Standing up for Canberra

Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 (Part II)

Continuing my contribution to this debate from earlier today, for me it is the lost future economic opportunity that makes removing a price on carbon so wrong. For some time now the coalition and its friends have been spreading the message that Australia was 'going rogue' by putting a price on carbon and that this was a silly, risky decision that left us alone, out on a limb. This is not the case— in fact, far from it. The fact is that economies all over the world are putting a price on carbon right now or have already done so. There are over one billion people currently living in carbon constrained economies. They live in a country, a state, a province or a union that has initiated some form of carbon pricing, such as a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.

The European Union, of course, has had an ETS since 2005. The EU ETS is now the largest carbon market in the world, operating in 30 countries including the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The EU is Australia's second-largest trading bloc, which is why linking Australia's ETS with the EU's ETS was a long-term goal of the Labor government. It is also why, when in August last year the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency announced that the Australian carbon price would be linked with the European Union ETS when Australia moved to a floating price ETS, it was applauded as the best possible outcome for Australia.

The EU is not alone; far from it. California, which is the ninth largest economy in the world in its own right, has introduced an emissions trading scheme around the $20 mark. In China alone, 200 million people are living in provinces where there is an ETS either in place or in development. And, most significantly, there are plans for a nationwide emissions trading scheme in China later this decade. Closer to home, our friend and neighbour, New Zealand, has had an ETS in place since 2009 with bipartisan support. This is something that has really stunned me in this whole process. In speaking to diplomats from Europe, in particular, they cannot believe the partisan approach that has been taken to tackling climate change in this country.

We heard yesterday from my colleague the member for Charlton, in his first speech, who said that by 2016 over three billion people would be living in countries where there are emissions trading schemes or carbon taxes. That is three billion people. So the idea that Australia is somehow being foolhardy or going it alone is simply false. In fact, if Australia were to move to an ETS right now, we would still not be able to call ourselves a global leader, because the rest of the world is already taking action. This is no longer about being a leader; as I said before, this is about not being left behind. And what would being left behind look like? I hate to think. First of all, our trade relationships would be at risk. Our biggest trading partners are putting a price on carbon, and they will not idly stand by and watch if we do not take action. If we act now, we will have the time, the resources and the imperative to prepare our economy to operate in a carbon constrained future. If we act now, we can be world leaders in renewable technologies and leaders in low-carbon industries. If we repeal the price on carbon and do not replace it with an ETS, we cannot.

The fact is that the government's so-called 'direct action plan' will take very little action at all. Direct action does not put a cap on carbon pollution and it does not provide the price signal, the market-based imperative that is required to move away from carbon intensive actions. Direct action is a system of taxpayer funded subsidies to polluters. It asks ordinary, working, tax-paying Australians to subsidise big polluters. It is a policy that is rejected by climate scientists and economists alike. Direct action does not guarantee a reduction in carbon pollution, either. The simple truth is that without a cap on carbon there cannot be any such guarantee. It is an expensive system that pays taxpayerfunded subsides to polluters, with no guarantee of success.

I know that there are members opposite who agree that an ETS is the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon pollution. The fact is that in 2007 there was bipartisan support for an ETS. It was the policy that both major parties took to the 2007 election and supported beyond the 2007 election. On tackling climate change, then Prime Minister John Howard said, 'Australia will more than play its part to address climate change, but we will do it in a measured way, in full knowledge of the economic consequences for our nation.' He was not talking about direct action, he was not talking about using taxpayers' money to subsidise polluters; he was talking about the introduction of an ETS. Following the election, then opposition leader Brendan Nelson also put the coalition's support behind an ETS. In July 2008 he said, 'We believe in an emissions trading scheme. We believe in a cap and trade system.' And of course, famously, Dr Nelson's successor as Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth, is the No. 1 fan of the ETS. He put it very succinctly when he said, 'You won't find an economist anywhere that will tell you anything other than that the most efficient and effective way to cut emissions is by putting a price on carbon.'

Sadly, the most recent change in leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party heralded a policy backflip, and for reasons unknown an ETS has fallen out of favour with the coalition. Today I ask those opposite to consider whether or not direct action is really the policy they want to implement. I ask them to listen to the experts, the scientists and the economists, and to listen to their own comments made not so long ago to commit to a market-based solution to climate change, a cap-and-trade ETS. I ask them to walk away from their policy—a policy which no serious economist believes is efficient and which is not serious about actually having a significant impact on climate change.

There has been a lot of talk in this parliament so far about mandates. Well, the fact is that I was elected by the people of Canberra on the basis that I support moving from a fixed price on carbon to a cap-and-trade, floating price emissions trading scheme. I was elected by the people of Canberra because I support a strong, market-based solution to climate change. People were out in full force on Sunday on the national day of action on climate change. There were some 2,000 Canberrans who rallied in Garema Place in Civic to show their support for strong action on climate change, for real action on climate change. They are concerned about their children's future, they are concerned about their grandchildren's future. They were young and old. There were students there, there were Labor students there, there were students from the ANU, there were the usual International Socialists there— there were people from all walks of life, many of my constituents of all ages: retired Canberrans, people in their middle ages and students. There were people from right across Canberra who were there to support real action and strong action on climate change. I thank those Canberrans for coming out and showing their strong support for action on climate change . I thank them for giving up their Sunday, because I know that time is very precious these days for families, but they wanted to get out there. I know they were keen to show their support. A number of them wrote to me to ensure that I was going to be there to rally for that support and I thank Canberra for being out there.

As I said, I was elected by the people of Canberra because I support a strong market-based solution to climate change and many Canberrans also do. Since the election, I have been contacted by many of my constituents on this matter, and their pleas to me have been united: 'Please don't undo the good work Labor has done on climate change, please maintain a price on carbon.' So if those opposite are going to talk about mandates, I would like to say to them that the mandate that I hold is from the people who elected me, the people of Canberra, those people who were out on Sunday showing their support for strong, real action on climate change, young and old, from all walks of life, from all professions, from all backgrounds. The people of Canberra are united in their support for a strong market-based solution to climate change and that is the mandate I will uphold in this parliament.

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