Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Questions without Notice
My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. On this day of betrayal of the Australian people by her government, will the minister confirm that all of the following facts regarding Labor's carbon tax are correct—that it imposes a price, scope and coverage unmatched by any country in the world and that, on the government's own modelling, electricity prices will rise initially by at least 10 per cent, gas prices will rise initially by at least nine per cent, three million Australian households will be worse off and emissions in Australia will still be higher in 2020 than they are now?
I am very pleased to take the question on the legislation that was voted on prior to question time. It was a long time getting here. It is an important Labor reform, consistent with the Labor tradition of reform that recognises that the securing of jobs and Australian prosperity has always required reform of the economy. That is what has happened today.
I am asked about some of the so-called factual assertions from the other side. The facts are almost unknown to those opposite. We have had a fear campaign over months and months—'The sky is going to fall in; the coal industry will shut down.' Meanwhile there is more and more money being invested in mining and there is more and more investment in the pipeline. The reality is that we can increase the number of jobs in this country, we can grow our economy, we can grow our incomes and we can put in place a carbon price. That is what Treasury has told us. That is what, in fact, Treasury told Mr Howard when he agreed, for the same sorts of economic reasons, to put a price on carbon and went to the 2007 election with a commitment to an emissions trading scheme.
We have seen question after question—and I have no doubt they will continue it again today—from the other side full of factual inaccuracies and misleading information. They simply cannot deal with the fact that sometimes you need to reform. They do not like that word on that side. The only reform they want is a ripping away of wages and conditions of Australian workers. That is the only reform those on the other side know. There was a time when the Liberal Party was more reformist. It appears that is now past.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister name a single senior official in either the United States administration or the Canadian government—just one—who believes there will be an economy-wide carbon tax in either of those two countries by 2016, as the government's own modelling assumes?
I think there was a reprising of the inaccuracy about the modelling assumptions which formed the same set of questions yesterday. I have already responded to that. The opposition are very keen to mislead people about what is contained in the Treasury modelling and the assumption about international action.
But on international action I will note that Mr Abbott has gone to a Conservative talk thing in the United Kingdom. It is an interesting way to deal with your blood oath of opposition to the carbon price that was passed today—beating your chest overseas. It is very interesting. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister is unable to name a single American or Canadian official who believes that there will be an economy-wide carbon price in their countries by 2016. If Labor are so committed to the merits of this carbon tax, why do they lack the courage to test its merits by taking it to the people, just as John Howard took the GST to the people?
I remind Senator Brandis that he went to the 2007 election advocating an emissions trading scheme, something he then ignored. Whilst I am on the point of international action from the previous question that I did not get through, I will say this. Perhaps while Mr Abbott is in the United Kingdom he might want to talk to a Conservative who actually understands, just as Mr Howard once did, the importance of pricing carbon. He might want to talk to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The reality is that those on the other side have abandoned any pretence of economic responsibility and economic credentials. Their policy makes no sense, will not do anything and will put more cost on Australian business and Australian households for the same environmental outcome. That is the coalition's policy. The reality is that they have no policy credentials on this issue whatsoever.
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. Can the minister advise the Senate how this parliament has moved from words to action in creating a clean energy future for the nation? How does this reform cut pollution and help keep our economy strong?
I thank the senator for his question and for his ongoing interest in the importance of action on climate change, unlike those opposite. Today is a historic day for the parliament with the passage of the government's clean energy legislation, legislation that will ensure we cut our carbon pollution but, most importantly, that we drive new investment—that we give that signal to investors to invest in the clean energy sources of the future like natural gas, wind and solar power. For the first time we have put a price tag on pollution in this nation, and I suspect that, in years to come, people will wonder why it was that it was so controversial to do something as sensible as saying, 'We want to put a charge, a price, on pollution.' It is such an obvious thing to do if you want to reduce pollution and you want to move to a clean energy economy.
The government's package will deliver tax cuts, higher family benefits and increases in the age pension and other pensions and benefits—all things which are opposed by the opposition. This is an important reform that will deliver environmental benefits for today and for tomorrow but, most importantly, transform our economy for today and tomorrow, building the clean energy economy of the future and the clean energy jobs.
As the world moves to increasingly paying a premium for low-carbon goods and services, this was and is an important reform to ensure Australia is not left behind in developing those technologies, those services, those clean energy industries that are the way of the future. So it is a good day today, a day on which a historic reform has been passed by this parliament—a reform that has been a long time coming, from Mr Howard through to today. This was an important vote. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate how putting a price on carbon pollution will reform Australia's economy, build our future prosperity and strengthen our international competitiveness?
