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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 10287

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (11:10): It has been a long time since legislation before this House has aroused public passion as we are now seeing with the clean energy bills. I cannot recall scenes in the public areas of this House as we have seen this week. We should not be surprised because these bills, if passed, will affect every Australian family profoundly. So many of the assumptions underlying their provisions are dubious and the government's attempts to sell the measures are contentious, to say the least.

I believe the main reason behind this great swell of public opinion is that the bills that come before the House are the result of a broken promise, a broken promise by the Prime Minister of Australia. Her words on 16 August 2010 bear repeating: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Yet here we are today debating the Prime Minister's carbon tax. Whatever is said in this debate will not change one simple fact: this is a Prime Minister who has no mandate for this tax. Like her predecessor, who declared climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time before deciding it was all too hard, she is flapping like a rag in the political winds of expediency. In her wake are a series of political disasters: the inefficient Building the Education Revolution scheme, the deadly Home Insulation Program and her shambolic immigration policy. She and her government clearly do not believe in what they are doing but see the carbon tax as the price for clinging to power with the help of the Greens. The Prime Minister is not competent to oversee such a policy. The Prime Minister has misled the people of Australia. These are sufficient reasons in themselves to dismiss the clean energy bills. But there are many more.

First, I turn to the way in which the debate has been conducted. One of the most insidious aspects of the carbon tax debate has been a deliberate branding as climate change deniers by the government and the Greens of anyone who opposes this carbon tax. The phrase 'climate change denier' carries a great moral load of baggage. It implies that you do not care about future generations. It implies you do not care about the environment. It implies you care more about your standard of living and personal convenience than you do for the future of the planet and the human race. Proponents of the carbon tax have made two false assumptions, quite deliberately, that opposition to carbon tax means you deny the existence of climate change and you therefore are some kind of moral monster. They make an immediate appeal to emotion, the last refuge of the logically bereft.

For the record, I accept that man-made climate change is occurring and, yes, I accept there is a need to act. But I do not accept the imposition of a carbon tax is the right course of action. That does not make me a climate change denier; it just makes me an opponent of the government and the Greens and a supporter of the coalition's simple direct and effective policy.

I turn now to some attempts to justify the carbon tax where again the debate has been fogged by phoney morality. Just why is it necessary for Australia to act in this way when no other country is doing so? One reason put forward is that Australia is the biggest per capita emitter of carbon pollution, emitting more than the United States, as the Prime Minister told this House on 1 March. This is the cornerstone of another insidious argument designed to make individuals feel guilty and to make Australia appear some kind of international criminal. It is designed to fuel a desire for action, a desire to remove this stigma. We are told that the only possible course of action, according to the government and the Greens, though the Prime Minister ruled it out a year ago, is to impose a carbon tax. Of course it is not true. According to the latest United Nations international greenhouse gas emissions index for 2007, the United States emits more per capita than we do, some 19.54 tonnes compared to our 19 tonnes. Furthermore, our per capita emissions are in line with those of other resource-rich countries such as Canada and below other developed countries such as Luxembourg, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.

Secondly, there are good reason why our per capita emissions are relatively high and will be so as long as we choose to live here: the climate, the sparsity of population, the need to travel long distances and the abundance of relatively cheap sources of energy. Thirdly, in global terms, while our per capita emissions are admittedly high, our overall emissions are a drop in the ocean. Government figures for 2012 for Australia's overall emissions are some 578 million tonnes, compared to the following figures from the UN index previously mentioned from two years earlier: China, 6,538 million tonnes; United States, 6,094 million tonnes; Russia, 1,579 million tonnes; India, 1,610 million tonnes; and so it goes.

Another argument used by the proponents of the carbon tax is that other countries are doing far more then Australia to reduce emissions. The Prime Minister said on the ABC's Q&A program on 14 March:

The rest of the world is acting and we with our high emissions economy can't afford to be left behind, stranded with a high pollution economy when the rest of the world has gone forward.

Again, on 7.30on 8 March she said:

Already 32 countries have emissions trading schemes. 10 American states do as well. They haven't waited for action at the national level, they are acting themselves.

Again, this is just plain misleading, part of the Prime Minister's elaborate deception. No other country is planning to do, or has done, what the Gillard government is planning to do and introduce a punitive carbon tax. No other country has an economy-wide emissions trading scheme. China, the world's largest emitter, has been praised by the Prime Minister for closing down dirty coal-fired power stations at the rate of one every week or so. But they have been replaced, according to the China Daily of 20 October, 2010, with 24 large-scale coalmines and eight clusters of coal-fired power plants. China's emissions will grow by seven billion tonnes from 2005 to 2020. That is seven billion tonnes extra compared to our current annual output of 578 million tonnes. The Prime Minister has mentioned that India, another of the major emitters, is taking 'national action' on pricing carbon through a 'clean energy tax on coal.' But that tax is a princely $1 per tonne. The state royalty on Queensland coking coal alone is $20 per tonne, and the carbon tax will be $23 a tonne. In what sense is India leading the way? A carbon tax is not on the agenda in China or India, and the reality is that those two countries have a different priority: lifting millions of their citizens out of poverty. To do that, they need to increase industrial production. They may be more efficient in terms of energy use, but their emissions will continue to dwarf those of Australia.

