Tuesday, 4 March 2014
Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013; Second Reading
In my concluding remarks yesterday on why the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 should not be passed, I was sharing with my colleagues some of the very moving comments I have received from people who have a very clear understanding of how important the carbon tax is and why we need to retain it and build with real carbon action. I just want to share a few more of those comments. Lynnette Oakley is one of the more than 6,000 people who signed just one of the petitions calling for these bills to be retained. Interestingly, she spoke of her concerns about the people of Kiribati. She said: 'I have been visiting the nation of Kiribati on the equator for 10 years. Over that time there have been very noticeable changes.' She went on to detail how disturbing she found the impacts that climate change is having on people.
Noela Kelman came to one of the recent rallies about the importance of these bills. She said:
The future of my children and grandchildren and the wellbeing of all future generations are in our hands—such responsibility must be shouldered and fought for. I have recycled, reduced, reused for decades but much more is needed.
And someone many of my colleagues would know very warmly is Gosta Lynga. He is now living in Canberra. He is a former Swedish parliamentarian who historically was part of the introduction of a carbon tax in his native city over 12 years ago. He said:
I have been able to follow the effect in Sweden on the use of less polluting fuels, on the move towards more sustainable energy … and consequently on the decrease in atmospheric pollution due to carbon dioxide from Swedish sources. This has been encouraging.
I have also seen how ever more countries around the world are taking their share of responsibility for what is a global problem with possibly devastating consequences. There can no longer be any doubt that the observed increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing dangerous global warming and that the increase is caused by human pollution sources.
Based on these facts I am sad that the Australian government is now contemplating backwards steps.
And that sums up so many of the comments that my offices receive and that people raise with me formally and informally. People are very distressed about what this government is doing. They understand how important urgent climate change action is. They also know that renewable energy is industrially and commercially viable, that we need a government with courage, with the political will to work with communities across this country on the transition to a clean future that we so urgently need.
I rise to make my contribution to this debate on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. Senator Rhiannon just referred to courage. Why didn't your alliance partners, before the 2010 election, have the courage to say that if they won the election they would introduce a carbon tax, instead of saying, 'We will not introduce a carbon tax'? The Australian people were quite clear, when they voted on 7 September last year, that if the coalition were elected to government the carbon tax would be removed.
Let me make a few points. I find it amazing that a debate that started in the final sitting weeks of 2013 could still be going on here today in 2014, well into March. But the government has been prepared to let Labor and the Greens continue filibustering to delay the inevitable. I have heard some amazing contributions over these weeks, but I would like to quote a section of Senator Ludlam's speech. This is quite amazing. He said:
People like Jon Moylan and others are stepping up to stop the Maules Creek coalmine and protect the Leard State Forest in New South Wales.
I have a question: is this the same Jon Moylan who is facing criminal charges over the fake ANZ bank press release? Is it the same Jon Moylan whose actions temporarily wiped $300 million off Whitehaven's market capitalisation?
Well, Mr Jon Moylan will soon have his day in court. ASIC, to its credit—and I have thrown plenty of criticism at ASIC before today—has brought one charge under the Corporations Act, to which Mr Moylan has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set down for 20 June. ASIC quite rightly points out that a hoax could have significant market impact, but the fact that mum and dad investors could have lost money does not faze Senator Ludlam—or of course the Greens as a whole. So here is Senator Ludlam giving Mr Moylan a pat on the back—and even Senator Rhiannon tweeted her congratulations at the time. It proves again that, when you are engaged in civil disobedience, the Greens will be there cheering you on.
Senator Wright referred to the drought package announced last week by Prime Minister Abbott and the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Barnaby Joyce. Sure, it has been dry in many parts of Australia—and of course the Greens start wringing their hands and scream 'climate change'—but there have been droughts every decade and climate change was not even thought or talked of. We can go back to the big drought of 1895 to 1907.
Let's get back to the debate and look at what business says about the carbon tax—to August 2013, in Fernvale Queensland and the business Zanow Sand and Gravel. Manager Brad Zanow said overheads had risen by $15,000 a month and that the carbon tax had led to an increase in electricity bills as well as the cost of oil, cement powder and air-conditioning gas. Mr Zanow said the business had shed five of its 58 staff. In December 2012 Grain Products Australia, based in Tamworth—I visited this factory in recent times, prior to this—went into administration citing increased electricity charges as one of the reasons it was in financial trouble. The $1.2 million increase in energy costs was blamed on network charges, environmental issues and—you guessed it—the carbon tax.
In February 2014 Virgin Australia boss John Borghetti said the best thing the government and Labor could do for airlines would be to scrap the carbon tax. Virgin Australia suffered an $83 million loss to the end of December last year and Mr Borghetti said the carbon tax has cost the airline industry hundreds of millions of dollars. These figures are thrown around—the carbon tax cost Qantas $106 million last year and Virgin Airlines more than $50 million. Isn't it amazing that, when the previous government and their strange alliance brought this tax in, they put it on the airlines in Australia but not those that fly internationally?
I want to make another point. Out in most large rural areas we have crop dusters—small airplanes for spreading fertilizer and often chemical spraying for weeds in crops. I was speaking to a gentleman just recently who owns a crop-dusting business. The carbon tax component of the fuel for his airplanes has cost him $60,000. Here are graziers, spreading fertilizer to encourage growth in our natural pastures and improved pastures, and when they grow they actually absorb CO2, they carry more stock and they grow more food to feed people in Australia and around the world. But this crazy tax we are trying to abolish is taxing this crop-dusting company $60,000 a year. Of course a grazier says, 'Well, I'll budget $30,000 for the spreading of fertilizer this year'—so he or she will spend the $30,000. Because there are higher spreading costs for the fuel for those aircraft, they actually spread less fertilizer.
Tourism Accommodation Australia estimates the cost of the carbon tax on the sector would be $115 million in the first year alone. Macquarie Generation, in the Hunter Valley, which operates the Liddell and Bayswater power stations—I am sure many would be well aware of those generators—had a carbon tax bill to 30 June last year that was a massive $460 million. And what did they do? They just passed it on to the consumer.
This is the broadest, largest price on carbon in the world. Here we are trying to compete in the world markets, with other countries that have nowhere near the costs of these so-called environmental taxes, and we are losing our competitive edge. It is as simple as that.
