Senate debates

Monday, 20 June 2011

Matters of Public Importance

Carbon Pricing

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The President has received a letter from Senator Fifield proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion, namely:

Prime Minister Gillard's broken promise to the Australian people and her failure to seek an electoral mandate to introduce a carbon tax.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

3:38 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Scarcely has there been a more accurate and succinct motion condemning the deception of the Australian people by any government. Prime Minister Gillard's broken promise to the Australian people can be summed up in her immediate promises before the election. Just six days before the election, on 16 August 2010, Prime Minister Gillard said: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Those were her words, meant to soothe the concerns of the Australian people, who knew a carbon tax would be ineffective, would not help the environment and would only add to the cost-of-living pressures that they were already crumbling under.

That was not the last time Prime Minister Gillard had mouthed that platitude or something similar. On 20 August, four days later, she said: 'I rule out a carbon tax.' She made a crystal-clear promise to the Aust­ralian people and four days later reiterated it—confirming her previous words—when she was justifying the brutal knifing of the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, also saying there needed to be a 'community consensus' before a price on carbon could be introduced.

Let me confirm for the record that we will be referring to this price on carbon. However, it is not a price on carbon at all; it is a price on carbon dioxide—which the government will maintain is a pollutant even though her own pollutants agency does not recognise it as such. We know this is about spin and sophistry to cover up for a Prime Minister who does not have a mandate to introduce this very poor policy. It is not grounded in political validation through an election. It is not grounded in a validation of the science. It is not a validation of any justification—

Senator Polley interjecting

I hear the interjections about the GST from Senator Polley on the other side. The extraordinary delusions of the Labor Party—they refuse to acknowledge the simple fact that Prime Minister Howard, in proposing a GST, took it to an election and put it very clearly in front of the Australian people. There seems to be a stark difference, Senator Polley, between our approach of levelling with the Australian people and the approach taken by this Prime Minister, who is about deception and spin.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator Bilyk interjecting

I will just remind you, Senator Polley and others on that side that it was the 'real Julia' we heard from during the election, the one who spoke without scripted notes. Remember, she was not going to have scripted notes—they all trotted out that line after their policy launch—except for the fact that she had them in front of her. The lies that have been told by this Prime Minister and this government are extraordinary.

That is why the coalition is asking for this government to renew the faith of the Australian people, to redress the breach of trust with the Australian public that is leaving such a bitter taste in their mouths. The voters of Australia did not elect a parliament or a government that supported a carbon tax. Voters did not force a carbon tax onto a reluctant Prime Minister. This Prime Minister forced it upon herself, and she wants to force it onto the Australian people. She maintains that her backflip on her 'no carbon tax' election promise is not a breach of the trust of the Australian people—it is necessary to redress climate change. Yet they will not tell us what the environmental benefits will be.

Many people tell us what the consequences of this carbon tax will be. We know that it will put up the price of electricity, which Australian families are already suffering under. At $26 a tonne, it is estimated it will put 25 per cent on the cost of electricity. But of course the main pressure group within the ALP, which is the Greens, wanted to start at $40 a tonne and then raise it to $100 a tonne. Imagine the impact that would have on every Australian family. The price of electricity will filter through to every other goods and services provider because most of those involve the use of electricity. We also know that the price of transport will rise, putting even more pressure on the costs of living. We know these things because they are self evident. Everyone seems to recognise and identify them except the government.

We also know that jobs will be exported because industries will be forced to close. In Port Pirie in South Australia, 35 per cent of the workforce is directly or indirectly employed through the smelter. We could see that smelter move offshore, taking with it the efficient emissions and recreating the emissions in a far less efficient manner overseas.

Of course, that does not matter to Prime Minister Gillard or the Labor Party, because what they are interested in is taking more money from the pockets of the Australian people. Make no mistake, this is about a big tax to prop up a big-spending government. Yes, they are going to give some money back in the form of, maybe, some pension relief or some tax relief—we are not sure yet—but they are going to keep the majority of it. They are going to keep the majority of the revenue taken from this big tax—estimated to be $12 billion in its first year—to try to balance their books. Not for them is the normal way of Australian families, where they cut their cloth to fit their purse and where they have to tighten their belts, which families are asked to do all the time. That does not enter the vernacular of this government. They are happy to waste as much money as they possibly can, always seeking short-term benefit, to the long-term detriment of our nation.

