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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 965

Mr SLIPPER (12:14 PM) —Certainly honourable members on this side of the House have listened to their constituents and have listened to the very many phone calls that we have received from people who are worried about Labor’s great big new tax. In my own electorate the sense of feeling as far as contact from the community is concerned is running at about 97 to 98 per cent opposed to Labor’s great big new tax. I listened carefully to the honourable member for Ballarat, a person for whom I have some personal regard. I listened to what she said as she pleaded with us to support Labor’s great big new tax because it was in the interests of our children, grandchildren, their children and so on. One sometimes wonders if some honourable members exist in a vacuum. It might be one thing to bring in Labor’s great big new tax if this great big new tax of $120 billion would somehow solve any problem in the world in relation to emissions. If this were the solution to a possible world environmental problem then one could understand that maybe Labor’s great big new tax of $120 billion could arguably be the way to go.

I am not convinced, even in that circumstance, that Labor’s great big new tax is a tax that it would be fair to ask the Australian public to pay. What Labor is doing is asking us to pay, collectively as a nation, a great big new tax of $120 billion—more than a thousand dollars for every household in Australia—when Australia’s share of world emissions is arguably as low as 1.2 per cent of emissions around the world. I have heard other figures of 1.3 or 1.4 per cent, but certainly no-one suggests that Australia is a major polluter. That is not to say that we ought not to do our part as part of a world solution to a possible world problem.

I would be the first to say that I am not an expert on the science of climate change. I have listened to arguments put forward by eminent scientists on both sides and I have to say I think the jury is out. But personally I am quite happy to give the environment the benefit of the doubt. That is why the policy put forward by the Liberal-National opposition, which does not involve a great big new tax, in my view is very much the way to go. We operate on the basis of incentives and not on the basis of penalties. We operate on the basis of encouraging Australians to do what we collectively can to improve the environmental outcome for our country and indeed for the world at large. But we do not propose a great big new tax of $120 billion such as that introduced by this government.

This tax of $120 billion will not make one jot of improvement for the world environment unless the rest of the world commits towards doing something to reduce their own emissions and their own pollution. It is interesting that the largest polluters in the world do not have an ETS, and what is particularly interesting in recent days is that President Obama is now less likely than he would otherwise have been to have an ETS. So it could be that this government is leading Australians down the garden path. They are leading us in the direction of a great big new tax which will cripple our economy, make our exports less competitive and make imports cheaper while at the same time not making any appreciable improvement in the world environment. It seems to me that really what the government should have done, particularly following the failure of Copenhagen, is to look at what was right for Australia as part of the world community and not simply ask us to commit some sort of national economic suicide so that the government can be seen to be a trendsetter in the fight against climate change.

What the opposition is proposing is a very practical plan involving direct action based on incentives, not punishing families. I am sorry to be repetitive but what Labor is proposing is a great big new tax of $120 billion. Australian families are finding it difficult enough to survive and exist as it currently is without bringing in an extra tax of $120 billion which Australians cannot afford. Other members on this side have pointed out some of the things involved in our policy of direct action. I will repeat those because I think those who are listening need to know that in this parliament we have two sides. We have a government which is out of touch. We have a government which is prepared to pursue a policy of economic insanity, a policy which will destroy the Australian economy, a policy which will punish Australian families, a policy which brings in a great big new tax and a policy which will not improve the environmental outcome of Australia, let alone the world.

Our policy on the other hand involves cleaning up the power stations that account for almost half of our emissions in Australia; solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and greater use of gas; improved energy efficiency in our buildings; and green carbon measures to improve our farms and our forests, which means providing incentives, not penalties, for farmers and landholders to retain the vegetation that absorbs carbon dioxide, which means providing incentives, not penalties, to encourage better land use on our farms that would retain more carbon in the land than improved soil management. That is about improving productivity, not winding it back, as the Prime Minister now pretends while he secretly negotiates for precisely the reforms we are recommending. What we do is tackle the problem in a practical way instead of having a great big complicated scheme which involves a great big new tax. Instead of saying that what we are suggesting, particularly post Copenhagen, is a very sensible opportunity for us to do something positive without crippling our economy, the government have simply bagged the Leader of the Opposition and the opposition for not going along with their policy of economic lunacy.

