Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:01 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong), the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Ludwig) and the Minister for Human Services (Senator Kim Carr) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

I will start with Minister Ludwig. In fairness, Minister, what a pathetic answer! You did not even give me an answer. I asked you a simple question—that is, when will the government be responding to the Productivity Commission? Despite the promise that was made by Prime Minister Gillard that aged care reform would be a second-term priority and despite the promise made by then Minister Roxon on the same day, when they both attended the New South Wales nurses' conference, that a response would be provided quickly, we are still waiting. Older Australians are still waiting for a response to understand what this reform could mean to them.

In the time available to me let us just look at the record of the Rudd-Gillard government on ageing. It was, in one word: neglect—absolute neglect.

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Tell the truth.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

It was neglect, Senator Ludwig. Let me take you back to August 2007, when then opposition leader Kevin Rudd was criticising the coalition by saying that the then government had not been providing enough aged-care beds and people were becoming bed-blockers in acute hospital beds. I can tell you that they have now had a long time to rectify what Mr Rudd was then saying was deficient with the system. Do you know what—the system has gone backwards. In 2007 we saw Kevin Rudd promise new directions for frail and older Australians, which was going to make the transition from hospital to aged care a priority area. But today, as Catholic Health Australia will tell you, on any given night in Australia there are 3,000 people who are in a hospital because there are not sufficient beds. They are in hospital when they should be better cared for in residential aged care.

So let us look at what this government has spent its time doing. We have seen review after review. That is nothing new with the Rudd and Gillard governments. It has been a feature of their time in government. We have seen over 20 reviews and inquiries into ageing and aged-care issues. One provider in Tasmania told me that he had provided no fewer than 21 submissions to no fewer than 21 reviews, all to no avail. And each one of these reviews has been ignored by the government and not responded to. No decisions have been made. And many of these reports have been highly critical of the government and its failure to act.

Despite the commitments, we have had broken promises in terms of the number of aged-care nurses and the number of training places. And we have had the debacle of the zero-interest loans. So much for additional transition care places! The care places that were promised have not been filled.

When you look at the Rudd and Gillard governments' so-called health reforms, aged care and my other portfolio responsibility of mental health were missing. One only has to look at the scathing evidence that was given to the Senate inquiries into the COAG alleged reforms to see just how bad the situation is with aged care and with mental health.

Let us look at the 2010 election promises which were, of course, light on ageing and aged care. The only mention of ageing and aged care at the last federal election was the one line that Prime Minister Gillard made that, yes, ageing and aged-care reform would be a second-term priority. But let me take the Senate to 2010 election when Ms Gillard had to defend herself against the serial leaker who claimed that she had not supported big increases in the age pension 'because older people never vote for us'. She denied it, but of course the serial leaker had told us what happened. The bottom line is that you asked for the Productivity Commission report. It has now been delivered. We need a response.

3:06 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the short time I have been in this chamber the opposition has been consistent in their fear campaign with respect to carbon pricing. Despite the fact that it is alleged they have some believers, deniers, and backflippers in the ranks, they are consistent about trying to scaremonger in my home state and across the whole of Australia with respect to the impact of carbon pricing.

The fact is, quite simply, that the government stands by the Treasury modelling. It is one of the most extensive and robust economic modelling exercises ever performed in Australia. Treasury modelling confirms that, with a carbon price, growth in the Australian economy will be decoupled from growth in carbon pollution. It projects that under a carbon price strong economic growth will continue. Gross national income is projected to grow at 1.1 per cent per year to 2050. Incomes will continue to grow, despite assertions from the other side. Real income per person is projected to increase from today's levels by $9,000 per year to 2020. Employment will continue to grow, despite assertions to the contrary, with 1.6 million new jobs created by 2020.

Pollution will fall, and who does not want a bit of that? I do not think any voting Australian or any person in the parliament does not want to leave a better environment and society for their children and grandchildren. By 2020 carbon pricing is expected to have reduced Australia's domestic emissions by nearly half of what they would have been without a carbon price. The price impacts will be modest—a one-off increase of 0.7 per cent to the CPI. This compares with the 2.5 per cent increase that was the result of the GST—which was going to bring the world to an end but never did. Gross state product for all states continues to grow strongly.

It is important to emphasise that the price impacts on households are modest and that tax cuts, pension increases and other benefit increases will assist nine out of 10 households to meet these modest impacts. We also know from Treasury analysis that the economic cost of the coalition's policy is at least double that of a carbon price.

Firstly, the opposition are attacking the assumptions used. The opposition know that they are wrong on this. They have had detailed briefings at Senate estimates and yet they still make these outrageous claims. The Treasury modelling makes two key assumpt­ions about international action: firstly, that countries meet their low-end pollution reduction targets by 2020 and, secondly, that countries have access to international abate­ment. Given the significant international efforts that exist to reduce carbon pollution and the size of the carbon markets already in operation, these assumptions are more than reasonable.