The coalition put to the government—and we put it to the Australian people—that the only legitimate way this government can introduce this big new tax is, firstly, to seek the assent of the Australian people. We would, of course, prefer an election, because that is the time-honoured way in which it is done, but we also understand that, with the balance of power of the Independents in the House, the government is not prepared to go to an election right now. So we say: why not seek the authorisation of the Australian people by way of a plebiscite? In the Prime Minister's earlier spin and rhetoric when she brutally knifed Kevin Rudd, she said that she would not introduce a CPRS, a carbon tax or any other price on carbon dioxide emissions without a broad based consensus. I hate to break it to those on the other side but a broad based consensus is not simply the word of paid mouthpieces like Professor Ross Garnaut and Dr Tim Flannery. It is not about them just making up stuff and saying, 'This is outrageous; we're all going to be dest­roying the planet unless we can implement a tax.' But that is exactly what has happened. It is about getting the Australian people onside and knowing that this is going to be an effective and positive policy for the country. The Australian people know that it is not. They know that this is a tax that has been foisted upon them without authorisation, without justification and without explan­ation. This is an extraordinary position for a government to take, and it is a very disappointing position for any government to take. I can fully understand how there may have to be some subtle shifts in policy positions, but I cannot understand how something that has been so unequivocally ruled out can then be ruled in without any further reference to the Australian people.

The unfortunate thing is that the coalition will strive valiantly to make the Australian people aware of what this government is doing to them. But, I regret to say, I fear their awareness may come when it is too late. If this carbon tax gets through the parliament and is implemented, it will only escalate until the coalition can get in and repeal it. Whether it starts at $10, $15, $20 or $25, what we know is that, over the next four years or until this government is gone, it will continue to rise and the 'benefits' will continue to hurt the Australian people, because the benefits of this tax are benefits for other nations. The benefits will create industry in other nations, and they will create jobs in other nations. We will see emissions exported to other nations, where they will get larger, and every Australian will suffer when they turn on their lights, when they open their fridge and when they drive their car. The only one who will not suffer will be this Prime Minister, who will be put out to pension with her superannuation. She will have to wash her hands of the consequences of her heinous policy position. This is a tragedy for Australia, and this government needs to level with the Australian people.

3:48 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Another day, another stunt by those on the other side. I have to say that I think the people out there in voter land are getting a bit tired of it so, as far as I am concerned, bring it on. The more you do it, the more you show how unstatesmanlike your leader is and how you are just a party of nay-sayers and negativity. You have taken opposition pretty hard—I understand that—but, by crikey, the way you are all behaving is abysmal. We have seen this scare campaign before. It is the same campaign we saw about jobs during the global financial crisis, where Mr Hockey said that, under Labor, 300,000 Australians were going to lose their jobs in its first term. What happened? In fact, more than 700,000 more Australians are in jobs today than when the government took office, despite the impact of the global financial crisis.

I cannot help but feel a sense of irony when those opposite, including Senator Fifield, decide to lecture us on taking a consistent position. They are the party of short memories. I mean, this is the coalition that in 2007 went to the Australian people with a policy of implementing an emissions trading scheme. In fact, the singular event that dismantled the bipartisan policy of putting a price on carbon was the election of Tony Abbott as Leader of the Opposition. The Liberal-National coalition have come a long way under Mr Abbott—a long way to the right, that is. If there is any doubt now in the minds of the Australian people that Tony Abbott's motive is to prevent action on climate change, then let me put it to rest. Let us examine the evidence bit by bit.

Exhibit 1 is the manner of Mr Abbott's ascension to the leadership. Let us not forget that Mr Abbott was elected to the opposition leadership on a platform of opposing action on climate change. He rolled Malcolm Turnbull for one reason and one reason only: the then Leader of the Opposition had finally come to an agreement with the government on an emissions trading scheme. Mr Abbott won that ballot by one vote, and now a deathly silence has fallen over those in the ranks of the coalition who supported an ETS and supported putting a price on carbon emissions. But the fact that Mr Abbott won that ballot so narrowly indicates a few things to me: (1) that most members and senators in this parliament support putting a price on carbon; (2) that the opposition is clearly divided on this issue; and (3) that those in the opposition who supported putting a price on carbon in late 2009 are too cowardly to speak out. Exhibit No. 2 in the evidence that Mr Abbott opposes climate change action is his denial of the science of climate change itself. In July 2009 on the 7.30 Report Mr Abbott said:

I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.

