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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 680

Mr BILLSON (8:03 PM) —The member for Hunter is someone with whom I have a friendship and for whom I feel some fondness, and I felt uneasy as he struggled to come to terms with what is actually before the parliament today. He followed the tradition of all the Labor speakers on this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill and distinctly avoided what is actually in the bill. We did not hear any defence of the policy approach. We did not hear any explanation of the policy settings within the bill and the way they have been calibrated or how in fact this bill may actually achieve the goal that it states it aims to achieve. You do not hear any of that. You do not hear any of those Labor members come into this parliament to debate their so-called Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill and actually discuss the bill. What you get instead is a rich ensemble of platitudes and distractions and false debates, where they describe what the opposition is trying to achieve in a most inaccurate and disparaging way and then seek to have a go at it, without actually turning their mind to the bill before the parliament.

They might think that the bill itself is not worth debating in here. That might be one reason they do not address it. They might also think that, because the bill has not changed despite the whole context within which this debate is being carried out having changed, there is no need to actually describe the aspects of the bill gain. Or they might be honest with themselves and ask, given that the international context has shifted and the debate is alive and well, what is the most appropriate response, and recognise that many of the propositions contained within the Rudd government’s great big tax on anything and everything—and we hear the Labor Party describe it as the CPRS bill—really do not address new insights and new realities. It could be any one of those three things.

What we can conclude is one single, undeniable thing: the Labor Party will not defend its own bill. It describes the subject of the bill as complex, almost like, ‘Don’t worry about it; it is like the workings of an MRI; if you’ve got a bad knee go in and have one, no need to trouble yourselves with how it operates—it will all be right; leave it to the experts.’ They say that makes it a simple proposition. I am not sure the Australian public believe that. I am not sure pious language from the Labor Party about how complex the whole thing is is a justification for not defending what the government is doing and explaining its actions. I do not think that will ring true with most members of the Australian public. I think the Australian public want to know what is in the Rudd government’s great big tax on everything, this ETS bill known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill. I think they want to know because they have learned through the debates over recent months that these are important issues at stake.

I think the Australian public clearly understands that both sides of the parliament recognise that there is a need to take responsible action on climate change. I do not even think that there is a debate there any longer, despite the efforts of the Labor Party to resuscitate some lines of that kind. There is no lack of will or desire from the coalition to take action on climate change. The debate is about what sensible action is, what the wise action to take is, given the sentiment that spans this parliament of a willingness and a desire to take action on climate change.

The Rudd Labor government and its Labor members do not even turn their minds to this legislation. Within the legislation it talks about applying a charge. This is where ‘the great big tax on everything’ is an accurate description. It is not as the member for Hunter tried to describe before, where he actually stumbled into an explanation of the opposition’s alternative strategy. No, it is not an idea where you penalise those who drop the ball and go backwards in their emissions performance; that is the opposition’s idea. The proposition embodied in these bills is that you penalise everybody. Everybody is penalised, even the most energy-efficient abatement-sensitive activity, business or production process in our country. That will all be penalised. And those who are not so flash will be penalised as well. It is not only those who have dropped the ball, as the member for Hunter in his contribution would have you believe; everyone cops it through this CPRS. Everyone cops it and generates an enormous amount of revenue for the Rudd Labor government to share with those that it feels are its friends or that it feels obliged to help.

It is noteworthy that even in this House the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Mr Tanner, comes in and tries to just bat away suggestions that this great big tax on everything actually amounts to an enormous impost on the Australian economy of $114 billion over the next nine years—that is right: $114 billion, 114 thousands of millions of dollars, over the next nine years—and then says the opposition’s impact would be greater. He bats away the concern that the opposition has highlighted of a $114 billion revenue-raising tax on everything and what that will do to the Australian economy, Australian households and Australian small businesses by saying: ‘No, don’t trouble yourselves. Remember, this is complex. That is a very big number, but this is complex and you need only be concerned with the net cost to the government.’ And he describes a lower figure.

