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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8402


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:48): To answer Senator Xenophon, as everyone in this chamber knows, Senator Birmingham is leading the case for the coalition and is in charge of managing the very limited time allowed to those of us on this side of the chamber. I cannot answer your question Senator Xenophon. I assume that would be his approach, but he will indicate that to you the moment he comes into the chamber, which I am sure will not be very long. In light of that, I have been here long enough to know who is going to get the call next.

As well as the two questions I have asked on carbon, I might put to the minister my questions on the tourism and sugarcane industries. Hopefully the minister can wrap them all up and at least give some information to those industries. In relation to the sugar cane industry, senators and those listening to this will recall that Senator Nash gave a very detailed explanation of irrigation. Where I come from, the Burdekin district of North Queensland, we grow the best sugar cane in the world. Why? We have lots of sunshine and very little rain but the cane grows magnificently because it is irrigated by underground water. Pumping the water out of the aquifer requires a lot of energy, and the bills for electricity for sugarcane farmers in the Burdekin district are astronomical. I want to know from the minister what assistance sugarcane growers can expect with what is almost their single greatest cost.

While on the subject, I refer the minister to the Army's Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, a huge establishment and the home for many of Australia's very professional defence forces. There is magnificent work done there. Our soldiers most often leave from there to go to Afghanistan and Iraq. These days, unlike the old days, the soldiers all have air-conditioned barracks. The work being done out there on new buildings is astronomical. I have asked on notice—and I do not have the answer from the government yet: what is the electricity bill for Lavarack Barracks? I do not expect the minister to have an answer to that, but I can tell you that it will be enormous, in the tens of millions of dollars a year. I await the government's answer.

What additional funds will go to the Australian defence forces to pay for the increased cost of electricity which they will have to pay civilian suppliers? The defence forces are already under the pump, having to save $20 billion under the Labor Party's regime. That means there is less fuel for planes, ships and tanks, and fewer bullets to fire in training. I would like to know what plans the government has to increase funding to the defence forces to pay for the increased cost of electricity. Finally, I would like to ask the minister what programs are going to be put in place to help the defence industry.

I have heard Labor Party speaker after Labor Party speaker say we have got to have this tax because it is the only way we can save the Great Barrier Reef and, if we do not save the Barrier Reef, the tourism industry is going to be in trouble. I think anyone listening to this broadcast will know that Australia emits less than 1.4 per cent of world emissions of carbon. Under the government's proposal, they are going to reduce that by five per cent. So that is five per cent of 1.4 per cent. You can work out the arithmetic yourself, and it is not much. We have asked, time and time again, what that is going to do for world emissions and, therefore, the stopping of climate change. I have always said the climate is changing. Of course, as everyone knows, it has been changing for millions of years. Remember that we used to be covered in ice once. The centre of Australia was once a rainforest. Of course, the climate changes. It has been changing for eons and will continue to change for eons. But I want to know what the reduction of Australia's 1.4 per cent of world emissions by five per cent will do to do that is going to save the Barrier Reef. If China, the United States, Canada or India do nothing, if the Europeans say they are doing nothing and effectually do nothing, and if none of the other developing countries are doing anything, then what is Australia's five per cent of 1.4 per cent going to do to save the world and to save the Barrier Reef?

What it will do is put up the costs of every tourism operator on the Barrier Reef, and it will put them out of business. What Australia does is not going to make one iota of difference to the Barrier Reef or indeed to emissions or to global warming—if there is global warming. It will certainly not make any difference to the climate change that has been happening for 20 million years, but it will affect the industries very prominent and very important up in North Queensland, where I come from. Thousands of small businesses up along the coast of Queensland and north of Bundaberg rely on the Barrier Reef. This tax is going to destroy their business because they are not getting any relief. They use a lot of diesel but the diesel tax credit is going, as I understand it. Labor's carbon tax will not do a thing to save the Barrier Reef but it will destroy the businesses of all those tourism operators.

The Great Barrier Reef goes up into the Torres Strait and the islands. I also want to know what packages the government is going to put together for all of those people who live in remote areas of Australia and who only get their goods and services by the trucks, planes and ships that bring the goods in. Most of those use fuel that is not going to be in any way assisted, so we have this double whammy in remote and distant Australia.

So I would be interested in answers to those questions. The minister has indicated she has some comprehensive answers, because I have given her notice before the dinner break of these and I would be very keen to hear them. I conclude by saying for those who are listening to this broadcast—and I know a lot of people do listen to the broadcast of parliament because they like to know how democracy works and how this parliament of Australia works—

Senator Xenophon interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, or doesn't work! Thank you, Senator Xenophon. I say that because the debate has been so curtailed. Much as I would like to ask the dozens and dozens of other questions that I have, I am not going to be given the chance because of this very truncated, undemocratic guillotining of this debate. I hope the minister has had time to get her advisers to succinctly give me the answers to those questions. I will then concede to other of my colleagues who want to participate in this debate.