This was followed by a statement in October 2009 at a town hall meeting when he described the argument that human activities were causing climate change as 'absolute crap'. In December 2009 on 2GB he made the astonishingly ill-informed statement that the world's warming had stopped over the last decade, for which he was rebuked by many reputable climate scientists. In June 2010 he told 2GB's Alan Jones that the science on climate change was 'not as certain as many people say'.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I bet you can't name one climate scientist.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will come to that, Senator. Then in July 2010, on ABC Brisbane, Mr Abbott said:

I don't necessarily think that carbon dioxide is the environmental villain that everyone makes it out to be ...

And later—

... the scientific consensus is not nearly as solid as the climate change zealots would have us believe.

So who are Mr Abbott's 'climate change zealots' who try and tell us there is a scientific consensus on climate change? Could he be referring to award-winning scientist Professor Tim Flannery? Or perhaps Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb? Is he a 'climate change zealot'? I would be interested to know how many in the ranks of the opposition support Mr Abbott's comments on the science of climate change. We know that Senator Minchin is unconvinced by the science, and the same appears to be true for Senator Joyce. One has to wonder how much the opposition's policies are influenced by the fact that there are many within their ranks who have their heads in the sand because they just don't believe the threat exists. And if you think the threat exists, then remember that Mr Abbott was denying the threat less than a year ago. In fact, he is still denying it.

Exhibit No. 3 is the opposition's sham policy that serves as a proxy for something resembling a plan to tackle climate change. If you want to know the real motives behind Mr Abbott's so-called direct action proposal, you need only to have listened to Mr Turnbull on Lateline. When asked why the coalition's policy was better, Mr Turnbull replied that it could be 'more easily abandoned'. Mr Turnbull has let the cat out of the bag. He probably feels uncomfortable revealing what the rest of the opposition does not want to admit: that the coalition's direct action policy is no more than a tokenistic gesture to those Australians who support action on climate change. It is basically the policy you have when you don't really have a policy—it is a complete Clayton's policy. I am sure when the coalition adopted it they celebrated with a round of Clayton's to go with it.

Perhaps instead of recruiting Angry Anderson for their ads, the coalition could have signed up Fabio to promote 'I can't believe it's not climate change action'. Or perhaps a better description for the opposition's policy would be 'direct inaction'. That is what it should be called. It will cost Australian taxpayers $720 per household, it will punch a $20 billion black hole in the budget, and it will not provide any compensation for the rising costs that Australians face as a result. Moreover, it will not achieve the bipartisan target of a five per cent reduction in carbon emissions on 2000 levels by 2020.

The government, on the other hand, will make the big polluters pay. It will do so by putting a fixed price on carbon emissions as a transitional measure towards an emissions trading scheme. It is a market based solution. We know from a recent Productivity Commission report that market based schemes are the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions. We know that some of the costs will be passed on to consumers, and we will be providing generous household assistance to compensate.

If you go back in history and look at the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme—which was coalition policy until Mr Turnbull was unceremoniously rolled—100 per cent of low-income households and 50 per cent of middle-income households would have been at least fully compensated for the cost impact, with many actually being better off under the scheme. The details of the carbon price scheme are being negotiated through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and will be announced with plenty of time for Australian industry and Australian householders to prepare for the scheme's introduction in July 2012.

But Senator Fifield is not really arguing about the policy itself. His MPI is about consistency, and when the opposition seeks to lecture those on this side of the chamber about consistency, well they are living in a glasshouse. For a party with more positions on climate change science and climate change action than a professional contortionist, Mr Abbott's call for a plebiscite is a bit rich. It is also one of the biggest dummy-spits in Australian political history. Mr Abbott refuses to accept the verdict of the Australian people from the last election. As I said, they have not taken too well to opposition at all. He also refuses to accept the verdict of the Independents and crossbenchers when they rejected his $11 billion black hole—a black hole that he kept successfully hidden from the Australian people until after the election. Tony Abbott clearly is not faint-hearted about spending money when he is proposing to spend—

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Bilyk, you must refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his proper name.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Abbott clearly is not faint-hearted about spending money when he is proposing to spend $80 million on a political stunt. He knows it is a stunt, because he refuses to say whether he will accept the verdict of the plebiscite even if it goes ahead. The way democracy works is that MPs and senators are elected to represent their communities in parliament and to make laws. In a few months, MPs and senators will have a chance to vote on the government's plans for a carbon price. That is how democracy works.