I am the first to say that the environment is probably the most important thing we have to protect for future generations, especially our lands and our soils that have to grow the food—but this tax goes nowhere near doing any of that. In fact, if you want to look after the environment I suggest you look at a map of Australia. At a guess I would say that 55, 60 or perhaps 65 per cent of our whole nation is in the hands of farmers, graziers and pastoralists. The best way we can look after that environment is to see that the people running those properties actually make a living and have money in their pockets. Without money they are forced, if I can put it this way, to mine their country instead of farm their country—or perhaps overcrop it or overstock it to try to stay financially viable.
The best way we can look after our environment is to see we have strong financial landowners. We had a terrible run with the previous government's ridiculous decision, supported by the Greens, to ban the live export of cattle to Indonesia. Now, thankfully, this government—and I commend Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, for this—have gone back to Indonesia and stimulated the export of cattle once more. In September 2013 OECD research backed the coalition's claims that 'Australia's pioneering carbon pricing is damaging its competitiveness'. So we have the OECD agreeing with what I just said.
Let's talk briefly about the weather—because the Greens have been in here waffling on about heatwaves and droughts. I will quote from an article of 22 October:
The Blue Mountains bushfire crisis was the result of a lack of political leadership and had nothing to do with climate change, one of Australia's foremost disaster management experts said. David Packham, a former Deputy Director of the Australian Counter Disaster College, said linking the NSW fire disaster with global warming was nonsense. Mr. Packham previously accused latte conservationists of having too much influence on forest management.
This is the argument I have made many times in this place: if you lock up country and leave it in the form of national parks then the grass grows, the lightning strikes, the fires get going and the damage is enormous. It is not conservation; it is destroying those areas that are not managed. Until I leave this place and go to my grave, whenever that is, I will say: you must manage country. This is one of the serious problems we face with the serious bushfires, in national parks especially, with huge fuel loads—and that is not helping our environment one bit. As I said, if we want to help our environment, get our business sector strong and get our farmers financially strong so they can spend the money on the environment.
I rise to oppose the repeal of the clean energy bills. I do this for a number of reasons, but for the life of me I cannot accept a proposition based on a scare campaign run by the coalition, who are now in government—a scare campaign where we take short-term approaches and do not look at the long-term challenges for this country. I will quote someone I do not normally quote, although I have used this quote before; it is by the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies. In a radio broadcast on 24 July 1942, Sir Robert Menzies had this to say of his Liberal creed:
Nothing could be worse for democracy than to adopt the practice of permitting knowledge to be overthrown by ignorance.
If there has ever been an example of knowledge being overthrown by ignorance, the debate on climate change is ignorance overthrowing knowledge. He went on to say:
If I have honestly and thoughtfully arrived at a certain conclusion on a public question and my electors disagree with me, my first duty is to endeavour to persuade them that my view is right.
I will come to what the current Prime Minister's view was in relation to climate change. I will come to his view on how you best deal with climate change. But let me say that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is certainly not taking the advice of Sir Robert Menzies on how you deal with an issue you believe in. Robert Menzies continued:
If I fail in this, my second duty will be to accept the electoral consequences and not to run away from them. Fear can never be a proper or useful ingredient in those mutual relations of respect and good-will which ought to exist between the elector and the elected.
I honestly think that what has happened with the coalition is that fear has been used continually by them in relation to climate change. For short-term political gain, they have used fear as a weapon to try to destroy the scientific base of this issue and to destroy an unarguable environmental case. That is not what the creed of the Liberal Party was and it is certainly not what Sir Robert Menzies was arguing in those days. He went on:
And so, as we think about it we shall find more and more how disfiguring a thing fear is in our own political and social life.
It has not bothered those on the other side that this creed of rejecting fear as a political weapon is the creed that was put forward by Sir Robert Menzies. They have used it mercilessly in pursuit of short-term political gain at the expense of long-term management of what is one of the biggest social, economic and moral issues this country has ever faced.
Menzies went on to say:
Men fear the unknown as children fear the dark. It is that kind of fear which too often restrains experiment and keeps us from innovations which might benefit us enormously.
What could be clearer in terms of benefit than putting a price on carbon to make sure that future generations get a fair go from this generation? What could be clearer? The experiment that was proposed—putting a price on carbon—has just been rejected. It is not so much an experiment—I think it is clear that the majority of environmental scientists and the majority of economists say that that is the way to go.
Sir Robert Menzies said:
It is the fear of knowledge which prevents so many of us from really using our minds, and which makes so many of us ready slaves to cheap and silly slogans and catch-cries.
Doesn't that say it all? Cheap and silly slogans and catchcries in place of critical analysis of the problem, scientific understanding of the problem and environmental understanding of the consequences of global warming.
It is the fear of life and its problems which makes so many of us yearn for nothing so much as some safe billet from which risk and its twin brother enterprise are alike abolished.
So Sir Robert Menzies, not one of my pin-up boys in politics, really had nailed this position. I suppose if Sir Robert Menzies were around now he would be looking at the cheap and silly slogans and the catchcries from the opposition and shake his head and wonder where his party has gone. I can tell where the party has gone. The party has really gone to the bottom, where it is short-termism over the long term.
My view is that these bills before us now are the triumph of the barbarians in the Liberal Party over those who would want to hold onto that political heritage. The barbarians in the party have rejected the political heritage of Sir Robert Menzies. You just have to look at the Prime Minister's position. As he told Malcolm Turnbull, he is a weathervane on climate change. He will just stick his hand up, see which way the wind is blowing and then take a position. On 18 December 2008 he supported an ETS:
An emissions trading scheme probably is the best way to put a price on carbon …
But seven months later he was supporting a carbon tax. On 10 July he said:
I suspect that a straight carbon tax or charge could be more transparent and easier to change if conditions change or our understanding of the science changes.
Two weeks later, he was back supporting an ETS. He said:
There is much to be said for an emissions trading scheme. It was, after all, the mechanism for emission reduction ultimately chosen by the Howard government. It enables an increasing market price to be set for carbon through capping volumes of emissions.
Then in December 2010 he was against both an ETS and a carbon tax. Something was in the wind. Maybe it was the leadership of the Liberal Party. One minute he was supporting a carbon tax, one minute he was supporting a carbon price, and then in December 2010 he was saying, 'One of the reasons the coalition is so much against carbon taxes and emission trading schemes is that they are not going to help the environment, but, by gee, there'll be a huge whack on everyone's cost of living.' Well, wasn't Sir Menzies right? Here comes the fear campaign. That was the fear campaign starting on behalf of the coalition.
On the same day in July 2009 when he indicated support for an ETS, he said he was unconvinced by climate science. He said:
I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have significantly increased since the spread of industrialisation, but it seems that noticeable warming has only taken place between the 1970s and 1990s.
Anyone who has had even a very shallow look at the scientific facts would know that that is a political position, not one based on science.
