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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10859

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (18:06): It is a privilege to rise tonight to speak against the so-called clean energy bills that we see before us. I want to start by recapping on how we got to this point where Australia faces these 19 bills and the thousands of pieces of paper for this legislation.

Since 2007 I think we have been on a tortuous road in relation to the politics of the environment and carbon. With the election of Kevin Rudd we saw that there would be change, allegedly, in Australia through the signing of the Kyoto protocol. But what we know, of course, is that the targets under Kyoto were already met by the previous Howard government, so Kyoto in effect achieved nothing except some goodwill internationally. We then saw the government attempt to implement a series of environmental programs and policies, year in and year out. All have failed or ended up in an abysmal smoking ruin for good government policy, for good political environment policy and for the environment in general, whether it be the green loans failure, the solar scheme failure or, let us not forget, the Home Insulation Program, the stated reason for which was an environmental one.

Then we had Kevin Rudd backing down after Copenhagen on advice, allegedly, from the current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer. Then we had the new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, promising before the election that there would not be a carbon tax. And we had the great policy initiative that 150 citizens would be brought forward to decide the environmental policies of this country. Would we have a carbon price? What would we do? One hundred and fifty people would be brought together to decide that and we were to trust the people on that. Then, after the election, we do not trust the people anymore to decide. We are going to have a carbon tax. The announcement of a carbon tax is for a high carbon tax when compared internationally, a punitive $23 a tonne carbon tax which is out of sync with the rest of the world and will punish Australian industry and innovation. Then we see the Greens running the show. The policy is going to affect the thousand biggest polluters in Australia. Then it is the 500 biggest polluters in Australia who are going to foot the bill for the so-called Clean Energy Bill that we see before us.

Even today we see more tortuous evasion from the Labor Party on this policy. They have run out of speakers on what they tell us is the greatest policy reform of our time. Does nobody over there want to say anything about this policy? Are they really saying, with 19 bills, with a thousand pages of legislation, that there are no Labor Party speakers to tell us why we need to do this? That is just some of the tortuous path that has got us to this so-called reform.

It is a fact that 144 of the MPs in this chamber campaigned against a carbon tax at the last election. That is why the coalition have been clear about our position: if you want to do such a major reform, you must place it in front of the Australian people. There is nothing wrong with reform. There is nothing wrong with having a policy this radical. But in a democracy, in Australia, you owe it to the people to put it before the people and say: 'This is our policy. This is what it will do. You make the decision about it.'

When you look at what the government is presenting to us, it fails every test that you want to pass over it. It will not work the way the government say it will. They say this is a market based policy. I can tell you there is very little that the Labor government can tell us about the market. The connection between consumption and production, supply and demand, seems to have gone missing in the way they are arguing and articulating their case for this. This legislation is supposed to put a massive tax, a disincentive, on everybody's consumption and production, but somehow we are not supposed to use that disincentive to consume and then pollute the environment because we are going to compensate everybody. We are going to compensate heavy industry. We are going to compensate people on low incomes. We are going to compensate all kinds of special needs sectors and people who have come forward with their hands out to the Labor Party begging for a handout from the government. They are going to be compensated, removing the disincentive to keep polluting. Somehow, the creation of a 19-bill, thousand-page piece of legislation, we are going to save the planet. We will have a law here that will reduce emissions in Australia and thereby somehow affect the climate of the planet. That is what the government is asking us to believe in this parliament today.

Not only can we reject each one of those contentions but also we can say that nothing will be achieved environmentally from this legislation—nothing at all. In fact, it will do nothing to demand, it will make all of us poorer and it will challenge our ability to get ahead internationally. The question the Labor Party has to answer, and every single member of the Labor Party should be in here today to tell us this, is why this orgy of government legislation is going to be beneficial for Australians and for our future. They cannot articulate their own case in relation to this.

I asked a question of the Prime Minister a few weeks ago about this. I want to turn to what I think will be the most devastating impact of a carbon tax once we have put a massive disincentive into the economy: a huge tax, a high carbon price, penalising our industry and business and subsidising some sectors on the basis of whether they have large union memberships or large political clout. Who will be left to foot the actual bill for the carbon tax in Australia? It will be every single small business owner in this country—the people without an organised voice, the mums and dads who run their own businesses across this country. There is no compensation for them. Running a small business in Australia today is already a herculean feat. There are millions of them and they provide most of the employment and generate most of the wealth in Australia today, yet they are being asked to foot the bill for the Labor Party's absolute incompetence in managing the environment and our economic future.

Take, for example, the case of Mr Andrew Fulton, who runs a small construction business in my electorate. What he does all round this country is modify the homes of disabled people. If somebody is a quadriplegic after an accident he will put a ramp into their house so they can be wheeled out of their bedroom for a few hours a day to have some sunlight. He came to me and said, quite validly: 'Under the carbon tax, how am I supposed to quote for jobs next year? All of my input costs will go up under the carbon tax.' He is not going to be the recipient of a government handout to compensate him for that damage. His clients are people who are already in a very difficult situation, people who have suffered severe trauma and injuries and whose relatives or family have put together as much money as they can to make some improvement to the quality of their life. He cannot pass on those costs. They are already doing everything they can just to get a small construction change to the house. He is not making a massive margin; he is doing well for him and his family but he is not making a big margin. Who will wear the increase? What will happen to that business under the carbon tax?