But if you want to talk about our mandate, Senator Fifield—he has done a bit of a runner, I think—then here it is: the government went to the last election with a policy of putting a price on carbon. Amid all the bluster, stunts and fanfare coming from those ostriches on the other side of the chamber, this whole debate comes down to one simple fact— (Time expired)

3:58 pm

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't mind people coming in here and making some strong points, some solid points—even vigorous points—but what I object to is people coming in here and telling blatant lies. That speech was a series of blatant mistruths.

Photo of Mark ArbibMark Arbib (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask that Senator Boswell withdraw that imputation.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Boswell, I think you should withdraw that because the implication is that the speaker was lying. I think you should withdraw.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw. However you like to dress it up, the Prime Minister said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' Four days later she repeated it. You cannot get any other interpretation from that. It is so straightforward that it does not lend itself to any interpretation other than that there will be no carbon tax. Then we are going to have 150 of the best and brightest turn up to a citizens assembly to make the decision. That was laughed out of court. Who was going to be in the 150?

There was a very strong story going around—it was not a rumour; it was a story—and it was actually told by Kevin Rudd. Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan told him to drop this carbon tax like a hot cake. What did he do? He listened to their and advice and dropped it like a hot cake, only to be garrotted, emasculated by the fact that he dropped the carbon tax when he was told to by the now Prime Minister and the now Deputy Prime Minister. No wonder he is bitter and twisted. No wonder he is hurt. No wonder the people of Queensland think that he was done over—and he was. He did exactly what he was told to do and then got garrotted for it.

The government told the people there would be no carbon tax. I actually believe that that is what they meant until the Greens told them: 'Hang on, if you want our support you will have a carbon tax whether you like it or not, whether 72 per cent of the people like it or not. Seventy-two per cent don't like it, 28 per cent do, but that doesn't matter. We're the Greens and we're telling you what to do. All we want is 10 per cent of that vote.' You are bleeding to the Greens to the left and you are bleeding to the blue-collar workers to the right. You waffle on and you cannot make a decision. I have been down this track myself with Pauline Hanson and there is one way to do it: you go in and say, 'We are the government and we will try and assist you when you don't hurt our followers.'

When you do that you will be the Labor Party that stands up for something, but until you do that your vote will just be whittled away, as it is now. Twenty-seven per cent. Has anyone seen the Labor vote down at 27 per cent? It has never gone down that far, never been there, ever. And of course it will go there. People know who runs this government: it is Bob Brown. If you are for the Bob Brown line of thought you vote Green. If you are against the Bob Brown line of thought you vote for the coalition. That is why your vote is being whittled away and whittled away. Do you want to do something about it? I believe Tony Abbott gave you a way out today.

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Boswell, you need to refer to senators and members by their proper titles.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Leader of the Opposition is giving you a way out. He is going to introduce a bill tomorrow for a plebiscite asking: are you in favour of laws to impose a carbon tax? This is the greatest opportunity you have. You can get out of this by supporting that bill. You can say: 'Well, 72 per cent of the people voted against it; we can't defy them. The people are always right.' I will give you a bit of advice: take this and run. Take this offer of Tony Abbott's and say: 'We support it. We want to go to a plebiscite.' And when the result is, as it will be, 72 per cent of people, or around that number, saying they do not want a carbon tax and 24 per cent saying they do, you can come to the parliament and say: 'We cannot do this. It is clearly not in the people's interest. They have expressed their wish for no carbon tax.'

But no, you are not going to do that. You will go full steam ahead and defy 72 per cent of the people. You are going to get the result when the next election comes around. You are thinking: 'We'll put this in and rush it through. We'll give people a bit of compensation and they're so stupid they'll forget it.' You are completely under­estimating the intelligence of the Australian people. If you think they will take this, you are so naive that you just do not understand what it is all about.

The unions are erupting. Paul Howes, before he was kneecapped, said, 'If one job goes, that's it, we're out.' I can assure Paul Howes that many more jobs than one will go. Now we have Tony Maher of the CFMEU starting to say we will need more compensation, more assistance for the mining industry. That is shorthand for saying, 'Get out of this.' Senator Cameron is the most inconsistent. He says, 'We've got to have a carbon tax, we want a carbon tax and, by the way, let's bring some tariffs in to protect jobs.' On one hand, a carbon tax will kill jobs, but Senator Cameron says, 'Let's have some tariffs so we'll balance it up a bit.'

