Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012, Clean Energy (Charges — Excise) Amendment Bill 2012, Clean Energy (Charges — Customs) Amendment Bill 2012, Excise Tariff Amendment (Per-tonne Carbon Price Equivalent) Bill 2012, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Per-tonne Carbon Price Equivalent) Bill 2012, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Per-tonne Carbon Price Equivalent) Bill 2012, Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge — Auctions) Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I second the amendment. This amendment changes the fundamental direction of this nation's approach to addressing climate change and to ensuring that we deal with this issue in the most effective possible way. The very fact that we are here today talking about amendments to Labor's carbon tax is a testament to the fact that this tax is a mess, and it is getting worse. It is costing jobs already. The manufacturing sector is becoming increasingly uncompetitive. Food production and food processing in this country is in decline. What is worst of all, this tax and everything surrounding it is environmentally useless. It achieves absolutely nothing for our environment.
The scheme is just over 100 days old. The government has spent tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money advertising on television and in our media to explain to everybody how this tax is perfect, how this is exactly what we have to have to save the world and how this is going to make a real difference to our environment. They have been spending all this money telling the Australian public what a great tax it is. Now, after just 100 days, they are proposing no fewer than eight major changes to the carbon tax.
Today we are considering changes to link the Australian economy to the faltering and crumbling economies of Europe—yesterday's world. If we want to link our economy to other parts of the world, as it inevitably is in a global trading environment, we should be linking it to the areas where our future is. We should be looking at areas like Asia, where we do most of our trade. Why isn't our government linking the Australian emissions trading scheme, their carbon tax, with the carbon taxes of China or India, the places in our region where we are actually trading, or, if they are looking for a similar type of country, maybe New Zealand? We could link our carbon trading scheme with that of New Zealand.
But there is none of that, fundamentally because none of those countries have a carbon tax like this. There is nothing there for them to link it to. There are certainly no carbon trading exchanges where we could be buying and selling carbon credits for this country. So our government have searched around the world to find a place that has something of a trading scheme in place, and they had to look pretty hard. The United States exchange closed years ago because of a lack of business. Nobody is interested. When you look at other parts of the world, there is simply no stampede towards emission trading schemes or carbon taxes like the scheme that the government have put in place.
So we are to be linked to the faltering and crumbling economies of Europe. Our government might be comfortable with being compared with Greece, Spain and Ireland. Those are the sorts of countries that our government seems to want to link our economy to. We actually went ahead of Spain, I am told, in the ranking of global economies this month. Is that because Australia is doing well or is it because Spain is rather easy to overtake at the present time? But these are the sorts of economies that our government wants to link our carbon trading scheme to. The government itself is in chaos and getting shakier day by day, and now it wants to link our carbon trading scheme with the economies of Europe, which themselves are decidedly shaky.
Each new backflip from this Prime Minister proves how chaotic and untrustworthy the government that she leads is. Remember, this is the government that was not going to deliver a carbon tax. There was to be no carbon tax under this Prime Minister. Then we were told each element of it was entrenched and there would be no changes. But when Christine Milne comes out to greet the media with a grin on her face you know there is more bad news for Australian business and Australian families, and she was grinning from ear to ear about the idea that is included in this legislation—that we would remove the $15 per tonne carbon tax floor price.
The Greens have only agreed to it because they think the price is always going to be much higher than that—$15, $20, $30, $40 or $50. Whatever number it is, it is not high enough for the Greens. They believe it will go up and up, and of course that inevitably means that Australian businesses and Australian families will pay more and more. It will never go down, according to the Greens, and that is what makes them happy.
But of course Labor is already shuffling the deckchairs, compounding the uncertainty in this country and shattering the confidence of businesses and families alike by changing the policy, by altering the tax. Acknowledging some of its many, many flaws, they are in fact undermining any confidence there might be in the scheme itself. Remember that the government have put a lot of time and effort into arguing that we needed to have a floor price to give business confidence. They repeated that many, many times. On at least 11 occasions ministers, including the Prime Minister, have been on the record saying that Australia needed to have a floor price to give business confidence.
But I was curious when the government decided to get rid of this floor price which was necessary to give business confidence, when they said the reason they had to get rid of the floor price was to give business confidence. So business needed a $15 a tonne floor price to have confidence; now they need to get rid of it to have confidence! This is clearly the level and the standard of logic that has underpinned the government's argument on this right from the beginning.
Dumping the $15 per tonne floor price and hitching its wagon to the European scheme is simply nonsense. Labor and the Greens have shifted the goalposts to impose a more expensive carbon credit scheme on Australians. Until now Australian companies could buy 50 per cent of their carbon liabilities under the EU's Kyoto based certified emissions reduction units. Currently they are worth about $3.50 or so a tonne. Now that door is going to be slammed shut. There will be no cheap permits for Australian industry—we couldn't have that! We could not have Australian industries paying the world price.
