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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 12110

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (15:36): In calling for this discussion of a matter of public importance today—it being the adverse effect of the carbon tax, particularly on senior Australians—I do so wearing my hat as the shadow minister for seniors. There has never been a minister for seniors in this parliament before. We have had ministers for youth, we have had them for children—we have had them for all sorts of groups. But never before have senior Australians been recognised in this way, which was an acknowledgement by the Leader of the Opposition of the importance of this group. For the purposes of the portfolio responsibility, seniors are those people who are over the age of 50 and, in fact, constitute 40 per cent of all voters. It is important to note in this debate that the impact on senior Australians can be particularly cruel, particularly on those who have retired or are on pensions and those who are self-funded retirees, because those people are on fixed incomes and do not have the elasticity of looking forward to an increase in salary to make up for the imposition of the carbon tax.

The carbon tax is essentially a tax on electricity. And it is designed specifically to see people use less electricity. It is designed to lower the standard of living, particularly for those people who cannot afford to meet the increases. The stories that we hear—for instance, of people delivering meals-on-wheels through the winter to people in receipt of the age pension and finding those people in bed, not because they are ill but because they are cold—are true stories. These are people who are forced not to turn on the switch to activate a heater or, in some cases, even lights, to the degree that there have been some suspicious fires that have been caused by people resorting to candles because they felt they could not afford electric light. That is not the Australia that my father and his generation fought in World War II to deliver to this country. The idea that we should not consider having electric light and electric heating as automatic rights in an Australian household is something quite foreign to people who recognise the sacrifice that was made to ensure we lived in a free country.

It is important to realise that the impact of electricity prices, particularly on people who are self-employed or who work in small business, is also very relevant to seniors, because people who are self-employed or work in small business will work much longer than those who work in big business. The fact of the matter is that you can find people who are shopkeepers, accountants or lawyers—people who are maintaining an active work-life well into their 70s and 80s in private practice and yet are being hit very hard by this electricity impost.

I will give you an example of a sole practitioner in a law firm who has a very substantial practice but has just seen a quarterly electricity bill rise from $1,000 to $1,500 for the quarter. And the likelihood of that continuing to rise, of course, under this carbon tax is well known.

Let us look at how it operates, because it is a tax that is both cascading and compounding. It gets into the nooks and crannies of every aspect of your life. Everything we do in a civilised country depends on electricity. It is the difference between a First World country and a Third World country.

When Bob Brown was here and in cahoots with Prime Minister Gillard, they wanted us all to live in a cave with a candle. But now that we have Senator Milne, she would really rather we did without the candle!

The fact of the matter is that your life is meant to become lesser. When the Prime Minister talks about a 'gold standard' for infrastructure to deliver electricity, what on earth is she talking about? Does she want a silver standard? A bronze standard? A lead standard? How many blackouts would be acceptable to her? The fact of the matter is that, on previous occasions, this same Prime Minister has complained about there not being sufficient infrastructure. And yet when the infrastructure is built, in order that communities have electricity and do not have blackouts, it is spurned as being 'gold plated'. Well, there are plenty of instances I can think of in the world of countries where there is simply not enough infrastructure. There are plenty of countries where the elites will take the power and the people will be poor. This is not the sort of country we want here.

But let us look at how this tax works. The tax is imposed on the so-called emitters, or generators, of electricity. It is imposed on the creation of the good, the service, of electricity. On every transaction that occurs between the tax being paid and it being paid by the final consumer, again the tax is paid. So it becomes a tax on a tax on a tax on a tax, and then the GST is paid on it as well. It is quite unlike the GST which, as a value-added tax, has all the taxes paid between the initial creation of the good or service and the final consumer refunded. Consequently, there will be rises that will occur in everything we do.

Prime Minister Gillard says there will be no carbon tax on fuel for the family car. Really? How does she think that the petrol is got from the tank at the service station into the tank of the car? Electricity pumps it. How do you think you pay for it? You go to the cash register, which is driven by electricity. In this building, the lights, the air conditioning—everything about it is driven by electricity. The sewage system, the water system—all driven by electricity. And that is the impost that the carbon tax has put on every aspect of our lives.

Our dependence on refrigeration is well known. You go to the supermarket. You pick up fruit that appears to be fresh and yet you know it has been kept somewhere else in a warehouse under refrigerated circumstances. You take your meat, and you take it for granted; somehow it got from the abattoirs to your supermarket and has been kept cool and fresh and safe—electricity again. And also there are the gases that are used to make that refrigeration work; the escalation in the tax for them has gone through the roof—some people say 290 per cent. So this is an insidious tax that is attacking the very structure of our lives. That includes an impost on the fans in schoolrooms for children and on the buses that take the children to school. Nothing escapes. And yet we have a Prime Minister who stands there as she did today and says, 'No, no; everybody is protected or compensated.' Let us understand. What does compensation do? Compensation is a payment for an injury that the person paying it has caused. This Prime Minister said, six days before the election, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' Let us remind ourselves why she said it: because Tony Abbott had been saying throughout the entire election period that, as sure as night follows day, there would be a carbon tax should the Gillard government be re-elected. So she looked straight down the barrel of the camera to refute it. Had she not said that, she would not have been in the position to negotiate to become the Prime Minister, because win she did not. And the Treasurer said it was a hysterical allegation by the opposition. Well, it was not hysterical; it was accurate. The long and the short of it is that we have said we will repeal that tax.

