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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10130

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (18:06): I rise to speak on what is in effect a carbon tax. Let me start by giving you an overview of my electorate. The Calare electorate is the powerhouse of New South Wales: it is built on mining, energy production, agriculture, forestry and transport—industries which will be absolutely hammered under the Gillard government carbon tax. It is also a regional electorate, and it is no secret that the regional areas of Australia are set to be the hardest hit under a Gillard government carbon tax. Recently released New South Wales Treasury figures underline that. One thousand jobs will be lost in my part of the world alone. The carbon tax is bad news for regional Australia and it is most definitely bad news for the electorate of Calare.

Last month a community forum on the carbon tax was held in Bathurst. I was invited to speak along with three industry representatives of the three big industries that Calare relies on: mining, agriculture and small business. The aim of the forum was to give the public a chance to listen to industry leaders and gain a better insight as to how the carbon tax would affect our region's industries. The overwhelming response was that the carbon tax was certainly not welcome in Calare. There was no doubt that the forum was anti carbon tax, yet the question was asked, 'Why hold a one sided forum?' The taxpayers had $21 million of their money spent on advertising one side of this debate—the rubbish side—so I do not think there is too much harm. I think they have the right to have the facts and the actual cost to them as people and as businesses put to them free of having to listen to the rubbish the Prime Minister and her people have been speaking for some months.

Over the past months I have been visiting businesses and residents in Calare regarding this tax. The people of Calare are not stupid. They know that reshuffling money—and that is what this is, largely, taking from someone and giving to someone else—and compensating families as Labor proposes will not in any way change people's habits. This is one of the huge hypocrisies: 'We are going to tax you to make you change what you do, but at the same time we want to give you money back so it will not hurt you.' So why the hell would you change?

That is why the coalition supports a direct action plan, because we believe in practical action and common sense rather than making people do what they do not want to do and what they do not have to do at this time. New South Wales Treasury figures released last month confirm that regional Australia will be hardest hit. A total of 31,000 jobs are predicted to be lost in our state, with 1,000 of these in the central west. It is the third hardest hit area for job losses after the Hunter Valley—the member for Hunter's part of the world, and you would think he would know better—and the Illawarra. These figures alone are damning enough. A carbon tax will cost local jobs, particularly at a time when our region is still recovering from a decade of drought. It is the last thing we need. Central and western New South Wales need a carbon tax about as much as they need a hole in the head.

We know that this tax will also significantly increase the cost of living for families. Figures are predicting electricity bills in New South Wales will rise by nearly $500 next financial year. It is interesting that the Prime Minister talks about a 10 per cent rise in electricity costs while the New South Wales government said, 'That is wholesale; it is 15 per cent at a retail level.' Electricity producers passing on the costs of their carbon permits is only for starters. For families that are already struggling with the cost of living this tax is the last thing they need. Families need this tax like they need a hole in the head.

Mr Deputy Speaker, let me give you an overview of the business from across Calare that will suffer under this Gillard government's carbon tax. In Blayney, one of the progressive parts of my electorate, Blayney Wholesale Foods is probably one of the best examples of how severely this carbon tax will impact upon a local business. Over the past five or six years this local business has become a new, modern business. There is no way this business can have more efficient use of electricity than it currently has. This is a cutting-edge cooling and freezing and packing business. It operates two large freezer warehouses in Blayney and employs over 100 people. The company stores and packages frozen food for a number of national companies and provides food services throughout the Blue Mountains, the central west, across Australia and to exporters. Almost all foodstuff spends time in cold storage, if not in frozen storage. Cold storage businesses specialise in providing services in temperature controlled storage.

George Tanos, the managing director of Blayney food products, has done the figures for his business and estimates the carbon tax will see a 20 per cent rise—not 10, not 15 but a 20 per cent rise—in electricity costs, and this is on top of what he has seen in the last five or six years, which is a 100 per cent increase in his power costs. The carbon tax is essentially a tax on electricity, and cold storage facilities such as this will have the company's ability to operate slashed. We are talking about a modern, innovative business which has already implemented every efficiency possible to keep usage of power down, yet with a carbon tax the cost must be added to food prices that are already soaring due to a tax which is also pushing up the cost of producing, transporting and processing that food. What is more, this tax will make Australian produce less competitive on the international market when it comes to trade. It really is a catch-22. It must be something to be proud of. I cannot believe that this government has worked out how to knock over Australian industry quite so efficiently. At the end of the day Calare's families will have to pay, whether they produce or whether they work for those who do. Should this tax become a reality, what benefits are there for this business? It can do nothing to avoid it. It cannot get more efficient. What is in it for this business, and what is in it for the people who are going to have to pay the extra costs that business has to absorb?

