Thursday, 13 October 2011
Matters of Public Importance
I have received letters from the honourable member for Menzies and the honourable member for Fraser proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by standing order 46(d), I have selected the matter which, in my opinion, is the most urgent and important; that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Menzies, namely:
The failure of the government to understand the impact of the carbon tax on Australian families.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Yesterday was a day on which the government of Australia betrayed the families of this country, and this week is a week in which the government of this country has severed the bonds of trust between it and the families of Australia. Indeed, this session of parliament is a session in which Australians have finally had revealed to them what a cowardly and dishonest government they have here in Canberra. Yesterday, this Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, at the behest of the Greens, revealed that she is more interested in her job as Prime Minister of Australia than in the jobs of ordinary Australians. Yesterday, it was revealed to everybody in this country that we have a government that is so out of touch that it came in here and applauded and congratulated itself for a measure that will increase the cost of living for every Australian, will bite and hit every business in this country and will destroy jobs for so many people right around this nation.
There are three enduring images of this government that history will mark. The first was of a Prime Minister who went on television a few days before the last election and said, as we all know—
Opposition members: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.'
'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' That is the first enduring image of this Prime Minister. The second one is of course the political marriage of convenience that we saw consummated in the signing ceremony and the smiling photograph of the Prime Minister, Senator Bob Brown and the other Greens after the election, after she did a deal, becoming beholden to the Greens, in order to retain the keys to the Lodge. That is the second enduring image of this government. The third image was of course played out yesterday: the arrogance and hubris of this government when those on that side stood up and applauded themselves and kissed each other and patted each other on the back for implementing a measure which is going to hit the livelihood of every person in this country.
What we have seen this week is 72 members of this minority government betray Australian families, and I tell you what: we will remind the constituents of each of those 72 members from this day until whenever the next election is called that those members betrayed the interests of ordinary Australian families simply in order to preserve their own interests and preserve their positions on the treasury benches in this chamber, remaining beholden to Bob Brown and the Greens in this place. Then, to add insult to injury, we had that clapping and cheering carry-on from them yesterday—even the Judas kiss from the foreign minister to the Prime Minister. I will wait and see how that plays out in coming days!
I am not sure whether or not there were 30 pieces of silver, but it certainly brought up images of another occasion on which a famous kiss was given.
We know that the Greens are not interested in ordinary Australian families. If you look at the whole range of measures that they put up to this parliament, you can see they are contrary, they are antithetical, to the interests of Australian families. Protecting the environment comes before protecting Australian families, as far as the Greens are concerned. The tragedy for Australians is that we have these measures because we have a minority government which is totally beholden to Bob Brown and the rest of the Greens. Was this something that was being proposed by the government prior to the last election?
Opposition members: No!
No. It was ruled out. Then, after the election, in order to retain government, the Prime Minister signed up to this deal with Senator Bob Brown.
This carbon tax is going to hurt Australian families; there is no doubt about that. I would just like to take the chamber through some instances of real people in this country who are going to be hurt by this measure. Now, these are not my constructions; I did not create these scenarios. These are taken from the government's own material. This is what the government is saying about the effect and impact of this particular tax. These are real people, like Melbourne couple Kirsten and Julian Finger. Kirsten is a qualified paramedic and Julian is a registered nurse. They have one child who is under four years of age and they are expecting a second child. They are a pretty typical Australian family, with two people in the workforce and two kids—one under four, one on the way. We are talking about ordinary Australian families that could be in any of our electorates right around this country. And what is the impact on them? They will be approximately $200 a year worse off under the government's carbon tax, based on the government's own online carbon tax estimator. If we go to the online estimator which the government has put up on the web and put in these figures, what do we find? After all the compensation that the government talks about, this ordinary, typical Australian couple are going to be $200 a year worse off.
