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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10793

Mrs GASH (Gilmore) (13:33): The member for New England spoke about his knowledge of these clean energy bills and having inside information. Bully for you, Member for New England. We in the coalition cannot even get information on the 400 to 500 biggest polluters. But then you support the government and I do not.

Mr Windsor interjecting

Mrs GASH: I listened to you in silence.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The honourable member for New England would know that he ought not to interject, as he is in the process of leaving the chamber.

Mrs GASH: Just over a couple of months ago I received a letter from a young trainee farmhand who works on a dairy farm in Milton. He has been thinking long and hard about how a carbon tax is going to impact on his life and, frankly, he is worried. The thing that struck me was that he was only 16 years old and was actually moved to put pen to paper and to write to his local member. This is what he wrote:

Dear Joanna Gash,

Hi. I am John, a 16 year old boy. I am writing to you as I have a traineeship on a dairy farm at Milton and think that the carbon tax will not be fair on farming with all the prices that will be going up. We have also been hit with the milk price also.

We work very hard. It is a 7 day week, 365 days a year and out in all weather. But we love our jobs and would like to keep it. But if there is no help for what farmers that are left we could all be out of work and that would be hard as I have just started my life in the work force and want to keep my job as a dairy worker.

Thank you.

Young John is not an isolated case. The only difference is that he is just one young person who has expressed openly to me what many of his peers are thinking. The government has been relentlessly repeating the mantra that this tax is necessary, that this tax will help the global environment and that this tax reflects what other countries are doing. The tax is being introduced without bothering to ask the Australian people what they think and despite the fact that it is they who will be paying for it.

This tax is being introduced by a Prime Minister who was selected by stealth, a Prime Minister who is a prisoner to Greens Senator Bob Brown, who everyone can see is calling the shots. He has been made Prime Minister by proxy. Labor's carbon tax has been crafted against the fabricated and imaginary international environment that exists only in the minds of the Greens and Prime Minister Gillard. It is a tax that is enthusiastically supported by the two so-called Independents, who will ultimately have to account to their constituency.

These bills are full of holes. The modelling is incomplete and much of the detail necessary to make an informed opinion is either nonexistent or deliberately withheld from the public. It relies on grand statements not backed up by facts or evidence. The alleged facts that have been presented so far have been widely challenged and are dubious at best. Modelling is based on an unrealistic $20 per tonne when it should be $23 per tonne, according to the government's own advice. The promised green jobs are spoken about only in the vaguest of terms without any specifics being offered whatsoever—no descriptions, no quantities, not even when they will start appearing or in what form. Still this government will not release, as I said earlier, the names of the 400 to 500 companies that will be paying.

This government's record of big-ticket projects is abysmal, so it is little wonder that Australians are suspicious of what this government is saying. They are not stupid and they understand the ramifications of this tax to them and their families. Let me ask the question: are we following the lead of other countries, as the government is trying to tell us? The report of the Productivity Commission provides some clues and reported:

… no country currently imposes an economy-wide tax on greenhouse gas emissions or has in place an economy-wide ETS.

The commission only looked at eight other countries and, importantly, did not examine major competitor countries such as Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Canada. Wayne Swan must explain why he failed to have the commission examine these countries. The fact that our major export competitors do not have a carbon price means that not only will a carbon tax in Australia send Australian jobs offshore but these jobs will still continue pumping out carbon dioxide, albeit from another country. Nothing will be achieved other than jeopardising our economy for nothing more than a gesture.

The report also demonstrates that Australia is not behind other countries in terms of taking action on climate change. The report finds our current abatement efforts are on par with those of the United States and China, yet we want to reward these countries by giving them our manufacturing jobs and penalising our people by increasing our production costs. Other countries are showing that you do not need a carbon tax to take action on climate change, as we in the coalition have said and proved with our policy on direct action.

Treasurer Wayne Swan made the ridiculous claim that Australia was simultaneously in the middle of the pack and in danger of being left behind. Wayne Swan's claims that Australia will be left behind by other countries in the future is wrong because Japan announced in December 2010 an indefinite postponement of its consideration of a cap-and-trade system. The United States has stepped back indefinitely from a cap-and-trade system and President Obama will look to other policies. The United States has reiterated that it would remain outside the Kyoto protocol. Canada dropped any plans for a cap-and-trade system under the minority Harper government and the Conservatives won a majority in the recent election pledging not to introduce a cap-and-trade system. South Korea has delayed carbon trading until 2015, after industry rejected an offer of 90 per cent free permits until an opportune time. Russia, Japan and Canada informed the G8 in May that they would not join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto protocol at the United Nations talks this year.

The Productivity Commission report confirms that any carbon tax or ETS will be passed through to consumers. Since 2007, across Australia electricity prices have increased by an average of 51 per cent; gas prices have increased by an average of 30 per cent; water and sewerage rates have increased by an average of 46 per cent; health costs—hospital, dental and pharmaceuticals—have increased by an average of 20 per cent; education costs—school fees et cetera—have increased by an average of 24 per cent; and rent has increased by 20 per cent. All of that is before the $9 billion a year new carbon tax, which will mean a 10 per cent hike in electricity bills in the first year alone, a nine per cent hike in gas bills in the first year alone, higher marginal tax rates for low- and middle-income earners and a $4.3 billion hit on the budget bottom line. This tax has been set deliberately at an artificially low price to start and will continue to rise and add to the cost of living in the years ahead.