As I have said, Labor understands that securing prosperity today and tomorrow has always required reform and has always required change. As former Prime Minister Keating remarked earlier this year—
Opposition senators interjecting—
the pricing mechanism is part of the Labor tradition of change, the Labor tradition of the adaptation of the economy. Those opposite laugh and sneer, but what we know is: when there are significant economic challenges, whether it be pricing carbon or other, those opposite will have no answer. They have no answer when it comes to pricing carbon. They have no answer on the patchwork economy. Their only answer is no. Look at the patchwork economy response from the opposition: these are the people who want mining companies to pay less tax and other businesses, including small business, to pay more tax. And they say they are pro manufacturing jobs! There is an absence of economic reformism on that side of the chamber. (Time expired)
People will recall the many occasions on which this chamber, in its committees and in here, has debated the issue of pricing carbon. This country has gone through some two decades worth of consultation. We have worked with industry and with environment groups; there has been negotiation, and many years of scientific work and inquiry. Today's vote represents, I think, a clear divide in Australian politics between those who are focused on the past and those who look to the future, those who are optimistic and look ahead and those who are mired in the fear campaigns of today, those who want action on climate change and those who have always been more comfortable with the sceptics. Really, underlying the policy position of the other side is that they just do not want to accept that the science is real, and they never have.
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. Given European carbon permits are currently trading as low as $8.70 per tonne, with up to 100 per cent protection for emissions intensive and trade exposed industries in the European scheme, why is the Gillard government pressing ahead with the $23 per tonne carbon tax, rising to $29 per tonne in 2015, which will push up the cost of living for Australian families by more than the European scheme, which will make Australian businesses less competitive than businesses under the European scheme and which will cost jobs—and all of that without doing anything to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?
Senator Cormann makes an assertion around costs and families, and I respond in this way. What will push up the costs for families is the rolling back of the tax cuts we are giving, the rolling back of the family tax benefits we are giving, the rolling back of the pension rises we are giving, the rolling back of the allowances we are giving and the rolling back of the tripling of the tax-free threshold, which we know will deliver tax cuts to all Australians earning under $80,000 a year. The harsh reality, which appears to have meant that Senator Cormann got rolled in relation to his position on superannuation, will I suppose at some point occur to the opposition party room—that they are locked, because of their blood oath, into a position where they will have to tell Australians they want them to pay more income tax, they want lower pensions, they want lower disability support pensions and they want lower family tax benefit. All of those things are linked to the package of bills just passed today which they have committed to rolling back.
So, if the opposition think they have got a problem when it comes to superannuation, the same problem will arise when it comes to the carbon price assistance package, because inbuilt in that package is an ambitious tax reform element, an ambitious tax reform package, which will triple the tax-free threshold—a tax cut for every person in Australia earning up to $80,000 a year. It is all to be rolled back by Mr Abbott—that is part of the blood oath. Pension increases are to be taken away from aged pensioners—that is part of the blood oath. Disability support pension increases and carer allowance increases—all to be taken away by Mr Abbott. That is part of your blood oath. This is the problem when all you can do when it comes to policy is say no. This is the position in which you find yourself.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the so-called compensation measures that the minister just talked about are to be funded from carbon tax revenue, what compensation measures will the Gillard Labor government have to scrub to keep the carbon tax package broadly budget neutral if the carbon price collapses to $15 a tonne in 2015, the lowest level allowed under the Labor-Greens scheme when it becomes an ETS? Given that the price in Europe is $8.70 now, that is obviously a question that I hope the minister has thought about.
Senator Cormann asking me about budget neutrality! How embarrassing, after Senator Cormann was rolled by his party and rolled by his leader. It appears that not only are Senator Cormann and Mr Robb grouchy but also Ms Bishop is grouchy, with it being said, 'Julie said this is another hit on the bottom line.' Well, it is. It is very embarrassing, I know, Senator.
Mr President, on a point of order—I should not even need the call: how can you possibly accept that this minister is being directly relevant when all she has done so far is attack the questioner. I refer you to the standing order requiring direct relevance and ask you to either get the minister to answer it or sit her down—and you have power to do that, Mr President.
I am making the point about budget neutrality, which is one of the assertions that Senator Cormann made. Senator Cormann comes in here to talk about budget neutrality. He has an unfunded scheme that will cost $1,300 per year per Australian household, and he calls himself one of the economic spokespeople. What a joke! At least Mr Robb was excluded from the meeting.
Senator Cormann interjecting—
I guess they thought you were easier to roll.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Mr President, a point of order on the question of direct relevance: with nine seconds to go on a question about compensation, the minister has done nothing other than ridicule the opposition in relation to other areas of policy. It might be a pretty speech, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the question.
Consistent with Treasury advice and with the Charter of Budget Honesty, the government has released the detailed analysis showing the budget impact over the forward estimates. I invite the opposition to do the same.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Why is the Gillard Labor government so proud to have pushed through the parliament the world's biggest carbon tax, which will hurt household budgets, which will make Australian businesses less competitive than businesses across Europe, China, the US and many other places across the world and which will just shift jobs and emissions overseas?
That is a range of assertions which are not correct. The reality is, as Treasury has advised us, we can increase the size of the economy, we can grow the economy, increase the number of jobs in Australia, increase our incomes and put in place a carbon price to ensure that emissions fall from what they otherwise would be. I know Senator Cormann does not like to hear the facts in this debate. I know he wants to simply come in and run the same set of diatribe that we heard in that question. That has been the consistent position since Mr Abbott took over. There is no policy on the other side. The only policy they have—and this is what is extraordinary—is a policy that is supposed to achieve the same environmental outcome at a higher cost to business. What would that do for jobs? It would put more costs on the back of Australian business. That is what your policy would do. There would be more costs on business. (Time expired)