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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 10991

Mr SLIPPER (FisherDeputy Speaker) (12:18): I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on this group of bills in relation to the carbon tax. It will not be a matter or surprise for other honourable members to know that my constituents on the Sunshine Coast do not want me to support these bills. In this parliament I will be voting against these bills for the reason that I do not believe that they are good for our economy or our nation.

There is no doubt that there is respectable public opinion and respectable scientific opinion both in favour of and against the various positions on man's involvement in climate change. What is not disputed is that climate has always been changing. The reality is that climate will continue to change and that many people believe that the impact of man has accelerated that climate change in a way that is adverse.

While I accept that there are contradictory scientific points of view points of view out there, I am quite happy personally to give the environment the benefit of the doubt and, if there is something that we collectively as a world can do to repair what we have collectively created, then that is a step very much in the right direction. I believe there should be a world solution to a world problem. The difficulty I have with this legislation is that the rest of the world is not following suit. We will suffer economically to a very great extent as a nation if this package of bills becomes law and these bills are not repealed after the next election. Sure, it will make us as a country feel good. We will have this nice, warm inner glow believing that we are doing something to repair the world environment, but the reality is that we will suffer and inflict on ourselves the most incredible amount of pain while we will not be providing the world environment any particular benefit. So it is a question of all pain and no gain.

I am advised that, were this legislation to be implemented, the impact on the world environment would be minimal. We are committing a form of national economic suicide; essentially, in a political and economic sense, we are slashing our national wrists. We are exporting jobs. We are making it less viable for us to export items, and the result is that we will damage our economy and yet we will not improve the world environment.

I think all of us need to make sure we do whatever we can in a personal sense to improve our environment and to help the planet so that the future of the planet is brighter than it would otherwise be. At home, my wife, Ingrid, and I do the best that we can with respect to the little things that all households can do to help our environment. For instance: we have a solar system on the roof, we recycle as best we can, we mulch our garden, we have planted extra trees—we have an acreage block so there is plenty of room for trees—and we mulch around them. These are all small efforts that collectively, if everyone did similarly, would have an impact. I know that many people take the same approach.

As I said, Australia is clearly part of the problem and we should be part of the solution. The difficulty with the carbon tax proposed by the government is that it is not a solution. It will result in significant cost increases for individuals, couples, families and seniors across Australia, yet these cost increases will not be accompanied by any substantial reduction in emissions and they will not have any noticeable impact on the environment. While the government is correct to say that many people will be compensated for the impact of the carbon tax, there is a very significant minority of the community which will not be compensated, and those people will certainly be worse off.

It is interesting that in a radio interview earlier this year the government's own climate commissioner noted:

If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow, the average, the average temperature of the planet's not going to drop for several hundred years perhaps as much as a thousand years …

Figures suggest that Australia contributes only about 1.2 per cent to 1.5 per cent of global emissions. That is a fairly insignificant figure—though it is not a figure that we should be proud of—and it is important, given the fact that we are a relatively low emitter, that we do not introduce measures that will create a cost burden for Australians and the economy but not have any impact on the area it is supposedly designed to improve. The very real threat is that the carbon tax, which is a $9 billion new tax, will lead to an increase of 10 per cent in electricity prices in the first year alone and that household budgets will also be adversely affected by such things as a nine per cent increase in gas prices for—I repeat—no substantial positive benefit for the environment.

While the government tells us that only big polluters will pay, the tax will have a flow-on impact on all areas of household spending, including on groceries. It will impact on the spending habits of Australians in general. Their life will become more difficult, and it will be harder for young and not-so-young people to get a job. Areas such as the Sunshine Coast, which I am privileged to represent in this place and which is heavily dependent on tourism and construction, will be amongst the areas most badly affected.

There have been suggestions that the carbon tax will have an impact of at least $515 a year on the cost of living of households. It is worth remembering that the price increases brought about by the carbon tax will follow closely on the coat-tails of massive rises in household costs in recent years. Like the rest of us, Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, you run a household, so you would be aware that in the past four years electricity prices have risen on average by 51 per cent, gas prices have risen on average by 30 per cent, water and sewerage costs have increased by around 46 per cent, health costs have increased by an average of 20 per cent, school fees and other education costs have increased by around 24 per cent, and rent has increased by about 20 per cent.

I know that it is not popular to quote Lord Monckton—I can see the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mr Dreyfus, who is at the table, indicating by his smile—

Mr Dreyfus: I'm agreeing with you.