What is missed, though, is that the cost to the Australian nation, the Australian economy and the Australian community is undoubtedly $114 billion. That is undoubtedly the cost. Some of that will be given back, not on the basis of where it has been raised, because those newborn nouveau free marketeers across the chamber in the Labor Party have reconnected with concepts of market after saying that it was a horrible thing—according to the Prime Minister, some months ago. Now they have reconnected with the market. Of course, where those costs land does not accurately reflect where the money goes back. So people can be paying a great cost, a great share of that $114 billion, under Kevin Rudd’s great big new tax, and they will not be getting commensurate compensation.

We have heard in debates in this chamber today and last week how, so complex is this scheme, Rudd government ministers cannot even describe the impact on very credible, realistic and not very mysterious family types. That is deferred to the table, a broad-brush table which apparently is not enough for the Rudd ministers to give direct answers.

Today we talked about another bearer of this great cost, that being the small business community, and why they are completely excluded from the compensation arrangements that seek to soften the harm and hardship caused by $114 billion of new taxes on the nation and on businesses over the next nine years. It is interesting that the Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Dr Emerson, on the many, many occasions that this great big tax on everything has been debated in this parliament, has not once chosen to defend it. Even today, when I asked him a question about the real-life impact on a drycleaner at Queanbeyan, he could not turn his mind to that. Instead, as is his wont, he had a go at everybody—a little bit of theatre but no answers, which is a very awkward way of confessing to the fact that there is no compensation for small businesses. They are not a part of this $114 billion revenue-raising exercise over the next nine years. They are not a part of a portion of that coming back to those paying most of the burden.

This is a scheme that punishes everybody regardless of their level of emissions performance. If you are doing better than many, you are punished less. If you are a major emitter, you are punished substantially. If you are a small business, you are punished, and there is no relief for that financial pain through the compensation system. And, when asked today to explain that, the small-business minister again failed to address the design of the scheme and why small businesses have been excluded from compensation.

It is not as if that question would have been a great surprise. I have repeatedly highlighted the failure of the small-business minister to stand up for the constituency he is supposed to represent. I have repeatedly highlighted how small businesses are extremely worried and concerned about the impact of the Rudd Labor government’s great big tax on everything, the ETS, and why they have been excluded from compensation. I have repeatedly highlighted how, even on the government’s modelling, where it seeks to identify the electricity cost increase, the electricity cost increase is seven per cent in the first year, accumulating on top of that a further 12 per cent. That is 19.84 per cent, let us say 20 per cent, in the first two years. That is the electricity cost. A small business or a family will know what that electricity cost increase means. It means increased pressure on the costs of living and increased pressure on the costs of doing business.

What is not in those figures is the increase in energy costs embedded in all of the inputs of the supply chain for what households consume and what businesses produce and provide, as we saw today with the dry-cleaning business—very significant electricity costs and a $3,000 penalty for doing business under the Rudd Labor government’s great big tax on everything. What of the energy costs embedded in their processes, in the machinery they use and in the energy they consume? We know the energy sector is an enormous consumer of electricity in this country. Those costs will run all the way through and accumulate at each stage of production. It is not just about the direct impact on the cost of electricity. Electricity is embedded in everything that goes into production, systems and services. There will be increases in input and supply chain costs for small businesses and in the cost of consumption for households. Householders will look at a 20 per cent increase in their energy costs and be terrified—and rightly so—as those cost pressures just keep mounting under the Rudd Labor government. They will be worried about 20 per cent on top of escalating energy costs. I have described how energy is an enormous cost input for the water sector and how already-spiralling water costs will increase. These are the necessities of life. Families will soon know that energy is embedded in everything that goes on in this country at one stage or another and that, unlike the GST, which is taken out of business inputs and applied only to the last point of sale or transfer, costs will rise at each stage of the production process.

The Rudd Labor government are trying to force this great big tax on everything on the Australian public again and again, despite people’s cautions, worries and concerns about its impact. The Rudd Labor government cannot hear. They just keep forcing this down people’s throats, while people are telling them that prices are going to escalate at every stage of consumption and every stage of their business processes and inputs, leading to a far greater price penalty at the end of the day.

