Thursday, 16 August 2012
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Nationals proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The serious price increases now being imposed on Australian consumers and businesses on a daily basis as a result of the Government’s failure to honour its commitment not to introduce a carbon tax.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Two years ago, the Prime Minister looked down the barrel of a Channel 10 camera and into the eyes of the Australian people and she made an unambiguous and clear promise:
There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.
There was nothing ambiguous about it. There were no nuances. It was a clear, definite promise to the Australian people: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'
Labor was in electoral trouble at the time. There was a lot of commentary about Labor's proposed carbon tax, and she knew she had to put it to bed if Labor were to have any chance of getting over the line in this election. So she made a clear, unambiguous promise, a key moment in the election campaign: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'
And of course, she was not alone in making that commitment. The Treasurer told ABC TV: 'We have made our position very clear: we have ruled it out.' The Treasurer also faithfully promised the Australian people there would be no carbon tax under a government with which he was involved. Indeed, he even ridiculed anybody who would suggest that Labor was likely to do such a thing—and they were the leaders of the Labor Party; they were the people who had the obligation to make a pledge and a commitment to the Australian people about what their policy platforms were. It was abundantly clear.
And Labor MPs around the country in 2010 campaigned on that false assertion. I did not hear any one of the members opposite voice dissent—not one. In each of their campaigns, when they were asked, they made it absolutely clear that they would not be supporting a carbon tax. And, I might add, so did all the members on this side of the House. All the members of the government, all the members of the opposition, made commitments that there would be no carbon tax. But, for this Prime Minister, her word was not her bond; it was a betrayal that certainly burnt deep into the mind of every Australian—monumental deceit. Every Labor candidate went to the election promising there would be no carbon tax. But then, only days after the election, came the betrayal. In the hallowed parliamentary courtyard, flanked by the Greens and Independents and other Labor luminaries, Labor broke its promise to the Australian people and announced we were to get a carbon tax—and not just any carbon tax: the world's biggest carbon tax! And we were going to get it ahead of the rest of the world. And we were going to do it even if no-one else in the world followed through. Labor broke its promise to the Australian people in a most deceitful and shameful way, and it will hang on the head of every Labor member of parliament and dog this government to its electoral grave.
Regardless of what people's political beliefs might be, in a democracy like ours, where we take the electoral process so seriously, we expect our leaders to honour the promises they make. If there is to be trust in this country then elected representatives must say what they mean and mean what they say. So poisonous is the Prime Minister's forked tongue that we hear again about the faceless men coming around looking for somebody to replace her. But the reality is that it does not matter. Labor's legacy and its veracity deficit, its chronic waste and mismanagement, its massive debt and this dysfunctional government make none of those opposite fit to lead this country. There has been treachery and dishonesty. All of that is bad enough, but it is worse when Australian families have to struggle to meet the mounting extra cost-of-living pressures under a higher Australian dollar and are now forced to meet this extra cost.
The government's own modelling says three million Australian families are worse off. And in spite of the compensation that the government may be paying to some, no-one can be compensated for a lost job. No-one can receive adequate compensation for the impact on their lives when a factory closes, when a mine becomes uneconomic or when, because our nation is just so less competitive, we lose whole pieces of our economy. Senator Hanson-Young did not care if whole regional towns closed down. As far as she was concerned, and the government backed her, this carbon tax was something that our country was going to have—even though the government had said it would not happen.
The news kept coming about what the impact of this carbon tax would be on the local community, and the Labor Party did not care. A hundred councils in May 2009 were told that their emissions would make them liable for Labor's carbon tax. The Hobart City Council will budget an extra $770,000 for the impact of the carbon tax on its budget. The Salvation Army says that the carbon tax will add up to $1.25 million to its annual land-fill bill. There is a $36 carbon tax surcharge on the Spirit of Tasmania journey from Melbourne to Devonport. The Queensland Competition Authority approved a price increase of $52 per household for electricity but said the price would have gone down by $70 had there been no carbon tax.
