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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5565

Carbon Pricing

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:39): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to the fact that the carbon tax has caused an almost threefold increase in the cost of refrigerant gases for farmers, small businesses and Australian households. Ausveg, who represent Australian fruit and vegetable growers, have said that the cost of the most common refrigerant, R134A, will increase from $65.72 per kilo to $181.82 per kilo. The R404A refrigerant used by vegetable growers will increase from $92.80 per kilo to $377.71 per kilo. Given that Australian farmers are already facing difficult circumstances—rising costs, the high Australian dollar and skill shortages—why is the Australian government insistent on making a bad situation worse and forcing up the cost of producing Australia's fruit and vegetables by imposing the world's biggest carbon tax?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:40): It might have been useful if the tactics committee had let the good senator know that this issue has been raised previously in the house on a number of—

Senator Cormann: You don't like answering questions, do you?

Senator WONG: I am actually trying to be of assistance. In fact, it has been quite demonstrably shown that a number of the assertions made, I think by Ms Mirabella, were not correct. In fact, this has led, for example, to the Australian Consumer and Competition—

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. In late July, for example, an enforceable undertaking was accepted by the ACCC from a refrigeration contractor, Equipserve, to correct incorrect claims regarding price increases being wholly due to the carbon price. So I would urge the senator to reflect on the wisdom of picking up assertions, a number of which have been in the public arena for some time and which are not correct.

It is the case that some wholesalers did issue price lists with significantly increased prices. These price increases cannot be attributed to the carbon price alone. The minister has written to wholesalers to ask them to justify their price increases, and I also note, as I previously indicated, that an enforceable undertaking has been accepted by the ACCC in relation to one particular company in South Australia.

The senator referred to two gases, R404A and another one. I can come back to those in the supplementary.

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. What does the government say to those fruit and vegetable growers and their consumers who voted for the Labor Party in 2010 based on the Prime Minister's commitment, given precisely two years ago, that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led? How can Australia's fruit and vegetable growers, as small business owners, and their consumers, who are wanting fresh, safe Australian produce, trust the Labor Party again?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:43): What I would say to them is: do not believe the dishonest scare campaign that is being conducted—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, just resume your seat. Order!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence on both sides, we will proceed.

Senator WONG: I would say to them: do not believe the dishonest scare campaign which is being run by those opposite. Do not believe a man who suggests that whole towns will be wiped off the face of the earth. Do not believe a man who says whole industries will be shut down and who has been shown to be wrong—who has been shown to be nothing other than a shameless scaremonger.

I will give the senator some examples. The typical cost per year to fill a leak from a domestic refrigerator as a result of the increased carbon price is about 8c. The typical cost per year to fill a leak from a passenger vehicle is about $2.70. The price increases are nothing like what is being asserted by those opposite. It is another example of a shameless, dishonest, scare campaign. (Time expired)

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:45): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. I refer to the fact that Coles and Woolworths have refused to allow Australia's fruit and vegetable growers to pass on any of their costs associated with the carbon tax. The government has empowered the ACCC to prevent those with market power from increasing their prices in a misleading and deceptive way. What steps has the government taken to ensure that companies with market buying power do not prevent Australian farmers and small businesses from passing on legitimate cost increases?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:45): With respect, that is a completely different question. It is a question about ACCC powers. I refer the senator to the answer I gave yesterday to Senator Xenophon in which I outlined in quite an amount of detail the government's position on the issue she raises. It has nothing to do with the primary question, nor the supplementary. I also would make this point—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order—

Senator WONG: Her Majesty is on his feet! I'm afraid you're no James Bond, George.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Wong, resume your seat!

Senator McKenzie: Mr President—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis was on his feet before you, Senator McKenzie. Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, the minister cannot refuse to answer a question as she has just done. She could take a point of order but she has not done so. Having chosen not to take a point of order, it is not an acceptable answer for the minister to refuse to answer the question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, there is no point of order there. Senator McKenzie.

Senator McKenzie: Mr President, for the minister's—

The PRESIDENT: Are you seeking a point of order or what are you doing?

Senator McKenzie: I am seeking to take a point of order. My question relates to the impact of the carbon tax—

The PRESIDENT: Is it a point of order that you are seeking?

Senator McKenzie: A point of clarification, yes.

The PRESIDENT: No, it has to be a point of order.

Senator McKenzie: A point of order.

The PRESIDENT: If it is a point of order you may proceed.

Senator McKenzie: My second supplementary refers to the previous supplementary and the original question in the fact that it is the carbon tax's impact on fruit and vegetable growers of Australia.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister is answering the question. The minister has 35 seconds.

Senator WONG: The expectation is for refrigerated goods like milk, fruit and vegetables to increase by about 0.4 per cent under the carbon price. This includes the impact of increased refrigeration and electricity costs, and this part of the total increase has been factored into the Treasury assumptions which have led to the household assistance of $10.10 per week. The Treasury assumption is that we are looking at about a dollar per week for an average household in food prices. We are providing around, on average, $10.10 per week in assistance.