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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10863

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (18:21): I also rise this evening to speak to the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. It is the fundamental aim of public policy to ensure that the seen and unseen consequences of a policy's implementation increase the general welfare of individuals and society. Today we are discussing a bill that is directly and expressly designed to make millions of Australian households and families worse off. It is, once again, an example of this failed Gillard government's complete inability to design and introduce policy that leaves Australia a better place today and into the future. It is absolutely crazy to rush such a policy through the parliament. Inflation at the moment is above the Reserve Bank target range. There is a possible threat of stagflation in Australia. The European community is facing a debt crisis of unknown proportions. And, more alarmingly, there could be a double-dip recession in the United States. The Prime Minister must explain to the Australian people why she so desperately wants to rush this legislation through in the current global climate when so many millions of Australians are already doing it tough.

In this context, one fundamentally important question needs to be answered by this government, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. They refuse to answer this question because they know the answer refutes any arguments they have made in favour of the clean energy bills. While the Gillard Labor government proposes a new tax that is bad for families, bad for the economy and wastes tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money, the question is: by how many degrees will this carbon tax reduce global temperatures? The Gillard government says that the policy will remove 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2020 or the equivalent of 45 million cars. What this government does not recognise is that 160 million tonnes is a completely insignificant contribution to carbon dioxide abatement.

The reason the coalition has proposed a budgeted direct action plan is we can take clear positive steps for the future environment of this country until a global agreement can be reached. A carbon price would only be legislated if—and only if—a global agreement could be reached. This side of the House is in favour of effective direct action in the environment. We have a policy that will not pass on costs to households. It is a budget neutral policy that is fully funded from savings in other government spending. We will not be sending tens of billions of dollars—taxpayer money—overseas to foreign carbon traders with no guarantee that this money will not be rorted, as we have already seen in a number of examples in Europe.

In 2010 alone, carbon dioxide emissions in China were more than seven billion tonnes. It is also estimated that China's carbon dioxide emissions grew by nearly 500 per cent between 1990 and 2020. This government is kidding itself and Australians that this policy will make any real contribution to the environment and, in so doing, reduce global temperatures. At the same time, this tax will be economically disastrous for this country.

On the ALP website the Prime Minister says that this policy taxes only the big polluters, not Australian households. She is yet to identify the 500 big polluters. It is quite obviously the case, when you are talking to a number of businesses around the country, that this tax will fall on small to medium sized businesses and it will fall very hard on Australian households.

We in the coalition know that electricity prices in Queensland and around Australia have increased significantly in recent years. All this tax will do is push up prices even more significantly. The government should know that the actual economic incidence of any tax is different from the intended statutory evidence. We know the demand for electricity is inelastic and that electricity providers will be able to pass on the vast majority of this impost directly to hundreds of thousands of Australian households. At the same time, these clean energy bills will continue the huge growth in bureaucracy and waste further billions of dollars in administrative churn.

As other members, including the member for Flinders who has spoken to this bill this evening, have informed the House, other countries are not committing to policies such as the ones that are proposed by the Gillard Labor government. We have seen an abject policy failure of attempts to create so called green jobs. We have seen this around the world. We have seen it in Spain. We have seen it in the United States. Research has shown that in Spain, a country with 21 per cent unemployment—that is right, 21 per cent unemployment—for every green job created, 2.2 regular jobs have been lost. The subsidy cost of each green job created was $774,000. No one in their right mind would seek to claim that that is economically efficient. Similarly, the Obama administration's US$39 billion loan guarantee program that was supposed to create up to 65,000 new jobs only managed to create 3,500. This is another example of these optimistic but ultimately defective policies that never ever stand up to their original claims. I suggest to this House that many of the aims and objectives of the clean energy fund would not pass a cost-benefit analysis.

Other countries have taken note. Canada, a very sophisticated country that we are quite comparable with in many ways and in resource competitiveness, has recently elected a majority conservative government that went to the election with an explicit policy of no carbon tax. Yesterday Anna Caldwell reported in the Australian newspaper that the Australian Trade and Industry Alliance released its own report finding that 950,000 manufacturing workers would be fully exposed to the impact of the tax. The report prepared by SFS Economics for the alliance found that nine out of 10 manufacturing jobs in this country would be hit by a carbon tax.