The Department of Climate Change figures show that electricity generators will face a carbon tax bill of $3.9 billion in the first year alone. Anglo American Australia, our second-biggest coal exporter, says the carbon tax reduces the net present value of its assets by 30 per cent. Queensland Rail reports it will add $5 million to its costs, leading to higher rail fares. The biggest abattoir in Australia, at Dinmore, will be slugged $3.3 million. The 14 largest abattoirs will have to pay $60 million to meet the carbon tax requirements. Local government said it will be $200 million more for the cost of garbage. New South Wales Treasury says that public transport fares will rise by $150 a year and that electricity bills will go up by $57 a year for students and $100 million a year for hospitals. Queensland's government-owned power corporations lost more than $1 billion in write-downs on the value of their assets because of the impact of the carbon tax. And Treasury's modelling of the carbon tax is based on real-wage reductions of 0.8 per cent by 2020. The Australian Trucking Association says the carbon tax will add $500 million to trucking costs from 2014.
All of these sorts of things seemingly meant nothing to the government; they went ahead anyhow—$5,000 extra to the cost of an average house of $300,000. The tripling of the fuel excise means that airfares will rise, and some domestic air services will close. None of this means anything to the Labor Party. In fact, in many instances they denied it would even happen—there was not going to be any impact at all. And, if there was a little, they would be providing compensation to help people. Now the bills are starting to come in; people are getting their first bills under the carbon tax.
Yesterday we heard about the Belair Hotel in South Australia, in Adelaide, which has faced a 45 per cent jump in the off-peak component of its monthly power bills. Today we heard about the Lakes Resort Hotel. And here is an electricity bill from the Phoenix Hotel, in my own electorate. In the very first month, their emissions and renewable energy charges have gone up by $271.97. These are the kinds of cost increases that every household in this country is facing right now.
And that is not the end. Remember, this is just the $23 a tonne on introduction of the carbon tax. It goes up every year. Every year it will be higher. If your bills are not high enough this year, wait until next year; they will be higher again. And what will it be like when we get out to 2050, and the carbon tax is not $23 a tonne but $350 a tonne? What is that going to do to your household electricity bill? There are no more compensation payments; they are already done.
But you should not be surprised by this massive impact on your living standards. The people of Australia should not be surprised that this tax is going to bite so much into their standard of living, because the very intent of this tax—as the Prime Minister has admitted several times over the last couple of days—is to put the cost of living up, to put the cost of electricity up, so that we will lose less and therefore emit less CO2. The very purpose of this tax is to hurt people. The very purpose of this tax is to force people not to do the things they have been doing in the past that might emit CO2 into the atmosphere.
So the Prime Minister is actually proud that her tax is achieving its intended purposes: putting up the cost of living, making life more miserable for many Australians. That was the very purpose of this tax right from the beginning: to make our cost of living higher so that we keep our car in the shed rather than drive it to visit our sick neighbour. Or perhaps we do not go to the football game but watch it on television—although you probably could not put the lights on, or even the TV set, because it would be emitting CO2 gases. The purpose of this tax is to change your behaviour so that there will be less emissions.
The Prime Minister deceived the Australian people two years ago. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that she did that to appease the Greens and to cling on to power—that she far preferred to have the favour of the Greens than to be honest with the Australian people. A succession of slippery deals have mired Labor in political intrigue and a quagmire through which every Australian has been dragged. Australia's proud ethos of being fair dinkum with each other has certainly been sullied and stained by this government. Until the people have the chance to have their say and break free of this Labor scourge, there will indeed be a stench about the processes of government in this place. What price integrity? What price honour? What price a Prime Minister's solemn commitment to the people she presumes to lead? Take a look around, Prime Minister: no-one is following, no-one is interested, no-one believes anything you say. Labor MPs hoping for a change for the better under a new leader are a bit like Ingham chickens hoping they will get a better life if there are new managers. The reality is that heads will roll no matter what.
