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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 939

Mr LINDSAY (10:22 AM) —This suite of bills should really be renamed. It should be renamed ‘Labor’s great big new tax on everything’. I think that many of my colleagues on the Labor side of the House are probably feeling quite some disquiet at the moment as to whether or not they have got it right. I think there is increasing evidence to indicate that they have not got it right, but there is certainly increasing evidence that the disquiet in the Australian community is certainly manifesting itself very significantly as people are beginning to understand and to realise that everything is going to go up in price, and they are beginning to be very wary about the fact that the government cannot explain what kinds of price rises there might be or where they might be across the community or across the economy, and I think that it is incumbent upon the government to accurately explain those prices or withdraw the bills, basically. So far, after several months of this bill being available for scrutiny, the government have not been able to give the assurances and comfort to the Australian people that they deserve.

That was not the case back in 1997-98 when the former Howard government undertook the implementation of a new tax system in Australia, and part of that, of course, was the GST. That was massively complicated, of course; at that stage, the Howard government was able to explain to the Australian community the whys and wherefores of the GST, the most intricate detail of how it would work and why it would be of benefit to our country. Unfortunately, the Rudd government has, basically, arrogantly decided that it has the numbers and the support, and it will just do what it wants to do; it will not prepare itself to explain this legislation to the Australian public and it will treat them with contempt.

Well, there is a new political landscape, and the new political landscape is that the Australian community is, in fact, very uneasy about a big new tax on everything and the way it is to be implemented. People do not understand the way it is going to be implemented. It is very complex. And, of course, Australia does not want to be ahead of the rest of the world in what it is going to do. The government faces the situation where, one day, perhaps in many years to come, there is likely to be an ETS-style system across the world—one day, in many years to come. But ‘one day’ is not ‘today’, and the Australian people should not see our country’s economy damaged by something where Australia is moving itself way ahead of the rest of the world.

The world generally takes its lead from places like the United States of America, and it is very clear now that the US in fact will not be proceeding in the direction of an ETS at this stage or any time soon. And the problem with Australia proceeding now is that, as much as some people in the community would say, ‘This is a fine and ideal thing to do,’ it damages our economy vis-a-vis the economies in the rest of the world. Why would we want to be putting Australians out of work because the rest of the world will not follow higher ideals? Why would that be? The answer is that we should not be. So we should be looking for alternatives to cut carbon pollution and implement those alternatives.

This debate is not about whether the world is warming or cooling; it is not about whether there are climate sceptics or climate deniers; it is not about that at all. What it is about is the conservation and sustainability of our world. Those who have been travelling overseas to Asia, Europe and some parts of the United States and who have seen what the air quality is like there are just horrified. Say you go to Beijing: the aircraft pulls out from the terminal and by the time you get to the runway you cannot see the terminal. That cannot be good for our world. It cannot be good for our health. And whether that pollution, the increase in particulates in the atmosphere and in parts per million of CO2, contributes to global warming or not, we do not need to have that debate. We know that pollution is bad. We know that we have got to conserve our planet’s resources. We know that we have got to have a sustainable future. We know that we cannot just go on burning up all of our resources.

That is why moving to green energy is very important. There is such a range of green energy technologies available these days, and the range is increasing day by day. There are the standard things like solar and wind that we all know about, but there are also geothermal and tidal power. High altitude wind is emerging as a technology. You have got the production of ethanol from non-food-producing plants and non-arable land. There is huge investment going into genetically modifying crops so that the particular stock that is grown produces the best ratio of ethanol per hectare of crop but so that the crops are not growing on arable land and so taking away from food production. It is wonderful technology that is emerging. And it is interesting that many of the large oil companies are investing in that technology because they know that we have got to have a sustainable future. And, of course, the energy input into that process is sunlight, which is energy free from the sun, as it is, effectively, for solar and wind. It is terrific that the world is investing in these technologies.

Recently I was in the United States talking to a number of major global companies at their national headquarters, and it surprised me that they are about two years ahead of the legislature in the United States. The companies themselves had decided that they had to take responsible decisions on conservation and sustaining our planet’s future. That is a great thing. Indeed, one of the company’s world headquarters that I visited was Google. You might ask, ‘How could Google be in the green space?’ But they are a very significant operation looking at how they use their resources to be in the green space and to save energy. It does not involve just the company itself; it is also the technologies they are developing for all of the people who use Google. That would indicate that the opposition’s policy—that is, to have an incentive program—in fact really can work, rather than a penalty program which the government is proposing, a big tax.

It stands in stark contrast with the government’s program under which electricity prices are likely to rise by a projected 62 per cent. Under the opposition’s program, which will achieve the same reduction in CO2, there will be no rise in electricity prices. Surely the government should investigate and agree with the opposition, ‘Hey, you probably have some good ideas there; we will implement those.’ But, no, that has not happened. Instead, we get left with questions about just how much Mr Rudd’s tax will really cost Australians and Australian businesses. By how much will a birthday cake increase in price? How much will it cost a farmer? By how much will a pensioner’s heating and cooling bills increase? How much will it cost a single mum or the little Aussie battler living in North Queensland? I will tell you what it will cost, Mr Deputy Speaker: it will cost the jobs of hardworking Australians; it will cost the jobs of thousands of miners, plant operators, port operators, rail workers and mine employees who live in my electorate.

Under the Rudd ETS, the Yabulu nickel refinery, the Korea Zinc refinery and the Xstrata copper refinery in my electorate would be under serious threat. Why would the government bring this uncertainty on hardworking Australians? Why would they say, ‘Well, it is just too bad, they are going to have to lose their jobs,’ because of this high and mighty principle? The parliament has to have a heart. We have to think about those families and we have to think about alternatives so that we do not lose those jobs. That is why the opposition has worked so very hard to put up a completely different set of values from that which the government has put up. Why the government just doggedly sticks to something that is a dog, I simply do not know. The government’s claim that households will be compensated misses the point. Families and businesses will still have to wear the costs no matter what. All this piece of legislation does is to create yet another layer of bureaucracy and bureaucratic red tape at a time when the government is making a poor attempt to reduce that bureaucracy and red tape.

