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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 10309


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (12:58): Many members of this place would follow international affairs and they would have heard when they woke up this morning that overnight there has been an emergency teleconference between the Greek Prime Minister, the German Chancellor and the French President to talk about Greece defaulting on its debt obligations. At the same time there are banks in France exposed to Greek government debt that have had their credit ratings downgraded, and the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, has expressed grave concerns for the health of the global economy. The reaction to this of most governments around the world is to look at what they can do domestically to try and limit the impact of what could be a very severe second phase of a global economic downturn. European countries in particular are looking to slash government spending and looking at ways they can put their rather bloated budgets back in balance. Other countries around the world are looking at how they might take defensive measures to protect their populations from what could be a very torrid global economic environment. At the same time as this massive global uncertainty, at a time in Australia when business confidence has hit all-time lows, it is astonishing that we in this parliament are discussing a series of bills that are going to impose a great big new tax on everything and also impose a very substantial regulatory burden on business. These bills will touch every aspect of everybody's lives in Australia, yet the absurdity of us discussing this at a time of great global uncertainty does not seem to have occurred to members of what is a rapidly disintegrating Labor government.

I can understand that there is some reluctance for Labor members at the moment to leave their electorate offices and go out to talk to people within their communities, because, if they are getting the same sort of feedback as I have been getting as I move around my electorate of Stirling, then clearly it would be a deeply unpleasant experience for them. But they really need to do that to understand the enormous disconnection between what people are actually feeling in their communities and what we are discussing as a parliament here today. If they were to talk to any businesses in their electorates, whether they be small, medium or large, they would tell them, in most cases—not in all cases—that this is the worst business and trading environment that people have ever faced. Even in my home state of Western Australia, which people would rightly assume is doing better than many other parts of Australia, there is an enormous lack of confidence within the business community and, if you are dealing with sectors outside the mining industry, people will tell you that it is just the worst environment that they have ever seen. Yet the response of their federal government is to impose an economy wide tax that is going to touch every single aspect of our lives. This will be the world's biggest carbon tax, apparently because Australians are the world's largest polluters, something that I think is factually incorrect.

Many of the macro arguments against this tax have already been placed very firmly on the record by many of the previous speakers on this side of the House, so I want to talk directly about what this tax will mean for my constituents in Stirling and what it will mean to my home state of Western Australia. Every time I meet with constituents I am told more often than not that everyone is tightening their belts, that they are suffering under the increased cost of living pressures. The cost of living is something that can be very hard for federal governments to do something about, but surely a good rule for this parliament would be to do no harm—whereas this package of bills will deliberately and directly increase the costs of family budgets.

I want to give the parliament some examples of the businesses that I have been talking to in my electorate and some of the feedback that I have from small businesses, in particular, who are greatly concerned about what the carbon tax is going to mean for them. I recently did a small business survey and I want to give the House some of the feedback that I have. We contacted all these small businesses directly to confirm with them that they are happy to have their comments recorded in Hansard and to be part of this speech.

One of my officers spoke yesterday to Mr Rex Sajich from West-Side Automatics, who lives in Stirling. He has been working in the automotive industry for over 30 years. Mr Sajich's business is experiencing a very tough year because his operating costs continue to rise. He faces losing an employee whom he might not be able to afford to replace. We rely on small businesses like Mr Sajich's to keep the economy afloat, yet he has asked why he should be on the receiving end of a bad tax that will kill small business. He has also asked why Australia's small businesses—some 750,000 of them—will receive no direct compensation for the massive jump in electricity prices that will be imposed by this carbon tax.

Mrs Francine Kapoulitsas from Amelia Heights fish and chip shop works and raises her family in Stirling. Mrs Kapoulitsas is already paying over $600 a month in electricity bills for a business that trades only 30 hours a week. After the introduction of the carbon tax, Mrs Kapoulitsas does not know whether she will be able to keep the doors open. She asks why a family-run business such as hers should be forced to close up shop because of a bad tax that offers no compensation to the backbone of the Australian economy. Mr Derek Downie from Steenes Automotive in Balcatta cannot understand why the federal government is willing to compensate individual households for the increase in electricity costs but refuses to help small business cope with the significant increases in these costs.

Mr Martin Steere from Karinga Electrical Systems in Osborne Park is concerned about how the carbon tax is diminishing confidence levels in the business community. He believes that nobody within the business community understands the real costs of the new tax. He asked why the Labor government is not addressing the real concerns facing the Australian economy at present but, instead, introducing another tax that small business cannot afford to pay. In the same vein, Mr Tony Allender from Specialised Mechanical Services in Osborne Park simply said that this carbon tax will be the final straw that puts him out of business. He asked when the government will acknowledge the fact that small businesses are the ones that are failing as a result of Labor's new tax. Mr Allender pointed out that there is no point giving him a rebate on his household electricity bill when he cannot afford to pay that bill if his business goes bust.