Another example in my part of the world is a regional New South Wales grain processor. He buys about $50 million worth of local product and his annual power and gas bill will go up by one-quarter of a million dollars in the first 12 months. I am not talking about BHP here; I am talking about a family company that will cop another quarter of a million dollars in tax in the very first 12 months of this idiocy. And then on top of that you have Delta Electricity. Do you think they are happy? They are one of Calare's biggest energy producers and a very big employer in the eastern side of my electorate. We have Simplot Australia, a refrigeration, cold food, packaging, distribution and pet food company. Do you think they are happy? They are going to cop it too. The numerous truck owner-drivers through the transport industry will not be hit by this for a couple of years but, my heavens, they probably are the wildest of all those who have to face this tax.

There would be over 10,000—something like 10½ thousand—small businesses in my part of the world in the Calare electorate. I do not know how one of them will get any off load for what it is going to cost them. Not one! A small coffee shop is going to wear about $1,500 worth of power costs in the first year. How offensive can you get? But Julia Gillard and her government want to give them hell, and they will.

Power bills will continue to rise and businesses will be forced to pass costs on to the consumer because for most businesses there will be no forms of compensation—certainly not for small business. Businesses are already doing it tough, and as a carbon tax becomes a reality Australian businesses will be at a major disadvantage. And we are only talking domestically at the moment; this is before we get to the exporters. No other country in the world is going to go with anything like this. Under the current economic circumstances, why would you do this to your own people?

Currently this government claims that agriculture—and this is wonderful—is excluded from the carbon tax. I have been a farmer my whole life and I can tell you that we are not excluded from this tax. Very few industries will be as belted by it as we will. Every farmer knows it.

The agricultural industry alone will be one of the hardest hit. Fuel might be excluded for a couple of years but, heavens above, we are going to be belted after that. The government has ignored the major impact on the processing industries which take control of everything when it leaves the farm. We have to buy superphosphate, we have to buy diesel, we have to transport it and we have to grow it. Then the people who we sell to or work through have to process it and some of the processors for agriculture will be the biggest hit by the carbon tax—more than almost anybody—let alone the costs of processing.

There are examples of that. The Murray Goulburn Co-operative will incur carbon costs of over $5,000 per farmer, and guess who will pay for that? The farmer. And that is without the fact that an average dairy—not a large one—will probably spend another 3½ thousand dollars on extra electricity prices. Then there is the fertiliser, then there is the gas, and a lot of them also have cold storage.

The big meat processors are in a similar position, whether they are the beef or sheep abattoirs. The sheep blokes are going to cop an increase in costs of about 30 cents per sheep and about two or three dollars for cattle. We are talking enormous money here on industries which only survive on narrow margins through large inputs.

Rice farmers are particularly unhappy and yet they are not supposed to be copping a carbon tax. Let me tell you that about $10,000 per farm is what it will cost them in on-farm costs. That is what Sunrice will have to pay as a major emitter and there is only one processor and dealer in rice in Australia.

As I said, New South Wales grain processors are going to cop it. And who do you think they get their grain from? Farmers. And given that a lot of this processed grain has to be exported, do you think they are going to be able to say to their trading partner overseas: 'Look, sorry, we are going to have to put the price up. Gillard and her government have decided we have to pay more.' Likely? Not very likely.

Nobody is going to be belted harder than anybody who works the land, whether it is direct or indirect. I cannot believe that any government would decide that they have to do this to their own. Whether it is small business, someone who works for them or a farmer—whoever it is—why would you want to take a set on your own people? Why would you not listen to two-thirds of the population telling you to knack off and not to do it?

This is very much about politics, about pleasing the Greens and about the Prime Minister remaining the Prime Minister—not for very long. There are people in this House who represent electorates and who have the power but whose electorates not only do not want this but cannot believe that their representatives created the government that they have.

There are people in this House who, if they listened to their electorates, could stop this. They could most certainly stop this happening. We are a democratic nation, and there are a couple of people who came to this House, created a government and said, 'We are doing that because we believe this will be the most democratic and open form of government if we create the Gillard government,' and yet those same people have combined with that government to guillotine the length of this debate, allowing for people to speak on average for less than one minute on each section of this bill.

Ms Bird: You've had more than one minute!

Mr JOHN COBB: There are 19 sections to it. I cannot believe that these people would even want to go home, because let me tell those who could stop this, whose electorates are begging them to stop this idiocy: if I were you I would not go home, I would go to hell.