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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11602


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (16:18): As is the case with the government's approach to many other policy areas, the government's approach to putting a price on carbon, or implementing a carbon tax, is now in a shambles. It is about time that the Prime Minister came into this House and declared once and for all that this carbon tax experiment has failed, and she should remove it from the statute books. Why? Because the carbon tax is some 100 days old and yet already we have seen eight changes made to it. As a piece of legislation it is a mockery. It is a shame that this government is still standing by the legislation, given that in 100 days it has had to make eight significant changes to it.

Even the government's major supporters, the supporters who are backing this Prime Minister up, the supporters who put her in power, do not support the carbon tax. The AWU have let slip that they oppose the carbon tax because it will cost jobs, it will see jobs go offshore and it will raise the cost of living for ordinary Australians. So, given that the AWU have come clean and made it quite clear that they do not want the carbon tax, surely it is time for the Prime Minister to do the same.

Let us look at the eight changes that have been made to the Prime Minister's carbon tax—the tax that she said before the last election would not be introduced. Just before it was finalised, they bailed out significant major companies in the hope that they would not collapse immediately after the tax was introduced. I know this because one of the companies given additional taxpayer money was Alcoa. There was a real threat that the two aluminium smelters in Victoria could close down as a result of the tax. As we have seen, not long after the introduction of the carbon tax, Point Henry had to undertake a serious review to consider its long-term future. At Portland in my electorate there were also concerns raised about the future of the smelter in 10 to 15 years time. We have seen a decrease in the share of the clean tech investment grant funding for small businesses, so further increases in funding for big business could be provided and those businesses, especially those ones that have strong union membership, can be looked after.

The Clean Energy Regulator has added more businesses to the big polluters list, taking the total to 315—there are now 315 of these so-called big polluters, and some of them are local governments or dairy processors. These are not big polluters; these are vital parts of government and the private sector in Australia. Yet now they are being labelled as big polluters.

I challenge the Prime Minister to go down to go to the Murray Goulburn plant in Koroit, which is in my electorate, and tell all the workers there that they are working for a big polluter. This is a company which, in 24 hours, turns milk into skim milk powder or whole milk powder and ships it off for export—helping to feed the rest of the world. That is not what I would call a big polluter.

The government has also changed the regulations to allow increased emissions of one million tonnes from pipelines and landfill. The big efficient landfills, the ones which are doing their job and producing little or no emissions, are now actually being penalised by this government's changes—because people are now flocking to the smaller landfills which do not have to pay the carbon tax. As a result, this government's policy will see emissions increase rather than decrease.

The government has abandoned the contract-for-closure program aimed at shutting down inefficient power stations. That means the carbon tax will have to increase in order to achieve the same reduction in emissions. Because it has a lot to do with his electorate, one member of this House has been very vocal about the contract-for-closure program—the member for Gippsland. He has been challenging the government over when they are going to honour their commitment on contract for closure. Day after day he has targeted the government on this issue, yet the government, in the end, abandoned its contract-for-closure program—another change to their carbon tax legislation, which is only a little over 100 days old.

The government has also scrapped the floor price, which was to have been $15, from 2015. The government had said that a floor price was needed for business confidence. The scrapping of the floor price is therefore quite consistent with this government's policy, because the last thing this government wants to do is give business confidence. With everything it does—its changes to its legislation, its changes to its policy approach—this government undermines business confidence. The government had been saying that the $15 floor price gave businesses the confidence they needed to invest. But, just 100 days in, what is the government now doing? It is destroying that confidence by removing the floor price. I would like to hear from those opposite about what they are now going to do to restore business confidence.

The government has also linked the scheme to the European system, a system which does not allow a two-way trade of carbon credits, putting Australian businesses at a disadvantage and resulting in Australia's carbon tax being set by the EU price. We have given up control of our carbon price to Brussels, to the EU. And hasn't the EU been so resoundingly successful recently at governing its economy? Why, at this stage, would you say, 'Oh, yes, EU, you have done a wonderful job bringing all the economies of the European Union together—it has been an absolutely fantastic success—so therefore we are going to hand over to you the running of our economy on this key issue'?

There is another point about merging these two processes, merging our carbon tax with that of the European Union. What does it mean for how emissions-intensive, trade-exposed sectors will be handled? It does not take much looking to see that emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries in the European Union are treated differently from how they are treated in Australia. I will give one example of this, an example which is close to my heart: dairy processing. Here in Australia, dairy processors do not get any assistance from the government—none whatsoever. So they have to pay the full carbon price. In the European Union, dairy processors get free allocation of permits to 93 per cent. What does that mean when the two schemes are merged? The dairy processors in the European Union will be the beneficiary of EU export subsidies, so they will already have an unfair advantage over the Australian dairy sector. What, then, in its infinite wisdom, does this government do? It says, 'We will give them another advantage; we will allow those dairy processors in Europe a free allocation of permits of 93 per cent, yet we will do nothing when it comes to our sector.' So our dairy processors will pay the full carbon price; European Union dairy processors will not—they will pay only seven per cent of the carbon price.

All of our commodity producers operate in global markets. Given that, how can a government come up with a policy like this, a policy which ties our exporters' hands behind their backs, a policy which makes them internationally uncompetitive? Our exporters are already struggling due to the high dollar—and part of the reason for the dollar being so high is that this government has run the four largest budget deficits in Australia's history, which has kept interest rates high. Therefore, not only do they have to deal with a high dollar but they also have to deal with a government that is putting in place a taxation system that makes them less competitive.

What is the last area of the carbon tax that the government have changed in the first 100 days? They have halted the Clean Technology Investment Program grants. This came just weeks after the grants were announced and changed for the first time. So that really makes it nine changes, I suppose, in 100 days, because there was a change and then another change when it comes to this policy.

This government, sadly, never knows what it is doing when it introduces legislation. We saw it with the Margiris. The government introduced the legislation and then had to put amendment after amendment after amendment. We saw it with the government's initial approach to live animal exports—cutting off that important trade with Indonesia, which is about links with one of our most important regional trading partners. Bam! It was cut off overnight. I am still waiting to hear what the minister for trade had to say in the cabinet meeting when that decision was made, whether he thought, 'Gee, this might do damage to our long-term trading relationship with Indonesia.' He just sits there mute. We are still waiting to hear what his response was to that. Did he sit there and say, 'I don't care if we harm our biggest beef and our biggest wheat export markets,' because that is what closing down this trade overnight was going to do? I do not know what he said about that, because we are yet to hear it.

The carbon tax legislation is just another example of a government that introduces legislation but does not understand what it is doing, such as the long-term harm it is doing to our international competitiveness, and has to make eight significant changes to the legislation within 100 days. Who knows what is to come? Maybe the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency will be able to enlighten us as to what further changes he has in mind to try and fix this draconian piece of legislation, because I can tell you the Australian people would like to know what further impost you are going to put on their cost of living, particularly their electricity bills. Instead of just coming into this place day after day and changing the legislation bit by bit, why don't you forecast what you are going to do? Show us where you see further problems with this legislation. Maybe—and I think this is what the Australian people dearly want to hear—the parliamentary secretary could stand up and say, 'We've messed this up enough; eight changes in 100 days shows we didn't know what we were doing, shows how draconian this bill is and shows that we need to remove it from the Australian parliament.' But I doubt we will hear that. That is why I think ultimately we are going to have to wait for election day, when the Australian people will get the chance to cast their votes on the carbon tax, and I think it will be resoundingly clear that they want it removed from this parliament.