The government's own modelling shows that emissions will increase from 578 million tonnes in 2012 to 621 million tonnes in 2020 despite the carbon tax. In 2020, $3.5 billion of carbon tax revenue will be spent buying 100 million tonnes of carbon credits from overseas. That will grow to 400 million tonnes by 2050, at a cost of $57 billion. By the government's own reckoning this will lower our gross national income per person by something like $5,000 by 2050.

According to the International Energy Agency in 2008, China's output was estimated to make up almost one-quarter of the world's output of carbon dioxide. The United States was not far behind, at just a little over 18 per cent. Those countries sit at first and second place of the world's emitters. Australia sits at 16th place, with 1.6 per cent. China's economy is predicted to grow to $123 trillion by 2040 in today's terms. This is equivalent to three times the economic output of what the whole world produced just in the year 2000. China's emissions are forecast to rise by 500 per cent by 2020. With growth like that how realistic is it to expect that global carbon emissions are going to be reduced? How can we here in Australia make any difference on our own? That is just fantasy.

If Australia immediately ceased to exist, all the carbon dioxide we are putting out now will be replaced by China's present output in the space of less than three months. Carbon dioxide emissions will not diminish at all, but will continue to grow, along with the world's population. This government is hell-bent on making Australian products more expensive and less competitive in the international marketplace, yet will sell materials that will enrich and enlarge our major competitors.

We have every right to be sceptical, if not cautious, over a tax built on deception. Will this carbon tax introduced in Australia alone deliver appreciable change to the global environment? The answer is an emphatic no. Even on the government side there is considerable scepticism. The former climate change minister and current Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Penny Wong, says a carbon tax is a bad idea. She said at a press conference on 3 November 2009:

I have been very upfront about why I think a carbon tax isn’t the most sensible thing for Australia.

Professor Tim Flannery, the government's own expert on climate change, admits that Australia's efforts are so token as to be inconsequential. He said on MTR radio in Melbourne on 25 March this year:

If we cut emissions today, global temperatures are not likely to drop for about a thousand years.

…   …   …

If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow the average temperature of the planet is not going to drop in several hundred years, perhaps as much as a thousand years because the system is overburdened with CO2 that has to be absorbed and that only happens slowly.

Why then is this government hell-bent on imposing a heavy, permanent burden on the Australian people when, practically speaking, nothing will be achieved?

Labor has promised to compensate polluting industries that are vital to our economy. Instead of the dirty 1,000, that number has been whittled down to less than 400. By definition that could include an organisation like the Shoalhaven City Council in my electorate, which has not been able to cut costs—predicted to be at least $1 million a year—owing to the council's methane recovery plants at their waste sites. Carbon tax costs imposed on the council would be passed onto ratepayers because the council will not be compensated. 'We will return all the money raised to people through the tax mechanism,' said Simon Crean in the Australian on 10 March 2011. But then the government changed its mind. Prime Minister Gillard announced in April 2011 that about only 50 per cent of carbon tax revenue will be going to families as compensation for cost-of-living hikes. Yet at a press conference on 13 April the Prime Minister said:

… millions of Australians will be better off receiving more in assistance than what will be required by them to deal with any price impacts.

By providing more offsets than the price requires, isn't the Prime Minister actually going to encourage consumption?

This has all the hallmarks of a GFC bailout mark 2, when $900 cheques were being thrown around like confetti. This was a policy overreaction that took us from a $22 billion surplus in 2007 to what is today a gross debt of over $197 billion and rising. My concern is that this tax may well make many of our manufactured and export goods less competitive and therefore expose industry to the temptation to move their operations offshore. The natural consequence would be a loss of further jobs. Yet the Prime Minister herself said that direct action is the way to go to keep jobs in Australia, not a tax.

The constituents of Gilmore want jobs. They do not want to see their jobs going overseas. What is the point of compensation if you do not have a job? What is the point of the Prime Minister proudly proclaiming that a basket of groceries will only cost 80c more when you do not even have a job? The rest of the world has overwhelmingly rejected the Australian model of a deep, punitive carbon tax. The coalition has shown that there are other ways of achieving similar outcomes. Why will the government not listen?

Gilmore is made up of two distinct regions. In the north we have Shellharbour, a part of the Illawarra which has grown on the back of heavy manufacturing. The steelworks and the coalmines are dominant industries. Many thousands of smaller businesses support that core activity. They are energy hungry because that is a consequence of the activity that brings wealth to our region. Those industries still sustain the Illawarra through the jobs they have created directly and indirectly—shops, service industries, public servants and so on.

It is a huge and complex social and economic network, but this government wants to turn off the tap. Just a few short weeks ago, BlueScope Steel announced 800 jobs were to go. This was bought about predominantly by tough competition from overseas. This is just going to add more costs to the product. How is making a local product more expensive going to help Illawarra's industry base? Recently Regional Development Australia announced all their projects and not one project was for the Illawarra. Yet June quarter unemployment figures revealed the central Shoalhaven's unemployment rate was 10 per cent, almost double the national average. In some areas, youth unemployment was as high as 35 per cent. In the Shellharbour LGA, the rate was 7.4 per cent. Both were up on the previous year.

I simply cannot see where these thousands of promised, mythical 'green jobs' will be. The Prime Minister keeps talking about them, but cannot or will not provide any detail whatsoever as to when or where they will be created. What is needed in Gilmore is not just compensation for the impact of the carbon cost. We need substantial initiatives to meet the challenge of a changing economic and cultural landscape. What we need is for the Australian people to have a vote on this issue. I call on the Prime Minister to call a very early election.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Before calling the next speaker, I remind all members of the provisions of standing order 64 which provide that no member shall be referred to by his or her name.