Climate change is real. It is not conjecture. It is not a socialist fringe theory. It is not a global conspiracy dreamed up by academics so that they can get more dollars in research grants. It is the accepted scientific wisdom of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community. Earlier this year the Climate Commission published an overview of the current and most up-to-date understanding of climate science and the implications of this knowledge for societal responses. In its report The critical decade, the Climate Commission concluded that there is a broad consensus amongst climate scientists that the earth is warming rapidly as a result of human emissions of greenhouse gases. In other words, climate change is real.
Faced with this challenge, there are two things that a major political party can do. They can bury their heads in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening—they can allow the polluters to go on polluting and putting our environment and our economy at risk—or they can take action. That is why the Gillard government is acting: it is the right thing to do. The only action the federal opposition took on climate change was to knife Malcolm Turnbull in the back when he reached agreement with the government to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. In other words, Tony Abbott came to the leadership on a platform of not acting on climate change. As always, he put his narrow political interest ahead of the national interest. The Gillard Labor government—
Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. This speaker is clearly reading every word, even the attacks on Mr Abbott. I ask you to draw her attention to the standing order which requires that speeches shall not be read.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): As you are aware, a very flexible approach has generally been taken to this issue in the Senate. It is not a point of order I intend to uphold.
Senator BILYK: The Gillard Labor government has chosen to put a price on carbon because the best advice we have is that it will cut pollution and drive investment in clean energy. Pricing carbon is not only the most cost-effective way to cut pollution; it is the best scheme to have if you want to link in with the global trade in carbon credits.
Our preference is to have an emissions trading scheme and we have worked constructively with the current parliament to implement one. We established the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to negotiate a scheme which would be supported by the parliament. The Liberal-National coalition were invited to join that committee, but they refused. Unlike others in the parliament who chose to engage constructively with the process, they chose not to be involved but to be wreckers again. What hypocrisy—they refuse to be engaged in the process but they then complain about the outcome. The federal opposition remind me of the kid on the cricket ground—when he gets out, he does not just walk off; he takes his bat and ball and wants to close the whole game down.
Mr Abbott is intent on tearing up the clean energy future plan. He will not just abolish the price on carbon; he will render worthless carbon permits purchased by businesses in good faith—trashing their investments. He may have to spend billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money compensating them. He will wind back billions of dollars of investment in jobs, industry and renewable energy. This action will damage Australia’s economy and destroy jobs while the rest of the world moves to a clean energy future. Even worse, he will betray the most vulnerable Australians—families, pensioners and self-funded retirees—by ripping hundreds of dollars out of their pockets. And that is before he slugs each household $1,300 to fund his own flawed direct action scheme, a scheme which will line the pockets of the big polluters. It is interesting that the Liberal Party, a party whose traditions lie in free market ideology, are now advocates for government intervention in preference to a market based mechanism. Their position on climate change is so neo-Marxist that it really makes you wonder whether the modern Liberal Party stands for anything.
Our carbon price is not one which has to be paid for by ordinary Australians; it will be paid by 500 of Australia’s biggest polluters. From the money raised, we will fund assistance for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries, we will invest in clean energy and we will provide generous compensation for households. We have developed this household assistance package in recognition of the fact that, while households will not pay for a carbon price directly, the big polluters may choose to pass some of their costs on to consumers. Other polluters will invest in cleaner ways of doing business—minimising their carbon price liability and making them more competitive in the long term. The compensation will be targeted at those who need it the most, with the most generous assistance to pensioners and other low-income earners. Recent modelling by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling found that 68 percent of households would be better off after both the cost impacts of a carbon price and the benefits of household assistance were taken into account. That means that there is now evidence from both Treasury and NATSEM showing that about two-thirds of Australians will actually have more money in their pockets after the implementation of this policy.
Earlier I heard Senator Joyce ask, ‘Where are the clean energy jobs?’ Currently, there are about 400 altogether. There is total capital investment of $424 million, Senator Joyce might be interested to know, and we are avoiding around 423,000 tonnes of carbon pollution. This is equivalent to 60,000 homes being powered through clean energy. In the future, more jobs will be created, the total capital investment will rise by $385 million and we will be able to power around 138,000 homes. The reality is that Labor’s clean energy future plan goes beyond cutting carbon pollution and supporting manufacturing industries. We are commencing a transition which will generate new clean technology investments and strengthen our economy by supporting Australian jobs.
Senator Joyce and others on that side have also previously asked, ‘Given that Australia’s emissions are only 1½ per cent of global emissions, by how much will this legislation reduce global emissions?’ That question is fairly disingenuous. It is like an ordinary taxpayer asking: ‘How are my taxes going to upgrade the Pacific Highway? How is my small contribution to the nation’s total tax take going to make a difference? No-one would notice if I didn’t pay my tax, so why should I have to?’ I think a more relevant question is the one China and India might ask when they look across at Australia: ‘They are wealthy and industrialised and have had the benefits of cheap power in developing their industry and wealth for over a century—we want that kind of wealth for our citizens too, so why should we take action to reduce our emissions when they won’t?’
Another more relevant question is the one our neighbours in New Zealand might ask when they look across the Tasman: ‘We have an emissions trading scheme in place, but Australia isn’t taking any action to reduce their emissions—why should we bear the burden?’ There are 30 European countries which might ask the same question. Those countries are looking to Australia, a country which usually shows leadership on the world stage, to catch up with the rest of the world. They are looking to Australia to join the developed world in accounting for pollution and they are looking to Australia to make up for 12 years of inaction under the Howard government and to finally put a price on carbon. While we will make the big polluters pay for every tonne of carbon pollution they produce and put the money towards assistance for households, jobs and clean energy, a Tony Abbott led coalition government would slug households $1,300 each and give the money to big polluters. Under our package, most Australians will be better off, meaning they will actually have more money in their pockets once the cost of a carbon price and the household assistance package are taken into account. Unlike our package, there is no compensation under the coalition’s plan for their carbon tax. There are only two ways to pay for Tony Abbott’s carbon tax—increased taxes or reduced services.
In Mr Abbott we have a Leader of the Opposition who constantly flip-flops on whether he believes in climate change; a Leader of the Opposition who professes support for a carbon tax and then pretends that he is vehemently against pricing carbon; a Leader of the Opposition who commits to the same emissions reduction target as the government and then questions why the target is necessary; and a Leader of the Opposition who thinks that the best way to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions is to slug hardworking Australians $1,300 per household and hand it to big polluters.
The fact is that Mr Abbott and his colleagues will move whichever way the political wind is blowing. The only thing that they really stand for is winning the next election at any cost. At least Australians know what we on this side of the chamber stand for. We stand for moving to a clean energy future. I commend the bills to the Senate.