As for Europe, the Minerals Council of Australia recently released research showing that over the first five years of the European Union Emission Trading Scheme it raised approximately $500 million per year. The Australian carbon tax, by comparison, will raise approximately $9 billion per year and will be 18 times larger in dollar terms than the European scheme. In terms of its economic effects, Australia has a super-sized carbon tax. And it seems that in the European scheme fraud is rampant. The Australian Crime Commission found that the European Emission Trading Scheme was recently rorted to the tune of $5 billion. Europol recently reported that it had raided several hundred offices throughout Europe and had arrested more than 100 people in relation to crimes involving emissions trading. This included one operation in Italy where the police conducted raids on 150 companies in eight regions as part of an investigation into huge volumes of suspected fraudulent transactions. It also included raids in Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Portugal—after which trading volumes in Europe dropped by 90 per cent. The entire European ETS was effectively shut down for over a week earlier this year following the theft of around €30 million worth of emissions allowances from the national registries of several European countries. A final word on the situation in Europe comes from President Sarkozy of France, who has shelved his country's carbon tax because it:

… threatens our jobs, [and] it would be absurd to tax French companies while giving a competitive advantage to those in polluting countries.

It certainly would be absurd for this Prime Minister to do exactly the same thing. If this incompetent government could be duped by hordes of shonky pink batt installers, it is surely defenceless against the cunning of international criminal syndicates, one would have to say.

So these are the arguments and the case studies that are being used by the government to support its case. Never, even with the current government, has the gap between rhetoric and reality been wider. Yet it persists with this futile scheme, which, by its own admission, will see emissions continue to rise between now and 2020, from 578 to 621 million tonnes. The government estimates it will be spending $3.5 billion on carbon credits from abroad in 2020, rising to $57 billion, or 1.5 per cent of GDP, in 2050. So the carbon tax will not reduce emissions; it will see us spending billions of billions of dollars on carbon credits in overseas market where fraud is rampant; it will cripple Australian companies in international competition; and it will destroy Australian jobs. What a triumph—destroying jobs and costing Australia billions of dollars!

And what about the impacts on my constituents? We have seen projected rises in electricity prices, rises in gas prices and rises in the cost of living. We have a nation under very great financial strain; we see those increases in the cost of living only adding to that strain; and we see, certainly, substantial job losses as a result of this carbon tax.

I suggest that the government talk to Mr Erhard Dehmelt of Toormina, in my electorate, who contacted the office of the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency with some questions about his financial position under the carbon tax. This is what he said in an email to me:

I am writing to you to regarding the compensation package of the proposed carbon tax. The Prime Minister has made repeated claims that those in the community who can least afford the new tax will be compensated and will in fact be better off … I would like to alert you to the fact that this just isn't so, as you will see from my situation which I have detailed below:

I am a single self-funded retiree, 59 years old, therefore not eligible for the age pension. Therefore pension increases will not apply to me.

I am not employed, and pay no income tax. Therefore tax cuts and increased thresholds will not apply to me.

My only income is from an allocated pension, and I do not have a Commonwealth Health-Care Card. Therefore compensation paid to self-funded retirees with a Commonwealth Health-Care Card does not apply to me.

The only possible compensation I could receive is the Low-Income Supplement of $300 per annum, but my income from the allocated pension is $31,200 per year, and the income limit for a single person is $30,000 per annum. I should point out that my income from the allocated pension consists of a taxed element of $18,466 and a tax-free component of $12,769, but information I have received from Greg Combet's office is that the income test is on gross income.

On an income of $31,200 a year, he will get precisely nothing in compensation.

We have a tax that is a fraud on the Australian people. We have a tax for which this government has no mandate. We have a tax that is going to drive up the cost of living and is going to cost jobs. History will certainly judge this Prime Minister. She will be judged as a Prime Minister who introduced a tax without authority and for no other reason than to cling to power. The members opposite do not support this tax. You can see that in their body language as they walk around this place. They do not support this tax. They do not want to drive up the cost of living for their constituents, but they are being dragged along, kicking and screaming, by this Prime Minister who does not have a mandate to introduce this tax.

This government is beholden to the Greens. It is beholden to a band of Independents who are not voting to support their constituents. They are voting for their own self-interest and to prop up this government rather than voting in the interests of the constituents who sent them to Canberra. History will certainly judge this Prime Minister. History will judge the Independents, as they have acted against the best interests of this country and their constituents. They will be acting to reduce our international competitiveness at a time when competition in international markets has never been fiercer and when those markets are in turmoil. We should have a government that supports local industry, families and pensioners but instead we have a government that is acting with a compass, driven by one thing, and that is political self-interest. It is acting in political self-interest over the interests of this country, over the people of Australia and over what is needed to drive Australia forward in the 21st century. This government has flip-flopped on so many issues and it has proved itself to be incompetent in administering the simplest of programs. How can we trust this government to administer one of the biggest changes to the Australian economy in Australia's history? The carbon tax will be a disaster for Australia and the coalition will oppose it every inch of the way.

Debate adjourned.