Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Carbon Pricing, Live Cattle Trade

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source


I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Ludwig) to questions without notice asked by Senators Birmingham, Edwards and Back today relating to the carbon tax and to the live export of cattle to Indonesia.

In listening to Senator Wong, the Prime Minister and everybody in the government at present I have to say that I am starting to wonder a few things about the carbon tax package. I am starting to wonder why there is any so-called compensation attached to the carbon tax package at all. I am starting to wonder, when I look at the budget papers and see that they claim that the carbon tax will generate billions of dollars annually in revenue, how that is the case and whether there is in fact a gigantic mistake in the budget papers. When I listen to the Prime Minister, when I listen to Minister Wong and when I listen to ministers or members across this government, I am left with the impression that the carbon tax has no impact at all. I am left with the impression that it is not having any cost impact anywhere on anything. It seems that every time a question is asked all we hear from the government—all we hear from the Prime Minister, from Minister Combet, from Minister Wong or from anyone else—is that the price rises are the fault of the states. These price rises are all the fault of the networks. It is all the fault of anything else except, of course, the government's own carbon tax.

We know that this is just a falsehood. We know that the government is misleading the Australian people through this claim, through this pretence that all cost rises are somehow the result of anything other than the carbon tax. How do we know this? We know it because we have the facts to demonstrate it. We have the facts, and those facts stem originally from the government's own Treasury modelling, modelling that demonstrated the carbon tax would cause a nine per cent rise on electricity prices and that would then be felt with further increases over subsequent years. Has that modelling proven to be true? By and large it has. How do we know that? Because we have the facts of what has happened state-by-state to electricity prices since the carbon tax.

We know that in New South Wales, yes, prices have gone up 18.1 per cent. It is correct to say that is not all attributable to the carbon tax, but 8.9 per cent of that increase is attributable to the carbon tax. So because of Labor's carbon tax, power prices in New South Wales are now 8.9 per cent higher and they of course will keep going up and up and up with the carbon tax. We know that in Queensland the estimate is that of the 13.1 per cent increase in electricity prices, 11 per cent of that is attributable to the carbon tax. So Queenslanders are paying 11 per cent more on their electricity bills as a result of the carbon tax. We know that Western Australians are paying 9.1 per cent more. People here in the ACT, they are paying 14.2 per cent extra on their electricity bills as a result of the latest carbon tax. The state with the smallest increase in electricity prices as a result of the carbon tax is my home state. In South Australia, the carbon tax has only just pushed prices up, apparently, by about 4.6 per cent. Why? Because we already had the highest electricity prices in the country. We already were more dependent on wind and higher cost sources of energy to start with, and that means that we still have the highest prices in the country.

So for all that we hear from those opposite—and from Minister Wong, as we did today in question time, where she tries to pretend carbon tax or electricity price rises are somebody else's fault—the evidence is speaking for itself. The government's modelling has been correct. People are facing a 10 per cent price rise across the board as a result of the carbon tax. Whether it is sporting clubs, as I asked the minister about today, whether it is pubs or clubs generally, whether it is small businesses—none of them get any compensation. The minister could not identify a single club or a small business today that was receiving any compensation as a result of these price rises, but all of them are facing real price rises.

3:10 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too would like to contribute to this debate today, this motion to take note of answers in question time, and put to rest some of the outrageous claims made in particular by Senator Birmingham and Senator Edwards. It is disappointing to see those two South Australian senators continue on the scare campaign which has been perfected by their leader, Mr Abbott. I see they have joined the parade around the country where Mr Abbott talks down the economy, where he talks down the jobs that are being created in Australia by this government and where he frightens people into believing that pretty soon we are going to have Armageddon. Last time I looked, Whyalla was still there and doing pretty well.

The opposition neglect to tell the people of Australia the whole story of the policy of tackling climate change. They certainly forget to tell the people of Australia that they too actually believe in reducing harmful carbon emissions and that they have a policy to do that and to achieve exactly the same targets in reducing carbon emissions that the federal government has. They went to the last election with that policy as well. It is just that they have a different way of going about it. Their way of going about it is to slug every household in Australia with a bill of $1,300 for their ridiculous and inefficient direct action plan. It is very disappointing that Senator Birmingham, who used to be a moderate in this place, has turned to the dark side when it comes to tackling climate change. He has to spout the position of his leader, which we know he probably does not really believe.

