Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to questions without notice asked by Senators Brandis and Cormann, the Leader of The Nationals in the Senate (Senator Joyce) and Senator McKenzie today relating to the carbon tax.
The government now has its carbon tax. Its carbon tax has passed through the Senate, and some would say that this is a breach of faith with the Australian community by virtue of passing a tax which was promised faithfully would not be passed under a government Julia Gillard led. Some would say that it is a move taken at the expense of the Australian standard of living. Some would say it is a move that will make no difference to the overall level of carbon pollution around the world. But at least the government does have its tax. Now I think it is time for the government to start to answer some questions about how this tax will work and what effect it will have on the Australian people.
But today in question time the government failed to do that. The government were asked a series of questions by opposition senators. How will this affect regional Australia? What level of difference is there between electricity costs in regional Australia and major cities, and how will the carbon tax affect that? Is this not the largest per capita carbon tax in the world? To all of those questions Minister Wong contemptuously threw back political point scoring, revelling in the hubris which is now characteristic of this government with respect to this issue. They are out of touch, have lost the plot and are unable to explain what their plans for the carbon tax, with its huge change to the Australian economy, will mean. Today the opportunity they had to provide those answers on the basis of having passed their carbon tax was once again lost.
I understand how the government can proceed on that basis in this cocoon which is the federal parliament. They can have the carbon tax pass when the galleries are full of staffers and members of GetUp! to cheer them on and hurry them on their way, but I would not commend this approach when it gets to the broader electorate. This government has comprehensively failed to sell this policy to the broader electorate. Outside this place there are people who are concerned, worried and feeling betrayed by a government that said it would not take this step but now has done. If the Prime Minister were to be believed when she said some months ago that she would begin her task of passing this carbon tax by building a deep and lasting consensus around it, she has failed and failed miserably.
Indeed. I take that intervention. We have got a consensus today: it is a consensus of the Australian people that this should not proceed, yet that is exactly what has happened in this house today.
The government's hopes apparently are pinned on the thought that it all will not be as bad as it appears to be on paper at the moment. Of course, if the government's predictions are right and we see electricity rises of only 10 per cent in the first year, the government might be doing quite well, because bodies like the Centre for International Economics are telling us that that could be only a small sample of what is to come. Electricity prices could leap by 30 per cent. The effect on household earnings could be a fall of $11½ thousand, not the $5½ thousand forecast by the government. The loss of production to the Australian economy between now and 2020 could be more like $180 billion than the $32 billion forecast by the government.
The crowning achievement here is that the government not only has passed this tax today against the wishes of the Australian people and in breach of its own promises to the electorate at the last election only 12 months ago, it has also said it will not allow the tax to be repealed even if the next election becomes a referendum on the carbon tax and even if the Australian electorate overwhelmingly backs a coalition government with a mandate to repeal this legislation. How contemptuous has the Labor Party become of what is right, what is decent and what is appropriate in the democratic institutions of Australia's parliament. They believe they should do this because they think it is right and they do not care what the electorate thinks, but the fact is the electorate has the final say on this. The government should take that on board when it decides what to do with this tax. (Time expired)
I hoped that we would have one of the climate change deniers up on their feet today, not someone such as Senator Humphries who actually does believe in climate change. Senator Birmingham, however, has done a massive backflip purely for short-term political reasons. Senator Humphries talks about a breach of faith at the expense of the economy and says that people are concerned, worried and betrayed. But I got an email today—and I know that many other senators would have got this email too—which shows what the campaign of fear and misrepresentation from the coalition is doing out there. I think it is in about 30 point—it is written in a huge font size. It says:
ELECTION NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!
It has 12 exclamation marks. Then it says:
It has 11 exclamation marks there. It then says:
There it has six exclamation marks. After that comes:
They got a bit tired there—there are only two exclamation marks. It goes on:
There are two exclamation marks there. It continues:
There is one exclamation mark there. Next it says:
DEVIL'S SPAWN !!!!!!!!!!
It has 10 exclamation marks. Finally it says:
They use four exclamation marks there.
