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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11884

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (18:21): I rise to join my coalition colleagues in unilaterally condemning and opposing the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and cognate bills, noting the second reading amendments we will be moving to call on the government to scrap this invidious, dreadful, electricity-rising, job-destroying, nation-unbuilding carbon tax. If there was ever proof that this government is in complete and utter chaos, this bill legislation stands alone as testimony to that.

Since implementing the carbon tax, the government has made eight major changes. It has bailed out major companies using taxpayer funds on the eve of the carbon tax being introduced, including funding to Energy Brix and Alcoa. It has decreased the share of clean tech investment grant funding for small businesses so as to further increase funding for big businesses. The Clean Energy Regulator has added more businesses to the ever-growing big-polluters list, taking the total now to 315, and it would not surprise me if that changes on a daily basis. It has changed the regulations to increase real emissions from pipelines and landfill by one million tonnes. It has abandoned the Contract for Closure program to shut down power stations which will mean the carbon tax will have to increase to achieve the same emissions reductions and the Lord only knows how much money was spent on this program prior to the shutdown. It has scrapped the floor price, which was to have been $15 from 2015. The government had said a floor price was needed for business confidence; apparently not now. It has linked the scheme to the European system, which does not allow a two-way trade on carbon credits, putting Australian businesses at a distinct disadvantage and resulting in Australia's carbon tax being set by the EU price. And it has halted the clean technology investment grants. This came just weeks after the grants were announced and then changed. There have been eight substantial changes in just three months, after this government had years to get it right in their own minds.

The government has lost control of the carbon tax. It frankly does not know what it is doing, evidenced by its policy on the run. It is making ad hoc changes at will—more policy on the run from a government that is incompetent and divided and, as yesterday shows clearly with, not only the collapse in polling numbers but also the resignation of its caucus chair, and then a spirited and hyperbole based defence of the indefensible disgusting behaviour of former Speaker Slipper, only for him to resign hours later. This government is incompetent; it is divided; it is directionless.

You only have to ask why the floor price was dropped now and linked to the EU. Why now? Why at this time was that decision made? The answer lies not in good public policy but, as it so often does with this divided government, in the haunting spectre of Kevin, the member for Griffith, because as part of his bid to build numbers to challenge the Prime Minister he said he would drop the floor price and link it through to the EU. Short of any other compelling notion as to why now this would be done, the only logical conclusion is to sweep the floor away from Kevin, so that the member for Griffith is denied one more point of differentiation away from the Prime Minister—public policy on the run because of a potential challenge to the Prime Minister. This government walked into this House and said that this is about business confidence, about confidence to tackle climate change and the so-called extreme nature of it. And now we are seeing policy on the run not for business confidence, not to deal with the so-called extremes of climate change but to deal with the threat the member for Griffith may have on the Lodge—puerile at the very best.

What is the impact of all this? In my home state of Queensland, the electricity price regulator, the Queensland Competition Authority, has announced massive increases in power prices from 1 July, which will add $120 to the average household power bill. Power prices have now soared by 60 per cent since the former Labor state government promised that deregulation of the industry would put downward pressure on prices. Perversely, the cost increase was pushed higher because Queenslanders used less power over the summer. The generator did not maximise their return on investment and so sought permission, and was granted, to increase the price. Because less power was used over Christmas—that is, Queenslanders saved power, they did not use as much—the generator did not meet its profit targets and the price went up. I thought the intent was to stop using power. I thought the intent was to wean us away from using power, but it turns out that the less power we use the higher the price. The level of perversity within the government's legislation, its basis and its rationale has reached new and startling heights. All Queenslanders are paying more because of this government's carbon tax. The South Australian regulator made it exceptionally and explicitly clear that more is being paid because of the carbon tax—a tax the Prime Minister categorically promised she would not introduce just days before the last election. That promise was broken. It is a tax based on a lie. Be under no doubt at all about that.

The main purpose of the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 is to remove the legislated floor price out of the carbon tax and link us with the European ETS, where the price for permits is around $8, give or take. What is our price? Twenty three dollars. The level exceptions within the European scheme means that the average Australian is paying something like 400 times more than the average European because of the way our scheme is constructed. The legislation will increase the carbon unit auction limit from 15 million to 40 million for 2015-16; alter the arrangements applying an equivalent carbon price for liquid fuels and synthetic greenhouse gasses; make amendments concerning the measurement of potential greenhouse gas emissions; and make amendments concerning natural gas liabilities. Just three months into the carbon tax, these are major structural changes.

Context is important, as we debate the high farce of this tax and its multiple amendments. On no fewer than 11 occasions the government affirmed categorically its commitment to the floor price as a crucial piece of the carbon tax legislation—11 times. That of course was before the member for Griffith started getting momentum to challenge for the Lodge. On 13 September 2011, the Prime Minister said in this place:

The bill also provides for a price cap and a price floor to apply for the first three years of the floating price period.

