to us in Australia but also in our region.
What is even more frustrating about this debate that we are having today is that we actually have a scheme in place and it is working to reduce carbon emissions. We are the only country in the world that has a scheme that is already operating and in place, and we are turning our backs on it. We are walking away from it and we are going backwards on our scheme. We are going to that place under the stewardship of the so-called Minister for the Environment, who wrote his honours thesis about how a market mechanism would be the best way to handle climate change. We are going—
On markets and pollution—that is good! The so-called Minister for the Environment is saying that markets are the best way to deal with pollution, but just not in the case of carbon pollution. We actually have a scheme at the moment that levies big polluters. It takes money from big polluters and uses that money for climate change mitigation, reducing the effects on families—
Mr Hunt interjecting—
We are going to be the only country in the world that is actually walking away from a scheme that is working and going to a scheme that no economist, no environmentalist and nobody in the world actually thinks will work to effectively bring down carbon pollution and mitigate against the dangers of climate change. We now have some of our biggest trading partners all moving in one direction and we are moving back in the other direction.
Today, 39 national and 23 sub-national jurisdictions—accounting for almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions—have implemented or are moving to implement carbon pricing instruments, including emissions trading schemes. We had the Treasurer earlier today talking about China. I have been to China recently, too. I spoke to the same person that he says he spoke to, who told me that they hope to move from their seven very large emissions trading pilot schemes in China at the moment to a national scheme by the end of the decade. We have got our most major trading partner, China; 39 national jurisdictions and 23 sub-national jurisdictions moving this way.
In the United States just recently, there was a very significant step towards tackling climate change with President Obama announcing a 30 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. Yes, he has faced domestic roadblocks from the Tea Party mates of those opposite, but he is moving around those to implement strict new carbon dioxide emissions caps on power plants in the United States. That comes on top of the 2011 strict fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles and the other measures, like last year's Environmental Protection Agency declaration that new coal-fired plants may not emit more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, which has the effect of the ending the building of new dirty coal-fired power stations in the United States.
There are very significant moves from our major trading partners. When you are talking about our major trading partners, it is not just China and the United States. Look at the government's conservative friends in the United Kingdom and in Germany. When the Prime Minister was in 'Canadia' earlier this year, he said:
There is no sign that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted. If anything trading schemes are being discarded not adopted.
Yet, his own friends—conservative governments in the United Kingdom and Germany—are amongst those in the forefront of adopting strict and successful programs to reduce carbon emissions.
Emissions trading schemes are in place across Europe, as I said earlier, and in some states of the United States, in Canada, in New Zealand, in Australia and in Japan. South Korea will have a scheme beginning in 2015—so the beginning of next year—which is legislated already. In these places it is not just a nutty left-wing conspiracy to destroy the industrial state, as the Prime Minister seems to imply at times. You actually have conservatives like Lord Deben in the UK calling our move away from an emissions trading scheme 'reckless'. He said it was 'deeply shaming'. He said:
It’s a … deeply retrograde step … There has been a notable reduction in emissions and businesses have not found it to be the imposition that they said it would be.
This is a man who served in Margaret Thatcher's government. This is no radical. He is a man who served in Margaret Thatcher's government.
We had the US Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, saying last month that Australia would be making a huge mistake in dropping the ETS. Again, he is no radical. We have had more Australian economists than I could poke a stick at saying the same. AMP Capital's chief economist, Shane Oliver, said:
… it was hard to say the carbon tax had had any negative macro–economic impacts on Australia such as on growth and employment.
Ross Garnaut has said in a newly published interview today that:
There’s no doubt that Australia is out of step. First of all, out of step for not dealing more strongly with the issue of climate change—you can reduce emissions and play your full part in an international effort without a market-based mechanism, it’s just that the alternatives are more expensive, more difficult, and less certain to deliver good results than an emissions trading scheme or broadly based carbon pricing in other forms.
Across the world we have major economies, major trading partners, moving in one direction and we are moving from that place backwards. We are retreating from action on climate change.
The benefit of an emissions trading scheme is that you put in place a cap on carbon pollution and then people trade within that cap to find the least-cost way of remaining under it. Even if those opposite do not believe what the vast majority of scientists around the world believe, why do they think it is a bad thing to reduce air pollution in Australia? Can anyone explain to me why we do not let people dump whatever they want in rivers, why we do not let people dump whatever they want on the side of the street, and yet we do not want to limit the carbon pollution we are putting into the atmosphere? I have never heard from those opposite why it is a bad idea to limit the amount of pollution going into our atmosphere.
