House debates

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Matters of Public Importance

Carbon Pricing

2:43 pm

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

What an extraordinary scene we have just witnessed: the Prime Minister of this country and all her ministers walking out at the very beginning of question time after taking only one question for the day. They have run away from any kind of questioning—any scrutiny—by the Australian parliament. They are so worried about the personal affairs of the member for Dobell that they are not prepared to be here to stand up and answer the simplest of questions. The Prime Minister is not prepared to take the 10 minutes offered to her to explain her situation to the people of Australia. They have run out of this parliament and closed down question time. Have we ever seen anything like it? But have we ever seen a government anything like this one? It is a disgrace to the Australian people. It is a disgrace to the democracy of our land—a bad government with bad policy delivering bad outcomes. And now they run away from scrutiny.

Over the last couple of weeks, people have been travelling in convoys from all across our continent to Canberra to have their voices heard. They were angry. They had been lied to. The government was not listening to what they had to say. They came from the Kimberleys, from North Queensland, from Darwin, from Victoria, from Western Australia and from all over this country at considerable personal expense and considerable personal inconvenience. They used money that they do not have. They came here because they were angry. Many of them had never been to Canberra before in their lives. Most of them had certainly never been in a protest before in their lives, but they know that the future of our country is at risk because of this government and its policies. They endured the personal expense because they wanted to have their voice heard in the national capital.

But they received the same treatment from this government as the parliament has today in question time. The government would not go out and talk to them. The government would not listen to them. The government would not hear what they had travelled from the far corners of the continent to say. This was a convoy that had no confidence in this government—and didn't they have every good reason to have no confidence in this government and the way it has performed.

Not only would the government not talk to them, not only would the government not listen to what they had to say; the government actually ridiculed them. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport called them 'the convoy of no consequence'. This is the man who used to be minister for regional development. How much does he care about regional Australians? How much does he care about the delivery of infrastructure in this country when he dismisses those people who have come from all corners of the continent to have their say as being a convoy of no consequence? The member for Wills was even worse, shamefully worse, ridiculing the older people in this convoy and calling them a 'convoy of incontinence'. What sort of language will these people use to denigrate those who have come here to have their say? They were a convoy that had no confidence in the government, and, of course, this is a government that is itself a convoy of incompetence, stumbling from one disaster to another. Not only will it not listen to the constructive suggestions of people who want our country to be better; it ridicules and insults them and will not talk to them.

The Prime Minister was going to wear out her shoe leather across the country explaining the carbon tax, but she put the shoes away in two or three days and quickly got back to the comfort of the carpets. She was never willing to explain her tax. She walked away from it. Is it any wonder that the people of Australia are a convoy with no confidence in this government?

I received a number of letters, and I know other members have, from some of the people in this convoy, who expressed their dismay and their annoyance at the way in which they were treated by the government. Let me read part of a letter to you:

These participants are not just the visible contingent who braved the back roads, and the time, the expense, the early starts and cold showers at truck stops, to make it all the way to Canberra. They also include all those who stood by the roadsides to wave, all those who cooked up sausages in small country towns, decorated their streets with coloured balloons and took a hat around for petrol money, all those who grieved that they couldn't make it but sent their best wishes and words of support, all those who walked the streets to collect petition signatures. In short, this convoy includes all those who wanted to say, 'We have no confidence in the current federal government.' Instead today, all these people, ordinary Australians, were labelled as being of no consequence and were metaphorically spat upon. I ask you: how dare our elected representatives treat these people with outright contempt? Will Julia Gillard and Bob Brown have the courage to meet with the participants in Canberra?

The reality is that they have not been prepared to meet. These people who travelled all the way across the country to deliver a clear message to the federal government that they were unhappy were not listened to; they were scoffed at, they were talked down and they were metaphorically spat upon because this government will not listen to what the people have to say about the carbon tax and its impact on ordinary Australians.

The Prime Minister promised us all—she promised them; she promised all Australians—that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led, but then Bob Brown, Christine Milne, the member for Lyne and the member for New England handed her government. A part of the price was that she had to institute a carbon tax upon which they had long campaigned. The Greens wanted an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050. They got it. The Greens said in January 2010 that they wanted a transitional carbon tax to start at $23. After the charade of the multi-party committee, the Greens got exactly what they had asked for in 2010: a $23 per tonne price. The member for New England wanted to legislate an 80 per cent target even earlier than the Greens, back in 2008. So he got what he wanted as well. The member for Lyne simply repeated his call during the CPRS debates to 'let the markets rip'. They got what they wanted. Due to its weakness the government was held to ransom, and now the Australian people will pay right across the country.

Other countries have exempted their industries from any responsibility to pay this tax. They wanted to save local jobs. This government has offered little or no protection in Australia, and what protection that there is will quickly be eroded. This is a recipe for economic and social disaster, which the Prime Minister has been prepared to inflict it upon Australian business and Australian families. Is it any wonder that the people are angry? Is it any wonder that there were people who were prepared to spend, in some cases, their last dollar to come to Canberra and have their voices heard—only to be spurned by a government that simply does not care?

There is going to be an enormous impact on state and local governments as a result of this carbon tax. Their costs will go up. Just as the cost of electricity will go up for households, the cost of electricity will go up for state governments and councils. For instance, if we work only on the $20 cost of carbon that was proposed, according to the Dubbo City Council, the extra cost of electricity to light the streets of Dubbo will be about half a million dollars. Tamworth, in the electorate of New England, says that it will cost $300,000 a year more to light the streets of Tamworth. So there will be higher rates. The reality is that, if we are going to get a warm inner glow from having a carbon tax, it will also light up the streets at a much greater cost.

