Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the foreign minister to his recent trips to Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Brazil, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Israel, Vietnam and the United States, amongst many others, over the last year. Can the foreign minister confirm that not one of these countries has an economy-wide carbon tax?
I welcome very much the question from the shadow minister for foreign affairs, although we do wonder how much longer the Leader of the Opposition will have confidence in the shadow minister for foreign affairs given his statement the other day about the good old member for Kooyong. He said:
… it's nice to have someone in the parliamentary party who understands foreign affairs at last.
Now, Julie, that is a ringing vote of endorsement if ever I heard one—and, Josh: just remain calm.
Opposition members interjecting—
I also appreciate very much the shadow minister for foreign affairs' discovery of the fact that as foreign minister of Australia I do travel abroad. As I have said in various fora around Australia when asked this, the universal conclusion of foreign ministers around the world is that most foreigners do live abroad. That is why we travel abroad to meet those foreigners. I thank very much the shadow minister for foreign affairs for drawing that basic fact to our attention. My own view—and I share this very much with the member for Curtin, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for foreign affairs—is that there comes a stage when point-scoring over the cost of overseas travel by political figures demeans our national self-respect.
Opposition members interjecting—
They protest! The author of those remarks was John Winston Howard in his most recent book, Lazarus Rising. And I think that actually goes to the maturity which is lacked in this place on the part of those opposite when it comes to the necessity of either a prime minister or a foreign minister travelling abroad in Australia's national interest.
I also say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow minister for foreign affairs that when it comes to global action the shadow minister for foreign affairs should contemplate a few basic facts. She should contemplate the fact that we have around the world at present a large number of economies which have already introduced or are in the process of introducing emissions trading schemes. We also have evidence around the world that in, for example, the People's Republic of China or India we see actions of a type we have not seen in previous decades. In 2009 China added 37 gigawatts of renewable power capacity—more than any other country in the world. India has introduced a tax on coal which is expected to generate funds for further research into clean energies. The UK, run by the Tories, has set an ambitious plan to halve its carbon emissions by 2025. And the Republic of Korea has a 2020 emissions reduction pledge to reduce emissions by 20 per cent below business as usual—not to mention Japan, which has a target to improve its energy efficiency by 30 per cent by 2030.
What does all this indicate? It says that there are governments and political parties around the world who recognise the future, recognise the need to act on climate change and recognise the need to put a price on carbon—and there are those who keep their heads stuck firmly in the ground and who refuse to do so. We are acting for this nation's future; you are denying this nation a future.
Order! Whilst I do not encourage the member for New England, if I were marking homework that was very close. I say to the member for Cook that I will ignore it this time, but he should be very careful. He has form on those sorts of things.
My question is to the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer outline for the House the importance to our economy of putting a price on carbon pollution? What would be the consequence of failing to charge the biggest polluters?
I thank the member for Robertson for what is a very important question, because tomorrow in this House we will vote on one of the most important economic reforms in a generation, and it is going to be a test for each and every one of us in this House. Are we going to face up to the climate science and do something about carbon pollution? Are we going to face up to the fact that we should not leave for our children and our grandchildren greater costs and the heavy burden of carbon pollution? And are we going to show the Australian people and subsequent generations that we have the guts to face up to the tough economic reforms that will deliver prosperity for future generations?
As for us on this side of the House, we are going to act on all of those challenges because we understand that in the 21st century to be a first-class economy you must be powered by clean energy. That is why it is so important that we do put a price on every tonne of carbon pollution emitted by the biggest polluters. We on this side of the House understand that we need to send a price signal to drive the investment in clean energy and in renewable energy. We understand the importance of that in the 21st century if we want to continue to be a strong economy.
One of the reasons that Australia is so strong, one of the reasons that the International Monetary Fund gives our economy such a big tick, is that governments over the past 25 to 30 years have had the guts to face up to the big economic reforms. That is why we are strong now; that is why we are resilient now—because governments took the long-term view. And the long-term view is the one that is right for our country. It may not be the most immediately politically popular course of action, but it is right for our country. That is why we on this side of the House will be supporting a clean energy future tomorrow when those critical votes come through. Those on the opposite side of the House will be saying no as they constantly do, turning their back on the future, turning their back on their children and their grandchildren, turning their back on future economic prosperity. All of the modelling shows that our economy can grow strongly with a price on carbon, that incomes can grow strongly while putting a price on carbon pollution.
And we know what those opposite will also do. They will rip away the essential tax reforms that we are putting in place—essential reforms which will see another one million people taken out of the tax system because we are going to triple the tax-free threshold. They will take the claw out and claw that back. What those opposite will also do is claw back the pension increases. They will claw them back because they do not have a positive approach to the future. They want to turn their back on the future, rip away that assistance and ignore what must be done to grow our economy, to grow jobs and to ensure future prosperity. They only know one course of action. That is to say no, to wreck and to turn their back on the future.