Six months later, suddenly humans do cause climate change. On the ABC Radio 702, he said, 'I think human activity certainly does impact on climate.' A year later he said human activity is still contributing: 'I think climate change is real' and 'humanity makes a contribution to it'. But a week later, on 14 March, he is back to being unsure about climate science. He said:
I don't think we can say that the science is settled here.
There is no doubt that we should do our best to rest lightly on the planet and there is no doubt that we should do our best to emit as few waste products as possible, but, having said that, whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out … is not yet proven.
That is just a nonsense. That is a political argument. It is not based on the science that is before this parliament.
Mr Abbott simply cannot be believed on his climate change policy—and calling Direct Action a policy is probably overstating it. The truth is that many on the Liberal side do not believe in the science. They are antiscience, and Mr Abbott just does not have the courage to tell the public what he really thinks, so he jumps from one position to another continually.
Let's deal with the science. We have heard contributions from coalition senators here over a period of time trying to say, 'I actually believe in the science, but we're not really sure that it is anthropocentric—
Senator Bernardi interjecting—
Senator, that is human caused carbon pollution, and that is what he needs to understand. What do key scientists at the CSIRO say? They say:
Climate change is the greatest ecological, economic, and social challenge of our time.
Those are the people who we pay to provide us with scientific knowledge on the issues confronting Australia. The scientists at the CSIRO have an international reputation. I heard one Liberal senator here saying that the people who are supporting climate change in the scientific community are low-level scientists. You cannot say that about the CSIRO. You cannot say that about the Bureau of Meteorology. You cannot say that about the Australian scientists who are involved in this. They are amongst the best in the world and that is why the world listens to them when they talk on these issues. The only people who are not listening to our scientists are the coalition—the climate sceptics and the climate deniers on the other side.
The Australian Academy of Science has said that this is an issue that has to be dealt with and that we need to deal with it quickly. Global sea levels are currently rising. There is a great deal of evidence that the earth's climate has warmed. Global average temperatures have risen in line with the climate model projections. The models have been done—some of the most sophisticated computer modelling ever in the world—and they are clearly indicating that temperatures are rising. What is happening in practice around the world is consistent with those climate model projections.
So climate change is already visible. That is the message. Southern and eastern Australia's water supply reliability is expected to decline. It is the CSIRO saying this. It is not some politician standing here saying that this is what is going to happen; it is our scientific community—the experts in the science of climate change. They say 'development and population growth in Australia’s coastal regions will exacerbate risks from sea-level rise' and that there will be 'significant loss of unique Australian animal and plant species' across the country. They say there is a risk to infrastructure, including the failure of urban drainage and sewerage systems, and that more blackouts, transport disruption and greater building damage will all have to be dealt with.
These are not scare campaigns as they are dressed up by the tactics group of the coalition; this is what the scientists are telling us about climate change. I want my grandkids to have the same rights and privileges I had. That is the right to have a country where we are not facing these calamitous environmental issues.
The scientists go on to say that:
Heatwaves, storms and floods are likely to have a direct impact on the health of Australians … Moderate warming in the absence of rainfall declines can be beneficial to some agricultural crops … However, these positive effects can be offset by changes in temperature, rainfall, pests, and the availability of nutrients. Production from cropping and livestock is projected to decline over much of southern Australia, as is the quality of grain, grape, vegetable, fruit, and other crops.
What I just cannot believe is when the National Party in this place, the people who should be warning their constituencies about the effects of climate change, deny that it is happening and go out and perpetrate the lies and nonsense that we have seen in the political debate in this country. I cannot understand why, if you are depending on the land, you would not accept the science. But that seems to be what is happening.
The other argument we hear is that it is all going to send industry broke. There is a document called Cleaning up: Australia's readiness for a low-carbon future. This was done in 2012. It was not done by the Greens. It was not done by the Labor Party. It was done by the Economist Intelligence Unit ofThe Economistthe bible for the economic dries around the world. It did a case study on Wesfarmers. Wesfarmers, it said:
… will be among the companies most heavily affected by the new carbon price scheme.
Aside from power stations, Wesfarmers is Australia's sixth biggest carbon emitter, producing 2.7m tonnes of direct emissions.
It was incurring:
… a A$100m net annual cost in the first year of the scheme as a result of the initial carbon price of A$23 per tonne.
But its revenue in 2011 was $56 billion. So it had a revenue of $56 billion, and the cost to deal with carbon was $100 million a year. What did Wesfarmers say? It said:
… it can maintain its margins by taking steps to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency.
… … …
Apart from the investment to improve energy efficiency, much of the group's focus in the last year has been on intensive emissions reduction, particularly in the chemicals business.
The document went on to say that Wesfarmers is:
… developing internal policies to guide employees as they prepare greenhouse and energy reports and deal with customers and suppliers on issues to do with carbon pricing—
and that is an important aspect of that company's work.
It went on to say:
Though the carbon cost is significant, Wesfarmers believes it can mitigate it to a large extent with top line growth and increased organisational efficiency.
This is a company that has one of the highest carbon prices that has to be paid, a company that is a big employer, a company that has taken the steps to deal with the issue of carbon pricing—and it says it will not affect its bottom line because it is going to deal with it.
Who was the sponsor of this report? It was General Electric. General Electric sponsored this report for The Economist. There is another case study in here on Shell. Shell said a cap-and-trade system is the right way to go and that it is 'the right mix at the right time'. So no-one agrees with this nonsense of Direct Action that the coalition are putting up. The Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, clearly does not like it. He belled the cat when he said it was a nonsense and a short-term approach. We have to take long-term approaches in the interests of our grandkids and in the interests of the planet. That is the challenge the coalition are failing to meet.
I rise to speak on this package of bills, debating what many Australians hope will be the final chapter and effectively the nail in the coffin of the disastrous carbon tax. It is a tax that, of course, was not even meant to exist and it is one of the most damaging and ridiculous policies that has ever traversed through both houses of parliament. It is a tax that has been a blight on this country's economy and a burden on the budget of every Australian family and every Australian business. It has put pressure on the cost of living, it has increased the costs of doing business within Australia and it has damaged our international competitiveness overseas. In fact, it was in its very first year a $7.6 billion hit to our economy. It had a direct impact on over 75,000 Australian businesses.
After all of this, how much did the carbon tax reduce carbon dioxide emissions by? Just 0.1 per cent. It cost $7.6 billion and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by barely 0.1 per cent. I could sum it up in another way. It has not worked. Only the Labor Party and their alliance partners in the Greens could impose a tax on the country to save the environment that actually made next to no difference.
