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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10797


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (13:48): When great governments issue great policies, sometimes mere mortals like us ponder what could possibly have been their inspiration for such vision. My contention in speaking on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and concurrent legislation is that the Gillard government have drawn their inspiration from one of our great nation's traditions, the Melbourne Cup. This is a fantastic time of year as Australians from across the continent look forward to the familiar sights and sounds of the Spring Racing Carnival leading to the special feeling of anticipation for our race that stops the nation. On 1 November, we will celebrate 150 years since the first race in what has become such an iconic international event.

It began with the best thoroughbreds that Australia could produce, and the legendary Archer winning the first two cups. By 1930, the truest Australian superstar—of course, born in New Zealand—became our great champion, the legendary Phar Lap. Our great race now attracts the greatest thoroughbreds from across the globe with trainers from the Middle East to Ireland to the United States pursuing the ultimate prize. Despite the growth of the race the same general principle still applies that saw its pinnacle at the height of Phar Lap's powers. Competing 35 times in his short life, Phar Lap won an extraordinary 32 races and twice ran second. The only race in which Phar Lap did not place was when he came a very ordinary eighth in the Melbourne Cup of 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression. Our champion had won all 14 races he had competed in that year, providing such great inspiration and hope for the millions of Australians who were doing it tough during those dark economic times.

Due to this great success racing officials decided to weigh down this great stallion with a massive 68 kilograms as he attempted to become the first back-to-back champion since Archer. To put this in perspective, Phar Lap's weight of 68 kilograms was an incredible 24.5 kilograms more than the weight carried by White Nose, the horse that won the race that year. This was simply too much of a burden for our nation's greatest champion. Now, 80 years later, our nation has another great champion, a resource that powers our economy to greatness, that carries the weight of the Australian dream and that provides riches for all. This great champion is not a foal, it is our economy's heart and soul—yes, it is coal. It is our country's greatest natural resource, the rock that drives our economy away from the threats of global depression and that gives us such a magnificent competitive advantage on the world's racetracks.

It is time for inspiration and vision on how best to use this champion resource for the benefit of all. Instead this government is choosing to handicap our nation's great champion to add such a weight through this tax that this industry will be reduced to the very ordinary. Just as Phar Lap's next step was to move overseas to compete, many of our industries will be forced to relocate to another country where they can avoid this tax, this handicap, that eliminates their competitiveness. We have already seen a late scratching in the most mighty of thoroughbreds, BlueScope Steel. She was a fiery competitor that had previously run with steely determination, but now she runs no more and those blue-collar punters who had ridden her wave of success are now left beaten, hoping there is enough coal revenue to fund their dole. The average Aussie punter is forever getting smashed by this government, straining under so many policy failures sired by that disappointing grey from Griffith and damed by the Welsh warmblood of Lalor. This government loves a punt themselves, not on the pokies but on pink batts, school halls, the NBN and an overseas flutter on Malaysia—but not the certainty of Nauru. They like an outsider, all paid for by debt that has spiralled to well over $200 billion. Having learned from their past mistakes, it appears they now punt to lose. Lack of honesty has been a great failing of this government, and that failing has never been greater than in this representation of these so-called clean energy bills. Originally the greatest moral challenge of our time, the policy is then dropped and, subsequently, our Prime Minister looks us in the eye and promises us:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

But now we have new leadership through a marriage to the Greens—and Bob's your uncle. However, upon investigation, this is not about saving the planet. Under the disguise of an environmental policy, this is tax reform that will stop the nation. The truest words spoken in this room highlight the Prime Minister's real objective, when our leader said of her:

… the Prime Minister has never seen a tax she didn’t like and never had a tax she wouldn’t hike.

