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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8282

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (11:31): We will be thoroughly transparent with our budget costings. You can have no doubt about that, Minister.

Senator Wong: I bet you won't!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: We will be thoroughly transparent about our budget costings. Don't you have any doubt there, Minister.

Senator Wong: Not once under Abbott have you been transparent in your costings!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: It will all be there. We will ensure that. For Australians who want to talk about budget costings, who want to talk about deficits, who want to talk about the budget deficit—

Senator Wong: Not once! Zero times!

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Pratt ): Order! Senator Birmingham has the call.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: How many budget deficits has your government delivered, Minister, and how many budget surpluses?

Senator Wong: Not once!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That's right! Not once have you delivered a budget surplus. Correct. Not once has your budget delivered a budget surplus and not once will your government deliver a budget surplus.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: It was 1990 the last time a Labor government handed down—

Government senators interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Order! Those interjecting will allow Senator Birmingham to continue.

Senator Wong interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Birmingham has the call. Please allow him to continue.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I was more concerned then with the way they were talking over the chair. That was terrible behaviour on the behalf of the minister and the acting government whip.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: The chair can look after herself, thank you very much.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I am sure the chair can. It is interesting, when we get to talking about the budget questions, just how evasive the minister gets on this matter. Today we see debate out there that once again this government's budget forecasts may yet be proven wrong and once again their promises of returning the budget to surplus may look terribly, grossly overly optimistic. We see a situation in which the Labor government, who have never managed to hand down a surplus—and Labor govern­ments of course have not managed to hand down a surplus since 1990—will never actually manage to get there. They keep promising, they keep saying it will be in a couple of years, but, as crunch time approaches, you can see that it is going to get pushed out and pushed out even further.

The remarkable thing is that this carbon tax package adds to that deficit. You would have thought, when a government introduces a new tax measure that brings in around $9 billion per annum, that it might somehow actually help put the budget back towards surplus, but this new tax measure only pushes the budget further out into deficit. The question I asked the minister was a pretty straightforward question. It was simply the question of: in 2013-14 and 2014-15, how much of the revenue from the sale of permits is from the sale of fixed-price permits for those vintage years and how much is from the sale of non-fixed-price permits for future vintage years? That is all. I am not asking for some elaborate breakdown of the budget costings. I am not asking for her to tell me which industry sectors she expects each of the permits to come from. I am not asking for her to look in some technical or elaborate way at breaking it down amongst the alleged 500 companies that the sale of permits revenue will come from. I am simply asking a fairly logical question, I would have thought, as to how much of the revenue is relevant to the financial year in question and how much of it is for permits relevant to future financial years.

The government should surely be able to answer that question. That should surely be a question that is very relevant, very germane, to this Committee of the Whole process of debate; very relevant to the issues that Senator Xenophon started the line of questioning on about what the policy implications are, what the cost implications are, of this approach to the forward selling of permits to electricity generators. If you are going to sell them to electricity generators in advance and expect the money in advance then it is only reasonable to know, within the budget, what the implications of that policy decision are. It is only through knowing that that there can be a thorough understanding of what the implications are of any amendments that Senator Xenophon might be considering on this matter. I note that even Senator Milne said that this was an issue that requires consideration, so even the government's partners in this carbon tax legislation, the Greens, acknowledge that there are concerns here, and they acknowledge that they could be genuine concerns. They are genuine con­cerns because, if what the Electricity Supply Association of Australia says is correct and true, there is an additional cost impact for electricity consumers above and beyond what is already there, above and beyond the 10 per cent modelling that the government claims. We now know that that is the case because the government has confirmed that Treasury modelling does not believe that there will be any drop-off in the forward contracting of electricity. If the government got that wrong—and it would not be the first time that this government has got anything wrong—then we would have a situation where there could be a drop-off in forward contracting and the flow-on effect of that would be that consumers would see greater price volatility in the electricity market and for small businesses, house­holders and others that would flow through to potentially higher prices, according to the ESAA.

The government has decided it is going to go down this alternative policy path where it takes the money and banks it in advance. That happens to make the fiscal impact of this carbon tax look better and healthier in the years 2013-14 and 2014-15 than would otherwise be the case. It is worth noting that the money that comes in does in some way boost the revenue in those early years for the government than would otherwise be the case. So the question then is: how much does it boost it by? The only way to ascertain that and to ascertain what budgetary implications of any amendments that the Greens, Senator Xenophon or anyone else might consider is to know how that is split up. It is a pretty straightforward split. It is a pretty straight­forward question. Minister, how much of the revenue in 2013-14 and 2014-15 is attribut­able to the sale of fixed price permits in those vintage years versus the sale of non-fixed price permits in future vintage years?