Address to the Carbon Expo Australasia 2011, Melbourne
WED 09 NOVEMBER 2011
Friends, just after noon yesterday, the government’s Clean Energy legislation was passed by the Senate.
This is an historic day in Australian public life.
One of those moments where the federal parliament landed our nation on the right side of history.
When our nation strode forward to embrace the future with confidence.
We’ve had a quarter-century of scientific warnings.
We’ve had 37 parliamentary committee inquiries.
We’ve had a carbon price proposed by every government since Paul Keating.
We’ve had legislation presented to the parliament four times.
The job is now done.
Carbon pricing is the law of our land.
This has been a long journey.
The work of a whole generation.
When climate change first became a major policy concern in the mid 1980s, some of you in this room weren’t even born.
If this has been a long debate, it has also been complex.
Perhaps the most complex policy debate in Australia’s peace-time history.
This was a scientific problem in need of an economic solution.
Because climate change is the ultimate externality.
It is the result of millions of energy-use decisions over three centuries, each of which made sense on its own.
But together those decisions have come to pose a grave threat to the global environment and economy.
We are a community of reason.
So we listened when the scientists told us that the world is warming dangerously, and that the worst effects of climate change can largely be avoided if we act soon.
We are a nation of reform.
So we listened when the economists told usthat by using
a pricing mechanism to curb carbon pollution, we could capture the genius of the free market to drive change.
Through good public policy in Labor’s tradition of rigour and reform, we’ve responded by creating a package that sets us on the path to a clean energy future.
It is now the legislated policy of this nation that our biggest polluters should pay, and should pay through a market mechanism.
A modern policy approach, with efficient abatement at the lowest economic cost.
An inbuilt incentive to innovate, linked to global markets and aimed at meeting evidence-based emissions targets.
The carbon price has a small beginning – less than one-third of the price impact of the GST.
Yet the scale of the transformation it unleashes will be immense.
Within the space of just 38 years – 2012 to 2050, well within the lifetime of most of us in this hall, our nation will cut 9 out of every 10 tonnes of the carbon pollution we would otherwise have released into the atmosphere.
It is a change that will touch every home and workplace.
A new industrial revolution that will change the way we live and change it for the better.
I’ve had a glimpse of that future in my visits around this nation.
I opened a wind farm at Gunning that will power 23,000 homes.
I’ve seen a factory that makes paint which acts like a solar panel when painted onto steel and glass.
I’ve seen a new office tower in Sydney that produces 25 per cent of its own power on-site.
I’ve seen geothermal power at work, not in central Australia but in the streets of suburban Melbourne.
And these are just a down-payment.
These are what we have achieved under today’s modest and fragmented policies.
Imagine what we can achieve after July 1 next year when the carbon price comes into force.
Today’s leisurely stroll towards a clean energy future will become a sprint as we close the innovation gap with the rest of the world.
Friends, in getting to this point, we’ve seen some of the less favourable aspects of political life on display: fear-mongering.
The distortion of facts and the trashing of science.
The playing to short-term political advantage to the detriment of the national interest.
But ultimately reason has prevailed.
And while many Australians remain anxious about this change, they accept the cost of not acting is too great to accept.
Because not acting means more and longer droughts.
Rising sea levels.
More severe storms and cyclones.
Lasting damage to the Murray Darling food bowl.
To the Great Barrier Reef.
No nation can accept such threats.
We must act.
And we will act.
The time for words ended yesterday.
The time for deeds begins today.
It will be a time of creativity and innovation.
We will see new ideas and new products from our universities, the CSIRO, our company research labs and even from backyard sheds.
We will see our factories equipped with new technologies and new processes.
Our workers will be trained up with new skills.
We will create new jobs and transform old ones.
High skill, high wage jobs in the industries of tomorrow.
All up, the next forty years will see $100 billion worth of investment in renewables.
Six million jobs will be created.
Real gross national income per person will almost double.
And friends, this change will have all the characteristics of a true Labor reform.
Bringing together economic, social and environmental imperatives in a way that only Labor can.
Looking forward to the future.
And making sure no-one is left behind.
So from mid next year, Australians will see pension increases and tax cuts in their pockets.
We will assist small business, boost manufacturing and build competitiveness in the steel industry.
We will look after the regions.
Yes there is talk of repeal.
Rash, irresponsible talk by those who have absolutely no intention of following that talk up with action.
