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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1422

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (15:51): The adverse impact of a carbon tax on the business sector is undoubtedly the most compelling issue facing employers and those who are worrying about their financial security and the broader health and wellbeing of the Australian economy. It was not enough for the Australian public's confidence in the democratic process to be assaulted by the Prime Minister with her promise that 'there will be no carbon tax under a government' followed by her introduction of the very tax she had promised not to introduce. In addition to the damage to the public's confidence in the democratic process we are now seeing damage to the confidence of Australian consumers and damage to the Australian economy. I am sure we will hear from members opposite, who will say, 'Oh, there are the Libs and the Nats again talking about the business sector.'

Mr Ian Macfarlane: And the LNP.

Mr BILLSON: And the LNP. It is an interesting point to emphasise that the business sector is the one that is providing the bulk of the jobs in the Australian economy. If we are not interested in the health and welfare of the business sector, we are not interested in the livelihoods of Australian families and the security and prospects of Australian businesses. But that is why the carbon tax is such a crucial issue for that important part of our community. We are talking about the mums and dads who run small businesses and family enterprises. We are talking about the employees who give of their skills and talents day in and day out in a workplace where those organisations have the spectre of the world's largest carbon tax hanging over their heads, threatening their survival.

It is interesting to remind those who are listening that this carbon tax is like no other carbon tax that any other economy is facing. This carbon tax will generate revenue some 18 times the amount that is raised in Europe. Eighteen times the amount of financial burden on our economy is being imposed by this Gillard Labor government's carbon tax. It is worth remembering that the population of Europe is some 22 times the size of the Australian population. Here we have a tax 18 times the size in terms of its burden, impact and harm on the Australian economy compared to Europe, and yet Europe has 22 times the number of people. Put simply, the Australian carbon tax amounts to $400 per capita—$400 for everyone in the Australian continent—whereas the European carbon tax amounts to $1 each. We have a 400 times greater impact on the Australian economy through this carbon tax than is faced over in Europe, and the government is trying to tell the Australian public, 'Don't worry. It's happening in Europe. Everything will be okay.' But we know the Australian public have no confidence in what the government says. There is much evidence to justify their suspicions about these kinds of assurances.

Let us look at what people are actually doing. At the present time Australian households are saving 13 per cent of their disposable household income, where just 18 months ago it was negative one per cent. People were actually adding to their personal debt. Thirteen per cent of household income is being saved. It is being saved because people are concerned and anxious. They are not convinced by what the government says and there is evidence, argument, insight and concern being raised day after day by those who create wealth and opportunity in this country that this government just continues to ignore.

While you see the coalition go on about hope, reward and opportunity, this government is about hardship, risk, redistribution of wealth and obfuscation on the impact of its actions. That is the contrast that the Australian public is seeing. You do not have to go back too far to see the research. Interestingly, in the lead-up to the Queensland election the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry surveyed 1,000 businesses in Queensland. Yesterday the Prime Minister tried to accuse the opposition of somehow creating and nurturing concern and anxiety. The message for the Prime Minister is that she has done plenty of that without any help from the opposition. Her government has created a great degree of uncertainty and concern about one particular issue, and that is the carbon tax. Have a look at the data: 94.6 per cent of businesses surveyed in Queensland are concerned about the carbon tax. That is an enormous proportion of those in the business community, not prompted or cajoled by the coalition but who of their own volition identified the carbon tax as a leading concern about their economic future, the vitality and viability of their businesses and the opportunity for them to succeed, to get ahead and to create job opportunities for those in their workforce.

But that is not all. In fact, this polling calls on whoever is the next Queensland government to do all they can to take the fight to Canberra to see that this carbon tax is not introduced. They call it a 'tax trap'. They recognise that it will have an enormous detrimental impact on the Australian economy and also particularly on Queensland. It does not matter what region those survey results come from; it has carbon tax or higher energy costs as the biggest issue. It does not matter what sector of the economy those businesses come from. Again, their biggest concern is the carbon tax and increasing energy prices. The size of the business does not matter. This is still the biggest concern. This is why this survey report is calling on the government to scrap the implementation of the carbon tax, so that Queensland businesses have half a chance of finding their way through the murk, mist and smokescreen that is this government to try to forge a better future for themselves and their communities and to get ahead in this country.

Also in that survey, 84.3 per cent of those surveyed are calling on whoever is the next state government in Queensland to urge the federal government to dump this dodgy tax. There is only one way that will happen and that is if there is an LNP result in Queensland because, as sure as night follows day, the state Labor Party will be in a headlock controlled by Canberra to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn book. That singing ignores any of the messages coming from those people having to make big decisions about the future of our economy. We have seen it day after day and we all have felt the pain and the uncertainty about job losses in major employers, particularly in the energy intensive manufacturing area of our economy. We see that every day. Every day that is highly visible and we know the concerns of those people.

I want to put on the table tonight something that is also happening every day but that is far less visible though still very raw in the Australian economy—and that is what is happening in the small business space. Small businesses and family enterprises are having to look at an employee who has been on their team or staff for years, knowing they have family and obligations—and they know this because they are a small business with a very personal relationship with and interest in the wellbeing of that person—and tell them that they do not have any more work for them, that they have to reduce their hours or that they have to wind back the opportunities for extra income from extra work. That is happening and it does not get attention. It does not get the attention that it deserves but it is happening right across the Australian continent. This is a very difficult environment that does not hit the headlines. The government come in with their own stories about what is happening with big employers with major layoffs. They do not even try to turn their minds to what is happening in terms of the atrophy in the economy of the small business and family enterprise sector—the 300,000 jobs that have been lost since this government was elected and the 14,500 fewer employees of small businesses we now have under Labor.