Let me talk about another impact on local government. They have a lot of responsibility in caring for rubbish. So let us talk about some rubbish other than government policy. Of the 500 emitters who are going to have to buy carbon permits, we are told that perhaps 190 of them are likely to be landfills. We know the list is a state secret as to who will pay and who will not have to pay. Only 70 actually emit the 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that would essentially bring them into the target, but the government intend to rope in another 120 of these landfill sites. These are the sorts of tips and dumps that we all go to every so often with our load of rubbish, and the government are dragging all of these in. Because they would not want the price to be cheaper at one dump than another, they are putting the carbon tax on others. It does not seem to worry them that one dairy factory has to pay and another does not or that carbon tax is not charged on imported cars but it is on Australians cars, but they want to make sure the dumps are all treated the same.

What is worse—and the Prime Minister could not explain this the other day—is how they have to calculate how much carbon tax they have to pay. When you turn up with your load of garbage, somebody will have to calculate the amount of CO2 emissions there are going to be from your truckload or ute load of garbage for the next 30 years and then estimate the cost so they can calculate what they have to charge you for the carbon tax on the delivery of your rubbish. So there will be a council officer there with his computer and he will have to go through each piece and measure it all up and try to calculate how long it is going to be there so he knows how much to charge. Then of course you will have the government inspector from the new carbon tax police there to make sure that the council has not got it wrong.

This is the kind of bureaucratic nonsense that the government propose to put in place. And, once more, in the process, they are going to kill off the methane electricity generation industry that is currently making a significant contribution to our renewable electricity generation—that will no longer be eligible for subsidies under the New South Wales greenhouse gas reduction program.

Now let us turn to roads. Victoria and Western Australia have both done studies on road cost increases. They estimate that it will add around five per cent to the cost of building roads. And that is only in the first year—after that it goes up again and again and again. So $400 million will have to be added to the national building program if it is just going to deliver what the government originally said. There are no proposals to increase Roads to Recovery money—so important for local government to be able to build their roads—so they will just build fewer roads.

I notice that the member for Lyne is here. He is a very keen supporter of the Pacific Highway. As a result of the tax that he is supporting, the government will have to find hundreds of millions of dollars extra to be able to build the Pacific Highway because of the extra cost of building roads in Australia. There is no proposal by the government to provide additional road funding. There are no proposals to provide additional local government grants. There are no proposals to increase Roads to Recovery funding. That means fewer roads and less infrastructure. And, of course, if you drive on a better road up the Pacific Highway, one of the benefits is that you emit less CO2. If the government are really serious about reducing carbon emissions, why do they put these penalties on road building and make it so expensive for councils to be able to deliver their services?

There is no doubt that this government has been a convoy of incompetence ever since it was elected. There has just been one thing after the other—the refugee policy, the pink batts mess, the incompetence in dealing with live cattle, the incompetence over renewable energy and the incompetence of school halls. The incompetence just goes on and on. This convoy of incompetence deserves to be brought to account.

People have come from across the nation to deliver the message. If the government was not satisfied with the numbers who were driving around Parliament House that day, maybe it could look back a week to when there were 5,000 people assembled on the lawns with exactly the same message. They may not have travelled as far, but their message was just as strong and just as powerful.

In addition to the government promising that there would be no carbon tax while they were in government, they said that they would not introduce a carbon tax unless there was a consensus of the Australian people. I have been watching the crowds on the lawns of Parliament House, I have been listening to the media coverage and I have been reading the letters that I receive from my constituents, and I have to say that there is a consensus in Australia, and the consensus is that we do not want a carbon tax. The people do not want it. And no convoy of incompetence, no closing down of question time, no avoidance of the issue and no unwillingness to speak to people on the laws will get away from that fact. The people do not want the carbon tax. It will not be good for Australia. It will hurt Australian jobs. It will make sure that the economic prosperity of this country stalls. That is not a price that Australian people are prepared to pay.

2:58 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

That was a struggle if ever I have heard one, from the bumbling Leader of the National Party, who claims credit and representation in terms of regional Australia. They have not asked a question on the subject in this parliament, and when they were in government they said there was no constitutional role for the Commonwealth when it comes to regional development. If the National Party do not stand for regional development, what do they stand for? They are a disgrace, and yet we have got this MPI led by the faltering leader who now looks after that once proud party. But it is a rump, because it is a branch office of the Liberal Party. Let me just deal with the issue we are debating here today. We are not just debating the question of the price of carbon and the impact that is having on the Australian economy. What we should be debating is that we are an economy in transition and we are being confronted by many challenges. Putting a price on carbon is one of the solutions to facing up to those challenges, but there are many challenges, including the high Australian dollar, the fluctuating commodity prices and the devastation wrought by the floods. This is what economies have to face up to. That is what leadership is about, and you can either treat those challenges as opportunities or treat them as threats. We on this side of the House see the opportunities; on that side of the House they only see them as threats. They go around preaching gloom and doom; they go around with a fear campaign. They have never come forward with a constructive thought in their life.

This is not the first time we have had to face up to challenges. The last time we did, it was also a Labor government that rose to the charge—a Labor government that understood in the eighties that what was needed for this economy to come through was to embrace an economy that needed to restructure itself, an economy that needed to open itself up to the rest of the world and an economy that recognised that it is such a small market that you simply cannot produce for your own market. We had to engage the world, and to do that we had to become competitive. That is why we floated the dollar, that is why we cut tariffs, that is why we opened up to foreign bank entry and that is why we undertook the hard decisions. And what did that achieve, because we were prepared to face up to the hard decisions? It achieved the circumstances—

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr Laming interjecting

Mr Speaker, if you are prepared to bring them to order—

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Kooyong and the member for Bowman!

