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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5893

Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (18:20): It is disappointing to rise and have to speak about yet another attack on families and small businesses in this country through another initiative of the Gillard government to introduce a new or increased tax. The Gillard government continues to find ways to hit small businesses and everyday Australians with taxes that continue to drive up the cost of living. The first three bills in this package of bills concern the taxation of gaseous fuels for motor vehicles by applying a tax to LNG, CNG and LPG. These are taxes on mums and dads, taxi fleets and public transport systems, particularly in cities like Brisbane, Sydney and Perth whose buses use compressed natural gas to lower emissions and pollution. These buses burn cleaner and provide Australia with an opportunity to use some of the overwhelmingly ample resources that we have available to us in this country.

We are fortunate that we live in a country that is largely self-sufficient in energy and we are one of the few OECD countries that exports energy. Our energy comes from various resources. Beginning with coal, we are the largest exporter in the world for coking coal in the manufacturing of steel and of steaming coals for the production of electricity. Australia also uses liquefied natural gas, the supply of which will last a couple of hundred years based on current reserves. Whilst we have those supplies, we are still reliant on importing approximately 50 per cent of our petrol, diesel and crude oil requirements. LPG has proven a popular alternative due to the fact that it is significantly cheaper and the fact it is a product we can generate onshore which helps our economy in a positive way. There is no need to apply a tax on these fuels; in fact, it makes no sense whatsoever because by using these natural fuels Australia is already doing its bit towards lowering emissions and pollution.

The Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and cognate bills will result in a slug of 12½c a litre on LPG and 26.13c per kilo on LNG and CNG. I know those opposite have spent most of this debate trying to justify the reasons for this legislation and have used the argument that it was a coalition policy from 2003. We accept that, but it is also important to consider the circumstances in which these tax increases are being introduced. As the member for Parramatta pointed out, these increases have been deferred previously. Given the current difficult economic circumstances for families and small business in this country, why couldn't these increases be deferred to a future date when families and businesses are more able to manage the costs.

These bills make a mockery of the incentives which the coalition put in place in 2006 for motorists to convert their private vehicles to LPG in order to reduce fuel costs. The end result has been that over 700,000 Australian vehicles are now powered on LPG, which will mean that 700,000 Australians will be hit with an increase of around 20 per cent in fuel costs that they cannot afford. In Queensland, 21,000 residents received grants for switching to LPG, which will mean that 21,000 Queenslanders will be penalised for taking that good step of making their vehicles more environmentally friendly. It was the coalition's 2006 initiative that saw the $3.5 billion LPG industry grow significantly to meet the increased demand to the extent that it now employs over 10,000 people. The industry has already been damaged by the prospect of this tax and this has contributed to three LPG conversion firms going into receivership in the last three months, destroying 350 jobs. Yet these are the very green jobs that those opposite purport to support.

In effect, there would be no necessity to introduce these increased taxes if we had a government that was more considered in how it actually spent the tax dollars it has already collected from Australians. It is this government's wasteful spending and policy disasters that require it to reach even further into the pockets of Australians, hitting motorists, taxi drivers and small businesses with this new tax hike. Let us not forget that this latest tax will be on top of an estimated extra 6½c a litre that will be the result of the carbon tax. This new tax will create a red-tape nightmare for the engine room of our economy, small businesses, who will have to cope with new measures to separate LPG sold for recreational purposes such as for barbecues or camping from LPG sold as transport fuel. This government seems to be a master at inflicting new highs of paperwork and bureaucracy for small business in Australia.

With 90 per cent of the nation's taxis being LPG powered, this 20 per cent increase in fuel costs will flow directly to fares, hitting passengers in their hip pockets once again. As my colleague rightly pointed out earlier, most of the people in my seat who use taxis are those who cannot afford to run a vehicle and are already struggling to meet day-to-day living costs. These price rises will lead to higher public transport costs with CNG powered buses used in capital cities being forced to pay the extra 26.13c excise. Public transport running on CNG or LPG such as the Brisbane City Council bus service and Surfside Buslines will be forced to increase their fares, making a mockery again of the fact that we are trying to get people off the road and onto public transport to reduce congestion on our roads and to be more environmentally friendly. The decrease in CO2 emissions resulting from taxis and buses having converted to natural gas has also been an important step in lowering particulate air pollution. However, an increase in the cost of running these vehicles will deter companies from continuing this process. The transport industries and resources sector are among those hit by the destruction from the recent floods, yet they are now being targeted by the Gillard government as it attempts a cash grab of a half billion dollars in new taxes because it cannot manage its budget.

I wonder how the government will respond to their constituents when they return to their electorates. What will they say to constituents in their communities when they ask, 'Why are our fuel costs rising by 20 per cent?' What will their answer be? Do those opposite lack compassion for the Australian people? Is it that they are just so determined to find ways to fill the black holes in their budget that they will find any new tax that they can get away with or is it because their debt is so large that this is a last-ditch attempt at raising funds to cover their black holes and waste?

We know that the government have gone from a cash surplus to a net debt over the past 3½ years. We know that they have gone from a budget surplus to a budget deficit. I would hope that those opposite are not deliberately trying to destroy the family budget with this tax but rather are incompetent money managers and wasteful with their spending.

I note that we will support one of these bills, the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011. This bill extends the grants scheme to biodiesel and renewable diesel. Logic would state that if you had an alternative fuel you would support it and not tax it. The member for Throsby, in his speech, commented on the fact that these funds are used to build our road network. The question I have is: how much of this tax that is being raised is actually going towards building our road network? For a number of years, Australia has been trying to build a biofuels industry. Along with the government, the coalition supports the measures that were taken previously by the Howard government and that have been continued by the Rudd and Gillard governments to provide grants to the ethanol, biodiesel and renewable diesel industries to offset the excise. The biodiesel and renewable diesel industries are already doing it tough because of the uncertainty over the past few years. They have faced unfair dumping competition from overseas suppliers. I commend the minister for continuing what we started, as we live in a region where diesel fuel is very much in demand.

The other three bills that are before the House will hurt mums and dads and school kids, who are already struggling with a household budget that is tight. With cost-of-living pressures growing every day for families, they now have to find extra money for bus and taxi fares as well. Many of those people who use taxi services are at the lower end of the economic scale, and this legislation will just make it more difficult for them. This government seems to tax every part of sensible living. These bills will introduce a tax on family cars, a tax on buses and other public transport and a tax on taxis. This tax will be administered in a way that means small businesses selling LPG will find it more and more difficult, as they will have mountains of new paperwork and regulations to deal with.

This is bad legislation. It is not about improving inefficiencies in Australia or ensuring that this country becomes a better and more secure place to live. This is legislation based on taxing a fuel source which we have in abundance and the source of which is efficient. These bills tax the livelihoods of Australians, increasing cost-of-living pressures on families. This is simply another tax from the government on top of the flood levy, the proposed carbon tax and the proposed mining tax, all whilst freezing assistance payments to middle-income families. Even the smallest increase in costs will hurt families, small business owners, taxi drivers and everyday Australians.

The coalition will seek to amend these bills. As usual, it is the coalition which stands up for the Australian people and ensures they receive a fair go. The biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel industries cannot be left in the wind while the minister plays games with their livelihood. They have suffered already and deserve certainty, which we will give them. I am interested to hear how the government will justify their continued attacks on the cost of living for Australian families. This continuous strain on Australians' pockets must end and the government must tighten their belt and stop their reckless spending and constant creation of new and further taxes, imposed on the people of Australia, to solve their financial ineptitude.