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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 8024

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:43): I rise to acknowledge what a sad week this is for democracy and for those who have elected us to represent them as we debate the introduction of the clean energy package of bills, which we know is a fancy name for a carbon tax. It is a debate that the Prime Minister pledged to the people of Australia before the last election that we were not going to have, a carbon tax that we were not going to have. We all remember her solemn pledge only six days before the last election that 'there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. Because she broke that pledge, today we are debating just that: a carbon tax that every Labor senator on the other side of this chamber should be ashamed of. To those on the other side I say: where is your integrity? Stand up for your principles, honour your word to your constituents and listen to what Australians are telling you—not the small minority represented by the Greens, with whom you are in formal alliance, but the majority of everyday Australians, hardworking families, individuals and businesses across the country who do not want a carbon tax.

Whilst I am on the subject of those on the other side of this chamber, I find it passing curious that senators from Queensland, Western Australia and my home state of Victoria have been missing in action this week during this debate. Where are they? What is their position? And why are they not standing up for the workers and families in each of their states? We have not heard from Victorian senators arguing for this toxic carbon tax. And why is that? It is a really good question. It is because they know that this tax is going to kill the manufacturing industry in Victoria. It is going to plunder it in a state where 50,000 jobs are in the manufacturing industry. It is an absolute disgrace.

Prime Minister Gillard made a solemn pledge on behalf of her government to the people of Australia. We now know that her vow—her commitment—was nothing more than empty words and at best an immoral pledge to the nation. We now know that the words of the Prime Minister are meaningless. Australians question everything she says today. If there are any senators opposite who have any real integrity, they will honour that pledge and cross the floor to vote with us on this side. They will choose to honour their government's pre-election pledge and maintain their faith with their electorates. They will support minimising the cost-of-living pressure and will secure and support a manufacturing industry in challenging times rather than threatening jobs.

I received a letter on 17 October—very recently—from the Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group, Ms Heather Ridout. This letter urged me to amend the carbon tax as it was 'a flawed approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions'. If Ms Ridout wants this Labor legislation to be amended, then we know it surely must not be good for this country. In fact, we know this tax will be lethal to the manufacturing industry in Victoria. I say to Ms Ridout today that the coalition hears you. The coalition will do more than amend the carbon tax; we will repeal the carbon tax. Unlike those opposite, we will not break this promise. This is our covenant with the people of Australia, and we will stand by that covenant.

The government's abject failure, incompetence and dysfunction since the last election has been incomprehensible. The next election will not only be a referendum on the Labor government's policies; it will also be a referendum on this carbon tax. The fact that this government thinks it can effectively implement this vast structural economy-wide tax in Australia beggars belief. Why do I say that? You only have to look back over the last few months and the litany of disasters we have seen this government preside over.

Only this week we saw the government's tardy and incompetent response to the Qantas crisis. To those who are listening to this broadcast today, I remind you of the extraordinary cost blow-outs of the NBN, the $50 billion plus program that commenced without a business plan. I remind you of the BER, with billions spent on school halls without any consideration being given to seeking value for money. And kids are still waiting for their own personal computer through the computers in schools program. And let us not forget GroceryWatch, Fuelwatch and cash for clunkers. The list goes on and on. They are all government policies that have been poorly conceived and that in some cases have been knee-jerk reactions, such as the live cattle export debacle that cost businesses and Australia millions of dollars in lost contracts. And let us not forget the $900 stimulus package cheques under former Prime Minister Rudd—not so long ago—which supposedly saved us from the GFC.

How, then, can the people of Australia trust this government, who now supposedly want to save the planet, to be fiscally responsible with a new tax? How can we trust them with the biggest structural change, the biggest tax, we have seen when they cannot even manage the installation of pink batts in roofs? This government—with its political partner, the Greens—arrogantly claims that it can and will save the planet. What hubris and hypocrisy. If the government is so keen to cut emissions and save the planet, it should start by curbing Mr Rudd's travel and consequent carbon emissions. Maybe they could even use a commercial airline instead of chartering a 737 for one person.

The litany of failure continues with the GP superclinics promised across the nation, which are yet to be delivered. And we have witnessed a rolling immigration crisis that continues today. These are all disasters of the government's own making. We know the Prime Minister has lost control of our borders. She has certainly lost control of the national agenda, because the Greens are actually running that agenda. More importantly for her, she has to spend a lot of time checking behind her back due to the internal division that is racking the Labor Party, the caucus and even her own cabinet, if the reports we have heard of recent cabinet leaks are true. In this climate of absolute mayhem, the government is hell-bent on ensuring that Australia is the first and only nation that will have introduced a carbon tax by the time she and her deputy, the Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, pack their bags for the climate change conference in Durban. Not one of the world's developed economies has implemented a carbon tax—not Canada, which voted against it; not New Zealand, which axed the tax; and not the US, which has completely removed it from its policy agenda. And those on the other side of the chamber accuse us of being oppositional in defending the livelihoods and wellbeing of businesses and families. There is one thing that is certain about this sad state of affairs and that is that an Abbott government will repeal this carbon tax.

In my patron seats in Victoria, every day I hear firsthand accounts of the devastating impact that a carbon tax will have on them. Only in August this year I hosted the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, in the electorates of Deakin and Chisholm, two of my patron seats in Victoria. I went, where the member for Deakin, Mike Symon, and the member for Chisholm, Anna Burke, dare not go—that is, to visit small businesses. As is the case with most SMEs in these electorates, the small businesses that we visited will be negatively affected by the Gillard government's toxic carbon tax.