If you cannot believe me, why don't you believe Paul Howes? Why don't you believe Tony Maher. Why don't you believe the unions? Because they are telling you in no uncertain terms. They are on the floor, hearing it from the workers, the people who work at BlueScope and OneSteel, the 20,000 people who are employed by the steel industry. They only have to add another $8 a tonne on 7.5 million tonnes of steel and that will put the bottom line up $60 million, a loss for those two companies. They have already lost $55 million in the last six months and now you want to inflict on them another cost of $60 million. How do you expect these people to pay decent wages when they are making a loss? How do you expect them to retain their workers when they are making a loss? Every day the CEOs of BlueScope and OneSteel are wondering how to keep the industry going. They think, 'We're already losing money, and the government is just hitting us again and again and again.' I am a bit different from a lot of people here—I made my living as a salesman. I was a manufacturer's agent and I sold things, and I was pretty successful at it. I want to tell the Labor Party one thing: never try and sell a shoddy product. A product has got to give value, it has got to give a price advantage and it has got to give someone who buys it an advantage. This carbon tax falls down on all three fronts. It is going to put the worker at a disadvantage. It is going to put business at a disadvantage. It is going to put the battler at a disadvantage. And they know it. If you try and sell a product that is shonky and then try to back it up with $12 million worth of advertising—we had a word for that in the trade. Something that was very bad to sell we called a 'dog'—and this thing is barking. A carbon tax is just barking, that's how bad it is!

If you want to go and sell this carbon tax, let's go and tell the farmers and tell the battlers and tell industry they are better off. But when you have convinced them of that—and you will not—let's go to the people in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and tell them: 'We want to inflict a higher cost on your food, on your electricity, on your transport, on your accommodation. We want you to suffer. We want you never to be able to get out of Third-World-country status—we just want you to stay there and suffer.' Do you think they're going to do that?

A carbon tax will only work if you get the rest of the world to come on side. In China in 2020 the carbon tax will have risen by 496 per cent; in India, by 350 per cent. What is the point of inflicting this on us when you know that there is no other country in the world, other than in the EU, that has brought in a carbon tax? And even a carbon tax in the EU collects $5 billion compared with ours collecting $11 billion in one year. (Time expired)

4:09 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us make no mistake here today: there are many points of difference, as we have had clearly illustrated this afternoon, on the issue of climate change between those opposite and the Gillard government, but none more so than on promises made to the Australian people about the facts on climate change, about the facts on what a price on carbon is, about the impacts of a carbon price on Australian industry and Australian jobs and about the facts of the impacts of a carbon price on Australian families. The majority of Australian people are worried about climate change; they want action on climate change, and they want that action now. Most people are smart enough to figure this out. They just want us to work through this with all the players and get on with it because, contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition would have us believe, a delay damages our economy and, in turn, our environment.

It is an important environmental and economic imperative that we should not continue to delay. I pay tribute to my government, the Gillard government, and members of the crossbenches who are working hard to find agreement so we can get on with what must be done. All these people are working hard through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. It is not easy; there are diverse opinions. But one thing is clear, and that is that we must put a price on carbon. We must put a price on pollution. The Australian people also want a price on carbon; they want to make polluters pay.

So why are we here debating this motion today? It is because those opposite and their leader, Mr Abbott, do not believe that climate change is real. And because they do not believe that climate change is real they will do anything to stop the government putting in place a mechanism to make a contribution towards preventing the effects of climate change on our global and Aust­ralian environment, on our economy, on our industry, on our jobs and on our families. Here we are talking about Mr Abbott's latest wrecking-ball attempt, his latest scare tactic, his latest political stunt—all designed to stop action on climate change.

Mr Abbott now wants a plebiscite of the Australian people on carbon pricing, a plebiscite that will cost an estimated $80 million. But it is nothing more than a stunt designed to distract public debate from the real issues at hand. If he was serious about this he would have bothered to notify the parliament that he was going to introduce a private member's bill, but he did not even consult about his own proposal and he did not make the deadline to put the bill to parliament. Then he goes on radio in Melbourne and says that if a plebiscite did go ahead, if the Australian people who participated in his $80 million scare tactic voted yes for a carbon tax, he would still not support a carbon tax. So he is nothing more than a wrecker. He does not care what the Australian people really think about climate change. He just has the attitude that he will wreck anything positive that the Australian government is trying to do. He is not engaged in real policy debate on the question of climate change confronting this nation. He does not want the Gillard government to push ahead with tackling climate change by charging polluters for every tonne of pollution they produce. But the opposition can pull as many stunts as they like—that does not change two basic facts before us. No. 1: climate change is real. No. 2: it is in our economic and environmental interests to address climate change.