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

What it achieved was that Australia was the only developed economy in the world to have avoided the recession. We did it because we faced up to the hard challenges then and we are facing up to the hard challenges now.

On the question of carbon pricing, I had the opportunity over the course of the break that we have just come back from to visit much of regional Australia. On the question of carbon pricing, I conducted forums in at least 10 communities and invited the stakeholders—

An honourable member: And they loved it!

They did love it because they had a government that was prepared to engage them. These were local governments, these were regional development bodies and these were community action groups that knew they had to face up to this challenge. The common theme for all of these regional development forums was that they knew they had to face up to two fundamental challenges. The first was the recognition that they had to diversify their economic base. They looked around and saw the regions which had diversified their economic base and they were the ones that were succeeding. The ones that had the narrow base, the ones that were reliant on one industry alone, were the vulnerable ones. Think about Cairns, built around tourism. The dollar is hurting them, just as much as it is hurting manufacturers. But look at Townsville, just down the track, which has a diversified economic base, and it is not suffering the same level of high unemployment. That is the difference: economies that have embraced economic diversification. The second key ingredient that all these communities were embracing was the need to face up to a cleaner energy future. They express it in different ways: they want a cleaner environment in which their kids and grandchildren can grow up and they want to leave a legacy for them in the future; they want liveability; and they see opportunities—opportunities in green jobs and opportunities in terms of renewable energy options—and they were embracing them.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

You cut 11 million bucks out of Landcare!

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

As to the member who interjects, the member for Gippsland, I attended his electorate and the forum there had a raft of initiatives that his community has embraced. Monash University, through ClimateWorks, is working on a low-carbon action plan. Six Gippsland local government authorities are working on projects focused on promoting energy efficiency. The Gippsland Trades and Labour Council and the Gippsland TAFE are looking at identifying skills needs in terms of the clean energy future. Also, the RMIT and Monash University are working on regional partners to establish a set of sustainable technologies.

Mr Chester interjecting

The member for Gippsland interjects. If he wants to ridicule what his local community leadership stands for, let him get up and honestly state that in this House.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will resume his seat. Does the member for Gippsland have a point of order?

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

No. Will the minister take a question?

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No. There is no point of order. The member for Gippsland will resume his seat or I will deal with him. The minister has the call.

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

Not only is the member for Gippsland out of touch with his own community but he does not have a clue about parliamentary procedures. Why doesn't he go off to a training program, actually learn something and engage with his community?

I was also in Whyalla. I mention Whyalla because the Leader of the Opposition went there to give them the rosy news that they were going to be wiped off the face of the earth when the climate change package came in, and yet when we went there we were shown opportunities in terms of solar, rare earths and a green-grid strategy in which they were committed to finding an additional 1,300 jobs if those projects come off. That is hardly wiping them off the map; that is expanding their economic footprint on the map.

As far as the Leader of the Opposition is concerned—talking about local government having their prices and things put up—I also went to Wagga during the break and announced an initiative with the Wagga council where, in conjunction with the Low Carbon Australia initiative, they were funding, with up-front, low-interest loans, initiatives to lower the energy footprint of the council. That is a council that sees the need to keep the energy costs down because, if they do not, it will transfer into higher rate bases. They are working with initiatives that the government is funding to help them lower that footprint. They know it, they get it and they are doing it. The only people who do not get it in this chamber are those who sit opposite. When it comes to the carbon pricing initiative we have got bipartisan support in this chamber for what we are trying to achieve. You would not believe it from the misrepresentations, untruths and fear that get spouted from the other side, but both major political parties have a commitment to lowering greenhouse emissions by five per cent by the year 2020. In other words, we agree on the what. The difference is we disagree on the how. The proposal that has been put forward from the other side has been ridiculed by any objective observer that you ask because it is costly, because it does not work and because it actually puts a huge cost on households. In fact, as the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency indicated the other day, it is a cost per household of $1,300 a year. Yet they are talking to us about cost-of-living pressures.

Before the last election the member for Goldstein was saying that the opposition's proposal, which it does not even talk about these days, would take Hazelwood in Victoria out of the equation. However, when the Leader of the Opposition went down there and confronted the Latrobe Valley workers he said, 'Oh no, we're not closing Hazelwood.' So how are they going to implement the policy that they turn against as soon as they come to another audience? The Leader of the Opposition is the chameleon of Australian politics. With every audience he speaks to he changes his spots and he changes his language. He says what he thinks they want to hear but none of it is consistent. He is caught out on climate change wherever he goes.

We are committed to achieving that five per cent reduction and we have the package of measures that will help us do it. That is why all of those community forums I have talked about have engaged in the discussion, because they have wanted to hear the package of measures that we have available to help them do it. This is also an interesting contrast because when the former Kennett government in Victoria privatised the Victorian electricity industry it had no assistance package to help people make the transition. The Liberal Party does not believe in assistance packages. It is even worse, because the other day when the current Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, put out that shonky report to show that our package would cost jobs, when in fact the analysis even indicated there would be an increase in jobs, he ignored the assistance package that we had put in place. The Liberal Party does not believe in assistance packages and when we announce ours it wants to ignore it. What sort of honesty is that, Mr Speaker? What sort of commitment to leadership is it that they would have you believe that they could give? What sort of leadership is it where, in the face of all these massive challenges to us as an economy in transition, having to make the structural changes and face up to the important challenges, its view is that you do it on your own. That is not the Labor view, Mr Speaker, and it never has been. Our view is that we are better off understanding the challenges ahead of us and seeing them as opportunities but developing the assistance packages that are going to help us get there.

