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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10852

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (17:35): The current Prime Minister stated, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' This statement is undeniable. It was a promise made four days before an election, and yet here we are today on the brink of having a carbon tax imposed on this nation by a government led by a Prime Minister who says one thing and does another. This is a bad tax, with no justifiable environmental benefit. This is a bad government with no idea of how to govern. This is a bad moment in the history of this nation, and those on the other side should be ashamed of the pain they are about to inflict on the Australian community.

Much has been said about the proposed carbon tax: that it will rake in $9 billion per year every year, that it will increase the cost of living every year—and that it is already having an impact; and, most importantly, that it will not decrease emissions. The government's own modelling shows that emissions will, in fact, increase from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes. Julia Gillard's carbon tax is all pain and no gain—no environmental gain. Isn't that what this tax is supposed to be about—the environment?

I acknowledge the genuine concern about the future of this planet. Action to secure our environmental future is vital. People in the electorate of Macquarie and across the nation are genuinely looking for a solution. All of us would agree that saving, protecting and caring for the environment is critical for our future. Where the disagreement lies is in the best way to ensure we have a sustainable future. One of the reasons I am so passionate about the electorate of Macquarie is the diverse range of opinions and ideas on the best way forward. The seat of Macquarie is a microcosm of the nation and this debate is not about whether climate change exists but what is the best way to tackle it.

A tax which places a greater burden on families and businesses already struggling under rising cost-of-living pressures is not the best way. Since 2007, across Australia electricity prices have increased by an average of 51 per cent. Gas prices have increased by an average of 30 per cent. Water and sewerage rates have increased by an average of 46 per cent; health costs—hospital, dental and pharmaceuticals—have increased by an average of 20 per cent; education costs—and school fees is one example—have increased by an average of 24 per cent; and rent has increased by 20 per cent. Everyday Australians will be hit further by this out-of-touch government with an on average $515 a year increase in their cost of living as electricity prices rise by another 10 per cent and gas prices by another nine per cent. The New South Wales government Treasury review has found that the federal Labor government's carbon tax of $23 per tonne will cost the state at least 31,000 net jobs and deliver a $3.7 billion annual hit to the state's economy. The same review has found that businesses will bear further increases of between $927 and $4,191 a year depending on their usage.

There are 19,800 families in Macquarie who are still reeling from cuts to family tax benefits in this government's 2011-2012 budget. They will be hurt by this government's irresponsible and reprehensible carbon tax. Labor has tried to sell its tax by claiming that nine out of 10 Australians will be better off under the compensation package offered and that over six million Australian households will be better off. No amount of compensation can compensate those who have lost or will lose their jobs in manufacturing, tourism and other industries most exposed. The carbon tax will be ongoing but the compensation temporary and limited. This tax will potentially affect every household—families, pensioners, self-funded retirees, small business owners and big business—in Australia by lifting electricity prices and increasing the cost of grocery items and fuel across the nation.

I will make it simple for the Labor government to understand why people do not want this tax. It is easy to think increases to the cost of living for households will only affect turning lights on and off and driving a car to and from work. Wrong. This tax impacts so much more than that. Commuters from the upper Blue Mountains travelling from Katoomba to the city make use of public transport—trains and buses. Trains run on electricity. The New South Wales government estimates a $71 million increase in the New South Wales government's electricity bill. And what about buses? Increases of an estimated 6c per litre on fuel will make riding the bus more expensive. So those who are trying to reduce carbon emissions by taking public transport will be worse off as a result.

This is a tax which will go up and up and up. After three years, the price will not be fixed and it will float in line with the market price. On the government's own modelling, this tax will jump to at least $29 a tonne by 2015 and to $37 per tonne by 2020. From 1 July next year, when this tax is proposed to start, families will be hit by having to find an extra $515 a year to cover living costs. How will families already struggling be able to cope with ongoing cost increases? Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne are both on the record saying that the price needs to be at least $40 a tonne to shift electricity generation from coal, while Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has canvassed a price of $100 a tonne. Family budgets being squeezed and job losses are all but guaranteed under a carbon tax.

Many older Australians who have lived through Australia's prosperous and challenging times, and many others who have come from other nations to call Australia home, are deeply worried about the impact of this tax. I have also spoken to many senior citizens across the electorate, both self-funded retirees and pensioners. Labor claims that families will be compensated for the price impact of its carbon tax, but how can you trust this government? First it said that the entire proceeds of the carbon tax would be returned to individuals and households. Then it changed its mind and now only 50 per cent will be allocated to compensation. Let us think that through. If pensioners receive, say, $338 compensation and the increased cost of living after the tax is $515, pensioners will be out of pocket. How long will the compensation package last anyway? You just cannot believe anything this government says. Australian pensioners, self-funded retirees and families cannot trust Labor. Small and medium businesses cannot trust Labor. Australian emissions-intensive and trade-exposed industries cannot trust Labor.

This is a government prepared to hurt Australians with a disability, and their carers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that there are around four million people with a disability in Australia and 2.6 million carers. Out of these 6.6 million Australians, only one in six will receive any assistance to offset increased costs from Labor's carbon tax. More often than not, those with disabilities are high energy users, particularly because of the specialised equipment needed to support them. How will they make ends meet when their budget is continually being squeezed by an uncaring and unsympathetic government? The government needs to explain to these Australians how it will calculate increases in the essential medical equipment payment. This government needs to explain to the Australian people how it can be so heartless as to turn its back on the most vulnerable sector of our community and their carers.