Let us look for a moment at Labor’s ETS and what it is going to cost. I mentioned the great big new tax of $120 billion. This will be a bureaucratic tax to the economy, with the government churning or recycling billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money through the system at their own discretion. Interestingly enough, in times past there has been discussion in the community in relation to the GST, and there was a concern that the government would bring in a GST of 10 per cent and that it would steadily creep up. Under the former government, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration and Acting Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and assisted the Treasurer, I had carriage of much GST legislation. It was enshrined in the GST legislation that it was not possible to increase the rate of the GST unless there was an agreement involving every state and territory government and the Australian government.

12:23:11 Labor’s great big new tax effectively involves increasing the rate of the GST from 10 per cent to 12½ per cent. Frontier Economics has projected that the CPRS will impose a $121 billion cost, in NPV terms, to the Australian economy to 2020. I mentioned before that we are a low emitter of about 1.2 per cent; there have been estimations of up to 1.4 per cent. We are a highly trade exposed country, with 32 per cent of our emissions generated in the production of exports compared with eight per cent in the US and 22 per cent in the EU. That means that if we bring in an ETS then that ETS is going to strike at the international competitiveness of Australia’s exports. That will cost tens of thousands of jobs, it will kill major investment and it will do little or nothing to reduce world emissions. Research prepared by Access Economics for state and territory governments around Australia showed that 126,000 full-time jobs will be lost or forgone, mainly in parts of Australia that are not in metropolitan areas. Concept Economics concluded that there will be 23,510 fewer jobs in the mining industry by 2020. Frontier Economics identified that 45,000 jobs would be lost in high-energy intensive industries.

It really is quite amazing to believe that the government—so that it is able to put its hand on its heart and claim that it is doing something to improve the environment when in effect it is doing nothing other than bringing in a great big new tax—is prepared to throw so many Australian families and so many Australian breadwinners on the job scrap heap, because loss of jobs will be one element of the introduction of Labor’s ETS. The ETS will impose a harsher tax on a higher share of Australian industry and households, earlier than the competing scheme in the EU and the scheme that was previously proposed in the US, which is possibly going to be scrapped by President Obama because of difficulties he may experience in having it passed in the American Senate.

The CPRS places a burden on the Australian economy not matched anywhere in the world. I just find that this is absolutely incredible. The CPRS involves 75 per cent of Australia’s GHG emissions compared with 45 per cent in the EU. When one looks at the costs to Australians and Australian enterprises, one only has to look at the cost to families. I mentioned that $1,100 every year, and increasing with the carbon price, will be the cost to family budgets. There will also be a cost to small business. We all recognise that small business is the engine room of the Australian economy. Small business is responsible for the creation of a high proportion of jobs. The CPRS will slash jobs and profitability and, in fact, it will result in job losses in small business. The steep rise in electricity prices will hit the 750,000 small and medium enterprises with an indirect tax which they can do nothing about in the short to medium term.

The Rudd government expects that the businesses will simply pass the costs on to consumers. The ACCI has looked at this and has done some modelling. There will also be a cost to farmers. Our farmers are amongst the most efficient in the world, but they are highly trade exposed. The ETS will put them at a significant competitive disadvantage. It seems to me that it is economic lunacy to be doing this to Australian farmers, particularly when there will not be any benefit to the Australian or world environment. There will be a significant and added direct and indirect tax on agricultural and manufacturing businesses competing against foreign products where no such tax applies. In other words, we force Australian farmers and enterprises to fight the export battle with one hand tied behind their collective backs.

