Monday, 28 February 2011
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. Today, Prime Minister, I was in Queanbeyan, talking to a bus proprietor who said that a carbon tax on petrol would not only push up fuel prices by at least 6½c a litre but also push up ticket prices and put more cars on the road. I ask the Prime Minister: why should small businesses like Deane’s Buslines trust the Prime Minister on anything when she could not keep her promise not to introduce a carbon tax?
I presume when the Leader of the Opposition was having this discussion that he was also talking about whether or not that small business person wanted to see a strong economy and that he was also talking about whether or not that small business person wanted to see us have the clean energy jobs of the future. I hope he was also talking to that small business person about the way in which the Leader of the Opposition, in the last few days, has gone around trying to mislead Australians about this important debate in pursuit of a fear campaign, because the only thing the Leader of the Opposition ever came to this parliament to do was to stop things, wreck things and destroy things.
As the Leader of the Opposition well knows, what the government has announced is a mechanism to price carbon. What the Leader of the Opposition well knows is that a carbon price has not been announced yet; nor has the household assistance package. Yet despite that, the Leader of the Opposition and members of the shadow cabinet are wandering around trying to create fear amongst Australians about what impact this will have on them. Every day they go around with different figures. The shadow minister earlier said $1,100—he just made a figure up. The New South Wales opposition leader is wandering around with $500—he just made a figure up. The Leader of the Opposition is wandering around with figures like $300 and 6½c. All of these figures have been made up by the Leader of the Opposition in pursuit of his fear campaign.
But what the Leader of the Opposition has never done and what he will never do is become honest with the Australian people and say to them that he himself has personally endorsed a carbon tax as the simplest way of pricing carbon and that he himself has said that every decision he has ever made about this has not been about the policy or what is in Australia’s national interest, but about the politics—pure and simple. The only judgment he has ever made about this has been as a weathervane, holding his finger up to see how he could politically profit from this rather than have the nation profit from it.
The Leader of the Opposition should also come clean with the Australian people and explain to them that he wants to saddle on their shoulders $10.5 billion of ineffective measures, ripping money out of their purses and wallets to use in pursuit of his ineffective direct action measures. That is what the Leader of the Opposition should be honest about. Let’s have this debate. Let’s have it loud and clear, in this parliament and beyond. We stand for action; you stand for inaction. We stand for giving businesses certainty; you stand for uncertainty. We stand for generously assisting households; you stand for rising power prices with no assistance. We stand for making sure we make a difference to our economy and create a clean energy economy for the future; you stand for no prosperity, no jobs and no prospects.
I was in the electorate of the member for Wakefield today, and I was there for a very important announcement. I was there for the rolling off of the production line of the first Holden Cruze—a smaller, greener vehicle being manufactured by Holden in this country. When I had the great privilege of actually turning the key and driving that first Holden Cruze off the production line, I reflected to myself on fear campaigns past. The member for Wakefield and other members of this House would recall when the Hawke government set about modernising our economy and cutting tariffs. People were out there beating the drums of fear. They were saying, ‘What this means is Australia will be a bankrupt place. Industry will suffer. There will be no jobs. We will never manufacture things in this country.’ But cutting tariffs sent a price signal to Australian industry to get more efficient. Here we are, all these years later, and what has Holden done? It has got more efficient and it is a great tribute to its workforce that it has engaged in those efficiencies, a great tribute to management and a great tribute to the relevant unions, all of which have worked together to keep Holden manufacturing here—and now proudly manufacturing the new Holden Cruze.
What we should learn from this is the lesson of history, that fear campaigns are just that and that fear campaigns appeal to people because they want them to be afraid of the future. But, really, we want to build a future that has a clean energy economy with jobs. We are a confident people. We have engaged in major economic reforms before, and the legacy of those major economic reforms is a more prosperous country with higher-skilled jobs—an Australia that can make its way in the world. We are up to doing that again. Carbon pollution is the challenge of our age, just the way tariffs were the challenge of the Hawke-Keating era, and we are up to meeting this challenge.
