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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2439

Carbon Pricing

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Treasurer, Senator Wong. Is the minister aware of research by the Energy Users Association of Australia that shows that Australian businesses currently pay 130 per cent more for electricity than their competitors in Canada? Is the minister also aware that Australian businesses will have to pay 250 per cent more than their competitors in Canada after the introduction of the carbon tax and other locked-in price increases? In light of this new evidence, does the minister now concede that the Gillard government's decision to impose the world's biggest carbon tax on Australia will hurt our international competitiveness?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:01): I thank Senator Cormann for the question and for his new-found interest in climate policy. The first point I would make is that it is the case that electricity prices in this nation have been going up. As the senator would know, that has been because of the substantial investments that have been required in our networks as a result of underinvestment by state governments. I make the point that even Mr Macfarlane has previously said, 'Power prices are set to double over the next five to seven years irrespective of who is in government.'

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator WONG: Irrespective of who is in government. You do not like it, do you, when someone tells the truth. Someone on your side says, 'Irrespective of who is in government'—these are not my words but someone on your side's words. And lack of planning has led to an investment drought. Mr McFarlane has also said, 'Australians in all states are feeling the impacts of rising power prices, in large part due to the neglect and mismanagement of state governments.' This government understands also that where you want to provide a stable framework for investment what you do need to provide is policy certainty. The fact is that the opposition's plan—their blood oath, as Mr Abbott calls it—to remove the carbon tax will result in further investment uncertainty in an area—

Senator Brandis: That is right. That is as certain a commitment as you will get.

Senator WONG: Senator Brandis says that is wrong, because changing the policy framework does not change the policy certainty at all, does it, Senator?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, ignore the interjections; they are disorderly.

Senator WONG: Investors want to know what the policy framework is so they can make long-lived investments. That was why John Howard thought that a price on carbon was a sensible policy. When those opposite used to care about economics that also was the policy of the coalition.

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence on both sides we will continue. You are entitled to be heard in silence, Senator Cormann.

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. given Treasury modelling did not even consider the impact of the carbon price on Australia's international competitiveness, will the government now commission fresh modelling to ensure Australian manufactur¬≠ing businesses in particular will not be harmed by Labor's carbon tax—the biggest carbon tax in the world?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:04): Just because Senator Cormann keep saying something does not mean it is true. I would remind him when he talks about carbon prices that the highest carbon price that has been postulated in this parliament is the carbon price those opposite would effectively want to impose on the Australian economy and Australian taxpayers, because they are proposing a model which is taxpayer funded, bureaucratically driven and inefficient—$1,300 more tax for every household in Australia every year. That is what yours would cost. I would also, in response to comments made by the senator in that question, remind him that we need to look also at the Jobs and Competitiveness package the government has put in place. A highly emissions intensive activity under our package gets 94.5 per cent of assistance in free permits. That is about $1.30 for every tonne of carbon. (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the significant increases in the cost of electricity as a direct result of Labor's carbon tax, does the minister now concede that Australian businesses will be worse off under Labor because any small cut in company tax to the very few will be more than wiped out by the significant increases in the cost of electricity to everyone as a direct result of the world's biggest carbon tax?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:05): The answer to the question is no. And the answer to the question is also this: those opposite might like to come in here and say: 'Please don't look at the fact we are opposing tax breaks for small business. Let's just talk about the carbon tax.' But everyone knows that the party of small business in this place, the people who come in here and say that it is part of their core constituency, are voting against the company tax cut, with a head start for small business, and are voting against tax breaks for small business through the instant asset write-off, which they have opposed. They consistently come in here and say, 'We champion small business, but we are going to oppose tax breaks for small business.'

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed. The time to debate it is after question time.

Senator Cormann interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, it is your supplementary question.

Senator WONG: What is extraordinary is that Senator Bob Brown has got a more business-friendly position when it comes to tax than Senator Cormann and Senator Sinodinos. I mean, you would think they were members of the National Party. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Order, on both sides!

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on a point of order, I ask that Senator Brandis be instructed to withdraw that remark.

The PRESIDENT: I did not hear the remark because of the noise that was going on, but if Senator Brandis was unparlia¬≠mentary he needs to—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, it was not unparliamentary. I did not reflect on any individual.

The PRESIDENT: If there had been silence on my right it would have helped.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, I accept your ruling, but I think calling members of this chamber 'corrupt' is not appropriate. Senator Brandis ought to have the good grace to withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Order! It does help me to hear things if there are not other interjections in the chamber.