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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 7995

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (15:15): The small business community have been completely ignored by this Gillard government but are at the pointy end of the carbon tax. Nowhere has this government done any meaningful analysis on the impact of the world's largest carbon tax on the engine room of the Australian economy. If it were not bad enough for small business to be recording a 48 per cent increase in small business insolvencies over the last 12 months and a 95 per cent reduction in small business start-ups, an attack on enterprise, 14½ thousand employing small businesses now not employing Australians right across our continent—a reduction in the share of private sector workforce engaged by small business—the government comes up with a cunning plan, a plan that has no greater adverse impact on any sector of the economy than the small business community, and that is the carbon tax.

This was the carbon tax that small business was promised it would not have to face. Remember those infamous words: 'There shall be no carbon tax under a government I lead'? Those were the words of the Prime Minister seeking re-election. Yet, just a few short years later, here we are, facing the world's largest carbon tax and also facing a further attack on the small business community that this government just seem not to care about.

You heard today the confused message of the government. They were saying how wrong it was for the coalition to highlight that small businesses will be faced with higher costs, how their input costs will go up, how the cost of refrigerants will go through the roof, how the cost of their inputs will also go up and how the cost of fuel and other crucial components of a small business doing its business will go up under Labor's carbon tax. We were told: 'No, no; that is wrong. You are just frightening people.' Yet, when it suited, when it was convenient for the government to come at exactly the same topic from another angle and say, 'Oh but there is compensation to account for these cost increases'—arising from the carbon tax that they have just gone on saying that small business was not going to face—we get a completely contradictory story from the government.

Little wonder then that the small business community is completely bewildered by what the government is up to. Many took the government at its word that small businesses would not have to plan for a carbon tax. Yet here they are, confronted with the world's largest carbon tax. Small business heard week after week about the carve-outs, and the compensation that everyone was going to get, and how this would be such a soft landing of a carbon tax, only to find now that the only people to miss out on any direct support whatsoever are the small business community. They have not got any of the hush money that is being dished out to Alcoa. They have not got any of the bailouts—the 'Let's hope that the economic and employment consequences of the carbon tax can be pushed further away from its introduction date'—payments.

Mr Perrett: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The term 'hush money' was mentioned yesterday and it was found to be not appropriate language. I ask that it be withdrawn.

Mr Billson interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Dunkley does not have the call. The withdrawal of wording is often within the context. The member for Dunkley will be able to continue.

Mr BILLSON: Thank you, Sir. All the small business community—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: 'Sir'? I think I might ask you to withdraw that!

Mr BILLSON: I am perpetually deferential! All the small business community have got is haranguing from this government—no direct assistance; just this verbal abuse that, if they dare put up their prices, they will have the full weight of the ACCC coming down on them and yet, at the same time, households are being told, 'Well, there might be price increases but we have compensated you for that.'

There has been no modelling done by this government on any impact of the carbon tax on any small business type or size, on any goods or services that they provide, on any different business structure, on any supply chain, where the carbon tax builds and builds and builds at every step along the way.

Think of an ice-creamery in Hervey Bay. There they have to face a range of impacts. Let us talk about the dairy. The simple milking of the cows is going to have a carbon tax impact—an energy-intensive hot-water requirement to maintain hygiene. The freight costs will then get moved on. You then go beyond the dairy itself, once the cows have been milked, to process the milk—energy-intensive; perishable goods; refrigerant everywhere. It then may go on to an ice-cream manufacturer—same all over again: embedded energy costs of the earlier stages plus their own refrigerant, their own energy costs, their own transport costs, their own impact on packaging. It will build and it will build.

Because the ice-creamery that Mr Neville and I might run at Hervey Bay is a small one, we cannot buy directly from the manufacturer; it would probably go off to a midpoint, not directly from the producer of the ice-cream but a wholesaler, and then maybe on to someone else, and finally we might get that input. The world's largest carbon tax has built at every stage of that production process—has accumulated, has compounded. Hopefully there is a margin on top for the business so that they can stay afloat to go and employ people.

