House debates

Wednesday, 22 March 2023


Safeguard Mechanism (Crediting) Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

6:34 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. In considering the Safeguard Mechanism (Crediting) Amendment Bill we consider business owners, and we also keep the most vulnerable populations in mind to represent an effective transition. For any policy change or innovation that we consider, including this one, we have to carefully consider our country's sovereignty and keep our economic prosperity in clear focus for our businesses. Without these, we are impotent to effect tangible and positive change.

Put simply, this bill will hurt businesses and vulnerable people. It does not inspire an effective transition, and that is what we on this side of the House have been saying. To suggest that we're dinosaurs, that we don't accept the science and that we're against effective action on climate change is just intellectual dishonesty. Not one of us who have spoken in the past two days has stood up and denied the science. What we are doing is saying that this bill will make zero difference. This bill is not effective. It is ill-conceived and ill-considered.

I should note that, like so many of Labor's policies, this bill disproportionally disadvantages regional Australia. That's who it hurts—our people, not the big cities. As a member of the National Party, I will always vote for the best interests of regional Australians. I can tell you that, when I walk around my electorate and speak to my businesspeople, my farmers, my mums and dads, my teachers and my doctors, they're not talking to me about emissions. Yes, they're concerned about the climate, but they're not talking to me about this bill. They're talking to me about the cost of living and how it's hurting out there. They're talking to me about interest rate rises. They're talking to me about the cost of groceries. The farmers are telling me that the cattle industry has fallen 30 per cent in the last 12 months, but their output costs have gone up 30 per cent. It's no surprise that, in the big supermarkets, meat prices have never been higher. Mums and dads are choosing not to buy steak, because it's $75 a kilo in Coles and Woolies. I don't need to be told that by my constituents, because I do the shopping. They're out there hurting—they're not considering this.

Again, as with other Labor-proposed policies, this is simply another punitive tax by stealth, rather than a true incentive. I'll use the example of my two teenage boys. If I want them to go out and study and achieve, I'll say to them, 'You achieve X in your exam and then I will give you Y.' I don't say to them: 'If you don't get X, you will be punished. This is what's going to happen to you.' That won't incentivise them, and neither will telling Australian businesses that they will be taxed. We need to incentivise businesses. We need to get them working together, working with government, rather than taxing them because all that will do is flow down the line, flow down the chain to—guess who? Our people, our poorest people, because it will simply be passed on. You can't create something by taxing it. It's an oxymoron in its truest form.

In the last sittings I spoke about the National Reconstruction Fund. That's a bill that this government insisted would drive and support the manufacturing industry in this country while wilfully ignoring some of the most important economic drivers of manufacturing success. What they wanted to do is get equity in your business. I couldn't think of anything worse than having government in my business. Businesspeople say: 'Stay away. Yes, we'll pay our tax, but I want nothing to do with government. Get your nose out of my business.' This bill continues that trend and simply puts another dampener and input cost on our potential to harness our considerable potential to grow, source and manufacture products, not just for our own population but also for international markets.

The suggestion by the member for Hawke and the member for McMahon that this is a continuation of an existing coalition policy is ludicrous. It is a bastardisation of what the coalition had put in. The mechanism proposed in this bill, as with the NRF, is set to increase the flow-on cost to the consumer and remove all the competitiveness of Australian products domestically and internationally. You are putting a barrier in front of business. As many of my colleagues have already outlined, including those on the crossbench—and I don't often refer to the crossbench—I don't believe the proposed changes and penalties will have the desired effect on this country's emissions. I'm going to quote the member for Warringah, which I never thought I would do. She very eloquently put it as 'an unfettered use of offsets to achieve reduction and a disincentive to invest in on-site abatement and real decarbonisation'. I will admit, we come to our conclusions in different ways, but on this we can agree. This mechanism is not fit for purpose.

For my own electorate and regional Australia as a whole I have to ask: where are these potentially massive or, as the member for Warringah put it, 'unfettered offsets' coming from? As my colleague the member for Hinkler stated last night, to achieve a 43 per cent reduction of CO2 by 2030, based on current projections, that's over 200 million tonnes of CO2. Given the fact that Australia as a whole is close to 768 million hectares, with more than 426 million hectares being agricultural land—land that Labor has recognised feeds not just the country but the whole world, and I believe I'm quoting the Prime Minister there—worth $90 billion, I ask: is the land that will be locked up in order to achieve these targets that agricultural land? Will it dismantle our ability to produce some of the world's finest agricultural products? The answers are yes and yes. This bill not only disincentivises investment into newer, cleaner technologies—and I do include nuclear—but also disincentivises our nation's $90 billion agricultural industry. Not only is it proposing that we facilitate the purchase of our important agricultural footprint, but we are actually incentivising farmers to sell their land to corporations with very, very deep pockets. Lock it up. No need for ongoing maintenance, no need for blood, sweat and tears—and the inability to feed the nation—just land bank it and get paid for it. Imagine all those jobs gone for the sake of an ill-conceived, ill-advised piece of legislation.

How on earth is this fruitful for our nation—a nation that produces just over one per cent of emissions around the world? I'm not saying we don't have our social responsibility, but we are effectively a pimple on a pumpkin in terms of our emissions.

If I can move to current technologies and potential future technologies that would meaningfully move the dial without punitive tax, why not pursue our existing capabilities for carbon capture in the first instance? The recent CSIRO report from just last November, Australia's carbon sequestration potential: a stocktake and analysis of sequestration technologies, specifically points to these current capabilities and acknowledges their immediate potential. The report states that current technical potential by 2050 is 227 gigatonnes of CO2, which would allow us time to meaningfully and effectively invest in cleaner technology right now and into the future as we advance.

In one breath, we happily spruik the benefits and superiority of nuclear submarines but ignore the same technology's capability within our own market. Why are we not incentivising industries to adopt existing advancements? Historically, I can understand the hesitation over nuclear, with large reactors, clunky technologies, issues with waste and by-product control, and management of aging facilities. But that's decades ago. Talking about these situations is like comparing a modern-day car to one built in the 1950s. There's no comparison. It's a ridiculous comparison. Technology has advanced significantly since then, and so have the potential benefits. So I ask the question: why are we only recognising submarines in this? It's bizarre. We should be looking at nuclear. The rest of the world is already embracing small modular reactors and in fact investing in the creation of microreactor technology. This is from nations who have not signed up to net zero and are the world's largest producers of emissions. Of all these countries around the world, we're the only ones saying: 'They're wrong. We're right. We're not going to look at it.'

In conclusion, I don't believe that this punitive model will produce the results we need as a nation, not in the true reduction of emissions nor in the safeguarding of our existing industries and future-proofing of our economy. It's certainly not good for Australian households. You can't create or build by taxing, you can't incentivise industry through punishment, and you can't put ideology first and disproportionately impact regional Australia. As such, I cannot support this bill.


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