MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Carbon Pricing – 20 Jun 2011

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’.

Senator Bernardi: I bet you can’t name one climate scientist.

Senator BILYK: 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—

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

Senator BILYK: 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)