This week, as the Science Meets Parliament event takes place again, I am reminded of statements made by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, FASTS, who have commended the government on consulting on the most important starting point for this debate, and that is the science. FASTS commended the government for using science to guide its climate change reform plans. They said:

It's time for Australians to embrace sensible science and reject cheap politics.

The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies' chief executive officer, Anna-Maria Arabia, said:

While politicians debate the ins and outs of the proposed carbon tax, FASTS calls on all sides of politics to put peer-reviewed science ahead of cheap political arguments … When the Bureau of Meteorology warned tropical cyclone Yasi was on the way, no one doubted it. Why should we treat warnings from some of Australia’s top climate scientists on climate change any differently?

FASTS calls on all political parties to listen to the experts, to focus on the evidence—including the same experts and evidence that advised Anna Bligh during the natural disasters that hit our shores earlier this year.

In March 2010 the Bureau of Meteorology said their observations clearly demonstrated climate change was real. Nothing has changed.’

The peer-reviewed verdict is in. Action on climate change is too important to be derailed by naysayers and luddites. Action by governments, business, and the community must be fuelled by certainty, not doubt …

So we as politicians, as representatives of the Australian people, should be driven by a basic desire to build consensus on this question so that we can make progress on an important problem facing our nation and our globe. We must work with the Australian community responsibly. We must take them on the journey to do what we know must be done; and that is exactly what the Gillard government is doing. But it is not only scientists who are calling on us to put a price on carbon. Leading market economists have also taken up this cudgel. Earlier this month, we saw 13 of our most prominent economists calling for such a price on carbon, because they know that a price on carbon is good for our economy.

The former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, the Grattan Institute director, Saul Eslake; St George chief economist, Besa Deda; Citigroup Global Markets' Paul Brennan and Westpac chief economist, Bill Evans all have declared that putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce carbon pollution. This eminent group have all described a price on carbon as 'a necessary and desirable structural reform of the Australian economy.' The Chief Economist of Westpac Bank, Mr Bill Evans, who was a signatory to the open letter, said:

The move to more efficient, cleaner energy through a well designed market mechanism to price carbon is a major and desirable structural and economic reform which will help Australia competitively position in a global low carbon economy.

This reinforces, yet again, that every credible participant in this debate knows that the only responsible thing for our nation to do is to price carbon. But what will happen to our economy if we do as Mr Abbott bids us? He bids us to do nothing, and he tries to scare us by saying that a price on carbon is a threat to our economy. But the real threat to our economy—to our competitive position—would be to do nothing. It does not come from a price on carbon; it comes from Mr Abbott's throwing out of his economics handbook and from his continued focus on perpetuating myths about the impact of a price on carbon.

The manufacturing industry is a good example. The Leader of the Opposition has been out and about making all sorts of outlandish claims about the impact of a price on carbon on Australia's manufacturing sector. But he is misleading manufacturers when he makes these claims—claims like 'industry will be wiped out'. The simple fact is that there are big consequences for the Australian manufacturing sector if we do nothing. The Australian government is not pretending there will not be challenges for industries as they adjust to a carbon price. But I promise you this: this is a Labor government that will provide the best support for the best possible adjustment. We have no choice but to begin this trans­formation. It is quite conceivable that, if we have do not have an appropriate price on carbon in our economy, we could face other nations imposing border tax adjustments on our exports, tariffs that would penalise Australian exporters for not producing in an economic system with a price on carbon in place. Countries are already making moves towards making this reality, and we cannot expect to do nothing when the world is acting. If we do nothing, Australian industry will get left behind. It will become uncompetitive. We know that, in order to support jobs and compete in the next century, a century which will be increasingly characterised by a move towards the clean energy and technology of the future, we need to act now. We need to be an economic leader in the field. But we are already in danger of falling behind. Many other nations are adjusting their economies to a carbon constrained future. They are adjusting much more rapidly than Australia is, because they are not being held back by a bunch of powerful climate change deniers, who are being led here by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott. The Leader of the Opposition once supported action on climate change and on pricing carbon, but all the opposition can offer now is denial of basic scientific facts, denial of basic economic facts and rank political opportunism.