I said earlier that this is a scheme that is working. In the very short time that this scheme has been in place, Australia's wind capacity has trebled. More than a million households have had solar panels installed, up from fewer than 7,500 under Prime Minister Howard. Employment in the renewable energy industry has more than doubled, to over 24,000 people. Has there been the python squeeze; has it wiped Whyalla off the map; has it led to $100 legs of lamb? None of the disastrous predictions have come true. In fact, 160,000 jobs were created in the first year. The economy continued to grow at 2½ per cent, and inflation remained low. Pollution in the National Electricity Market decreased by seven per cent, and renewable power generation as a share of the National Electricity Market increased by 25 per cent. We have a scheme that is working, and we should move to the next phase of that scheme—a proper emissions trading scheme with a floating price—but we do need to take real action on reducing carbon pollution because the environmental and economic debt we are leaving our children through inaction is completely unacceptable.
I am pleased to rise in support of the carbon tax repeal legislation, because the repeal of the carbon tax is a core commitment that we made to the people of my electorate of Robertson in the lead-up to the last election. Day after day, month after month and for more than a year prior to September 2013 I spoke with tens of thousands of people in my electorate who told me emphatically that they did not want a carbon tax. We had signatures from thousands of people who were prepared to put their name to a petition to see this toxic tax axed. I met with people in their homes in Green Point, Point Frederick, East Gosford, Kariong and Point Clare; in cafes at Erina, Woy Woy, Gosford and Terrigal; on street corners at Umina, Avoca Beach and Kincumber; and in people's local businesses right across the coast. The overwhelming response from people on the Central Coast was that they did not want a carbon tax—a carbon tax that before the 2010 election we were told would not be implemented. But after the election, all of a sudden, it was. The people on the Central Coast told me that the overwhelming reason for their determination to see the carbon tax scrapped was the impact on their cost of living, especially their electricity and gas bills, and the impact on jobs. The cost of living and the need for more local jobs in my electorate are two important concerns and today I am proud to stand in this chamber and say to the people of my electorate that through these bills the coalition government will lower your bills.
I will never forget the stories of some of the householders I spoke with following the implementation of this toxic tax. A nurse I spoke with at Woy Woy was concerned about the wellbeing of her 80-something-year-old mother, who was refusing to turn on the heater at night in the middle of winter because she could not afford the electricity bills. There was the retired gentleman I doorknocked in Umina who spoke of his concern that, should the cost of electricity continue to rise, he would be forced to consider selling his home just to pay his bills. Pensioners are crying out for the carbon tax to be scrapped, and I am pleased to note that age pensioners will significantly benefit from the carbon tax being scrapped—they will keep the Clean Energy Supplement and, furthermore, the pension will continue to increase twice a year as it always has.
I will always remember the story of a local business on the peninsula who told me they were forced to choose between paying the carbon tax on their electricity bill or letting go one of their part-time or casual workers. Such is the impact of this tax. That is why we are committed to abolishing the carbon tax and why we will not stop until that is done—this government takes its election commitments seriously. Our commitments reflect what the Australian people voted for—what people on the Central Coast voted for—and our absolute awareness of this $550 a year hit on households. It is not just a hit on households; it is also a massive hit on local businesses. Central Coast New South Wales Business Chamber Regional Manager Daniel Farmer told me that the carbon tax simply is not fair. He said that small business is the backbone of the Central Coast's economy, and it is not fair for them to have to pay increased costs for services such as electricity, distribution and resources. I have heard Daniel describe the carbon tax several times as a slap in the face and yet another surcharge that small businesses are forced to pay. The President of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Matthew Wales, told me that his chamber has always endorsed abolishing the carbon tax because it has a direct impact on electricity prices which in turn affect small businesses and their competitiveness in the market place. This is particularly important on the peninsula, where a majority of businesses are small and medium enterprises.
The owner of Starship Cruises, based in Gosford, Alan Draper said his maintenance costs are soaring because the cost of producing parts and even the cost of servicing has gone up, thanks to the impact of higher electricity costs for businesses and manufacturing industry since the implementation of the carbon tax. Another local business owner, Beau Woodley, who owns Central Coast Plastering Service, has described the increase in cost to buy the materials he needs as 'dramatic'. Mr Woodley already has significant running costs, and the carbon tax has become a burden. In his words, he will rest easier at night once the carbon tax has gone. The owner of a business in West Gosford, Packaging Plus, Greg Howell, told me that electricity bills have significantly increased since the introduction of the carbon tax. It is now more expensive to run his business and he too wants this toxic tax gone. The impact of the carbon tax is also being felt by local real estate agents. Kerrie Ryan, the owner of Ray White at Killcare is apprehensive about future annual increases in the carbon tax and how this will affect bills—that is, unless we scrap the tax. This is why I am so pleased to support the carbon tax repeal legislation now before the House.