But while the carbon tax was doing its damage to the wallets of Australians, it was also—I remind you, Acting Deputy President Furner, and the people of Australia—doing untold damage to those in the Labor Party. No other policy in recent memory has claimed such high-level political scalps or damaged so many political reputations. Let's take a walk down memory lane. It originally started with Mr Rudd walking away from his emissions trading scheme, which helped lead the way to him being dumped as leader and Prime Minister in 2010. Then Ms Gillard, after plunging the knife into Mr Rudd's back, tried to make her mark on the policy, misleading the Australian people in the most blatant manner that I have ever seen from a sitting Prime Minister. Just days before the election Ms Gillard promised on national television in front of millions of Australians:
There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.
She took that promise to the election, as did all the Labor Party. She scraped into government with the help of a handful of Independents and then turned her back on the clear will of the Australian people by doing the exact thing she promised not to do. The question remained—and it remained a black stain over Ms Gillard's prime ministership—how could anyone trust anything she said after she had backflipped on such a flagrant election promise? That did, indeed, haunt her throughout her prime ministership and eventually it helped lead to her downfall.
Mr Rudd then made a comeback and tried to smooth things over. In his eagerness to win the election at whatever cost, he admitted the carbon tax was a huge burden for all Australians. He said:
The government has decided to terminate the carbon tax to help cost-of-living pressures for families and to reduce costs for small business.
Let me read the opening line of that again: 'The government has decided to terminate the carbon tax'. That was Mr Rudd and the Labor Party before the last election. But that did not save him, because by then the Australian people had had a gutful. They were sick of paying another tax that Labor had lumped them with and that was achieving no beneficial outcome. They were sick of forking out for Labor's and the Green' ideological bent of putting a price on carbon dioxide—that odourless and colourless gas that is actually vital for life on earth. So the Australian people categorically rejected what Labor had put forward—and their policies—at the last election. They wanted change and they did not trust the then Labor government to fulfil their promise of abolishing the carbon tax. So they left it to the coalition to abolish the carbon tax—and that is exactly what we are trying to do.
This is about making things better for the Australian people. It is about removing a toxic tax that does nothing to help the environment but hurts everyone's household budgets. The quarterly CPI figures which were released on 24 October last year, the first CPI figures since the carbon tax was introduced, showed the largest quarterly increase ever. About two-thirds of this increase, on average, was due to the carbon tax. There was a 15.3 per cent rise in electricity and household gas, and a 14.2 per cent rise in miscellaneous fuels. Electricity companies are now being slugged to the tune of $3.5 billion and these higher costs are being passed on to consumers. It was extraordinary to read an opinion piece in the local paper today by Mr Paul Howes, the man who basically said he would quit the Labor Party and quit supporting the Labor Party if one job were lost due to the carbon tax. He was lamenting the cost of electricity for businesses and saying that that was what was making manufacturing uncompetitive. But in his about-face in his opinion piece he failed to once mention the impact of the carbon tax on electricity costs and how that was threatening our manufacturing competitiveness in this country.
We see even more proof with the Clean Energy Regulator's report that tells us 16 of the 20 biggest carbon tax bills went to electricity companies. The additional costs for the power industry overall equate to $4.1 billion. That, of course—and I will say it again—means higher electricity and utility bills for Australian families. Businesses are crying out for relief as well. Labor's tax has been a $1.1 billion burden for our manufacturing sector. Industry groups have said that:
…Australia's high carbon tax raises business costs unnecessarily, hitting industry competitiveness and investment confidence.
The Business Council of Australia agrees, saying the carbon tax:
…places excessive costs on business and households because the carbon charge under the legislation is now one of the highest in the world.
In recent days, Virgin Australia boss John Borghetti singled out the carbon tax for its damaging impact on airlines. I know his words have already been mentioned, but they are worth repeating. He said:
…the best assistance the government and the opposition can provide is the removal of the carbon tax, which has cost this industry hundreds of millions of dollars…
The cost of the carbon tax to this one company alone is $27 million. All this damage is from a tax we were never meant to have in the first place. What Labor and the Greens seem to forget is that the most important poll on the carbon tax was taken on 7 September last year. The people had their say, yet those on the other side of the chamber are still confused. The party that vowed to terminate the carbon tax, as the Labor Party did, is now fighting to keep it. Quite frankly, those on the other side appear to have very little interest in easing the cost-of-living pressures on families. I would suggest that they do not have any, because they were the ones who implemented this tax whose entire aim was to increase costs. That, indeed, was the whole point of it.
In contrast to the continuing Labor chaos, the government has listened. We warned about the destructive nature of this tax before it was implemented. We took our considered and consistent position to the Australian people at the election and we fought to remove the carbon tax. Doing so will have positive consequences. As Rod Sims from the ACCC said last year:
What went up will clearly come down when you take away the carbon price.
According to Treasury modelling, removing the carbon tax in 2014-15 will leave average costs of living across all households around $550 lower than they otherwise would have been in 2014-15. It is estimated that retail electricity will be around nine per cent lower and retail gas prices around seven per cent lower than they would otherwise have been. This means that average electricity bills will be around $200 lower than they otherwise would have been for households. It also means that average household gas bills will be around $70 lower than they would otherwise have been. For business, it is estimated that compliance costs will decrease by around $87.6 million per year. The burdens pushed onto Australian business and families will be eased and taxpayers will no longer have to foot the bill for Labor's reckless spending and misguided ideological vendetta against carbon dioxide.
All this goes to show the level of deception and nonsense that has been attached to this carbon tax. Mr Rudd called the carbon tax—or its previous incarnation—the great moral challenge of our generation, and yet twice he denounced policies that his party was pursuing.
Ms Gillard made a fundamental error of judgement in breaking her promise to all Australians. Dr Bob Brown, a former senator, blamed the Queensland floods on coal companies and climate change. Speaking about the Murray Darling Basin in 2009, Senator Wong said:
… this severe, extended drought is clearly linked with global warming.
And now the Leader of the Opposition, after sitting back and watching his colleagues self-destruct over this, is providing only more chaos for the Labor Party and for the Australian people by holding up the repeal of the carbon tax.
Senators on the other side of the chamber are the prophets of doom, always seeking to fundamentally change our economy to pursue an extreme agenda. The climate change alarmists want us to believe what they tell us, at any cost. It is all about the price they are willing for others to pay. And, quite frankly, it is not simply the impact that something like the carbon tax has on our economy that we should be considering; we all have to pay for the extras that come with these policies. Almost $1.5 million was spent by the Rudd government on travel costs to send 68 people to that ill-famed Copenhagen conference in 2009; a conference that achieved basically nothing.