The Gillard government, on the other hand, is very mindful of the position of the manufacturing industry given the strength of the Australian dollar and rising commodity prices. The Leader of the Opposition is misleading manufacturers when he makes over-the-top claims that industry will be wiped out by a price on carbon. A price on carbon is not the foremost challenge facing Australia's manufacturing sector; we have to work together to support the manufacturing sector, and part of that is adjusting to a price on carbon and maintaining the efficiency of the sector as we move to put a price on carbon. The simple fact is that, if we do not price carbon, the manufacturing sector of the economy will get left behind. A carbon price is a major economic reform and an incentive to reduce pollution, to support jobs and to drive investment in renewable energy and low emissions technologies. If we cannot keep up in these sectors, which will be the global growth opportunity sectors in the future, there will be no hope for Australia's manufacturing sector. A price on carbon will create incentives throughout our economy to reduce carbon emissions.

The matter of public importance before the chamber is yet another political stunt; it makes no contribution to getting on with addressing the policy settings on climate change. (Time expired)

4:24 pm

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The flagrant disregard with which the Gillard government is treating the Australian public on the proposed introduction of a carbon tax is disgraceful, and they should stand condemned.

Before the last federal election, we heard many people quote the Prime Minister's own words: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. She said this because she knew that a carbon tax was unacceptable to the men and women of Australia. Australia should not take an isolated approach to the reduction of carbon emissions. Instead, the actions of any Australian government must take into account the actions of all other Western developed nations and the emerging economic powerhouses of China and India; we should not act alone.

With Australia emitting only a very small percentage of global emissions, it is incum­bent upon us to consider the effect that a carbon tax will have on the businesses and industries of Australia against the overall impact of anything we can do to make a difference in the global economy. We do not live in a silo—as much as those on the other side of the chamber would like to think that that is the case, it is simply not the case—and any action we take must give consideration first to Australian industry and second to the flow-on effect it will have on the cost of living for all Australian families.

In the manufacturing sector, we have seen job losses since early 2008 at a record high—108,000 jobs have been lost. That has happened before the introduction of a carbon tax and its application to the so-called 1,000 biggest emitters. In my home state of Victoria, which has the largest number of manufacturers in Australia, businesses are looking at being put out of operation, as energy costs are primed to skyrocket. Victoria is heavily dependent on brown coal energy, and many more Victorians are therefore set to lose their jobs. Many Victorian businesses operate with a very small profit margin and have no so-called 'fat in the system' to sustain escalating costs. This means that they can either pass on the extra costs or, if they cannot pass them on, go out of business—it is as simple as that.

The Australian Labor Party draws its senators and members from the union movement, so I am dumbfounded that it is not seeking to protect the livelihood of the workers, who are the very people it professes to represent. This reflects the Labor Party's old class-war rhetoric in which the employer is always the bad guy—the capitalist making money off the workers. But if Labor had any understanding of business they would know that employers have the interests of employees at heart and that the futures and livelihoods of employers and employees are inextricably linked.

A carbon tax will not only put many employers out of business; it will also, sadly, put many workers out of a job. The government should reflect further and take a hard look at what is happening in other countries to see what happens when you do not have a healthy economy and when the health of your economy is not at the front and centre of your agenda. Only a fool would think that China and India will not prioritise their own economic advancement and put their consideration of global emissions lower down the list. This government does not need to take into account the situation globally in order to determine its course of action.The public polls taken on this issue over the last few months have all been consistent and they all tell us the same thing: Australians do not want a carbon tax and are rightfully concerned about the impact it would have on rising costs of living.

The modelling that was undertaken on the impact of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's ETS, based on a carbon price of $26 a tonne, showed that it would add an average $300 per year to electricity prices and upwards to $500 in New South Wales. A carbon tax would also increase grocery prices by virtue of the energy used in getting those very groceries onto the shelves. This is a government that only knows how to govern with the imposition of more taxes. It is not a wealth creator, not a job creator, but rather a spender of more taxpayer-funded money. With 14 new and increased taxes since its election, a rising deficit and increasing, escalating national debt, a carbon tax will ultimately be another measure to raise income.

The Prime Minister's assurances that all tax raised will be directed to those most affected does nothing to assuage the concern that those very people who may be compensated for increasing costs may well be out of a job. In my mind, it is always better to empower the individual with the opportunity to work and provide for themselves, and to provide and offer governance which encourages and raises productivity, thereby giving them the opportunity to improve their own standards, rather than to tax them to oblivion.

This is a government that has shown it cannot be trusted. We are now debating a carbon tax because of the short-term political expediency of the Prime Minister. In negotiating a formal alliance with the Greens, we know that Prime Minister Gillard did a backroom deal with the Greens for their support to form government. Let there be no misunderstanding here: this is a government that knows it is on the skids. We only have to walk down the corridors here to see the concerned faces of those who sit on the other side of the chamber. This is government on the skids. It knows it but it has clearly locked itself into a series of commitments. It is a government that has put itself before the interests of the Australian people. It is a government that puts power before the interests and livelihoods of the Australian people.