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In your view.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my view—yes. Thank you, Senator Edwards. In your view, the world would come to an end with the introduction of a carbon price. I do not agree with that and neither do many of the Australian voting public, fortunately.

Secondly, the opposition are attacking the Treasury for refusing to release further details. This ignores the fact that the modelling has been the most extensive in our history and is far more transparent than any we have ever seen from the coalition. For example, the introduction of the GST was not accompanied by analysis as comprehen­sive and transparent as the Treasury reports on the economics of carbon pricing. The only assumptions left relate to the highly technical modelling code. The economic mechanisms used in such models are well known to economists without seeing a model code, and all relevant assumptions used in modelling have been published.

Unlike the policy of those opposite, the clean energy future plan is a genuine economic plan which will underpin the growth of new industries, provide investment certainty and allow the economy to remain competitive in a carbon constrained world. In comparison, subsidies for polluters and $1,300 per household— (Time expired)

3:12 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of answers given by government ministers today, in particular those by Senator Kim Carr in relation to the proposed changes by the government to the proposed shipping reform package—in particular, the impacts that are becoming available as a result of the release of the Deloitte Access Economics report this morning.

I first put to bed the myth that is being peddled by Minister Albanese that provisions that are considered as part of this report are already in place. This report specifically deals with further restrictions that will apply as a result of the new reforms. Minister Albanese would like to misrepresent what the report is actually saying, but it is quite clear. Here is the report. I have had a look at it and it clearly says—despite what Minister Carr said today and what Minister Albanese is saying—that it deals with further restrictions placed on industry as a result of the new reforms proposed in the legislation.

It would be of great concern to me—and I know that it would be of great concern to you, Mr Deputy President—if Tasmania were to suffer an inconsistency of supply with doubt about the price of fuel. The price of fuel in Tasmania is already a concern, given that we rely on coastal shipping to get it to Tasmania. The prescriptions that are in the proposed legislation create severe doubts. I do not say that as a result of just the report; I say it as a result of talking to the fuel companies. They say that Tasmania is extraordinarily exposed to the vagaries of supply and price as a result of this. That is not a circumstance that we can allow to occur. My question to Minister Carr today, which he failed to answer—not that I am surprised about that—was: what is the government going to do to ensure that Tasmania is not extraordinarily exposed in relation to both supply and price? It is a very fair question for us to ask. I also asked Minister Carr to tell us about why the additional imposts are being imposed on Tasmanian businesses. I will give you an example of something that occurred this morning during some discussions I had. I received an email this morning from a vegetable grower in Tasmania, before they had heard of this additional potential impact of the legislation. It said, 'I don't think we'll be sowing any onion seed in two months time.' They are already making decisions because of the cost impacts and the other economic impacts that this government is applying. They are going to suffer the cost of a carbon tax as of 1 July. They are already suffering from a high dollar. We have seen the loss of international shipping services out of Tasmania, which is imposing significant additional costs on our exporters. We are seeing an additional cost come through as a result of the actions of the Victorian government and the Port of Melbourne, and now we have a further increase of up to 16 per cent in the cost of freight out of Tasmania. Why would people not be concerned? Why won't the government answer a question as to what they might do to mitigate that? All they are interested in is applying additional cost to Tasmanian business and industry.

As I said in my question to Minister Carr, we have Rio Tinto at Bell Bay under review. We have BHP's Temco plant at Bell Bay currently closed and under review. This legislation applied particular pressure to Cement Australia at Railton and Nyrstar's plant in Hobart. It applies particular pressure to those. It also has the potential to apply pressure to grain being imported and exported out of the state, particularly in bulk. Why should we not ask questions about the impact of that, and why wouldn't the government answer those questions? The Tasmanian economy is currently in a very parlous state. That is accepted. The Labor-Green accord in Tasmania has made the investment profile down there completely and utterly toxic, and yet here we have the Labor government applying even more cost. They might have a shipping industry but they will not have anything to move around the country, because they will be closing down manufacturing because of it. (Time expired)

3:17 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In taking note of answers given in question time today, I would like to comment on two of the issues that were raised. I would like to put on record the government's commitment to aged care and also talk about the facts of aged care. Since coming to office, this government has significantly increased funding for aged care. In residential aged care the level of funding per resident has grown significantly faster than the CPI due to the indexation and policy changes. The Productivity Commission, as we all know, has suggested substantial changes to the way the aged-care sector should be funded in the future. This report was undertaken and commissioned by the government because of the failures of the previous government.

In developing its response to the Productivity Commission's report the government has initiated meetings with key stakeholders, and a national conversation with older Australians and their families and carers has been undertaken by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mr Mark Butler. As Senator Ludwig said in his response to Senator Fierravanti-Wells today, Mr Butler has met with more than 4,000 older Australians as well as families and carers, with the industry stakeholders through their peak bodies, with the National Aged Care Alliance and with the Ageing Consultative Committee.

