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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 5801

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (16:27): I wholeheartedly agree, Madam Acting Deputy President! Thank you for the call. This is another slack, below-par contribution to policy debate in this place from those opposite. This motion talks about the 'growing evidence of the effects of the Gillard government's carbon tax on the viability of small business', and it triggered me to think about where this 'growing evidence' is coming from. Is it some sort of new robust policy analysis that has been undertaken by the coalition? I thought about that, and quickly dismissed it, because those words 'robust policy analysis' and 'coalition' are like oil and water: you cannot mix them. Could it have come from policy consultations? Well, whenever representatives of those opposite do consult with small businesses, they get a rude shock—because often small businesses will say that they have never been going any better. I will elaborate on that in a moment. So it could not have come from policy consultations. Does it come from new modelling? Perhaps some new modelling, new policy analyses have been undertaken by those opposite. Again, I quickly dismissed that, because that in itself would be a front-page headline: 'Modelling done by coalition'. It does not happen.

Then I happened to read today's Daily Telegraph and there it was on the front page. That is where this came from. That is where the questions that were asked in the chamber today, this policy amendment and this motion came from: the front page of the Daily Telegraph. That is the deep analysis on policy that we are getting from those opposite: they read it on the front page of papers and then they seek to bring it into here! It proves how out of touch they are, particularly with respect to small business and the continuation of this policy of scaremongering with the prophets of doom trying to talk down our economy.

The facts about carbon pricing are illustrative of why we are doing this. The reason why we are doing this is basically for our children because all of the credible economic evidence and the environmental studies demonstrate that global warming will have a diverse and negative impact on our economy and, the longer we wait to take action about it, the greater the cost will be. So, effectively, if we as a generation of decision makers do not tackle this problem now and do not make decisions now, we are simply passing that cost on—and a greater cost at that—to the next generation of Australians.

I offer a second point. Labor and the coalition have the exact same policy and the exact same target for emissions reductions in our economy: five per cent by 2020. So, if it is the case that both major parties have the same target for emissions reductions, the question then becomes: how do we achieve that? How do we do that by the most efficient and effective method with, importantly, the least cost for households, small businesses and large businesses? There have been no less than 37 parliamentary inquiries into this issue in this place since 1992, including the Shergold inquiry which was set up by none other than former Prime Minister John Howard. Each and every single one of those inquiries—all of them bar none—has said that the cheapest and most effective way to reduce carbon emissions in our economy is to put a price on carbon and allow the price effect to dictate where capital will flow and so behaviours will change over time. So what are we supposed to do as a government? Ignore that advice? Are we supposed to ignore the advice of 37 parliamentary inquiries, including those established by the former coalition government, taking into consideration a lot of the comments that were made by senators in former lives when they were ministers and the like and they were supporting carbon pricing? What are we supposed to do—ignore that advice? We will not because the responsible thing to do is to act in the best interests of Australians.

The third point to make is that the carbon price will be paid by the biggest 300 polluters in our economy, not by small businesses. There will be indirect costs. We have never shied away from that fact but they will be 0.7 of one per cent on the consumer price index, less than one per cent and one-fifth of the cost of the introduction of the GST when it was undertaken in 1998. It has been modelled by Treasury, the same people who modelled the GST and found that the cost effect of the GST would be 2.5 per cent. They were spot on then and they will be spot on now. The cost effect will be less than one per cent on the consumer price index. Households, small businesses and taxpayers get compensation to help them make the transition into a clean energy future. The compensation comes in the form of tax cuts. They have already been delivered in the form of increases in pensions and in the form of increases to family payments.

In terms of support for small businesses, the best thing that this government or any government could do is provide a strong economy to do business in. Let us look at the facts about Australia's economy at the moment. Take interest rates. The cash rate is at 3.5 per cent, lower than it was at any other time under the coalition government. Take inflation: 1.2 per cent, very low in relative terms. GDP is growing at 3.6 per cent. Unemployment is at 5.2 per cent. That is a miracle set of numbers for any modern economy, yet those opposite would try and hoodwink the Australian public into believing that the Australian economy is doomed.

Our policies as to small businesses stand for themselves. There is a $6,500 instant asset write-off for small machinery for small businesses, making it easier to invest in more energy efficient equipment, and there is no limit on the number of pieces of equipment for which you can claim this small business asset write-off. It is to the value of $1 billion over 2012-13 coupled with a $5,000 write-off for new vehicle purchases. So there you have great assistance for small businesses.

In terms of reducing carbon emissions, we have an energy efficiency information grants program of $40 million to assist organisations that are working with small businesses to reduce their carbon emissions over time. Take the clean technology program: $1.2 billion of assistance available for small businesses and larger businesses to install new technology to reduce their carbon emissions over time, with $27.5 million for the Small Business Advisory Service, and that program has been extended to continue providing advice for small businesses in the management of their economics, their books and their economies.

We have tried to cut the company tax rates. We tried to last financial year—again, opposed by those opposite as they turned up with the Greens that time and knocked off a reduction in company tax rates for small businesses in this country. As I have listened to those opposition senators who have spoken in this debate I have noted the one thing I did not hear from any of those opposite—and I have just outlined the government's program to assist small business, but this is the one thing that I did not hear from any of the coalition senators—was one policy. I challenge those speaking after me to just announce one policy, to give us one policy that they have got to support small business. Let us have one positive policy that they have to support small business. There are not any, Mr Acting Deputy President; you will not hear any because they do not have any. The only policy of those opposite that we know about is the cutting of $70 billion from the government's budget and that is how they are going to achieve their savings.

Senator Williams, who spoke earlier, was encouraging senators to walk down the streets of local businesses in the country. I do this regularly. In fact, I was in Orange last Friday and I did just that. I walked through Orange and spoke to a number of small businesses. I must say I was following in the footsteps of a coalition representative, because the week before Joe Hockey happened to be in Orange. He was there for a fundraiser with the local member John Cobb and he decided, after making a few outlandish statements similar to those that have been made by the senators opposite today about the effect of the carbon price on small business, that he would go and visit a few small businesses. It was reported in the Central Western Daily:

Mr Hockey accompanied by the member for Calare, John Cobb, spoke with small business owners in the main street.

Later at a press conference Mr Hockey said a combination of the carbon and mining taxes and rising electricity prices would invariably impact on the cost of living in this city.

The Central Western Daily then said;

However all the small business owners approached by the Central Western Daily declined to comment on Mr Hockey's view of the carbon tax …

They would not support it. They could not even get one of the businesses in Orange to support the view of Joe Hockey. Have a look at the photo. When he wipes the egg off his face, he has a big frown because he got stood up by the Orange small businesses. (Time expired)