Let us again look at this question of compensation. Treasury calculated that the damage done is $9.90 a week and therefore they will offer compensation of $10.10 a week, saying that people will be 20c a week better off—wow! Anybody who truly believes that Treasury can predict with that degree of accuracy must believe there are fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Mr Billson: There's no precision in the budget estimates.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I am about to pick up on that point made by my friend the shadow minister for small business, who understands very well the impact on small business.

Mr Billson: Devastating.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Absolutely. The fact of the matter is: Treasury gets it wrong every year. Every year, the budget is wrong. Six months later, we get supplementary estimates to fix it up. In the case of the budget of this government, it was going to have a $22 billion deficit and it turns out to be $43 billion. So anybody who thinks that they can get it down to a 20c margin, as I said, must believe there are fairies at the bottom of the garden.

This is a punitive, harsh and unfair tax. Because it attacks the disposable income of those on fixed incomes—pensioners, part-pensioners and self-funded retirees—it also has an enormous impact on the retail sector. Research that I had Access Economics do predicted that the silver market would go platinum because of the purchasing power of Australian seniors. When their spending power is diminished or fear is put into their hearts—and the fear comes from the rhetoric of the government, not the warning from the opposition; the government has said that you have got to be fearful because the world is going to come to an end because of climate change unless we have this tax. And yet this tax will not bring the emissions down one bit. In fact, they will be continuing to rise to 2020. So the whole nature of it is fallacious.

We hear the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency shriek and carry on. He is the one who said the seas were going to rise up and houses would fall into the sea. Where did he buy his house? Right on the seaside! The fear campaign and the fearmongering that has gone on in the name of the government, saying, 'Be fearful of climate change; this tax is the answer to it,' is nothing short of a good old furphy. The fact of the matter is it is a punitive tax which is meant to damage people—hence they use the term 'compensation'—and it damages seniors more than ever.

I notice the member for Braddon over there having a yawn. Of course, he would be very bored by the plight of seniors. He would be very bored at their plight and would not give a damn what happened to them. That is way the Labor Party is. You would remember during the 2010 election campaign the Prime Minister said in cabinet—and it was effectively leaked—'Why would we give anything to pensioners? They don't vote for us anyway.' That is the attitude that the government has towards senior Australians—to disparage them and to pretend to have their interests at heart with this ridiculous compensation package. The fact of the matter is that the damage to them will be far, far greater than any compensation that will be paid.

Then we have the flip-flopping that has gone on in the policy. It is $23 a tonne to start with. Then it will go to $29 a tonne and then to $37 a tonne. The government then came in and said: 'We'll get rid of the floor price. We'll tie it all to Europe. But we're not going to change our Treasury modelling. It's still going to come out at $29 a tonne.' That is despite the fact that in Europe it is around $6 a tonne. It is a con. The Australian people are being conned and they are being punished by having their precious electricity, which determines the standard of living that they enjoy, being taken away from them. They are being punished by a government that told an untruth before the election in order to attempt to win government. But win they did not.

The Prime Minister is there only because she stitched up two deals—one a deal she stitched up with the execution of Kevin Rudd and one a deal she stitched up with the Independents. The Independents are equally complicit in this perpetration of punishment of the people. We in the opposition need to be strong—which we are—and every day bring evidence. The Prime Minister denies that evidence daily. We have noticed that nothing is the Prime Minister's fault. It does not matter what happens, it was not her; it was Tony Abbott, it was the state government or it was somebody else! Even with the unemployment figures today that showed there had been a growth in unemployment, she boldly stood there and said, 'We've created more jobs.' But a rise in unemployment means more jobs disappeared than were created. But of course that is not her fault. She is only standing there. It has got to be somebody else's fault. The day will come when you can no longer call the gender card or the victim card. By pretending to be a victim, the Prime Minister has demeaned every woman in this parliament. We did not come here for it to be said that we cannot do the job and have to be treated differently; we on this side of the parliament came here to say that we are the best people for the job of representing the people and that the ideas that we have are the best ideas to take us into government. We do not wish to be treated as if we are somehow less able and victims of somebody's spiteful words. It is a pathetic thing to say. Could you imagine Angela Merkel making a speech like that or Maggie Thatcher making a speech like that? Of course not. The fact of the matter is: if you take leadership, you must exercise leadership. If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. At the end of the day, what we are seeing here is a government which has no purposefulness in order to look after the interests of the people. It wants to punish the people. (Time expired)