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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11904


Dr STONE (Murray) (19:44): Even the Prime Minister knew the carbon tax would cripple the Australian economy, and so she said loud and clear before the last election, 'There will be no carbon tax under any government that I lead.' That was resoundingly put out on the public airwaves. But the cost of the keys to the Lodge was a deal with the Greens, hence we had a carbon tax imposed on this economy. That was bad enough. That was a horrific backflip that will go on costing this country until we have a change of government. Tonight, we heard from our coalition leader, the Leader of the Opposition, that one of the first acts of the coalition in government will be to abolish the carbon tax, but we still have perhaps 14 months until the next election. Right now, the economy, particularly the rural and regional economy, is in absolute disarray due to the costs of energy and the extraordinary shackling of their capacity to compete, particularly with offshore exports.

Before us tonight we have another example of how shambolic this carbon tax—ill-conceived in the first instance; just a political ploy to get the numbers to form government—is, with this legislation doing a complete backflip on the notion of having a floor price. We were told repeatedly—on 11 separate occasions, in fact—that the floor price would be crucial, vital, to the success of the carbon tax. Well, we are only a few months into having the new carbon tax in play, and tonight one of the key objects of these seven bills is to remove the legislated floor price for the carbon tax and then, extraordinarily, to link the carbon pricing as soon as possible to parts of the European system. This is just breathtaking in its absurdity. You can imagine what the business sector in Australia is thinking.

First of all, the carbon tax is the biggest carbon tax in terms of cost that has been imposed on any economy in the world—the biggest, the most comprehensive and the most absurd, with the greatest amount of red tape and the least transparency. Here we are tonight with these seven bills, with a whole new set of balls in the air. Who knows what we are going to be asked to amend next sitting period? It is just too awful to contemplate. The only hope held out to our business sector and our pensioners and low-income families is what they would have heard tonight from the opposition leader when he restated that one of his first acts in government will be to abolish this carbon tax. So why is he so critical?

In the biggest town in my electorate of Murray, in northern Victoria, there are about 180 empty shops now. They represent an enormous number of lost jobs, as well as a sense of having lost a future for what are mostly family owned enterprises. Of course, there are many other shops that have shut right across the rest of regional Australia, but we have suffered in particular in northern Victoria. That is because we are food manufacturers. We are energy intensive and export exposed. We grow magnificent fruit, dairy products, cereals and oil seeds and we have been the food bowl of Australia. We converted that raw material into what became icon brands and exported manufactured food. As I said, food manufacturing depends on energy, reasonably priced energy inputs. My food manufacturers are now labouring under the burden of, for example, as in the case of my dairy companies, the additional cost of energy. Not a cent can they pass on to the domestic market, which is dominated of course by Coles and Woolworths. They cannot pass on a single cent of those extra costs of having to convert, in the case of Murray-Goulburn at Cobram, briquette boilers to gas or some other substance. They cannot pass on those costs, so very early on in the piece they had to tell their dairy suppliers, 'We know you're struggling, we know you're coming out of seven years of drought and a year of flood, and you're heavily indebted as a consequence of struggling through that period. But, sorry, you're going to have to fork out at least another $5,000 or $6,000 per year to pay for the extra energy costs that we've got in manufacturing your raw milk.' You can imagine what my dairy farmers think about that. It is speeding up the numbers who are exiting the business altogether.

Of course, where you have food manufacturing as well as domestic fresh fruit sales, you have enormous cool stores. It goes with the business. You have enormous cool stores with the capacity to store fruit, or cheese as it ages over a year or two or three. We also have a number of wineries. Now, part of this obscene new carbon tax is the carbon equivalent tax, which hits all of the refrigerant and other gases that you find in cool stores.

So, first of all, imagine what businesses like Geoffrey Thompson Holdings in Shepparton thought when they got their new carbon charge, a line in their electricity bill; it pushed up their electricity costs by more than 15 per cent. In the month of July, the carbon charges itemised on their account—and flourished by me in this House of Parliament; the Leader of the House refused to allow me to table it—were an additional $23,000. Over the year, that company alone will have to pay an extra $260,000 just for their electricity. Geoffrey Thompson Holdings, which operates enormous cool stores, employs literally hundreds of people. They are now thinking very hard about what they can do to survive this impost. Again, they cannot pass on a cent of those costs to the Coles-Woolworths duopoly; if anything, they are being squeezed further on their wholesale prices. They can do nothing about the extra $260,000 a year, which is for nothing because neither their emissions nor the nation's emissions will go down one iota with these additional costs.