I am advised that a dairy farmer will face a $9,000 tax with no capacity to offset this cost. Where is the dairy farmer going to get the $9,000 that he will have to pay as a result of Labor’s great big new tax? The ETS has failed our farming sector. This tax will increase indirect costs in the meat industry to the tune of $250 million and yet the government has only provided $150 million in total over five years for the meat, malt and dairy sectors. They are all price takers in the international market.

The government seem to be so focused on receiving ticks in international fora that they have completely lost the plot. The Prime Minister was determined to bludgeon the parliament into passing this legislation prior to the Copenhagen summit. He wanted to be able to strut the international stage—I suppose it is part of his long-term aim to become the secretary-general of the United Nations—and walk into Copenhagen and say to other world leaders, ‘Well, look, we’ve done it,’ or more particularly, ‘I’ve done it, and now I want you to follow suit.’ When one looks at international assessments on carbon pollution and the reduction aims, there are some arbitrary inclusions and some arbitrary exclusions.

I would just like to draw the attention of the House to an article in the Australian—on page 1, no less—on 8 February entitled ‘Feral camels clear in Wong’s carbon count.’ This was an article by Ean Higgins. It is a particularly interesting article and I would commend it to all honourable members and indeed to anyone listening because it does indicate that the government is focused on emissions that are counted under the Kyoto protocol and not on what in fact is actually happening. This article starts by saying:

There are many ways to skin a camel, but none, it seems, that count towards reducing Australia’s carbon footprint.

Scientists have found camels to be the third-highest carbon emitting animal per head on the planet, behind only cattle and buffalo. Culling the one million feral camels that currently roam the outback would be equivalent to taking 300,000 cars off the road in terms of the reduction to the country’s greenhouse gases.

So what this article is telling us is that if you get rid of these camels, which do cause other problems to our environment, it would be the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road. One would have thought that maybe the government might have been prepared to say, ‘Let’s fund a camel eradication program. Let’s try to trap them, shoot them, export them or something, but let’s get them out of the outback and stop them from destroying pasture and emitting the level of carbon they currently do.’ I think the Minister for Climate Change and Water must have considered this matter when it was put to her, but then the article goes on to say:

But Climate Change Minister Penny Wong told The Australian there was little point doing anything about Australia’s feral camels as only the CO2 of the domesticated variety is counted under the Kyoto protocol. That equates to only a small number of the beasts, the sort found lugging tourists around Cable Beach in Broome and at Monarto Zoo, southeast of Adelaide.

What she is saying is that if we culled the camels it would be the same as taking 300,000 vehicles off the road but that there is no point in culling the camels because even though we would reduce our emissions we would not be given any credit for it.

Mr Morrison —It is all about the credit.

Mr SLIPPER —It is all about the credit, as the honourable member for Cook at the table says. We would not be given any credit for it.

The opposition climate change spokesman, the honourable member for Flinders, however, was much more savvy than the minister. The article said:

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt reckons the government has “lost its marbles”. “It’s now reached the absurd situation where a camel in captivity is a threat to the planet but a feral camel in the wild is absolutely fine,” Mr Hunt said.

This government is out of touch. This government has lost the focus which it originally proclaimed it had, and that was to reduce emissions so that we pass the planet on in a healthier state to future residents of the planet. Everyone accepts that Australia produces only 1.2, 1.3 or 1.4 per cent of world emissions—a very tiny percentage. China actually increases its emissions by that amount every eight months. The government is seeking to bring in a great big new tax of $120 billion, which is outrageous.

Mr Clare —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 75 about tedious repetition. I am concerned that this member is now in breach of that standing order. He has made reference to a ‘great big new tax’ 19 times now in this debate. I think that is a record in this debate. He has now said it more times than Barnaby Joyce. But there has been no reference to the megatax that the opposition would put on Australian taxpayers.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—Order! There is no point of order. The custom in this House is that repetitious comment does not apply to speeches.

Mr SLIPPER —I say it is a great big new tax for the 20th time. (Time expired)