That is why I am determined that we will price carbon, that we will cut carbon pollution. That will send a price signal, which means people will respond. Businesses will innovate; they will become cleaner and greener. We will have a clean energy future with all of the jobs that go with it. I can confidently say to this parliament today that, after we have priced carbon and this system has come into effect, people will look back at this fear campaign by the Leader of the Opposition and they will look at him the way the future always looks at people who miss the wave of history—people who misjudge the big calls. They will look at him as an ultimately hollow person who sought to profit from fear but ultimately did not. We will get on with creating the clean energy jobs of the future, the Australian prosperity of the future. Australians are too smart, too confident, too worldly and they have been through too much in terms of major economic reform to succumb to this cheap, empty fear campaign.
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the statement by the member for Melbourne on Friday: ‘The agreement that we’ve reached has transport as being included in a carbon price mechanism.’ Has the Greens member for Melbourne been more honest than the Prime Minister with the Australian people by at least admitting that the Greens have forced her to include petrol in her carbon tax?
I thank the Leader of the National Party for his question. What I would say to the Leader of the National Party is what I have said publicly on a number of occasions now, which is: decisions will be worked through by the government and in the multiparty climate change committee about sectors of the economy that the carbon price will apply to, including whether or not it will apply to petrol. Those decisions are still to come. I indicated when statements were made, and reported in the media, on Saturday by the Deputy Leader of the Greens that it was inappropriate to be making those statements when those decisions and discussions were yet to come. But, given that the Leader of the National Party has raised with me statements made by people about carbon pricing, I have actually got a few of them he might be interested in. The Leader of the Opposition said:
If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax?
The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his place. The Manager of Opposition Business is warned—on the fact that he was at the dispatch box for a point of order and did not take the point of order; that is why he is warned. To anticipate the point of order: the words used by the Prime Minister are very much the old parliament. If a statement was referred to, it used to be able to be construed as relevant to a question to then refer to other statements. But for statements to be used they must refer directly to the question and not be used just because they are statements.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and thank you for that clarification. Of course, the words of the Leader of the Opposition are always strictly irrelevant to national debates; I do understand and accept your guidance on that.
The Leader of the National Party raises with me decisions that are yet to come on questions like carbon pricing and petrol. I can assure the Leader of the National Party that, as we go about making these decisions, we will do it in Australia’s national interest. I can also assure the Leader of the National Party that that approach will be in stark contrast to the approach ever taken by the opposition, because whether you make decisions in the national interest or in the political interest has been clarified by the Leader of the Opposition. He said about climate change:
I don’t think my assessment of the science or of the policies ever changed that much. I think all that really changed was my assessment of the politics of the issue.
Hollow to the core.
I thank the member for her question. I know that she is deeply concerned, living as she does in a very beautiful part of the world, about carbon pollution and she is also very concerned about economic prospects for the future.
We live in a country that has abundant sources of renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal—abundant sources of renewable energy. As a country, we therefore can profit by having a clean energy future, by innovating and by having the jobs of the future. It is not in the interests of our nation to be left behind as the world changes. We need to cut carbon pollution. Despite the Leader of the Opposition’s ability to wreck and destroy things, one thing he has not wrecked as yet is a bipartisan commitment to a minus five per cent reduction in carbon pollution by 2020. In order to reach that reduction in carbon pollution, we need to price carbon. To do anything else would be costly and inefficient. I refer of course to the words that were written in the incoming government briefs, and the Leader of the Opposition received this and would have seen their words: ‘Direct action measures alone cannot do the job’—that is, of cutting carbon pollution by minus five per cent—‘without imposing significant economic and budget costs.’
Indeed, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has estimated that even with the Leader of the Opposition’s direct actions measures emissions will rise 17 per cent above 2000 levels, whereas the target is minus five. What does that mean for the difference? That means the Leader of the Opposition’s plan to deal with climate change is to buy $20 billion in carbon credits to meet the gap between where his direct action measures take you to and the minus five per cent target. That is in addition to the $10.5 billion he has pledged in direct action measures and, of course, it is in addition to his $11 billion black hole from his reckless election accounting.
