Carbon Pricing MPI

09 July 2011

I acknowledge Senator Bernardi's somewhat pointless contribution to the climate change debate in this matter of public importance. As a climate change sceptic, he clearly has no imperative to help Australian households, businesses or our climate adapt to a carbon constrained future. Even though sceptics are very much discredited in this debate, he still sees fit to put these views forward. Clearly, as a senator in this chamber, he has the right to do so. What he expresses is certainly not in the national interest. I certainly know that many of his colleagues on that side of the chamber do not agree with him.

Frankly, it makes me very happy to have this timeslot in the MPI debate to yet again open it up to talk about the importance of acting on climate change. I am very happy to stand here and talk about the important work being done to get this policy formulation right before the details are completely announced. There is nothing wrong with working through the detail and taking the time to do that, but there is a lot of important detail already on the table and there is more to come. I make no apology for the import­ance of working through the premises.

We know that the 1,000 largest polluters should be paying every time they pollute under a carbon price. We also know that the government has committed to using every cent raised through putting a price on carbon to get our biggest polluters to pay for providing the household assistance to help with family budgets, protect jobs and businesses as they make the transition to a clean energy economy, tackle climate change and invest in new, clean technology. This stands in stark contrast to the kinds of policies we see the Liberals put in place, including the policies of the Barnett govern­ment in Western Australia. They are cutting the feed-in tariff from 40c to 20c from 1 July. We have also seen massive electricity increases. We have had the fifth price increase in less than three years. There is a five per cent increase hitting now. There has been a total increase of nearly 50 per cent since 2009 in Western Australian electricity bills. But there have been no offsets for those households—there has been no care factor whatsoever—whereas we know that in pricing carbon we need to help households adjust to any price impact, and that is why we will provide generous household assistance to help with family budgets.

We know, for example, that as part of the assistance package the Australian com­munity will get more than 50 per cent of the money collected from big polluters. That will go straight to households. We also know that petrol will be—

Senator Ronaldson: What's the carbon price, then? You must know if—

Senator Pratt: No. I said that we know that it is 50 per cent of the money collected. It is going to depend on how much money is collected. This means millions of households are, in fact, going to be better off and they will be able to invest in reducing their energy consumption and pocket the difference. Most importantly, we know this assistance will be permanent. I do not see why you are calling on us to rush this. When people see it, when they are taken through the detail, this package will win people's confidence. A price on carbon is a price on pollution. It will make dirty energy more expensive and clean energy—like solar, gas and wind—cheaper, as it should. It is only going to apply to the biggest polluters in our economy—fewer than 1,000—and they will have to pay for the pollution that they emit. This is the most effective and cheapest way for us to build a clean energy economy.

Senator Williams: They won't pass it on—no.

Senator Pratt: Of course they are going to pass it on, but they need an incentive. They will pass some of it on and they can reduce their costs. That is why we have a transition package. That is why we help households adjust. That is why we have a transition package for those industries to be able to adjust. It is a market mechanism. A price on carbon is a price on pollution. It is the most effective and cheapest way for us to build a clean energy economy.

No-one is denying the fundamentals of what this looks like. We know that all revenue from a carbon price will be used to provide households with fair and generous assistance. It will support jobs in the most effective industries and will support investment in clean energy. It is about making the economy transition. It is about helping households transition. It is critically important to this nation's future. It is critically important to our children's future.

Senator Williams: What about China?

Senator Pratt: It is particularly important to the children of China and to the children of Australia. China is acting. It is critically important to the developing world, because the developing world will not want to play their part in reducing emissions. We have had decades of economic growth in this country on the back of being an energy-intensive country. Senator Bernardi asks: why should Australia act if we are not going to make one iota of difference? If a country like Australia cannot act, and it has already had a huge economic benefit, then what is the incentive for any other nation on this earth hey'll laugh at us.

Senator Pratt: They are looking to us to act so that they can also act. It is only fair. We know it is only fair. It is the right thing to do for Australia. It is the right thing to do for our economy, our jobs and our environ­ment. Taking this action is not easy, but we will not shirk this responsibility like those opposite. It is the right thing to do. It is not about winning votes. It is not about lever­aging off scare campaigns and leveraging off discredited sceptics like Lord Monckton. We have a responsibility to be guided by good science and policies that make good econ­omic sense and good environmental sense. I have heard the critique of senators opposite time and time again. They say that Australia does not count and that it is too small to matter, but that is simply not true. Other nations are acting and they expect Australia to act. This is a diabolical global problem and we all have to play our part in taking on this issue.

It is in our interests—our environmental and our economic interests—to act. It is predicted that we are to be impacted harshly by climate change. Western Australia has suffered a dramatic decrease in rainfall since the early 1970s. I, like many other Western Australians, feel this very acutely. We have had dramatic rainfall decreases and rainfall is predicted to continue to decrease under the impacts of climate change. So we need the world to act to cut emissions and we cannot expect the rest of the world to act if we do not. It is in our economic interest.

We need to do our best as a nation to adapt to the future. Staying locked into the old ways will put us behind other nations who are acting. Other nations are adapting their economies in response to a climate restrained future. Thank goodness they are, because we desperately need the rest of the world to act. Our climate future here in Australia depends on it. And there are many Liberals that agree. The shadow Treasurer said, on that issue just last year:

inevitably we'll have a price on carbon … we'll have to.

As the former Leader of the Opposition said:

… politics is about conviction and a commitment to carry out those convictions. The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is 'crap' and you don't need to do anything about it.

This continuing inconsistency from the opposition demonstrates that they are clearly unfit to be the alternative government. It is also deeply impacting on investment and investment certainty in this nation. That is something that we will require through these reforms. (Time expired)