Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Thorp for her first question. I hope she will enjoy a long and distinguished career in this chamber serving the people of Tasmania. The concerns that she has drawn attention to have been raised with my office by several callers in recent days following reports on the ABC. Let me assure the Senate that the government is deeply aware of the needs of the most vulnerable Australians. The rationale for our climate change policy is that pricing carbon will change people's behaviour. We want to help people be prepared for the reality of a low-carbon world. The fact remains that some citizens need additional support.
Equity is Labor's first concern. That is why the household assistance packages include a special $140 payment for people who need to use essential medical equipment at home. That is on top of the $1.3 billion in clean energy advances that have been sent to 6.5 million bank accounts since May. If people require two devices or if they live in two houses, they can claim the payment twice. The new entitlement will be paid every year, indexed annually against the CPI. All they need to do is make the initial claim. It is vital for this message to break through the fear mongering and the lies of the opposition. Let us not forget: this is about children and other people with serious medical conditions; about people using heart pumps, respirators and dialysis machines. It is about people who are paralysed or affected by stroke who need to heat their homes. This is practical assistance for them. (Time expired)
This is a group the coalition want to target with their fear and smear campaign. The government is absolutely committed to assisting older Australians. It is the opposition that wants to withdraw support from older Australians. Let me enlighten those opposite about the measures they have opposed. The clean energy advances have already arrived in the bank accounts of age pensioners. Yesterday, people who receive the seniors supplement also saw their payments. The supplement is open to people with a Commonwealth seniors health card, including self-funded retirees. There are separate arrangements to look after people living in aged-care homes. I encourage seniors to contact the Department of Human Services for any assistance they require to ensure they have received those payments—or they are welcome to contact the office of their local Liberal member and ask them, 'Why do you oppose these payments?' (Time expired)
Once again, the government is providing for these families. For a start, we have tripled the tax-free threshold. That means that one million people will no longer be required to lodge a tax return and that there will be a tax cut for anyone earning less than $80,000 per year. This is money in the bank for families who are doing it tough. On top of that support, there is a general low-income supplement for low-income householders who do not receive sufficient assistance through other measures. There is an annual tax exempt payment of $300 and claims against this can be submitted from 1 July this year. There are also specific payments for single parents or families with only one breadwinner. If household income is less than $150,000, they can apply for up to $300. It will be delivered automatically to any families receiving the family tax benefit. Other families simply need to lodge a claim. This is the reality. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency's report entitled Energy use in the Australian government's operations 2009-10. Is the minister aware that the report showed that energy use and intensity in the Department of Finance and Deregulation has grown by nearly 28 per cent from 1999-2000 levels? How does the minister expect average Australians to reduce their energy use when her own department cannot manage theirs?
I thank the senator for his question and welcome his new-found interest in energy efficiency, which I am sure will be very useful in the coalition party room. I do not have a copy of the report to which he refers with me, but I am sure he has studied it in great detail for the purposes of drafting this question. The 2009-10 report on energy efficiency in government operations outlined, I understand, government department energy use against voluntary targets. It shows that, whilst there has been an increase in energy use, we are in fact using less energy per person for light and power in 2009-10 than in the previous decade. Overall, energy use within Australian government operations is 25 per cent lower than it was in 1999-2000.
The senator might also like to be informed that around three-quarters of government energy use is by the Department of Defence. This includes defence operational fuel, which, I am advised, accounts for over half of Australian government energy use. The 11 per cent rise in total energy use in the period 2008-09 to 2009-10 was largely due to an increase in defence operational fuel.
In relation to my own department, I do not have detailed figures in front me. I would have to have a look at what the baseline of that was and what additional functions have been added to the Department of Finance and Deregulation over the period of my two predecessors, Senator Minchin and Mr Tanner.
No, I am simply saying that we might have more people employed, Senator Macdonald. My recollection is that there were a range of functions added to the department, perhaps under Senator Minchin. But I will find out about that issue and come back to the senator if I obtain any further information.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the fact that the report—that same report—also showed that energy use and intensity in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet grew by nearly seven per cent from 2008-09 levels. If the Prime Minister cannot control her own department's energy use, why should she expect Australian taxpayers to shoulder the entire burden of this suffocating carbon tax?
That was more about making a political statement and engaging in rhetoric than it was a question. I do not think anyone in this chamber seriously thinks Senator Edwards was asking me for any information. He is making a political point.
The political point I make in response to that political point is this: if you care about suffocating policies, surely a $1,300 tax on every household in Australia—which is what you are proposing—is far worse for the economy and far worse for Australian households. Surely, reducing the incentive to work by increasing taxes on those earning under $80,000 is precisely the sort of suffocating economic policy that you would think the Liberal Party would oppose, but no. This is their policy. The senator can come in here and again try to run a scare campaign tactic when it comes to carbon pricing, although I now note it is 'suffocating' as opposed to some of the more outlandish claims, but the fact is, his policy will cost more. (Time expired)
Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. Given the report also showed that the total Australian government energy use and intensities rose by 11.45 per cent from 2008-09, can the minister confirm whether the government has calculated the extra cost to taxpayers from this government's own spiralling emissions during the planning of this pointless tax? If the Australian government cannot get its own house in order, is it not hypocritical to expect everyday Australians to do the same?
We have a comedian in our midst, clearly. If the senator had listened to my first response, I actually gave him the 11 per cent in my first answer—that is the problem with getting a supplementary that someone else wrote, without listening to the answer. The second point I would make about hypocrisy is the hypocrisy of those opposite worrying about costs and jobs as they support a policy that taxes people more and taxes low-income Australians more. That is their policy. I make this invitation to the senator. He is from my state of South Australia: I invite him to go to Whyalla on Sunday or Monday and have a look if it is still there, because I reckon it will be. But that is the town that is supposed to be wiped off the face of the map according to you and your disgraceful, ridiculous scare campaign.