Taxpayers also forked out another $360,000 for a delegation to be sent to a Mexico climate change conference. And how can we forget the clauses within the draft of the mooted Copenhagen treaty that sought to establish an unelected and virtually unaccountable world body that would have required Australia to transfer billions of dollars each and every year to developing countries, all in the name of combating climate change? Those are just a few examples of how easy it was for the previous government to spend taxpayers' money to pursue their green dreams and socialist agenda.
Rather than seeking to strike a balance between protecting the environment and the economic challenges we already face, Labor and the Greens were happy for taxpayers to bear the financial burden because it is the only way they know how to govern: taxes and more taxes. Their idea is to keep levelling taxes on other people without bothering about the real costs to our community. It is time for us to end this terrible part of our recent history. It is time for us to move on with getting our economy back on track. While those on the other side, along with their friends the Greens, sit and watch the death throes of their disastrous policy experiment, whose legacy we are living with today, the government is getting on with the job of governing.
We are making the tough decisions that protect the interests of this country, doing what is necessary to ensure that families and businesses have the best chance to succeed. We are working to implement the will of the Australian people, who want to see this carbon tax gone. We will not tax the Australian economy to achieve our environmental goals, unlike Labor and the Greens, who will tax the economy without achieving any environmental goals. We will work towards a sustainable environment through low-cost, effective opportunities to improve the environment.
The people of Australia know where we stand. They knew where we stood before the election; they know where we now stand. It is now up to the other side to respect the wishes of the people and vote to repeal the carbon tax and free this country from this damaging and ridiculous policy that was never designed to achieve any meaningful environmental outcome. I will be supporting this bill.
Over the centuries, there has been a colourful history of groups incorporating under the common belief that planet Earth is flat—despite a mounting wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary. While this idea can trace its origins back to ancient civilisations, it has been revived many times in recent decades across the globe. The philosophy reached a peak in the 1970s when the International Flat Earth Research Society of America was reported to have a following of around 3,000 people.
A newsletter by society President Charles Johnson declared the goal of the organisation was to 'replace the science religion with sanity'. He contended that science is nothing more than 'a weird, way-out occult concoction of gibberish theory-theology' and that scientists are 'the same old gang of witchdoctors, sorcerers and tellers of tales'. Even today, in the age of Google maps and satellite tracking, the flat-earth cause continues from a base in California and boasts around 420 members. For those interested, it has an active internet presence at theflatearthsociety.org.
While flat-earth theories and the like provide a rich seam for ridicule in internet memes and weird-and-wacky columns for slow news days they are generally regarded as harmless, if unconventional, additions to the world of ideas. We have come to accept that, regardless of how hefty the weight of evidence at their disposal, some people will always cling to curious, if not completely absurd, beliefs.
However, this phenomenon can result in more sinister outcomes if these same people are invested with the power to use their strange thoughts as the basis of public policy. In the area of climate change, I fear that some of these people are our nation's elected representatives and that some of their unfounded beliefs form the foundation of bills like the one before us today. Of course, most members of this coalition government will tell you that there is no question that they believe in climate change and that their commitment to combat it is sincere.
They would assert that they agree with the 97 per cent of scientists who say that climate change represents a very real and present danger to the planet and the quality of our life on it. But the truth is that we hear a lot of words in this place. And Australians are not foolish. Australians understand that the only way to judge elected representatives is not on professionally-crafted rhetoric, but on actions. And therein we have the rub.
Perhaps we can forgive the Prime Minister for misspeaking when he put on the public record his belief that climate change is 'crap', during the now infamous interview in The Australian. After all, we cannot forget that the Prime Minister himself has cautioned us not to believe everything he says in the heat of discussion and that we should only take heed of his prepared, scripted remarks. So, maybe, in this case Mr Abbott got carried away with political pointscoring. It certainly would not be the first time he has let political convenience come before the truth. After all, the Prime Minister has also said in the past that it makes sense to have an ETS 'to take precautions against significant risks', so it is difficult to determine what he actually believes.
But, before we give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. Firstly, would a government that truly believed in climate change make it one of its first priorities in power to abolish the Climate Commission, which was established to provide the nation with vital information on the effects of and potential solutions to global warming? Would a government that is truly committed to reversing climate change turn its back on the United Nations climate change conference, which contributed to Australia winning the 2013 'Colossal Fossil' award from the Climate Action Network? And would a government that accepts the serious risks that face the globe if we do not act on climate change attempt to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation? This body, as has been said here previously, has leveraged an impressive $1.5 billion worth of private sector investment in clean energy projects and, in doing so, has cut 3.9 million tonnes of damaging carbon from our atmosphere. Even more importantly—and this is the kicker—this activity has also brought a return of seven per cent to government coffers. This would result in $200 million a year of pure profit. But, despite all common sense and, indeed, fiscal responsibility, the government persists in its bloody-minded plan to shut down this important body. Finally, we need to ask whether a government that is honest about its intention to cut carbon output would replace the almost universally accepted mechanism of pricing carbon with a direct action scheme that has been recognised as a dud by policymakers, scientists and economists alike. These questions are exactly what we are considering today in the bill that is before us.
We also need to consider this 'policy' of direct action, because what the government have given us to date barely qualifies for this description. Despite the fact that the government first announced Direct Action in 2010, in the intervening three years it came up with little more than thought bubbles as to how it could funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to polluters and rip away all the economy-wide incentives for investment in green, energy efficient projects. In order to cover up this lack of policy, Mr Hunt tried to slip out a vague, undetailed 'green paper' on the Friday afternoon before Christmas. Presumably he hoped it would fly under the media radar and public scrutiny could be avoided.
Currently, I serve as the Chair of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, which has recently been charged with considering the impacts of the government's direct action policy. The inquiry has received more than 100 submissions from across the country, and the overwhelming message we are getting is that the Direct Action Plan is simply not up to the task; it is expensive, is riddled with design problems and will not come close to meeting Australia's carbon emission reduction targets. In fact, the committee is yet to hear evidence from one single witness who is willing to support direct action as an effective or appropriate stand-alone solution to address climate change.
To meet our commitment of reducing Australia's carbon output by five per cent by 2020, the government has allocated $1.55 billion over three years, but modelling by SKM MMA and Monash University has shown that this falls $4 billion short of what will be needed. This leaves the government with three options: change the policy to a more cost-effective one, increase funding or fail at meeting the five per cent reduction target. The government has been very clear that it will not change the policy and even clearer that there will not be any more money on the table. Unfortunately, this all but guarantees that Australia will not meet its carbon reduction target.