When I asked the Prime Minister that question, the Prime Minister spoke about the National Disability Insurance Scheme in her answer. That is a worthy scheme and, incidentally, something I support. But she did not answer the question. The coalition has asked the Prime Minister what will happen to small business; how will it survive; how could it survive under a carbon tax; what is the long-term future for all of these individual enterprises all around the country? There is no answer.

Take, for example, drycleaners, who run energy intensive businesses. What is going to happen to small individual drycleaners? Is there a compensation package for them? Of course there is no compensation package for them. Can they pass on a massive increase in cost to their customers? Of course not. In practicality, people are going to dry-clean less. What is going to happen to those businesses?

These are not just theoretical questions; these are real, practical questions about how people will survive under the carbon tax. With 19 bills—thousands of pages of legislation—we do not even have a Labor member willing to come into this place and explain to us what will happen to the millions of small businesses in this country, who will face higher electricity and input costs as a result of this carbon tax. There is no question of compensation for these people. They will not get a cent. They already work like stink. They already pay large taxes. What will happen to them?

Electricity is a big, important part of this so-called Clean Energy Bill. There is no contention that energy will be cleaner under this legislation or that we will achieve any improvement in the quality of our energy in relation to damage to the environment. If you are from a major metropolitan city in this country today, you will have already faced massive increases in electricity costs. Sydney is a very good example, with up to 40 to 45 per cent increases in the cost of every individual household bill and every individual business bill. Now, that is very interesting contention, and it has happened in other places as well. But we know that, relative to Victoria, the electricity price increases in both New South Wales and Queensland, in Sydney and Brisbane, are measurably higher. You would think, then, that this is a microcosm of what is supposed to happen under the carbon tax. There has been a massive increase in the price of electricity in both Sydney and Brisbane compared to Victoria; yet has there been any change in demand, in electricity patterns or in consumption? No. The evidence tells us that demand is continuing to increase at the same rate as it does in Victoria. It is inelastic.

People need electricity. Our economy needs electricity. Our households need electricity. We cannot stunt usage by creating a disincentive through price. We can only try to improve the quality of the generation of our power. That is why the Greens and the Labor Party are hypocrites: they refuse to even consider options like nuclear power and other forward-looking technologies, things that will actually make a difference to the level of carbon emissions we generate. If you are serious about tackling Australia's carbon emissions, you must be serious about power generation, because it is the No. 1 reason why we are one of the world's highest emitters of carbon—and, of course, we know that is only 1.5 per cent.

Looking at what the government is proposing, it is clear that this carbon tax will not work. It will affect Australia's standard of living compared to other nations. With our carbon emissions being only 1.5 per cent of the world's emissions, we are only a small part of the world economy, so to put a very high carbon price into our economy ahead of the rest of the world is a completely irresponsible move by an Australian government, considering it will not achieve the desired effect.

What will happen to our industry? We are going to be exporting wealth offshore. That is basically what we are doing. We know that Labor and left-wing governments around the world have always had the redistribution of wealth at the heart of their platforms. It is part of their reason for being. What we have in Australia today is this perverse situation where the Australian government is proposing a redistribution of wealth offshore, to other countries. Australian industry is so competitive, so environmentally friendly. If you look at any major industry in this country, you will find that they are leading the world, in most cases, in the use of environmental technologies. They are already setting a standard and a benchmark in their production, ahead of most other countries. They are doing it voluntarily and sometimes with incentives, but it is happening.

So why, then, would we seek to penalise those functioning, great Australian companies, industries and businesses by placing them at the mercy of the global market? We are not proposing to disengage from the global market. The government is not proposing to protect our manufacturing and other industries on anything other than a mate's selection: 'If you come to us and you beg hard enough, or you've got a big enough constituency or you can make a great case to us, you'll get a handout; the rest of you won't.' That is basically what we are being told by the government. So most people will not get help. We are shipping our wealth offshore. The standard of living that Australians have enjoyed as a result of all the hard work they have put in over the years and the great country that we live in will be shipped to other people. And, if you think that other economies will not take advantage of what is happening in Australia today, if you think that the strategic decisions of every international company—and we have so many global companies that invest in Australia—will not be made on the basis of the high carbon price in the Australian economy versus no carbon price or other disincentives in other economies, then I do not think that is being realistic.

Under what the government are proposing, we have seen the problems with electricity. There is even criticism coming from state owned assets and public generators; it is not just private corporations noting this. Public generator enterprises in New South Wales, Queensland and WA expect, on their own estimates, to lose up to $4 billion to $5 billion in value. The case is so compelling in relation to why we ought to pause at this juncture and say, 'This is not the right approach,' or, at a minimum, 'Let's put this before the Australian people and say, "Here it is; you make the decision."' But the government know what people in this country would decide today. They would decide that they have not got enough information. They are not convinced that this will benefit the environment. They do worry about the economic impact it will have. They worry about their own standard of living—and they are right to do so.

This is not a fear campaign, as the government always says. We do not have to go round saying, 'Be fearful, everybody. Be afraid; be very afraid.' People are making their own decisions from listening to what the government is saying—not just what we are saying; they are listening to both sides and they are making their own judgment. And I can tell you that listening to the government trying to convince you about anything at the moment is a completely uninspiring exercise and sometimes an exercise in humiliation for them, like today when we saw the member for Werriwa abandoning his principles on refugees.

Returning to these 19 bills, I think what we have before us today is a perverse redistribution of wealth offshore. It will do nothing for the environment, and Australians around the country are right to be very concerned about the government's agenda in relation to the pricing of electricity.