Thursday, 24 March 2011
Matters of Public Importance
Australians need to clearly understand that this decision to introduce a carbon tax is driven solely by politics—opportunistic, cynical and totally self-serving politics. It is the price of a single vote in this chamber. That is the nub of it. It is the price of saving the Prime Minister’s political skin. And the price will not be paid ultimately by some anonymous nasty big business; it will be paid by Australian families, by Australian seniors, by all of us. It will be paid in higher costs of living, in lost jobs, or in both. For every million dollars raised, $100,000 will, by agreement, go off to the United Nations. Can you believe this? One hundred thousand in every million will go off to the United Nations. That is akin to spending it on pink batts. It is like throwing the money away. This is a self-serving, cynical move by this government.
This debate is an argument about who can deliver a five per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 with the least impact on electricity prices and on jobs. It is about incentives, really. In going it alone on a carbon tax and then, subsequently, an emissions trading scheme, the incentive is to shift emissions and jobs overseas. In going with direct action, the incentive is to reduce emissions in Australia in a way which reduces global emissions without increasing electricity prices or costing jobs. This is a fact which is consistently ignored, misrepresented and lied about in the arguments put by those opposite. There are alternatives. There is a better way, and we have it. The crux of the better way is the fact that we are going alone on this measure of a carbon tax and then an emissions trading scheme.
The key flaw in the Gillard government’s decision to impose an $11 billion tax every year on Australians is the failure of the rest of the world, and in particular our major competitors, to come with us, to act in unison. Yet we have been lectured in a sanctimonious fashion for years and years and years by those opposite about the imperative of a global scheme. We heard it endlessly from the former Prime Minister, from the former Deputy Prime Minister, from the former minister for climate change. They said: if emissions are to be reduced, and reduced in the most economically efficient manner and in a way which will reduce global emissions, we had to have a global scheme. And they were right. If we had a global agreement which included our major competitors it would mean Australia, with its cheap coal, would be one of the last countries to transition away from coal for electricity generation. This occurs because if a global emissions trading scheme or a global carbon tax scheme was in place, the world’s emissions would be cut fastest and at least cost by Australia buying international emissions permits rather than converting its own power stations. It is all about comparative advantage. It is basic economics, but you would not know it from the gobbledygook about the markets that we have heard from the other side.
It is basic economics that if the rest of the world have got higher cost emissions, those plants will be phased out sooner than our plants. Yet this has been totally ignored; in fact, I do not think they really understand it. And that means that we could have coal fired power generation that will be scrapped possibly decades ahead of what could happen, if we go it alone. We could have 30 or 40 years of coal fired power generation scrapped when, if there was a global agreement, other countries would be scrapping their coal fired power generation and we would still have cheaper electricity with our hundreds of years of cheap, good quality coal. But, no, we will scrap our industries and send them offshore—our lead smelters, our zinc smelters, our aluminium smelters, our cement works, on many of which whole towns rely. Whole communities, people’s lives, their families, their grandparents, the kids, the schools, the community spirit—gone because of political expediency. That is the sole reason they have stepped aside from what they told us for years must apply—a global scheme, otherwise we are not competitive internationally—to go unilaterally to save their skin, to get that one vote up there.
One Green vote in this House to save your political skin. It is pathetic. It is self-serving. It is cynical. It is irresponsible. At the cost of Australian jobs and at the cost of the living standards of Australians, you are prepared to do what you are going to do: make the biggest structural change in our history, scrap coal fired power plants years before they would, scrap all these other industries, cost us tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs—all in the interests of saving your political skin.
Acting unilaterally will be irrational, and a very costly adjustment in Australia to the great advantage of our competitors. Acting alone with a tax is not rational. Acting alone ignores the fact that the market they endlessly parrot on about is now a global market. When they talk here, preaching to us about the marketplace and the need for market forces, they are assuming that the market we are talking about is Australia. We are now in a global market, okay? In case they do not know, we are in a global market.
This means that we cannot quarantine Australia from the world market. It is like putting a carbon tax on in Victoria and no other state, and then all standing around scratching our heads wondering why hundreds of jobs and lots of industries are moving into New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. It is the same thing: we are going to put a tax on Australia and scratch our heads, wondering why jobs are going to move into China, Malaysia, Thailand and India and into all of the neighbouring regions, and why our competitors around the world are getting a free run.
This is irresponsible, this is inane and this is naive. They do not know what they are talking about, and their economics is not even at a prep school level. They misrepresent it and they misunderstand it. We have a situation where the former Prime Minister understood it, and that is why when he was so disconsolate after the Copenhagen round that he gave in to the urgings of those opposite to scrap a global scheme—he suffered accordingly.
He understood it and industry understands it: if you want to change global emissions you need a global agreement. The Europeans, in their stupidity, have proven this. Since 1990, the Europeans’ emissions from production have fallen flat—no change. They are priding themselves and are so pleased with themselves that they have had no increase in emissions of production. But their consumption of carbon has gone up by—only—44 per cent. What we have seen is a hollowing out of manufacturing in Europe, and it has all gone to China—emissions from Europe have gone to China.
As sure as night follows day this carbon tax will see a hollowing out of manufacturing in Australia. A global agreement must include our competitors. Who are they? Countries like Brazil, the biggest global producer of iron ore, or countries like Qatar in the Middle East—the biggest producer of gas. There is Sakhalin in Russia, which also produces gas. There is North America, and in Africa countries such as Cameroon, with huge oil and iron ore deposits. This is a government which is going to put us at an enormous disadvantage, undermine the great opportunities this country offers and kill the morale of so many people. This is a government which is irresponsible and is acting solely out of political motive. They must be condemned. (Time expired)