What if, in fact, the Prime Minister had stared down the Greens and told the Independents, 'I've listened to what you've got to say, but I made a promise to the Australian people, and I will not break it'? Surely that is the kind of promise you would expect an honourable Prime Minister to make, especially on such a critical issue. You would expect the Prime Minister to faithfully remember her words of only a few days earlier and to keep her promise to the Australian people. But she did not do it. She preferred to break her word and, as a result, the Australian people continue to suffer the consequences of her decision.
And of course that was not the only commitment she blatantly broke in relation to this issue. She promised, for instance, that there would be community consensus before any action. Remember that one? There was going to be community consensus. I have not noticed any community consensus in favour of a carbon tax in my electorate. Then there was that other great initiative: a 150-member citizens' assembly that was going to decide climate change policy. That was a decisive government in action: find 150 people out of the phone book and ring them up and say, 'Come down and decide our climate change policy.' Frankly, that would have been a better outcome than what we have ended up with; 150 people in the phone book would not have voted and would not have commended a Prime Minister for simply breaking her promise. The reality is that this government has been dishonest with the Australian people. It cannot be trusted. Whatever else it may do, this government will be remembered for that dishonesty.
And of course the ultimate irony—the ultimate insult—is that this carbon tax will deliver significant economic pain, but for no economic gain. Even Labor admits that it is not going to make any difference to the climate. Emissions are going to continue to go up. Other countries are not responding to this courageous act of self-harm by the Australian government. They are not responding in that way. This is a lose-lose situation for Australians. Our industry has become less competitive, our cost of living is going up and the environment is not one bit better off. (Time expired)
I welcome the opportunity to rise today to speak on one more desperate attempt by those opposite to maintain their debunked campaign of fear, their debunked campaign of negativity, their debunked campaign that is crumbling with their crumbling credibility. In fact, it is not crumbling; it has crumbled. And if it had not crumbled before this afternoon, it has crumbled now that we have heard from the member for New England. I hope those opposite listened to what he said the Leader of the Opposition did when he was negotiating for you to form government after the last election. You need to bear in mind that we had, after the last election, a hung parliament in this place. We needed to form a government, as the constitution requires, and all members of this parliament participated in what is called a negotiation.
And in that negotiation—as the member for New England has explained; I hope you were all listening—your leader, the man who took the leadership of your party by one vote, was prepared to do anything. He was prepared to do anything, including putting a price on carbon—including introducing a carbon tax. Anything means anything, and it is quite clear to us here—and it should be clear to you—what the Leader of the Opposition was prepared to do.
We have rarely seen in Australia's political history a political opportunist of the character of the present Leader of the Opposition, who ought to be apologising to the Australian people for the deceit. Nearly two years of deceit we have had from him now, where he has raised false claims and made appalling misrepresentations, not just about what happened in that negotiation that he was conducting with the member for New England, but about every single aspect of the price on carbon.
This Leader of the Opposition might well have been prepared to agree to put a price on carbon, because he, along with every other Liberal leader, has supported a price on carbon—has supported an emissions trading scheme. Those opposite who came to the election in 2007 will recall—I know they want to blot it out of their minds—that they supported an emissions trading scheme at the 2007 election. They supported an emissions trading scheme that would by now be in place had John Howard won that election, which of course he did not.
That support for an emissions trading scheme continued from those opposite right up to the time when the present Leader of the Opposition, with his campaign of untruths and misrepresentations, become leader at the end of November 2009. And since then this country has had to endure rubbish, day after day. We have had to endure nonsensical statements made about climate science and nonsensical statements made about the effect of an emissions trading scheme that is recognised by economists around the world—by the OECD, the IMF and the 32 countries in western Europe—as the least-cost, most effective means to reduce carbon pollution.
