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Red-letter day in fight against warming

Today will be a great day for Australians who have waited years for their government to take our warming planet seriously.

After years of talk and a few backward steps, the Senate will pass a suite of legislation that will put a price on pollution from July next year.

Australians - who in 2007 and 2010 voted for politicians to back widespread community support for taking action - will be able to finally say that most of their elected representatives listened and acted.

Their Parliament has taken action in response to hundreds of thousands of people, especially younger Australians, who sent letters, danced in flash mobs, signed petitions or attended rallies in cities and towns across the country urging that we heed the warnings of climate scientists.

As I told the Senate last week in my speech on the historic bills, it is an honour to be a senator at the time the Federal Parliament is finally taking this historic reformist step in the defence of our biosphere and all the creatures living within it.

We've taken action because of the changes Australians voted for in the last federal election by choosing Adam Bandt as the Greens member for Melbourne and putting four more Greens into the Senate. That gave our party the balance of power.

We formed an agreement with Labor to keep the Gillard government in office. A crucial part of the agreement was our insistence that the government create a cabinet-style committee to put a price on pollution. The members of the multi-party committee from the Greens, cross-benches, government and independent experts collaborated in the spirit of goodwill and got a result after 10 months of hard work.

Unfortunately, despite being offered a seat at the table, the Coalition chose not to be part of that process, and indeed has proposed just one amendment to any of the bills that will pass today. That amendment was an attempt to delay the introduction of the carbon price until after the next election. More delay, more denial and no leadership.

The stance of the conservative parties contrasts with that of the business community, which has been seeking certainty on a price on pollution as it factors in risks for future investments. Now, with the price at $23 a tonne, businesses can incorporate that into their planning.

The carbon package also includes $13.2 billion worth of funding for clean, renewable energy projects. Some $10 billion will go to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an independent board that will allocate money over five years for renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology projects. That money was not available under Labor's carbon pollution reduction scheme, which the Greens refused to accept.

Last week I joined my fellow Greens senators in arguing that as Australia is the world's 15th largest total emitter and has the highest amount of emissions per person among the major polluters, it had to take action. We have to change our energy use and can afford to do so. Many of our Pacific neighbours, some of whom have had to flee their homes as sea levels rise, do not have that luxury.

Contrary to the relentless negative campaigning and myth-peddling by the Coalition, nine out of 10 Australian households will be compensated for the consequences of a carbon price. A $250 million Low Carbon Communities fund will help people and community groups on low incomes. There is $750 million in grants for small businesses to invest in energy-efficient equipment.

We are riding the biggest mining boom our country has ever seen, and must not squander our good fortune to act while the planet continues to warm. Today, the Senate will seize the moment.

First published in The National Times on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.



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