Senate debates

Monday, 7 November 2011

Matters of Public Importance

Gillard Government

4:08 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Here we have another round of navel gazing and obstructionism from those opposite—obstructionism at a very important time in this parliamentary cycle, a time when we are attempting to get on with the job of pricing carbon. The Committee of the Whole is seriously looking at eight hours of wasted debating time already when there are amendments to the legislation, but we have this motion put forward by the opposition. This motion fails to comprehend history and fails to comprehend, I might add, their voting record in this place on this issue. It fails to understand economics and fails to abide by their own principles—that great liberal philosophy of markets and efficiency. It fails to predict and plan for the future—a future which, as Senator Faulkner has quite eloquently outlined, is at risk because of climate change.

In this motion there is a veiled implication that there is an alliance between the Labor Party and the Greens on this issue. Some have described it as an unholy alliance. Let me say to the Senate that the only unholy alliance that has occurred in this place in recent times was the alliance in which the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Greens voted together to oppose the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, to oppose the pricing of carbon. If that decision had not been taken by the Greens and those opposite then our economy would have an effective price on carbon. We would be investing in renewable technology. We would be driving jobs growth in the renewables sector. We would be trading permits in a domestic and an international market. So the only unholy alliance that has occurred in this place was on that unfortunate occasion when those opposite and the Greens combined to stop this parliament moving on with pricing carbon in our economy.

If there is any party that has been consistent on this issue, it is the Labor Party. Our plan was developed in 2006 in consultation with members of the community and members of our party. We came up with a plan to price carbon through an emissions trading scheme. We took that to the 2007 election and the proposal was successful. Because we believe in climate change, we have been consistent about taking action on this very important issue. There have been no fewer than 37 inquiries in this parliament, dating back to 1992. All bar one, I believe—and that was the committee that Senator Cormann chaired—have recommended putting a price on carbon.

Even the inquiry commissioned by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2007, the Shergold review, recommended support for an emissions trading scheme, a move to price carbon within our economy—but, then again, so did most of those opposite. If you go back to 2008 or 2009, in the wake of the Shergold inquiry, most of those opposite believed in an emissions trading scheme. I am not going to go into the comments of some of them, but I will go into the comments of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, who said on 18 December 2008:

An emissions trading scheme probably is the best way to put a price on carbon …

I could not agree more. Then on 2 October 2009 Mr Abbott said:

We don't want to play games with the planet. So we are taking this issue seriously and we would like to see an ETS …

Again, I could not agree more.

What has changed since then? Those opposite try to make us believe that some fundamental shift occurred in the wake of Copenhagen and the failure to get a binding international agreement in respect of this issue. That fails to comprehend the fact that the policy of the Howard government was quite clear: despite the failure to reach an international agreement, they should push ahead with an ETS because it is the right thing to do and it gives our economy an advantage in that we move into the future on a reasonable basis and we are promoting investment and jobs in the renewables sector. Ninety countries have pledged commitments in international conventions, through the Kyoto protocol and the international climate change commission convention, to reduce emissions compared to a baseline level over time.

In terms of emissions trading schemes, there are 30-odd nations in the European Union that actively participate in an emissions trading scheme. One of our largest trading partners, a smaller economy than Australia that faces much greater difficulty when it comes to the health of its economy, New Zealand, moved to an emissions trading scheme a couple of years ago and it is winning advantages from that scheme in terms of investment in renewables and jobs growth in those sectors. Certain provinces in Canada have moved to an emissions trading scheme. Certain states within the United States have also. And China is trialling an emissions trading scheme in four of its provinces and part of its five-year plan is to move to an economy wide emissions trading scheme by the end of the five-year plan.

What has changed is one thing and one thing alone: the Leader of the Opposition sees an opportunity to win an election—that is it; that is all that has changed. They have no belief, no principle and no consistency in this important policy area anymore. They simply say no and try to wreck the place because they see an opportunity to win an election.

I find it highly contradictory and unprincipled for them to adopt this policy stance in the light of Liberal Party philosophy. If you go to their website, you can see this written as one of their principles: they believe in the efficiency of markets in determining economic outcomes within a society and an economy. That might be the case, but not when it comes to this important policy issue, not when it comes to what is probably one of the most serious social and economic challenges of our generation. They put aside Liberal Party philosophy and principle and simply seek to develop a policy that they hope will win them an election. They do not show any leadership on this issue at all. They are the party who claim to be the party of the free market.

At the moment, the only party of the free market in this place is the Australian Labor Party. We have developed the policy of pricing carbon through an emissions trading scheme because all of the advice throughout the world from economists, scientists and the like is that the cheapest and most effective way to reduce emissions within an economy is to use a market based mechanism. The most effective way is to price carbon and to provide incentives for players within the economy to reduce their emissions over time.

The Liberal Party policy and philosophy are completely contrary to that; completely the opposite. They are going to provide subsidies for the biggest polluters within our economy in the hope that one day they might install emissions-friendly technology and reduce their emissions over time. This question needs to be asked: what about all those who are not receiving the subsidies? What about the rest of the economy? What about those small businesses that might not be at the top level in terms of emissions that will not receive a subsidy to reduce their emissions over time? What incentive will there be for those companies to reduce their emissions under such a scheme? Quite simply, there will be no incentive and emissions reductions will not occur within those companies economy wide. That is why the Liberal Party's scheme will not work.

Those opposite want us also to believe that their scheme will not cost the economy, businesses, taxpayers or households. But they again fail to understand that there is not a no-cost option when it comes to reducing emissions in an economy—particularly in a capitalist market based economy. All policies to reduce emissions have costs associated with them. The emissions trading scheme happens to be the cheapest option. A subsidy based scheme will cost taxpayers. And under their scheme there will not be the assistance that the Labor scheme offers to households, businesses, pensioners, students and job seekers. That assistance is important to ensure that the most vulnerable—those on middle to low incomes—can make that transition from a polluting, carbon based economy to the clean energy future. (Time expired)


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