Matters of Public Importance - Carbon Pricing

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (16:29): At the outset, I agree with the member for Flinders in one aspect of his contribution to the House today—that is, we are at a critical point. We are pressed to do something of paramount generational importance, and that is to tackle the influence of climate change—an issue that on their side they grappled with for years. They ignored public pressure to deal with what the public wanted to see: support for Kyoto, support in tackling climate change and some sort of action taken for the sake of future generations. They comprehensively failed to do anything until the last moment when their former leader, John Howard, agreed that they would need to do something and support an emissions trading system. He was ultimately required to face the grinding weight of facts and the compelling case to act. Again, it is worth noting that 2010 was one of the warmest years on record. The previous decade was one of the warmest. The graphs recording movement in temperature might bounce up and down but the trend line is undeniably moving upwards. The turning point for us—

Mr McCormack: It is getting warm in here.

Mr HUSIC: Is it warm in here? Well, from the hot air that comes from the other side it does not surprise me that you would feel that way. The turning point was the election of the Leader of the Opposition whose strident opposition has caused splintering, forcing people to argue against the very things they strongly believe in. In particular, the member for Flinders, whose own academic work declared support for a pollution tax, is now forced to advocate for a pollution subsidy. One of the good things to come out of the 1990s was the work of the member for Flinders in which he advocated some sort of pricing mechanism, through a pollution tax, that he now argues against in this House. We have two of the more moderate and reasonable people from their side advocating immoderate and unreasonable positions through the course of this debate, knowing full well in their heart of hearts that they cannot ignore the fact that we are required and almost compelled to do something.

You have to be astounded by the gall of the opposition who come here as the defenders of democracy, who come here as the advocates for mandates, who wring their hands on the issue of cost of living, and yet where was all this when they up-ended the lives of workers and brought in Work Choices. They never went to an election advocating or indicating in any way, shape or form that they would be rampantly introducing individual contracts, stripping away penalty rates, squeezing overtime and putting pressure on working families. They never came in here and said, 'This is what they were going to put forward at the next election.' Now they come here as if they have discovered the virtue of mandate, that they have discovered in some way, shape or form the importance of a democracy and of being upfront and transparent. Yet, they seek to demonstrate this line here today.

We asked them, given that this matter of public importance is talking about the way we intend to approach this whole issue of dealing with climate change, to be involved in the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. They had a chance to be involved and they refused. Why? Because they wanted to be able to sit on the sidelines and do whatever they could to support the position of Leader of the Opposition to not undertake any sort of comprehensive action on climate change. What they wanted to do was to sit outside the process, and yet when invited to have an input and to put forward the issues that they now claim they are most concerned about, they did not do it. We now have an opposition that are effectively cast in the scientific Dark Ages. While the frontbench makes lukewarm support for the science, you have some incredible comments being made by people in a position of responsibility who should know better. They say, for example, that they do not know whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be—and that comes from the Leader of the Opposition. While the member for Flinders and the member for Wentworth will, with their hands on hearts, say that they do accept the science, their own leader is unable to comprehensively say that he accepts that the earth is getting warmer and that something needs to be done about it.

At the back we have people like the member for Tangney, Senator Minchin, Senator Joyce and Senator Boswell—this column of sceptics—and the Leader of the Opposition is unable to articulate or form any sort of comprehensive policy on this because they are out there white-anting the coalition in coming forward with some sort of meaningful, durable way of dealing with this issue of climate change. They remain on the outer because they have put themselves there in an effort to wreck any chance of being able to form the type of community consensus that is required on this pressing issue. Amazingly, stunningly, as part of this scare campaign, they are out their misleading the public as to what the impact would be and they doing so in quite an economically illiterate campaign.

They have been picked up on this. Lenore Taylor of the Sydney Morning Herald dissected this quite neatly after the Leader of the Opposition visited a butcher store in Coffs Harbour as part of the annual charity bike ride that he did down the eastern seaboard. He stopped into a butcher's shop and he said that the carbon tax would contribute $4,000 to the energy bill of that butcher. The journalist then went back into the butcher's shop and asked if this was the case. They said, yes. Then they were asked what impact this would have on their turnover and their prices. The butcher said the impact would be, for example, that for a kilo of T-bone that costs currently $22, the price would move, stunningly, up to $22.04. On a kilo of mince it would move from $11 to $11.02. This scare campaign is unable to deliver the facts. We had previously demonstrated under other potential options that grocery prices, on average, might move from 80c to $1.30 a week. They are going out there doing all sorts of scare campaigns, almost encouraging people to horde Weet-Bix under their bed because the carbon tax would have a 0.0006 per cent impact on Weet-Bix. I know that they are prone to their three-word slogans, so now it is 'Bix Under Beds' for the opposition because they want to beat the price rise caused by the carbon tax.

Look at what we have done. We have worked on the science. We have provided comprehensively through the Climate Commission the report that was tabled last week, The critical decade, to be able to detail in clear, factual terms what is going on. I am astounded that the response to try to undermine this work by notable scientists has been, 'They have been paid by the government.' This is the sum total of the response by the coalition. Yet if people put their hands in their own pockets on this issue critical to Australian public life and they fund a campaign to demonstrate their commitment to seeing climate change tackled, the opposition then undermines their efforts, as we have seen on the weekend with someone who has made their fortune from the ground up: Cate Blanchett, and some of the others. The opposition has sought to undermine their commitment to the cause. We have had consultations with business, NGOs and the farm sector looking at the household impacts.

What we have on the other side of the House are the sultans of subsidy—those people who would be willing to hand over at the outset $10 billion in subsidies to businesses who pollute and would do this in a way that would be ineffective in discouraging climate change, as evidenced by the Grattan Institute, which said that this type of work does nothing and will, in fact, by 2050, lead to an $8 billion per year extra cost to the budget. The other side do not have the will, the willingness or the ability to cooperate, as we have provided them the opportunity to do so through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. They stand as vandals on this issue, as opposed to what we are trying to achieve for generations to come. (Time expired)

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

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