The opposition is also pretty good at neglecting to tell Australians that in fact we are in good shape here, compared to other countries. Senator Wong said in one of her answers today that under this government 800,000 new jobs have been created in Australia under this government. There are record investments in the pipeline in Australia, particularly in mining and especially in our home state of South Australia. We have low unemployment and we are on track to return the budget to a surplus. These are things that we should be proud of; we should not be talking them down.

The opposition also do not tell Australians the real story of why electricity prices are increasing. We know that average electricity bills went up by 50 per cent in the last four years—before the carbon price. The most important driver of power prices going up is investment in network infrastructure. And now every consumer, for every $100 you pay on your power bill, $51 of that is to go towards the cost of infrastructure. And, yes, that is because state governments have neglected to build infrastructure. And we could probably go back through the history of South Australia and pinpoint the time when the Liberals privatised electricity as when infrastructure was not built because of the privatised system. And now our state governments are having to play catch up in that space.

Treasury modelling shows that under a carbon price there will of course be a moderate increase to the cost of living for average households and small businesses. We have never hidden that fact. We have put in compensatory mechanisms to deal with that fact, including an average increase in household payments of $10.10 per week, which is to outstrip the $3.30 average increase in a household bill. We also put in place lots of mechanisms to assist small businesses to deal with the increased cost from the price on carbon, and that includes the $6½ thousand instant asset write-off, which I can tell you is very popular in small businesses that I talk to around the place. I remind Australia's small businesses that they can make a claim for that asset write-off for every asset purchase that they make.

We also know that power cuts are quite a small component of the average small business costs. But in this whole debate we should not forget the reason for the carbon price is so that the big polluters—less than 500 or so companies in—pay for polluting. Yes, they will pass on some of those costs and the government has acknowledged that and put in place numerous mechanisms to offset the small costs that are passed on down the line. It would be nice if the federal opposition told the truth instead of continuing the scaremongering campaign that they have waged ad nauseam. Australians are beginning to understand that they are dealing with people who fail to tell the truth. (Time expired)

3:15 pm

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

I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Wong. In one of her answers she made reference to the inaugural appearance of my colleague Senator Birmingham on Q&A last night. I must say that, when she awarded Senator Birmingham's performance a second to that of Senator Cameron, I was astounded because if you had not been a participant in the Australian political race or an observer of it you would not have known whether Senator Birmingham had two of his other parliamentary colleagues sitting alongside of him in Senator Cameron and former minister in a Labor government Graham Richardson. I thought they all put in a very good performance in a great critique of this current Labor government. On that basis I thank Senator Birmingham for his leadership in that debate on the ABC.

I do also concur with Senator Birmingham's remarks asking where this mysterious $7.8 billion is going to come from. We ask questions of the Labor Party or the Minister representing the Minister for Energy and Climate Change about where it is going to come from. Apparently it is not going to come from anybody, but we are going to have this compensation package which is going to fix anything anyway. Every time we ask a question about Pete's Fish Farm or the Blair Hotel or the clubs in South Australia or Western Australia or Queensland, we hear it is just going to be fixed with assistance. I notice that there was reference to 300,000 pensioners getting compensation but no reference at all the clubs of those community organisations which rely so heavily on the energy costs. There is the fact that the impact of rising energy costs—which we all acknowledge by your very own modelling, as Senator Birmingham quite rightly pointed out—varies from state to state but is a massive impost on small business.

The jig is up. I reckon Robert Gottliebsen belled the cat this morning in his 10:49 AM article, 'Why the carbon tax does not work'. He refers to:

A group of Nobel laureates and other top experts who combined to form the Copenhagen Consensus believe that the world's emphasis on emissions reductions by carbon pricing and similar mechanisms is simply not going to work. They propose a cheaper but more radical global solution.