We visited Daisy Garden Supplies in Ringwood East and Electric Cable Duct Systems in Box Hill South. I asked them: what would the imposition of a carbon tax mean for a small family business like yours? I stress: these people have mortgaged their homes to establish small businesses and have built them up over a long period in the hope that their families will take over when the fathers, uncles or brothers actually retire. Neil Mulcahy is the owner-operator of Daisy Garden Supplies. He has done an amazing job of building up this small business. He now employs no fewer than 60 people. That is not just 60 individuals; that is 60 families who benefit from the employment provided by Mr Mulcahy and his successful local business. It has taken Mr Mulcahy 31 years to build and develop his business. He is clearly a significant contributor in that area and to the community.

During our visit, Mr Mulcahy and his wife told me that his current monthly fuel bill was a staggering $100,000. Daisy Garden Supplies has about 60 trucks on the road, which deliver across the length and breadth of Victoria and beyond. Mr Mulcahy believes that the imposition of this government's toxic carbon tax will impact on his business dramatically. Whilst I was there with the shadow Treasurer, we also talked about the Australian Trucking Association's estimates, which he supports, because he has a number of his own trucks and is a big user of the industry. The Australian Trucking Association estimates that a carbon tax on them will cost their industry and their customers $510 million in 2014-15 alone. That is half a billion dollars in one financial year.

Mr Mulcahy's electricity bills and machinery bills will go up and the member for Deakin, Mike Symon, says that this is okay. Mr Symon, by his inaction on advocating for local small business, such as Daisy Garden Supplies, is essentially saying that he does not care about the effect of this toxic carbon tax on small business. He has been missing in action in Deakin. I have not seen him holding carbon tax forums across his electorate. The people of Deakin have not heard from him on this matter. I would go as far as to say that, by virtue of the absence of him saying anything on this issue, he has to be a strong and devout supporter of this toxic carbon tax.

But, above all, what his inaction demon­strates, which is even more compelling, is that he does not understand small business and how it operates. I guess we should not be surprised, given that he is yet another member with a union movement back­ground. But it is very tragic for the people of Deakin that he has not been able to learn on the job and understand how these businesses operate since becoming the member for Deakin. One can only describe the Mike Symons of this world as gutless in their position on this matter. Before the last election he was a sitting member of the government, the same government that pledged that there would be no carbon tax. Now he stands by Prime Minister Gillard when she visits the electorate of Deakin, advocating and prosecuting the case for why a carbon tax should be introduced. For people like Mr Mulcahy at Daisy Garden Supplies there is not a dollar of compensation. There is no assistance, there is nothing—zip.

Daisy Garden Supplies is a classic small to medium sized family business and Mr Mulcahy will have to wear the cost or pass it on to his customers. It is abundantly clear that, for many of these businesses, passing the cost on to the customers is not an option because their profit margin is so slim. This will have huge ramifications on his capacity to employ 60 individuals and it may well have huge ramifications on the families of those 60 people.

In the electorate of Chisholm we met the owners of Electric Cable Ducting Systems. The member for Chisholm, Anna Burke, has some serious questions to answer—as does Mike Symon, the member for Deakin— which, I think, demand some urgent answers. Whilst the member for Chisholm has recently been very outspoken on the Prime Minister's Malaysia solution and has been very strident in her opposition to offshore processing, in particular to the Malaysia solution, she has been absolutely mute on the issue of a carbon tax and she has been mute in defending the interests of those in her electorate. Electric Cable Duct Systems, ECD, began as a small family business operating out of a shopfront, with a workshop at the back, in 1979. ECD is now an Australia-wide leader in electrical cable management. Thirty-two years on this family company, ECD, have outlets in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, the Northern Territory, the ACT and New Zealand. Under a carbon tax the cost of aluminium, which is the main material that ECD uses to assemble their products, will significantly rise.

The world's largest aluminium company, RUSAL, recently launched a scathing attack on the Gillard government's carbon tax. It was reported online at that in a submission to the federal government RUSAL said the clean energy legislative package, the carbon tax and emissions trading scheme, was a threat 'to the viability of the Russian group's major investment in Australia.' RUSAL owns 20 per cent of the giant Queensland Alumina refinery at Gladstone, the second largest alumina refinery in the world, which employs 1,800 people. The estimated cost of a carbon tax to this industry was in the order of $30 million to $40 million in the first year of the tax, and nearly $400 million over the next 10 years.

There is a very consistent theme if you go out there and talk to businesses, people who are actually creating jobs and wealth, which is that this toxic carbon tax is going to kill their businesses. My office was recently in contact with three families in Victoria who, on the government's own figures, will be worse off under the carbon tax. Each of these families entered their details into the household assistance estimator on the government's clean energy future website. I must point out that these families are operating on the assumption that the estimator is accurate. With good reason, the families who have contacted my office doubt the accuracy of the calculations and believe that they will in fact be worse off than what is estimated on this website.

Kathleen and Chris were one of those couples. They are young, married and have two kids. Kathleen worked for the first 12 months of their marriage before becoming pregnant and giving birth to their first son. Chris works in the finance industry and has received promotions in the time that Kathleen has remained at home, although he is the sole income earner. According to the government's own estimator, under the carbon tax they will be worse off. I have pages of examples of people who have contacted my office in the electorate of Deakin who have all expressed their concerns about that website. It confirms to them that they are going to be much worse off under this carbon tax.

In essence, what does it mean for these families? It means an additional financial burden and it means that businesses will be challenged in continuing to provide the employment levels they currently do. But what for? Why are we dealing with this now? Why is it so incredibly necessary for Australia to be the only nation to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax when all other countries have turned their back on it. As we know, and we have heard it this morning, it is because Bob Brown, the Leader of the Greens, who sits over there on the government side, wants to go to Durban with a carbon tax under his arm. (Time expired)