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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8397

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:23): I have a number of questions of vital interest to Northern and remote Australia, an area for which I have portfolio responsibility for the coalition. I also have questions about the impact of the carbon tax on the Defence Force, for which I also have a small role in opposition. Unfortunately, I am going to have to confine myself to about half an hour of questions because a lot of my colleagues have a lot of questions to ask and because the Greens and the Labor Party have got together to curtail debate on these bills. We were promised the whole of this week. We came back specially for this additional sitting week for a whole week of questions on the carbon tax bills, but the Greens with their normal antidemocratic approach have joined with the Labor Party to curtail debate on these 18 bills, which will now finish at lunchtime tomorrow. Here we are, being absolutely curtailed, because the Greens have no interest in free speech. In fact, the Greens and the Labor Party get people up here to filibuster. They do not ask a question, they just fill in what limited time there is by getting people up to make pathetically inaccurate and puerile speeches in the committee stage of the debate.

The minister takes sensitive issue when we mention that China is the biggest emitter of carbon in the world. Why do we mention it? Not because we are anti-China; we love China. Why do we mention that India is a big emitter? Not because we do not like India; we love India. In fact, we would like to sell them some uranium. We mention it because they are two of the very biggest emitters, and neither of them is doing anything like this nationwide, economy-wide carbon tax on coal that will impact on their industries. They are not doing it, because they do not want it to impact on their industry. We mention often that the United States is also a big emitter of greenhouse gases, but it is not going to do anything. Even Canada, an emitter a bit like Australia, has made it clear that it is not going to do anything like this nationwide carbon tax.

I will mention my questions briefly, so the advisers can be a little bit prepared, because I do not think I will get a chance to ask them in detail before the dinner break. My questions are about proposed section 145 of the main bill, in relation to the coal industry. I will ask some questions about the coal industry, because it is such an important industry to Northern Australia, including Northern Queensland, and because so many jobs in the coal industry are at risk because of this carbon tax.

I will ask some detailed questions about the sugarcane industry, which is also a very important industry to Northern Australia and which is a paramount industry in the area of the Burdekin in North Queensland, where I come from. I am not sure if the minister has ever been there, but if she had she would know that the Burdekin grows the very best sugar cane in the world. Why? Because it is a dry area in the tropics. There is lots of sunshine, but they irrigate very heavily from underground with electric pumps. I would like the minister to tell me later on, and I will be more detailed with the question, exactly what modelling has been done, insofar as the sugarcane industry is concerned, about the huge increase to their cost of production that will occur because of the increase in the cost of electricity. At the moment, fortuitously, the sugar industry is doing okay—world prices are pretty good at the moment—but we remember when, only 10 years ago, the Commonwealth had to put in a $440 million rescue package to save the industry because prices were rock bottom. If that happens with this increase in electricity prices you are going to wipe out a lot of the economy of North Queensland.

I will ask the minister, again because it is of such importance to North Queensland, Northern Australia and remote Australia, about the impact of the carbon tax on the tourism industry. We know that electricity prices are going to go up. We also know that the cost of freight is going to go up when the carbon tax applies to the big trucks that take goods and services into the more remote parts of Australia. The tourism industry is going to be slugged, but it does not seem to be in line for any compensation packages such as the $300 million assistance package given to the steel industry. Why does the steel industry get some favourable treatment but not the tourism industry, which is so important?

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30

Senator WONG: I understand Senator Macdonald has additional questions, so I will yield in favour of him shortly. However, some questions were asked previously regarding the assistance package. I referenced a review process and, in response to Senator Nash's questioning, I want to indicate that the review of household assistance is referenced at page 114 of Securing a clean energy future: the Australian government's climate change plan, and it states:

The Treasurer and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in consultation with relevant ministers, will annually review the adequacy of household assistance in the Budget process. This review will examine the real value of the assistance provided on the introduction of the carbon pricing mechanism taking into account:

movements in prices for a consumption basket used in calculating the assistance;

the indexation arrangements for the assistance provided, including the adjustment for the bring forward; and

any new information about the weights of items in the consumption basket.

In addition to these annual reviews, there will be a review of the household assistance package in parallel with the carbon pricing mechanism review in 2013-14