Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (16:33): I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. A vote for the state Coalition Government on Saturday in Victoria will deliver strong environmental policies to address climate change and safeguard natural resources in Victoria. What we have before us is proof from the Greens that they struggle to understand the far-reaching implications that the imbalance of the state Coalition Government has upon Victoria. Far from ignoring climate change and not safeguarding our natural resources, the Victorian government has progressively worked on these issues over the past four years.
The Greens and Labor do not understand that our government, with the Victorian Coalition, is committed to environmental standards that also manage to protect the small businesses and families that we are all here to protect. Since coming into office in 2010, the Victorian government has struck a balance, ensuring that we can preserve our environment and natural resources, not damage small communities and still stimulate business investment. The Greens have never managed to find a policy that strikes this balance, and their support for the carbon tax is a clear indication that they cannot safeguard our natural resources or find a pragmatic solution to climate change.
I have spoken many times about the effects that the carbon tax had on my constituents in Victoria, but I feel I must remind the Senate today, because those opposite are clearly incapable of grasping how drastic their policies were. Electricity prices soared with the implementation of the carbon tax. In the few short months since the Coalition removed the carbon tax, we have seen electricity prices fall by 8.9 per cent for Victorian households and 10.7 per cent for Victorian businesses. The Treasury has also suggested that abolition of the carbon tax will reduce costs to the Australian consumer by about $550. But let's consider the practical implications this tax had on some typical Victorians that I represent. Dairy farmers were significantly impacted by the carbon tax, as I have spoken about several times in this place. They saw a 41 per cent increase in their electricity costs. This industry was disproportionately impacted because of milking machinery, milk storage and processes. Dairy farmers, along with many other farmers, struggled to pass their costs on to consumers and so they bore the burden of the last government's poorly constructed environmental policy.
I would like to commend the Victorian government for implementing goals that focus on uniting communities, business and local government in addressing climate change and preserving natural resources. Since 2011-12, the Victorian government has invested $3.1 billion in the environment and climate change portfolio. This investment has been channelled to the management of land, forests and parks, ambitious environmental programs and fire and emergency management. The Coalition has been committed to ensuring that a wide variety of environmental concerns are addressed in a multitude of ways. So do not believe the rhetoric. Do not believe the hype. Senator Di Natale comes in, Senator Rice comes in, and they like to claim that the Victorian state government is not concerned about our national parks, is not concerned about the Leadbeater's possum, is not concerned about ensuring that Victorians have a healthy and sustainable future—which, in and of itself requires a healthy and sustainable environment. It is a no-brainer. Of course the state government is working towards that end.
Far from ignoring the threat of climate change, Victoria is indirectly supporting national emissions mitigation efforts, through the Commonwealth's Direct Action Plan. Australia's most comprehensive adaptation plan to increase resilience to fire, floods, drought, reduced snowfall and sea level rise has been released by the Victorian government. But the research has been focused on various ways to address climate change. For example, Victoria has invested in new forms of technology. The focus has been on practical action that has tangible results and delivers value for money and on continuing to invest in programs that improve sustainability outcomes.
Since 2010—you do not like to hear it, but please listen up; I have got some good news for you—over $12 million in grants have been awarded to research and development and pilot projects harnessing renewable resources, including wave, solar, geothermal and biomass. If you listened to those opposite, you would think that the Victorian state government is not doing anything in respect of these issues. The cold, hard facts are that it is more than adequately addressing them.
I also want to commend the Victorian government on the implementation of the Environmental Partnerships Program. This proves more than ever that we are a government that can find the balance. We are the side of politics that can get a triple bottom line occurring—good community outcomes, good economic outcomes based on sound economic principles, and environmental sustainability. Unless you have a healthy environment and a sound and stable fiscal position, people and communities are not going to thrive and prosper. But, if you tip that balance too far towards the environment, you are not going to ensure that communities can prosper, that families can remain healthy and safe. Senator Rice, I see you are shaking your head. You were not in this place for the Murray-Darling Basin conversation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bernardi): Address your comments to the chair, Senator McKenzie.
Senator McKENZIE: Through you, Chair. But it got pretty ugly along the Murray in our state of Victoria when the previous government decided to roll out the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Senator Hanson-Young was railing loud and proud about the amount of sustainable take that could be taken out of the system. We now know that was incredibly poor advice from Senator Hanson-Young. Our home state has managed to find environmental efficiencies to ensure a healthy river. As the water makes its way through New South Wales, along our beautiful Murray down into South Australia, the sustainable take is much less than Senator Hanson-Young claimed. That is due to the fact that we chose to invest in infrastructure throughout irrigation districts that ensured businesses could still prosper, families could stay on their farms, communities could remain economically viable and the environment could still get the water.
We hear the emotive arguments of the Greens and can get wrapped up in the hyper-rhetoric that they bring to the table. It is going on throughout my home state of Victoria right now, particularly around regional areas. It is just based on whipping up fear in uninformed communities. The fact is, when you put your heads together, sit down with communities and businesses and think about viable alternatives, you can get a triple bottom line. That is what this government is committed to doing.
The Environmental Partnerships Program aims to work with local communities and land managers to achieve positive outcomes for the environment through initiatives like committing more than $9 million to the Coastal Environments Program, supporting on-ground coastal risk management works; a commitment to plant two million trees across regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne; the $20 million Communities for Nature grants program, enabling local groups to carry out important on-ground works to conserve and enhance the local environment; investing nearly $16 million to protect priority habitat and threatened species; and investing $9 million over four years to renourish key beaches in Port Phillip Bay, by reintroducing sand to beaches depleted of sustainable sand levels by storm events and coastal processes.
This goes exactly to Senator Di Natale's scare campaign on the Leadbeater's possum issue. The Victorian government is fully committed to implementing all 13 recommendations from the Leadbeater's Possum Advisory Group, with $11 million committed for implementation. For Senator Di Natale to stand up and spruik the fact that our state faunal emblem is going extinct and will have to be rediscovered for the second time in the last hundred years is absolute bollocks. The state government has committed $11 million to implement all the recommendations. This is what environmental policy should look like. This is how to safeguard natural resources—bottom-up consultation, discovering what communities and businesses and people can do and how government can assist them. It reminds me of a community that has approached me on numerous occasions, the Mountain Cattlemen's Association. It is about getting the balance right and how we sustainably and safely use our natural resources for the forest industry, to ensure the Leadbeater's possum habitat is maintained and to ensure that communities like the mountain cattlemen can access those economic resources in our national parks to continue their economic and cultural practices. We can get it right.
Look at the water policy of past Labor governments in our state. The desalination plant is an albatross around Victorians' necks. The $75 million north-south pipeline, which we are still paying for, never delivered a drop for Melbourne. That is what happens when you let the Labor Party and the Greens control environmental policy at a state level. We are getting the balance right. We are reducing red and green tape and ensuring that we can get economic growth out into the regions, into our communities, while safeguarding our natural resources. That is exactly what good governance looks like. Vote 1 Coalition.