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Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Page: 8648


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (11:01): You have to love some of the Orwellian titles that the Labor government can dream up for its bills. There is the Steel Transformation Plan, which they would have us believe will somehow improve the steel industry in Australia. If passed, it is certainly going to transform the steel industry. It will transform it right out of Australia. That is what it will achieve. It will achieve the end of a steel industry in Australia. Certainly the players will stay, but the industry will not be based in Australia any longer.

I must address some of the bizarre claims made by Senator Singh and Senator Cameron about the Labor government's so-called concern for workers and workers' rights. The first thing a worker wants is a job. If you are destroying jobs at the rate that that is government currently is, you cannot be in the slightest interested in workers and workers' rights. It is a basic fact that without a job a worker is not a very well-resourced person. The Labor government apparently cannot seem to grasp this fact.

Let's just look at what has happened to manufacturing in Australia, particularly over the period when this government has been in power. Over the past decade and a half, the manufacturing sector in Australia has shrunk from 17 per cent of GDP to nine per cent of GDP. In the last four years alone, we have shed 136,000 jobs in manufacturing. That is how much this Labor government cares about workers—136,000 jobs gone in four years. What keeps workers in a viable and vital manufacturing industry is a government that cares about how that industry works and vaguely understands something about the industry that it is trying to control—that it is trying to assist and built. Certainly, absolutely nothing that Senator Cameron or Senator Singh can contribute will assist.

We have the bizarre situation of Senator Singh suggesting that we are opposing this bill out of some sort of spite. Well, no, we are opposing this bill because it is part of the government's carbon tax package and it should have been included with the carbon tax package. We are opposing this bill because, when we become the government, we will repeal the carbon tax and when we repeal the carbon tax there will be no need for a so-called Steel Transformation Plan. It was quite interesting to notice that Senator Singh mentioned all sorts of extremely good and useful research projects that are currently being conducted by universities, CRCs, the Defence Materials Technology Centre, and other groups related to the Steel Industry Innovation Council. Yes, there are some great research projects going on. There always have been some great research projects going on. These research projects are not reliant on the Steel Transformation Plan Bill being passed; they are happening right now. Industry has always been interested in being as efficient as possible, and this is particularly true of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has been a key driver of most of the innovation that has happened in industries and most of the research that has been undertaken by industries, particularly smelting industries, over the last 20 years.

Once again we come back to another Orwellian little point about this bill: the Steel Transformation Plan Bill is allegedly about improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the industry, but nowhere in the legislation at all is there any requirement on the steel industry to reduce its emissions. They can get $300 million of assistance apparently without doing anything at all to reduce emissions. You would think there would be a KPI or two in the bill if the point of it is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing. You would think the bill would set out exactly what is expected here, but there is absolutely nothing to tell them what to do.

I would be very interested to hear some more of Senator Singh's views on some of the research that is being undertaken. It is just research. It will be industry itself and the practical and sensible people who will drive the real changes. They will make those changes because they are interested in efficiency and energy efficiency is a top priority for them.

Under the Steel Transformation Plan only two Australian firms will qualify. Only two companies are going to be transformed: BlueScope and OneSteel. We have a classic example of this government trying to negotiate with the big boys and leaving the small and medium enterprises entirely to their own devices, once again showing that this government is not interested in the slightest in the welfare of workers, because it is small and medium enterprises that provide the jobs of Australia.

There are thousands of steel fabricators all over Australia who will not get a single bit of assistance out of this legislation. They will face enormous increased costs and pressures under this legislation, despite the governĀ­ment saying the opposite. Energy costs will rise. Power costs will rise. Steel costs will rise. Cement costs will rise. The list goes on and on.

Given we have yet again the debacle of Minister Wong being unprepared to divulge the real basis for the modelling they undertook for the carbon tax, we have no idea what the real cost to the Australian people will be. No doubt in all of the multimillion-dollar ads the line about the very small increase that households and businesses will face will get used, but we know that is completely wrong because Treasury, no doubt under direction from the government, based their modelling on the fact that there would be an internationally agreed carbon scheme. That has not happened and is not likely to happen in the near future. It would be good if it did happen by 2020, but the odds of that happening are very low. So in those circumstances the costs in Australia are going to be higher and more prohibitive.