Let me take another example, that of a police sergeant earning $80,000 a year, married to a clinic nurse earning about $80,000 a year, with two children, one five and the other six years of age—again, what I would call a relatively typical Australian family: two parents, two incomes and two kids, who in this case are in primary school. They will face a cost-of-living impact of $859 a year but receive compensation of only $31. That is $859 worth of additional costs offset by what? A measly $31. The family will be $828 worse off because of this government's tax. Let me take a third example, that of a storeman earning $38,500 a year who is married to a part-time retail assistant earning $16,500 a year and this couple has no children. The storeman's wage is not huge by any stretch of the imagination and nor is that of the part-time retail assistant by the measure of incomes in Australia; a lot of Australians are in this situation but they are hardly wealthy. This couple will have a cost-of-living increase of $440 a year, according to the government's own calculations. What compensation will they receive? They will get just $303 in compensation. Again, this is a relatively low-income working couple who are going to be $137 a year worse off under this government's carbon tax.
Yet we have the Prime Minister day after day when asked about the impact on these sorts of Australian families just laughing it off—giggling it off is perhaps a better description. She says: 'Don't worry about that; people are going to be better off.' The reality is in the government's own calculations. Do not trust my word for it; go to the website this government has put in place and do the calculations. You will find that, in situations like these, people are going to be worse off.
Take the situation of a single mother with two children aged three and 12 and who is working as a nurse earning about $80,000 a year. She will face a cost-of-living increase of $514 a year and yet the compensation she will receive is only $445 a year. She is going to be $69 a year worse off under the carbon tax. We have the government pretending all Australians are somehow going to be better off because of these changes. The reality is, as these examples illustrate, tens of thousands of Australians are going to be worse off because of this taxation proposals.
Let us consider an electrician earning $75,000 a year who is married to a stay-at-home mum and they have one child under five years of age. Again, this is a typical family constellation in Australia. They will face an increase of $491 a year, but they will only get compensation of $409 a year. This family with one person in the workforce and mum at home with a kid is going to be $82 worse off as a result of these proposals.
It is not just families who are affected. Consider an occupational therapist earning $80,000 a year who is single and without children. This person will face a cost-of-living increase of $441 a year, but receive just $16 by way of compensation.
That's right, an insult. That person will be $425 a year worse off as a result of this government's great big new carbon tax. We know that 52 per cent of households in Western Australia, for example, will be worse off under this carbon tax.
This is coming at the worst time of all so far as Australian families are concerned. We know that no other country in the world is doing this. We are racing ahead of the rest of the world to the great competitive disadvantage of Australia. It is coming at a time when Australians are already facing increased cost-of-living pressures so far as their lifestyles are concerned. From the December quarter of 2007, when the Labor Party was elected to government in Australia, until the March quarter of this year—so measuring their term in office—what has happened so far as the cost of living is concerned? Electricity prices have gone up by a whopping 51 per cent on average across Australia. Gas prices have increased by an average 30 per cent. Water and sewerage rates have increased by an average 46 per cent. Health costs—that is, things like hospital, optical, dental, pharmaceutical costs—have gone up by an average 20 per cent across Australia. Education costs, school fees and other incidentals related to education and schooling, have increased on average by 24 per cent since 2007.
Interest rates have increased seven times since September 2009, increasing repayments on the average mortgage by over $500 a month in a little under 18 months. On top of these, we know that the costs of all sorts of other things have gone up. The price of bread—one of the staples of life for any family or any individual, for that matter—is up by 11 per cent. The cost of food overall is up by 13 per cent. The cost of fruit has gone up by 28 per cent. The amount of rent that people are now paying has increased by 20 per cent.
I cannot think of a worse time to introduce a carbon tax in terms of the impact that it is going to have on the cost of living of Australians and their job prospects and the job prospects of their children. That is the great tragedy of it. We have an out-of-touch government hell-bent on simply continuing the deal it has done with Bob Brown and the Greens. That is going to lead to ruination of not just this country but the standards of living of so many Australian families.
