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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1733

Carbon Pricing


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:30): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. Is the minister aware of the statement made by the Australasian Railway Association at the most recent hearing in the inquiry into grain exports by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee that the government's carbon tax will cost the Australian freight sector approximately $20 million per year? The carbon tax is due to start in only 110 days. Why is the government introducing the world's biggest carbon tax, which will be a significant impost on a business vital to Australia's agricultural industry, when regional communities are already struggling after years of droughts and now flooding?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:30): I thank the senator for the question. I am not aware of the specific piece of evidence to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee to which she refers. I am happy to consider it further if that would assist, but I would make this point: the government and the Clean Energy package it has brought forward has put in place significant assistance for a range of industries, including a significant amount of investment in the land sector. I am sure Senator Ludwig could talk at length about carbon farming and the amount of investments that the government is making into that area of policy. Obviously our vision there is to enable Australia's farmers to have access, should they so wish, to an alternative income stream—

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator WONG: Well, you can toss your head, Senator, but that is our intention because we do believe it is something of value that farmers could access—not just in the domestic markets but, over time, in international markets with carbon farming credits.

In relation to rail, I do not have any specific response on that, Senator—

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator WONG: Thank you for that lecture, Senator, but I do not have any specific response. I would make the point that this government has put a very substantial amount of—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator WONG: Perhaps if Senator Macdonald would like to answer the question, he could do so. I would be very interested—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, ignore interjections. They are disorderly. Address the question, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I do not have any specific information about the rail sector with me, Senator. I am happy to take that on notice and provide some. I would make the point that this government has invested a substantial amount through Minister Albanese's portfolio into the rail sector as well as other areas of infrastructure—significantly more, from my recollection, than ever occurred under your government.







Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:33): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the Australasian Railway Association says that not being exempt from the carbon tax will place the freight rail sector at a significant competitive disadvantage and that any further deterioration of market conditions could encourage rail operators to leave the grain freight markets completely, does the minister acknowledge the significance of the freight rail sector for agriculture, and can she explain what the government intends to do to ensure that this outcome never happens?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:33): Of course we recognise the significance of the sector. I think what the senator is asserting there is that that sector should be exempt. We do take the policy view that the most economically efficient way to transition the economy is to have a broad based carbon price. That was the position advised to former Prime Minister Howard when he was Prime Minister. It was the position advised to us when we entered government, and it is the position we have carried into the policy framework that is the clean energy package.

If you come into this chamber and say, 'Everybody should be exempt', we know what happens there—households end up paying, which is your policy. A broad based carbon price is a much more efficient way to ensure we transition the economy, and that is what we are talking about. We are talking about giving the incentive to investors to invest in the clean energy sector. We are talking about giving the incentive to invest in the renewable energy sector. We are talking about giving business the incentive to do business more cleanly, with less pollution and more highly efficient. (Time expired)


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:34): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the minister seems to have little if any understanding of the impact of the carbon tax on agriculture, can she explain why trucks are exempt from the carbon tax for two years, whereas freight trains, which emit fewer emissions, are not?


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:35): We did outline in the clean energy package a transition process when it comes to road transport, and the minister has spoken about that. I accept that there are always going to be arguments from different sectors about why they should be exempt and why someone else should not be exempt. I would say this: we have taken a very careful and considered approach across the economy. We have consulted with the agricultural sector, we have consulted with the transport sector and we have consulted with significant industries, such as aluminium, steel and those with a very high carbon exposure. We have put in place a very large amount of assistance to industries to maintain their competitiveness. We are of the view, as John Howard was, that a carbon price is the lowest cost way to move to a clean energy economy—something the Liberal Party used to understand.