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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10867

Mr IRONS (Swan) (18:36): I rise today to speak on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills, otherwise known as the carbon tax legislation, the tax we were never going to have under the Prime Minister, who said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' I have spoken in this place before about renewable energy, and I repeat a comment from a previous speech, where I stated:

… as long as our primary energy sources are fossil fuel based, all our best efforts to reduce consumption will not deliver a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and will have a negative economic impact.

This statement was made in a submission by a geothermal company to the Western Australian Greenhouse Task Force back in 2003. I could not agree more with this statement. The only way we are going to seriously reduce carbon emissions is by finding reliable alternative energy sources to coal and oil. Looking for efficiencies has failed and so will a tax. Nowhere in that submission did it say, 'We will reduce emissions by introducing a tax.' To members of the government I say again: nowhere in that submission did it say, 'We will reduce emissions by introducing a tax.'

While I am referring to government members, or even the Independents, can just one of them tell me or my constituents in the electorate of Swan by how much this legislation is going to reduce emissions or the global temperature? I am sure they cannot do that because no-one has yet. This is a tax that is all about economic pain with no environmental gain.

The Prime Minister and the Labor government along with the Greens and the Independents are imposing a tax on all Australians and the economy, and it will not help the environment. This is a tax that was never to be, but political negotiations by the economic Neanderthals, the Greens Party, has seen a Prime Minister turn a promise to the Australian people before the 2010 election into a political lie of the greatest magnitude this country has ever seen after the election.

This government has no mandate for a carbon tax no matter what way they spin it. As the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech on this legislation, 'This is a bad tax based on a lie and it should be rejected by this parliament.' When this country went to the 2010 election 146 members of this House won seats after saying that there would be no carbon tax. The government has no mandate for a carbon tax. In fact, it has a mandate not to introduce a carbon tax. 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' the Prime Minister said five days before the last election. 'I rule out a carbon tax,' she said one day before the election.

'We have made our position very clear. We have ruled it out,' the Treasurer said on 12 August 2010. He reiterated on 15 August:

Well certainly what we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax … We certainly reject that.

What a grand deception. And, given the impact of this tax, which represents the biggest restructuring of the economy in our country's history, this is arguably the most significant pre-election deception our political system has ever seen.

The carbon tax means a $9 billion a year new tax, 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, even though we were told before carbon Sunday that the carbon tax was going to be budget neutral. And that is just for starters. The carbon tax will start at $23 a tonne but after three years the tax rate will not be fixed—it will float in line with market prices and the government will have no control.

In addition to squeezing family budgets, the carbon tax will impact on jobs and the economy, particularly in energy intensive small businesses. My electorate of Swan has the biggest transport hub in Western Australia, including freight, rail, distribution and manufacturing centres in Welshpool and Kewdale. The Leader of the Opposition and I have visited the distribution company TNT in my electorate to hear concerns about the impacts of the tax. We heard concerns about the increased costs this carbon tax would mean. This hub is a big employer and we do not want to see jobs lost or companies relocating overseas. TNT is a company that has already implemented efficient transport systems and state-of-the-art equipment to reduce their emissions and, dare I say it, they have the most efficient setup in Australia. This company in my electorate will actually be punished by this carbon tax for already being efficient.

On another occasion, the Leader of the Opposition visited a manufacturing plant in my electorate of Swan and was cheered by the workers as he came onto the factory floor. It was a moment of clarity for me when they cheered Tony Abbott. The workers of this country can see the fraud in this tax that is being foisted upon them. The only people who cannot see it are the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, who promised before the last election that there would be no carbon tax.

I have asked the Prime Minister to come and speak to the people in my electorate and listen to their concerns. It was my expectation that the Prime Minister would be doing this as part of her self-proclaimed 'wearing out my shoe leather' tour of the country, which she declared she would do whilst trying to sell the carbon tax to the people of Australia. Unfortunately, this tour ended without the Prime Minister even making it to the electorate of Swan. What a disappointment, but perhaps not a surprise, for the small businesses in my electorate.

When the stated aim of this policy is to close down coal mines I am certainly concerned for energy intensive industries in my electorate of Swan. Now the Prime Minister talks about compensation, but one thing is for sure: you cannot compensate someone who has lost their job.

I want to focus on the Prime Minister's compensation briefly, now. That fact that there is this supposed compensation is an admission from the government that its carbon tax policy will do harm to Australian families. Initially, Labor committed to returning all the moneys raised through the carbon tax to the taxpayer. Members will remember the trade minister stating on 10 March this year, 'We will return all of the moneys raised to people through the tax mechanism.' But later the government changed its mind and it was confirmed on carbon Sunday that 50 per cent of moneys raised would go to compensate families. What this really means is that people will not be properly compensated. We know that a teacher and a shop assistant will be worse off under this tax. A single-income family with a child will be worse off under this tax. And I think the suspicion of most Australians is that the compensation will not keep up with the tax as it goes up and up.