Then we face the consumers, who have heard the government go around saying, 'Only the top few hundred emitters will be paying the carbon tax.' No, that is wrong; we will all be paying the carbon tax. We will all be paying the carbon tax, and every small business will be hurt by the carbon tax. And where will their compensation come from? Well, there is none. There is no compensation whatsoever.

So what has the coalition had to do? The coalition has had to go out there and do the government's work for it, to explain that there are impacts in the supply chain and in the energy costs that are going to affect small business. It has been the coalition that has had to provide the small businesses with the assistance to communicate the very essence of the government's scheme—that these cost impacts will work their way through the system, that somehow people will only buy half an ice-cream rather than a full ice-cream, and the costs will be passed on but the consumer is being compensated.

Has the government bothered to explain that to anybody? Has the government sought to assure small businesses that the very design of its carbon tax is intended to push up their costs, is intended to have an impact on the supply chain, is intended to make refrigeration more expensive, and is intended to then be passed on, as the Prime Minister ultimately conceded in her contribution today? No, it has not done that at all. The government has gone out there trying to create a completely false impression of who is paying for the carbon tax and what it actually means for consumers. So we have had to do the government's work for it. It has done the ads, where the carbon tax dare not speak its name and there is a household assistance love just falling from the sky—apparently for no other reason than the benevolence of the government. You have then had no assistance from the Marcel Marceau of small-business ministers—never utters a word about the impact on a key area of our constituency. So the coalition has had to do it. The coalition has had to provide small businesses throughout Australia with an easily understandable, accurate, reliable and dependable explanation about the government's carbon tax.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Dunkley has used his props sufficiently.

Mr BILLSON: Oh, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have not even waved the grocery document around yet, or the dry cleaning one.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes, yes. The member for Dunkley can put away his props.

Mr BILLSON: There are more, and I would like to thank the government—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Dunkley.

Mr BILLSON: for highlighting the availability of these very useful information documents.

The government has not done any modelling on the impact on small business. It has not provided any advice about how small business and its consumers will feel the pain of the carbon tax. It has then gone around accusing the opposition of making false claims, when we are actually providing the only reliable, accurate and dependable information that is out there. We then had the Assistant Treasurer having a go at me and the Leader of the Opposition, saying that these documents were misleading. That only lasted about an hour. When he came into this place he was very smart not to repeat that claim, because he knows it is not right. These documents are accurate and reliable, and they communicate the reality of the carbon tax impact on small business.

When we come to false claims, where do you start? Can you get past, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'? That is a whopper of a false claim, and it is lucky that the ACCC does not have a crack at prime ministerial statements. But it goes further than that. We have seen the Prime Minister assure, in her words, 'small business families and tradies' that there will be no impact on fuel, yet we know from the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association that that is not true either. They said that is simply not correct.

There might have been a few freebie permits given for refining, but that is it. It is all the way through the movement of that fuel—its storage, its production and its distribution to the petrol sellers around the place. With the cost of running a service station, ACAPMA itemise every step along the way post the refinery process, where the carbon tax is going to push up the cost of production and put upward pressure on fuel. That is another false and misleading claim by the Prime Minister.

Then there was another one. Remember when the Prime Minister was in Brisbane and she said, 'I am sure most businesses will do the right thing, but if anyone dares put up their prices by more than one per cent they will be price gouging and we will send the ACCC after them'? People stopped and thought, 'Gee, that's interesting. Maybe the government has done some modelling that they have locked away along with the modelling for the taxation review that no-one can get a look at. Maybe it's just tucked away in a secret file.' So we ask the question: where did this claim come from? Where is the evidence to back it up? Where is the data, the analysis, to support what amounted to a prime ministerial decree on price movements arising from the carbon tax? Do you know where it is? It is not anywhere. It is not in here, in the dispatch box; I had a look and I could not find it in there. I have asked the small business minister to produce some in consideration in detail. There has been none. We have asked time and time again: where is the detail to substantiate that claim? The answer? There is none. There is no detail to substantiate what is the most blatant verbal haranguing the Prime Minister could give the small business community—accusing them with no analysis of what the cap would be on price movements.