Many Australians have been forgotten by this government, and the question needs to be asked: who will really benefit from this tax? Not-for-profit and voluntary organisations will be hit hard. Volunteer organisations such as scout groups, football clubs and netball clubs will receive nothing from this government. How can local scouts and guides groups cope with rising electricity bills for their scout hall, or local soccer and football clubs keep using the lights for training or keep canteens open if electricity is unaffordable?

Small businesses will be hit and hit hard by this government's carbon tax. Small business forms the backbone of the Australian economy. Under earlier modelling of a version of Labor's scheme, Access Economics predicted a potential loss of 126,000 regional jobs. In Macquarie there are 4,515 small businesses contributing to our diverse national economy. These are businesses that are creating local jobs and driving our local economy. There are small businesses in industries such as tourism and manufacturing—industries which will suffer the most as a result of the carbon tax.

Tourism is already feeling the blow from the high Aussie dollar. The operators of Rose Lindsay Cottage, a bed and breakfast in Faulconbridge, told me about the decrease in holiday-makers and the flow-on effect to other local business like shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. Tourism adds value to the local economy and, as tourism numbers decline further due to the carbon tax, this will have a serious effect on small businesses in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. The Macquarie electorate has outstanding tourism opportunities, but the industry will suffer with fewer families and visitors having less money to spend. It is estimated that the effect of this diabolical carbon tax to the tourism industry, which contributes $92 billion to the Australian economy every year, would be between $600 million and $800 million per year. And where is the compensation for these small businesses? This government is proving to be as divisive as ever, compensating some and not others.

But it is not just tourism operators in Macquarie who will be affected. I recently held a manufacturers' roundtable in Macquarie with the member for Indi. Countless manufacturers told me that their sector is already under enormous pressure. The carbon tax will increase the costs Australia's manufacturers face that their overseas competitors do not. I have spoken to one local manufacturer, who tells me he is considering shutting up shop here and moving his business to another country as he just cannot justify paying another tax. Dean Crozier of Pakmor Waste Equipment Australia in South Windsor said the carbon tax will increase his electricity cost to the point he will be forced to decide between raising prices or letting staff go. Business costs will make his company uncompetitive against international competitors who will not pay a carbon tax . His clients include supermarkets that will pass these extra costs on to their grocery prices, again adding costs to families.

Australia's 750,000 small businesses will receive no direct compensation for the massive jump in electricity prices from the carbon tax. Tony and Barbara Porter of Australian Dynamic Technologies, a local business in Mulgrave, said that inquiries have dropped significantly as their customers put jobs on hold due to the economic uncertainty that the carbon tax is delivering. This great big new tax will be imposed on Australian businesses when no similar tax is going to be imposed upon our international competitors. The inevitable consequence is that jobs will be lost in Australia as investment and emissions flow overseas.

The government makes reference to international trading schemes, but it does not compare apples with apples. For example, the European Union has a trading scheme that does not cover the whole economy. Over the first five years of the scheme it raised approximately $500 million per year from a population of 500 million, costing just over $1 per person per year. By contrast, Australia's population is just 22.6 million. The government's $23 price will raise almost $400 per person per year.

Julia Gillard talks about transforming the economy. This tax will not help the environment, but it will deliver billions of dollars to a government that is racking up debt every day and addicted to waste. Australia is the only nation in the world attempting to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax. When we look at the Labor government's record of managing programs such as pink batts, BER, green loans, Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch, for instance, how can anyone think for a moment that this tax, this time, they will get right? They will not. They cannot.

The Labor government has mismanaged the economy, and what will they do with this tax? With all this money—$9 billion dollars per year every year—it will be waste on a scale never seen before. Three billion dollars in carbon tax revenue will be spent buying carbon credits from overseas. This is a get-rich scheme for overseas carbon traders. It means that Australians have $3 billion less to fund compensation or to reinvest in education, health, disability, infrastructure, water and the many issues vital to the health of our economy and society.

By contrast, the coalition's direct action plan on climate change will deliver real solutions towards reaching the same emissions reductions without slugging hardworking Australians with a great big new tax. Unlike the tomes of legislation put forward by this government, impacting upon every part of everyday life, the coalition's direct action plan is straightforward, easy to understand and practical. It has practical measures like capturing carbon in soil, planting trees on prime agricultural land, cleaning up waste coal mine gas, cleaning up landfill gas, striving for greater energy efficiency and converting some of Australia's older and dirtier coal fired power stations to gas address carbon emissions.

The coalition's plan is based on incentives rather than taxes and penalties. Our tax cuts will be designed to restore people's hope, to reward harder work and to foster opportunity without the need for a jobs-destroying carbon tax. We will provide incentives for Australian businesses to reduce their carbon emissions and to focus on meaningful, effective and direct action to improve Australia's environment. Every dollar goes to directly reducing emissions instead of to the normal bureaucratic red tape this Labor government is addicted to. The direct action plan is capped, so there will be no funding blow-outs. As a member of parliament fortunate to represent a part of Australia so rich in natural beauty, with much of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury World Heritage listed, I understand how vital the need is to protect Australia's environment. My commitment to the environment cannot be more clearly shown than in my advocacy for the Greater Western Sydney conservation corridor and the solar schools projects in Macquarie.

Our direct action plan is capped and fully funded. Under our plan there will be no cost to families and no new taxes. Australians do not want a big new tax. Recent demonstrations and increased opposition make this clear. I call on the government to shelve these clean energy bills and listen to the Australian people. (Time expired)