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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11339

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (10:31): I rise in this place, this monument to democracy, to eulogise the freedom, the voice and the self-determination the Australian people once had. The introduction of the carbon tax, the biggest, widest, ugliest and most pointless tax in the world on carbon dioxide emissions, marks the end of democracy as we know it in this country. Make no mistake, democracy died on 21 August 2010. While we see countries in the Middle East overthrowing dictatorships and establishing their own democracies, here in Australia we have a government overthrowing democracy to install a policy dictatorship—a carbon tax that the people do not want, that nobody voted for and that the Prime Minister said she would not implement. And now we are told they are going to implement it in a way they reckon can never be undone. Too bad that they are incompetent and it can be undone, but it is still policy dictatorship.

With apologies to Don McLean, the day this deal was done with the Greens was the day democracy died. Democracy died for one reason alone: so that the Prime Minister, who gained the throne by knifing her then leader, the Member for Griffith, in the back, can hold on to power for just a little bit longer. And then in February she would have given Don McLean cause to shiver: the bad news on the doorstep when the menagerie of Greens, Independents and what-not hijacked the Prime Minister's courtyard to announce the very same carbon tax that the Prime Minister had promised the Australian people would not happen under her government. She had ruled it out:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

That is what the Prime Minister assured this country just six days before the last federal election. The Labor members opposite, who were all elected on that same promise, have the gumption to belittle, to ridicule and to abuse the Australian people for feeling betrayed.

This is not just a bad policy dreamt up mid-term by a bad government; it is a policy specifically taken off the table—ruled out—in a desperate bid to steal a narrow election victory. But it could not quite steal that victory. To once again use the words of Don McLean: 'The courtroom was adjourned—no verdict was returned.' The whole country was about to be singing 'Bye Bye Democracy'. In trying to justify the grubby deal done with the Greens to hold onto power, the Prime Minister tells us that 'circumstances changed'. She would have us believe her hand was forced on the carbon tax. No, Prime Minister, no-one was forced to do the exact opposite of what they promised to do. It is very simple. The Prime Minister could have just said: 'No, I will not betray the Australian people. No, I will not undermine the democratic process. No, I will not introduce the worst tax this country has ever seen. People voted for me because I promised I would not introduce this tax, and I owe it to them to keep my word.' The Prime Minister had the choice to keep her unequivocal promise, but she chose to throw that out the window so that she would not go down in history as the Prime Minister who knifed her leader for the sake of two months in the top job.

The Prime Minister was right, back in February, when she insisted her plan should not be called a carbon tax. She was absolutely right. It should be called a prime ministerial tax because that is what it really is. It is not a price on carbon; it is the price the Australian people will be paying for the Prime Minister to keep her job. Every single person in this country will be paying a prime ministerial tax.

This unholy Labor-Greens alliance can distort the facts and cherry pick the data all they like, but no other country in the world will have an all-pervasive economy-sapping carbon tax—or a prime ministerial tax. It is going to be more pervasive than we have been led to believe. All the talk we have heard about a five per cent reduction target is nowhere to be seen in these bills. In these bills the unqualified target is 80 per cent by 2050. It is unqualified. No matter what the rest of the world is doing, 80 per cent is the target. We are being asked to commit to an 80 per cent reduction, which means that, when the carbon tax becomes an emissions trading scheme, permits will be scarcer and the price will be much higher much sooner. As we start the rapid ascent up the price ladder, this carbon tax—this prime ministerial tax—will increase the cost of freight and, from next year, the cost of electricity. Freight and/or electricity are input costs on every single good and every single service you can buy in this country. That means we will be paying the carbon tax every time we pull out the wallet, every time we write a cheque and every time we swipe a card. In regional Australia we will be paying even more, because freight increases with distance from the capital cities. The Member for New England can say, as he has done in this chamber, that these bills have nothing to do with fuel on heavy vehicles—but the entire carbon tax package does. We know that diesel will go up in two years time under this government, and he knows that diesel will go up in two years time under this government. But he can do something about it by voting against these bills.

We have also had the Member for New England in here, along with members of the Labor Party, wringing their hands and saying: 'The sky is falling; the seas are going to rise; the Arctic is going to melt; we're all going to drown.' I ask these members some questions. If the sea is going to rise like they suggest, how is this carbon tax going to stop it? How is this tax on carbon dioxide emissions going to hold back the tide? How is it going to help the reef? How is that going to stop the Arctic from melting? This tax has absolutely nothing to do with the environment. The reality is it is all about wealth distribution.

But, in the process of taxing higher incomes and supposedly compensating lower incomes, the collateral damage, I am sad to say, will be felt the most in my electorate of Dawson. The Deloitte modelling undertaken by the Queensland government showed that Queensland would be the hardest hit of all the states and that the Mackay region would be the hardest hit of all the regions in Queensland. So you cannot imagine the good people of the Mackay region, ranging from Bowen, through the Whitsundays, to Mackay and out to the hinterland coal towns, jumping up and down with glee at the prospect of the carbon tax—and they are not. I recently issued an electorate-wide survey. As of today we have had 4,423 votes returned. The results are still flowing in at a rate of 900 to 1,000 a day, so that should be up to 6,000 by the end of the week. But right now, in my survey of my electorate, out of the 4,423 votes returned a whopping total of 242 people are for the carbon tax and 4,181 are against it—a 94.58 per cent rate saying no to this government's carbon tax.

