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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 9778

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Opposition Whip in the Senate) (20:29): I too rise to speak on the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and the six related bills.

Before I proceed, I would like to associate my remarks with Senator Nash's remarks. I am sure that there was no pun intended when Senator Nash referred to the fact that the government actually needs to come clean on the clean energy amendment bills! I thought it was quite inspired of her to draw that parallel!

What we have here is the most recent incarnation of the carbon tax. That is the carbon tax, of course, that we all know we were never supposed to have if we believed the words of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. This is the tax that, as we know, is costing Australians $9 billion a year. Frankly, the carbon tax has perhaps undergone more reincarnations than Lady Gaga—for those of us that may observe the various manifestations that she has taken over the years—and we all know that this carbon tax is barely a year old. Many of us will recall the last two sitting weeks of 2011, when the swag of carbon tax related bills were rammed and guillotined through this place. We had less than a week to debate that huge package of bills. Such was the importance and the essential necessity of these bills being passed at that time.

Here we are, barely a year later, and we have yet another amendment in the form of the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and the six related bills. There have now been some eight major changes to this act since it passed this place in November last year, and each modification to the carbon tax, as we know, is a reinvention. It is yet another example of Labor's deception. Every time we come back here to look at and deal with another amendment, it is yet another example of policy on the run and another chip away at the government's credibility. I see Senator Polley smiling, because she knows this is true. It is so hard to defend. She knows it is true.

But most concerning of all is that each modification and each reinvention provides further uncertainty for Australians, and that is the tragedy of what we face here today—uncertainty that, I have to say, I hear about daily in my electorate office from those that come through the door and express the concerns about the many issues that they face. We all recall that the first variation of the carbon tax came before it was even introduced. This alteration used taxpayers' money—the money of hardworking Australians—to bail out major companies like Alcoa and Energy Brix. On the very eve of the carbon tax being introduced—the very night before it was introduced—we saw significant changes.

Next up was the minimisation of the clean tech investment grant funds arrangement for small business. The money that could and should have been directed to local Australian SMEs was diverted towards big business. Unfortunately, this is typical of this government's attitude towards small business. Small business owners have grown accustomed to getting a bad deal from this government. We know that, at the end of the day, it is small businesses that have really paid a very big price under the manifestations of Labor governments—the former Rudd Labor government and now the Gillard Labor government.

Then the Clean Energy Regulator added business name after business name to its big polluter hit list, which I understand is now some 319 businesses strong—319 businesses across the whole of Australia. But I have to say that I would not have thought that education could be a pollutant. The list includes La Trobe University, but I could not see how that is possible. It includes a number of local councils across Australia, but providing municipal services does not seem so unclean to me, I have to say. It even selects Albury City Council as a top polluter, yet across the Victorian border we see that Wodonga does not make the list. This just does not add up. The hypocrisy of it just does not add up.

The carbon tax seeks to decrease emissions and promote what I have to say is an Orwellian phrase, 'clean energy'. In reality, its amended regulations have increased real emissions from landfill and pipelines by roughly a million tonnes. I am sure that every senator here has received representations from councils about the real effect that this is having on them and the real effect in the rollover that it is having on ratepayers in their areas. The Contract for Closure program was supposed to shut down power stations but has been abandoned. For the same level of emission reductions to be achieved, the carbon tax will have to significantly increase.

Then we come to this package of bills, which seeks to link Australia's carbon tax to the European carbon-pricing system and ditch the floor price that the government legislated in its original carbon tax bills. These are major structural changes to the original bills which this government sought within three months of the carbon tax's operation. What does that say about the homework that this government has undertaken in putting together these bills?

I will address the floor price issue first because, unfortunately, here we see yet another example of this government saying one thing and promising one thing but, as we know, doing another. Not only did Prime Minister Gillard promise, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' but, after she broke that promise and introduced a carbon tax, she said there would be 'a price cap and a price floor to apply for the first three years'. The Prime Minister said, 'This will limit market volatility and reduce risk for businesses as they gain experience in having the market set the carbon price.' In fact, the government affirmed its commitment to the floor price on no fewer than 11 occasions. Even up until the week before the floor price commitment was scrapped, the government's climate change minister, Greg Combet, was out spruiking the importance of the floor price to the operation of the carbon tax. Now businesses, both large and small, are rightly asking: what happened to the importance of creating stability and certainty? The sad truth, we know, is that the government is all talk.

Prime Minister Gillard does not care about creating a stable environment. If she did, we would not be seeing this process but a stable environment, which businesses demand and need to operate successfully. The tax has done nothing more than create many, many headaches for businesses. I refer to one such business, one of many examples, called Techniques Incorporated, which is in my patron seat of Chisholm. This is a family-owned business. It was started in 1983 and it develops and manufactures quality dry powder food products—everything from cake mix to drinking chocolate. This business has been in the family for three generations, so this family has invested a lot in the effectiveness of this business. Everything that the family has is reliant on the productivity of this business.

