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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4614


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (10:16): I am pleased to rise in my capacity as the representative of the shadow minister for tourism, Bob Baldwin, from the other place—and I will talk more about Mr Baldwin later on. The interesting thing about the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2012 is that it is completely different to the one first introduced in the other place by the government following the budget.

Before I turn to the specifics of this legislation, I think it is worth taking some time to consider in full the government's complete and utter lack of interest in the plight of the tourism industry in this country. In doing so I am reminded of the words of Ronald Reagan when he said:

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it.

Certainly in relation to this government those are very accurate words.

The real issue for the tourism industry is that it is continually harmed by a government that is concerned with the jobs of its leaders as opposed to the jobs of the one million tourism industry employees across Australia. In just five days we will have a toxic carbon tax, based on a lie, that will further impact on this sector. It is important to remember that 90 per cent of tourism and hospitality small business owners are worse off under the tax. The remarkable figure in relation to the tourism sector is that 90 per cent of tourism businesses employ fewer than 20 employees. They are already suffering under a mountain of red and green tape that has been imposed on them by this government and other governments, and they simply cannot take any more. If you add the toxic carbon tax to the increased passenger movement charge, this is a sector that, if it is still moving, is barely crawling, and all the while the government continues to tax it, regulate it—but not, it would seem, compensate it. As I said, the government has introduced a tax that is based on a lie.

The interesting situation facing the Great Barrier Reef is, I think, worth repeating. While I am sure tourism operators will welcome the fact that the government has reduced the Great Barrier Reef visitor levy to offset the carbon tax impact on businesses operating reef tours, I am sure that will be very small compensation for those small business operators up there. The utterly remarkable part of this is that the government has cut funding to the very body that is charged with researching the impact of climate change on the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, GBRMPA, has faced a budget cut to pay for the carbon tax assistance program. So Labor is effectively cutting off its nose to spite the Barrier Reef's face.

It is absolutely fascinating that day after day in the other place we saw Minister Garrett, and day after day in this place we have heard Minister Wong, regaling us about the need to price carbon to save the Barrier Reef. But we have this duplicitous situation whereby funding to the body that is providing research on the impact of the climate change they are referring to is actually being cut.

I also want to talk about other sectors of the economy that have not fared so well on the carbon tax compensation front. Take the people of Tasmania, for example, who will face higher costs to get from Tasmania to the mainland as a result of the toxic carbon tax. The ferry between Tasmania and Victoria will cost $3 more per passenger per journey after Sunday. It will cost $6 more per vehicle on the ferry after Sunday. With Tasmania's economy so heavily reliant on tourism and the necessity of moving goods by sea, this decision is deeply troubling.

But I do not hear anything from the Labor senators in this place about this matter—not a single word. And what about the following members from the other place—the member for Bass, Geoff Lyons; the member for Braddon, Sid Sidebottom; the member for Franklin, Julie Collins; and the member for Lyons, Dick Adams? Where are they in relation to this issue? Why aren't they sticking up for their state? Why aren't they acknowledging that the cost of a ferry ticket will increase by $3 or that the cost of a car on the ferry will increase by $6? Where are they in relation to this matter? They are absolutely absent from the debate.

Further, air travel will be more expensive after Sunday, with ticket prices set to increase by $3.50 for Qantas and $3 for Virgin—another impact on the tourism sector. A family of four travelling to Queensland on Sunday to enjoy school holidays will be paying an extra $24 for their holiday than if they had gone this week. Businesses will face higher costs in other parts of the country as a result of the impact of the carbon tax, and that will impact on the tourism sector. Small and medium businesses will receive no compensation for the cost of freighting goods by air and face increased costs as a result of that. Guess who will ultimately pay for these increased prices? You and I know who that is: the Australian consumer. This toxic tax will touch every aspect of the lives of Australians come 1 July.

I now want to again refer back to the passenger movement charge bill. As I said earlier, this is not the same bill as that originally introduced by the government. Why did that occur? I know exactly why. The shadow minister for tourism, Mr Baldwin, and the shadow minister for justice, Mr Keenan, who both sit in the other place, moved heaven and earth, in conjunction with the tourism sector, to take one of the more insidious parts of this bill out of the original legislation. All power to them and congratulations, along with many thanks to the tourism sector, for the enormous amount of work that they did on that matter. As part of Mr Baldwin's campaign in relation to this passenger movement charge, he reiterated the fact that, as the shadow minister, he has launched the 'staycation' initiative. The website is www.staycation.org.au, for those who might be interested. The aim of that initiative is to encourage Australians to stay in Australia. But every time we see increases such as this then the high value of the Australian dollar kicks in and tourism in this country suffers.

Page 11 of Budget Paper No. 2 says the following:

Passenger movement charge ...

The Government will increase the passenger movement charge by $8 to $55 per passenger with effect from 1 July 2012, with the charge to be indexed annually by movements in the Consumer Price Index thereafter. The measure is estimated to increase revenue by $610.0 million over the forward estimates period.

Barely seven weeks later, after extraordinary pressure from the tourism sector and from Mr Baldwin and Mr Keenan from the other place, the government backed down and we now have the bill that is before us, which we will be supporting.

The increase in the passenger movement charge makes the Australian departure tax the highest short-haul departure tax anywhere in the developed world. The Senate may not be aware that, since coming to office, the Labor government has increased the passenger movement charge from $38 to $55, a $17 increase. In the life of the Howard government, the passenger movement charge increased twice over a 13-year period, by a total of $11, and those increases were linked to specific programs, such as the See Australia campaign and defending Australia from biohazards such as foot-and-mouth disease.

I want to give my colleague Senator Nash the opportunity to make a more substantial contribution than time would otherwise allow, but I want to again say that this is a government that does not care about the multimillion-dollar tourism industry or about the one million Australians employed in it. It has no understanding of what the 90 per cent of tourism businesses that employ fewer than 20 employees are facing at the moment and no compassion for them. The circumstances facing them are quite dramatic. We know full well that the tourism sector is under enormous pressure at the moment. Why this government would be doing anything to add to that pressure is beyond comprehension.