Let me remind you what a carbon tax means. It means a $9 billion a year tax. It means a 10 per cent hike in electricity prices in the first year alone. It means a nine per cent increase in gas bills in the first year alone. You will see higher marginal tax rates for many low- and middle-income earners. Of course, there is a $4.3 billion hit on the budget bottom line which will see every Australian slugged over $40,000 over the coming decades. That is the equivalent of a whole year's work for many Australians who are going to be paying year after year after year for Labor's broken promise. On top of that we have a $515 a year hit on the cost of living and that is just for starters under this great big new tax which is being introduced by the Labor Party.
What we have is a Prime Minister who has lost the trust of the families of Australia. There is one thing that a government cannot lose. It can lose all sorts of things and it can be unpopular for a time, but when the bond of trust between the people of the nation and the Prime Minister, in particular, and the government is destroyed then it will not be regained. That is why people have given up listening to this Prime Minister. That is why when you go around the electorates of this nation, people explain their great frustration about what is going on in this place at the present time. Promising commitments with no intention of honouring them is the greatest measure of all of distrust and that is what we have seen from this Prime Minister. Of course, now we have the foreign minister stalking, the backbench in disarray, the government in denial and this leaves the country without any real leadership for the future at a time when we need it.
At a time when the cost of living is increasing significantly in Australia, when the international financial situation is in crisis, when Australians are concerned about their job security—for example, we have seen 54,000 jobs lost in manufacturing alone in the last year, and we know that nine out of 10 workers in the manufacturing industry are not going to be in businesses that get one cent of compensation—so far as this tax is concerned we have a complete lack of direction from this government. We have a Prime Minister who is no longer focused on the concerns of Australian families. She is focused simply on her survival and whether or not the faceless men will do what they did to her predecessor and remove her at sometime in the future. What we have is a disjointed, dysfunctional disarray that pretends to be a government in Australia—they should do the decent and honourable thing and call an election.
I reckon most people listening today would be amazed by the hypocrisy and the irony of the shadow minister for families, housing and human services talking about jobs and job security. From someone who is out there carrying the spear for a reintroduction of Work Choices—and we all know what that meant for Australian families, their pay, their conditions and their job security—to be in here talking about jobs is the height of hypocrisy.
He talked about a typical Australian family on $160,000 a year. It might be typical of the people he is hanging around with but it is not typical of the two out of three households who will benefit at least to the amount that their prices are expected to go up under these changes or the nine out of 10 households who will receive some assistance because of the measures we passed yesterday. Typical, according to the shadow minister opposite is a family on $160,000 a year—how incredibly out of touch the shadow minister is.
The shadow minister talks about the jobs of Australian families at the same time as the Leader of the Opposition yesterday was encouraging his members to vote against the jobs of steelworkers right around Australia. The Leader of the Opposition, who was in here crying crocodile tears about the steelworkers of Whyalla and Whyalla being wiped off the map of Australia, was in here yesterday voting against the jobs of steelworkers around Australia. When the shadow minister talks about going out and reminding constituents about what happened in here yesterday I hope he goes out and reminds the people of Australia that the opposition yesterday voted against a clean energy future for this country. I hope that he goes out and reminds the constituents in his electorate and electorates all around Australia that yesterday the opposition in here voted against pension increases. I hope that he goes out and reminds people right around Australia that yesterday the opposition voted against tax cuts for ordinary working families. I hope that he goes out and reminds people all around Australia that yesterday the opposition voted against increases in family benefits. I hope that he goes out and reminds people all around Australia that yesterday the opposition voted against protecting our environment, our beautiful natural environment—Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef—
the beautiful alpine areas of Victoria. You do not care about the Great Barrier Reef. Think about the jobs in your electorate that depend on the Great Barrier Reef—billions of dollars worth of tourism put at risk because of your vandalism in here yesterday.
Mr Christensen interjecting—
To be in here talking about the family budget and jobs when we saw yesterday the vandals opposite voting against jobs and voting against the family budget strikes me as the height of hypocrisy. They are talking about who is going to be worse off and the family budget under pressure. What is their plan?
