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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10056


Mr DUTTON (Dickson) (13:16): In households and businesses across my electorate, people are unsettled for the first time in a generation. People are nervous about the direction of the country. Workers are seeing their mates laid off or their own hours of work cut back. Whilst their disposable income declines, their costs of living are rising rapidly. In suburbs like Eatons Hill, Cashmere, Kallangur, Everton Hills, Strathpine, Samford, Petrie and Albany Creek, families are seeing their home values depressed and their interest rates going up. Many families are falling behind in their repayments, and we are seeing an unprecedented number of forced home sales.

Retirees like those who go to the Strathpine Senior Citizens or who live at Inverpine or Farrington Grove, or the many travelling to faraway places with a caravan hitched to the back of their four-wheel-drive, are all finding it harder to make ends meet. Self-funded retirees or those on defined incomes, like many living at Aveo at Albany Creek, look at their electricity bills and grocery bills going up and up and up whilst watching their super balance or investment portfolio going down and down and down. Small businesses are the backbone of this country, and many through areas like Brendale, Arana Hills, Dakabin and all over Dickson are hurting to a point where they are just plain angry or at breaking point because they know that at the end of the day it is their homes on the line.

If this angst were isolated to one state or community across the country, that would be bad enough; but the story of the many people in Dickson is the story of many across the country, including in the great state of Western Australia, currently undergoing a mining boom. It is in this context that the government introduces this new tax. It is absolutely central to the coalition's decision to oppose the imposition of another tax with negligible environmental benefit. This is an emotive debate and most views are fiercely held, both in this place and in the Australian community. Like any debate, views have changed and matured as people have taken a greater interest and as new evidence has come to light. It is a debate which to date has contributed largely to the downfall of one Prime Minister and it threatens to destroy a second Prime Minister—and in many ways the debate has only just begun.

As first principle, I am opposed to the introduction of any new tax. Our job is to make life easier for Australians, not harder, and this tax makes life harder at a time when families and employers cannot afford it. It will have no impact on global emissions. My job as an elected representative is to be part of a government that grows jobs and rewards people for their hard work. My job is to provide support to those who because of illness cannot work. My job is to support those in retirement, those who have laboured for a lifetime of hard work and deserve a dignified and enjoyable stage of life. These are the reasons I am implacably opposed to this tax, a tax which is an attack on jobs, on reward for effort, on those who cannot work and on those who want to enjoy their lives after a lifetime of work.

Surely no Australian government willingly imposes harm on its people, but the motivation for this bad policy needs to be understood. The government want the public to believe that this is a tax about the environment. They want the public to believe that this is a reformist piece of economic advancement designed to set us up to be ahead of the rest of the world. Overblown rhetoric has been central to Labor's term in government—first Mr Rudd and now Ms Gillard promising historical reforms and landmark agreements, all of which have turned to dust. This debate is no different. Setting our industries up with an impost not imposed on international competitors and disadvantaging households through the imposition of a new tax is not about historical reform; it is about taking money from one group of Australians and transferring it to others. It is about setting up a government desperate for cash with new future revenue streams.

It is right that we protect our environment. No Australian would argue we should not take reasonable measures to protect our environment and, where we can, the environment elsewhere. Millions of Australians recycle each week and live sustainable lives. They contribute to the rehabilitation and the protection of our environment. As Minister for Workforce Participation in the Howard government, I visited countless Green Corps and Work for the Dole projects around the country and saw the great work undertaken by younger and older Australians alike to make our environment more sustainable. It was the Howard government that invested billions of dollars in environmental projects and helped to develop a generational shift in our approach to the environment. In suburbs like Mount Nebo, Whiteside, Dayboro, Ferny Hills, Laceys Creek and Mount Glorious—in fact, right across my electorate—residents are leading more sustainable lives. They are doing so without the imposition of a great big new tax. People who have spent their own money to install insulation or solar panels, switch to gas, purchase a diesel vehicle or grow their own produce will face this tax regardless. Companies big and small are actively reducing their emissions, and even in the government's own television advertisements businesses have spoken about their efforts to reduce emissions by 20 or 30 per cent without the impost of any tax. Why will these people and businesses be punished by this economy-wide tax?

This carbon tax is the only economy-wide tax in the world. Big emitting countries like the United States and China have a piecemeal approach. The important point here is there is no prospect of an economy-wide tax in India, the US, China or any other major emitter around the world. There is certainly no prospect of the impost of a tax of this nature being applied by governments of our major trading partners on their industries. We are a country of 22 million people and, despite all of our natural resources and the demand for them, we are not a superpower. We are a trade-exposed nation competing with the likes of Brazil and parts of Africa. We are a country whose economy is dependent on many of the resources in the ground. Where we once rode on the sheep's back, it is the miner who now feels the strain.

If we were to close down the coal industry, as demanded by Labor's coalition partners, the Greens, our economy would go into recession. We should adopt world's best practice in terms of extraction, and we do. Even if we were to close down the mining sector, no-one should be tricked into believing world production would fall away. Fast developing nations like China and India, the current customers for our resources who have the responsibility of lifting millions from poverty, will not drop their demand. They will just seek the product elsewhere. They will seek it in markets where extraction methods are not as environmentally responsible as they are in our own country. So our workers, our industry and our environment will be the losers out of this move.

