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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5887


Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (17:54): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and cognate bills debate that deals with, among other things, the taxation of alternative fuels. In particular, the part of the debate that I will go to will be the government's decision to whack yet another great big whopping tax in terms of excise on LPG fuel.

In broader terms, as Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, it has been instructive for me to have the opportunity to hear evidence from a number of witnesses about what this government's proposals actually are and what they actually mean for users of alternative fuels and for fuels more broadly across the Australian landscape. It is fascinating because this comes from a government that like to preach the green message. This comes from a government that like to claim that they are very focused on environmental issues. It comes from a government that like to claim that they are in touch with the need to look after the environment more so than, for example, they will argue, the coalition.

You have to question why this government, which claims to have those green bona fides, would go out of its way to make a more environmentally friendly fuel more expensive. The consequence of this policy before the House is that Labor will take an environmentally beneficial fuel, a fuel that is used in the taxi sector, the bus sector and the public transport sector more broadly and which produces fewer carbon emissions, and make it more expensive. The consequence will be that Australians will be forced to do two things: (1) use less public transport and (2) resort to using traditional fossil fuels like petrol and diesel. It beggars belief. In fact, you would dare say that it is a government that once again finds itself burdened with hypocrisy when it comes to its talk and its walk. We have this government once again preaching a message but doing something very different when push comes to shove.

The bills that are before the House see this government seeking to penalise those who have been early adopters of cleaner, greener fuels and Australians who are amongst the most vulnerable in our community by using these bills as this government's excuse to whack yet another great big tax on the Australian people. As I said, you would question why. Why would a government do this? What is the need to try to encourage Australians into using traditional fossil fuels over cleaner, greener fuels like LPG? The answer is obvious. It is because these bills represent for this government a windfall gain of around $500 million. That speaks volumes about the motivations of this government. That is $500 million of extra tax revenue that this government so desperately need. They need it because this is a government that is mired in debt. The Labor Party needs this because this is a government that is borrowing $135 million a day on the so-called company credit card because this government is absolutely reckless when it comes to spending taxpayers' money. It needs these bills to go through because it needs that money. That money for this government is like a drug to a druggie. Do not stand between them! Do not stand between them because they are desperate to do whatever they can to justify the ways in which they are raising additional revenue.

There were representatives of the coalition on the House of Representatives economics committee that undertook the public inquiry into this package of bills. Let us be plain and clear about what the consequences of these bills will be should they pass this House. For example, for the fleet of 18,000 taxis out there and some 66,000 drivers that carry in the vicinity of 370 million passengers these bills will represent a massive spike in their operating costs. This is a government that is about to whack up the price of LPG by 20 per cent. This is a Labor Party that likes to talk about its concern for the working people, that likes to talk with its hand on its heart about how it understands Australians are doing it tough despite presiding over some of the biggest cost-of-living increases that we have seen. This is a government that has a carbon tax on the agenda to cause a further spike in the cost of living. This is a government that through these bills is about to put up the price of LPG by 20 per cent.

It is not just the 18,000 taxis, the 66,000 drivers and the 370 million passengers who are going to be materially affected by this government's fiscal recklessness but also there is a fleet of some 700,000 vehicles out there that is running on LPG or has been converted to LPG. People have done this because previous governments, such as the coalition government, recognised the need to match action with talk. When the coalition government was in power it recognised the very real need to ensure that government policy did something for the environment. We did that by providing a subsidy for people to transition from traditional fossil fuels to LPG.

We wanted that to happen because the transition from traditional fossil fuels to LPG did two things: firstly, it reduced the cost of living for ordinary Australians because LPG at the pump was much cheaper than the price of traditional fuels and, secondly, it was good for the environment. It was good for the environment to transition from a petrol powered vehicle to an LPG powered vehicle. That is why the former coalition government made sure that we did not just talk the talk but walked it as well by making sure that government policy was directed towards improving the lot of ordinary Australians and by making sure that the people in Western Sydney, in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and Brisbane and those in working-class areas in my electorate of Moncrieff, such as Nerang, were in a position to transition to a cheaper fuel that was also environmentally beneficial.

That is also why the former coalition government walked away from this policy. It is true, as some Labor Party members opposite have mentioned, that this was in essence part of what the coalition looked at about seven years ago. But we changed our minds. If that is a news flash for members of the Labor Party, so be it. We changed our minds because we listened to the Australian people. We recognised that there was more to be gained by encouraging people to convert to LPG, there was more to be gained by making sure government policy was producing a better environmental outcome and there was more to be gained by making sure that coalition policy provided people with a way to reduce their cost of living. That is why we changed the policy.