There is a bit of a plan. They also say that they want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am not sure why because half of them say—
Mr Tudge interjecting—
You do not want to? Are you saying that it is not your policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? There you go talking about policy on the run—
and we heard it here first. It is no longer opposition policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent. It is no longer their policy. Let's talk about what used to be their policy until you heard this announcement first today in the House of Representatives. It used to be opposition policy until about a minute ago that they would also meet the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. How are they going to do it? They are going to do it through the tax system. They say that they are going to do it by direct investment, by picking winners. They are going to go out to industry, they are going to pick winners and they are going to pour billions of dollars of taxpayers' money into picking those winners. They cannot tell us how much it is going to cost to reach the five per cent reduction target. But you know what? We have done the numbers. We know those across the chamber cannot actually add up but we have done the numbers of how much is actually going to cost them to meet their five per cent reduction target and guess what? It will cost every household in Australia $1,300.
We had a few cameos from the shadow minister opposite and I actually wanted to share a cameo of my own with colleagues. We have a typical middle-income family—I actually do not think that $160,000 a year is a typical family income so here is a family income that I think is a little more typical—mum, dad and three children aged four, seven and nine. Dad is earning $52½ thousand a year, mum is working part time earning $17½ thousand a year which gives a total of $75,000 a year family income. They will get $332 extra in government payments and a $982 tax cut. They will receive around $1,300 in carbon price assistance under our plan. The same family will pay $1,300 to the big polluters under the opposition's plan. So this family, even after any impact of carbon pricing on their cost of living, will be more than $700 a year better off. With that $700 they could invest in more energy efficient appliances—maybe replace their heater or the hot water system—and bring their electricity costs down some more.
There is something that I want to share with you about electricity prices. The shadow minister talks about the price of electricity going up—and it is quite shocking how much the price of electricity has been going up in some of the states and territories. The carbon pricing legislation has not been introduced yet. Could it be that the state and territory governments are not running their electricity systems as well as they should be and that those price effects are affecting ordinary working Australians? Could it be that this is not a pre-emptive price increase related to the carbon tax?
I think that it is important to put on the public record the fact that our economy and jobs will continue to grow strongly under these clean energy bills. We estimate 1.6 million more jobs will be created by 2020. Treasury modelling shows that average incomes will continue to rise and they will be around $9,000 higher in 2020 and around $30,000 higher in 2050. Would you ever hear that from the opposition? No; they are in the business of going around and scaring the daylights out of people.
It is also worth having a look, I think, at the average price impact on an ordinary family. Independent Treasury modelling shows that pricing carbon pollution is expected to have a 0.7 per cent impact on the price of living. That is less than 1c for every dollar spent—not even 1c for every dollar spent. The shadow minister was here when the Howard government introduced a GST. What impact did the GST have on the price of living? The GST had a 2½ per cent impact on the price of living—more than three times the impact that pricing carbon is likely to have.
So when this 0.7 per cent impact happens after 1 July—which, mind you, is after the time that people have received their lump sums to help with the price impact—what will the price of Weet-Bix increase by? It will increase by 0.00024c per Weet-Bix. An $11 packet of mince will rise by 4c. A $3.75 fillet of ocean trout will increase by 1½c. The shadow minister was banging on about the price of a loaf of bread. Let us look at how much a loaf of bread will increase. I was going to say 'rise' but that would have been a bad joke, wouldn't it?
Thank you—it sounds crumby. The cost of a loaf of bread will rise 0.016c—less than one cent. Tim Tams will increase—
Government members interjecting—
I know some of my colleagues are very interested in this one. Tim Tams will increase by 0.012c per Tim Tam. So I think the colleagues are still going to be able to afford their Tim Tams.