Their sole intention is to cause damage by corroding certainty and seeing investment deferred.
They have convinced themselves that they will profit politically by maximising immediate harm to the nation.
But history shows that spoilers always fail.
We saw it with Medicare.
We saw it with universal superannuation.
Reforms loudly opposed at the time.
But when the chance for repeal come, our opponents did nothing.
They squibbed it.
Because they knew that Australians had come to understand these reforms and accept their value for the future of our nation.
Because they understand governments must walk the reform road and make the big calls.
The big decisions that demand courage at the time and which, when we look back, no one would seek to undo.
So in a bizarre parallel universe, there is juvenile talk of repeal and promises etched in blood, with fingers firmly crossed behind their backs as they are made.
In the real world, carbon pricing now moves to become part of the social and economic fabric of this nation.
The Carbon Farming Initiative has already passed the Parliament.
The Clean Energy Bills passed the Senate yesterday.
The legislation establishing the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is expected to pass the parliament this year.
And we will legislate next year to establish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, following an independent review led by Reserve Bank Board member Jillian Broadbent.
But that is just the beginning.
The Government will rollout a number of transitional assistance programs in advance of the start of the carbon pricing mechanism.
These include the:
Coal Sector Jobs Package
Low Carbon Communities Program
Clean Technology Programs
Energy Security Fund
Energy Efficiency Information Grants for small business and community groups
We are also establishing a number of the key institutions which will oversee carbon pricing.
The Climate Change Authority, which will provide expert advice on key aspects of the carbon pricing mechanism, will be established by mid-2012.
Former Reserve Bank Governor, Mr Bernie Fraser has already been announced as its Chair.
The Energy Security Council, which will provide assurance and advice to the Government in the event that systemic risks to energy security emerge.
Former head of the Victorian Treasury under Jeff Kennett, Dr Michael Vertigan has been appointed Chair of the Council.
The Clean Energy Regulator, which will administer the carbon price mechanism, will be established well in advance of 1 July 2012.
We have commenced the Contract for Closure Program to retire 2000 megawatts of the nation’s most polluting coal fired power stations, with Expressions of Interest closing three weeks ago.
And of course, we will put money in the pockets of Australians to help meet the impacts of the carbon price.
Nine out of 10 households will receive compensation from a combination of tax cuts and increases to family benefits.
Almost six million households will receive assistance that covers all of their average price impact.
Over four million households will receive assistance that exceeds their expected average price impact, leaving their household budget better off.
And that assistance is just around the corner.
In seven months, the “Clean Energy Advance” payments will begin flowing to pensioners and families.
And from 1 July 2012, income tax cuts take effect, so that all taxpayers earning $80,000 or less will get a tax cut, and altogether, around a million individuals will no longer have to lodge a tax return.
Friends, this is reform for the future.
Reform we need to make to keep our economy competitive, to protect our environment and to do the right thing for coming generations.
Reform that is here to stay.
It is appropriate that 2012 marks the start of our carbon price because it also marks 300 years since the age of carbon began with the invention of the first commercial steam engine.
Those 300 years have brought higher living standards for humanity than all the preceding centuries combined.
We would not trade those centuries for anything.
Except for this: the same carbon emissions which created our modern way of life are now threatening to undermine it.
So a second industrial revolution is needed.
And carbon pricing is the key that unlocks the door to that clean energy future.
Like tariff reform and floating the dollar, it is a gateway reform.
The one big decision by government that unlocks thousands of individual decisions by Australian firms and households.
And their ability to see solutions where only problems
Friends, you here in this room and your colleagues around the nation will be the leaders of that change:
The clean energy and low emissions technology firms.
The carbon market trading companies.
And the professional service firms who will support you.
Just as Apple and Microsoft drove the IT revolution in the 70s and 80s, you will drive this revolution.
So by the middle of this century, we will be a different nation.
A nation where the three-century-old link between emissions growth and economic growth has finally been broken.
The age of carbon pollution will end for the same reason
we don’t ride in horses and buggies anymore.
Or do our calculations on slide rules.
Or send our messages by carrier pigeon.
Because of the infinite capacity of human beings to imagine a different world and bring it into being.
That is why the legislation passed yesterday afternoon is not just a plan to deal with climate change.
It’s not just a plan for new technology and low emissions.
It’s an act of faith in the Australian people.
A confident, creative people.
Up for the big decisions.
Unafraid of the future.
Ready to build a clean energy future together.