One of the other important things that comes from this package—and I would have thought this was important to the National Party because it affects farmers—is that farmers can be the big winners out of this climate change package because the tax does not apply to them in the first place. In other words, they do not pay it. The second thing is that they get the benefit in two ways. They get the benefit because we have significant assistance for them on carbon farming, which is not replacing other farm activities but enhancing them. In its simplest form—and I saw this down at Mount Gambier when I was there a couple of weeks ago—it is biological farming to enrich light, sandy soil by trapping the carbon in the soil. This makes that soil more resilient, particularly in drought. It retains water better and it holds more nutrients. In other words, it lifts the productivity of the industry base that is agriculture. And if that can be measured, and we believe it can, they can also trade it. That is what a market is.

The greatest irony in this debate is that when it comes to creative solutions to the challenge of climate change it is the Labor Party that is advocating the market and it is the Liberal Party that is advocating direct intervention. Robert Menzies would be turning in his grave today if he were listening to this rabble advocating its approach. The market works because the market rewards better behaviour. It rewards cleaner energy options. It rewards cleaner fuels over dirtier fuels. This is where Australia can play at its strengths, but it will not realise those strengths unless it has a market that reflects those comparisons. It is for that reason that Australia has to take an important lead in influencing the shape of that market, a market that reflects good behaviour, smarter practices in agriculture and cleaner energy options over dirtier energy options. That is how we should be doing this.

When I was Minister for Trade those who sat on the other side were always saying, 'Do your best, Minister, in terms of opening the markets.' Here we have the opportunity to have an influence in the newest market of the lot and they are saying: 'Ignore it. We don't want more markets. We don't want open markets. We want to turn on our own traditions because we want to run a grubby, negative fear campaign. We haven't got any ideas. Our way back to office is to run the fear campaign, play to all the people's worst prejudices, play to their fears, and rather than give hope and opportunity, give them fear.' We are the party of opportunity and we will succeed.

3:14 pm

Photo of Ian MacfarlaneIan Macfarlane (Groom, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to speak on the matter of public importance about the impact of the carbon tax on governments. At least the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government speaks with passion and belief even though much of what he says is complete rubbish. In terms of an audition speech for the leadership, mate, I am worried the odds are slipping away. I hear the Minister for Defence's name coming up more often than yours and I want to put money on you because I have already seen what you can do when you are leader.

The minister for local government said Australia is facing many challenges, and it is. Then he said the solution is a new tax: a carbon tax.

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I didn't. I said the market.

Photo of Ian MacfarlaneIan Macfarlane (Groom, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

What he said was that the solution is a new tax. If the solution is a new tax, I want to see the question, because I cannot believe that someone of his experience would think that when you have an economy under pressure and a global economy going backwards the solution is to slap a tax on your industries—

Mr Crean interjecting

The GST reduced taxes. He reminds me with that interjection—which I gratefully accept—of his accusation of scare campaigns. I remember the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government standing here with a pair of children's pyjamas. He would stoop to whatever level necessary to try to scare the pants off children. He could not help himself!

Mr Crean interjecting

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister will resume his seat unless he has a point of order. There is no point of order. The member for Groom has the call.

Photo of Ian MacfarlaneIan Macfarlane (Groom, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we need to be tough on frivolous points of order and eject the member from the House!

The most insidious aspect of the Gillard government's carbon tax is that there is no sector of our economy and no corner of the Australian community that will be exempt from its reach. The minister for local government is simply wrong when he says farmers will not pay the carbon tax. He knows I was a farmer. He knows that farmers will pay the knock-on effect of this tax on every consumer item they buy on their farm, including the costs in bringing their inputs to that farm through transport.

The carbon tax is designed, quite simply, to make everything more expensive. That is the way it works. It is designed to make sure that it is impossible to escape. It puts up the cost of consumables to the community because it has at its heart a belief that if you increase the costs then people will use less and, therefore, emit less. Those on that side cannot deny that. Key to the increasing costs is the increase in the price of electricity. The price of electricity will go up to households, businesses, local governments, state governments and even the federal government in running this building. It is simply impossible to escape any of these increases in cost.

The minister for local government suggests that local governments are not already doing everything they can to lower their power bills. We know that that statement is incorrect. We know that local governments are already, because of the substantial increases in the price of electricity over recent times—since 2007, electricity prices have gone up by 50 per cent—doing everything they can to be more efficient, like installing more efficient street lighting. But the savings of all those efficiencies will be lost as the price of electricity to local government goes up. So we will see higher water rates, higher sewer rates, higher costs in maintaining roads within the local government areas. This is a tax that will affect local government and, in doing that, will affect the ratepayers of that local government authority.

This is a government addicted to new taxes. We have seen a flood levy, a mining tax, a $2.5 billion tax on condensate in the North West Shelf and, just recently, a tax on those people who have taken the responsible step of converting their vehicles to LPG. Those quarter-million families who used a government incentive—a subsidy—to convert their vehicles to LPG have now been caught in the ultimate honey trap. The government opposite encouraged those families to convert to LPG on the basis that there was no excise. Once they converted their cars, the government brought in a new tax. Those people will not only pay higher prices for LPG but will also see the price of electricity at their homes go up 20 per cent.