This tax is not restricted to the mining industry. In the worst of all possible outcomes this tax will be applied, directly or indirectly, to every level of production and energy use in our economy. This is a cascading tax, and it will infiltrate in a way which will be difficult to quantify for the end user. It does not have the nature of a GST. That is part of the reason the Labor Party has not been able to bring the Australian people with them. Firstly, people accept that they are going to be harmed by this tax, and the government has offered compensation. Australians do not believe that the compensation offered up will be sufficient or long lasting. They know business will not absorb the impact of this tax because business cannot. Like any other input, it will be passed on to the end consumer.

Secondly, people do not understand, even if they are the strongest believers in climate change, why our country would move ahead of the rest of the world. This penny has dropped for millions of Australians, particularly when there is not a glimmer of hope for global consensus. People are asking: 'Why would our federal government disadvantage local small businesses like butchers, who are big users of electricity? Why would this Labor government make it more expensive to build a home in Australia where there is no environmental benefit? Why would the Labor government increase costs to local councils and see our rates increase when there is no environmental benefit? Why would the Labor government dramatically increase the running costs of Australia's public and private hospitals when there is no environmental benefit? Why would the Labor government dramatically increase the cost that it takes to operate a medical surgery or a pharmacy when there is no environmental benefit?'

I want to give one example of a small business in my own electorate that will see a direct impact. Sadly, the impact will be passed on to scores of families who live locally. I want to quote from an article in the Pine Rivers Press of 12 July 2011, which talks about a visit Joe Hockey and I made to a local business called Medical Design Innovations. It operates in Brendale and its managing director is Sergio Esteves. I will quote from the article:

The Federal Government's carbon tax announcement on the weekend has Brendale business owner Sergio Esteves fearing his company will have to move overseas.

Medical Design Innovations is the last medical equipment manufacturer based in Australia but Mr Esteves said with high increases in electricity and aluminium, he may have to join his competitors in China, leaving his 24 employees without a job. "In order to stay competitive, I have no option," Mr Esteves said. "We survived the global financial crisis but it put us right on the edge of the cliff.

"This extra little push from the Federal Government and I will be down and out."

The family-owned business has been operating in the local area since 1998 and has a strong environmental policy in place, using recycled cardboard boxes and recycling every piece of scrap metal, but Mr Esteves admitted those efforts would not be enough to save him from the Federal Government's carbon tax.

The article goes on to say:

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, who visited the business alongside Federal Member for Dickson Peter Dutton on Monday, said small businesses like Mr Esteves's were the ones who were going to be affected by the tax.

"This carbon tax is going to hurt people, it is going to hurt small businesses and it is going to hurt the Australian economy," Mr Hockey said.

Strathpine-based Senator Mark Furner said the tax was aimed at high-polluting companies including "high-intensive trade sectors like aluminium."

"The Government made a commitment that small businesses would not pay a carbon price," he said.

Mr Esteves said about 80 per cent of raw material used by his company was aluminium.

So the problem for this small business and for scores of other small businesses across my electorate is that they cannot reconcile the two comments coming from government. The government says that there will be a tax imposed on the top 500 emitters and that that is where the tax will stop. But, of course, companies like this that have big inputs of energy-intensive production methods or raw materials like aluminium will face increased costs. So how can this company, which competes with companies in China and other parts of the world that do not have the impost of this new tax, play on a fair field? That is the problem that most people see in this tax as it is proposed by this Labor government. This is a complicated debate, but it must be distilled down to what is in the best interests of our country. The government have been unable to convince the Australian people that this tax is good for our country or that it will be effective in reducing global emissions. Perhaps central to the government's inability to convince the Australian public that they can get this tax right is their track record over the last four years.

Very briefly, I want to take the Australian public back over the last four years. This is a government whose programs, regardless of what program they have tried to roll out, have turned out to be a disaster. It did not just commence under this Prime Minister; it commenced, of course, under Prime Minister Rudd. There were promises about taking over hospitals if they were not fixed by mid-2009. There were promises about installing pink batts. There were promises about implementing school halls and giving money away. There were promises about Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch, and border protection. But this is a government that, regardless of whether its leader is Mr Rudd or Ms Gillard, has not been able to produce the sorts of outcomes that the Australian people expected at the 2007 or 2010 election. If the government is not hearing the message from the Australian public, it will be at its own peril.

Australians are lacking confidence, and it is not because the fundamentals of our economy are not strong and it is not because our people do not work hard or because we lack natural advantage in Australia. It is because they look to the leadership of this country and find it difficult to draw confidence from the daily disasters and poor policy processes that have dogged this administration since its election four years ago. People look at how hard they themselves work, at the taxes they pay, and how hard it is to make ends meet, and then they see yet another Labor government guilty of waste and mismanagement.

This tax should be voted down; and, if it is not voted down, we will seek a mandate from the Australian people at the upcoming federal election to make sure that, at the first available opportunity, we remove this impost from Australian families and businesses, who are struggling like they have not struggled in a generation. We will be a government that will restore confidence to families and businesses, and we will get this country back on track. (Time expired)