This government's stubborn refusal to move from its support of these bills just highlights that this is a government that will turn its back on what is environmentally responsible, this is a government that will turn its back on the most effective way to help keep the costs of living down and, instead, will embrace these bills because it needs the money.

That, in summary, is why the Australian people have stopped listening to this Labor Prime Minister and have stopped listening to this Labor Party. They know that the government cannot be trusted. When you analyse its actions, when you look at Labor members who come into this chamber and preach about caring for the environment and preach about doing what they can to make sure that people's household cost-of-living expenses do not continue to increase and then vote yes on legislation like this, you understand why the Australian people are so deeply cynical of the Australian Labor Party. The Australian people are not listening to the Australian Labor Party. The Labor Party is losing the support of the Australian people for reasons exactly like the debate that we are having here tonight. Labor once again stands for higher taxes and, in this case, not only does it stand for higher taxes but also it stands for a less environmentally beneficial outcome than that which the coalition is proposing.

But the Labor Party is also tricky when it comes to political procedure. We know that the four bills that are currently before the House in this cognate debate could be separated. We in the coalition recognise that one of the bills is in dire need of rapid passage through both this chamber and the other place. In fact, we have indicated some support for that. We have indicated some support for splitting the bills so that bill can go through. But the Labor Party will not split the bills. The Labor Party wants to keep all four bills together and in some way attempt to shackle them so that if we do not pass one none of them gets through. So, although the coalition is comfortable with other bills in this package, because Labor is trying to foist this new $500 million increased tax onto the Australian people it says, no, all four bills must go through together.

I am very pleased to stand up for my constituents, for the working people of Australia, for those 700,000 people who have LPG powered vehicles, for the 18,000 taxi drivers out there, for the 350 million passengers who use those vehicles and for the 66,000 drivers and to say to the Labor Party, 'Change your direction; do not support this legislation.' This legislation just underscores the arrogance that the Labor Party now has when it comes to the need to raise revenue, to turn its back on the environment and to turn its back on those—many of whom are the most vulnerable—who use public transport like taxis.

This is not confined solely to taxis. There are many, many buses—fleets of buses. For example, the Brisbane City Council has a largely CNG—compressed natural gas—powered fleet. CNG powered buses use one of the cleanest fuels that is able to be used and that benefits the environment. Again, the Labor Party, through these bills, is about to whack up the price so that those bus operators—be they city councils or private operators—will have a substantially increased cost base. The Labor Party really has to be viewed with a high degree of cynicism when it is very clear that the only reason it is doing this is that it is so desperate for the money.

It does not make sense environmentally, it does not make sense in terms of the cost of living and it does not make sense of government policy over the past six years, because government policy has been to push people towards the use of fuels like LPG and CNG. So why do it? The answer, as I said, is that Labor needs the money. We know that the Labor Party has the second largest budget deficit this financial year, we know that the Labor Party is borrowing $135 million a day, we know that the Labor Party has racked up a level of debt that amounts to $107 billion and we know that the Labor Party has presided over a complete shemozzle of failed and flawed policies that have cost Australian taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. I say to the people of Western Sydney, I say to the people in working-class suburbs, next time you use a bus and the bus fare has gone up, next time you use a taxi and the taxi fare has gone up, recognise that that has happened because of the Labor Party. It has happened because this government is putting up the cost of fuel, in particular LPG and CNG, because it needs the money. When people talk to me in the street about what all this debt and deficit actually means, I can say to them with hand on heart that it means they pay more tax. These bills do nothing except slug ordinary Australians with the extra costs of paying tax as a result of these fuel excise increases.

There was an eleventh-hour rally outside Parliament House today. The Australian Taxi Council joined with a number of people to protest against this decision. Their anger is red-hot because this government is foisting yet another tax increase on them. This is not a government that introduces policies that are good for working people; this is a government that does the exact opposite. This government's legislation is going to make things more expensive for people. There will be flippant responses from members opposite about how this will only add a dollar onto the cost of the average taxi fare. That might be well and good if you are a parliamentarian earning a parliamentarian's salary, but the reality is that there are people out there who rely on public transport, who rely on taxis, and many of them are the most vulnerable people in the community. They might get a taxi to the shops and back a couple of times a week, and they might go somewhere else in a taxi a couple of times a week, and over the course of the week the increase adds up to $20. That matters to them. Those who are genuinely concerned about the environment are also scratching their head about the way in which this government is demonstrating its complete and utter hypocrisy. These bills should be split and for that reason I certainly do not support this massive new tax whack on LPG excise.