The transport industry—after the next election, we understand from what the Prime Minister has said—will see a 6.5c rise in the cost of fuel. That rise has already been targeted to hit the resource industry as soon as the tax comes in, but the transport industry will see a 6.5c rise in their fuel costs. That again will pass on to local government. Local government run their own trucks. They run their own machinery as they repair roads in their authorities. As I said at the outset, this tax will reach into every corner of our community, and local government will pass those costs back on to the household. It is all going to end up in one place: families facing higher and higher cost-of-living pressures.

I heard the member for Wide Bay and Leader of the Nationals talk about the impact in terms of the disposal of rubbish at municipal dumps. I had the opportunity when I was up at Maitland a few weeks ago to meet with the local mayor, who said this was going to cost ratepayers around Australia over $200 million just in disposing of their rubbish. In the municipality that I was in, that equated to about $35 a household. That is on top of higher electricity prices, higher water prices and the increases that we are going to see right across the board because this tax reaches into every household. It will affect not only electricity and gas prices but grocery prices and all cost-of-living pressures that are put on a family. And why? Because the Prime Minister broke her promise.

'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' She said so brazenly, as did the Deputy Prime Minister, in the lead-up to the last election because they knew that if they were honest with the community and said, 'We're going to introduce a carbon tax,' they would not have been elected, because the community knows the impact of this tax is higher costs on the community, higher costs on their families and less money to spend on their children. This is a bad tax and it will not achieve any sort of outcome. For state governments the hit will be just as substantial. The New South Wales government will have a substantial hit on the value of its power stations, already estimated at $5 billion in write-down on those values. The Queensland Labor government—and I would not trust their figures as far as I could kick them—are estimating the loss there will be $1.7 billion, but in reality it is probably double that. On top of that, the Queensland Treasury modelling shows that the state's gross product will be down by about 3½ per cent as a result of this carbon tax in the ensuing years to 2049-50. This is a hit on the bottom line of economic growth and the state governments will feel it. A study by Deloittes shows that a carbon tax of $33 a tonne will drop economic growth by 4.11 per cent over the same period.

This is a bad tax. This is a tax which will achieve nothing. This is a tax that will not cause the conversion of coal fired power stations to gas fired power stations. This is an attack on the living standards of everyday Australians and everyday families. That is why the opposition is opposed to this tax. That is why the people of Australia are opposed to this tax. That is why thousands of people have been massing in front of this parliament. They now feel that the only way they can be heard by this government is to come down and confront it. So out of touch are the people on that side of the House that men and women of Australia feel they have to come down here to ensure that this government gets its message that they do not want their everyday activities costing more as a result of this tax.

3:24 pm

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance on carbon tax—and it certainly is important—but let us not fool ourselves that the issue being debated here today by the opposition has anything to do with their concern for state or local government or for regional communities like the one I represent. Instead, it is just a smokescreen for the opposition's continued denial of the basic facts of climate change and their lack of ideas to guarantee prosperity for the future of regional electorates like mine in Newcastle. The most basic difference in this debate is that, unfortunately, the Abbott led coalition are still in a state of denial. They behave like the dinosaurs of the past and would condemn us to a very uncertain future.

In contrast, that is not what we are doing. We do not think, like the member for Warringah does, that climate change is 'absolute crap'. We are not, as he has said, 'hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change'. We know it is real. We believe the science. We respect the science. I am very pleased the member for Wentworth has come out in defence of science too. We are a great country, a country of great knowledge, great ability and great capacity. We should never talk that down or take it for granted.

We will introduce a plan for the future. We will introduce a clean energy future for this nation—a package that will be introduced in the Labor way, in a way that creates opportunity, takes on the challenges of hard reform, taxes major polluters and not ordinary people, assists households and the most vulnerable in our communities, and sustains employment and jobs. We are proud of our record on sustaining employment and jobs. It will also position our economy, in international and global challenges, in a way that will bring prosperity.

It is something that Labor does and does proudly. I cannot believe the opposition's mantra of 'the sky is falling' and doom and ruin. It is reckless and undermines economic confidence of the people we represent—and it is deliberate. Our price on carbon is modest; $23 per tonne, and gives three-year certainty for industry, which is exceedingly important.

The Abbott led coalition and their recently elected friends in New South Wales and Victoria, on the other hand, continue to expose the Australian people to the most scurrilous, deceitful and ludicrous scare campaign in recent political memory. They claim a carbon price will damage state governments and destroy jobs in my state of New South Wales. These claims are not only reckless but also irresponsible. They are untrue.

In late May Premier O'Farrell peddled out some core modelling to claim that 18,000 jobs would be lost under a carbon price in New South Wales. To once again paraphrase Mr Abbott, this claim was absolute crap. To make this claim, Premier O'Farrell relied on a discredited and outdated piece of research by the Liberal Party's favourite consultant, Frontier Economics. The costings and assumptions underlying that particular piece of research have been disputed. He talked about so-called job losses when in fact all available evidence demonstrates that jobs growth will continue in New South Wales under a carbon price. For example, reputable modelling by the federal Treasury shows that coalmining in New South Wales is projected to grow by 118 per cent to 2050.

Let me tell you about that because I represent the city that has the biggest export port of coal by volume in Australia. We currently export 100 million tonnes of coal to the world. It is projected that in the next 10 years we will increase that to 200 million tonnes per annum and then to 300 million tonnes per annum. There is no lack of investment or confidence in my electorate for the coal industry. This discussion and debate on carbon and a lower carbon energy future has not dissuaded or deterred investment. Two hundred thousand new jobs in the mining boom are projected over the next two years.