I now need to turn to the impact that some of the opposition's previous policies had on ordinary working families, because this is a very serious matter. Those opposite have been crying crocodile tears—when every single day they were in government they were screwing down the wages and conditions of ordinary working families, taking money out of health care and undermining our public education system. The hypocrisy of that! Studies show that casual and part-time sales assistants lost an average of 12 per cent of earnings under Work Choices. AWAs were especially bad for women, with women working full time on AWAs taking home $87.40 per week less than workers on collective agreements. In 64 per cent of AWAs, annual leave loadings were cut; in 63 per cent, penalty rates were cut; in 52 per cent, shift work loadings were cut; in 51 per cent, overtime loadings were cut; and in 46 per cent, public holiday pay was cut. The hypocrisy of those opposite talking about how they feel about ordinary working families when everything they did in here was against their interests is astonishing.
And I remind people of their opposition now. They are opposed to pension increases that come out of the clean energy bills. They are opposed to family benefit increases coming out of these bills. They are opposed to investment in steel jobs, coal jobs and industry jobs that come out of these bills.
But, at the same time, what are they supporting? They are supporting the big mining companies against the mining communities that will benefit, against the workers who will get an increase in their superannuation and against the small businesses that will see their taxes cut because of the minerals resource rent tax. Who are they supporting when it comes to poker machines? They are supporting the big gambling interests against ordinary working families. Who are they supporting when it comes to tobacco advertising? They are supporting big, wealthy, multinational tobacco companies against the 15,000 Australians who die of smoking related illnesses every year. Do you know that the cigarette companies kill more people in Australia than they employ here every year? Guess whose side the opposition are on on that one! Every single time they are for the interests of the big guy against the little guy. What we saw yesterday continues their opposition to a clean environment and continues their opposition to investing in our clean energy future. And what will happen if they get in and reverse—as they say they will—these tax cuts? They will reverse the pension increases; they will reverse the industry assistance. They will put a million people back into the tax system who have had their tax-free threshold tripled. They will drop their tax-free threshold. We know they will not do that. We know that they will never have the courage to do what they claim they are going to do, and reverse this carbon tax. That is a good thing, because we need this clean energy future. (Time expired)
I think the title of the minister opposite who gave that atrocious speech is 'minister for inclusion'. She began by abusing families who are in certain sections of the community, saying that they were not considered because of her perception—and if I counted together her salary and that of her husband's I think she would be so way outside of an average family I do not think she would know what one is. But the point that I want to make here and now is that yesterday we voted against a carbon tax which was placed upon the Australian people and will penalise families.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on an objectionable comment by the member for Mackellar. It is the practice in this place that we do not bring ministers' or any other members' partners into the public debate. I ask that it be withdrawn.
I advise the honourable member that there is no point of order. I was not aware that there was actually a disparaging comment made with respect to the minister's husband.
Ms Plibersek interjecting—
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting—
Order! The member for Mackellar will remain silent. There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
Yesterday we voted against a big, harsh, punitive, toxic tax which will implicate and impact on every family in this country. Unlike the goods and services tax, which the government likes to compare their carbon tax to, we took that tax to an election and asked the people for a mandate to implement it.
Before the election, the Prime Minister, who runs away from every censure motion like a coward, in fact said that there would be no carbon tax by any government she would lead. Six weeks after being elected, she announced we would have a carbon tax—not because she was intending to take it to the Australian people as we did with the goods and services tax, but because she had stitched up a deal where the Greens were very much part of her decision to implement this tax. She will hang onto power at any cost to the Australian people.
We have said that we will abolish that tax—and we will. The carbon tax is for the Labor Party what Work Choices was for us. The Labor Party said they would abolish Work Choices, and they did. We have said we will abolish their carbon tax, and we will. The important point to make is this: the carbon tax has no exemptions. It is a cascading and compounding tax which gets into the nook and cranny of every aspect of everybody's life.
The fact of the matter is that unlike the GST, which is a value added tax whereby with the tax that is paid on transactions between the creation of a good or service and its final consumption there is a refund of the tax paid. This carbon tax will have the tax paid at every transaction and it will be a tax paid on a tax paid on a tax paid on a tax. It compounds and it is cascading.