Those opposite who have any economic literacy—there are not very many of them—know that the right way to go is to put a price on carbon and to have a range of complementary programs. That was the position that the Liberal Party of Australia had in 2007. It remained the position of the Liberal Party of Australia right through to the end of November. It will again be the position of the Liberal Party of Australia, because countries around the world—most notably countries to whom we are very culturally close, like New Zealand or the United Kingdom; part of the Anglosphere that the Leader of the Opposition likes to speak of—have reached a bipartisan agreement on emissions trading. The result of them reaching that bipartisan agreement on emissions trading is that, rightly, it has become a third or fourth order issue, because it is just part of the economic machinery of their countries that has put their countries on the trajectory of lowering carbon pollution, which is where we need to go.
This Leader of the Opposition has wasted years of Australian political debate on putting forward false claims about the effect of pricing carbon—the effect of this mechanism and the scheme that we announced we were going to introduce on 10 July last year—which we have now legislated for and which came into force, I am very pleased to say, on 1 July. What have we seen since 1 July? We have not seen the wrecking ball going through the Australian economy, as was threatened by the Leader of the Opposition, who probably wishes that there was a wrecking ball. Indeed, we have seen their desperation—we have seen it just now from the Leader of the Nationals—to see price rises. Those opposite are desperate to see economic damage so as to make good the false claims that they have been making now for nearly two years. And they are not going to see them.
That is why we published the most detailed economic modelling that the Treasury of our country has ever undertaken. We published that, in conjunction with the details of the scheme, in July last year. That economic modelling showed with extraordinary clarity the predicted price rises for electricity, the predicted price rices for gas and the predicted price rises for food and other items in the economy. Now that we have had the carbon price in place, as of 1 July, those predictions have come to pass. We have seen electricity price increases, as predicted, in the order of 10 per cent—except in Tasmania, where they are considerably lower. We have seen gas price rises of about eight per cent, as predicted, and, most importantly, we have seen a rise in the cost of living of less than one cent in the dollar. The prediction by Treasury was 0.7 per cent, and so far, six weeks in, much to the regret of those opposite, there is nothing that suggests that the modelled outcomes of the carbon price are anything other than accurate.
We have the Leader of the Opposition wanting to say that the carbon price would be like a cobra strike. When that tag failed to stick—when he realised that that was going to be nonsense because there was not going to be anything happening—he wanted to say that it was something you cannot really see. He wanted to call it a 'python squeeze'. That is yet another untrue claim. That is the problem that the opposition has: month by month it is going to be seen that these endless claims that they have made, since the Leader of the Opposition became leader at the end of November 2009, are false. They are false; they will not be borne out by what is going to happen in the Australian economy. They are not being borne out now.
That is why I will request—I will repeat this request although I have little hope that the Leader of the Opposition is going to meet this request—that the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, including the member for Flinders, make the Australian people an apology, quite a big apology, for the misleading claims and for scaring people, particularly needy and vulnerable people in the community.
They have been going around and saying, for example, that the carbon price would hurt older people.
The fact is, pensioners and self-funded retirees will get an increase in support each year under the government's household assistance package, and that is assistance that this Leader of the Opposition and those opposite would rip away by cutting family payments and pensions if they got elected. We have had the Leader of the Opposition saying that there would be no compensation for small business. In fact, small businesses will benefit from a $6½ thousand instant asset tax write-off, which they will be able to make multiple times, as well as from a $40 million energy efficiency program. Again, that is a benefit for small business that this Leader of the Opposition opposes. He opposes this ability for small business to claim $6½ thousand instant asset tax write-offs.
Here is another good one. The Leader of the Opposition said:
We won’t be able to get on a bus or a train, ultimately to drive our cars, without being impacted by this tax.
I can hardly read it out with a straight face because it is so laughable. I will repeat the facts for what feels like the umpteenth time: there is no carbon price on fuel used by household cars or light commercial vehicles. I do not know what cannot be understood about that. I will repeat it for the benefit of those opposite: there is no carbon price on fuel used by household cars or light commercial vehicles, and buses using less polluting fuels, LPG, LNG and biofuels, will not face a carbon price.