My question is to the Treasurer. I refer the Treasurer to concerns in financial markets about the risk of a sovereign debt default in Europe, the weak growth outcomes recorded in the United States, Japan and many European countries, and the IMF's downgrade of the growth forecast for Europe and the United States stating that:
The global economy is in a dangerous new phase.
I ask the Treasurer: isn't this the worst possible time to introduce the world's biggest carbon tax, which will slow economic growth in Australia, increase inflation in Australia and cost Australian jobs?
I thank the shadow Treasurer for his question. Whilst it is true that there is uncertainty and it is also true that there is volatility in the global economy, it also true that the Australian economy remains relatively strong. The shadow Treasurer quoted a number of authorities before. Indeed, he quoted the International Monetary Fund. The International Monetary Fund has been to Australia. It has produced what is called its article IV report. That has come out in the last couple of weeks in full. Do you know what the IMF does in that report? It gives a big tick to carbon pricing.
The very report that the shadow Treasurer quotes to seek to say that we should defer carbon pricing is the one that gives it a very big tick. It is a comprehensive report on the Australian economy but he did not read the report. He is just that sloppy all of the time. The fact is that the IMF have given carbon pricing in Australia a big tick—indeed, as they have given the government's economic management a very big tick. What I need to do now is to quote from that report. It is only a couple of weeks old. It says:
Australia's performance since the onset of the global financial crisis has been enviable.
That is, it says the Australian economy is strong and it says the Australian economy is in good shape—and it says it is strong and in good shape for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it says what a good job this government did during the global financial crisis to support our economy and avoid going into recession. Then it points to the fact that over the years fundamental economic reforms have been implemented by governments from both sides of politics to strengthen our economy. It talks about the big reforms of the past in IMF report after IMF report: the floating of the dollar, the bringing down of the tariff wall, national competition policy, national superannuation—all of the big reforms that have strengthened our economy.
It is in that context that the International Monetary Fund supports putting an overall price on carbon. The hide of the shadow Treasurer to come into this House and quote the International Monetary Fund, which has given the government's economic policies a big tick and which supports carbon pricing, is just so typical of those opposite. They are so negative. They have their heads stuck so far in the sand they cannot see the wood for the trees. These people are completely and utterly impossible.
My question is for the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. I refer to the government's changes to fuel tax credits as a part of the carbon tax and I ask: is the government aware that tens of thousands of businesses in Australia, many of which are small businesses, will be paying the effective carbon price? Does the government admit that this effective carbon price on fuel is not just a tax on big polluters?
I thank the member for O'Connor for his question. Of course, the House will consider further later today the government's clean energy legislative package. It is an extremely important reform for this country. He has referred to the carbon pricing mechanism in his question. Around 500 of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases will carry a liability under the carbon price mechanism. There are of course, in relation to some forms of off-road fuel usage, arrangements that the legislation will put in place to apply an effective carbon price to them.
I am aware of the fact that the member for O'Connor has put forward an amendment this morning that relates to this issue. I would like to assure him that the government is looking very carefully at it. We understand the concerns that he is raising and recognise that he is representing the concerns that would have been raised with him by people within his electorate. I am working in my office and seeking some advice about the implications of the amendment that has been put forward.
I note in this context that it is important to always bear in mind that, in relation to the effective carbon pricing arrangements that the government is proposing to apply to various areas of off-road fuel usage, there will be no effective carbon price applied in relation to light commercial vehicles. So Australian motorists will not be facing an effective carbon price in relation to their fuel usage. We will have a look at the proposed amendment and have some further discussions with the member for O'Connor about those particular issues.
To conclude, it is also important to note that in rural and regional Australia the exemptions in relation to off-road usage that apply to the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors are also very important considerations. We will have a look at the issues that the member has raised and have further discussions with him in relation to them.
My question is also to the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Will the minister update the House on the government's Clean Energy Future reforms? Why is the passage of this legislation critical for the Australian economy and our environment?
I thank the member for Wills for his question. As the House is aware, this morning the second reading debate on the government's clean energy legislation package resumed. As I said a moment ago, this is a very important environmental and economic reform for this country. This evening, of course, we expect to be able to proceed to the consideration in detail stage in relation to the bills before a final vote tomorrow morning on both the clean energy bills and another bill that is before the House: the government's steel transformation plan.