One key failing of Direct Action is that it throws away the widely accepted market based model of 'polluter pays', in favour of an underresourced 'taxpayer pays the polluter' plan. This is very curious when you consider that the environment minister himself penned a graduate thesis entitled 'A tax to make the polluter pay', proving he fully understands the effectiveness of a broad based market pricing that places the burden of pollution on the polluter, rather than on the taxpayer. When interviewed on the topic in 2010, Minister Hunt reiterated this position, saying:
My support has always been for two things. And this is a life-long commitment back to my thesis. And that is firstly, to reduce emissions. And secondly, to use economic instruments to do that.
Despite this, Minister Hunt seems to have turned his back on years of learning to champion the Emissions Reduction Fund, where the government will pay organisations to undertake projects intended to reduce carbon emissions.
Pollution is a waste output of business like any other. Just as we would not expect someone else to pay to dispose of the skip bins of rubbish that any business generates, it is quite unfair to require the taxpayer to pick up the tab for big business and their carbon outputs. Unfortunately, this direct action policy also has some serious design flaws which open it up to being 'gamed' by big polluters. Firstly, it is very difficult to determine what a business would have done anyway as part of its normal operations. It is easy to envisage a scenario where a company could secure government funds to do something that it planned to do all along. And, perversely, businesses that have already reduced their carbon output could be penalised because they will be starting from a lower baseline, despite taking responsible and very effective action earlier. But, worse than this, the government has already pointed to a 'flexible' approach where there will be no penalties for not meeting the required carbon abatement. It has been made clear that the government will not penalise organisations for 'business as usual' operations—even if 'business as usual' pumps out tens of thousands of tonnes of polluting carbon dioxide.
In this context, it is not surprising that the government has completely done away with the national cap on emissions, as there is no chance of meeting any meaningful target through Direct Action. In fact, the Climate Institute tells us that, far from helping to mitigate climate change, Direct Action will actually result in an increase in carbon emissions of eight to 10 per cent on year 2000 levels. According to Climate Institute modelling, if other countries followed the Abbott government's policy lead, the world would be on track for a catastrophic rise of up to 6.5 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century. For Australia, this would mean a five-fold increase in droughts in southern Australia, the virtual destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, forced abandonment of many coastal communities and a 90 per cent reduction in agricultural production from the Murray-Darling region. Another problem of Direct Action is that it is completely silent on what will happen post 2020. We simply do not know. This creates serious uncertainty in the business community and threatens the viability of long-term investment planning, particularly as many projects would have a time line extending well beyond that of the policy itself.
With the removal of the broad based carbon price, the government is removing the financial incentive for businesses to invest in low-carbon solutions. By doing this, it is essentially subsidising fossil fuels at the expense of clean, renewable energy. While the rest of the world is embracing the transition to low-carbon economies, Australia may find itself an economic and environmental backwater through the government's determination to cling to last century's technology. In fact, the GLOBE Climate Legislation Study which was released last week highlighted how far Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in this area. This study of 66 countries across the globe found Australia is the only country to be taking negative legislative action on climate policy. Only three months ago, China's second-largest province, which has a population of over 100 million, introduced the world's second-largest emissions trading scheme. Meanwhile, Australia stands alone as the only country currently that is dismantling a market based approach to minimising climate change. It is very hard to believe that these are the actions of a government that is truly committed to avoiding the damaging environmental and economic impacts of climate change.
Today, we are looking at a bill that threatens to turn back the clock on the advances this country has made toward meeting our ethical obligations to future generations and replace them with a widely derided option that will do nothing but line the pockets of big polluters. This is a bill that, if passed, will undoubtedly set us on a reckless path and abrogate our responsibility to protect the planet from the potentially devastating impacts of climate change. Well, I refuse to stand with this government on the wrong side of history. Instead, I will stand with the 87 per cent of Australians who believe that the target to reduce Australia's carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020 is either on the mark or does not go far enough. And I will stand on the side of the sheer weight of scientific evidence which tells us that we are heading down a perilous road if we ignore it. This is why I refuse to support this bill. Instead, I support replacing the carbon tax with an emissions trading scheme, which will help us to fulfil our responsibility to the international community and generations to come.
It is important to point out at this stage that the current government has long engaged in irresponsible myth-making about carbon pricing. Despite the Prime Minister's rantings about the carbon tax in recent years, it did not 'take a wrecking ball to the economy'. In fact, the economic impact of the carbon tax was determined by experts to be less than 0.7 per cent. And, even though we had a carbon tax, the economy continued to grow, jobs continued to be created and we registered an impressive growth in national wealth. At the same time, a fair compensation package was put in place to ensure that Australians earning under $80,000 a year would suffer no negative financial impacts as a result of the carbon tax. That is hardly a wrecking ball, from anyone's perspective.
At the same time, the carbon tax resulted in an 8.4 per cent drop in carbon emissions from the electricity sector in its first six months. That is a very tangible drop of 7.5 million tonnes of carbon when compared to the same half of 2011. However, in Labor we recognise that the economy may have some difficult times ahead. This is why we believe that an emissions trading scheme will strike the right balance between protecting the economy and meeting our obligations to reduce carbon output. The proposed scheme would put a floating price on carbon from 1 July. Notably, it would also reduce the economic imposts on business, industry and Australian families, as the carbon price would drop from the current $25.40 a tonne to the standard European floating price, which is around $6 a tonne.
As policymakers, one of our primary responsibilities is to recognise problems and find sensible, evidence based solutions to them. At the moment, we have a very serious problem facing us. We only need to look at the serious weather events occurring across the globe to realise that lip-service and token gestures from those opposite simply will not cut it. From the heartbreaking bushfires in New South Wales to the devastation wrought on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, there is little doubt that the weather is changing. Experts across the globe who have devoted their lives to the study of climate are unanimous in warning us that if we do not act to decrease carbon emissions, these sorts of extreme weather events will only escalate in scale and regularity. Experts have also told us that the most sensible, effective policy solution to the problem is to put a price on carbon and that so-called direct action schemes are expensive and ineffective.
So we stand here at an important junction in history. Do we take the responsible path of putting an effective, evidence based response to the problem of climate change in place? I have worked closely with people on both sides of this place, and I have to say that there are many on the other side that I believe to be rational, intelligent and ethical. I know where I stand on this, and I urge these more sensible members of the government to lobby their short-sighted leader to reconsider this regressive, irresponsible action so future generations do not have to pay the price for their flat-earth-type thinking.