We have had similar claims in the transport area about farms. The Leader of the Opposition has said: 'Every farm uses fuel for its trucks and all of that is going to be hit by'—the—'carbon tax.' I will just state some facts for the member for Flinders. Farmers will not pay a cent.
The member for Parkes wants to repeat the misrepresentations that he has been running around his electorate—misrepresentations, false claims, that he has been tricking and deceiving the people in his electorate with month after month after month. He should join in the apology that the Leader of the Opposition needs to make to the Australian people, a very serious apology. It is an apology that is needed because deceiving farmers, deceiving older people and deceiving needy and vulnerable people in our community warrants an apology—the claims have been shown to be false.
These claims have gone on and on. We had 12 months ago, and he has repeated this several times, the Leader of the Opposition saying that the carbon price would send grocery prices up five per cent. That is linked to this other claim that we get that it is going to go up and up and up. Get this: last month a report by TD Securities, Melbourne Institute, found that food prices were unaffected—not much to not understand about that—by the carbon price.
We have members opposite bleating about electricity prices now. The Leader of the Opposition and those opposite wanted to say that the carbon price would lead to massive increases in power prices. We have heard that language, and that is because the opposition, particularly the member for Parkes, who has been misleading the farmers in his electorate about this—
Mr Coulton interjecting—
I will come; I am very happy to go to Parkes. I have been everywhere in the country explaining the misrepresentations made by those opposite. The opposition hope to blame all electricity price rises on the carbon price, knowing that that is not true. It is true that the average electricity bill went up by approximately 50 per cent in the last four years. There has been a massive increase in electricity costs in our country, but it has been caused by other things. It has not been caused by the carbon price and it could not have been caused by the carbon price because the carbon price only came in on 1 July. As the Prime Minister has said, the most important driver of rising electricity prices is investment in network infrastructure, not the carbon price.
I will repeat a few more facts. Without taking into account the modest impact of carbon pricing, electricity prices in New South Wales have increased by almost 70 per cent since 2008, while they have increased by over 60 per cent in South Australia and Western Australia. In New South Wales the O'Farrell government is taking 60 per cent larger dividends than did the previous state government. I am not for a moment suggesting that there were not dividends taken by the previous Labor state government in New South Wales, but the present O'Farrell government, the Liberal government in New South Wales, is taking 60 per cent larger dividends. This government is also taking $587 million in tax equivalent payments from the same businesses, bringing the total money grab of Premier O'Farrell to around $570 for every household in New South Wales.
The Leader of the Opposition does put great faith in the unique brand of economics practised by the shadow Treasurer, 'Hockeynomics'—perhaps even more aptly described as 'sloppynomics'—but even he would understand that $570 is larger than zero dollars and represents a massive gouge on the people of New South Wales. (Time expired)
The real question is not whether the Prime Minister breached her word, breached her pledge, breached that which she took to the Australian people not just five days before but the day before the last election, but why she felt she had to make the pledge of no carbon tax under a government she leads in the first place. Today is the second anniversary of the Prime Minister's infamous pledge that there would be no carbon tax under a government she leads. But why did she feel she had to make that pledge? It is very simple: the reason is that she knew if she were honest with the Australian people they would not have given the Labor Party the votes they needed to form a government.
As it was, it was a borderline decision. If this election past had been framed in terms of the carbon tax, as was the debate, as was the context of coalition statements, advertisements and literature making it absolutely clear that a carbon tax was coming, they would have lost. So the Prime Minister deliberately, explicitly, intentionally stated that there would be no carbon tax. It was a direct clear statement made not just once five days before the election but also the day before the election with the statement 'I rule out a carbon tax'. These were two clear statements but there were two more from the Treasurer, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, who famously said that the idea of a carbon tax was 'hysterical' under Labor. Unfortunately, the Australian people are not laughing. But then there were 13 more statements that there would be no carbon price of any form, at any time until such a moment that there was a community consensus—as demonstrated famously through the citizens' assembly. That was what they took to the election.