Labor's carbon tax has already caused $15.4 billion worth of damage to the Australian economy in its first two years of operation. And, as Kerrie Ryan from Ray White Killcare feared, from this month the carbon tax is expected to rise by more than five per cent from $24.15 to $25.40 per tonne. This hike will put even more pressure on families and businesses. The carbon tax means higher electricity prices, more jobs at risk and damage to Australia's international competitiveness. What is worse is that members on the opposite side know this. Even though they know this, the former Member for Robertson—now a Labor senator in the other place—has voted to keep the carbon tax, despite all the evidence to the contrary that the people of the Central Coast want it scrapped. Labor has another chance to support for repeal of the carbon tax and vote in favour of lower electricity prices for Australian families. Today I call on Labor to stop standing in the way of much needed relief for families on the Central Coast.
Treasury modelling has shown that the removal of the carbon tax in 2014-15 will reduce average costs for households by around $550 a year. It is estimated that retail electricity should be around nine per cent lower and retail gas prices around seven per cent lower. On this basis, a household's average electricity bills will be around $200 lower than they otherwise would be and average gas bills will be around $70 lower. The termination of the carbon tax will reduce the consumer price index by around 0.7 percentage points. And business compliance costs are expected to fall by around $87.6 million per annum as a consequence of repealing the carbon tax.
The question people have been asking me over the past few months, and particularly over the last couple of weeks, when I am out and about buying a coffee in Gosford, or speaking with small businesses in Umina, or greeting commuters at Woy Woy station, or having a cup of tea or coffee with local residents at one of the regular community morning teas that we hold across my electorate—in Copacobana, Tascott, Terrigal or Ettalong—is always the same: 'Why won't Labor get out of the way?' The carbon tax just does not do what Labor and the Greens claimed it would do. In its first year, the carbon tax raised $7.6 billion but emissions were almost unchanged. Looking ahead, domestic emissions are projected not to fall, as those on the other side of the House claim as the reason they are clinging to this toxic tax, but in actual fact to rise to rise under the carbon tax—from 560 million tonnes in 2010 to 621 million tonnes in 2020.
This is a tax that impacts on the lowest income earners in our society, but it does not do the job it was supposed to do. The coalition government has a plan and is firmly committed to reducing Australia's emissions. We are determined to meet our target of being at five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. To achieve this, our Direct Action program will see us plant more trees, capture more carbon in soils and clean up power stations. We are proposing to invest some $2.5 billion in practical measures to help the environment and not to harm our economy in the process.
I have been out on the ground in places like Copacabana, Macmasters Beach and Erina Creek, working with local community groups to help clean up our environment. Some of these areas may benefit under the coalition's Green Army program. The Green Army will be Australia's largest-ever team supporting environmental action across the country, building to 15,000 young Australians by 2018. I do not support the carbon tax because it has done nothing to help our environment, but it has done a lot to hurt our economy. It has resulted in a tax that reaches deep into the pockets of families on the Central Coast and takes out $550 a year. It is a direct hit on local businesses and it is a hit on local jobs and local job opportunities on the Central Coast.
When the carbon tax is scrapped, the price for groceries, for household items and for services should also fall because the price of power is embedded in every price in our economy. When the price of power comes down, the ACCC will be ready to ensure that these price cuts are passed on. I support the carbon tax repeal legislation because people in my electorate of Robertson are demanding that we scrap the carbon tax. These amendments, and I understand they have been circulated, will ensure there is no doubt as to what they cover—gas, electricity and synthetic greenhouse gas bulk importers. In addition to the $1.1 million penalty in the original bills, some complementary amendments will be included. As the Minister for the Environment outlined in the House earlier in this debate, the amendments are designed to ensure large suppliers of regulated goods, electricity, natural gas and synthetic greenhouse gases must pass on all cost savings. They will impose a penalty on electricity and natural gas suppliers equal to 250 per cent of any cost savings they do not pass on. They require electricity and natural gas retailers and bulk importers of synthetic greenhouse gases to inform the ACCC and customers about how they are passing on cost savings. Businesses should be able to explain to customers how changes in their costs are flowing through to changes in their prices. The government is aware that major electricity and gas retailers are already committed to providing this information to households and businesses on bills, inserts and websites.
In conclusion, I restate that this government is determined to repeal the carbon tax. Every day the carbon tax stays in place costs Australians $11 million on their power bills. We are voting to scrap the carbon tax because that is the best way to take pressure off families, particularly families on the Central Coast, as well as help the economy. I commend these bills to the House.
This is parliament's asbestos moment. This is parliament's tobacco moment. This is the moment when we have all the facts at our fingertips and have to make a decision about whether to act. When we look back on this moment, we will see this as the point when we knew that the way we had been doing things was no longer sustainable. This is the point when we decide whether we let the large companies that are making a lot of money out of hurting people and hurting the planet keep going—or whether we do the right thing by the community and by our children.