This is a crucial economic reform. It is central to assuring this country's economic prosperity and competitiveness in the years ahead. The Clean Energy Future package will deliver very significant benefits to the economy over time, including a very significant increase in investment in clean energy. The Treasury modelling that the Treasurer referred to a short while ago predicts, in fact, that the carbon price will drive around $100 billion of investment in the renewable energy sector over the period to 2050, and it will transform our energy sector and create a considerable number of jobs. Those jobs will not be just in new industries and renewable technologies; they will also support jobs in what we would describe as the more traditional areas of the economy, including in construction, electrical services and many areas of manufacturing. The modelling shows that employment will increase in our economy by 1.6 million jobs to the year 2020.
At the same time, of course, the scheme that the government will introduce will be environmentally effective. The carbon price arrangements will see emissions reduced in our economy by at least 160 million tonnes in the year 2020 and ongoing. That is the least reduction in emissions that we can expect from the arrangements to be put in place.
Time and time again in our economic history it is the Labor Party that has made the reforms that are so crucial to future prosperity and intergenerational equity, and time and time again it is the coalition that have sided with vested interests against the interests of the nation and the Australian people generally. Let us not forget the fact that they opposed Medicare, they opposed compulsory superannuation and now they are opposing this reform. Medicare, compulsory superannuation and this reform all promote intergenerational equity. They will promote social equity. They will improve the environment. They are institutional changes that have ensured our economy remains competitive.
We heard earlier in question time that the Leader of the Opposition proposes to oppose the steel transformation plan—and this is after he has been running around trying to terrify people about their jobs in the industry. Once again, hypocrisy. This package that is before the House will be environmentally effective, it will be economically efficient and it will be socially equitable. The household assistance that the government is providing will ensure that nine out of 10 households receive assistance through either the tax reform and the tax cuts that will be implemented or the increase in Commonwealth benefits, like the 1.7 per cent increase in pensions. It will be a very important and equitable reform for the nation.
Mr Speaker, my question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the Treasurer's claim that the carbon tax will have 'a modest impact on prices'. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this increase will add to the cost of electricity, gas and water bills, which have risen 43.9 per cent since Labor came to power, and the price of fruit and vegetables, which have risen 35.4 per cent. I ask the Prime Minister: is this really the right time to introduce a trillion-dollar carbon tax that will increase the cost of everything?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and it is clear that the campaign of deceit continues. That question has been put together in order to pretend to the Australian people that price rises in things like electricity are somehow associated with the actions of this government. The member is better than that; the member knows that is untrue and he should not come into this parliament and pretend that it is true. It is completely false, calculated to create a climate of fear, completely disrespectful to the people of Australia. As the member knows, if he is seriously concerned about questions like rises in electricity pricing and water pricing, he may want to have a discussion with his state colleagues, particularly Premier Baillieu, who is on the record—
Mr Tony Smith interjecting—
as supporting a price on carbon. I understand that because of a set of questions relating to investment in infrastructure particularly that electricity prices have been rising. They have been rising under Premier Baillieu; they have been rising under Premier Barnett in Western Australia. At least Premier Barnett has had the honesty to go out to the Western Australian people and explain how the price rises are associated with the need for investment in infrastructure in Western Australia—that is, the price rises are there because of a set of reasons associated with state governments. The same, of course, is true with water infrastructure, including investments that are being made in new capacity. So no-one should fall for the misleading attempt that the member has engaged in. It is completely disrespectful to Australian people.
On the question of price impacts of carbon pricing—despite these many, many months of fear, smear and running away from the facts and despite the Leader of the Opposition each and every day going out there and saying to the Australian people things that are untrue—what the member knows—
Mr Tony Smith interjecting—
What every member of this parliament knows is that the flow through price impact of asking the biggest polluters in our country to pay the price of their carbon pollution to Australians is less than one per cent—0.7 per cent—of CPI. It is as a result of that flow through price change of less than one per cent of CPI—less than a cent in a dollar—that the government has determined it is appropriate to use more than half of the revenue generated by carbon pricing to help pensioners with an increase of $338, to help people raising children with an increase in family payments, to help Australians earning less than $80,000 a year with a tax cut and to associate that tax change with a major tax reform, which will mean one million Australians will not be in the tax system, will not pay any tax and will see each and every week the rewards for working.
I would say to the member who asked the question and who in other iterations of his political life has been prepared to contemplate reforms, including reforms like carbon pricing, that perhaps instead of following the Leader of the Opposition's fear campaign, he should listen to a former Liberal leader, and I am referring to Dr John Hewson, who has appeared in this book, the 'Say Yes Campaign Book'. He is the former employer of the Leader of the Opposition—that was a bad decision, but he has made one good one. He says:
I say yes to carbon pricing, because this is the most important thing we can do for our nation this century.
A former Liberal leader joining every other living liberal Leader in favour of carbon pricing, all except the wrecker over here.
Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Minister, will you update the House on how the government is supporting Australian families and pensioners in our plan to put a price on carbon pollution? What would be the impact of failing to provide this support?
I thank the member for Shortland for her question. She knows that this government is determined to act in the national interest to introduce a price on carbon pollution. She also knows that this government is determined to make sure that it is the big polluters that pay for carbon pollution and not Australian families and pensioners. We want to make sure that acting on climate change continues to be in the interests of the economy and in the interests of our children.
Under our plan to put a price on carbon pollution we do intend to provide support to pensioners; 3.4 million pensioners will receive assistance. That assistance amounts to $338 for single pensioners each year and $255 a year for each member of a pensioner couple. Very importantly for pensioners, both the pension and the clean energy supplement will increase over time to make sure that the assistance that we do provide to pensioners will keep up with the cost of living. It is also the case that under our plan to put a price on carbon pollution we intend to provide support to nine out of 10 households. Nine out of 10 households will receive support and that will include three million low-income households who will receive assistance over and above their expected increased prices. All of these increases in payments and pensions will be very important for all of those Australians. It will also be the case that these increases in payments will go straight into the bank accounts of families and straight into the bank accounts of pensioners—no extra forms or queues for people to worry about.
What we know is that the Leader of the Opposition has a very different plan to this. What he intends to do is act in his own interest, not in the nation's interest. What this Leader of the Opposition is going to do is to make sure that he gives the bill for dealing with carbon pollution to families and to pensioners. We know that that will amount to Australian families being $1,300 a year worse off as a result of his changes. Even worse, we know that this Leader of the Opposition intends to claw back the assistance that this government will provide to pensioners and to families.
I hear the member for Herbert up there making a right royal noise about the clawback that this Leader of the Opposition is going to do. That will mean 17,400 pensioners in Herbert will have their assistance clawed back. The party of Fightback is now the party of clawback.
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer her to global economic uncertainty, dwindling consumer confidence, the higher costs of living faced by Australia's forgotten families and widespread job insecurity, all of which will be made worse by the government's toxic carbon tax, and I ask: with the government increasingly paralysed by disunity over leadership, why should the Australian people have any confidence that the Prime Minister is protecting their jobs rather than her own?
The kind of question we often get from the Leader of the Opposition—it is always heavy on the drama. What it has never got in it is any facts and what we never hear is any alternatives that make any sense. The Leader of the Opposition never campaigns on his so-called direct action plan, a plan to subsidise polluters, because he knows it will not work and it does not add up.
The Leader of the Opposition is here today with all of this dramatic carry-on because he knows once a carbon price is legislated and commences to operate then the fear campaigns he has been engaged in will be exposed as absolute nonsense. He knows that he will not ever repeal carbon pricing. He will go running around like a headless chook in hyperactive mode trying to pretend to everybody that he will, but he knows this: that significant figures in the Liberal Party support putting a price on carbon—every living Liberal leader except this Leader of the Opposition. He knows that once it is in place money will start to flow to pensioners and to families and to providing workers with tax cuts. He knows that in the past he has been incredibly in favour of putting a price on carbon, and so his rhetoric about repealing the carbon price will be seen through by the Australian people.
The Leader of the Opposition has the temerity to come in here and talk about jobs. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: in the carbon-pricing package we are providing literally billions of dollars to work with Australian industry to support Australian jobs. We will be there working with Australian industry to support those jobs, in manufacturing, in steel, as well as seizing the clean energy opportunities of the future and the jobs that come with that. The Leader of the Opposition, who has been in and out of factories trying to associate himself with working people—the same working people he ran a mile from during the days of Work Choices—is now saying to those steelworkers that he stood alongside: 'I could help your industry by voting for a $300 million steel transformation plan but I won't do it. The politics is more important to me than supporting your job.' We, in the votes today and tomorrow, will be supporting the jobs of steelworkers. The Leader of the Opposition will sit in that chair and vote against their jobs.
On the question of jobs, last week we had the Future Jobs Forum. The input of the opposition? Apart from cutting assistance to the automobile industry, apart from having no plan for skills except cutbacks to apprenticeships, apart from having no plan for the economy except desperately trying to cover up their planned $70 billion of cuts to services, what does the opposition stand for? It certainly is not jobs. No plans for the jobs of Australians at all, and they are bored by the discussion of it.
Every time we have talked about carbon pricing in this country, figures in the opposition have thought up a new reason to delay. Well, history is marching on. We are going to get this done. This House of Representatives is going to get this done tomorrow. We will be there voting on the side of history. The Leader of the Opposition will be writing his name into history as the biggest wrecker to ever serve in a leadership role in Australian politics.