Mr Butler came down to Tasmania last year and conducted three forums across Tasmania—one in Hobart, one in Launceston and one on the north-west coast. All of those forums were very well attended. I think I have reported here in the Senate as to how well attended they were and how appreciative aged-care people were of being able to consult and talk directly with the minister—something they probably were not able to do under the previous government.

I will mention some more facts, because I am sure that Senator Fierravanti-Wells will be listening keenly to get some facts. I know she has got a plan, so if I give her some facts it might assist her. We have more than $56 billion in government funding for aged care over the next four years. We have $38.3 billion for residential aged care over the next four years, more than $12.9 billion estimated total revenue for the residential aged-care industry this year, and $75,000 estimated average total revenue per resident this year. There has been a 26.7 per cent increase in income per resident from all sources over the last three years and an 8.2 per cent average annual increase in funding per resident from all sources over the last three years. There has been an 8.5 per cent increase in funding per resident from the Australian government over the previous year, and of course a 2.7 per cent average annual increase in the CPI over the last three years. The Gillard government's goal is to see an aged-care system that is financially sustainable, that is fair for those who use it and that provides the choice, quality of care and support that Australians need and deserve in their later years.

Just last week I had an opportunity to participate in the Age Well campaign that is being conducted and supported by providers, unions and the workforce. That gave me an opportunity to walk in the shoes of a carer who works in the aged-care system, and I have to say that it was one of the most satisfying exercises that I have undertaken as a senator for Tasmania. I was looked after by a team of highly qualified carers. I had a team that allowed me to see firsthand the personal and professional care that they give to residents and also, I have to say, the other tasks in terms of making sure that residents are happy and well looked after. (Time expired)

3:22 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

In rising to take note of answers given by Senator Wong I cannot fail to respond to one of the points made by Senator Gallacher in his contribution to this taking note debate. Senator Gallacher said that the government stood by the modelling of the government's carbon tax by Treasury. I find it extraordinary that they put so much faith in the modelling by Treasury that is making predictions about the future and yet they will not even stand by a simple promise that they made at the last election. It is a promise that will haunt the government to their political grave and will probably result in the demise of this Prime Minister. The words of that promise are immortal words that are etched in the memory of every Australian today: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' Well, the carbon tax has been legislated. Ms Gillard joined up with the Greens party to impose on the Australian people a tax that is unwarranted, unnecess­ary, expensive and going to be ineffective.

Despite Senator Wong's claims that the government does not have a crystal ball, in her own words the modelling suggests that the carbon price is going to be somewhere between $29 and $55 in only a few short years. We know that, where countries in the rest of the world have enacted an emissions trading scheme or some other carbon dioxide mitigation scheme, the prices of emissions permits have fallen dramatically. We also know that emissions themselves have not fallen dramatically. That will be the case with this government's policy as well because, under the same modelling that this government stands by, Australia's emissions will increase from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes by 2020—they are going to increase in the next eight years.

So why are we having a carbon dioxide tax? We know that prices are going to continue to rise. It is going to put up the price of electricity. The government estima­tes a rise of up to 10 per cent, but private enterprise is saying the rise is going to be much, much higher than that. The electricity generators themselves are predicting a 20 per cent rise. Gas prices are scheduled to go up by about nine per cent in the first year alone, and they will continue to rise because the government has set a minimum floor price on carbon dioxide emissions for industry. Those costs will be passed on to every single consumer and every single business right across the country. That is why the Austra­lian economy and the Australian people cannot afford this broken promise by this malign and very poor government.

The government claims, of course, that it is going to be paying compensation. It acknowledges that because it knows it is going to be hurting families, and that is the purpose of this carbon dioxide tax. It is not about the environment whatsoever. We know the globe has not warmed over the last 15 years in total and we know that emissions have been rising over that time. How can you explain that? Even the government's paid mouthpiece, Professor Tim Flannery, who is a professor of anthropology but a self-designated climate change expert, has said he cannot explain why the globe is cooling. The entire scam that is being perpetrated upon the Australian people in compliance with other international jurisdictions, including organisations like the IPCC—which is conveniently forgotten in this debate but was used as the source of authority by Senator Wong when she was previously in the climate change portfolio—has been comprehensively debunked. The alarmist propaganda has been proved to be untrue and the falsehoods in the IPCC reports have come to light. Of course, that will not be acknowledged by the government, who will not even stand by a crystal-clear promise to the Australian people at the last election.

What the government does not say is that the accumulated cost for the taxpayer over the first nine years of the carbon tax will be $132 billion. It is going to create a massive black hole as compensation is handed out and the government uses taxpayers' money to buy shares in green projects which the private sector will not back. If you ask me and if you ask the Australian people to make an assessment of who is better equipped to make an investment, whether it is the private sector or the government, just have a look at the track record of this government. They invested in pink batts; then they invested the same amount to take them out when houses burnt down and people were killed. They are now investing in lumbering the Australian economy with a carbon tax which is unnecessary and ineffective. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.