Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:11): I think that in all the hype and the confected outrage that goes on in this debate it is important for us to be able to go back clearly to why we are having to do the work we are in addressing climate change. Frankly, it is clear and without doubt that the activities of people over hundreds of years are contributing to the effect and the change we are seeing in our environment.
It has been demonstrated quite clearly in the Climate Commission’s work that was released earlier this year, The critical decade: a report from the commission. It is evident that the atmosphere itself is warming, the oceans are warming, ice is being lost, the ice caps are disappearing, sea levels are rising and the biological world is changing in response to a warming world. And here in Australia, with less than one degree of warming globally, the impacts are being felt.
In the last 50 years the number of record hot days in this country has more than doubled. In this year alone in Sydney, for instance, we saw something that we had not seen—certainly not in my living memory and not in many others—a week of above 40-degree temperatures. I emphasise that this spanned an entire week. These types of events are more likely to be repeated than ever before. For example, the flooding we have seen will occur on a more regular basis. Sea levels are rising and have risen 20 centimetres globally since the late 1800s, impacting many coastal communities, and there will be another 20-centimetre increase by 2050. At the current projections it is feasible that this would more than double the risk of coastal flooding. The Great Barrier Reef, which we hold up as a world environmental icon, has suffered from nine bleaching events in the past 31 years.
These things do not happen miraculously or overnight. They are the result of hundreds of years of environmental impact brought about by our own actions, and we are unable to turn this around quickly. But, certainly, failing to do anything is not a recipe to see a better life for the people who follow us. This is why both the government and the opposition recognise that we are required to cut the levels of pollution by five per cent by 2020. This is ironclad on both sides of politics: a requirement that we must cut pollution by five per cent by 2020.
Through the actions that we seek to take we will see 160 million tonnes of pollution cut out of our atmosphere as a result of our actions. note that the honourable member for Wide Bay did pick up on the point that that is the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road but said, ‘We don’t have 45 million cars on the road in Australia.’ He is right, we do not. We have 12 million cars on the road in Australia and we will through our actions have, in effect, the ability to take out the pollution of 45 million cars. We are doing it in a way that is bringing in major economic reform and we will see environmental benefits flow out of it.
But we have heard many say—and we have had again the honourable member for Wide Bay claim—that this would have major impacts. The member for Wide Bay quoted people from the transport sector or said that transport would be affected as well as other sectors. He mentioned airlines as well. Let us look at some quotes from people from within the industry. For instance, Linfox Logistics in a joint statement said:
Pricing carbon is critical to provide business certainty and unlocking the jobs and investment that will accompany the transition to a prosperous, cleaner and internationally-competitive economy.
As the costs of action are outweighed by the costs of delay the carbon price should be implemented as soon as possible.
That is straight from them. We heard about impacts on the airline industry and on Qantas in particular. Let me quote from someone else who is very active in our domestic airline sector, namely Sir Richard Branson, who said:
Too often I hear commentators describe the battle against climate change as though it’s a choice between growth and reducing our carbon output. This is wrong. Many of the fast-growing businesses of the next decade will be in providing the fuels of the future and technologies to clean up and power our economies.
Indeed more than 50 per cent of today’s carbon emissions can be profitably offset by technology that currently exists. The problem has been attracting and directing enough capital and talent to establish these technologies on a truly commercial basis.
That is exactly what we are trying to do by putting a price on pollution and creating a commercial incentive for those people who want to be able to bring in technology that is cleaner and has less impact on the environment.
The Australian Automobile Association in its media statement, I might point out, indicated that the carbon pricing package got it right in placing no extra financial burdens on Australian motorists. They said:
… it has been clarified that all fuels for light passenger vehicles will be exempt, and this is a good result for motorists.
The AAA congratulated the government on its efforts in terms of reducing carbon emissions. That is what we want to do, but what do the opposition want? What they want is to effectively throw billions of dollars at polluters. Instead of taxing the highest polluters they want to throw money at them.
As a result, we would have to see, as part of their direct action policy, trees planted over a surface area equivalent to five Tasmanias. They are going to find room to plant those trees. They have already, as has been indicated, said that there are all these areas that cannot be touched because of farming and ruled them out of the ridiculous debate that they have been engaged in between mining and farmers. They say one thing to one audience and another thing to someone else, but they are claiming that with their direct action policy, which will run out of puff 25 per cent of the way to trying to reach the five per cent target, they will be able to plant trees to get their way out of this, which is simply a farce.
There is this reliance on New South Wales as some sort of indicator of the impacts. The New South Wales government got a Frontier Economics study, dusted it off, handed it to Treasury and asked them to validate the figures. That is all that Treasury did. This was from a New South Wales government that said that a carbon price would cause a 20 per cent lift in electricity prices but then had to correct it under this very modelling to 15 per cent, when the reality is that it will be 10 per cent and it will be offset through the assistance that we provide. Who actually put this together? Frontier Economics founder Danny Price, who I remember at some point would actually back the coalition in providing some of its policies but, when asked whether or not he could with a straight face back the direct action plan, took a step backwards.
There is no economist in Australia, no plausible scientist, who would back the direct action plan. Name one. There is a simple challenge: name one economist who would say that what they are proposing is economically feasible. Yet the opposition come in here claiming that this carbon tax will have an economic impact. The minute an economist says, ‘In fact, your plans aren’t going to do much,’ they go out and rustle up a posse hunting down all economists and slagging them off in public claiming that those economists have no idea of what they are talking about and then come in here claiming that there will be some economic impact as a result of the response that is required in environmental change.
The thing that gets me the most is that, if it were that side of politics on this side of the chamber, they would be saying that this is a national challenge we have to respond to and going all out for it. It is more likely than not, as opposed to what they are doing now, that we would work with them just as we were in 2009. But, frankly, that side of politics has an elitist view that they are the only people who undertake national economic or environmental reform and that if anyone else dares to—if anyone else contemplates doing something of this scale—we are irresponsible in following that through. Frankly, on their side of politics, if they are not on this side of the chamber, the only aim they have is to wreck, to stop, to frustrate and to refuse reforms that are required for the benefit of this generation and those beyond.