MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Carbon Pricing – 19 Sep 2011

I thank the opposition for raising this matter of public importance for discussion. It allows the government to clear up some of the deliberate misinformation the opposition has been putting into the community about how the Clean Energy Future package will affect the charitable, not-for-profit and voluntary sector. It is unfortunate, as I have said many times in this place, that the opposition’s only strategy—not only on this matter but on all matters brought before this place—is to try to make people fearful. It is particularly unfortunate that the opposition deliberately targets and tries to make fearful, for political gain, those who are most vulnerable in our community—that is, those who rely on the not-for-profit, voluntary and charitable sector to have their daily needs met.

The government’s package is a carefully designed and responsible package to ensure that those in our society who are least well off are not unjustly affected by our need as a nation to make progress towards a clean energy future. The government’s package supports these Australians by providing tax cuts, pension increases and increases to parts A and B of the Family Tax Benefit. Every pensioner at the single rate will get a pension increase of $338 per year and on average will be $134 better off after carbon pricing. Pensioner couples will get an extra $510 per year and will be $226 better off compared with the average carbon price impacts.

The tax-free threshold will be increased from $6,000 to $18,200, which means that around 60 per cent of taxpayers will get a tax cut of at least $300. Family Tax Benefit A for each child will be increased by up to $110 per year. Single-income families with children will receive up to $69 extra in Family Tax Benefit B, as well as up to $300 in an additional supplement. Newstart and youth allowance recipients will get up to $218 per year for singles and up to $390 per year for couples combined.

The opposition asks how the government’s Clean Energy Future plan will affect those in the not-for-profit and charitable sector, and that is an important question. Charities around the country will be supported as we transition to a clean energy future, as is only fair and right. Through the Low Carbon Communities program we will fund grants for local councils and community organisa­tions to retrofit or upgrade community buildings and facilities to reduce their energy use. The result of funding these upgrades for not-for-profit and charitable organisations will be a cut in their energy costs. These upgrades will also serve as demonstration projects to promote energy efficiency in the community, informing the public on ways individuals and families can improve their homes, lower their costs and decrease their carbon footprint.

Charities and the not-for-profit sector will also be supported through a dedicated funding stream under the Low Carbon Communities program to provide payments to charities to offset the carbon costs they will face for aviation fuel and fuel used for maritime purposes. This funding will be provided on an ongoing basis and will ensure that important services such as air and sea rescue services will not be affected by the carbon price.

The government is also helping not-for-profits to reduce their compliance costs through committed funding of $53.6 million over four years to establish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. This will begin in July next year and will make it easier for not-for-profits to go about their business of contributing to a fairer Australia. The not-for-profit and charitable sector has been vocally supportive of the government’s Clean Energy Future package. This sector recognises not only that action on climate change is required but also that the government’s package supports and protects those in our community who are most vulnerable.

I will give you a few examples of what the not-for-profit and charitable sector is saying about the Clean Energy Future package. Paul O’Callaghan, of Catholic Social Services Australia, has said:

In making such a significant move towards a low carbon future for Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia commends the priority given to assisting low income Australians, who will be the most impacted by the carbon pricing mechanism.

Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia, has said about the package:

We support this action to reduce carbon pollution. Not only does it promise a brighter future for the planet, it will help disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians who are already suffering the effects of climate change who will carry more of the share of the costs of climate change into the future.

Lin Hatfield Dodds has also said:

The package uses revenue raised by bad activity (carbon pollution creation) to fund good activity (progressive reform of the taxation system). This is clever policy. It is good policy. It’s a bit like spinning gold from straw. It’s exactly the kind of smart and gutsy approach we want to see from this Government, and from every government. … The Government … deserve[s] commendation for delivering leadership and a practical package of measures that hit several important policy targets.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of ACOSS, said just last week:

We congratulate the Federal Government, the Greens, and Independents for reaching agreement in the drafting of this legislation and we urge all parties to ensure its passage through parliament so we can move on with the necessary task of transforming our economy.

This does indeed seem to be high praise from the not-for-profit and charitable sector for the government’s Clean Energy Future package. It is a recognition of just how nuanced a package it is. Its effectiveness as a package for protecting the most vulnerable in our community is highlighted even further when compared with the opposition’s so-called direct action—or, as I call it, direct no action. This disappointing attempt at a policy position would cost every Australians an additional $1,300 a year. The opposition’s direct action would cost every disability pensioner, war widow and aged pensioner $1,300 a year, an unjust and unaffordable burden that would create a need for the not-for-profit sector to meet the increased costs. Under the opposition’s plan there is no compensation for those on disability support pensions. There are no tax breaks for those earning under $80,000 per year. There is no increase in the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200 per annum.

Under the opposition’s alternate plan more than 102,300 pensioners in my home state of Tasmania will not receive an extra $338 extra per year if they are single and up to $510 per year for couples combined. Under the opposition’s alternate plan more than 45,600 families in Tasmania will not receive household assistance through their family assistance payments of up to $110 per eligible child for families receiving the family tax benefit A and up to $69 per year for families receiving the family tax benefit B. Under the opposition’s alternate plan more than 9,400 single parents in Tasmania will not get an extra $289 per year. I know that you, Deputy President Parry, will be interested to hear this, being from Tasmania: under the opposition’s alternate plan more than 10,900 students in Tasmania will not get up to $177 extra per year for singles.

What they will get from the opposition is a poorly thought-out policy that was made on the run and costed on the back of an envelope, that will cost billions of dollars and that will hurt most those Australians who the not-for-profit and charitable sectors help the most. This reckless and thoughtless alternate policy from the opposition would place considerable strain on the not-for-profit sector.

The opposition has a history of ignoring the not-for-profit sector. Under the previous coalition government, not-for-profit organ­isations were gagged from speaking about government policy by clauses in their contracts. Under the previous coalition government not-for-profit organisations faced increased costs for the sector through unnecessary and overly bureaucratic report­ing requirements, which took away from their key functions of helping vulnerable people. Under the previous coalition government the fringe benefit tax rules for not-for-profit organisations were changed to cut community sector workers’ childcare and family tax benefits.

The distinction between the positions of the government and the opposition is clear. The opposition, in its so-called direct action plan, does not provide support for either the not-for-profit sector or those whom the sector supports. The government does. The government provides support in the Clean Energy Future package for the not-for-profit sector and those whom the sector supports. The difference is that clear. The government is building a cleaner energy future economy but not at the expense of the most vulnerable, which is what those opposite would have people believe. The government’s position is to do what is right and fair. That is only just.