Another Stirling business owner who will be affected by the carbon tax is Mr Brett Rice from Green Energy systems in Balcatta, who has rightfully pointed out that it is the job of the government to provide neutral trading conditions for business so that consumers should not be fearful to spend their money, but this Labor government cannot even do that. Mr Rice's biggest concern is what the real costs will be for his business once the Gillard government introduces its toxic carbon tax. Mike Maumill is concerned at what the carbon tax might mean for his business, Capri Technologies, and Mr King from the Dianella Poultry Shop noted, 'It's the big guys that may be able to absorb some of the passed down costs,' but he cannot afford to pass on costs of his small business to his customers.

All in one day my office spoke to these eight businesses, but there are many businesses in a very similar situation in Stirling. They have every right to be concerned about this carbon tax and what it might mean for them and their employees. If you ask the Prime Minister, she will say that they have no reason to express concern. This is of course absolute nonsense, because these people know they are going to be worse off if this bill passes this parliament. Of course, no-one sitting on the Labor side of the House has any understanding of how these small businesses might feel, because to them small business is a completely foreign land. They have never lived it and they do not understand the unique pressures associated with it. They have never started, owned or run their own small businesses. I do not think there would be any demographic—

Mr Dreyfus: I ran one for more than 20 years before I came to this place.

Mr KEENAN: I am very happy for the parliamentary secretary to get up and correct the record about all his colleagues who have been involved in small business. If he had any understanding of small business, there is no way he would be supporting these bills. It is making their job so much harder.

Besides the effects on the people of Stirling, I want to talk quickly about the effect this tax is going to have on my home state of Western Australia. The Western Australian Treasury have done a preliminary assessment of the impact of the proposed carbon tax and it makes for pretty grim reading for all West Australian MPs. I certainly hope those West Australian MPs on the Labor side of the House avail themselves of this analysis and then think twice before they impose this enormous burden on their home state. I do not have time to go through all of the analysis, but I will highlight what I believe are the important points. Firstly, the West Australian Treasury say in no uncertain terms that they believe the modelling that has been provided to date by the Commonwealth is nothing short of heroic. They say specifically that virtually all the modelling talks about purchasing permits from overseas, and that is a heroic assumption that there will be a fully functioning international emissions permit market from 2015-16. They say that appears very optimistic given that there is no global market for such permits and there is no prospect of one being created in the near term. They also directly address what the cost impacts are going to be in the first year alone for West Australian households.

I will go through some of those costs, because they have been detailed by the Treasurer, Christian Porter. He says in the first year alone West Australian households will pay at least $144 extra in household bills. To break that down, it will be an extra $111 per year in electricity charges, specifically because of the carbon tax; $19.50 extra in public transport fares, specifically because of the carbon tax; and $13.25 extra in water charges in the first year of the tax alone. The Treasury analysis also states that all Western Australian families should expect to pay higher electricity, water and public transport fees for every single year under this tax. The analysis also says that the $144 average increase in household bills next year would be the tip of the iceberg and that the Prime Minister's promise that two out of three households will be compensated is just not true in the case of Western Australia, where a full 52 per cent of households will be worse off under the carbon tax.

According to the Commonwealth's own analysis, the carbon tax is going to apply to 500 of what are called Australia's largest polluters—on this side of the House we call them Australia's most successful companies. At least 75 of these 500 companies operate solely in Western Australia and the analysis produced by the Western Australian Treasury firmly states that the carbon tax is going to impact Western Australia even more than other parts of the country.

The Western Australian Treasury modelling refers to the $70 billion that is going to be directly shifted offshore by 2050 under the government's plans. That is, $57 billion is going to be directly transferred from Australian taxpayers to people overseas. That amounts to over $1,600 for every person in Australia. We are debating bills here today astonishingly that are going to transfer from every single Australian in today's dollars over $1,600 overseas. All of this is for an environmental result that means that Australia's domestic emissions will increase by 2020, and by 2050, by which time this $1,600 per person will have been transferred overseas, our domestic emissions will have fallen fully by two per cent. So we have all of this incredible pain for absolutely no environmental gain.

As time is running out—I might seek to table this analysis at the end of this speech—I just make a couple of other points made by the West Australian Treasury, because it is a very important analysis about the real world impact of this carbon tax. The Treasury have said that this significant outflow of income being transferred overseas will have implications for Australia's exchange rate and terms of trade. They go on to specifically list the impact on West Australian pensioners and single-income households. Their conclusion is that people will be significantly worse off at every level of society, which the government refuses to acknowledge and continues to ignore.

I just end on this note. We have a commitment from the opposition side of the House that if we get into government we will repeal this tax. As has been rightly pointed out, that is going to be significantly disruptive for business and consumers in our economy. It is not our position on the carbon tax that has ever changed. We have been 100 per cent clear from day one that we do not want a carbon tax. We promised not to do it at the last election and, of course, we have stuck to that commitment. It is the Labor side of the House that has changed its mind. The Prime Minister promised there would not be a carbon tax, yet she has reneged on that promise. If she believes that the Australian people will benefit from this tax, she must take it to the Australian people and get them to pass judgment on it, and I urge her to do so.