Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to an opinion piece written by the Prime Minister, appearing in the Herald Sun of 30 May 2011, in which she wrote:
The best way to cut carbon pollution is to make up to 1000 of our biggest polluters pay …
I further refer to the Prime Minister's statement to the parliament, of 13 September 2011:
Around 500 polluters will pay.
Finally, I refer the minister to the current list of 294 entities liable to pay the carbon tax, published by the Clean Energy Regulator. Will the minister explain how the government got its initial estimates so wrong and was more than 70 per cent out on its original forecast of the number of liable entities?
I am glad we are back to business as usual. It is an interesting question, given that if you had listened to the Leader of the Opposition or to most members of the opposition you would think that every business in this country is paying the carbon tax. Now I am asked why only so few are—
Opposition senators interjecting—
I take the interjections, saying they are, because the question was to the effect that not enough are paying. So the opposition should really work out whether or not their position is too many or too few.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister appeared to mishear or misunderstand the question. The question was: how did the government get it so wrong?
I am very happy to respond to the question. I again make the point, though, that the opposition seem to be all at sea about what their position really is on this issue. In relation to who is going to pay the carbon price directly, this has been based all along on an objective threshold—that is, the fact of whether or not a facility emits more than 25,000 tonnes of pollution a year. That has been the same factual position for a lengthy period of time. We have always been clear that that is the threshold which will apply in terms of large polluting entities being responsible for payment of a carbon price.
We did make a decision last year to exclude smaller landfills from the carbon price—something I would have thought, given their campaign, that the opposition would welcome—and more detailed analysis of larger landfills has resulted in fewer liable sites than first expected. It is the case that the Clean Energy Regulator is required to publish a Liable Entities Public Information Database. This is a database of persons that the regulator has reasonable grounds to believe are liable entities for the relevant financial year. To date, the names of 294 entities have been published. I will come back to this in the supplementary.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the estimates of the number of liable entities have been so wrong and given that Treasury have made it clear that they are unable to accurately forecast the rate of the carbon tax beyond the fixed three-year price period, how confident is the government that its budget estimates or its compensation rates on the carbon tax actually stack up?
I want to make a couple of points. The first is on the assertion that the estimates were wrong. I was taking the senator through the fact that this has always been based on an objective threshold of 25,000 tonnes per annum and also that the regulator is working through the details of the liable entities, and additional entries will be added once all issues have been worked through.
I turn now to whether or not the government has confidence in its budget. Yes, we do. I will tell you what we have confidence in. We have confidence in the fact that our assistance package will give a tax break to everyone earning under $80,000 a year, and our assistance package will deliver increases to the pension, to the disability support pension, to recipients of allowances and so forth. And we are confident that those opposite will go to the election with a policy to put a tax hike on every Australian earning under $80,000 a year, because that is what Mr Hockey has committed to.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note the minister's references to so-called compensation and refer the minister to the statements in Budget Paper No. 1 that any changes in the carbon tax will affect receipts but that the costs of household assistance are permanent. Minister, what risks are there to the budget bottom line if the government has got any of its other forecasts as wrong as it got the original forecast that 1,000 entities would be paying and liable for the carbon tax?
The last part of that question was wrong for the reasons I outlined in the answer to the first question. In terms of risks to the budget, quite clearly the risk to the budget is those opposite: $70 billion of cuts to services that they will have to make should they ever want to form government. Seventy billion dollars of cuts to services do not pay the age pension for two years—two years nonpayment of the age pension. They are the sorts of cuts that those opposite are trying to hide. That is why they have their costings done by catering companies and by accounting companies who are found to have acted unprofessionally. That is why they hide from the scrutiny and transparency of the Parliamentary Budget Office. That is why they will not front up to the Australian people and tell them what they want to do.
Mr President, I raise a point of order. The minister has been going on now for some 44 seconds of her one-minute answer. The minister has spent most of that time dealing with the opposition rather than actually addressing the question, which went to the threats of government policy to the budget bottom line. Given that the minister is in fact the finance minister as well as the minister representing the climate change minister, surely she should be able to address these basic issues relevant to the threat to the budget bottom line of the government's abysmal forecasting record.
I have told you, Mr President, that the government has confidence in its budget. When I am asked about threats to the budget I again say: it is those opposite. We make no apology for saying that the assistance is permanent. That is the government's commitment. (Time expired)