I interjected earlier—and I know I should not have, Madam Acting Deputy President—when Senator Singh was suggesting that all the smaller businesses would get government technical advice. Any business adviser acting in a non-conflicted way would have to tell any Australian manufacturer right now to move their business offshore. That is the only advice that any independent adviser could give an Australian manufacturing business. With this government's continued and increasing tax take no business could act in any other way. Any financial or business adviser who gave advice contrary to that would not be acting in the interests of that company. Small business will be devastated yet again by this government's actions.

We are opposing the Steel Transformation Plan because it is part of the carbon tax package. When we are in government this plan will not be necessary. There will be no need for a Steel Transformation Plan as compensation to the steel manufacturers, because they will not be subject to the carbon tax.

I would like to look at some of the costs that will go on smaller manufacturers and other businesses as a result. For individuals compensation cuts out at a maximum household income of $80,000 and for businesses compensation cuts out at a turnover of $2 million. The odds are that many small and medium manufacturers will not receive compensation at a business level nor at an individual level if they are successful enough to be able to pay themselves more than $80,000 a year. This government's current carbon tax plan will drive them into poverty. I suppose as their companies and households are driven down they should be grateful that they will be eligible for the compensation. I was chilled when I read a comment made by the Prime Minister in July this year. Speaking in Rockhampton on radio she said:

… small business will see some flow through in things like electricity prices …

What small businesses will be able to do is pass those costs on to consumers …

She needs to go in the same little 'we haven't got a clue how the real world operates' bag as Senator Cameron and Senator Singh. Is that really how they think business operates in Australia right now? You get a price increase if you are a manufacturer or retailer and pass it on to your customer? Do they honestly think that is how it works? If the complete and utter destruction of this economy under these know-nothings were not so frightening, it would be funny. But it is not funny. To claim that small businesses will be able to pass their costs onto consumers, as the Prime Minister has, reveals a complete lack of knowledge of what is happening in the real world. She would be very happy in the museum along with other dinosaurs like Senator Cameron and Senator Singh.

The price of electricity under the Labor-Greens coalition has gone up 10.7 per cent. Groceries have gone up 6.1 per cent. Petrol has gone up 11.3 per cent. You can partly include—I am not sure how you separate them—that 136,000 jobs have disappeared out of manufacturing in the past four years. In small business, 300,000 jobs have gone since Labor was elected. That is the sort of intelligent comment you get from the Prime Minister, who originally told us there would be no carbon tax, but now we have a carbon tax. She claims it will only affect 500 big polluters when we know it will affect every little corner of our economy and ultimately lead to the destruction of much of our economy.

There is decreasing room in Australia for successful manufacturing. I would have thought that someone like Senator Cameron would hang his head in shame at the fact that that is happening, but instead they are negotiating a little deal with BlueScope and OneSteel to hold onto some of their jobs. It was 'enough'. It was the fact that BlueScope announced that they were going to have to cut 1,000 jobs that finally got this government to wake up and notice that they were hurting industry in Australia and would go on hurting industry in Australia. But they did not wake up to try to stop the harm they were doing to industry; they just cobbled together the Steel Transformation Plan to try to protect it—presumably long enough for Senator Cameron to be out of the Senate so that he will not be held accountable when the thousands and thousands of jobs go when the real transformation happens.

I would like to make the point that climate change is real. Humans are contributing to climate change. We need to act. The coalition has a plan to act, including a direct action plan and a very significant investment in renewable energies, which continues on from the work that we have been doing in that area since 1996. That is the way to transform Australia's economy without destroying it. That is the way to keep jobs and industry in Australia. That is the way we can fix this without doing the damage that is going to be done to the economy by this government, which has not got a clue what it is up to.

I want to look at the Minerals Council modelling that was released the day before yesterday on the topic of how the carbon tax is going to affect the Australian economy. When you get rid of Treasury's fiction that it is sensible to base modelling on the fact that there will be a successful and well-functioning international carbon tax and emissions trading pricing scheme operating, the modelling shows that by 2020 the Australian economy will be a cumulative $180 billion poorer with a carbon tax than it would be without a carbon tax. It shows that by 2020 Australian wages will be 1.9 per cent lower with a carbon tax than without one. It shows that the price of a carbon tax in 2020 will not be $29 a tonne, as the Treasury fairytale would have you believe, but $43 a tonne because there simply will not be the opportunity there to buy permits from overseas to abate the costs of the emissions here.

Yes, the coalition absolutely opposes this piece of legislation. It will go the same way as the carbon tax when we are elected to government and can fulfil some real promises instead of promising one thing before an election, as the current Prime Minister did, and doing another thing straight after.