But I regret to say to those who may be listening to this: you have not seen anything yet. At least here in the Senate we have been able to hold the government to account in some small measure to date. We have been able to engage in dialogue which has been able to influence the policy direction of this government. However, after 1 July, the Australian Greens will provide the Aust­ralian Labor Party the support they need so that they will hold a majority in this place. It is because of the deal with the Greens that we are now discussing a carbon tax, and there is nobody in this place who does not believe otherwise. It is purely because of the backroom deals that have taken place that we now have a carbon tax on the table that we are discussing. It is only fair to ask how high the Greens will demand the government to jump for their continuing support to get whatever legislation the government wants through this place.

In conclusion, it is a sad day when the people of Australia are ignored. It is a sad day when the voice of the Commonwealth parliament is ignored. It is an even sadder day when the government benches, those on the other side of the chamber, do not stand up for the rights of their constituents and tell the Prime Minister that enough is enough. (Time expired)

4:34 pm

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is great to be part of the contribution to this MPI debate. As always, there is great conga line of people lining up, hands on hips. The climate sceptics who sit opposite are coming in one by one to talk about all this worry about loss of jobs and about our losing touch with the union movement. What a load of nonsense! I will not use the words that Mr Tony Abbott uses when he refers to climate change. We all know what those are. He says climate change is 'crap'—that is the language he uses when he wants to discuss what climate change is all about, Senator Kroger.

As a Queensland senator, I come into this chamber often to speak about climate change, particularly in our state. It is one of those states that enjoy the eastern seaboard with numerous residents living along it. They will be the ones affected mostly by this inaction, if nothing is done about climate change. In fact, somewhere around 85 per cent of the nation's population live in coastal areas that will be affected by climate change if we do not proceed and do something about it. In 2009 it was calculated that, by 2100, about 247,000 residential buildings could be at risk as a result of rising sea levels and that it would cost $63 billion to replace them. And those are 2009 figures, of course.

Mr Deputy President Hutchins, I am sure you have been to Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef and have had the pleasure of seeing what the reef is all about—the marine life up there and the tourists that come from all over the world to go out onto the reef, enjoy time on our beaches and have a great holiday. That is all going to disappear. That is not a scare campaign; it has been identified scientifically that, if something is not done about climate change, all that will disappear.

Conversely, you get the opposition leader going into workplaces claiming that jobs will be lost in wrecking yards and bakeries. At any place he visits he reckons jobs will be destroyed and people will be out of work. There will be businesses shutting down. Once again, it is an absolute nonsense for him to be going around scaring the public about something that needs to be debated soundly with some passion and some understanding of what the scientists inform us.

As you are probably aware, Mr Acting Deputy President Hutchins, on the weekend there was a Labor state conference in Queensland. I was so proud to hear the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announce the construction of the Solar Dawn power plant, which will be built at Chinchilla, west of Brisbane, an area which needs jobs. I heard an earlier speaker in this debate talking about the loss of jobs. This is going to promote jobs. At an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, you can imagine what sort of employment will be generated by this solar power plant at Chinchilla. Incidentally, it will generate 250 megawatts of power. It will be the largest federal government Solar Flagship Program undertaking and we will be supporting it with $464 million of funding. As a Queenslander, I am proud to be part of these announcements, which demonstrate our commitment to renewable energy.

Let us look at the contribution that Mr Tony Abbott has made to this debate. Back in 2007 he supported John Howard's decision to take an emissions trading scheme to the election campaign. In July 2009, he supported the passing of Kevin Rudd's ETS. Then he came out and said he was opposed to the ETS. Today I was fortunate enough to be on the floor of the House of Repre­sentatives, where the Prime Minister of New Zealand spoke of New Zealand's relationship with Australia. I found Mr Tony Abbott's contribution to be quite strange. Rather than approach the relationship with some sort of diplomacy and statesmanship, he claimed that we should water down the carbon-pricing arrangements that we are about to debate in this place. Once again, he flip-flops from one position to another. By inapprop­riately discussing his position on climate change, he made an absolute fool of himself in front of the Prime Minister of our closest neighbour and closest friend, New Zealand. This is what you get from Mr Tony Abbott.

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for the debate has expired.