But then it get worse for someone like Geoffrey Thompson Holdings. As cool store operators, besides those carbon tax costs, they have the horrific additional costs of their refrigerant gases. They just do not know where to turn with those because they have no alternative if they need to re-gas, and we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars extra for re-gassing their cool stores with refrigerant gases.

We also know about imposts on our dairy farmers. Some time ago in question time I flourished in this House the bill for Michael and Melissa Farrant. They had carbon charges listed on their electricity bill which raised their electricity account by 15 per cent. We hear again and again the Prime Minister say, 'That's a lie. That's not true. These additional carbon charges are about 10 per cent.' Even 10 per cent is too much for many of these family farms or businesses to survive. The Farrant's carbon charges put their bill up more than 15 per cent and the tragedy for this couple is that, like so many farmers, they are environmentalists. They have planted 14,000 native trees on their property in order to reduce their emissions, for carbon sequestration. Do you think this new carbon tax regime in Australia recognises their efforts and their attempts with carbon sequestration with the 14,000 native trees planted on their property? Sorry, no way. These new bills tonight make it clear that carbon farming credits will be even further disadvantaging our farming population, given they are going to be locked out for many more years from perhaps accessing the trading of carbon credits with Europe.

You have to wonder: what is this government on about? What has it got against the good, honest worker who is out there doing their best, employing others, growing their business, passing it on to the next generation? The government is shackling these enterprises in a way so that they cannot recover.

Let me talk about Baking Dough Bakery in Shepparton. They had the carbon tax on their power bill of between 10 and 14 per cent in the months when the carbon tax was itemised. The interesting thing is that, through my various business enterprises giving me their bills, I could see that for the first two bills the carbon tax was itemised very clearly in black and white. I presented those bills to parliament. Of course, as I said, the government refused to allow me to table them in question time.

Radevski Cool Stores in Shepparton is in a similar situation. They have this matter itemised on their bill. Also Mulcahy Dairy, one of the biggest dairies in Australia, had the carbon tax itemised on their bill for the first two months. They are no longer getting those carbon tax costs itemised. Speaking to Mr Mulcahy tonight, who employs hundreds of workers on his dairy property—he milks literally thousands of cows—I said, 'Can you ask your energy company to resupply your latest bill with the carbon tax itemised, as they were doing for the first two months, so that I can make it clear to the government just what these costs are for you?' He phoned his energy company who said,' We're not allowed to anymore. We're not allowed to itemise the carbon tax. It's embedded in your bill. Sorry.' What is that about? I strongly suggest it is about trying to hide the reason for his energy bill escalating to a point where he now is seriously wondering how he will make ends meet. I find that absolutely extraordinary. I would like this government to now tell us why it is that the carbon tax component is no longer evident on electricity bills? It has vanished in the last month. It was there for the first two months. I think this is an interesting situation.

Talking about hydrofluorocarbons which come under the new carbon equivalent tax, the Radevskis, another big cool store in northern Victoria, were paying $25 a kilogram for the gas R22 in January. They are now being charged $228.80 a kilogram. So the same substance has gone from $25 a kilogram to $228.80 a kilogram. It would have cost them $45,000 in June to re-gas with 1,800 kilograms of R22. Now in October it is going to cost them $411,840, nearly half a million. There is not one cent of that money they can pass on. They are a cool store which manages fruit for the domestic and export markets. They cannot ring their export buyers or Coles and Woolworths—they know not to waste their breath there—and say, 'Sorry. We've just had to re-gas at a cost of half a million due to the new carbon equivalent tax. Will you give us a break and pay us a bit more for our fruit?' We all know what Coles and Woolworths are like. They simply laugh and say, 'Next? There's another six in the queue after you mate to supply fruit.' Besides, they are already paying $4 below the cost of production per unit for the fruit. They are not going to come good anytime soon.

We have a serious problem: the costs to industry of this new carbon tax regime imposed by this government on our nation because it wanted the keys to the Lodge. The tragedy for us is that it does not even make us a better global citizen in the sense of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions; all it does is destroy jobs. It destroys people's livelihoods and drives people out of industries which might have recovered from drought if they had been given a bit of time. There is no compensation for my food manufacturers, for my cool store operators or for my pensioners who have electricity bills way above their pittance of compensation. They are just going cold in winter and getting too hot in summer. I think this is a disgraceful situation. The only hope we now have is for an election to come on very soon and for the alternative government, the coalition, from day one to get the bureaucrats amending this legislation to the point of abolishing it, so that we do not continue to be the laughing stock of the world having a carbon tax which is the biggest and most punitive, making us the least competitive, for no purpose whatsoever but to keep Labor in government.