Australia for many years has been powered by coal. Our electricity networks are really a series of copper lines out to coalmines. This has been the story for a good part of two centuries—not because a group of people sat around and worked out how they could do the most damage to the society. It happened because for many years we here in Australia thought, as did the rest of the world, that you could dig up coal and burn it for free. We thought that it was, to use the terminology of the last century—still repeated by this government—a 'cheap source of energy'.
But what we are realising—what we have now known for at least a couple of decades and probably longer—is that, when you dig up fossil fuels and burn them, you put pollution into the atmosphere. It is basic physics. When you put pollution into the atmosphere, if you do it on a worldwide scale and if you do it long enough, you start to change the planet's temperature. The greenhouse effect, as it used to be called, kicks in. We have been put on notice that, as surely as night follows day, if we keep burning fossil fuels,, we will heat the planet up. What is incontrovertible is that, since the beginning of the industrial era, we collectively as a species, despite all the amazing things we have done, have heated the planet by about 0.8 of a degree. What we also know—because the scientists have been telling us until they reach the point of despair—is that, even if we turned off all pollution in the world tomorrow, lags in the climate system mean that we will still have heated up the planet by about another 0.7 or 0.8 of a degree, so we are up to close to about 1.6 degrees.
That 1.6 degrees might not sound like a lot, but the thing is that the planet is not like this room, where you can turn the thermostat up and down and adjust the temperature. The planet is more like the human body, where you have a narrow range of temperatures within which your body can be safe. If your body gets too hot or too cold, the doctor might not be able to tell you exactly which organ will fail and might not be able to tell you exactly how sick you will get, but any doctor will tell you that you do not want to go there and that you want to stay within the safe range. The planet has a safe range and the scientists, again, have been telling us until they are blue in the face that we cannot heat this planet by more than about two degrees without running the risk of runaway climate change—and that means that things might start happening that we can no longer control.
In the Arctic, for example, not only will the ice sheet start melting faster but feedback loops may kick in. If you shrink the expanse of white, resulting in more dark space, more heat will be absorbed from the sun—because white surfaces reflect light energy while dark surfaces absorb it and heat up. That means the ocean will heat up and the ice will melt even quicker—and so the feedback loop kicks in. The scientists tell us that we may not be able to stop these kinds of feedback loops and that, if we want a better than even chance of staying safe, we should stay below the two-degree guardrail.
As I have just said, however, we know that we are already at about 1.6 or 1.7 degrees of warming. That means that the decisions we make within the next couple of decades are crucial. That is why the Climate Commission called this 'the critical decade'. They are saying that it is not free to pollute—fossil fuels are not a cheap source of energy. It comes at a massive cost to the planet and to the people on the planet.
You have two choices when faced with that. You either say to the big polluters in this country and elsewhere, 'We are now going to make you pay for the cost, or at least part of the cost, of the pollution you are putting into the atmosphere that affects our health and affects our way of life.' That is the approach that currently exists. The alternative is to do what the government is proposing, which is to say, 'Tell you what: instead of the big polluters paying the government and the government giving half that money to households, we will make households pay—so we can give money to the big polluters to keep on polluting.' That is the absurd choice we are being faced with with this set of bills that the government wants to rush through this parliament today. After the election in 2010, we the Greens were in the position to secure action on global warming. Working together with the then Labor government and other members of the crossbench, we put a price on pollution. In addition, we secured things that had never been secured before in this country—a Clean Energy Finance Corporation that would put $10 billion into cleaner, renewable energy in this country, so that Australia could become a renewable energy powerhouse and would have something to sell to the rest of the world in 15 years time that was not just coal and gas, but was clean energy technology.
We secured ARENA—$3 billion to go into early stage research and development for solar and wind farms around this country—and we secured the Climate Change Authority, which would give this government independent advice about just how quickly we needed to act on global warming if we want to preserve the Australian way of life. Those things had never before been put on the table by any political party other than the Greens, and we secured them in 2010. I thank the previous Labor government for delivering on that, and I thank the members of the crossbench for working to deliver on that, because we did something that had not been done before. We had conservative country independents, progressive city independents, the Greens and Labor all on the same page, informed by experts and coming up with a way of putting a price on pollution and then putting the money into compensation for households and into developing clean energy in this country.
We are now at the point where it looks like some of that is going to go, but it also looks like some of it is going to stay. In that respect I want to note the Palmer United Party senators, who have agreed to keep those gains secured by the Greens—ARENA, the CEFC, the Climate Change Authority, and also the securing of the renewable energy target. That is very, very important; and I thank them for that. But I say to everyone in this chamber that there are two types of denial about climate change. There is denying the science, which is what our Prime Minister and most of this government is famous for. Then there is the denying of the consequences of the science. The thing about believing in climate change is that you cannot be half pregnant. Once you accept that global warming is real, then it means that we have to act—we have to act now if we want to make sure that we preserve the Australian way of life for the rest of us in this country, and everyone who comes after us. In that respect I say to Labor, to the extent that this forces you to go back to the drawing board: please break your bipartisan agreement with the coalition for an appalling five per cent emissions reduction—that is a death sentence. If you go to the next election saying that a five per cent cut in pollution is enough, you will be condemned, just as the coalition is being condemned.
