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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10786


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (13:03): I would like to say in passing to the member for Newcastle that I think we on this side are being very hard on the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in saying that they are the ones who said before the election that there would be no carbon tax under a government that they led. I say this because every one of you over there would have said that before the election. I do not think that one person over there would have said, 'I'm going to introduce a carbon tax.' Not one person over there would have said, 'Come what may, we are going to introduce a carbon tax, no matter what the Prime Minister says.' So, when we are talking about the national interest and putting your own interests first, you should avail yourselves of the offer by the member for Tangney for a debate on the actual science.

I rise to give the House the perspective from my electorate of Herbert on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. I do so in the knowledge that the majority of residents in my electorate believe that action must be taken to clean up our part of the world and that we must act to support renewable energy. I have spoken to researchers from James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science and they have made it clear to me that we must act. But this tax does not act in attacking pollution. It does not act on sustainable energy. It does not act in union with the world. It acts alone as a cascading and compounding tax, with the end user—those people who can least afford it—paying for it.

This government tells us that the tax will be levied on the big polluters. These big companies will be faced with a choice. Do they take the pain, causing lower share prices and inflicting internal pressures on themselves, or do they pass it on? Look at Qantas. They were one of the first to come out of the blocks to support putting a price on carbon and to support the government's carbon tax. They did this after also ensuring that it was not levied on international travel, as that would have impacted on their competitiveness. And, quick as a flash, they announced that they would pass on the domestic cost of the carbon tax straight onto the punter.

Turning to Townsville, I would like to discuss this from the perspective of mining and resources using two examples. First, there is the Xstrata copper refinery. Xstrata has announced that the Townsville refinery will close and it has stated categorically that this is not directly related to the carbon tax. And I take them at their word. The fact remains that the ore will still be mined and converted to concentrate. It will not be refined in Townsville, and those 170 people who were employed to do that will find themselves out of a job. That concentrate will instead be shipped offshore to be refined. The big question is: what will the net result be for world pollution? No-one will tell me the answer to that question, least of all the climate change minister.

Xstrata says that it is moving because the cost of production is less overseas. It would not be too much of a stretch, then, to assume that Australia's rigid environmental regulations may not be enforced overseas, thus creating a climate in which over 300 direct and indirect jobs in Townsville have been lost for a worse net result for worldwide pollution. We are still a quarry; we just do not value add any more in this industry. My city and region are not happy with this. Second, I put to the House the example of Queensland Nickel—the company saved from closure by Townsville's community of refiners and Clive Palmer. It was estimated that had Clive Palmer not stepped in, the closure of this company would have had a devastating $4.5 billion negative impact on our local economy. Queensland Nickel employs 900 people directly, and it is estimated that another 1,200 owe their living to this enterprise. No-one at Queensland Nickel will tell you that it is not energy intensive; it certainly is. But here is the most perfect example of why this tax is bad. Queensland Nickel is a 100 per cent import and export business. The ore is sourced and bought on the international market from Noumea and New Caledonia and shipped to Townsville, where it is refined and then sold 100 per cent on that international market. It is price sensitive and so an equitable tax is extremely important.

Queensland Nickel's method of refining is termed a Caron. It is a roasting method and it involves energy. There are two other countries with which it competes in this market and which use this process. They are Brazil and Cuba. Queensland Nickel has improved its environmental performance steadily over the years. They now produce a large portion of their own electricity. To further reduce the energy required, they sun dry the ore to facilitate a quicker, cleaner process. The plants in Brazil and Cuba are, from what I am told, environmental disasters. I have not been there. They say that you can see them on the satellite photos, and they are disasters. The guys at Queensland Nickel will tell you that you can walk across the smoke in Brazil and no-one fishes near the Cuba facility. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that people still fish in Cleveland Bay and they still live all around the plant. It is estimated that Queensland Nickel will at the start be up for $32 million with this carbon tax.

My problem with this tax is not that it affects profitability when the price for nickel is high. When the price is over $15 per pound, they can probably afford it. It is when the price drops and Queensland Nickel is still up for $32 million that I have a real problem, and so does Townsville. When the price drops, the forward estimates are below $8.50 per pound and there is a strong dollar, maintenance and jobs will have to be shed. It is that simple. The ore will still be mined. The ore will still be purchased on the international market.

If Queensland Nickel is out of the game, the ore will still be processed in Cuba and Brazil, with the result that world pollution will skyrocket for no reason other than this government wants to look its grandchildren in the eye. I want to look them in the eye as well, but I want them to have jobs. This tax does not reward good business. It does not reward world's best practice. It does not support industry. It does not support refining, and it does not support Townsville.

I want to talk about small business. I come from a family which worked hard in a corner store. Small businesses all over the country are the same no matter what the business. Long hours, living frugally and doing everything for the business are the orders of the day. Running a corner store means that you always have to be open, so your electricity costs are high. Corner stores are full of refrigeration, and they run on electricity. The deli fridge, the meat slicer, the scales, the cash register all run on electricity, and electricity is planned to get dearer and dearer and dearer.