What is worse, she did not even accurately reflect the law. In Australia we have no law that mandates a cap on price movements and no requirement for people to disclose exactly why they have arrived at the price they have. If you do not like the price, you can go somewhere else. If you have decided that you want to structure your business from certain price points, you can do that. That is why we live in this market economy. Does the Prime Minister get that? No. The centralised view is that everything comes out of Canberra. She must think you have to approve it or something, but that is not the case.

The law actually says that small businesses, when they are making representations, cannot be false and misleading. What the Prime Minister did was falsely and in a misleading way incorrectly characterise the law to frighten and intimidate small business so that she can run around, saying, 'See, there is no impact. We were right with our wildly conservatively understated estimate of the price impact of the carbon tax. Look at that.' What is the consequence of that? What is the effect for small business in an already difficult trading environment, with wafer-thin margins, no sloppy profits to be found, costs going up everywhere and their own energy costs, all of which we have seen in government reports in which they have been understated over and over again?

Rent is going up, gas is up and electricity is up. They have never run a business and, since I have been the shadow minister, we have our fourth small business minister that we are going to have educate about what a small business is. I am happy to keep working at that but please help me. It is an enormous task because there is no early evidence that I have been successful in letting the minister know what the impact is on small business. Have a look at some of these documents. We are doing the government's work for them, communicating the very essence of the scheme, as they describe it, and then they accuse the coalition of doing the wrong thing. You should be doing that, Minister. That is what the shadow small business minister and the opposition leader would not have to do if the government were fair dinkum and had half an interest in the plight of small business in this economy.

It goes further. The Assistant Treasurer, after not repeating his unsubstantiated claim in the media today about the nature of these documents, has scurried off, but he has made a contribution elsewhere. I raised the impact of the carbon tax and what it would mean for Westfield Penrith. There is now a carbon tax escalation clause in the lease of their tenants, so you have tenants faced with having carbon tax escalation factors affecting their leases, their direct energy costs, and we could have a long conversation—and I hope we get the chance—about the impact of energy costs in off-peak rates. I have had small businesses say to me, 'We have had to structure our business because we are a heavy energy user and we do the bulk of our heavy energy use during the night because the tariff is lower.' We have heard this right around the country, and they will get an enormous increase in their costs.

When we talked about Penrith, and the member for—wherever the election is.

Mr Morrison: Lindsay.

Mr BILLSON: Thank you; the member for Lindsay.

Mr Morrison: Apparently it's near Darwin!

Mr BILLSON: Apparently it's south of Adelaide—a bit like the earlier question when we were talking about Whyalla.

The Assistant Treasurer said, 'The cost increase in electricity from the carbon tax would be only 0.2 per cent of overall expenditure of a typical small business, based on Treasury modelling.' What is this 'typical business'? We have not been able to find one. You might have noticed that we have visited quite a few lately, and we are trying to work out what this typical business is that has been subject to the invisible Treasury modelling that has not been released; it has probably been taken by Captain Emad on his travels. We do not know where that is, so we are saying, 'If that is the basis of your claim, produce some facts so that the small business community can actually see what's going on'.

What has not been produced is the evidence that the government has appreciated that its carbon tax will push up the price of electricity, gas, refrigeration, rents, produce and supplier costs. It builds, it compounds, it increases all the way through—and the small business men and women will have to face the customers who have had a diet of nonsense from the government about how only the top few hundred will be paying this tax and explain to them, 'No that is not right; we are all paying this tax'. That is why these publications are so important. I commend them to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you would like some of them to be circulated in your own electorate.


Mr BILLSON: What is happening here is that the small business community know they have no friend in the government. They are not sure anyone in the government could recognise a small business. They have seen no evidence that the plight of small business, a crucial contributor to our economy and our communities, has featured at all in the government's consideration around the carbon tax. This carbon tax hurts no-one more than the small business community and the government should be condemned for their indifference. (Time expired)