And they say no because they already pay astronomical amounts for rates and rent. They already pay exorbitant amounts for everyday items and everyday services. They pay between 20 per cent and 50 per cent more for a cup of coffee than those opposite pay in this place, whether or not they have well-paid mining jobs. And most of them, a large majority of them, do not have those well-paid mining jobs; they are ordinary people doing ordinary jobs with extraordinary high bills and living costs. And this government wants to rob them just that little bit more with this carbon tax.

The electorate of Dawson has three economic pillars: mining, sugar and small crops, and tourism. These are all export industries. They are all going to pay a carbon tax under this regime, competing on the world market against industries in other countries who will not be burdened with such a grossly unfair impediment to competitiveness. Most of the secondary industries across the electorate, such as engineering and small business, are directly or indirectly dependent on these three economic pillars.

Eighty-seven per cent of our sugar crop is sold on the world market, in competition with countries that are not subject to this bad tax. The Mackay canegrowers chairman, Paul Schembri, commented that the carbon tax would be like 'an extra lead weight in the saddle bags of the sugar industry'. When confronted with this, the Treasurer responded by saying how rosy things are in North Queensland because of the mining industry. I have news for the Treasurer: things for the sugar industry are not going to be very rosy at all. That is because sugar farmers are price-takers. They do not get to pass on the added costs of the carbon tax. According to canegrowers, the sugar industry is staring down the barrel of an $81 million slug to the industry under this carbon tax. That represents a reduction in net farm income of 3.4 per cent per annum. For many farmers, that will be the difference between food on the table and losing the family farm. I note that times are particularly tough in the sugar industry for the same reasons—a high Australian dollar and a series of natural disasters.

I also note that the tourism industry in North Queensland is in a desperate state with a high Aussie dollar and natural disasters. The Whitsundays, a world-class tourist destination that I am very proud to have in my electorate, is dependent on international tourism, especially with places like Hayman Island, Hamilton Island and the Club Med Lindeman Island. Tourism businesses in the Whitsundays are already on the edge and were rightly concerned when a Tourism and Transport Forum report predicted a carbon tax would reduce inbound international visitor revenues by around $457million while driving $266 million of domestic tourism offshore.

We are being told that everything in North Queensland is going to be rosy because of the mining industry. So let's have a look at mining. The Minerals Council of Australia estimates the minerals industry will face costs of $25billion between 2012 and 2020 under the carbon tax package. They also note that the decision to include the emissions from coal mines is unique, with these emissions exempted under the EU's emissions trading scheme. Nowhere on this planet is there an economy-wide carbon tax of such magnitude as the one this government is determined to slug Australians with. The Labor government's determination to 'lead the world' falls pretty flat in North Queensland. As one of my constituents recently said to me, we don't want a government that leads the world, we just want a government that can lead the country.

The Australian Coal Association recently commissioned economic consultants to examine the impact of the tax and they found that conservative estimates of employment forgone in 2020-21 from applying emissions pricing to current coal mines would be around 4,700 in coal mines and 14,100 throughout the entire economy. So it's not looking so rosy now, is it?

But what really irritates North Queenslanders is the contempt with which their concerns are dismissed. When the Minister for Regional Australia, Simon Crean, came to Mackay on his little tour the chairman of Tourism Whitsunday asked him what the government was going to do about the tourism industry being slugged with higher costs. The minister said, 'Tourism is in the doldrums anyway.' The fact that the minister used Regional Development Australia to set up a political forum in Mackay and throughout Australia to promote this tax was not enough. He used the opportunity to tell locals how great his tax was going to be and then wrote in the Australian that the regions love this tax. Wrong, wrong, wrong! If you really care to know what locals think of the tax, it is simple, Simon: just ask the pie man; he can tell you it is not fair.

The Senate Select Committee on the Scrutiny of New Taxes did just that. They asked the pie man during a hearing in Mackay. They interviewed Peter Grant, owner of Bushman's Breads and chairman of the Regional Policy Council for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry—and he also makes one of the best pies you will ever taste. The pie man could have told 'Simple Simon' that the carbon tax would hurt businesses. He reported that an extra 5c for a loaf of bread under the carbon tax would have to be absorbed by his business as he could not increase his prices when competing with Coles and Woolworths. He reported that many of his members were fabricators and they were concerned that some of their work would go offshore and components would be just brought in. 'Our people will just be assemblers, rather than fabricators,' he said.

In summary, the government's modelling is based on an Australia-wide economy, but the engine rooms of the economy—the regions—will be slugged the most under this proposal. The carbon tax will slug every facet of industry in the electorate of Dawson. And it will not stop there. It will slug every facet of the community and our way of life.

I have Ayr Anzac Memorial Club in my electorate. They got a letter from Energy Action predicting what electricity prices will be. It said electricity costs will be up $16,000 per year and that is directly attributable to the carbon tax. A concerned general manager of that club said that that is going to cause tremendous problems. There are 600,000 not-for-profit organisations across this country in similar positions. The tax will not work for them; the tax will not work for families; the tax will not work for the regions; the tax will not work for businesses; the tax will not work for the environment. This government should stand up and pay heed to what the Prime Minister said—there will be no carbon tax under the government she leads—and vote this tax down.