Matter of Public Importance - Carbon Pricing

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (4.31 pm)—I rise to speak on the matter of public importance before the House.

Mr Truss—The coalminers will be pleased!

Ms BIRD—With great pleasure I do so. As I come from five generations of coalminers I have great pleasure in supporting the government in its actions to introduce a price for carbon into our economy. It may well interest those opposite that the previous member for Throsby, Jennie George, the current member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, and I worked closely with our community through the various issues in terms of pricing carbon, and we were returned with increased majorities at the last election, you will be very pleased to know!

Opposition members interjecting—

Ms BIRD—I say to those opposite that they might want to settle down a little bit. Perhaps they are interested in generating their own levels of carbon with the heat and light they are creating in this debate but the words in today’s Illawarra Mercury from Mr Andy Gillespie, the AWU organiser in the area, should be heard well by those opposite. He says.

The scaremongering over the effects of a carbon price should stop.

If those opposite were genuinely interested in the wellbeing and future of an economy like mine in the Illawarra I would encourage them to contribute by having an informed and calm debate about this policy issue, which is of national significance, rather than engaging in the scaremongering that they are running in communities, including communities such as mine and the member for Throsby’s.

This has been an issue that has been confronting this nation for several years now. It is a difficult issue. It is a challenge to do major reform for your economy. It is never easy, and it should be the subject of an intense debate in this place and in this nation. It may surprise those opposite that we would welcome that. We would welcome a proper debate on this issue but we are not getting it. There are enough of those who sit opposite who understand economic reform and who believe that the point that I am making is absolutely correct. I think we saw that on display last night on the television.

We need a debate about the future of this nation as we transform to confront a carbon constrained future and work out how to ride the back of that to grow this economy into the opportunities that can exist for us into the future. In the Illawarra we know the challenge.

We live it. We are at the forefront of every economic reform, and we come out stronger and more diversified.

Mr Fitzgibbon—It is also true of the Hunter.

Ms BIRD—It is also true of the Hunter, as my colleague indicates. We come out stronger not because we run around like Chicken Little waving our hands and saying, ‘The sky’s gonna fall in’ and ‘How can we make people afraid of reform?’ The members of the great party of economic reform on the other side should hang their heads in shame about the standard of debate they are putting up in this case.

We come out stronger because we rise to the challenge. We have been doing that for several years now in our region. Together with Jennie George, the former member for Throsby, I have worked closely with existing traditional industries including the companies—such as BlueScope Steel Australia— and their workforces and representatives. Along with Stephen Jones I will continue to do so. We work closely with our coal industry. We also work closely with our diversified economy.

The reality is that the RDA Illawarra has been working for a number of years now on a Green Jobs Illawarra program which looks, for example, at the opportunities for windmill creation on the back of our steel industry. We understand the capacity for transformation in addressing and dealing with the challenges of a carbon constrained economy and we want to get on the back of the opportunities that that creates. We want to build jobs for the future so the kids of our region have really good, long-term, sustainable jobs in manufacturing, in the mining industry and more broadly in research and development, tourism and education—all of the areas where we have built on our existing strengths to diversify our economy.

The great disappointment in the whole debate has been the fact that there are some among those opposite who are capable of engaging in an informed debate about the mechanisms by which we should address the challenge confronting us. They have the knowledge and understanding about reform agendas and how to  drive them. They may have some legitimate issues that they want to raise with us about the ways in which we are doing that but they are silent. They are not being heard.

They are not being heard because they have a leader driving their agenda and driving their party on the basis of scaremongering and looking for the lowest common denominator: ‘Don’t look at the national interest; only look at what is going to get us a bit of a poll increase in the immediate future. Find or grab whatever you can in order to create fear, uncertainty. Distract the community from dealing with the very real challenges that confront us.’ That is the great shame in the whole debate that we are having in this nation. I can only hope that more members—like the member for Wentworth last night—come out and engage in a debate that is actually about the national interest.

Sitting opposite are members of a once-great party of economic reform. It was a party that believed in the capacity of the market to drive real growth and opportunity into the future. Over many decades we have engaged, across the chamber, on the details and processes of those sorts of reforms. We should be doing that now, and we are not.

What we are dealing with is a Leader of the Opposition who has had so many different positions on climate change that it is almost impossible for me to enumerate them in the 10 minutes I have available to me today. He has said himself that his position is predicated on wherever he sees the political advantage on that day—it is not even that week, or that month, or that year, it is that day; it changes as regularly as that. The question for those of us engaged in this important national debate is: how on earth do you debate somebody who moves their position around constantly and, in an even greater disappointment, moves the party around in the same way? I am sure there are people sitting on the opposite side who actually understand that this is an important economic reform debate and have something they can contribute to that. I do not presume that contribution to be agreement with us, but I presume they would have something of value to add to the debate. But they are gagged and silent—and more shame to them. This is a generational reform debate.

This is about communities like mine in the Illawarra.

The international community is moving towards addressing and dealing with the carbon challenge that we have internationally. There are countries that are moving to address those forms of pollution in their own economies. We will confront the reality of their decisions in the future and we will have to deal with them. There are countries in the European Community that are jumping on board. President Obama recently said about his own community that here is an opportunity. How do we get in there and develop businesses and industries and innovations in our own economies that are going to allow us to be the world leaders into the future and build wealth for our own people and our own nation into the future on the back of this reform? But what are we doing in Australia? We are a country that has driven so much innovation. Why do we say that we punch above our weight in this nation? I will tell you why. It is because we have researchers and tradespeople who have capacity to lead the world in innovation and adaptation. That is what we are so good at. That is why we punch above our weight.

They deserve a government that supports that. They deserve a government that is driving that agenda. They deserve a government that is interested in long-term economic reform and building future wealth. That is what this government is all about. That is what this debate should be about. That is what the responsibility of every member of this House is about. That is what our commitment and responsibility to our communities and our nation is about.

Those opposite are failing this nation abysmally in the standard of their contribution to this debate. You could forgive that if you assumed that, at the end of the day, that is the best capacity they have got. You could forgive that if you looked around the ranks and thought: ‘It is a pretty poor standard and there’s a failure of debate and a failure of national commitment, but they are really not able to do anything else anyway. This is the level of their capacity and ability.’ But that is not the case, and those opposite know it. I challenge them to rise above the scaremongering lowest-commondenominator politically expedient debate of their leader on a nationally important issue and rise to the challenge of having the debate that we need to have in this nation. (Time expired)