This is why leading organisations like the Australian Retailers Association have again cautioned the Rudd Labor government and challenged it to say what their great big tax on everything will really mean for the costs of goods in retail outlets. That is why COSBOA have pleaded with, not just asked, the government to turn its mind to the impact on the small business community. They have highlighted the exclusion of small businesses from the compensation arrangements and that there is a need to have a look at the punishing impact of this great big tax on everything on all in the business community and in the general community. It is difficult to accept that some households will get compensation and large businesses will get support from the Rudd Labor government to ease the pain of its great big tax on everything but that there is no mention being made of support for small business.

That was highlighted again today when the minister for small business, Dr Emerson, again could not bring himself to address the specific issue of why he and his government will allow small business to cop this great big tax on everything if it is allowed through without any compensation. That is why the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:

CPRS deal: Small business left exposed.

They have conducted some really credible research. Castalia Strategic Advisors have identified the costs of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme on Australia’s small and medium sized businesses. Has the Rudd Labor government done anything to turn its mind to this input and analysis? Of course not. All it can do is come back into this place and try to jam through the very same flawed and friendless great big tax on everything, the CPRS proposition that got rejected previously by the parliament.

Why do they do this? Why do they insult the intelligence of the Australian public, the clear message of concern from the Australian community and the outrage of those in the small business community by simply stumping up the same old thing? They do it because this is a government that learns nothing. It is a government that will not learn from its experiences and will not recognise its mistakes. It is a government that uses objective analysis so selectively that, rather than look dispassionately at a problem and what strategies might be implemented, they decide what they want to do and then shop around for some kind of information to back it up. That is not evidence based policy; that is policy in search of some evidence to back it up. Again, this is what we are seeing in this chamber today.

I am surprised that the Rudd Labor government is not aware of the work that was carried out by the City of Greater Bendigo about the price penalty that is already being paid by non-city electricity users because of higher electricity transmission charges outside our capital cities. Small businesses and families living in non-city areas are already paying more for their electricity through higher network charges. The figures range from 20 per cent to as much as 43 per cent more, depending on what state you live in. They are going to get another slug in the neck from this great big tax on everything. We have not seen any comprehensive modelling about how the energy price increases will work their way through the different activities, production and cost structures of businesses in the economy. We are told what the direct electricity costs will be but we have not seen how the costs will wash through every stage of production and every step of the business chain. Those living outside our capital cities are already paying a premium for their electricity and they are going to be paying again.

So what does a drycleaner in a regional centre do when faced with no compensation because the Rudd Labor government does not care—small business can just cop it—and already facing price penalties because of higher transmission charges embedded in their electricity costs? They cannot pick up their business and move it to a capital city. Drycleaners need to be close to their customers. Those businesses will have an additional cost burden that will compromise their capacity to employ, undermine their viability and invariably mean higher costs to consumers. The very cost-of-living pressures that are already troubling the vast majority of households in Australia are almost being placed on steroids by the Rudd Labor government through this great big tax on everything.

So that is what this bill is about. I thought someone needed to talk about the specifics of the bill, because the Rudd Labor government members will not defend it. They are just going to use platitudes and talk in broad concepts about what they are trying to do. They will say: ‘Isn’t this a great idea? It’s all too complex to explain to you, but it’s a simple proposition at the end of the day; just go with what Kevin Rudd wants you to do.’ The opposition does not believe that that is a sensible way forward and has mapped out a far more direct, affordable and appropriate strategy. It is a strategy that reflects the fact that the global situation does matter and that that situation has changed, that there is a need to respond to those circumstances but to take practical and positive action on climate change.

As I said at the beginning, there is no lack of will or want on the part of the coalition to take action. It is about what is wise action to take in the current environment. The coalition’s plan for direct action on climate change—and I am pleased that my friend and colleague the member for Flinders is here; he is a significant author of this body of work—actually will achieve the reductions in emissions for Australia that the Rudd government’s great big tax on everything says it will achieve, but without the pain. The government model will cause pain that is not properly costed and modelled, that will run through every activity in this country. It is pain that starts with the cost of electricity. Wherever electricity is used in anything that goes on in our nation, that cost penalty will be there and will be built upon by further activity and further steps that add to the production process, to consumption and to the cost for households and consumers. The Rudd Labor government would be well served to have a good think about this. It has an exit strategy. That exit strategy is to concede that it has got it wrong and that the coalition’s plan is more directly targeted and deserves support, not ridicule.(Time expired)