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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8618


Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (16:00): What an embarrassment that was. The member for Isaacs talked about confrontations. Perhaps his confrontation with the member for Indi was why he was so chastened and so unable to address the purpose of this MPI—and that was the adverse impact of the carbon tax on Australia's economic prospects. He sat there and obfuscated about different data and about his interpretation, but the common theme that runs through everything this Labor Party say is that they are right and everybody else is wrong. Apparently the Treasury in New South Wales, which the former Labor government was happy to rely upon, now cannot be relied upon when they do their analysis of the impact of the carbon tax on the New South Wales economy.

Some time ago the Victorian Treasury, happily reporting to Premier Brumby, a Labor Premier, were the oracle of all thoughts, all accuracy or any analysis you could possibly have on the impact of a government policy on Victoria. But now when material is released from the government of Victoria you cannot trust it. What is really interesting is that you could even go to the Treasurer's own words. There were a lot of people at the Council of Small Business of Australia summit recently who just about choked on their little cakes over morning tea when they reflected on what the Treasurer had to say. The Treasurer said:

... some of the best, most grounded information I get about conditions in our economy comes from our small businesses.

This is what the Treasurer was saying. He was playing to his audience. He was there knowing that, for years now, this Labor government has failed to take into account any serious consideration that small business has had, and this has again played out when it has come to this carbon tax. Small business is at the pointy end of the impact of this tax. But, with all the compensation and the carve-outs that the member for Isaacs is happy to talk about, what does small business get? What direct assistance do they get? Absolutely nothing. What they are told by this government is that they have got to either suck up the extra costs that come from this carbon tax or pass them on to their consumers.

What small businesses are telling me is that consumers are very worried about their household budgets. Businesses that rely on other businesses are very concerned about the cost of their inputs. They are in no mood to take on additional costs at a time when, through the actions of this appalling Labor government, consumer confidence is at a very low level. Survey after survey points to a lack of confidence in the business community, and forward indicators about investment intentions and growth and plan acquisitions and future employment levels are all looking very grim outside the mining sector. But do you think the Treasurer wants to hear any of that? If he is listening to small business—and I hope that he is—I have something that small business would like to pass on to him. Small businesses in the retail sector are doing it very tough at the moment. So anxious are they about government policy that we are seeing Australian households doing what the government should be doing—that is, being very frugal in their expenditure and saving around 11 per cent of their income because they are anxious and uncertain about what this incompetent government is going to do to them next. All they can be certain about is that it will not be doing anything that is helpful.

If you go to the small businesses in the retail sector, as the Australian Retailers Association said, they can give you an analysis of what the impact will be of this carbon tax. And what was their analysis? Be mindful that the Treasurer says that he listens, as the most grounded and useful information comes from small business. Well, I hope he listens to this: 85 per cent of the respondents in the retail sector believe the carbon tax will have a negative impact on their business, and 83 per cent believe that consumers will spend less. One-third of those in the retail sector anticipate that they will be forced to shed staff. They are the impacts in the retail sector of this carbon tax. What was most ironic is that the Treasurer started off by saying how he listens to small business and how sincerely he felt that. He was very sincere about getting such good advice from the small business community. If only he would listen to what small business has to say.

It is not just in the retail sector. Leading accountancy and business advisory firms like the Institute of Public Accountants have done their own work. Two-thirds of their clients said that there has not been enough consideration about the impact of the carbon tax on small business. Sixty-seven per cent think there is not enough information for small business to work out what the impact will actually be. One-third of them said that prospects for small business over the next 12 months are poor. They go on to say that the major sectors being affected—energy, manufacturing and construction and mining—are very anxious about the impact of this tax.

But what is interesting is when you then go to what the Treasurer has had to say: at that same COSBOA conference he actually said that retailers will be better off under the carbon tax. You should have heard the audience at that COSBOA summit. To quote John McEnroe after a bad line call, 'You can't be serious!' But the Treasurer was saying that this would be good for retail—let us put aside all the analysis and all the insights from the Australian Retailers Association, let us put aside the field of evidence as we walk down the main streets of our communities in this country and see shops close, and let us put aside the consistent survey results of any credible surveying firm from any source you care to point to that says retail is doing it hard and this is going to make it worse. This carbon tax is going to make retail, already in a difficult situation, even worse—but not according to Wayne Swan, not according to our Treasurer. In a bizarre twist, our Treasurer said that the government is doing such a good job in overcompensating people that people will race down to the shops and spend the extra windfall. That is what the Treasurer said. You could hear the jaws dropping at Homebush. People were sitting there thinking about what John McEnroe would say to the Treasurer: 'You can't be serious!'

It was the most extraordinary thing you have ever heard. And he went on to make the assertion that there would be such a minuscule impact on prices that consumers should not have to worry about it. But it gets worse: to try and keep up this fiction that the government run they have rolled out the ACCC. The Prime Minister has told the ACCC that if anyone puts their prices up by more than 0.7 per cent they will be charged with price gouging. What is this? Are we now stalking small businesses which—having been told nonsense by the government—actually speak frankly and honestly to their consumers that the price rises are more than 0.7 per cent as a result of a carbon tax, and so they risk a $1.1 million fine from the ACCC? What is going on with these guys?

This government is out of control. It cannot bring forward any meaningful analysis about the impact of its carbon tax on particular sectors, it cannot do it on any particular businesses and it cannot do it on any part of the economy, but it can do work to help Labor MPs sell it to the households in their electorates. The only analysis that has been released is stuff to enable Labor MPs—many of whom are in this place under false pretences after they gained votes in their electorates from a deceit by the Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead'—to run around telling households how good it is going to be for them.

Have they done any work on the impact on workplaces? No. Can they tell you which businesses will be passing on these costs and which ones will not? No. Can they tell you what the impact will be on particular sectors and industries, where those industries are going out and doing their own work, only to be abused by this Labor government for actually doing the analysis that the government should have been doing? No.

So what happens? Look at some of that analysis. In the great state of Victoria, in the two municipal areas of Frankston City and Mornington Peninsula Shire in my own electorate, figures were released by the Victorian government that show we will lose 1,000-plus jobs. Understanding the local economy, they are actually doing work on a geographical basis to see what the impact is. What happens then? The Victorian government then gets abused for doing that work. What is this government up to?

You cannot talk about the facts that others produce and argue that they are not right but not produce any information of your own. Everyone who is out there sees the field evidence of a carbon tax that builds and builds and builds at every stage of the production process and at every step of the supply chain, and for small businesses those supply chains are longer. They are going to have it building and building. Then the Prime Minister goes out there saying, 'Well, don't you put up your prices by more than 0.7 per cent. The ACCC will be after you with the threat of a $1.1 million fine.' The way that the government is going around verballing the business community, ignoring the small business community and talking absolute fiction about the impact of one of the largest carbon taxes on the planet, where most of the effort will be made by sending $3 billion offshore to buy the reductions from somewhere else, is outrageous. What a remarkable proposition.

This is worse than a placebo. A placebo actually has people thinking that something is going to happen, even though there is no active ingredient to bring about that change. This is worse because there is no active ingredient in the government's policy to bring about change, but the impact is disastrous. It is damaging, it is detrimental to the interests of this nation and our citizens, and the government and the Labor Party members do not seem to care a jot about it.

And now we have this ginger group, which says, 'We're really worried about the impact on our economy. We will go and have a gingerbread chat together and tell the minister we are really worried but do nothing to actually bring about change.' If the ginger group want to do something, come over here and vote with the coalition and axe this tax. (Time expired)