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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11346


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (10:57): The introduction of the Clean Energy Bill and associated bills, and the potential long-term ramifications should these bills become legislation, is deeply divisive and possibly the most damaging issue that I have ever witnessed in the public domain. In fact, the words 'deeply divisive' fail to adequately paint a true picture of the potential impact and the voter sentiment being felt in the broader community and indeed in my electorate of Solomon. As we have heard, prior to the last federal election the Prime Minister said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' These words remain deeply etched in the minds of most Australians, including schoolchildren. Yes, the current leader of this great nation stood before all Australians and categorically ruled out a carbon tax. Yet one year on, here we sit—in this 43rd Parliament with its new paradigm—divided and engaged in bitter debate on this issue, an issue which has the capacity to unseat a government. In my own electorate, people from all walks of life, all sectors of the community, all socioeconomic circumstances and all political persuasions tell me that this new tax is nothing more than a money grab by an inept government and that it will not do anything to help the environment. The general consensus is that this tax has nothing to do with sustainability and a longer term cleaner and greener environment. Sustainability is a question that many of my constituents have pondered and have candidly discussed with me. They have said: 'How can we talk about sustainability with the implementation of a carbon tax? It just does not make sense.' It is a tax that the voting public will be paying for, a tax that the Gillard Labor government claims is designed to apply an impost on only 500 of the country's biggest polluters. The Gillard Labor government says that it understands that there may be some disadvantages as a result of the carbon tax, so to offset the minimal cost implications—as provided by the government's modelling—a compensation package will be implemented to assist Australia's lowest paid. I suggest that this is a tax amassed in economic pain and not about environmental gain. The government's own figures indicate that this tax will immediately put the price of electricity up by 10 per cent, cause a nine per cent increase in gas bills and leave a $4.3 billion hole in the budget.

In the Northern Territory prices for most everyday items, including electricity and gas, are higher than in most other places in Australia. Coupled with its higher transport costs, higher cost of living and higher housing affordability the Northern Territory is already doing it tough. Yet the Gillard Labor government says that it understands there may be some costs passed on to consumers as a result of this tax. Despite the Prime Minister's assurances, Territorians remain unconvinced that they will not be worse off. I have had thousands and thousands of my constituents voice their concerns against the carbon tax. I am listening to them, and the message I am giving this House is that my electorate is saying no carbon tax.

The Leader of the Opposition has made this House aware that this government has a history of price rises, with a 51 per cent average increase in power prices, a 30 per cent average increase in gas prices, a 46 per cent average increase in water prices, a 24 per cent average increase in education costs and a 20 per cent average increase in health costs. These increases are before any impact is felt from the introduction of a carbon tax. These prices will continue to increase and we know that any price increase will further deepen the already tight budgets of most Australians.

I know that in the Northern Territory we will feel the pain of every single price increase. My constituents tell me of their concerns and their financial pain. I have already indicated that in my electorate there is a strong feeling of resentment toward the Gillard Labor government for introducing the carbon tax. Small local businesses underpin most communities and this is no different within my electorate. My background is in business. I understand the economics and the sweat, tears and effort needed to maintain and grow a business. I understand the impact that rising costs have on a business. A number of business owners within my electorate tell me that they are struggling. Margins are falling while costs are rising. There is no doubt that small businesses are a good barometer for local communities in terms of how strong an economy is. When I hear local business owners say that the predicted increased costs for electricity and gas under the carbon tax will impact on them significantly, when small operators say they are not sure they will remain viable and in business or that they will have to downsize or let some staff go, I feel their hurt, I feel their anguish and I feel their anger. I echo the words of my colleagues and say to this government: now is not the time to add additional burdens on businesses, now is not the time to add additional burden on families and now is not the time to add to sovereign risk issues associated with Australia.

The basis behind the introduction of these bills is for the government to address global environmental concerns by reducing carbon emissions. A key element of the government's policy propels Australia toward reaching a five per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This is not through a mechanism of environmental sustainability but by an internationally linked scheme for the purchase of offshore permits. The Prime Minister has said this is going to be an internationally linked scheme—and so it should be. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has already outlined, the World Bank reported recently that the international market in carbon credits has suffered a debilitating collapse and expressed doubt about the ongoing viability of global markets.

Trading in credits commenced following the adoption of the Kyoto protocol in 2005 and $25 billion was generated over the years 2005 to 2009. However, figures for last year indicate a collapse to $1.5 billion. Why? it is due to concerns about the ongoing commitment of nations post the Kyoto expiry in 2012. Internationally, concerns are being raised about the potential for corruption and crime in respect of dealings in carbon credits. Instances of fraud, as evidenced within the European Union, are already a real concern. An estimated $57 billion of taxpayer funds, as proposed by the Gillard Labor government in its carbon tax policy, is being sent offshore to purchase and secure carbon offsets to enable the government to reach its target of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.

