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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11939

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (22:16): I too rise tonight to speak on the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading And Other Measures) Bill 2012 and related bills. It is about four years since I made my first speech in this place on the issue of carbon trading—and that was the emissions trading scheme being proposed by the Rudd government. It gives me no pleasure to stand here tonight and claim that a lot of the issues I raised in those initial speeches have come true. It gives me no pleasure to know that a policy that was implemented by the Australian government has harmed its population so much.

The implementation of this scheme was so ill-conceived that we have seen eight major changes since the first bills were introduced. We had to bail out major companies—Energy Brix and Alcoa—using taxpayers funds on the eve of the carbon tax being introduced. We have seen a decrease in the share of the 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 big polluters list, taking the total to 315. We have seen changes in the regulations so as to increase real emissions from pipelines and landfill by one million tonnes. We have abandoned the Contract for Closure program to shut down power stations, which will now mean that the carbon tax will have to increase to achieve the same emissions reductions as originally planned. We have scrapped the floor price, which was to have been $15 from 2015. The government, incidentally, said that the floor price was set in stone, that it was absolutely vital for the success of this scheme—and now we have seen that go as well. We have linked the scheme to the European system, which does not allow two-way trade. So we are linked to a scheme that has one-way trade to the benefit of Europe but which Australia is excluded from on a number of fronts. And we have halted the clean technology investment grants. This came just weeks after these grants were announced.

These few changes show how the government has lost control of its carbon tax. But the real truth is that, in some ways, this carbon tax is working. It is designed for people to reduce their emissions—and, incidentally, the people who are reducing their emissions are the ones who can least afford it. The people who are reducing their emissions in my electorate are pensioners. When the Meals on Wheels volunteers go to visit them at lunchtime on a winter's day they are in bed—not because they are unwell but because they are cold and are not game to turn on their heater. The businesses in my electorate that are reducing their emissions are the small supermarkets that are closing down because they cannot afford the power bill to run their freezers. People in small villages now have a round trip of up to 100 kilometres to get their basic essentials. They are reducing their emissions. The people who are reducing their emissions are the people who can least afford it. And for what? Are we going to see any changes to our environment?

When I spoke about this mindset of doing these things back in 2008, I predicted that the Kandos cement plant that was then in my electorate—and is now in the member for Hunter's electorate—would close. Guess what? It has closed. The 150-odd people who worked in that plant relied on that plant for income—and that employment that spanned six generations. The whole town saw itself as a cement town and it now has no reason to exist. They have cut their emissions. And we are seeing no real changes to the environment.

One of the greatest misconceptions with this is that agriculture will get some sort of benefit. The member for New England, who sits behind me here, has been spruiking the Carbon Farming Initiative. I have to say that that is achieving nothing to help the environment. Farmers will increase their soil carbon for economic benefits. Carbon in the soil increases moisture retention. The agronomic and production benefits will always outstrip what will be made from trading carbon. Carbon trading in Chicago, where soil carbon was traded, ceased about 18 months ago because the price got down to such a low level.

Because of the time and because others wish to speak, I will cut this shorter than I intended. But I will say that, if there is one thing that is going to define this government—and we have seen plenty of things that we could use to define this government; pink batts, cash for clunkers, school halls and a whole range of other things—if there is one thing in this era in Australia that will be recorded in history, it will be this ill-conceived, absolutely idiotic idea that we can alter the environment by taxing our people, in a country that has about one per cent of the world's emissions, when no-one else is doing the same thing.

By tying ourselves to an emissions trading scheme in Europe, where the average cost per resident in Europe is about one dollar compared to the $400 it costs the Australian people, is absolute nonsense. I can understand a high school student maybe making this mistake in a science project and having to redo it, but this is the Australian economy. This affects the Australian people and it gives me great sadness to be speaking on this tonight. These amendments clearly show how this government has lost control of its legislation and has no idea what it is doing. I shudder to think where we will go.