On Lateline last year Julia Gillard refused seven times to put a figure on the real cost of Labor’s ETS for Australian families. Surely that makes us all suspicious. Why is that? Is it because it is going to cost Australian families $1,100 a year or because the government is too incompetent or arrogant to figure this out for itself? Kevin Rudd has claimed that action on climate change can only mean his tax plan. This is misleading, dishonest and political trickery of the worst kind, but we have come to expect this kind of behaviour. How many Australians really understand the government’s ETS? I do not know very many at all in my constituency. I think that Labor MPs may well be in the same boat. As Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating once famously said: ‘If you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it. If you do understand it, you’d definitely never vote for it’. I think he fairly succinctly summed up the particular suite of bill we have before the parliament today.

The other aspect of the ETS that worries me is the potential to scare off hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in the North Queensland region. After Labor’s ETS was defeated last year, Western Australian mining company Hancock Prospecting and the second-largest steelmaker in Japan, JFE Steel Corporation, both announced huge investments in the Queensland coal industry. The $100 million feasibility study is just the tip of the iceberg. The announcement by Hancock Prospecting could potentially be worth tens of billions of dollars to the northern economy over the next few decades. Very recently, Mineralogy announced a huge new project in Queensland, and that is just wonderful news, but this ETS has the potential to scare off those investors.

In stark contrast, the coalition has a viable alternative scheme to an ETS that will not cost jobs in my electorate, or any other electorate for that matter. It will still reduce pollution by the same amount as the Labor ETS. No solution is cost free, but there has to be a better way than to slug families and businesses with a $120 billion to $140 billion great big new tax on families and businesses as is proposed in these bills before us today. Direct action based on incentives and cooperation, which is what the opposition believes in—not punishing families—is the way to go. Over the forward estimates the coalition’s policy will cost $3.2 billion. Compare that with the government’s ETS over the same period costing $40 billion. Unlike the government’s emissions trading scheme, the coalition is not forcing a great big new tax on all Australians. In fact, the coalition’s policy will not be funded through any new taxes or increased taxes and it will protect Australian jobs through government and industry cooperation. The coalition’s plan to reduce carbon pollution will entail cleaning up the power stations that account for almost half the emissions in Australia by encouraging the use of other green energy apart from solar, wind and tidal—in particular, geothermal and natural gas—for the production of electricity. I am pleased to say that the $50 million fund with matching funding for the sector will allow testing to ensure algal energy, being pioneered at James Cook University in Townsville, is effective in reducing CO2 emissions and does not impact on food production.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to Minister Combet’s comments in this House in the past three days. On 2 February in this House Minister Combet, who is the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, said:

We have already heard the suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition at his press conference: we are going to have algae fired power stations.

Then he went on to say on the same day:

Here we will have the Leader of the Opposition, if he ever gets his hand on the treasury bench, picking winners with algae fired power stations.

Then on Wednesday, 3 February Minister Combet said:

… as I indicated yesterday, algae fired power stations are on the agenda …

Yesterday in the parliament the minister said:

We are still not quite sure how an investor in new generation would make a decision about what technology and what fuel source to use, but I can tell you one thing—they will not be thinking about algae fired power stations like you are.

The point I make from this is that the minister hopelessly misunderstands algal synthesis. You do not have an algae fired power station. Power stations generally run on natural gas or coal. They do not run on algae. What this technology is about is using algae to capture the CO2 out of a power station. The process that is being developed and is running at James Cook University uses sunlight as the green energy and turns that CO2 into biodiesel and cattle feedstock. Think about that. Here we have world-leading technology operating now in a demonstration plant at James Cook University, Townsville—the leading tropical university in the world. We have this operating now, and because this particular process produces valuable products—biodiesel and cattle feedstock—it stands on its own because it is commercially viable. You do not have to put a tax on a power station to reduce CO2, because it is in their interests to reduce CO2. They can make money out of reducing their CO2.

This particular process is being scaled up right now as I speak in this House. In fact, later this year we will see some of it attached to the three dirtiest, most polluting power stations in Australia. They are scaling up the technology. Just imagine the potential for this not only in Australia but across the world. Just imagine a process that we have developed in Australia that takes the CO2 from a power station, pumps it through the algae solution and uses sunlight and algae to turn it into biodiesel. The sludge is a feedstock you can feed to cattle. At James Cook University veterinary labs they are trialling cattle on the feedstock and it is working really, really well.

When the community cabinet was held in Townsville recently, the Prime Minister was invited to go and have a look at this process. It was 200 yards down the road. Do you know what? He would not go. Why would that be? Why wouldn’t he go and look at world-leading technology that uses CO2 to produce valuable products and is commercially viable? Why wouldn’t he go and look at it? I will tell you why: because it would embarrass him. It would show that the ETS that is being proposed in these bills does not have to be foisted on the Australian people. The Prime Minister would lose face. He does not want to know about it. That is why the junior minister misquoted it and does not want to know about it. It is quite extraordinary. Here we have in Australia the opportunity to exploit this technology to the world and for people to make money out of it. You do not need a penalty tax to force people to make money. It is just extraordinary that the government refuses to have a look at this demonstration project and see it working for themselves. I am certainly going to oppose these bills. There are a whole raft of other reasons. Time does not allow me to go into those reasons, but I plead for the Prime Minister to have a look at this project in Townsville. (Time expired)