The constant message is that the carbon tax is going to make the difficult economic situation even worse. There is a reason why the government does not want to talk about that—and that is because the government has airbrushed the experience and the impact of small business out of its policy-making process. This carbon tax is designed to offer no direct compensation to small business—none whatsoever. While you have got all these carve-outs and compensation arrangements that will see this carbon tax actually cost the budget more than it is going to bring in, there is nothing in there for the small business community. They are told to suck it up. They are told to just absorb it or pass it on to their consumers. Does anyone know a consumer that is just itching for a price rise? Has everyone ignored the fact that there are cost-of-living pressures in every Australian household? Cost-of-living pressures in business are cost-of-input pressures, and the small business community are being told by this tawdry government: 'Suck up the impact or pass it on.'

When there is an opportunity for Minister Combet to address this issue directly, he ridicules the concern. I have pointed out that 19 out of 20 businesses in Queensland are horrified about this carbon tax, but apparently it is 'She'll be right; don't worry.' It is like the political equivalent of a flesh wound—when all of these businesses are terrified about the impact. When Minister Combet spoke at the Press Club, he ridiculed the concerns of the small business community. He said: 'Oh, it's all overstated. There's nothing to be worried about.' He went on to say that the electricity costs will only be a microscopic increase. But no-one believes him, and there has been no modelling done on the impact on individual small businesses in terms of their type, their supply chain, the energy that they use, the energy that is embedded in their inputs and the ability of the business to absorb that additional cost. No analysis has been done on that whatsoever. Yet Minister Combet stood up before the Australian National Press Club and said to the small business community: 'Hey, you've got no reason to be worried.' He said:

A dry cleaner is not competing against dry cleaners in China.

What a genius contribution that is! He went on to say:

Drivers cannot get their cars serviced in India.

He was trying to make the clumsy point that, whilst the countries with which we compete in many markets might not have a carbon tax, you cannot take your car over to them.

Mr Tony Smith: People won't get them serviced!

Mr BILLSON: I thank my friend and colleague. What people will do is they will delay activity in those areas. You go and talk to any mechanic around Australia. Those scheduled services are not being done in quite the same way they were in the past. People are waiting till their car needs a repair before they go to the mechanic. You go and ask anybody who installs LPG, an investment that has a long-run benefit. But there is no need to do it right now—and people are simply not doing it. This government has created a hibernation climate for these small businesses, because the consumers they rely upon are anxious about their future, uncertain about the impact of a carbon tax and absolutely clear that you cannot trust the government about what they are saying the impact will be. So what does the dry-cleaner do? He does not get to see the customer quite so often. If people can put off that extra visit to the dry-cleaner, they will. If there is some other way—a hand wash perhaps, for a cardigan or a vest—they will use that, but they will not go to the dry-cleaners.

This is happening right across our economy. This is why the small business community need a government that partners with them rather than punishes them. This is why we need the small business minister and ministers with responsibility for policies that have a profound impact on the viability and the future of small businesses to give a damn about what is happening in the small business community. They are copping it every which way from this government, and this is undermining employment in small businesses and it is undermining the very viability of those small businesses.

You might hear the government say: 'We're going to give this little bit of help to this particular big industry.' Why? It is a big industry, it has got the ear of the big government, and the big unions are in there cheering for it. Well, we are here to reaffirm our support for the small businesses that are not organised into unions, that do not have the ear of this government. They can count on the coalition to partner with them in terms of their prosperity and their opportunities into the future.

Let us have a look at what is actually playing out here. You will probably hear from those opposite: 'We've got all these compensation plans. It will all be just fine. It will all be peachy. Just ignore everything that is said by anybody who runs a business. Just ignore all of the analysis that's done. Ignore all the research and ignore all the impact work that's been done'—the research the government should have done but could not be bothered getting off its backside to do.

You stand condemned for your indifference to the impact of your policies on the men and women in small business who are the backbone of our economy. They know what you know. They know that you do not care. They are not looking for you to do anything for them, because that would be the first time. What they are hoping for is a chance at their future, a chance not to get this dagger in their heart of a carbon tax that is a ridiculously implemented proposition that is nothing like anything else that is going on in the world and that will have a very profound impact on small businesses and family enterprises. They cannot rock up to their suppliers and say: 'Hey, I'm a big business. If you want to keep working with me, you just go and absorb that cost.' They do not have that market power. They cannot go to their energy company and say: 'You want to put your prices up by 10 per cent? No, no. I don't think we'll cop that, because we're a big business.' They cannot do that.

So often, small business are price takers. So often, what they can afford to charge depends on what the import alternative might be. So often, they are at the pointy end of that difficult conversation between a consumer and someone providing the goods and services who has to say: 'This will cost this much.' They have to look in the eyes of those anxious consumers, who are uncertain about the competence of this government and wary about having confidence in the economy when the government cannot seem to manage its own affairs, let alone those of the nation. They have to be there when the decision is made: 'Maybe I'll just put that off.'

They cannot run off to somebody and say, 'Gee, business is a bit grim. Oh, well, we'll just work a little bit slower. There's always scope that the boss will throw in more money.' They are the boss. They are the last person to be paid. They are the ones who come in on the weekend, looking for those opportunities. They are the ones who turn up for this nation. They drive innovation in this country. They create wealth and opportunity, and this Gillard government does not give a hoot about them.

I am interested to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has got to say. He was at a business conference in the Isaacs electorate with SEMMA. He visited them and tried to explain the carbon tax. When someone explained the punishing impact of the carbon tax on their energy-intensive business, he just dismissed it: 'Oh, that's not much money. It might make you broke, but that's tough. That's a bad choice for the business.' This is a bad government. (Time expired)