When you add all of that up it means the Leader of the Opposition’s strategy for climate change is to make households worse off by around $600 a year. There is no such thing as a no-cost approach, and what the Leader of the Opposition wants to do is make households worse off by $600 a year.
On this side of the parliament we stand for pricing carbon in the most efficient way. If you are pricing carbon in the most efficient way then you are putting a price on carbon through a market mechanism, through trading permits to release carbon pollution. That is what the government went to the last election saying to the Australian people we should do and that is exactly what we are going to do.
Today before question time the Leader of the Opposition has confirmed that he now holds the most reckless political position taken by a national leader in the last 15 years. After we have priced carbon, given businesses certainty and households assistance, he is committed to ripping all of that up—the most reckless political position taken by a national leader in 15 years. We will be holding him to account for that every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year, and Australians will see exactly how wrong and reckless he is.
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the minutes of the special caucus meeting of 24 June 2010 and I quote from then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s address to ALP colleagues:
As you know, I changed our position on the emissions trading scheme, and I’m responsible for that change in position. I wish to place on record here that Lindsay Tanner and Penny Wong strongly argued to me against taking that position. Equally strong was the advice from Wayne and Julia that the emissions trading scheme policy had to be abandoned.
Why did you advise the ex Prime Minister to abandon the emissions trading scheme in 2010 when you are now proposing to introduce a carbon tax? (Time expired)
I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question. It enables me to say that the Liberal Party are the party of the past—mired in it as they are—whilst we talk about the future. It is not surprising they gave this question to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition because, whenever I have a casual word with one of her backbench colleagues, they say she is history. So it is no surprise that they have given her the question that is about history because they all know she is history.
I have always believed that climate change is real, that it is caused by human induced activity, that in order to cut carbon pollution we need to price carbon and that the most efficient way of doing that is through a market based mechanism—and through the carbon pricing mechanism I announced last week we will do precisely that. During the time I have had those beliefs day after day, hour after hour, week after week, month after month, there has been the Leader of the Opposition. He accepts the science? No. It is ‘absolute crap’. He believes in pricing carbon? No, he does not believe in pricing carbon. Yes, he believes in pricing carbon? No, he does not believe in pricing carbon. The only thing the Leader of the Opposition has ever stood for in this debate is what he believes to be the political interests of the Liberal Party. That is not good enough for someone who contends to be Prime Minister in this country. That is not good enough for someone with the responsibility of national leadership on their shoulders.
What Australians send us here to do is to take charge of the issues that are most important to this country’s future. I am doing that job. The government is doing that job. The Leader of the Opposition is incapable of doing it and he shows it day after day.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I suggest Australians rush to their kitchens and check that their spoons aren’t bent after that performance!
What I would say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, on the question of who Australians can trust to deal with the big issues, is let us just go through the scoreboard. Tackling climate change, pricing carbon through an efficient mechanism and assisting households along the way? Mired in the past and division. Building the National Broadband Network so we have the jobs of the future? Trying to wreck the National Broadband Network. Delivering health reform? Trying to wreck health reform. Delivering education reform to overcome the days of neglect overseen by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition? Trying to wreck education reform. Rebuilding the country with a responsible financing package—
Government members interjecting—
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I can’t wait for a rock solid, iron-clad guarantee from the Leader of the Opposition—I really can’t wait for one! I was talking about who Australians could trust to deal with the issues this nation has to get right if we are to be a prosperous country in the future, if we are to have the jobs of the future, if we are to have the health services we want in the future, if we are to give every Australian child a chance in the future, if we are going to give Australians the benefits and dignity of work and if we are going to be a peaceful and multicultural country.
I would suggest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that, rather than screaming interjections, she should reflect on her deep failure to contribute to us being a multicultural country when she let One Nation write the economic policy of the opposition.