A small business of any kind must look at its costs, set its margins to meet those costs and then make something on top of that. With the ever-increasing competition from large corporate organisations, the last thing a small business needs is taxes which will not help anyone achieve anything. Be that small business a corner store or an engineering firm, the challenges before them today are great. Be it big multinational or national competitors or Chinese steel manufacturers, the challenges are the same. To add to these challenges an unwieldy and overly complicated tax which will require a huge number of public servants to administer its operation beggars belief. Every small business operator will be sitting there filling out forms, completing the returns and complying with legislation. They will be doing that for absolutely no money. They will be working in their business and not on their business. They will see the waste which has made this government the most profligate in history as another example of them having to bear the load for a bunch of others tucked safely in their beds. This government does not want to see small business thrive, otherwise it would not introduce this tax.

I want to tell you about my wife's family. They are cane farmers in the Burdekin. They work hard. They are trying to deal with the strength of the dollar but they are also heavy users of electricity, diesel and fertilisers. All three are exposed to the carbon tax. All three impact on my wife's family being part of a country which makes and grows stuff. My wife's family do not want anything they do not deserve, but this is not giving them a fair go. How do we go to them and ask them to cop it in the neck again with the strong dollar and then load them up with a tax that other sugar-producing nations are simply not paying. Even our charities and organisations will not escape this tax—take North Queensland Community Transport. They supply cheap transport to people in the community who do not have options. They provide buses and wheelchair lifts. These are driven by diesel. Do you as a government simply say to them who survive on the very least that they will have to go without, again?

This brings me to direct action. The basic philosophy of it is what speaks to me. We do things. We are a country of innovators and inventers. We take the best the rest of the world has to offer and we adapt it to our ways. We produce tangible, positive, effective measures which improve the way we live. Australia is already in the middle of the pack when it comes to action on climate change. That gets glossed over by this government too much. We are by and large acting on climate change. Look at the cars we drive. Look at the influence our car manufacturers are having on the way we drive. We are certainly doing a damn sight better on this environment caper than when I started work in 1978. In those days, solvents, acids and oils were all just poured down the drain and into the stormwater. It does not happen anymore, and most of that has been driven by the community. Business and industry are not without blame here, but we have cleaned up our act. We are one of the best countries in the world when it comes to acting on climate change. But we can always do more, and that is what direct action is all about.

Let us look at the algae project at James Cook University in Townsville. The algae attacks and collects carbon dioxide and converts it into a food source and biodiesel. It can be designed to attack any pollutant and remove it from the air. Above all, it is not genetically modified in any way. By using this science, we could build a coal-fired power station, integrate this algae project into its design and get a coal fired baseload power station with zero emissions. Sure, there are costs involved here, but everyone can see that those costs produce tangible, visible and positive outcomes. This government should be backing this project and pushing it as far as it can to ensure that Australia is leading the world in this science. We can clean up our patch and not spend a cent overseas. To spend $3.5 billion of our taxpayer money to buy credits overseas for those people burning our coal is just ridiculous as far as my city is concerned. We can clean up our patch and we can look after ourselves.

There is simply not enough time to discuss the legislation before us in one speech. I object to not being able to examine in detail this tax's effects on the timber industry, the steel industry and all the value-adding industries. I object to not being given enough time to explain Townsville's perspective when it comes to the additional cost to health care, child care, road works, public transport and the cement and building industries. Just about all our food comes in on trucks which are diesel powered and travel on roads. Everything I have just mentioned will cost more under this tax.

For the life of me I cannot understand why we are going down this path. The people to whom I speak in Townsville do not understand why the government is doing this when the Prime Minister and everyone on that side of the House stated clearly before the election that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led or of which they were a part. The people of Townsville do not believe it when the government says that the average cost to a person will be about 20c a week. I do not believe that there is a single person in the country who would believe that.

At that end of the day, this is a bad tax. It tries to be too clever by half and it is so convoluted by design that it cannot possibly work. There are those in my community who do not believe that there is a need to do anything at all, but they are in the minority. However, the vast—and I do mean vast—majority of people feel that, if this tax comes in, they will be losing something in our city and our country. We object to that and we will not be supporting these bills.

In closing, the member for Newcastle said 'the Labor way'. When I was a kid the Labor way was the man standing out the front and talking to people. He fronted up to people. He had a trade background, he worked hard and he was part of it. When I was a young man the Labor way was to lead the way. It was to say things before an election, stand up there and have a go—articulate a position and carry it through. Take the great debates that came from 1983 and the moments of true pride that Labor must have had. Look at what has happened now. There must be people on that side of the House who sit there and shake their heads, wondering what happened that this government can say one thing before an election—everyone who got elected over there said the same thing. Now they are saying the time has come to act and yet they are not prepared to go to the very people they purport to represent and put their names to a ballot paper on this issue. I think you should all hang your heads in shame.