Mr SLIPPER: that he does not think it is a good thing to quote Lord Monckton, and I recognise his interjection. I am a great admirer of the parliamentary secretary—I think he has been given a really difficult job in having to sell this unsaleable tax, but if anyone can do it he certainly can. However, I suspect that, given the feedback from my community, even the parliamentary secretary's competence will be inadequate to turn people's opposition to the carbon tax—which will devastate our economy—into support. I am told that Lord Monckton suggests that, if the Labor government's plan is introduced and omissions are cut by five per cent by 2020 in line with the plan, carbon in the atmosphere will be reduced by just 0.013 parts per million: from 412 parts per million down to 411.987 parts per million. The government is focusing, quite appropriately, on the need for the world to do something about climate change; however, the plan the government has introduced will not achieve what the government wants it to achieve, and at the same time it will make the very existence of many Australian families so much more difficult than it already is.

I mentioned earlier that the Sunshine Coast is heavily dependent on tourism and construction. Tourism is among the industries that are most vulnerable to a carbon tax and the associated impact on prices. It is potentially a big victim of the carbon tax because it depends so much on the spending power of visitors. Madam Deputy Speaker, I know you have been to the Sunshine Coast, so you would be aware that we boast wonderful beaches, a relaxed way of life and modern conveniences. I know that the area you represent also has wonderful beaches—though the surf there is nowhere near as good!

The Sunshine Coast has many unspoiled attractions for families. We have our coastline, national parks and walking tracks, camping grounds and caravan parks for reasonably priced family holidays. We have modern and luxury unit complexes. We have Australia Zoo—which is run so effectively by Terri Irwin, whom I greatly admire—Aussie World, the Ettamogah Pub, Underwater World and the Big Kart Track as well as the natural attributes of the coast and hinterland and much more. These attractions help to directly and indirectly provide employment for many people who in turn provide for many families. The survival of these attractions depends on the many visitors who come to our area, yet all these visitors will have their lives disrupted by the imposition of the carbon tax and the associated increases in costs.

Households, families, individuals and the elderly around Australia have been finding things extremely difficult, and it is wrong to impose on Australians an additional tax that would see costs rise further—and dramatically—without the tax having any impact on pollution. I have been advised that costs will rise considerably after three years, when the government's initial set price of $23 per tonne for carbon will no longer be fixed but instead become a floating figure out of control of government and at the mercy of market forces. Households will bear the cost and be forced to cut back in yet further areas. The government says that the carbon tax is estimated to rise to $29 per tonne in 2016, but the Centre for International Economics suggests that the figure will be closer to $49 per tonne. The government's figures suggest the price will rise to $37 per tonne in 2020 and to more than $350 per tonne in 2050. All of these prices are significant, and I just hate to think what the impact of this carbon tax is going to be like for families in the future if it is not rejected by the parliament or repealed by an incoming government. As I said, the Sunshine Coast has benefited from its construction industry—the building of homes, unit complexes and commercial premises. They have all catered for our growing population and brought visitors to our region.

It really is unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with the carbon tax legislation. It is obvious that the community is not in support of this proposal. The government really ought to recognise that it has no mandate for this tax. After all, it was the Prime Minister who, prior to the last election, said that there would be no carbon tax under any government she led. I consider that, if the Prime Minister has changed her mind—and, if she has, I certainly respect that—she should do what Prime Minister Howard did in 1998 when he changed his mind on the introduction of a GST.

Mr Bruce Scott interjecting

Mr SLIPPER: As the member for Maranoa points out, the Prime Minister of the day said: 'Circumstances are different. While I did say that I would never, ever introduce a GST, it is now necessary for the economy.' But he gave the people of Australia the opportunity to vote for that change of policy at an election. If the government feels strongly about its carbon tax legislation, and I suspect that it does, it should say, 'This is the legislation which we plan to bring in if we are returned by the Australian people at the next poll.' It is wrong, in my view, to say one thing before an election and then change one's mind and one's policy and bring in a contrary policy after the election.

This legislation cannot be described as good legislation. It will encourage businesses to manufacture offshore. It will encourage people to holiday offshore. It will make it more difficult for young Australians and older Australians to obtain work. I just think that it is a very heavy price for us as a community to pay—bringing in this tax so that we all feel good but ultimately destroying our economy, reducing our competitiveness and assisting countries which are worse emitters than us to profit in the international marketplace at our expense. It is not too late for the government to withdraw this legislation. It would be in the national interest for it to do so.