Unbelievably, this government is introducing this tax when no other country is planning to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax. This has been clearly stated by the Productivity Commission. In the United States all moves towards a national cap-and-trade scheme have been abandoned. While the EU does have an ETS, it does not cover the whole economy and it provides many industries with free emissions permits. The EU ETS raises only about $500 million per year while the Labor-Greens carbon tax will raise $9 billion a year. Canada, Japan and Korea—all major exporters—have either ditched or deferred their carbon tax systems. Most experts would agree that there is zero chance that either China or India will adopt any form of serious carbon tax.

That is what makes this such an astonishing act of economic self-sacrifice. And it is in this context that there could not be a worse time to implement a carbon tax. We only have to cast our minds back a couple of weeks for evidence of this in the loss of steel industry jobs. It is clear that Australia's manufacturing industry is under significant pressure at the moment. A carbon tax will increase costs, which overseas competitors do not have to pay. Jobs will go offshore to factories which will emit more emissions than Australian manufacturers—a bad net result for the environment.

Every one of the members of the government and the coalition said there would be no carbon tax. So why is the government forgetting its commitment to the Australian public? For numerous reasons, but not one of them is for an environmental gain. And this is perhaps the most damning argument against this legislation: it will cost and destroy jobs, squeeze household budgets and hit the budget's bottom line while not even reducing emissions. According to the government's own modelling, under the carbon tax—the bills we are debating today—emissions will increase from 578 to 621 megatonnes from 2012 to 2020. Emissions will increase.

So, instead of reducing emissions, what is the government planning to do? It plans to spend $3.5 billion in carbon tax revenue—revenue ultimately derived from households across Australia—buying carbon credits from overseas carbon traders. This means $3.5 billion in taxpayers' dollars going to pay potentially dodgy and corrupt foreign companies to do things like plant trees in other countries, not in Australia. This is the same system that the Australian Crime Commission has this year found was rorted to the level of $5 billion in Europe. And what hope have we got that this government is going to be able to prevent fraud and rip-offs after its famous pink batts and BER debacles? By 2050, funding for overseas carbon credits is expected to rise to $57 billion a year, or 1.5 per cent of GDP. Is there no end to the ways in which this government is prepared to waste taxpayers' money? That is why I say there is no environmental gain from this carbon tax.

There is a better way. Compare this to the coalition's direct action plan, which will actually reduce Australian emissions by the bipartisan target of five per cent by 2020. There is no carbon trading with overseas traders—only measures which will achieve real improvements for the Australian environment. We will green our cities by planting an additional 20 million urban trees. We will establish a standing green army to help with this. I was particularly proud at the last election to announce that three of these green army projects, if we won the election, would be in my electorate of Swan: at Tomato Lake in Kewdale, at the Canning River Regional Park and at the Swan River Foreshore. This is important given the wetlands systems in my electorate, which is surrounded by water on three sides, and the announcement was welcomed by environmental groups across my electorate. In fact, I took my own green army to help out the Canning River Regional Park Volunteers to clear weeds and plant trees in Ferndale earlier in the month. This is real action to protect the Australian environment, not the carbon traders' bottom line. We will invest in solar and renewable energy and in soil carbon to replenish the land. We will provide direct incentives for business and industry to reduce their emissions—all this without a carbon tax. Most importantly, under direct action there will be no cost to families, no new taxes and no rise in electricity prices as a result of our direct action policy. It is straightforward, practical and easy to understand. We took it to the last election and we stand by it.

In conclusion, the coalition will be opposing this legislation. Given that the Prime Minister has already done a deal with the Greens, it is likely this legislation will get through this House and be fast-tracked through the other place with little scrutiny.

Mr Robert: It's shameful if that's the case.

Mr IRONS: I hear the member for Fadden agreeing with me on that. If so, the next election will be a referendum on the carbon tax and, if elected, we will rescind the legislation and scrap the carbon tax. The Labor-Greens government has no mandate to introduce the carbon tax legislation. The Prime Minister said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' She likes to compare her change of heart to that of John Howard before he introduced the GST. However, there is a key difference: John Howard took his policy to an election and let the people decide.

Mr Burke: Not the one he implemented.

Mr IRONS: The Labor-Greens government is trying to push this through before an election without a mandate. I hear the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities interjecting; he obviously does not care about the Australian businesses and jobs that will be lost overseas. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, 'There should be no tax collection without an election.' I will not be supporting the bills before the House. They are not good for my constituents, they are not good for the country and they are not good for the environment.