The reality at the moment is that we have a government that is saying the science of climate change is 'absolute crap' and people can keep on polluting in the way they have been, and that has a five per cent emissions reduction target that is not even legally binding. You know it is not legally binding, and the Minister for the Environment knows it is not legally binding, because the government has said that if the money runs out they will not keep spending to reach five per cent—or happily we will reach three or four per cent, maybe. We know that in the face of that coming from this government, the two biggest threats to the Australian way of life are global warming and Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister. This Prime Minister is writing this country a prescription for more bushfires happening more often, more intense weather events, and more heatwaves.
I do not know about you, but I do not want to go on every Christmas holiday worrying about where the next bushfire is going to hit, or worrying about how many people are going to die from the heatwaves. But what we know—because the scientists employed by the government have told us over and over again—is that in Victoria, for example, unless we get global warming under control, we can expect to see something like the Black Saturday bushfires happening, on average, every two years. They tell us that Melbourne's climate will become like Cowra, and that they cannot find an analogous place on earth to describe what Darwin will be like under four degrees of warming, because that is what is in store.
We are doing this a very short period of time after scientists have also told us that they fear the West Antarctic ice sheet may be irreversibly melting. Faced with the biggest-ever threat to our way of life, our Prime Minister chooses a policy of appeasement. This is an appeasing government that is selling out our future and is one of the biggest threats to our way of life that we have seen. Ronald Reagan—hardly someone I quote often—said that the first duty of every government is to protect its people, but Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, is failing in that duty, because he is giving Australians a prescription for a worse way of life.
In the summer accompanying the Black Saturday bushfires, more people died from the heatwaves than died in the bushfires themselves, and that is what we know is in store for us here in Australia. The vulnerable, the poor, the elderly—those who cannot afford to fit out their houses with air conditioning in the same way that others might be able to and whose health is already frail—are the ones who are going to suffer the most, thanks to this government. In recognition of the fact that, if we are to accept the science of climate change, we also have to accept the consequences of that science, I move the following amendment. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"the House declines to give the bill a second reading and:
(1) notes that:
(a) the world is on track for 4 degrees of warming; and
(b) warming of less than 1 degree is already intensifying extreme weather events in Australia and around the world with enormous costs to life and property; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) protect the Australian people and environment from climate change by approving no new coal mines or extensions of existing mines, or new coal export terminals; and
(b) adopt a trajectory of 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050 emissions reduction target in global negotiations for a 2015 treaty."
In the last minute and a half, I want to talk about how, as many people would know, the science of climate change led me to quit my job and start running in elections. It was the understanding that we have a decade or two to turn the ship around or else we are in serious trouble, the understanding that global warming is already influencing the extreme weather that we are seeing, the understanding that we have just experienced the hottest year, the hottest month and the hottest day on record and the understanding that if you are under 30 in this world you have never experienced a March that is cooler than the average March or a January that is cooler than the average January. In other words, if you are under 30, you have never experienced a cooler than average month on this planet. It was in light of all of that that I started running in elections and got involved in politics.
I feel incredibly proud to have achieved the laws that we are debating here today, some of which may be repealed but some of which may be kept. But this is not about me or really about any of us in here; it is about the rest of the country and all of those who are coming after us and whether we are prepared to be the next James Hardie or the next British American Tobacco— (Time expired)
I second the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Melbourne. I commend the member for Melbourne on his unflinching commitment to keep the pressure up in this place to do something about climate change. I urge the members of this House to embrace the amendment, because to do otherwise would be madness. Frankly, it is madness to be wanting to wind back strong action on climate change. It is madness to be wanting to take the price off carbon. I just do not get it. I do not see why the government is wanting to act in this way for any reason other than its political self-interest and trying to score political points in an important area of public policy. That can be the only explanation for the behaviour of this government, because every other way that you might approach the challenge in this area of public policy you reach the same conclusion. When you approach this issue from any other direction, you reach the conclusion that we must act on climate change and this includes first and foremost putting a price on carbon and keeping a price on carbon. This will ensure that the price on carbon sends a very strong signal to the markets that companies which pollute must clean up their act and a strong signal to consumers to stay away from products that are more expensive because they are based on polluting the climate and, instead, to go towards products and services that are cheaper because they are based on production techniques and ways of doing things that are better for the environment.
