Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Wong, the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. I refer the minister to the announcement of South Australia's Essential Services Commission last week that we will see electricity prices rise by 18 per cent and gas prices rise by 17.7 per cent over the next year, with more than a quarter of the increase related to the Labor government's carbon tax. Will the minister inform the Senate just how much carbon emissions are expected to drop by as a direct result of these steep power price increases?
Senator Cameron interjecting—
There are a number of interjections, but I will not take them. I will leave them to Senator Cameron to make. The first point I would make is that the government's position in terms of the reduction of emissions is the same as the opposition's: five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. Again, the difference is that our plan is more efficient and it will work, whereas the opposition's plan is more expensive and it will not work. That is the key difference.
In terms of the facts that Senator Birmingham put to me, he well knows, because he is not Senator Bernardi, that the electricity price increase in South Australia is in fact significantly lower, in terms of the component attributable to a carbon price, than was in fact modelled by the Treasury. The result is that the increase in price due to the carbon price is 4.6 per cent.
You do not want to hear this, do you, Senator Birmingham, because you do not want the facts to get in the way of your scare campaign? You would not want to hear the facts, would you? It is an increase of 4.6 per cent. In other words, it is significantly less than Treasury models, and our assistance package is predicated on the higher price increase. Let us remember this: in South Australia the component of price increase that is attributed to a carbon price is 4.6 per cent. The Treasury modelling was double that—nine per cent. Our assistance package is predicated on the higher amount. So, in terms of federal government policy, South Australians are obviously doing better than a number of consumers in other states. I would have thought that Senator Birmingham, as a South Australian, would be pleased to know that the assistance package for South Australians was higher than the actual cost— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why will a typical South Australian small business's electricity bill rise by hundreds of dollars a year as a direct result of the carbon tax and associated climate change policies, when Ms Gillard told a lie at the last election promising that there would be no carbon tax under the government she leads? Mr President—
Mr President, on the point of order: when I took a point of order against Senator Wong, who accused Senator Cormann of telling a lie in his question, you ruled that it was not out of order for Senator Wong to phrase her response in that way. Senator Birmingham has used, quite deliberately, precisely the same phrase—
Mr President, I withdraw and ask the minister why South Australian small businesses will face this price increase, given the lie that was told at the last election about there being no carbon price under a Gillard government.
The first point I would make in relation to small business is that those opposite should be very careful about some of the propositions they are putting forward in their very dishonest scare campaign. The average price impact across the economy will be 0.7 per cent. The data provided to the government by COSBOA shows the electricity costs of a typical small retail business make up less than two per cent of total costs. On the basis of the Treasury modelling, the cost increase of the carbon price will therefore only be 0.2 per cent of overall expenditure for the typical small business.
If the senator is concerned about South Australia's economy, however, perhaps he should go into his party room and deal with issues such as the submarines project, which is so important to the economy of South Australia and which the coalition is refusing to support. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the minister highlighted the lesser contribution the carbon tax makes to electricity price rises in South Australia, will the minister confirm that South Australia faces a different impact than, say, New South Wales, because it already has the highest electricity generation costs in the nation? Will the minister further confirm that the carbon tax is simply designed to impose these higher electricity generation costs on the rest of Australia too?
That is, frankly, an extraordinarily ridiculous question—particularly from a South Australian Liberal, who I assume supported the privatisation of the electricity companies in South Australia, of ETSA, which in part has been the precursor to the high electricity prices. I also neglected, in answer to his previous supplementary—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Is there anything you can do to stop this hopeless minister spending the first half of every answer attacking the questioner or attacking the question?
Government senators interjecting—
Thank you, Mr President. I was actually wanting to respond, because I neglected to respond to Senator Birmingham's small-business question by reminding him that, of course, the government has put in place a number of tax relief measures for small business. The instant asset write-off will ensure that small business can write off up to $6½ thousand on an asset as well as the first $5,000 on a vehicle. We also introduced in the previous budget the loss carry-back rule, which we anticipate will significantly benefit primarily small business.