It will affect everybody every time they turn on a light switch, turn on air conditioning, buy ice cream at the supermarket, use the sewerage system, use the water system or get on a train. It will impact on every form of public transport. It is said that there is no carbon tax on petrol for the family car, but the tax will be the electricity that is used to run that petrol station. It is a tax on electricity because it is an artificial hike in the price in the energy source which produces electricity in this country for 90 per cent of our needs.
Coal fired power stations are the cheapest way of producing electricity. The market says so. The market has said this is the price. That is why so many other countries around the world want to buy our coal. It is because they too want to have cheap electricity. What this tax does is put an artificial domestic tariff on the cost of coal to force up its price to attempt to make other forms of energy sourcing competitive.
To call it a market based mechanism is to distort the language beyond belief, but the facts that we are seeing are that the government says that by its tax it will injure the Australian people; it will injure Australian families. It will particularly injure senior Australians because they are on fixed incomes, where the latitude for disposable income shrinks every time the cost of the essentials rises. Electricity, gas and food are all part of those essential costs.
The government, in its printed documentation, says that it will injure families to the tune of $9.90 a week. That is what their modelling shows. And then they come in with some other modelling and say, 'We will compensate you for the injury we cause you $10.10 a week.' Twenty cents is what this government, who cannot even get its projections on a budget accurate, says it can model down to for compensation to make you so-called 'better off'.
And that is on a price of $23 a tonne, but in fact it will rise to $29 a tonne and $36 a tonne. Ultimately it will go to $350 a tonne in 2050. It will require $3.5 billion to be spent overseas buying abatement certificates. That is $3.5 billion every year that will not be available in this country for manufacturing, retail or the jobs that Australians can normally expect would be created. By the time we get to 2050 it will be $57 billion annually. This is money that belongs in this country for our people. It is our obligation under our constitution to give the Australian people peace, welfare and good government. That is our responsibility—not to penalise people because the government of the day thinks that it somehow can create a tax which it says will then keep it in power.
If we look at how people are going to be affected, you heard my colleague the member for Menzies outline in his address examples—cameos—of families and how they will be impacted. They were not high fliers like the Minister for Social Inclusion. These were ordinary folks. She scoffed at them because they were a family who worked hard and could earn up to $160,000 a year. That is somehow outrageous, according to her. It could be a nurse and a policeman. It could be a teacher married to another teacher. It is ordinary families who are scoffed at as not counting by the minister for so-called 'inclusion'. If we are to be truly concerned about inclusion, which is where we come from, then everybody in our community is to be considered valuable and part of our community. Every opportunity should have the right and the opportunity to aspire to a better life, and it is our obligation to set the scene whereby through their hard work and their effort they can maximise the result of their hard work and their effort. It is not to be scoffed at by the minister for inclusion. I think she would probably be more aptly named the minister for exclusion.
But let us go back to what we did yesterday. On the vote on the second reading of the tax bills it was 74 to 73. When we went to the final vote we were missing one vote on our side because we had had somebody suspended for one day. But the fact of the matter is that, of the people who were elected in this chamber, all but the Green went to the last election saying there would be no carbon tax. The only way we can have any honesty in this place is for the government of the day to take this to an election and let the people speak. When the people came into this chamber yesterday, they were the people who the Leader of the House called 'the people of no consequence'. They were the people who came and showed their willingness to stand up for what they believe in. Let's have an election. (Time expired)
Yesterday we in this parliament did what parliaments before had been singularly unable to do. After 35 parliamentary inquiries, after scientific evidence had said for years that we needed to do something in relation to climate change, presented with a bipartisan climate change target of cutting emissions by five per cent by 2020, we had been able to do something that had eluded both sides of politics: set in place a series of measures that would deliver to this country a cleaner energy future. We would do it in a way that would ensure that the biggest companies in this country, with the biggest—