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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2608

Carbon Pricing

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:12): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The minister will be aware that the Townsville City Council in publicly published information have estimated that the financial impact of Labor's carbon tax will be, on average, an additional $68 per rateable property. Minister, given that this will result in either a loss of essential services or increased rates, what is the government's message to the people of Townsville and indeed other parts of Queensland who will be paying even more for their cost of living under Labor's toxic carbon tax?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:13): What I would say is this: the government are providing very significant assistance through the tax system to Australian families because we do recognise the potential price impacts from a carbon price. I would also say that the fear campaign by those opposite regularly overstates that and regularly ignores the significant assistance that is to be provided.

I make the point that we have made clear that we will be tripling the tax-free threshold, we will be increasing family tax benefits and we will be increasing pensions such as the age pension, none of which those opposite are matching. So let us remember that, whereas on our side of politics we do support a price on carbon, we also support proper assistance to Australian households through increasing the tax-free threshold—that is a tax break for all Australians earning under $80,000 a year—increases to the pension, increases to the disability support pension and increases to family tax benefit to deal with the price impacts of a carbon price.

Those opposite simply want to impose greater amounts of taxation on Australian households: $1,300 per year per household. They will do so in order to give that money to polluting companies in the hope that something might happen. Not only is it an example of an unfair policy; it is an example of a policy that will not work, that is economically inefficient.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator WONG: I will take the senator's interjection. It is an incompetent policy, because it is a policy that imposes costs on families, costs on households, for little or no environmental gain at very high cost. We have designed the carbon price very much recognising the importance of supporting Australian households. That is why you see the tax package associated with the Clean Energy Package. (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:15): I take it that the minister's answer to ratepayers in Townsville, who will be paying more following the carbon tax, is 'tough'.

The PRESIDENT: Just the question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, is it true that there is no direct compensation to local authorities for increases in costs flowing from the carbon tax? Will the government take over the many essential services that the Townsville City Council and other councils are providing in Queensland, which they will have to cut if they do not increase their rates?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:15): I think 'tough', if I may say, Mr President, is what the good senator is saying to small business in Queensland as he stands with the Australian Greens—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator WONG: I apologise—against the government trying to provide small business with a tax cut. That is what the senator is saying. He is also saying 'tough' to the low-income workers who would benefit from the low-income super contribution, which he also opposed. It was 'tough' to small business where he opposed the instant asset write-off and other tax breaks. I am not surprised he does not want me to talk about this.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, my point of order is obviously on relevance. My question was: is it true that there is no direct compensation for local authorities? I would ask the minister to confirm or deny that.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Mr President, on the point of order, Senator Macdonald seems to have forgotten the statement that he made at the commencement of it.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister has 24 seconds remaining.

Senator WONG: I can also advise the senator, not that he will be interested, that local councils can access funding under the Low Carbon Communities program to undertake energy efficiency upgrades to council and community buildings, facilities and outdoor lighting. I can also advise him that local council landfill gas generation will continue to be supported under the Renewable Energy Target.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:17): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In Townsville there are zinc, copper and nickel metal refineries. Could the minister advise: will any compensation be made to those refineries for the increases in cost occasioned by the carbon tax of freighting commodities from the North West Queensland Mineral Province and Mount Isa to Townsville for refining and export through the Port of Townsville?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:18): I wonder where he might have got some of those questions from. I wonder whether he has had a discussion, if I may say, Mr President, with Mr Palmer lately or whether he has made this up all by himself. In terms of the support for industries which are highly emissions intensive, the senator would be aware that we are providing a very substantial amount of assistance in the form of free permits through the Jobs and Competitiveness Program for the most highly emissions intensive industries. They will get about 94½ per cent of their emissions covered by free permits under these programs at the outset. That substantially reduces their carbon liability to about $1.30 a tonne.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, on direct relevance, I asked about the increase in costs from freighting commodities, not emissions, from the north-west minerals province. I would ask the minister to directly address my question.

The PRESIDENT: I draw the minister's attention to the question. The minister has 14 seconds remaining.

Senator WONG: I would say to the senator, through you Mr President: the largest liability for emissions intensive industries is obviously from those activities which are emissions intensive, and the government has focused a very substantial amount of assistance on those processes. (Time expired)