This will limit market volatility and reduce risk for businesses as they gain experience in having the market set the carbon price.

So the rationale for setting it for three years was to limit market volatility. Apparently that rationale has disappeared, has it? Now we have swept the floor away, does that mean there will be less or more market volatility? Or does it mean the government does not care as long as Kevin does not have the keys to the Lodge?

On 9 November 2011, a mere three weeks later, the Prime Minister said during an interview:

Well we have set a floor and cap so that there can be stability in pricing but by internationally linking the scheme we will see the Australian price linked to the global price when we move to the emissions trading scheme in three years time, but we did think it was appropriate, because people are making very long term investments, to have a band in which the price will move so that we’ve got the benefits of linking with the international price but also the benefits of stability.

So, within three weeks, the Prime Minister said, 'Keeping a floor price will limit market volatility; it will establish stability.' How can the government now walk in and sweep away the floor price, when they have nailed their colours to the mast, saying the floor price is needed for stability and to limit market volatility? What they are saying is: 'We don't care about market volatility. We don't care about stability. All we care about is that the member for Griffith promised to do this as part of his bid for numbers to challenge the Prime Minister, and, to sweep that away, we're going to do it as well, regardless of the instability, regardless of the market volatility.' They are the two issues the Prime Minister said needed to be addressed. They apparently are not important anymore a mere nine to 10 months later.

Similarly, on 12 July this year the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, said:

Well we've put in a floor price and a price cap to provide some confidence over the first few years about the potential variability of the price.

So we now have: 'It's about stability. It's about limiting market volatility. It's about confidence.' Or it was about those things. Mr Combet then said, on 21 August 2012:

We have legislated the floor price; that's quite well known. I am discussing with the European Union the linkage of our schemes. It is an issue that's in those discussions, but we are committed to the arrangements we have legislated.

Apparently, Minister Combet, you are not that committed to stability, to confidence, to limiting market volatility, as long as the member for Griffith is knocking at the Lodge. On 28 September 2011, Minister Combet said of the floor price:

This will reduce risks for businesses as they gain experience in having the market set the carbon price.

Despite eight changes since 1 July 2012, Minister Combet claimed that the carbon tax was 'bang on track'.

The government does not know what it is doing. It talks of stability. It talks of confidence. It talks of limiting market volatility. And then it changes it all, as if those words meant nothing. The government cannot be trusted on major policies. Its track record is clear on this. It cannot be trusted in terms of the words it uses. It was committed to all these issues of stability and confidence, and apparently now it is not. If it had articulated an argument that said, 'We can deal with the issues of stability, of confidence, of limiting market volatility—those things that required a floor for three years—through these other mechanisms, by linking the schemes,' perhaps there would be a shred of credibility. But there is nothing—no engagement, no rationale, no discussion, no explanation to the Australian people as to why, six to 12 months ago, the floor price was fundamental for stability, confidence and limiting market volatility, but now it is not important at all. In the last 12 months, Europe has gone backwards, China's growth has slipped to just above 7.1 per cent, Brazil's economy is slipping and we are now apparently the 12 largest economy in the world because the growth of three economies above us has stifled. But apparently issues of stability, confidence and market volatility are no longer important.

There is a human face to this discussion. Ernest and Marjorie Clark, who are retirees in my electorate, at Runaway Bay retirement village, where hundreds of others are, came in with their first power bill since the introduction of the carbon tax. It showed their off-peak power had gone up by 25.5 per cent and their peak power by 14 per cent. They asked a simple question: 'Stu, how do we afford this? The other 150 houses and residences in our retirement village face the same thing.' They said:

As pensioners we find it very hard to cover increased costs to everyday living, then be hit hard with increases in utility charges over and above the 10% stated by the PM.

This is the core problem with the carbon tax and the way this government has legislated for it. In the government's own modelling, emissions go up. The carbon tax does not reduce emissions. It does not take them backwards to meet the emissions target of a 25 per cent reduction on 2000 levels. It does not do that. Emissions go up. It causes maximum pain to people like Ernest and Marjorie Clark, retirees with a fixed income, including the pension, whose investments are struggling against a domestic and international financial regime that at present is going from bad to worse. It is punishing good people like Ernest and Marjorie Clark, and for what? For emissions to go up.

We have called time and time again for the carbon tax to be scrapped. The Leader of the Opposition has made the point patently clear that in government we will rescind it. We oppose it now and we will rescind it in government, as the first order on day one of an Abbott led government. We will restore fairness back to those people that were deceived at the last election by a carbon tax based on a lie.

Debate adjourned.