Today we heard a defence that Labor did not really win the election; they had to negotiate. We heard the member for New England make it clear there was negotiation—except for the fact that the Greens had run up the white flag at 8 pm on election night when the incoming member for Melbourne said that he was going to vote for the ALP. There was no debate. There was no negotiation. There was no question. They had the vote in the bag from 8 pm on election night. So the idea that somehow there had to be, in order to win the Greens support, a surrender of a fundamental pledge of the central issue of the last fortnight of the campaign is simply historic rewriting on a grand scale. It is back to year zero because that is all we see from this government time and time again: a denial of history, a denial of the past because they are, frankly, ashamed of the past. What we see now is, again, two years later, they do not believe that they made the promise. They do not acknowledge that they had the vote in the bag. What occurred after the election was simply the fulfilment of what was always the Prime Minister's intention: to take one thing to the election and to do another thing afterwards. The negotiation with the Greens, which had already been concluded at 8 pm on election night, was merely a front. The Prime Minister expressly, deliberately, consciously pledged one thing before the election and did another thing afterwards. The Australian people will never forget and they certainly will not forgive come election time in some short period from now.
Beyond the deception is the consequence. The consequence can be described in two words: higher prices. If you really want to make it specific: higher prices for electricity. Let us go through the reality of what this carbon tax means. Let us start with the government's notion that there will be a 10 per cent price rise. Well, guess what? There has been a rise. Their 10 per cent price rise, on which they were congratulating themselves, was meant to occur over five years. It happened in one day. They seem to forget that next year the carbon tax goes up and the year after it goes from $24 to $25. Then, on their own modelling, it heads north to $37 by 2020 and thence to $350 by 2050. So the carbon tax is an electricity price escalator each year, every year, forever. That is its design. That is its intention. Indeed, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, that is the whole point of the carbon tax—to increase electricity prices.
What exactly are those price rises? We see in Queensland, where the Premier froze many of the state electricity price impacts, it is between 80 and 100 per cent of electricity price rises. In Queensland, we have price rises up to 13 per cent of which the carbon tax is 11 per cent. In Victoria, 11 per cent out of 15 per cent price rises are attributed to the carbon tax. In Western Australia, it is nine out of 12 per cent. In the Northern Territory, it is a similar figure. In the ACT, in some cases, up to 80 per cent of the price rise in electricity for this coming year is precisely because of the carbon tax. Then we see that in New South Wales the regulator approved of the fact that Integral Energy's price would include an 85 per cent lift because of the carbon tax. In Western Sydney the average component of carbon tax in electricity price rises is 80 per cent.
So when you look at your electricity bill and see the price rises this year, no matter where you are in Australia, blame the Prime Minister. The government says we have had price rises in the past. Absolutely—that is the point and that is the problem. These electricity price rises have not brought about some dramatic change in Australian consumption. What we have seen are massive price rises and then you add an escalator for each year on top of that based on a broken promise. And it congratulates itself? Honestly, somewhere between hubris and chutzpah, this government is going to have to take a look at itself in the mirror.
It is not just electricity. It is also refrigeration. The Prime Minister tried to say that there was already a refrigerant charge and there was. Let me give you some examples. It has increased slightly. HFC-134a has gone from 17c a kilogram to $30.07 a kilogram—a 175-fold increase. That means it is over $30,000 a tonne now under their budgeting. But it is a whole lot worse. PFC-5114 has gone from 17c a kilogram to $170 a kilogram or $170,000 per tonne, a more than 1,000-fold increase in the government levy. By the way, these are not our figures. These are from the government's own synthetic greenhouse gas website calculator. Probably the best-known of the gases, R404a, has gone from 17c a kilogram to $75 a kilogram with government levies, which is a 441-fold increase.
That, by the way, is a $75,000 charge per tonne of gas. These price rises flow through to butchers, they flow through to cold-store owners and they flow through to trucking operators who carry goods through refrigerated trucking. Anybody involved in refrigeration in Australia is going to have to pay the price of the Prime Minister's betrayal.