Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013

climate_change.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:13): These bills will repeal, amongst other things, the carbon tax. If it were as simple as that then you would see many members on this side of the House voting in favour of the legislation. Unfortunately, it is not. The legislation goes much further. It removes the legislated cap on carbon emissions, a legislated cap that had bipartisan support until the introduction of this legislation into the House. By removing the Climate Change Authority in one fell swoop it attempts to silence the critics of the government when it comes to economic and scientific advice on the best way to deal with carbon emissions. It removes millions of dollars granted to businesses to help them deal with reducing their carbon emissions through grants that were put in place by the previous government, and does much, much more indeed.

Speaker after speaker on this matter have stood here and asked that those on our side of the chamber respect a mandate. The truth is this: each and every one of us who have been lucky to be returned or freshly elected to this place comes here with a mandate: a mandate to implement policies that they put before the electors in their electorate. I did this, and I can tell you that the mandate I have is to ensure that we take strong action on reducing our carbon emissions, and that we do that through the repeal of the carbon tax and the implementation of an emissions trading scheme. Our proposition before the parliament does exactly that.

Let me say something about mandates: no government ever has a mandate to ignore expert advice. No government has a mandate to ignore the advice of scientists. No government has a mandate to turn its back on the public interest. Yet in bringing these bills before the House that is precisely what the Abbott government is doing, and what a terrible legacy for each member on that side of the House to vote in favour of. When they vote for these bills, they will be going down in history as people who are voting to wreck a perfectly good scheme. When they vote for these bills, they are putting themselves on the wrong side of history as wreckers of our economy and wreckers of the future of our children.

We know that our climate is changing. From 2001 to 2010 we have had the warmest decade on record. In fact, every decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the decade before it. We know the average global surface temperatures have increased by around 0.85 per cent since 1880, and that average ocean surface temperatures are rising. We know that the World Meteorological Organisation has advised that sea levels are rising twice as fast as they did on average during the 20th century. And we know that there is an accelerating loss of Arctic and Antarctic icesheets and an increasing acidification of our oceans. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in September, shows a strong international consensus on climate change. The world's climate scientists are 95 per cent certain that the process of global warming has been underway for some decades and that the major cause of this is human activity—in particular, the burning of fossil fuels. The conclusion of this expert advice is that we need to limit overall global warming to two per cent above pre-industrial averages.

After coming through some of the summers that we have just been through—after experiencing the early onset of ravaging bushfires throughout New South Wales and some of the worst floods in living memory; after experiencing the early onset of terrible typhoons in countries to the north of us—we do not need to just read the advice of the scientists, we can base our opinions on our own experiences. We know that something drastic is happening to our environment. Whether it is the droughts, whether it is the floods, whether it is the terrible bushfires, whether it is cyclones or the typhoons, we know that our climate is changing. Action is more urgent now than ever. We know that if we do not act, and if we do not act decisively, children in future generations will look upon us in shame and wonder what their parents and grandparents did—or more truly did not do—to address this terrible scourge. What sort of Prime Minister would want that as their legacy? What sort of Prime Minister would ignore the urgency of this advice?

Instead of accepting this advice, the government is replacing a policy that is working with a policy that every expert says will not work, and that is the great tragedy of these bills that have been brought before the parliament. Industry was talking up the opportunity to invest in clean energy technology to help secure its long-term future. Businesses were moving ahead to lower their emissions, embracing energy efficiencies that will keep them competitive in a carbon constrained future. The renewable energy sector has grown strongly as a result of Labor's investment. It is crying out for certainty. In 2012-13 renewable energy grew its share of the national electricity market by 25 per cent; wind energy has trebled; jobs in the renewable energy sector doubled from over 24,000; and the number of houses with PV solar panels rose from 7,000 to more than one million.

According to the Climate Institute, the carbon price is helping to make renewable energy competitive with the energy from fossil fuels. We can have a clean energy future, but it will not happen without a financial incentive through a cost to industry for polluting. Business knows this; Australians know this. In fact, it is a simple concept that you can explain to the most naive kindergarten child. If there is no charge on water, people will leave the taps running; if people have to pay money for the water they use, they will think about the way they use it. This is a concept that the most naive kindergarten child can understand. And so it is with carbon: putting a price on carbon makes polluters think about the way they are using it and think about ways they can economise and reduce their carbon emissions.