This is her Christmas, and it comes every day—a new tax that is so far reaching that it sits on top of every other tax unimpeded and that takes from big businesses, businesses of national importance that create massive amounts of foreign income, and every single one of us in virtually everything we do—taxed. She is a new kind of Robin Hood: she takes from the rich and she takes from the poor! Yes, this tax will get the better of our Phar Lap and all those who punt on her—the tax that never sleeps, that never rests, the tax that can make this Phar Lap of a country, stripped of its ability to run like no other, reduced to the very ordinary. Let us in this place advocate to seek a global solution to this global problem of global warming. Let us not inflict domestic pain for no global gain.

The Prime Minister assumes the role of leading our nation with an oath to well and truly serve the Commonwealth of Australia, her land and her people. Yet this decision to tax our champion, to burden our Phar Lap, for no environmental gain is a crime against our economy and does not 'well and truly serve' our nation. Australia's best interests will be served by developing ways to maintain our champion's ability to run within the new race rules, not by taxing it out of the competition. With a focus on clean coal technology, on emission capture, on sequestration and on carbon farming, we can maintain our current competitive advantage and keep banking our winnings whilst also meeting our environmental targets. This investment in research and development, this embrace of innovation, is what will be in our nation's best interests. This government so lacks credibility that, when they finally get a good runner, they embark on this folly—a tax policy hastily put together without consultation and with little consideration of the consequences. After feeling the heat of community outrage over the imminent surge in power bill prices, they pull out the candies. Because of a claim there will be no injury, they are determined to pay excessive amounts of compensation. The compensation is calculated on some complicated matrix of grocery costs and power bills, but this tax will pervade every single element of our lives.

A local example in my electorate of Bennelong is the balance-sheet impact on the City of Ryde, the main local council in the region, and the flow-on effect to mums and dads in our community. The City of Ryde paid a total of $2.96 million in electricity charges across its entire organisation in the 2009-10 financial year, $1.89 million of which was for street lighting, which generates 39 per cent of the council's greenhouse gas emissions. I am going to take a big leap and presume that my local council is not going to stop lighting up the streets as a result of this carbon tax. I know that Ryde council is a member of the Street Lighting Improvement Program, which is managed by the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils. This program implements measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by introducing energy-efficient lighting technologies. However, to quote Sam Cappelli, environment manager for the City of Ryde, 'Transition has been slow, and the increased provision of street lighting infrastructure, coupled with popular community expectation of increased night-time light levels, is presenting financial, social and environmental constraints for the City of Ryde and its community.' So a carbon tax is applied to council's highest expense, meaning that increased revenues will have to be found from somewhere to pay for it.

Local government does not receive compensation. Their highest source of income is from rates, which are locked in for the next four years under an agreement with the state government. The second highest source of revenue is from community tenants, primarily those using sport and recreational facilities. These tenants—the football and cricket clubs that local mums and dads take their kids to on weekends—will inevitably face a sharp increase in their costs, leading to major pass-through costs to those same mums and dads just for giving their kids some time to enjoy the Australian rite of organised sport at the local park or pool.

In essence, this policy dictates that we tax the cheap and dirty stuff and that the revenues raised subsidise the much higher cost of the expensive and clean stuff, and pay compensation for these higher charges that are passed on to the consumer. The logic is that this legislation will motivate less use of the cheap and dirty stuff, leading to greater demand for the clean stuff that is several times more expensive to produce. Let us just pretend for a moment—a wild, speculative, insane moment—that this government is actually successful in this policy. Let us pretend that, as a result, there is 50 per cent less demand for cheap and dirty stuff, meaning that 50 per cent less tax revenue will be raised. As a result, there is significantly higher demand for more income to offset the increased use of the much more expensive clean stuff and, therefore, the need for exponentially more compensation. But where does this money come from?

To offset reduced global coal burning we would need the much more expensive renewable energy so that the costs went up proportionally. The less coal we burn, the less tax we raise and the less money we have to spend. The more renewables we use, the higher the costs and the more compensation needed. It would appear that the government has not contemplated any level of success in this purported environmental policy.

Debate interrupted.