The federal Treasury also projects that the economy of New South Wales will grow strongly under a carbon price—growing by 27 per cent to 2020 and by 164 per cent to 2050. The simple reality is that all credible evidence and modelling suggests that the state of New South Wales and the Hunter region would be better off under Labor's Clean Energy Future package. We have learnt very quickly, though, in the five months since the New South Wales Liberal government was elected that they have no credibility when it comes to dealing with the facts or exercising responsible leadership. This is the very same state government which, just two weeks ago, took more than 56 hours to inform residents in my electorate that 10 kilograms of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium had been leaked over their homes. This is the government that is quick to trumpet exaggerated figures about fictitious job losses but utterly negligent in its responsibility to warn citizens about a very real and very carcinogenic chemical cloud affecting the neighbourhood.

So I think the coalition's hyperbole falls particularly short. Our Clean Energy Future package also applies very responsibly to the region I represent. We have been watching the steel industry struggling with some of the economic pressures of the high Australian dollar and low international demand, and I hear nothing from the other side of the chamber about supporting that industry. Yet our $330 million steel package, which is already projected to support BlueScope Steel, sits there on the table.

The package has been well received by people like Geoff Plummer, the national general manager of OneSteel. He said:

We believe that on balance, the sectoral approach announced today by the Prime Minister for the steel industry, including the introduction of the STP is both appropriate and sensible. We are pleased that the Government has responded by adopting this approach.

The member for Groom just spoke. He comes to Newcastle quite a lot and always comments on how wonderfully well we are doing. The growth of our economy has been outstanding. But you come to Newcastle and tell steelworkers that they will not get any assistance, or come and tell our coal industry that they will not get assistance from the coalition! I do not see that happening, because the people who sit on the opposite side of the chamber just want a fear campaign; they do not want facts and figures. And they certainly do not understand about sustaining economic growth and jobs.

This motion suggests that local government will be doomed. I think it was 20 years ago when Newcastle City Council hosted the first Pathways to Sustainability conference. We have now rolled out programs across the whole country on energy conservation, preserving water and making that transition to a clean energy future. We have been doing it for over 20 years through a program called Together Today, with every school and industry in my electorate working together for a clean energy future without having to wait for government.

Similarly, I think people know how hard we have worked in my region to create a clean energy future through the federal government's investment in the Australian Solar Institute, which is headquartered in Newcastle; the national Enterprise Connect Clean Energy Innovation Centre headquartered in Newcastle; the Smart Grid, Smart City $100 million program based in Newcastle; and the new Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources at Newcastle University, which is doing the most wonderful work.

The package that the federal Labor government has put out will advance those cleaner technologies. It is finally the signal needed for investment. We have been waiting for the Finance Corporation component to progress to commercialisation of these technologies. China currently is investing one per cent of its GDP in renewable technologies. We want a part of that; we have to be a part of that. Our Clean Energy Future does not prejudice the prosperity of national, state and local governments—it builds it. It is a great policy and one that I am very proud of.

I also say to the opposition: let's look to some economic certainty in this country, let's look to some bipartisanship. I know that it is a lot to ask but that is what the people of Australia want. Let's be part of creating a prosperous future for them. Let's be part of taking on the challenges of sustaining employment in existing industry and in new industry. Let's be part of positioning this country as a leader, where it should be, in clean energy and jobs of the future. I would like to see less obfuscation, less recklessness and certainly less misleading information coming from the other side of this parliament.

I am pleased to follow Simon Crean, the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and the Arts, in this debate because his recent visit in my electorate was so well received because of his track record in Labor politics of job creation and protection. People came up to him with great affection. Steelworkers of the past, who know that in this challenge they can feel secure. (Time expired)

3:34 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to speak on today's MPI, which is about the impact of a carbon tax on state and local governments. I would like to pick up on some remarks that the member for Newcastle made in her contribution. She started off by saying that the opposition denies the basic facts of climate change. That is not what this debate is about. It is certainly not what rural and regional members and constituents of mine are about, member for Newcastle.

This is about considering the question: if you take action on climate change, what sort of action do you take? There has been so much talk from the government about transition and transformation in our patchwork economy. There has been so much jargon on this subject. Transitions are all very well. Of course we would support them if they were in the interests of the country and the interests of the planet, but they are not. We have to look at what this government is doing with its carbon tax and the effect that it has on the people that we represent here in this parliament.

Those effects are not good. The member for Newcastle spoke about the steel industry—and, coming from Newcastle, she should know the steel industry well—and said that the opposition has no plan to match the government's steel transformation plan. But the point is that if we did not have the government's carbon tax we would not have the need for the steel transformation plan. Admittedly, in one respect $100 million is good help for the steel industry, but it is coming from a carbon tax adjustment fund. By what convoluted logic can the government then say to us, 'You're not supporting the steel industry'? Of course we are supporting the steel industry. We do not want to see a situation where every piece of steel in Australia is manufactured overseas. I recently visited an engineering shop in my electorate of Farrer, in Corowa on the Murray River. They provided the bridgework for some magnificent steel bridges over the Yarra and won awards for it. I asked the proprietor, 'Do you think that in five years time the steel you use in your metal fabrication shop will come from Australia?' He said, 'Not a chance—not the way this government's heading with its carbon tax.' How ashamed we should feel to live in a country with the resources we have and to import often second-grade steel from China. How ridiculous that is.