The coalition argument for these bills is built on a great deception. Those opposite pretend that the abolition of the fixed price on carbon will lead to lower electricity costs. They pretend that taxpayers will somehow be better off; they pretend that this legislation is somehow business friendly; and they pretend that their policy can achieve the same environmental outcomes as Labor's. Nothing could be further from the truth. The coalition's policy is a hoax on the Australian electorate. It is a hoax that pretends planting trees and cell carbon technology alone will somehow make up for the devastation that results from unconstrained burning of fossil fuels. You would have to plant the entire state of Tasmania with trees to ensure that you could reduce carbon by the rate that would be necessary to meet the 2020 targets.

I think the member for Wentworth nailed it when he wrote on this issue, after he was deposed as Leader of the Opposition:

Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental figleaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

He wrote that there was a very good reason for this:

After all, as Nick Minchin observed, in his view the majority of the Party Room do not believe in human caused global warming at all.

There it is, in the words of the member for Wentworth, now a senior frontbencher in the government: the real purpose of this bill is to be a fig leaf, to hide the fact that the majority of the coalition party room do not believe in human induced climate change. This is a very expensive way of doing absolutely nothing.

Labor supports ending the carbon tax, but we do not agree with ending the legislated cap on carbon pollution. This measure in particular is, in effect, an admission of failure by the coalition. It is an admission that their policy is an environmental fig leaf—'greenwashing'.

There is no doubt that electricity prices have been rising in recent years, but half of that rise, at least, is due to the cost of network upgrades—that is, to the cost of improving the poles and wires that deliver the power. This is a fact that is well known to those opposite. It is the gold-plating of the electricity networks, mostly by state-owned utilities, that is delivering the record power bill increases that households and businesses are experiencing. Those opposite know that household electricity bills will not come down by anywhere near the $200 claimed by the Prime Minister. This is nonsense and it is all part of a vast coalition policy hoax. When you see the other bills that have been brought before the House, you can be left wondering. A low-paid worker who is now going to be hit with a $500 increase in their superannuation tax could be forgiven for thinking that what the coalition is trying to do is say: 'Look over here! Look at the $200 that your electricity bills might go down by and don't be concentrating over here on the $500 whack that we are about to introduce to your superannuation tax.' It is a great hoax.

Once the coalition stood for market forces. Once they stood behind sensible economic policy—but no longer. A truly responsible parliament would commit to work together to come up with the best scheme for Australia's future. That cooperation was on offer and remains on offer. That is what Labor did, even in a minority government. A truly responsible Prime Minister would want to be at the forefront of such a process. Sadly, we have no such Prime Minister.

There is no argument from Labor that the fixed price on carbon should end by 30 June next year. Let me repeat that: there is no argument from Labor that the fixed price on carbon should end by 30 June next year. But it should end on the commencement of a transition to a floating price for carbon. This is the policy that I and every Labor member on this side of the House and in the Senate took to the last federal election. Sadly, the bills before the House today abolish the entire framework for an emissions-trading scheme, something which is known to the economically literate on that side of the House to be the lowest-cost way of abating carbon emissions, of reducing carbon pollution. Though they deny it now, the economic merits of this low-cost market-driven scheme have been acknowledged by some of those opposite.

Abolishing the Climate Change Authority is another one of the objectives of this legislation. It is nothing more than silencing the critics. There are some countries where it has been the habit of governments to dig out opposition to their policies and their politics and silence it, to close the critics down, to put them out of work, to incarcerate them. Happily, for most of the history of this democratic country, it has not been the policy of either side of the House to silence our critics. We believe in a robust debate and a robust democracy. In abolishing the Climate Change Authority, the Liberal coalition government are departing from this history. We know that there has been no place in their cabinet for science. We know that there has been no place in their policy for science. But to abolish the Climate Change Authority is a mean-spirited attempt to close down the critics. You would think that, if you were going to go to the bother of ensuring that we had a position of Chief Scientist in this country, you would listen to their advice. In closing down the Climate Change Authority, the government is refusing to listen to the advice of leading experts, economic and environmental, including the advice of the Chief Scientist of Australia.

The authority has been a statutory body charged with providing strong and independent advice to the government about matters, including the Renewable Energy Target as well as caps and targets for carbon pollution or emissions. This measure is consistent with an emerging pattern of behaviour by the Abbott government—secrecy and shutting down information that conflicts with their political spin and refusing even to come into this place and answer the simplest of questions on their policy objectives. However, in this they have been thwarted. I am very pleased to see that the Climate Change Authority has been crowd funded with $1 million to enable it to continue to provide quality information to the Australian public. It will continue to provide the advice that the Australian people need. It will not be silenced. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.