I am proud to stand here today and say as the last speaker that, like the rest of my party room, I will not be voting for these carbon tax bills. What we are voting on today is one of the bravest, most significant and most necessary structural reforms this country has seen in decades. We are taking a leadership role and the rest of the world will follow suit if we can reduce global emissions. It is at times like these that I cannot help but reflect on the fact that six years ago I was sitting in front of a computer at the University of Tasmania after I was asked to put together a course in environmental finance. At that stage no other university had looked at doing a specific course in environmental finance and how we could use financial markets to help mitigate environmental damage. It is quite ironic that I am standing here in the Senate today, having taken 12 months to pull together all the simple things to teach students how we can counteract a problem such as global warming, and all the best policy advice available is being thrown out the door by a government that is supposed to understand markets and understand business.
Let me start at the beginning. Carbon dioxide, like other greenhouse gases, is pollution. That might be the very first line you type on your first slide that you are going to show your students. If you do not believe that, if you do not get passed that first line, then there is no point progressing with the rest of the course. Carbon dioxide is pollution.
It was interesting hearing Senator Eggleston yesterday talk about historical instances of carbon dioxide pollution leading to periods of global warming. We are well aware of that from climate records, but that does not abrogate the importance of carbon dioxide in today's age. It actually supports the argument that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that can lead to runaway climate change and all the negative impacts we see on our ecosystems and on our future economy.
If it is pollution, it is what economists call an externality—that is, something produced by a company that is having a negative impact is not being reflected in the costs of production of that good. We also know from well-established theory that markets fail. Markets do not always price things well. They do price some things well, but they do not price things like pollution well, so there is an important role for government to step in and fill the externality gap by levering things such as taxes or excises on pollution.
In the last two days we have heard a lot from the CEO of Virgin talking about the impact of the carbon tax. Apart from the fact that he and Qantas signed up lobbying to be included in the price on carbon scheme, we have not heard anything about the excise that has long been levied on aviation fuel or other fuels in this country. What we hear about is the so-called carbon tax and the damage that has done to the profits of a company like Virgin. It was interesting also to see in estimates last week Qantas very clearly saying that the carbon tax was not the issue, whereas we have seen the Prime Minister and our Liberal cohorts in the last two days running the populist line that somehow the carbon tax has destroyed Qantas. I will get back to that in a minute.
This price on carbon, and its accepted theory to price pollution, is designed to transition industries away from pollution to cleaner forms of production. It does not just have to be electricity; there are a lot of other things that we leverage market based instruments on. That is why we call them market based instruments. We are transitioning in this country, and certainly in my state of Tasmania, which has 86 per cent renewable energy, from dirty energy to clean energy. Along the way we have created tens of thousands of new jobs in investment and innovation in this country. I have not heard that mentioned once by anyone on the other side of the chamber in all of the debate.
Yes, a scheme like this will have its costs and it may have design flaws that need to be changed. It will also have risks. It is our job in government to manage those costs and to manage those risks. Getting back to the first line that I am typing for my students, if you do not accept that CO2 is pollution then I can say to you—and I did say this to some students—you do not have to have proof to be prudent in finance. That is what the insurance industry is based on. I do not know if I am going to be run over by a car and killed but I have life insurance anyway because, if I do, it will be catastrophic for my family. I insure my house in case someone breaks in and I insure my car in case I have an accident. It is called managing risk. It is the insurance industry that has driven action on climate change since the 1980s, because it is the only industry pricing the risk of climate change, not just to households and individuals but to businesses and industries.
So taking strong and effective action on climate change—and I emphasise action that is effective—is an insurance policy in itself. That is what climate action is. I say to people who do not necessarily believe in CO2 being pollution that leads to global warming, where does the balance of risks lie? Would you put your money on it if you had to make a bet based on the available evidence? Isn't it prudent to manage our risks? Yes, it is. We need strong action on climate change because it is an insurance policy for the future of our grandchildren, as Senator Cameron so eloquently pointed out. But it is a lot more than that; it is also important for our economy.
So the crisis we face today—and I stress it is a crisis—could not have been more clearly highlighted than by CSIRO this morning when they put out their definitive report on observed changes in the long-term trends in Australia's climate. I will read to you from the section 'Future climate scenarios for Australia'. It says:
Interestingly, the CSIRO's conclusion is the same as that of the Bureau of Meteorology in answer to a question from Senator Ruston during estimates. According to the report:
The report goes on:
When I read that I understand that it is talking about the future—my future and the future of my kids. When I read that I see that it spells cost—the cost of living in this country under climate change, not the cost of my bloody electricity bills this month or next month. This is the CSIRO talking about the potential catastrophe under a future of climate change if we do not take action. We have just given billions of dollars to farmers because of drought. I have no doubt they need it, but how many more billions of dollars will go to them? How many more billions of dollars are we going to have to spend on mitigation strategies for bushfire risk or for rising sea levels? It is interesting, I have never heard the cost of climate change mentioned by the other side of the chamber in this debate. But there it is; that is what we have to do something about, folks. It is clear as daylight.
So why are we standing here today debating whether these bills should be scrapped? There are three good reasons that I can identify. The first is the zombie spin that we saw from the Abbott government in the lead-up to the last election. Once again, Senator Cameron pointed out very eloquently the impact that the short-sighted, offensive, cynical, political opportunism of Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, has had on the debate. I cannot think of a better example than that of Qantas. Qantas is in trouble, workers jobs are at risk, and it is the fault of the carbon tax again! The second thing I can identify is ideology, pure and simple. I was reading the IPA website last night, looking at its freedom index. I have no doubt that that is now a layer that we have to deal with under this new government: how well new regulations or policies impact the IPA's freedom index. Sometimes I cannot help thinking that their ideology has bred pure spite in the attempt to cancel some of these bills, especially that dealing with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Lastly, it is about special interests, about the big end of town, about being puppets on a string, having the IPA, the Business Council of Australia and the other large, vested interests in this country dictating your policy.
Let us consider the carbon tax bills specifically. The cheer squad—the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and the Minerals Council of Australia—is very clear. The Australian says, 'Industry calls for swift repeal of carbon tax.' I wonder why, considering that only 0.1 per cent of Australian businesses are liable to pay the carbon price and that four companies, concentrated in a very small number of industries, alone pay nearly 50 per cent of Australia's carbon liability! This demonstrates how the big polluters, as Al Gore recently in Australia articulated so clearly on 7.30 Report, have hijacked our democracy. They are driving the government's agenda and, sadly, potentially our national legislation. I would like to quote from an article by Ross Gittins, in the Sydney Morning Herald, that I really enjoyed. It is entitled 'We're now a nation of rent-seekers.' He says:
Professor Ross Garnaut has argued that Australia is unlikely to see another era of extensive micro-economic reform because of the growth in rent-seeking behaviour since the days of the Hawke-Keating government.