I think one of the problems is that too many members on that side of the chamber, too many members of the government, will not admit—some will admit and others will not, although I suspect many of them admit it in their private conversations with their constituents—that they do not believe in climate change. They need to admit it: they are deniers. They do not believe that mankind is making the environment more dirty and that, because of it, we are helping to change the climate. Yes, the climate has changed over millennia for all sorts of reasons, but surely there can be no doubt that, in 2014, it is the behaviour of human kind that is accelerating the change in climate in bad and dangerous ways.
The member for Melbourne has eloquently talked about extreme weather events and the fact that it is only a matter of time before catastrophic bushfires will be regular events, perhaps every couple of years. Yes, with some of the effects of climate change, a rich, lucky and fortunate country like Australia will be able to adapt but what about less developed countries, less rich countries—countries in our region? They do not have the riches and the know-how that we have. We could move entire cities if we had to; but they cannot. They will die—and they will die in droves—from the effects of climate change. Because of the effects of climate change and its cost to us in Australia, we have to do something about it. But perhaps a greater moral imperative is to do something about it so as to help those less fortunate people than ourselves, who are less well equipped to do something about climate change.
I do not get why so many members of the government just do not believe in climate change. There is an overwhelming consensus amongst the very best minds in the world that the climate is changing on account of human kind and that we must change the way we do business. Members of the government do not seem to understand that this is not just a problem now. In some ways, the bigger problem will be in the future and the world that we will leave to our children, their children and their children. In fact, climate change is one of the most dramatic examples of intergenerational social injustice that you could possibly comprehend. What right do we have? We have no right to leave the world knowingly in a worse state than when we found it. As the father of a seven-year-old and a five-year-old, I want to be able to look them in the eye—and I cannot fathom why members of the government are not wanting to look their children and their grandchildren in the eye; surely, they want to look them in the eye—and say: 'When push came to shove and we had the opportunity in this place to do something about climate change, we did something. We acted.' How are the members of the government going to look their kids and grand-kids in the eye and say that they were the government that took the price off carbon and left it to future generations to deal with the problems of climate change—and a greater problem it will be.
We must take a leadership position in this place and make the tough decisions. We as a nation must take a leadership position on the global stage. While the percentage of global pollution that comes from Australia is but a proportion of global pollution, it would not even matter if it were zero pollution: there would still be the moral imperative for us to take a leadership role on the global stage.
I do not know what Robert Menzies would think about what has happened to the Liberal Party, and I will associate the Country Party, now The Nationals, with that comment. Even if you did not agree with the Liberal Party of the Menzies era, it was still a great party. There might have been policies which people disagreed with, but it was still a great party. What has the Liberal Party now become? It is the party of invading Iraq and of sending asylum seekers back to the authorities from which they claim to be fleeing. It is now the party that would dismantle the monumental reform of the 43rd Parliament to put a price on carbon—and a monumental and difficult reform it was. History will show that the decision by the 43rd Parliament to put a price on carbon was one of the greatest political achievements of any government in any parliament since Federation. So too will history record that in removing the price on carbon the government in the 44th Parliament made one of the greatest blunders of any government.
There is a lot of talk in here about the economy. How about we start talking about the environment? How about we start talking about society? How about we start talking about the public interest and the interests of our kids, their kids and those who will follow them? If we started talking about the environment, about the community and about the future for our kids, maybe people in this place would have a different response, instead of just talking just about the economy. Yes, it does cost to make the world a better place. That is a cost that we should be prepared to pay. What right do we have to say that the price is too much now but will not be too much for our kids in the future? We do not have that right, particularly when the costs we are leaving our kids will be so much greater at a time of unknown economic circumstances. We do not know what capacity they will have to pay the bill we are going to leave them. They may have much reduced capacity to pay the bill we are leaving them. We have no right to leave them that bill, because we and the people who came before us ran up this tab. We have a moral obligation to pay the bill now and pay it while it is affordable. And it is affordable. Yes, we are looking at a system that sends price signals and makes some things more expensive. I am not going to shy away from that; I am not going to dodge that. That is the whole point of putting a price on carbon—making dirty things dearer, making clean things cheaper, steering businesses towards doing things more cleanly, steering consumers towards buying things that are produced more cleanly. Yes, electricity and gas become a little bit dearer. It is no wonder, then, that we are seeing so much movement towards renewables, technologies that are becoming cheaper. That is the whole point. We should be celebrating, not demonising, the achievements of the 43rd Parliament. We really should be.
Where does this leave our senators? I have nothing personal against the Liberal or Palmer United senators for Tasmania. They are all good people in their own way. But I disagree with them on this; I disagree with them very, very strongly. In doing away with the price on carbon, Tasmanian senators are not acting in my state's best interest. It is well remarked upon by now that doing away with the price on carbon will cost Hydro in my state $70 billion a year and hundreds of jobs. That is a fact. Do not look at me with a funny, quizzical look, member for Corio. It is a fact. Getting rid of the carbon price will cost my state dearly. This is another good example of where senators need to stand up for their state and not let their chain be yanked by their political party. If the Liberal and Palmer United Party senators stood up for Tasmania, then all 12 senators—Liberal, Palmer, Labor and the Greens—would be voting against the repeal of a price on carbon. But they will not. They will allow their chains to be yanked by their party masters. That is a serious failure of the Senate.
