Matters of Public Importance: Carbon Pricing

carbon_pricing.jpgSince 1 July last year, 133,500 extra jobs have been created. That is almost 20 each hour. There have been 118,546 new companies registered. That is more than 20 every hour. Company share prices have grown strongly, with the S&P/ASX 200 index up 25 per cent. The economy grew at an annual rate of 3.1 per cent, and Australia has retained one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world, at 5.4 per cent. I understand that this is devastating news for those opposite, who hate good economic news. But it is good news for the people in my electorate and it is good news for Australia.

I listened with great interest to the member for Aston's contribution to this debate, because the debate has at its centre the policy to reduce carbon emissions. I should say that, if you are going to have a policy to reduce carbon emissions, it is not a bad starting point to actually believe that carbon emissions are having an impact on climate change. Many on that side of the House do not seem to believe that. I actually respect and listen very carefully to the member for Aston's contributions because I learn a lot from him. I particularly learned a lot from him when I read the article that he wrote in the Australian on 27 February 2007. Members sitting alongside the member for Aston might want to listen to what he had to say before he came to this place. He had this to say:

In determining the appropriate climate change responses, what is needed is not grandstanding … but hard, rational analysis to determine how we can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions with the least possible cost.

…   …   …

Governments are poor at making such hard-headed assessments to determine what gives the best return for a dollar invested: political considerations and emotional arguments inevitably cloud judgments. The decisions should be left to the market.

I could not agree more. I see the member for Wentworth has entered the chamber. If the member for Wentworth and the member for Aston had more authority and more say over the economic and environmental policies of the coalition they would not be in the confused and irrational mess they are in today.

What we have in this debate is a clear choice between a market based solution and the solution once decried by the member for Aston and the member for Wentworth—the policy of planting trees and picking winners. It is the plant-and-pick policy, aiming to plant more trees than the entire surface area of Tasmania, at last count. Is it any wonder that the serious end of town, when it comes to business, are running away from this policy at a great rate of knots? They know that it will not work. But it will cost business more and it will cost Australian consumers more.

As the head of the AiG, Mr Inness Wilcox, has noted:

The scheme has shaped forward and contracted prices for electricity, gas and other business inputs.

Businesses have factored it in; they are getting on with the business. I have to say the policy is working. As the member for Wakefield said in his thoughtful contribution, the policy is working, because carbon emissions from electricity generation have dropped 8.6 per cent since July last year. The policy is clearly working at the lowest cost of abatement.

If you are going to come into parliament this afternoon and say that manufacturing is a matter of public importance, it would not be a bad idea if you had a manufacturing policy yourself. If you are going to say that manufacturing in this country is a matter of public importance it would be a damn good idea if you had a policy yourself—then we could have a proper debate.

I searched for a policy on the member for Indi's website. Do you think I could find one? No, I could not. There was not a policy. It was a policy-free zone. There was a bunch of ideas and some dot points including: toughening up our anti-dumping laws—we have done that; better targeting funding for commercialisation—we have done that; and redrafting the current legislation in relation to research and development tax incentives—we are doing that. I love this one: consider a national inquiry into manufacturing with wide stakeholder involvement. This is devastating stuff.

If you are going to say that manufacturing is a matter of public importance, do your policy homework. Come in to this chamber and have a policy in hand. We have a well-thought-out policy, one that has been arrived at after wide stakeholder consultation and one that will work. It includes putting Australian workers first in the labour market. What we are saying to employers is: you cannot be job snobs. I do not have a problem with employers using the 457 skilled migration program to fill genuine shortfalls in the skilled workforce. I do not have a problem with that. I come from an electorate which took workers from all around the world in the sixties, seventies and eighties to fill workforce shortages. I do not have a problem with that program, but what we do say quite clearly is that, if there are skilled Australian workers who can fill those vacancies, they should be at the front of the queue.

We are establishing a $1 billion program to establish industry and innovation precincts around the country because we know we have put an enormous amount of money into research, development and scientific research in this country through our universities and other fine research institutions around the country. The challenge for us is to ensure that we can connect that great research, those great innovations that are occurring at universities like my own university, the University of Wollongong, where I graduated from. It is a very important part of the local economy in my region. We need to join that research up to ensure that we have a well-informed, well-resourced national innovation strategy and to also join it up with small and medium-sized businesses in our regions.

We need to have an Australian industry participation policy to ensure that, when we have large government investments in new infrastructure or when the private sector is investing, as it is with billions of dollars in new resource projects around the country—despite the doom and gloom that has been spouted by those opposite—Australian businesses, Australian fabricators and Australian manufacturers get a chop at getting some of those contracts they have the capacity to win to ensure that they are able to thrive with this great mining boom going on.

I have to say it is already working. I can tell the story of Maintech, an engineering company from my own electorate which, once upon a time, not two years ago, had over 90 per cent of its work from BlueScope but saw the writing on the wall and decided that it had to diversify. It is now winning large contracts including a $100 million contract with Anglo American Australia, a large mining project in Queensland, which is going to employ over 100 people in my electorate.

There are numerous other elements to our policy I could talk about. I could talk about how small and medium-sized enterprises, which have great innovations or great ideas, can convert those great innovations or ideas into a business opportunity. We are doing that through our jobs program and by ensuring that they have access to venture capital.

The one thing that matters more than anything else in my electorate is ensuring that BlueScope is able to see its way through this difficult period it has encountered due to the high Australian dollar having a bigger impact than anything else. The $300 million steel transformation plan, which was voted against by each and every one of those coalition members on the other side of the chamber, is ensuring that not only are the doors of BlueScope being kept open but they are turning the corner. In the latest announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange, BlueScope said it expects to turn a profit in the very near future.

As the member for Wakefield said, you have two options: you can bury your head in a bucket of sand—or pick and plant—which is their policy, or you can try and show some leadership. That is the policy that is adopted by this side of the House.