… … …
What gets me is how blatantly self-seeking our lobby groups have become. It is as if the era of economic rationalism - with its belief that the economy is driven by self-interest - has sanctified selfishness and refusal to co-operate for the common good.
He goes on to say:
It's finally dawning on people that major and genuine reform—
which the carbon-pricing scheme is—
requires a degree of bipartisanship at the political level and a spirit of give and take on the part of powerful interest groups. But these prerequisites are further away than ever.
Instead what we get is lowest-common-denominator politics from the pollies and rent-seeking posing as ''reform'' from the interest groups.
He goes on to mention the various business lobbies that have a significant interest in investing to have this legislation changed.
I used to teach the special-interest model and the special-interest effect to students. It is probably a bit difficult to talk about in the time I have remaining, but we all understand that lobby groups play a role in democracy—they get in the ear of decision makers. But they also make the decisions that we as decision makers make very clear. They make the benefits and the costs to us very clear. They can donate to political parties. They can threaten to advertise against you in aggressive advertising campaigns. There is no clearer example of that than with Labor's change of view on the mining tax. I have seen it also with Coca-Cola and the Australian Beverages Council aggressively advertising against national recycling schemes such as a bottle bill. We face these trade-offs. Do we take on special interests and risk getting a backlash from voters? Unfortunately, most voters in this country do not have the time or the energy to invest in fully understanding legislation and how important it is. That is our job as government to do. That is why special interests win. They can concentrate very powerfully the benefits and costs to decision makers, and decision makers know that the general public have lots of things on their mind when they go to the ballot box. That is why it is a con to say that this government has a mandate on the carbon tax, on the mining tax, on turning back the boats or on anything that I have heard in this chamber—you suddenly have a mandate on it. How many Australians go to the polling booth understanding those policies and voting specifically on those? It is my view that people voted for a change at the last election—I do not doubt that—but that was because of the circus that we saw from the Labor Party. I have a very clear view on this—we call it the rational ignorance of voters. There are a multitude of factors that go into decision making when people vote in an election. Unfortunately, once again, it is why special interests get away with dictating government policy.
What about the positive interests that support renewable energy? The Australian Cleantech Review in 2013 estimated at least 53,000 Australians are currently working in the cleantech sector, with strong growth since 2009. Modelling by several organisations, including Austrade, shows that current renewable energy targets in combination with other elements of the clean energy package, including a price on carbon, will deliver $20 billion of investment in renewable energy by 2020. Tasmania, my state, is nearly 100 per cent renewable and receives a $100 million dividend from the price on carbon. I am yet to see any politician, especially not a politician from Tasmania, say how my state will be compensated. One hundred million dollars a year from a price on carbon—because we export clean energy—is 12½ per cent of non-Canberra revenues to the state government. How are we going to be compensated for that? Solar PV accounts for 18,500 jobs and $8 billion in private investment; it is a growth sector. With traditional industries around this country failing—with the car manufacturing sector pulling out of the country, with farmers needing more handouts and with the collapse and troubles experienced by commodity industries, for example, SPC—how are we going to invest in the new jobs of the future? Where are we going get this innovation from? Senator Conroy is here—at least he has done something for this country with the NBN. How are we going to build the industries of the future? I can tell you we have one here now, and it is called clean energy.
The government talk about sovereign risk. I have never seen a worse example of sovereign risk than what the Liberal Party has done to the clean energy sector over the last four years. There is nothing business hates more than uncertainty.
Businesses factor in costs and are forward-looking, as you well know, Senator Back. All you have done is pull the carpet out from underneath one of the future growth drivers of this country. How are you going to replace it? The price on carbon acts as a catalyst for transitioning this country to a clean energy future and we are the only party that has shown leadership on this issue. Let us talk a little bit about leadership. Lord Deben, the head of the UK Committee on Climate Change, and a Tory politician, has slammed the Abbott government's push to pull back climate change policies:
It lets down the whole British tradition that a country should have become so selfish about this issue that it’s prepared to spoil the efforts of others and to foil what very much less rich countries are doing … All that pollution which Australia is pushing into the atmosphere is of course changing my climate. It’s a real insult to the sovereignty of other countries … It’s wholly contrary to the science, it’s wholly contradictory to the interests of Australia and I hope that many people in Australia will see when the rest of the world is going in the right direction what nonsense it is for them to be going backwards.
Tory politician! Senator Macdonald is not in here, but I challenged him in the House the other day when he said, 'I have yet to have anyone from that side of the chamber say to me why us cutting our small contribution to global warming is making a difference.' It is making a difference because this country has shown leadership and conviction, and it comes at a very small sacrifice considering what previous generations of this country have had to sacrifice for us. Accepting a $1 or $2 increase on an airfare as a result of the carbon price, or a small increase in my electricity bills, is hardly a sacrifice when we are talking about long-term structural reform. It is long-term structural reform in order to do the right thing for my children and for future generations of this country—not to mention the animals that live in our ecosystem and our oceans and the ecosystem services that support life on this planet.
This is the biggest structural reform this country has seen in decades, and I and the rest of my party will not stand by idly while the government tries to pull the carpet out from under the feet of my children and future generations of Australians.
I was the first person who ever queried the carbon tax, when I asked the first question about it on 26 August 2008. How one small voice can change the world if you are persistent! I have sat here for the past three weeks while thousands and thousands of jobs have disappeared, while people on the other side have read speeches presented to them. Those speeches may as well have been in Swahili for all they know about it—they have dutifully read out those speeches word for word, and meanwhile the jobs have been evaporating in front of them. The Labor Party have been filibustering and putting cost on cost on business.
How you can sit there and say that you are representatives of the working people has got me beat. I can understand the Greens—that is their knitting; that is what they should stick to. But how the Labor Party get sucked into this is beyond me. If you do not believe me, how about believing Paul Howes? Paul Howes has said the cost of energy is killing our manufacturing industry. Do not believe me, believe the president of the AWU, or the ACTU—
He is certainly better than you, because he does stand up for something whereas you just bend your knee at the altar of the Greens, Senator Cameron. You have never stuck up for the working man as long as I have been here. For as long as I have been here you have knelt, you have genuflected, you have bowed to the Greens and you have kissed the floor they walk on. That is what you have done.