I have been very, very alarmed in recent days to hear and see the comments of some corporations in this country that they will not pass on any reduction in price from the abolition of the price on carbon. I read just yesterday that Qantas and Jetstar are saying that there will be no price reduction. Heavens! They were some of the first companies to say that the price would go through the roof. They had better pass on any savings that come from the abolition of a price on carbon. A comment was made in question time that, I think it was, Woolworths was saying that there was no real extra cost then, so there will not be any reductions in prices now. That had better not be the case, because I will be out the front on the barricades steering consumers towards those companies that act honestly and ethically and do genuinely pass on any reductions in price coming from the abolition of the price on carbon. Let the market judge those companies that do not pass on any reductions in prices coming from these developments. To that end, the Palmer United Party attempt to at least hold some companies to account is in principle a good idea. I hope, Minister, that the government will keep a close eye on all operators in the market to ensure that they all genuinely pass on to the consumer any reduction in the cost of production.
This is a very, very sad day in this place. It is a repeat of the very sad day we had when this legislation went through the House previously. It all comes down to crass politics. There are enough good men and women in the government, people of sharp mind and good heart, who understand the importance of putting a price on carbon not just for the environment but for the community, for our kids and for the economy, because it will help prepare us for the future global economy, because all our trading partners are moving or have moved to put a price on carbon.
It disappoints me greatly that they are prepared to put the delivery of a three-word slogan during an election campaign and what was ultimately just a strategy to destruct the previous government ahead of the public interest, ahead of the economy and certainly ahead of the environment. That is a terrible failure of governments in this country, that any party would be prepared to do that.
Again, I make the point: I just do not get it. I do not know why people would do that. I do not know why people would not understand the science. But what about those who do understand science? As a speaker made the point earlier, even if they do not believe the science about climate change, surely they understand that it is a good idea to help clean up the environment? I think it was the member for Sydney who said that we do not let people put sludge in the river or drop litter by the roadside so why is it okay to pump pollution into the atmosphere? Why can we not put politics aside for a moment? I do not get it, other than to understand that in this area of public policy this government is failing us terribly. And let the record show that. Let the record show for a long time to come which government and which members voted to put a price on carbon. And that the record show which members are now working to overturn it.
At least I will be able, and I know that the member for Melbourne will be able, to look at the next generation in the eye—
And the members of the Labor Party, and good on you! The Labor Party has been good on this, and I applaud them. I do not applaud them for everything but I will certainly applaud them for this.
At least we can look our kids and their kids in the eye and we can see that when the pressure was on we did the right thing.
The original question was that these bills be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Melbourne has moved an amendment to the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House I will state the question in the form 'That the amendment be agreed to'. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014 and related bills this afternoon.
We, as a government, are determined to repeal the carbon tax. In my electorate of Corangamite, throughout the Geelong region and across our nation, this is an insidious tax. It is a tax on jobs, a tax on agriculture and, particularly, a tax on manufacturing. The carbon tax represents a $1.1 billion-hit on manufacturing each and every year. So far, the carbon tax has cost our nation some $15.4 billion over two years. I refer to the contribution that we have just heard in the House made by the member for Denison. He did express concern about the cost on our children and our grandchildren. I say to the member for Denison and I say to those opposite: we are concerned about the cost that this tax is causing to our economy. We are concerned about the way in which the previous Labor government drove up the debt and the deficit. We are adamant that as a government we are determined to wind back and to tackle the irresponsible spending under the previous government.
You can sit there and laugh, member for Melbourne! You think it is funny! But it is not funny—the cost of living for many people in my electorate and across the nation is a really serious issue. As we have spoken about today and for many days since our election, and before that, the carbon tax is costing every family $550 a year on average. That is no laughing matter, because for many people in my electorate and across the nation a nine per cent increase in electricity and a seven per cent increase in gas actually mean a lot.
It actually makes a big difference for low-income households. It actually means that elderly people—the vulnerable—are sitting there not knowing whether to turn the heater on or off because of the cost of their power. This may be a laughing matter to you but for many people the cost of living is a really serious issue. In my electorate it is a particularly serious issue, given some of the—
Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was definitely not laughing; I had a most serious look on my face. I would be appalled if anyone listening to that speech or reading the Hansard would think that I would laugh at that! These are very serious matters.
This is a compensation package that we are keeping whilst repealing the carbon tax. But one of the many flaws with Labours carbon tax was that it forgot small business. It forgot about the costs imposed on small business through higher electricity and gas prices—butchers, bakers, grocers. Of course, let's face it, Labor forgot about small business generally—519,000 jobs were lost in small business over the six years that Labor was in power.