We had the lecture from the member for Hotham about the opening up of the Australian economy, becoming competitive, floating the dollar, tariffs, and recognising our place in the integrated globalised modern world. Sure, we all know that stuff, Member for Hotham. But it is an insult to link the reforms that were made—some by Labor governments, some by Liberal governments—to this carbon tax and to try to suggest that this is part of that, that this is also one of those great reforms. The member for Hotham also said that economic diversification is the key to success. He has worked that out, because he has travelled around regional Australia. He has not been to my electorate, but he has been to the electorate of the member for Riverina and conducted one of his forums in Wagga and he appeared on an ABC TV program in my electorate. He has even been to some more remote parts of Australia. I recognise that he needs to do that. He has come back with the message that economic diversification is the key to success! So tell me why would we be attacking our manufacturing sector and shrinking the diversified base of our economy down to something that we will as members of communities struggle to deal with, particularly in regional areas? If economic diversification is the key to success, the next logical thought that the government should have is how we maintain, strengthen and sustain that economic diversification, and the last thing we should be doing is taxing it.

I started by talking about the need for action on global warming. It is something I support. I am on record as supporting it and I am proud to do so. I do not agree with all of my constituents. Sometimes I have very vigorous conversations with climate change sceptics and I say: 'You could be right, I could be right, but I am adopting the precautionary principle that we need to take action to prevent the warming of the planet. That is a good thing.' But if this government is serious about taking that action then what they should be doing is encouraging the rest of the world.

The foreign minister has been tripping through Africa and the Middle East. He has been doing good work there, I recognise that. He has made a fantastic number of visits to foreign countries, but where on his agenda has been the encouragement for the next global conference following Copenhagen? Does anybody even know where it will be? I probably should but I don't, because it is never mentioned. It is not mentioned by the government. If they want to see action on climate change that we can be a meaningful contributor to then they should be encouraging the next global conference on climate change, and the Foreign Minister should be using his good offices and his links with so many of his counterparts throughout the world to make that happen. But it is not even talked about. Everything has shrunk back to the Australian agenda. So somehow we can be this small, isolated piece of action on climate change at the end of the world. Does anybody think that the American government—America being the biggest emitter of carbon so-called pollution—is going to go to the next election with a policy of a price on carbon of $30 a tonne? Of course they are not. Does anybody think that we should be taking action without the most industrialised countries going forward at the same time with us? Of course they don't, if they think about it.

This tax has a terrible effect on state and local governments. I happened to bump into a councillor from the City of Shoalhaven in my office this morning. Shoalhaven is a beautiful part of the world and has 95,000 residents. I asked the councillor, 'What do you think the effect of a carbon tax will be on the people you represent?' He said, 'Well, our electricity bill is $400,000 a year." I said, 'Wow!' And he said, 'But that is just for running the street lights.' $400,000 to run the street lights for the City of Shoalhaven of 95,000 people is quite a lot of money and it will be quite a big impost if that goes up by what the estimates are, which is between 10 and 20 per cent—so let us say 15 per cent.

The other cost that he mentioned and other councils have mentioned to me is the cost of landfill. Unfortunately, landfill is one of the top 500 polluters being attacked by this government. Not everything makes sense in this area. When it comes to landfill everything that you have dumped in the ground for years is taxable all of a sudden to your local council. They have to make calculations and you would assume they would pass on those costs to their ratepayers, except in New South Wales, where they face rate caps and cannot pass on the costs to ratepayers. Where will they go? Reduce services, reduce staff, shed more jobs.

You think of the services local governments provide. We drive through towns in the middle of the drought and everybody who comes into a small local town often sees it as an oasis of green, calm and tranquillity. The worst thing that happened is that you could not water the lawn. You think of the energy that will go into pumping water to water the green spaces in our towns and our cities. That is extremely energy intensive. You think of the cost of electricity on every single council provided service, whether it is the public library, the maternal and child healthcare service or the council offices themselves and it is a relentless, impossible burden that is facing local government. And it is one which the minister for local government, who has spoken in this debate, should really be ashamed of. This tax will hit regional Australia harder than any other area. We know as members of this side of the House because we come from regional Australia, we go home to regional Australia and we feel the pain of regional Australia.

Much has been made of the state governments' reports and investigations into the cost on states of a carbon tax. They have been ridiculed by members of the government. In all my experience of watching state premiers in their dealings with Canberra, if they do not agree with Canberra they say so, and if they do agree with Canberra they say so. So when you have the Premiers of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland stand up and show results that say there will be increasing cost burdens on their states with this carbon tax and what is the government going to do about it—job losses: 24,000 in Victoria and 31,000 in New South Wales. They are easy numbers to say but we know the pain of every single job loss when we see it in our own community. Those are very big numbers. State governments, of course, are going to be hit incredibly hard by this carbon tax and those premiers should be saying to Julia Gillard: 'Sort this out. Do something different.'

Our own fabulous Parliamentary Library has produced some information that suggests that the price on carbon that would have to be put that would make the difference that that government says will be made is a price that is well above what we are actually seeing. Which means that, in spite of all this pain, it is still a fraud on the Australian people and it is not going to achieve the things that they have said that it will. (Time expired)

3:44 pm

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I very much regret that the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has not been here to hear the member for Farrer completing what can only be described as a scandalous and scurrilous serial scare campaign run by the opposition in relation to our putting a price on carbon. Putting a price on carbon is in the interests of our country and the future of our children. Yet the opposition maintain this massive fear campaign, because that is the only campaign they know. If the member for Hotham were still here he would describe the contributions by the members for Wide Bay, Groom and Farrer as a national disgrace. It is just a complete fear campaign. Later in my contribution I will pick up on the comments that have just been made by the member for Farrer in relation to statements by Victorian Premier Baillieu and New South Wales Premier O'Farrell, because they, too, are monumentally dishonest and maintaining that scurrilous scare campaign in the states.

