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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1100


Mr HUNT (Flinders) (20:59): In rising to address the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013, I want to focus on two issues: the cost of electricity and the government's contribution to adding to that cost through the carbon tax; and the government's latest figures in relation to carbon tax advertising, which is being paid for by taxpayers, using taxpayers' funds and, as we have now seen through the Auditor-General's advice to estimates, without appropriate acknowledgment, without appropriate preparation and through documentation which was destroyed for the first and only time in the Auditor-General's 20-year career.

Let me make these points to begin with. I agree with the member for Deakin. The member for Deakin was bemoaning electricity prices. What he failed to do was to acknowledge that the purpose, the intent and the effect of the carbon tax has been directly and deliberately to increase electricity prices. Since 1 July, for families around the country the carbon tax has been two-thirds of the 15 per cent increase in electricity prices; for small and medium business, according to the Australian Industry Group, there has been a 14½ per cent increase in electricity prices attributable exclusively to the carbon tax. So its purpose, its design and its intent is to increase electricity prices. The problem with that, of course, is twofold. The carbon tax does not work on the supply side—we know that the government's own estimates see Australia's emissions going up from 560 million to 637 million tonnes. And it does not work on the demand side—it causes considerable pain.

In Western society, electricity is close to the most inelastic of goods. It is an essential service. What does that mean? It means that people pay higher prices but, in the vast bulk of cases, they are not in a position to make significant changes to their overall consumption. This means that it is the pensioners, the small-business owners, the low-income families, the single parents and the farmers—those most vulnerable—who suffer the most because electricity is a much greater part of their expenditure than it is of those on higher incomes.

So this is a tax which not only fails to achieve its fundamental purpose—it does not reduce emissions according to every one of the government's own estimates, which show that Australia's emissions go up—but it also specifically targets low- and medium-income earners. Again, there is no debate or doubt about that. It is the low- and medium-income earners who pay a far higher proportion of their income or their payments to government on electricity. That is the nature of it. It is impossible to design a form of electricity payment which does not target the low- and medium-income earners. That is its design, its intent, its objective. We only need to go back to all of the papers which set this out, whether through the Garnaut review or the government's own analysis.

So, against that background, we have heard Professor Warwick McKibbin, in the last 48 hours, pointing out that this tax does have an impact, that there is a direct correlation between where jobs are being lost and where the carbon tax is being put in place. We are seeing steel job losses and aluminium job losses. We are seeing jobs in brickmaking and cement making being lost. We are seeing jobs in the chemical industry go. There is a direct correlation here, according to Professor McKibbin.

But let us go a step further. In the last 24 hours we have heard the Queensland Master Builders Association saying that their builders are either copping it in the financial hip-pocket or having to pass the costs through to new homebuyers. It is either builders or homebuyers who are absorbing the costs. There is no great compensation package for the builders. There is no compensation package for the new homebuyers. It is this inequity which shows that this tax does not change practice but does change the viability of Australian business.

And then, to make matters worse, what we have also seen from the estimates process in the Senate is two new findings. Firstly, we have discovered that there is $2 million of additional carbon tax advertising which is available, but it has never been advertised. It has never been tendered, so the government is simply accepting proposals without ever having advertised for them. Only those who had the inside word on this funding could possibly have known about it. Only those who were in a position to make unrequested, unsolicited, unadvertised submissions would know that there was a market which they could access. So, on top of the more than $110 million of total advertising and information from the government, we see another $2 million—but reserved almost exclusively for friends.

It comes on the back of the revelation from the Auditor-General in estimates under questioning that the energy efficiency information grants, which included two out of 28 in the climate change minister's direct region, were decided without any documentation. The documents were destroyed. There is no other example which the Auditor-General can find in the last 20 years of experience where the documents were destroyed. There were clearly many different applications, but how and why these grants were made is a complete mystery. It is not something which can be solved through freedom of information. It cannot be resolved through any other activity. The documents were destroyed. The shredder was used. It is not just a failure to learn from the Home Insulation Program, from the Green Loans Program and from the phantom credits program; it is an expansion and an extension of the mistakes and inappropriate activity which were found to have occurred in those programs.

Right now, we believe that there should be a full and independent inquiry. I call on the government to provide a full and independent inquiry as to how and why the documentation proving and advising grants under the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program was destroyed. How can these documents have been destroyed? How can no record have been taken? My message to the Prime Minister is: it is time for an independent investigation and inquiry into who authorised it, how it came to pass and why these documents were destroyed. This has every sense of being a government which has shown bad practice sliding into unforgivable practices. What we have seen with the carbon tax is rising electricity prices and a failure to achieve the government's goal, and now what we see with the carbon tax advertising and associated grants is a complete failure of probity, which deserves an independent investigation.