If we talk about spawning, this is what the coalition's campaign has spawned among ordinary Australians—though I do not know if this guy is very ordinary. However, that is where it is at now: a massive scare campaign. There is no need for this type of approach. With the carbon price in place the economy will continue to grow, jobs will continue to be created across this country, there will continue to be increases in take-home pay around the country and we will continue to have an economy which is the envy of the world. What we have done is take the long view instead of the short view. What we are all about—
I will take the interjection by Senator Abetz, because Senator Abetz is one of the deniers. Senator Abetz is out there saying—this is his most quotable quote on the climate—that the biggest problem we have is weeds. He says that weeds are the problem and that, if we can just fix weeds up, everything is going to be okay. I have never heard Senator Abetz make any substantial contribution on the question of climate change. Senator Abetz is one of the climate change deniers. He is one of the extremists in the coalition who rolled the former leader, Malcolm Turnbull, because he wanted to do the same as other conservative leaders around the world, such as David Cameron in the UK, have done: treat climate change as a problem that has to be dealt with. David Cameron is no relative of mine—and I am thankful for that because he is a Conservative—but he is one of these people on the conservative side who say that you have to deal with climate change. The only leader of a conservative party around the world who is a disbeliever and does not want to do anything for the future of our children in this country is the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and he will be condemned by history for his position, because he does not care about anything other than his own position.
Senator Cameron says that we do not believe in climate change. That is quite wrong, Senator Cameron. I came from the south-west of Western Australia, and I assure you that I believe in climate change. There has been a great decline in rainfall over the last 20 years, but climate change has been going on over the millions of years of the earth's history. The ocean has risen and fallen, there was once a land bridge to Indonesia and I went to Barrow Island last year where they can identify seven different sea levels over the last couple of thousand years. So climate change is real, but the argument is about what has caused it. For example, there are changes in the earth's orbit, sunspots and so on.
It is no doubt true that over the last few centuries there has been an increase in carbon levels, and we on this side do not in any way disagree with the idea of reducing pollution and making the earth a cleaner, greener place. I heard Senator Singh this morning telling us that there was no doubt that the science was settled, but it is a funny thing: I read a lot of articles by scientists who do not agree with the IPCC, and there is a lot of evidence that a lot of their findings were based on pretty shonky assumptions.
The ALP in the Senate this afternoon are crowing about the benefits that this carbon tax will produce. I can understand their euphoria, but it may be just a little premature because the passage of this bill in no way changes the validity of the facts, of which the coalition has been warning the Senate, about the adverse effects that this carbon tax might bring. The ALP seems to be so blinded by their euphoria that they have given no serious consideration to the facts which have been raised by the coalition about the consequences of this tax. I thought I might go through a few of them now. There is no doubt at all that a carbon tax will impose an extra cost across the board on the Australian economy and on consumers. In fact it is undisputed that Australians, who will pay $9 billion in carbon tax each year, will see their electricity prices go up and up. There will be a 10 per cent increase in electricity bills across the board in the first year alone, a nine per cent increase in gas bills in the first year alone, higher marginal tax rates for low- and middle-income earners and a $4.3 billion hit on the budget bottom line. Let us look at industry. A carbon tax will impose extra burdens on Australian industry. There is no doubt about it: it will make Australian industry less competitive. Our competitors around the world do not have to pay carbon taxes, because none of our major trade competitors have carbon taxes. As far as the iron ore industry goes, we are already seeing investment go to West Africa. Chinese and Australian industry is going to new mines in West Africa. One of the more naive aspects of the current government is that they do not seem to understand that the mining industry is an international industry and the miners will go to the places where the costs are lowest—and naturally they look at their bottom line. If in Australia we are going to have a carbon tax and soon a mining tax, they will not stay here; they will go to the places where the costs are lower.
The Minerals Council of Australia last year said that the carbon tax will cost some 23,000 jobs plus secondary jobs in local businesses. That is a lot of jobs. I wonder how those people will feel about the ALP's actions today when there is no pay cheque to take home. We are told a carbon tax will progress to an emissions trading scheme in 2015. But, let us face it: none of our major trading partners have emissions trading schemes. The Chinese do not; nor do the South Koreans, the Japanese or the United States. We are going to set up this enormous scheme in 2015 and there will be no one to trade with. It will be the poor old Australian taxpayers who will have to bear the burden of the cost of that. I wonder if you will rue what you have done— (Time expired)
An hour and a half after history has been made here we are again. The tired old opposition is still trying to resist something that is going to protect our environment, create clean energy jobs for our future and enshrine protection for our grandchildren. Twenty years of debate on climate change has occurred. A plethora of inquiries, three of which I was on, heard the evidence from scientists and from economists consistently explaining why we need to act on climate change. Yet those opposite stand up in this chamber an hour and a half after the Clean Energy Bill and related bills have been passed and history has been made still with their heads in the sand, still not willing to accept science and still not willing to accept what the economists are saying and what the future will be for our clean energy environment.