Our companies are locked into the world's highest carbon tax. But, on top of that, now Australian companies are blocked from gaining access to the cheapest option. They are restricted to just one-eighth of their permits, or 12½ per cent, coming from the EU CER. The government are determined to lock Australian industry into the highest priced carbon credits in the world. They are locked in at a fixed price of $23, rising to $29. But, just in case there is any risk that Australian businesses might get any relief through engagement in the European trading scheme, they put in place a maximum number of permits that can be purchased. In tying Australia to the European scheme, we are saddling our economy to the failed and faltering old economies of Europe.
Once more we are locking ourselves into a scheme that has no comparison with the scheme the government has put in place in Australia. For instance, in our first 100 days of having a carbon tax in this country, our carbon tax raised the equivalent amount of money that the Europeans have collected in the entire time that their scheme has been running—over six years. It has only taken these first 100 days for the Australian scheme to raise the same amount of money as the Europeans have collected over six years. That is because the European scheme exempts large portions of the economy. Why aren't the sections of the Australian economy that are excluded from the European scheme going to be excluded now that Australia is to be linked to the European scheme? It makes no sense.
The government is linking us to only a part of the European scheme and we will not see any of the advantages that might happen to flow from exempting significant sections of the Australian economy from carbon trading. For instance, the exemptions that the Europeans have for agriculture and food processing are not going to be made available to Australian producers. They tax overseas airlines in Europe, whereas we tax only Australian airlines in Australia. That privilege is not going to be extended, obviously, to the Australian aviation industry.
On top of being dishonest, this carbon tax is disproportionate and destructive. Why does this government dislike Australian industry so much? Why do they want to hurt Australian families so much? Why do they want to export Australian jobs to other parts of the world? Why do they want to make our manufacturing uncompetitive? Why do they want to make life in this country more difficult for Australians struggling in a difficult economic environment as it is? What families in Australia do not want is a raft of new taxes. That would do nothing to improve their lot. The government have a $120 billion black hole in future expenditure and they are grasping for new taxes to help fund their operations. The reality is that the government have lost their way.
Five hundred million Europeans have been paying, on average, $1 each under their token carbon scheme. Australia's carbon tax is reaping $400 per head. Perhaps Australians would not mind being linked into the European scheme if the cost was going to be $1 per person per year. Maybe we could manage that. It may not be a good use of a dollar, but nonetheless we might be able to afford that. In Australia, under this government, we are keeping a scheme that imposes a tax of $400 a year per person on the Australian people—and that number keeps getting higher and higher. There is no logic whatsoever in the government's reasoning that we should link ourselves to the European scheme, especially when it is done only in pieces.
Since the implementation of the carbon tax the government has made eight major changes, and some of those are in this legislation. The government and the Prime Minister are in deep denial about its impact. The Reserve Bank is warning this government that there will be more price hits yet to come. And yet Australian families are already bearing massive increases in their electricity costs, much of which is due to the carbon tax—50 per cent of price rises this year are associated with the carbon tax. That climbs to two-thirds in Victoria and 70 per cent in Western Australia, and it is responsible for 80 per cent of the increases in the power bills of the people of Western Sydney and almost 100 per cent of the power price hikes in Queensland. Indeed, the Queensland price regulator said that if it were not for the carbon tax, electricity prices would have gone down in Queensland this year.
This is a government that is imposing a burden on all Australians—and for what? The scheme is clearly doing nothing to improve the environment. It is a $9 billion slug every year on Australians, paying through our electricity bills and our gas bills. While the carbon tax is going on, Australia's emissions are going to increase, from 578 million tonnes in 2010 to 621 million tonnes by 2020. That is because of the reality that electricity and gas are essential services, fundamental to the daily lives of all Australians. People are not able to change their lives in such a way that they can substantially reduce their bill. Is the government really asking families to turn off their heaters in the middle of winter or their air conditioners on a hot summer's day?
We are told so much about the compensation that is being provided—$4 or $5 a week for families that are often out of pocket to the tune of hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year. This is a cost that they have to bear. As the Leader of the Opposition rightly said, if this tax does not hurt so much that people are prepared to change their behaviour, then it simply will not work at all—it will not achieve anything for the environment. So the government need to have a scheme that is actually going to hurt people—hurt pensioners, hurt families—otherwise they are not going to change anyone's behaviour, and if no-one changes their behaviour there is no environmental gain. There is only pain—pain for all Australians.
There is hope on the horizon, as the Leader of the Opposition just outlined. If there is a change of government, this tax will go. It will go as a first priority. We will bring relief to Australian families. The coalition oppose this ill-considered and faulty bill. We join with many people in industry and in commerce, and with those who care about Australian families, in condemning this tax as ill thought through and poorly designed, and it has had to come back to the parliament for substantial amendment. We do not want a carbon tax at all. This legislation will just make the situation worse. It will do nothing to change the environment, and we will repeal it all, lock stock and barrel—and we will do that just as soon as we are given the opportunity.