The time has never been better for us to transition from an Industrial Revolution economy to a new, green economy. Australia is very, very well placed to do so. We are an island continent. We have unlimited access to solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power.

On the subject of solar power, I want to put the Howard government in the frame, because I knew well Dr David Mills, who ran the solar energy project in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, some years ago when he was looking for support from the Howard government in relation to his establishment of solar collectors adjacent to the Liddell power station in the Hunter Valley, with a view to providing solar power to that coal-fired power station. He came to Canberra to look for support from the Howard government. And what did he get? Absolutely no support—and it was a national disgrace when we lost Dr Mills, and $40 million in potential export revenue, to California.

In the area of wind power, we do not have to travel very far outside the national capital to reach Lake George and have a look at the wind turbines that have been established there. That is a very important step that the local community is taking to make a contribution to moving to a greener, healthier, cleaner economy.

I also remember some years ago travelling to New York and meeting Mr Trey Taylor of Verdant Power, who was running a very interesting clean-energy project on the East River. Mr Taylor and his company had something like half-a-dozen wind turbines submerged about a third of the depth of the water in the East River immediately adjacent to the United Nations building. He has demonstrated at this stage that the energy from tidal power—which, as you all know, is constant, unlike solar power and wind power, which at times can be inconstant though still there—generated by the tide running through the East River and powering those bidirectional turbines produces enough supply to power a six-storey car park and a delicatessen. It just shows you what a bit of creativity can do, and Australia is well placed in that area. We also have unlimited access in Australia to geothermal power. As I say, the time has never been more right for us to move to a cleaner, greener economy and get out of the dirty, carbon-polluting economy that we have had for so long in our country.

I would like to just trace some of the history of our first-term government, the Rudd-Gillard government, in relation to our engagement with the regions that the member for Hotham alluded to in his contribution to this very important debate. We established a whole new structure to get the best possible strategic advice and to strengthen our engagement on the ground. We set up a dedicated department. We also revitalised and strengthened the nation's network of 55 regional development committees, and we not only provided $4.3 billion for regional health, hospitals, education, infrastructure and skills development programs but also put in place the programs and mechanisms that would enable local communities to find local solutions to local issues. By encouraging the regions to come up with creative solutions we get a better targeted and more efficient result on the ground, and that is good for those communities and good for our nation.

This is not the first time we have gone through a transition like this. The reforms of the eighties and nineties, in the days of Keating and Hawke, meant that Australia was fundamentally positioned as a more competitive and productive nation, and one which was starting to seriously engage with Asia. That foresight, in the face of all the challenges those reforms confronted, positioned Australia as the only developed economy in the world to have avoided the global recession. Often it was the regions that responded best to these challenges and learnt to diversify their economic base. Regions have not asked the government why they need to cut emissions; they have asked how they can do it. Our regions are already moving to a more sustainable future and have been doing so for some time, long before we announced the carbon price. I noticed the member for Farrer alluding to comments by the Premier of Victoria and also the Premier of New South Wales. They too have been making very baseless and dishonest claims in relation to the carbon pollution tax that we want to introduce because we know that it will change the behaviour of the world's worst emitters, particularly in our own country. I just want to remind the House that, in 2009, then opposition leader and now Premier, Mr Baillieu, said:

Carbon transition is one of the biggest issues that will face Victorian businesses and families over coming years, but I have no doubt that we will in a few years be living in a carbon-managed economy. We will have reduced our personal and industrial carbon footprints. I also have no doubt that in the very same way we have adapted to significant structural and legislative change in the past, there will come a time when it will simply be the norm. As I said previously, it will not be scary or a threat but just the way it is done.

The Victorian government's modelling does not include the key assistance measures we have put in place. We stand by the comprehensive independent modelling by federal Treasury. It projects the economy of Victoria will grow by 30 per cent by 2020 and by 162 per cent by 2050 with a carbon price in place. Apart from 1.6 million new jobs nationwide by 2020, it also shows Victoria will maintain strong growth under a carbon price, with the agricultural, construction and service industries growing by 120 per cent,170 per cent and 246 per cent respectively to 2050.

New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has also exaggerated the impact the carbon tax will have on New South Wales. Claims by Mr O'Farrell that thousands of jobs would be lost across the Hunter and Illawarra regions due to the introduction of a carbon price are causing unnecessary and unjustified concerns about job security and future growth. Not only did Mr O'Farrell use dodgy numbers; he also failed to release information that shows that New South Wales in fact benefits from a carbon price.

Mr Husic interjecting

Federal Treasury modelling shows employment will grow, with an extra 1.6 million jobs being created nationwide by 2020 under a carbon price. I appreciate the interjection by the member for Chifley, because he knows exactly what I am talking about—unlike Mr O'Farrell. Industries like coalmining and aluminium manufacturing, which are vital to the New South Wales economy and to regions like the Hunter and Illawarra, will continue to grow under a carbon price. The fact is that New South Wales will benefit from our move to a clean energy future, as will the whole of Australia. This opposition stands and sits condemned for its opposition to our carbon pollution tax. (Time expired)

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The discussion is now concluded.