We will cut 160 million tonnes of pollution by 2020 through the introduction of our act. That is equivalent to 45 million cars being taken off the road. Yet those opposite still want to pursue their claims and their Direct Action Plan. We know what that will cost people in our communities; it will cost $1,300 a year. Those of you in the public gallery will have to pay $1,300 under the coalition's Direct Action Plan. With regard to delivering any results, the equivalent is that they will have to plant enough trees to cover the entire area of Germany or an area the size of Victoria and Tasmania combined. Figures have indicated that direct action would not benefit the environment. Instead, it would deliver only 25 per cent of the carbon pollution abatement needed to reduce emissions by five per cent. That is why you cannot accept the plans that have been presented by those opposite.
Oddly, though, leading up to the 2007 election the opposition were in favour of a carbon price. They were in favour of an ETS model which would have delivered the outcomes that we as a government sought as well. They were at a point in time when their leader, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, supported an ETS scheme. We know what happened to Mr Turnbull; he was knifed in the back by Mr Abbott. That is the way those opposite treat their leadership: if they agree with something that is going to work take the opportunity and knife them. That is what they have done to their previous leaders. Consistently they continue with the scare campaign. They go into butchers shops, car yards and wrecking yards and say, 'Your jobs will disappear. Your jobs will be going overseas.' What a load of rubbish! Modelling has indicated that our act will create 1.6 million jobs. That is what we are going to do for workers in our community. That is what we are going to do for people who we as a Labor government look after.
Also, we know that working families will be protected. Nine out of every 10 householders will receive tax cuts. They will also receive an increase to the tax threshold from $6,000 to $18,200. These are contemporary changes that only a Labor federal government can introduce to protect and look after our society. On average, costs will rise only $9.90 per week; however, those out there in our communities will receive $10.10 in assistance. This is what we are about. This is our tradition as a Labor Party—protecting working families and our pensioners. In fact those opposite used to have the mantle of protecting pensioners, but that mantle has been stolen from them. We have produced and delivered contemporary and model pension increases not seen anytime before in this country, and that is what we are going to deliver. Those opposite will end up with a $70 billion black hole with their proposal to roll back our bills—a $70 billion black hole. How are they going to fund that? No doubt, they will reduce the pensions of people in our communities who really need this money. We will make sure that we protect— (Time expired)
I sit back here and I think about what a wonderful government this is. It has a magic pudding. It can create wealth by destroying industry. It can create jobs by going renewable, when 59 per cent of photovoltaic cells and all of the windmills are made in China. This is absolutely a magic pudding, where you can create more jobs and increase people's wages just by introducing a carbon tax. As Senator Abetz has said, if it is so successful why don't we increase it more—and then we could create more jobs and more industry? If anyone believes in this, they believe in the tooth fairy! Quite frankly, I sit here sometimes and wonder about the nonsense that comes out of the Labor Party and I reflect on how poorly it is served by the members that it has in here. This would never have happened 15 years ago when you had good people in the Labor Party—people who had a bit of experience in the world. But, no, now we just have the union hacks here and the Labor Party has gone downhill. It is a very pale shadow of what it was.
The warning bells are already being rung. We see, for example:
It says that this is because 'power-hungry' aluminium businesses just cannot function with the increase in prices that will be caused by the carbon tax.
The very worst feature of this is that the modelling done by Treasury is based on the assumption that everyone else in the world is going to be there by 2016. The Minerals Council of Australia commissioned the Centre for International Economics to do their own modelling because they could not get the GTM modelling. When they produced that new modelling, it came up with a totally different bunch of scenarios of what was going to happen. The modelling done by the Centre for International Economics says that 'domestic product will fall by $180 billion between next year and 2020'. The government's modelling said it will fall by $33 billion. The modelling then says that, by 2050, the GDP will fall by $1 trillion.
There is no modelling, so we are flying into this virtually on a mistruth. The Senate has never been told this. I have asked Senator Wong nine times and she has said nine times that she will take it on notice. She has never produced the modelling. That is why people like the Centre for International Economics have had to be commissioned to find out what will really happen. Their modelling also predicts that average household earnings will fall by $11,360 by 2020—more than the $5,100 predicted by the government.
The report has already come out and said that the carbon tax as modelled by the government will just not work. But we hear that by introducing a carbon tax we are going to create more jobs and create another economy of renewable energy—requiring a $70 renewable energy certificate. Next year the price of electricity will increase by 30 per cent. That is when your chickens are going to come home to roost—not so much on the increases to households but on the increases for all small business, all farms and all industry. That is when it is going to hit—and will there be screams and gnashing of teeth! And you think you can avoid that. You think you can get this legislation through— (Time expired)
Question agreed to.