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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10848


Mr TUDGE (Aston) (17:20): I also rise to speak on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills before us. I note that I am speaking immediately following a fellow coalition member, the member for Wright. Ordinarily in the course of debates, you would have a coalition member followed by a Labor member and then back to the coalition, but in fact there are no more Labor members. That might have been a mistake, but I looked through the speakers list for today and, no, there are no further names from the opposite side on the speakers list—yet there are still another 10 coalition members for today, and I know that there are a further 20 or more coalition members speaking on these bills in the days ahead. Why is this the case? This is supposedly, according to Labor, one of the most important reforms that a government has ever introduced in this country. The Prime Minister has talked about being on the 'right side of history' in relation to this particular reform. This reform was going to lead us into a clean energy utopia, according to government members on the other side of this chamber. So where are the other 37 Labor members?

Mr Fitzgibbon: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the member is misleading the House. The government has been left with no alternative but to pull its speakers because the opposition keeps calling quorums in keeping with their wrecking approach to the processes of this House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): The member for Hunter will resume his seat. There is no point of order. He should know better than to raise a frivolous point of order.

Mr TUDGE: They are clearly very sensitive about this particular matter because fewer than half of the members of the Labor Party are indeed speaking on these bills, despite the reforms going to be so dramatically beneficial to this nation, according to them. They are running scared and I believe that the members on the other side do not want to come in here and state their support on the record. I ask: where is the member for Deakin and where is the member for Corangamite? Come in here and state your support for this bill on the record. I can understand why they do not want to do that, but if they do not have the courage—

Mr Fitzgibbon: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I appreciate the member is a new member of this place, but if he wants to launch an attack on members he can do so by substantive motion. The member for Deakin is in fact overseas on important government and parliamentary business and the member should restrain himself.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Hunter will resume his seat. The member for Aston will resume his seat. Those sorts of points of order are not called for. Member for Hunter, I am sure the member for Aston will appreciate your comments in relation to those members who are overseas.

Mr TUDGE: The member for Deakin did have an opportunity last week to speak if he had wanted to. My point is that, if the members opposite do not have the courage to come in here and speak on this bill, then they should not vote on this bill.

Mr Fitzgibbon: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I do this reluctantly but I do feel a need to defend the member for Deakin. He did not necessarily have an opportunity to speak last week because every member on this side—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No. The Chief Government Whip will resume his seat. If he raises another frivolous point of order on the same subject, I will have no alternative but to deal with him.

Mr TUDGE: At the last election there were 144 members of this 150-person chamber who campaigned on a platform promising not to introduce a carbon tax if they were elected. By being a member of the coalition, I made that promise, and the members opposite, by being members of the Labor Party, also made that promise. Of course, the Prime Minister famously said a week before the election that there would be no carbon tax under a government that she led. She did this on behalf of all Labor members because she was coming under pressure from the coalition, which said on multiple occasions that they did indeed have a secret plan to introduce a carbon tax. So she ruled it out categorically on behalf of all Labor members. There were no ifs, there were no buts—straight down the barrel of the TV she uttered those immortal words, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Had she said at the time, 'Yes, a vote for me and a vote for Labor members will mean that we will introduce a carbon tax,' then I would submit that the Prime Minister would not be in her job today. This bill that is before the House is based on a fraud. It is introduced by a Prime Minister who is only in office because of the express commitment to the Australian people not to introduce such legislation. All 144 members in this chamber should honour the commitments we made before the election to not introduce a carbon tax. If the Prime Minister honestly believes that a carbon tax is the way to go, then she should take it to an election and let the people decide.

Let me go to the substance of this bill. This bill is designed to put prices up. That is the express intent of the policy. By virtue of it being primarily a tax on electricity and transport, it will flow through to the costs of almost everything for very little environmental gain. Let us look at the impact of this tax on the residents of my electorate and, indeed, on residents across Australia. There will be a 10 per cent increase on electricity prices in the first year alone. There will be a nine per cent increase in gas prices in the first year alone. These are not my figures; these are the government's own figures. There will be an extra three per cent increase on municipal council rates, according to the Municipal Association of Victoria, bringing average rate increases to somewhere between nine and 10 per cent next financial year. In the first year alone, the government itself says it will cost the average family an additional $515. This is what we will get immediately at $23 per tonne. In a couple of years time, again according to the government's own modelling, it will be $29 a tonne, and then it will be $35 a tonne, and it will continue to increase all the way up to $131 per tonne. It starts with a 10 per cent increase in electricity prices and a three per cent increase in rates, but it will just go up and up and up.