The Labor Party and their policymakers should listen to that. The article goes on:

The Copenhagen consensus was formed in Denmark to bring together top global knowledge to determine the best way to allocate funds to solve particular problems.

Gottliebsen says of the group:

When it comes to carbon, they concluded that because electricity had become essential to the current living standards of a vast number of people on the globe, simply pricing electricity at higher levels would not make an enormous difference to usage.

They said this in reference to people trying to climb out of their poverty:

They concluded that the most economic way to reduce global poverty was to make sure that pre-school children have sufficient nutrition. Without pre-school nutrition, adult capabilities are greatly reduced and they are much less productive members of the community.

This is a big issue for those on the other side and I do not hear it acknowledged at all. We need energy. This is sort of the carrot and stick approach except the government has the stick. I commend the report to everybody. They conclude by summarising that standards of living will be increased with the use of energy. However, we need to do development and research for better ways of renewable energy rather than to tax out of existence what we have.

Just in reference to Senator Wong's other answers, she talked about the tax cuts and the asset write-offs and the carryback of losses. I can guarantee you in my business experience a one per cent tax cut on a business that is not making any money. Pete's Fish Farm at Kalangadoo is not making any money. (Time expired)

3:20 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was not going to mention it, but I did not see Q&A last night and I am sure the senators in this place did their parties proud. I had something far more important to do than watch Q&A. I had to sort out my sock drawer.

I rise to take note of a question from Senator Back to Minister Ludwig. I heard the comment, 'What would he know, he is a vet?' I do have admiration for Senator Back. I work closely with him when he is dishing it up to me as I am walking out of the chamber as he did the other day quite fairly. You got one in for free, Senator Back--through you Mr Deputy President—but we will have the chance to square the ledger somewhere along the line.

In terms of the live export trade, I do stand in this building as a very proud senator for Western Australia. Those who do know my whereabouts—and hopefully not as many as I think might—know that I proudly haunt the Kimberley. At every opportunity I am in the Kimberley. Whether it be in the west or the east, the live export trade is very topical. Live cattle and beef are the main industry in the Kimberley. It is not the only part of Western Australia for those who might not know. There is also the Pilbara.

I also know that when the live export ban was on and the Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee conducted a number of inquiries around the Top End of Australia and also one here, in Canberra, I made sure that I was in Broome to hear from the pastoralists—not only the Kimberley pastoralists and the Pilbara pastoralists but also the 22 Kimberley Aboriginal pastoralists—who were affected. They have their own little association, headed by Billy Lawford from Bohemia Downs. I know the drama that the ban on the live export trade created.

I honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that I know the pain that it would have given the minister to have to put that ban on. But let us just talk about that ban—the ban that lasted a month. Yes, it did get everyone jumping who had an interest in live export, and they are not only the pastoralists but also others who rely on cattle for a living. They are the numerous truckies, trucking companies, truck drivers, auto electricians, tyre suppliers, fencing suppliers and local shops in those regional and rural towns, as well as a host of other businesses. Let me talk about this from the west Kimberley perspective—the towns of Broome and Derby. People think that Broome is bubbling. It is the dry season, which is normally the height of the tourist season. Tourism is really suffering. Trust me: they are suffering. The high Australian dollar is making it very hard for them. But I also have to tell you, Mr Deputy President—and I know that Senator Back will back me on this—the pearling industry is all but defunct there. They are struggling. So the live export of cattle is very important.

I think the way that everyone has jumped on the government has been unfair. Let us take a couple of steps back to what I call the 'shocking behaviour' on behalf of Animals Australia and the RSPCA—and I will tell you why. It was right of them to bring to the attention of the government the mistreatment of animals, but they sat on that information for months. For months and months, they sat on it. If they had been fair dinkum, they would have been in here that quick that they would have burnt the carpet trying to get to the minister's office.

I stand in support of the live cattle industry, but I would much rather see a more active boxed-meat industry. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to go back to my old trucking days when there was an abattoir in Kununurra, an abattoir in Wyndham, an abattoir in Broome and an abattoir in Derby. There was also one, but not for cattle, in Carnarvon. And I also think Port Hedland might have had some activity around there. I remember all those meatworkers and businesses that relied on the live export cattle trade.