But this business is feeling the pain of the carbon tax, no thanks to the local member and Speaker of the House, Anna Burke, who voted for it. Managing director Matthew Martin says that many of his suppliers—in particular, those who supply packaging and the like—have had to put up their prices as a result of the carbon tax. But much of that increase in pricing he has had to absorb, because he cannot pass on to his consumers the increased costs that the carbon tax has meant. I have to say that I fear it is only going to get worse, however, as this business has an electricity contract expiring towards the end of this year. One can only imagine the hike in electricity prices and the increased consequences of that. As many Australian businesses and families are now painfully coming to realise, the carbon tax has essentially become an electricity tax.

The major impact of the carbon tax is, as we know, on electricity prices at the moment. The industry predicts that this will rise by over 20 per cent in the 18 months from the introduction of the carbon tax. The government keeps trying to downplay this impact, but it is not working—not when people see firsthand the impact of the carbon tax when they are in receipt of their electricity bills. People around Australia are hurting, including another family in Deakin, one of my patron seats, the Juric family. Olivia and Tom Juric are in their 30s and have three daughters aged four and under. Last month they invited us into their home to share their concerns about the rising cost of living, compounded by the carbon tax. To the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, Mrs Juric expressed her concerns, concerns that she shares with all Australians—namely, the increasing cost of living and the increasing cost of necessities like electricity.

The Juric family do what they can to decrease their electricity usage, but they have a six-month old child and cannot take measures like turning off the heat. This family have been seriously let down by their local member and they want action on it so that they can have a chance of holding things together, managing to balance their budget and keeping their heads above water. Let me quote Mrs Juric, who so articulately summed up the way that she feels at the moment, and it certainly reflects what a lot of Australians are saying:

We explained to Tony Abbott that, as a single-income family with three children, it is not easy. And we don't expect it to be, but we do want to get ahead a bit. Tony Abbott assured us that a coalition government would repeal the carbon tax to make it easier for working families, just like us, to be able to get ahead and not be so worried about whether we can afford the bills.

This is what I tell the many constituents who contact my office worried about how they will be able to hold things together. A coalition government will repeal the carbon tax and return the stability and certainty that is so critical to the strength of our economy.

Our policy on this side of the chamber stands in stark contrast—

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator KROGER: Senator Brown, I will take that interjection.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator KROGER: It actually helps to listen to your constituents. I would suggest that, if the member for Deakin, Mike Symon, did that, he might learn a thing or two about his constituents.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Order, Senator Brown, please!

Senator KROGER: As I was saying, our policy on this side of the chamber stands in stark contrast to the government, who today seek to not only backflip on the floor price but put the Australian economy in the hands of Europe. The idea of linking the Australian scheme to the European carbon trading scheme is almost akin to proposing that the Australian dollar join the Eurozone. It makes no sense to leave the future of Australian businesses in the hands of bureaucrats in Brussels, particularly at a time when there have been so many economic challenges faced on that side of the globe Europe.

Even Prime Minister Gillard has previously pointed out the issues and concerns in relation to the European scheme which she now seeks to link us to, saying:

We, of course, have learned lessons from overseas, where people have had emissions trading schemes for a long time, and having learned those lessons we will design this scheme so that it is not able to be used by shysters to make a dollar.

Clearly, Prime Minister Gillard has not learned anything. The government has gutted the Australian economy and is continuing to aim to destroy business confidence in this country. As my colleagues from the Nationals—and Senator Williams is here, listening avidly, tonight—have effectively continued to argue in debate, international emissions trading is a terrible deal for Australian farmers.

In terms of the Carbon Farming Initiative, Europe has been handed a monopoly in selling carbon credits to Australia from 2015, yet Australia is banned until 2018. This government has negotiated a monopoly that benefits other countries and that hangs our farmers out to dry. It is the final straw in what is already an intolerable situation.

The coalition cannot support this bill. It is a slap in the face for Australians. The public have already had to deal with the Prime Minister breaking her promise on the introduction of a carbon tax and then had to watch the various manifestations of the government as it continues to make amendments and changes to this toxic tax.

It has done nothing but create fear and uncertainty, whether it be for businesses or families alike. We know that, despite the carbon tax, Australia's emissions will continue to increase from 578 million tonnes in 2010 to 621 million tonnes in 2020.

The coalition calls on the government today to finally do the right thing by this country and scrap the carbon tax. It is pushing up electricity prices, notwithstanding the hysteria that we hear from the opposite side of the chamber, to levels that families like the Juric family will continue to struggle to afford. It is making life almost impossible for Australian manufacturers to do business at a time when they are already struggling to remain competitive, due to the high Australian dollar, and to keep their heads above water. The carbon tax, which this government keeps changing, is just downright confusing for so many and it also threatens jobs.

Australians did not vote for this carbon tax. In fact, they voted against it at the last election. The only political party that supported the carbon tax at the last election sit on those crossbenches over there.

The first order of business for a coalition government would be to repeal this crippling tax and to restore some certainty to the Australian economy. We are committed to achieving a five per cent reduction in emissions but without an economy-wide tax that costs more than $9 billion a year. I join my colleagues on this side of the chamber in condemning this piece of legislation.