This could not come at a worse time for Australian residents. People are already doing it tough in my electorate of Aston and across Australia. They are doing so because the costs of basic essential services are going up well in excess of inflation or wage increases. We have seen a 51 per cent increase in electricity prices since 2007. We have seen a 30 per cent increase in gas and a 24 per cent increase in education costs. We have seen a 20 per cent increase in health costs and a 46 per cent increase in water costs. These are all essential items which are very difficult to reduce your usage of.

Let me move to the impact of this bill on businesses and jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs. In my electorate we have a particularly large manufacturing base. There are about a thousand manufacturers, employing about 10,000 people. Knox in my electorate will be one of the hardest impacted by this tax. Why is this the case? Because the carbon tax is in essence a production tax. It taxes everything that is manufactured in Australia but does not tax those products that are imported from overseas. In that regard it operates like a reverse tariff. It will penalise our businesses here in Australia by adding costs, but it does not impose additional costs on those products that are imported from China or from other competitor countries. I do not see the sense in this. Members opposite say that this package is all about sending a price signal. I ask the members opposite: what sort of price signal does it send if you make Australian manufactured goods more expensive than imported goods? Of course, the price signal that it sends is to go and buy those imported goods. Again, that makes no sense to me.

What will be the impact of this in relation to jobs? The Victorian Treasury has done some modelling in relation to this in Victoria and it says that in my electorate alone over 500 jobs will be lost due to this tax. Across Victoria about 24,000 jobs will be lost. I have visited dozens of businesses in my electorate over the last few months, and each and every one of them—almost to the last one—has said that the carbon tax will detrimentally impact their business. It will make it harder for them to operate and to employ further people, and it will put them at a competitive disadvantage with their international competitors. Of course, at the best of times this would be bad enough—to penalise our businesses compared to our international competitors—but it is particularly bad at the moment when manufacturers and other businesses are doing it so tough. This is, indeed, the last thing that they need.

If the rest of the world were going down this path then that would be one thing—but the rest of the world is not acting. Despite what the Prime Minister and members opposite say, the rest of the world is not acting. The Productivity Commission has looked into this and it has clearly stated that Australia is the only country in the world to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax or emissions trading scheme. If you go through and look at the largest-emitting countries in the world, you see that the United States is abandoning efforts to introduce a cap-and-trade scheme, China is forecasting it will increase its emissions by 500 per cent by 2020, India's emissions are growing at 8.7 per cent per annum, Japan has delayed consideration of an ETS until 2013, in Canada an election was just won on a platform of not introducing an ETS, South Korea has abandoned theirs and even Europe's emissions trading scheme does not cover the entire economy. We will be a lone participant in this regard.

So what will be the environmental impact of us taxing our residents and our businesses in the absence of any global action? Zero! It will not alter the temperature in any perceptible way. It will not change the climate. It will not make our air clearer or our rivers cleaner. It will not save any endangered species. It will do almost nothing for the environment for all this pain that I have been referring to.

So let me summarise what these pieces of legislation will actually do. If implemented, they will be a direct breach of the promise that the members of the government made, and which each one of us made. It will push up electricity prices by 10 per cent, just to start with; it will push up rates by about three per cent; it will make our businesses less competitive at a time when they are doing it tough; and it will cost 500-plus jobs in my electorate alone and tens of thousands of jobs across Australia. And in exchange for this pain we will get zero environmental gain. No wonder the government do not want to do a cost-benefit analysis of their proposal. It is crystal clear that it simply would not stack up.

The government continually says that this bill presents the most cost-effective mechanism to reduce emissions. We dispute this statement. But, equally importantly, it misses the key point that Australia reducing emissions is not an end goal in itself. Reducing carbon emissions has no intrinsic value; it is only valuable if it results in a more stable climate or has other direct environmental benefits or productivity benefits. As the government itself has acknowledged, Australia's reduction in emissions will produce few, if any, environmental benefits for Australia if it goes alone. Even if it were the cheapest scheme—and this is not—spending money for no benefit is still a bad idea.

This is why the coalition's direct action plan is attractive. It promotes measures that both reduce atmospheric CO2and produce immediate productivity and environmental benefits. Carbon capture in soil, for example, is the centrepiece of the coalition's direct action policy. It not only reduces CO2 but also immediately makes soils more productive. Similarly, the planting of trees reduces CO2 but immediately curbs erosion, provides additional habitat to support biodiversity and is generally considered to provide positive environmental value for most Australians. This is why the coalition's direct action plan is attractive to us over the medium term. It delivers real environmental benefits to Australia even if the main global emitters are not taking action.

This legislation should not be supported by anyone in this chamber other than perhaps the Greens member, Adam Bandt, who was the only person in this chamber who campaigned on a carbon tax. To do so would breach a promise that the rest of us made not to introduce a carbon tax. It would cause enormous amounts of pain for residents, cost jobs and provide no environmental gain.