I visit many businesses in my electorate. It is a part of my job that I enjoy enormously. As a former small business owner-operator, I like talking to small and medium sized business owners about their operations. Constantly I have them saying to me, 'Why is the Prime Minister pushing this legislation through, when four days before the election she said clearly and unequivocally there would be "no carbon tax under a government I lead"?' Last weekend I had mobile booths in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. The very first constituent who came to my mobile booth said to me, 'How do I stop this carbon tax?' That was the sentiment I got all day from my constituents. Many businesses I visited expressed to me their absolute dismay at being left to fend for themselves—and they have. They have been left to fend for themselves as they face all of the costs, all of the burdens, of the Gillard government's carbon tax with no direct support to help them through and to deal with the harm. They are going to be left with the impost and the costs. Local small businesses and family enterprises have been totally ignored when you look at this bill and its related bills. The Gillard government has provided carbon tax carve-outs and compensation for some sectors but has completely forgotten small businesses.

These businesses are the absolute core of our economy. There has been a chorus of concern from small business, with many of them complaining about the added costs of inputs and energy. I know from just a year ago, running my own business, about the phenomenal increase in electricity imposts. Many small business people speak to me about that but there is no compensation being provided. There is a risk to jobs and there is also a risk to small business viability that has been absolutely ignored under this legislation. The small business sector are the very people who are the largest employers in the country.

Families are already worried about the cost of living increases and they are in no mood for further price rises from local small businesses that are already trying to cope with falling consumer demand. Tough trading conditions exist out there in the retail sector and small businesses are on very, very tight margins. They have very little capacity to absorb these cost increases. I visited the Brisbane markets recently, and many of the wholesalers there expressed great concern that they would have to reduce their staff as they would be unable to pass on these costs or add them to the cost of their produce. This Labor-Greens carbon tax adds cost, and it builds at every single stage of the supply chain.

The owner of the Red Deli delicatessen in Clayfield recently told me that he was absolutely concerned about the damaging effect that the increased cost of electricity would have on his business. As I talked to Ross, he told me that he would have to reduce staff or pass the increased operating costs on to customers. These cost increases and the lack of compensation will harm our smaller businesses, particularly those like the small deli that I have just mentioned, as higher energy costs, longer supply chains and limited market power to push back on input cost increases will make business conditions even worse.

It is not only small business that will have to find operating cost savings to offset the increases caused by Labor's carbon tax. There is small business employment, but medium-sized businesses have also expressed their concern to me. Recently the Leader of the Opposition and I visited Essilor in the electorate of Brisbane. Essilor is typical of many businesses around the country that are doing it really tough and will do it much harder under the carbon tax. This is a business that is producing world-class quality lenses, and the carbon tax will mean that manufacturing conditions are going to get even harder for businesses like Essilor. Essilor is a great local company. It employs many, many families. The cost of the carbon tax will increase the additional costs of producing these lenses. At the moment Essilor are responsible for 65 per cent of the market, but their increasing competitive pressures plus another impost of the carbon tax will only make it harder for them to operate in this country.

Even before expected rises in the price of gas and electricity under the carbon tax, Brisbane charities reported to me that pensioners and others on fixed incomes were struggling with the massive increases in electricity costs. Some of their power bills are scandalous and, according to the Queensland Competition Authority, nine electricity service providers were forced to cut power to 5,873 residential customers across Queensland for non-payment of their electricity bills for the September quarter last year. Sadly, many thousands of pensioners would have been amongst this number.

There is little relief in sight, with the state electricity price regulator, the Queensland Competition Authority, announcing yet again a 6.6 per cent increase in power bills from 1 July this year, which added another $120 to the average bill of households already under pressure from the array of cost increases. Power prices have soared by more than 60 per cent since the state Labor government promised deregulation of the industry in the south-east and that it would put downward pressure on prices.

It is a national disgrace that Labor in Queensland and nationwide has delivered a system and an economy where thousands of people will be cold in their homes because they cannot afford electricity. Particularly during winter, living in a cold home has absolutely devastating impacts on people's physical and mental health. It is deplorable that we are seeing reports from agencies about vulnerable people and the increasing costs in electricity and gas which mean that people are left at home shivering.

As to this particular legislation that we are speaking on tonight, when the Prime Minister, leading into the election, promised, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' almost 80 per cent of small businesses took Labor at its word and did not factor in the carbon tax. They did not factor it into their business plans and they did not factor it into their business operations. This legislation will only inflict pain and suffering on many hundreds and thousands of households and small businesses in this country. Therefore, I cannot support this bill.