It forgot about our manufacturers, as I mentioned. There was a $1.1 billion-hit on manufacturing. In my electorate of Corangamite just consider the case of Boral, then—now known as Blue Circle Southern Cement in Waurn Ponds. Under the previous Labor government 90 people at Boral lost their jobs. While there were various cost pressures on Boral, the carbon tax ensured that Boral was less competitive on the international market. The cost of making clinker was driven higher by some 18 per cent because of the carbon tax, and now we see Blue Circle Southern Cement importing clinker and only 20 or so employees remaining at this production facility.
Labor also forgot about our farmers, and particularly our dairy farmers. Let's look at the cost imposed on dairying as a result of the carbon tax. It has driven up the cost of power for our dairy farmers by between $5,000 and $7,000 a year. Many of the dairy farmers in my electorate and across south-west Victoria simply cannot afford that cost hike and that has placed real pressures on such an important industry. Labor forgot about the likes of Bulla ice-cream, one of Colac's most successful local manufacturers. It forgot about the likes of Murray Goulburn, which is currently paying $14 million a year in carbon tax, and Fonterra, which is paying a carbon tax bill of around $7 million a year. I note that some 130 people lost their jobs at Fonterra just outside Colac about 18 months ago.
Let us not forget what Labor's policy is. If Labor was still in power, we would have seen a carbon tax on diesel fuel which would see the cost of off-road diesel rise by 6.5c a litre. That would be a direct hit on mining and manufacturing. Again, that is bad for business, it is bad for jobs and it is bad for our international competitiveness.
In question time today we heard from the member for Port Adelaide, who boasted about how he had terminated the carbon tax—how Labor had terminated the carbon tax and, as a result of doing that, they were going to be addressing cost of living pressures on ordinary Australian families. This is a great example of Labor saying one thing before the election and another, entirely different, thing after the election. Time and time again we see members opposite supporting the carbon tax. This is hypocrisy at its very worst.
It was disappointing to hear from the member for Melbourne today and some of his rhetoric in portraying our party as one that does not believe in climate change.
It was actually the coalition under John Howard that introduced the renewable energy target which has done so much to drive investment in renewable energy. We are very proud of what we have done, but there is a better way than a jobs-destroying carbon tax. I want particularly to make reference to what we are doing to drive down carbon emissions.
We have a very strong commitment to reduce carbon emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by the year 2020. The government will reach its target through direct action with the Emissions Reduction Fund as its centrepiece. Our plan is to efficiently and effectively source low-cost emissions reduction and improve Australia's environment. This is a $2.55 billion commitment to our environment—to driving down carbon emissions. It has been opposed by those opposite.
Through the Emissions Reduction Fund we will provide incentives for abatement activities across the Australian economy, rather than by pushing up prices in the hope of making electricity unaffordable. The Emissions Reduction Fund will support projects such as upgrading commercial buildings for energy efficiency; improving energy efficiency elsewhere in homes and industrial facilities; reducing electricity generation emissions; capturing landfill gas; reducing waste coalmine gas; reforesting and revegetating marginal lands; improving Australia's agricultural soils; upgrading vehicles and improving transport logistics; and managing fires in savanna grasslands. Countries around the world, as the Minister for the Environment discussed in his second reading speech a number of weeks ago, are implementing the schemes which work best for them. In Australia, we will introduce the scheme that works best for Australia—not one that is going to be a $15.4 billion hit to the Australian economy.
At the moment in my electorate of Corangamite, and across the Geelong region, manufacturing is under particular pressure. Part of that is because of the cost of electricity. We must have the most competitive manufacturing sector we possibly can. I have spoken many times about the importance of advanced manufacturing and what our government is doing to invest in advanced manufacturing through our Geelong Region Innovation and Investment Fund, our growth fund, our strong investment in jobs and projects like the East West Link—another project that members opposite are opposing which will deliver in excess of 6,000 construction jobs. We cannot afford this toxic tax.
I want to make particular note of the member for Corio. Corio is an area which is particularly dependent on manufacturing and it is a poor reflection on the member for Corio's capacity to stand up for his electorate because he has remained silent on this tax. He has not stood up for his electorate; he has not stood up for manufacturing; he has not stood up for the many important employees and employers in his electorate and spoken out against this tax that he knows is driving up the cost of electricity and gas and really hurting manufacturers.
I am very proud to be speaking on these bills today. These are bills that will do much to improve Australia's economy and I commend these bills to the House.
The question is that the question be put.
The question now is that the amendment by the member for Melbourne be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
Order! As there are fewer than five members on the side of the ayes in this division, 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 yes.
The question now is that the bills be read a second time.