Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading
While this is the third time I will be concluding the second reading debate on this package of carbon tax repeal bills, I can assure the Senate that the Australian people came to their own conclusion some 10 months ago on 7 September 2013. The Australian people have already debated this matter and come to that conclusion, and what a firm conclusion it was on 7 September 2013. The Australian people concluded that they did not want higher electricity prices, that they did not want higher gas prices, higher travel costs or higher food costs. They did not want to see their jobs destroyed with a tax that did absolutely nothing to the environment. The Australian people said very emphatically that they did not want the carbon tax.
The carbon tax increases the cost of absolutely everything it touches. It is the highest carbon tax in the world and it is the most far-reaching economic-wide carbon tax of the world. It punishes households, businesses, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, charities, churches, council swimming pools and community centres. It hits each and every group which and every individual who uses energy. That was always Labor's goal— to make electricity and gas more expensive. That is why the people of Australia voted to get rid of it.
Labor knew that the carbon tax was a bad initiative. How do we know that? We know that because, in 2010, they went to the election promising 'there will be no carbon tax.' Then, having introduced a carbon tax, they knew it was so bad that they went to the 2013 election promising that there was, in fact, no carbon tax left at all and that they had somehow repealed it. If the carbon tax was such a good thing, why did Labor promise before the 2010 election that there would not be one and then, before the 2013 election, claim that they had somehow miraculously already got rid of it? We know that both of those assertions were simply untrue, and the Australian people have made their decision and cast their verdict in relation to them.
It is somewhat strange that in this chamber we get howls from the other side saying, 'You're breaking election promises' but we have had to have three cracks at trying to implement this election policy of getting rid of the carbon tax. We believe that it is now time for the parliament to show that it has listened to the Australian people.
A cornerstone of the government's plan for a stronger economy is lower taxes, less regulation and stronger businesses—and, of course, part of that is to get rid of the carbon tax. The first impact of the repeal of the carbon tax will be on households whose overall costs will fall around $550 a year on average. Electricity bills will fall by $200 and gas bills by about $70. These are real, bankable savings for family budgets. What is more, when we are talking about pensioners and those on welfare, these are real savings for the pensioners and welfare recipients in our communities—those who have difficulty affording the cost of heating their homes on the cold winter nights here in Canberra and in my home state of Tasmania. The people who voted for the senators around this chamber expected that 66 out of the 76 would actually vote to abolish the carbon tax. The most egregious group, of course, are the Australian Labor Party senators in this place, who betrayed the electorate not once but twice. And we now hear from Mr Shorten that he would seek to re-introduce a carbon tax if Labor were to win at the next election.
What are the benefits to Australian households? These savings are confirmed. In Queensland, the Queensland Competition Authority has said that the typical household electricity bill is expected to fall by 8.5 per cent. In New South Wales, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has said that gas prices will be up to 9.2 per cent lower without the carbon tax. In my home state of Tasmania, the Office of the Tasmanian Economic Regulator has said that electricity prices will be 7.8 per cent lower with the removal of the carbon tax. And here in the ACT, the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission has said that electricity prices will fall by 11.6 per cent after the removal of the carbon tax. Prices for groceries, for household items and for services will all fall because the price of power is embedded in every single price in our economy. The carbon tax has to go and it will go, if this legislation is passed, but the carbon tax compensation, especially for pensioners and welfare recipients, will stay. As a result, every Australian should be better off.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has a wide-ranging set of compliance powers to ensure businesses do not mislead their customers about the impacts of the carbon tax repeal. The ACCC has received an extra $10 million in additional funding to take necessary enforcement action and also to inform businesses about their obligations and customers about their rights.
Under the original version of the repeal bills, penalties of up to $1.1 million for corporations and $220,000 for individuals will apply. These penalties remain as they were in the original version. The ACCC has already issued over 560 requests for information from companies across the economy, including from electricity and gas, refrigerants and aviation. The commission has been given further powers to ensure that consumers will benefit from the repeal of the carbon tax, and these are now incorporated within these bills. These changes include—and we recognise the work of the Palmer United Party in this—ensuring that suppliers of regulated goods, namely electricity, natural gas and synthetic greenhouse gases, must pass on all cost savings. The changes will impose a penalty on electricity and natural gas suppliers and bulk importers of synthetic greenhouses gases, equal to 250 per cent of any cost savings they do not pass on.
The changes will also require electricity and natural gas retailers and bulk importers of synthetic greenhouse gases to inform the ACCC and customers about how they are passing on cost savings and the amount of those savings. The changes to the main repeal bill balance new compliance obligations with the need to ensure that household and business customers benefit. Businesses should be able to explain to customers how changes in their costs are flowing through to changes in their prices. Indeed, just the other day during question time I was able to tell the story of Mr Gary Heilmann, a fisherman, who had been told by Qantas Freight that the carbon tax component of the freight bill had already been removed as of 1 July this year, in anticipation of the passage of these bills—a clear, living example that companies are moving to reduce costs, as a result of which this fishing company, small business that it is, will be able to provide its product to market cheaper, as a result of which consumers will be able to buy wholesome fish cheaper.
For the purposes of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, I confirm that the definition of 'electricity retailer' is limited to electricity retailers and electricity producers selling electricity into wholesale electricity markets to a retailer. The costs of synthetic greenhouse gases were significantly impacted by the carbon tax. Bulk importers of synthetic greenhouse gas defined under section 13A(2)(c) of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 are covered by the new requirements. To minimise the cost of compliance, small imports of synthetic greenhouse gases such as imports of these gases contained in equipment such as fridges, cars and air conditioners are not covered. The new provisions are confined to those sectors. The bill already provides flexibility for the ACCC to expand the range of sectors covered should significant concerns arise. The government is confident that all businesses will do the right thing and pass on all the savings relating to carbon tax repeal. The government is aware that major electricity and gas retailers are already committed to providing this information to households and businesses on bills, inserts and through websites in any event.
The carbon tax has been a $15,000 million hit on the economy over two years. It has been a $15,000 million hit on jobs, a $15,000 million burden on investment and a $15,000 million slug to families, all of which we simply do not need. These bills need to be passed so that the carbon tax can be removed. I repeat for the benefit of the Senate that the carbon tax, as we know countless examples have shown, whatever its good intentions may have been, in fact, has had a perverse outcome for the environment because manufacturing, which has been relatively clean in this country in comparison to the rest of the world, has gone offshore.
Indeed, Senator Kim Carr, who always seeks to parade himself as the great industry minister, presided over the loss of 140,000 manufacturing jobs and he knows full well that, amongst all the other factors, right there at the epicentre of the loss of those jobs was the carbon tax. The carbon tax has to be removed for the sake of reducing the cost of living on Australian households and for the sake of protecting jobs in the manufacturing sector. In the dairy sector, the carbon tax costs the average dairy farming family an extra $10,000 per annum. This will be removed. For the fishermen I mentioned at question time, or for manufacturing, dairying, fishing or the agricultural producer that uses irrigation, and so the list goes on, it will be removed. It will be a huge relief to all employers and businesses in this country. It will help investment and all this huge damage to our economy for no environment dividend. As the Prime Minister has said previously, these bills are the government's bill to reduce the Australian people's bills. So the government commends these bills to the parliament and I thank honourable senators for their contributions.