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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8788


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:41): It is good to see Senator Conroy here, a failed minister for communications who is in charge of the greatest white elephant Australia has ever seen. It is good to see him now contributing his expertise to this debate on electricity prices. However, there is one minister of the current government whose word on this particular issue I do take some notice of, and that is the minister who said, 'The states might be getting good dividends but they do not determine price setting rules.' Further, the same very incisive minister said, 'The states do not control the regulatory authorities that set prices and any suggestion that they do has no basis in fact and is a cheap shot.' Mr Martin Ferguson, one of the better ministers of this very poor government, has clearly acknowledged that the real reason for electricity price increases is the carbon tax.

Senator Milne in her contribution, as she always does, criticises the coalition—never the Labor Party, I might say—for not focusing on what the committee really wanted to do, and that was to get costs of electricity down. Senator Milne, can I say to you that the coalition is totally consumed by and focused on getting electricity prices down and we will do that by abolishing the carbon tax. I was privileged to be able to appear with Senator Edwards at the hearing of the committee in Brisbane. In my state of Queensland it became clear that the carbon tax is solely responsible for increases in electricity prices in Queensland at the current time. As the electricity companies told us in giving evidence, they have been restricted by the government in Queensland only to increasing electricity prices by the carbon tax cost in Queensland. The cost, as I recall—and Senator Edwards might be able to correct me—was between 11 and 15 per cent increases in Queensland currently solely because of the carbon tax. Senator Milne in her continual criticism of the coalition never says a word against the government that actually has increased the cost deliberately, but says that we really need to enter into energy saving targets to lower bills. I say to Senator Milne, come to North Queensland, please, and tell us how we are going to lower the cost of electricity when we use air conditioning in the summer months to keep people alive in hospitals, to keep the wheels of business turning, to keep the wheels of industry turning. Tell me how we are going to reduce electricity usage when by necessity in the banana industry, for example, we need refrigeration. We need refrigerant gases, which have gone up by something like 300 per cent or 400 per cent under the carbon tax regime. But they are also driven by electricity. How do you possibly have energy-saving targets there? In the middle of summer do you say, 'We'll turn off the refrigeration and hope that that will lower the electricity usage'? It is just typical of the Greens' completely impractical and complete nonsense on how Australia and human beings actually operate.

Senator Milne wants to decouple revenue and demand, as if that is what you do. You say the words, which come out well when you are addressing a group of followers of the Greens, small though one is these days, but, in practice, that just does not work. I lived through the time of Labor Premier Anna Bligh's stewardship of Queensland's finances. She ran the Queensland debt into something like $100 billion. But, at one stage, she told the electricity companies: 'We want you to give the maximum dividends to my state Labor government because we need your money. Do not spend anything on infrastructure costs in Queensland; just give us all the money.' Because they are owned by the state government, the electricity companies did exactly that. Then what happened in Queensland? There were power outages and blackouts and, boy, wasn't that politically unpopular. So Premier Bligh changed her view overnight. She started criticising the electricity companies that she had directed not to put in the infrastructure and told them to spend, spend, spend on infrastructure and never let us get to the situation again where we will have power outages and blackouts in Queensland. Again, the Queensland electricity companies did just that because they were owned and directed by what was then the state Labor government. So they put all this money into these extensions and, somehow, that had to be paid for. The state Labor government still wanted its dividends from the electricity company, because how else would they even attempt to make the budget balance? They never did make it balance, but they were attempting to. So all this money was borrowed and spent, and now it has to be recouped by way of higher electricity prices.

So, Senator Milne, even if you do not want to accept the carbon tax as the reason for electricity price increases, at least be honest and say that it is those state Labor governments who demanded, belatedly, this huge increase in capital expenditure on the infrastructure and who now have to recoup that at the cost, in some states, of a huge increase in electricity prices.

Senator Milne wants us to give certainty to business. I think every business in Australia has the certainty of knowing that, should we be fortunate enough to become the government of Australia after the next federal election, the carbon tax will go. How much more certainty does business need? It will go. Businesses understand that, and they can read the opinion polls the same as anyone can read the opinion polls. They know the sentiment of Australians. They know that Australians are just waiting with the proverbial baseball bat to get rid of this dysfunctional, dishonest and incompetent government. They can understand that, with a new government, electricity prices will fall by at least nine per cent, and in some places, like my state of Queensland, prices will fall by anything from 11 per cent to 15 per cent because the carbon tax will go.

Under Labor, there is a regime of increased carbon tax, and of necessity that means increased electricity prices. So the price of electricity, should Labor stay in power, will continue to increase because that is what Labor is all about. At least with a skerrick of honesty they have not tried to hide from the fact that they are determined to keep increasing the price of carbon to stop usage. We have a ridiculous situation you might recall, Madam Acting Deputy President, where we have just passed a bill removing the $15 lower fee for the price of carbon. They now want to put it back to the European price, which, the last time I looked, was around $8 or $9, and which they anticipate in their forward modelling will go up to $29 per tonne. If they believe it is going to get up to $29 per tonne, why are they reducing the $15 per tonne limit? It just does not make sense, but it is typical of this government's confusion.

I will conclude my remarks on this report. I do want to congratulate Senator Edwards and Senator Cormann on the additional comments part of the report, which is a very telling part of the document. I assure listeners that there will be reductions in electricity prices under the coalition because we will get rid of the carbon tax, and that will bring about an immediate 10 per cent reduction.