Standing up for Canberra

Carbon Price Plebiscite Bill 2011

I rise tonight to oppose this bill, the Carbon Tax Plebiscite Bill 2011. It is the first bill in this place that I have had reason to speak against. Before I go into my discussion on my opposition to the bill, I just want to take issue with some of the comments that the member for Goldstein made, particularly his comment that we have no agenda. That is complete and utter nonsense. We have an agenda to improve education in this country.

We have an agenda to improve health in this country. We have provided 50 per cent more funding for health in this country. We have an agenda to deal with ageing population and aged care for this country. We have an agenda for dealing with people with disabilities for this country. We have an agenda to link this country through the NBN and through improving infrastructure. We have made the most significant investment in infrastructure that has ever been made in this country. We had an agenda from 2007 onwards that saved this country from recession. You need just look at what is happening in the rest of the world, where most of the world is in very deep trouble. But here we are in Australia with low debt against GDP, five per cent unemployment and an economy that is going well.

The member for Goldstein's comments that we are 'agendaless' are complete and utter nonsense. We have an agenda to embrace the future, to position this nation for a prosperous future, through a range of mechanisms. And what do we get from the other side? Nothing; we just get no, no, no and opposition to everything that we want to do. It is the opposition that is the agenda vacuum; it is certainly not the government. We have had a very strong agenda since we have been in government. Since 2007 we have had a strong agenda that we have fulfilled, and we will have a strong agenda for the future of this country.

I am speaking against this bill because I believe it must absolutely be defeated not just because it is yet another example of the Leader of the Opposition's denial of climate change but because it also represents a very significant challenge to the nature of government in this country. I say that because this bill is not about consulting the Australian people. This bill is not about reflecting a national view on government policy. This bill is about allowing the Leader of the Opposition to conduct a push poll with a price tag of $80 million, with the tab to be picked up by the Australian taxpayer. It is also a poll that, should it not go his way, he has no intention of honouring. How do we know this? We know this because he said so himself.

This bill before us tonight is just another stunt. It is another way for the Leader of the Opposition to get his name in the headlines, to continue his fear campaign, to continue to divide this nation, to continue to scare this nation and to continue to oppose everything because he has nothing positive to offer this nation. This is not leadership; this is not the bill of someone who cares about the issues or has a policy program or an agenda for the country. It is in fact the antithesis of these things. This bill actually says to the Australian people that coming up with positive policy solutions to the challenges facing Australia is just a little too difficult for the Leader of the Opposition.

In contrast to the agenda and statements being put forward by those opposite—some of which I suspect would be welcome in a Flat Earth Society meeting— this government has a positive and serious approach to tackling dangerous climate change. It is an approach for which this government convened a multi-party committee to get consensus on the best way to tackle this problem—a committee that those opposite refused to take part in, continuing their proud tradition in this place since the last election of opposition for the sake of opposition. It is a package which is true to Labor's core values of protecting jobs and looking after those who need protection most—low and middle-income Australians. It is a package that will cut carbon pollution. It will drive investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure to ensure that generations of Australians to come enjoy the environment that so many of us have taken for granted.

This package will see Australia's annual emissions reduced by at least 159 million tonnes in 2020. That is, as we have heard before, the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road. It will do this by placing a price on carbon for around 500 of this country's biggest polluters. It is a price on carbon for the 500 biggest polluters; it is not a tax on ordinary Australians. Under this package, according to Treasury modelling —and, unlike those opposite, I value the expertise of the Public Service and Treasury modelling—by 2050, $100 billion will have been invested in renewable energy; the renewable sector will have grown 17 times its current size; and 40 per cent of electricity generation will come from renewable sources. It will achieve this reduction and this investment in clean technologies while at the same time, as I said, protecting jobs and looking after low- and middle-income earners. Under our proposals, nine out of 10 households will receive assistance. People earning up to $80,000 will receive a tax cut, with the average tax cut being, I believe, at least $300. There will also be an increase to family tax benefit parts A and B and an increase in the pension.

Our package will support jobs, and modelling shows that jobs will continue to grow, with 1.6 million more jobs by 2020. We know that some areas will need more assistance. That is why we are providing $9.2 billion over three years as part of the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, which will support local jobs and encourage investment in local technology. Then there is the $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program to support industries to become more competitive in a cleaner future, including $200 million for jobs in food processing and metal forging industries. There is also the $1.3 billion Coal Sector Jobs Package and the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan to support those industries.

Our package is also one that takes into account the impacts on small business. As a former small business owner, this is something that is very dear to my heart. I know firsthand the issues that small business owners face, so I was pleased that the government took into account how it will impact on them. The government will extend the business instant tax writeoff threshold to $6,500 to boost cash flow and help small businesses grow, invest and become more energy efficient. We will also establish a $40 million program to provide information to small business and community organisations on practical measures they can take to reduce energy costs. That is very, very important. People want to know what they can do themselves to reduce their energy costs and to reduce their carbon footprint.

Perhaps most importantly, small business will not be required to count their carbon output, nor will they have to fill in a single form as part of this reform package, something I know time-poor small business owners will greatly appreciate. This is just a small canvassing of the entire package; it is incredibly in-depth and it is incredibly comprehensive. It has been well thought out, considered, costed and modelled. By contrast, what do we see on the other side? We see a glib plan, the so-called Direct Action Plan, that will not achieve the bipartisan targets, that is uncosted and that will cost billions of dollars to implement, further exacerbating their already dismal attempts at good financial management of this country.

It is a policy which the member for Wentworth, a former leader of those opposite, himself acknowledged was one that could be easily dropped. It is the policy of a group of people who do not really believe that climate change is real. It is the policy of people who have no desire to make hard decisions, to tackle serious problems or to lead the Australian people. How do I know this? The Leader of the Opposition said it himself. He cannot avoid the fact that he declared climate change 'absolute crap'. Anyone could be forgiven for forgetting that he said this, since his opinion changes depending on the day's headlines and the community to which he is speaking. He wants a plebiscite on a carbon price, but he will not abide by it. He believes climate change is real and humanity has made a contribution to it, but he also thinks it is crap.

I do wonder what the Leader of the Opposition actually believes in, other than playing opportunistic politics. It is very easy to play to populist rhetoric and to make the easy choices—to outline a policy that lacks substance and hope no-one notices by the time the election comes around. However, I cannot as a member of this place and in good conscience abrogate my responsibilities to tackle climate change. I will not do that; I will not abrogate my responsibilities as the Leader of the Opposition has done as a leader of his community. I will not declare before my community that I am not capable of confronting the problems— (Time expired)

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