Australia from a global perspective in many respects is viewed as a responsible corporate citizen in the global community. Yet as a nation this government wants to be the first to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax, or emissions trading scheme—a scheme that has the potential to disadvantage and disrupt the competitive position of Australia in terms of its export markets, a scheme that has the potential for businesses to trade offshore with countries with inferior emissions standards. Without the support of similar economy-wide carbon tax schemes across multiple countries, including big polluters such as the United States, India and China, Australia is giving away an enormous competitive advantage to overseas manufacturing. At a time when there is uncertainty in the global economy, at a time when most countries are focused on the business of their own local economic development, at a time when countries are trying to maintain if not improve the standard of living for themselves, our current Labor government seems determined to reduce our standard of living through the implementation of this carbon tax.

The government's Clean Energy Future plan has four key elements: putting a price on carbon pollution; promoting innovation and investment in renewable energy; improving energy efficiency; and creating opportunities in the land sector to cut pollution. The fact is that, according to the government's own statements, carbon emissions for Australia will continue to impact on the climate and will increase from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes between 2012 and 2020. The government promised and proposed that every cent of the moneys collected by this tax would go to households. This government already has a credibility issue, and now we learn that, although it promised 100 per cent of the tax collected would go to households, it is now down to 50 per cent. You just cannot believe anything this government says. The true worth of any compensation to be paid under this carbon tax remains, to some extent, shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. Modelling across the country by a number of state governments, including the Labor government of Queensland, shows considerable economic impacts associated with the introduction of this carbon tax. The Northern Territory will, unfortunately, showcase the impact of this new tax. Why? Because of its remoteness. Not the most distant from Canberra, my electorate is one of the most remote in terms of population and demographics. Every access or exit to the electorate of Solomon is via transport. It is not just a short hop, skip, jump or drive down the road; it is thousands of kilometres from any state or major centre. Our lifelines rely on transport. Any impost on the preparation, manufacture, production, packaging, cooling, heating and transporting of goods will be impacted on by this carbon tax.

As I have already said, we in the Territory already pay extra for transport costs, and it looks like we are going to be paying more. The government will have us believe that the impact of this new tax will be minimal and, in fact, that the compensation package will provide equality for those most in need. But if you happen to be a pensioner, self-funded retiree, small business operator or one of the many other Australians struggling to make ends meet and you live in remote Australia, your government will not let you down, they will just tax you down. How on earth do the government expect the average Australian to quantify the cost of a carbon tax, when Blind Freddy can see that a carbon tax is meant to hurt? If it does not, how does it change behaviour? How does the cost of trading carbon credits address the impact of climate change in Kakadu or the Great Barrier Reef?

I would like to share with the House an example of how this tax affects a local aviation business in my electorate. Airnorth, an award-winning Territory-grown business, commenced operations in 1978 as an air charter service across the Territory. By 1993 Airnorth's expansion had continued to encompass the entire Northern Territory, from Uluru to Darwin. Airnorth is now a major aviation operator in Northern Australia with 156 scheduled departures weekly, servicing 14 destinations and carrying in excess of 250,000 passengers annually. It employs more than 180 staff in Darwin. This is a good new story for the Territory—right?—of a solid but small company providing essential services to the Top End of Australia. Unfortunately, with the looming of the carbon tax, the company is concerned, or should I say alarmed, at the impost the proposed carbon tax will have upon it.

The Executive Chairman of Airnorth, Mr Michael Bridge, shared with me some of his company's concerns and the projected impact that this tax would have on their business and growth plans. Mr Deputy Speaker, I urge you and other members of this House to listen to these figures. In 2011-12 Airnorth budgeted to use 15.5 million litres of aviation fuel. In 2012-13 they plan to use 16.5 million litres of aviation fuel. In 2013-14 it will increase to 21 million litres of aviation fuel. In 2014-15 it will increase again to an estimated 25 million litres of aviation fuel. Based solely on the usage of fuel, the direct affect that a carbon tax will have on Airnorth in the 2012-13 financial year will be an additional tax of $986,700. In 2013-14 it will be $1.3 million and in 2014-15 the company will have to pay an additional tax of $1.65 million. If this company is to remain prosperous and provide the services that are required by its consumers, it will have no choice but to pass these additional costs on to those consumers.

In addition to the issue of this significant increase in tax, Mr Bridge also highlighted to me that the Gillard Labor government had publicly stated that they are taxing Australia's 500 biggest polluters. Airnorth would not even be close to being rated as one of the 500 big polluters but, as outlined here today, they are to be taxed anyway. This is because the Gillard Labor government have applied the carbon tax to the aviation industry through the aviation fuel levy. This means no matter how big or small your aviation business is, the tax will be applied regardless. Airnorth is not the only aviation company that will be affected, as this will be applied equally to other Territory aviation companies including Hardy Aviation, Chartair and Pearl Aviation, right down to the small operators in private aircraft. They will all be paying the tax. Mr Deputy Speaker, need I say more? This tax is unjust and, as I have clearly demonstrated here today, it will hurt all Australians. This carbon tax will not be fair, as it will be significantly greater for small businesses and for people living in the remoter areas of Australia.

I have been consulting with my constituents in Solomon and they are very clear that they do not want a carbon tax. In fact, the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly passed a motion to have the implementation of any carbon tax delayed for 50 years. This action reflects the view of Territorians and they do not want a carbon tax. I wonder if Minister Snowdon, the member for Lingiari, will stand alongside me and not support the carbon tax. Will he stand up for Territorians and not support the carbon tax?