I fully stand shoulder to shoulder with the government on its decision to put the ban on because we had to lift our standards. There are no ifs or buts about it. When I was at the PGA conference in Broome in June, I said that it would have been lovely if we could have done it without having to put a ban on. The sad reality is that we had to put the ban on. We had to lift the treatment of animals in Indonesia to world-class standards. I understand that the Indonesians have put some pressure on Australian growers. But I can tell you from the PGA in Broome that they are confident that their export figures will return to pre-ban days. (Time expired)

3:25 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Sterle for the support he gave the industry last year. Had he not given it such support, the industry might not have been returned quite so quickly. But I do remind Senator Sterle again that I did write to the minister in the days before he made the decision to suspend the trade, and I invited the opportunity to speak with him at length so that he could avert doing that.

But the matter of greatest concern to me today is that, when I put my questions to Senator Ludwig, whose answers I wish to take note of today, I was raising with him matters of enormous concern to biosecurity in this country. Only yesterday did he answer a dorothy dixer from Senator Moore in which he very proudly spoke of his role in protecting biosecurity in this country. When I raised with him the very real threats of a return of foot-and-mouth disease to Indonesia and, subsequently, to this country and the possibility of a return to this country of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, a disease that took us some 130 years to eradicate, all he could come back and say to me was 'a scare campaign'. This is the minister who has responsibility to the Australian community for one of our most important industries.

The third highest revenue export income earning industry for this country is agriculture. For Minister Ludwig to stand up here and claim this side of the house, and particularly me, a veterinarian of some 40 years' experience, has no interest in biosecurity or in animal welfare matters is a deep insult to me. It is an absolutely deep insult to me. I raised with him the question of whether or not he is aware and can he confirm that beef is being illegally repackaged as 'product of Australia' and being brought into Indonesia from India—a country which is rife with foot-and-mouth disease and, indeed, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia. The only retort he could give back to me was that he regarded that as a scare campaign.

Let me debunk, if I can, a theory which was put around this time last year about the live export trade, which is that, if the live export trade were discontinued in any country of any type, it would be replaced with chilled or frozen—in other words, boxed meat. We know from our experience with Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, when we lost the live export trade of sheep to Saudi Arabia for political purposes, there was a concurrent drop-off and cessation of boxed beef and sheepmeat sales to Saudi Arabia. I will have more to say about Saudi Arabia in coming days.

What we see evidence of at this very time is that the Indonesians are punishing Australia because of the act by Senator Ludwig in suspending the supply of protein to low socioeconomic Indonesian families last year. The reprisals are many. We see the reprisals, do we not, in the attitude of the Indonesians towards our attempts to solve the asylum seeker problem. We see it in the efforts of the Indonesian government now to accept the notion of accepting beef from the United States. This is a market that is on our doorstep. Would the Americans be keen to get into the Indonesia trade? Of course they would. Do we have a freight advantage? Yes, we do. But what is going to happen now as a direct result of the insult visited upon Indonesia following the actions of Senator Ludwig? These were actions that he did not need to take, I emphasise. We have a circumstance now in which the number of live cattle has been reduced this year to 283,000 animals—this is down from 770,000 in 2009. At the same time, we are also see a halving of the amount of boxed chilled beef going into Indonesia. This is exactly in line with what we saw Saudi Arabia do years ago.

As I have raised the point, another country that Indonesian government ministers have said they will seek to import beef from is Brazil. Not all of Brazil has foot-and-mouth disease. There are so-called foot-and-mouth-disease-free zones. But we know that the leakage of movement of live cattle from foot-and-mouth-disease zones into zones which are free of foot-and-mouth-disease are very wide and loose. I repeat the fear which has been expressed by the veterinary profession and throughout the community that if we end up accepting beef from those countries into Indonesia, those diseases will return to Indonesia, and with our porous borders we will end up with them in Australia.

Question agreed to.