BILLS: Clean Energy Amendment

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (21:30): Congratulations, Mr Second Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to the role! The member for Cowan said that there is a political leader who can be believed when he says that there will be no carbon tax under a government that he leads. There is another political leader in this parliament who can also be believed when he says that he is totally opposed to the carbon tax and the clean energy bills, and that, of course, is the Nationals leader, Warren Truss.

It was the Nationals, firstly through Senator Ron Boswell from Queensland and his colleague Barnaby Joyce in the upper house, who first blew the whistle on this unnecessary tax—this unnecessary imposition into our daily lives; initially an emissions trading scheme and now this carbon tax, which unfortunately came into being on 1 July.

There are political people with the will of Warren Truss, the Nationals leader and member for Wide Bay, and senators Boswell and Joyce, all of the Nationals, and certainly the opposition leader, and if they say that there will be no carbon tax under the government that they are in, then it can be believed.

On 16 August 2010, just five days out from the last election, the Prime Minister categorically stated, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead'. Having done a deal to remain in office, on 24 February 2011 the Prime Minister announced at a press conference with the regional Independents and the Greens, to whom she is beholden, that there would in fact be a carbon tax. The carbon tax came into law on 8 November last year, passed by 36 votes to 32 in the Senate, with the help of those destructive Greens.

It is now little more than 100 days since the clean energy bills came into force, and yet here is the government seeking to amend them. This is a tax which is in complete chaos, a carbon tax which is a $9 billion-a-year slug, which every Australian will pay through higher electricity and gas bills, increased grocery bills and higher fuel costs.

The main purpose of this bill is to remove the legislated floor price out of the carbon tax and to link the Australian carbon tax with the European emissions trading scheme. Why a government would be seeking to link anything with the economic basket case which is Europe at present is, quite frankly, beyond belief.

The bills will also seek to increase the carbon unit auction limit from $15 million to $40 million for 2015-16, to alter the arrangement applying an equivalent carbon price for liquid fuels and synthetic greenhouse gases, to make amendments concerning the measurement of potential greenhouse gas emissions and to make an amendment concerning natural gas liabilities.

The removal of the legislated floor price is yet another backflip from this government—this pathetic government. On no fewer than 11 occasions the government has affirmed its commitment to the floor prices as a crucial piece of the carbon tax legislation, the misnamed 'clean energy bills'. On 13 September 2011 the Prime Minister stated:

… the bill also provides a price cap and floor price to apply for the first three years of the floating price period.

As recently as 21 August, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency told Sky News political editor, David Speers, during an interview on Sky News Agenda that the government had legislated the floor price and was committed to the arrangements it had legislated.


Despite Minister Combet stating on 7 September 2012 that the carbon tax is 'bang on track'—he would not have said tax because that is the word that cannot be mentioned on the other side—there have been eight changes since its implementation on 1 July 2012 These changes have been: the bailout of major companies on the eve of the carbon tax being introduced, including funding to Energy Brix and Alcoa; increasing the funding for schemes to assist companies directly hit by the carbon tax via the clean technology investment grants; the Clean Energy Regulator adding more businesses to the big polluters list taking the total to 315—and I have to take issue with that term 'big polluters'. They are not big polluters; they are in fact employers of Australians, employers of hardworking families and employers of people who pay taxes to help nonsensical politicians put these stupid policies into place.

I will continue with the changes that have been made: changes to regulations governing the scheme, including gas pipelines and landfill resulting in one million more emissions; abandoning the contract for closure program to shut down power stations which will mean the carbon tax will have to increase to achieve the same emission reductions—I know my colleague the member for Gippsland has been at pains to point out how much this contract for closure and shutting down power stations will hurt people in his electorate and hurt the many families who rely on good policy from this government and are being hit in the neck every time. He has pointed this out over and over again but, unfortunately, he has not been listened to.

I will continue with these changes: scrapping the floor price, which was to have been $15 from 2015—the government had said a floor price was needed for business confidence; have you ever!—linking the scheme to the European system, which does not allow a two-way trade on carbon credits putting Australian businesses at a disadvantage—and haven't we heard that before—and resulting in Australia's carbon tax being set by the European Union price; and halting the just announced increased funding for industry by the clean technology investment grants as the government attempts to save money while leaving businesses exposed—a government attempting to save money.

We know that the gross debt is now $246 billion. We know that the Treasurer has inflicted upon Australians the four biggest deficits in this country's history. We know that this government has borrowed more money in its four years of government than Commonwealth governments borrowed in the previous 108 years since Federation. Just think about that: it is an absolute disgrace. I am sure the member for Blaxland was not aware of that fact, but it is true: this government has borrowed more money under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard than the previous Commonwealth governments did from 1901 to 2007 when Labor took office. This government has no idea what it is doing and it cannot be trusted to deliver major policies without making major errors or changes—policy on the run.

The carbon tax is yet another bungled policy Labor can add to its ever increasing list. The carbon tax will cost a total of $36 million dollars in the first four years and, despite being in place, will do nothing to stop Australia's emissions increasing from 578 million tonnes in 2010 to 621 million tonnes by 2020. The temperature will not drop. The sea levels will not drop. It is all economic pain; no environmental gain. The reason behind this is that electricity and gas are essential services and, instead of reducing emissions, companies will have to purchase 94 million tonnes of carbon permits overseas each year by 2020. This will have a major impact on electricity prices.

Power was once cheap in this country, Mr Deputy Speaker—you know that; I know that; everyone knows it. It was cheap for families. It was cheap for business, and businesses make the economy run. Small business in particular is the engine room of the economy and they are being hit every time they go to the power point and flick the switch.

Whilst the government is telling Australians this will be a rise of 10 per cent in five years, the electricity industry, the industry which issues the power bills, predicts it will in fact be 20 per cent over the next 18 months. I know who I trust to be more accurate with its predictions, and so does the public. It is not the Prime Minister. It is not the Treasurer who talks about reckless negativity. It is the electricity companies. They know what they are going to have to be charging. And it is also the people who are getting their bills.

Let me tell you: they are extremely worried. We have pensioners who are not getting out of bed of a morning, not because they are sick and not because they are frail or old but because they need to stay warm during the winter months. Fortunately it is now spring, but soon it will be summer. With summer comes the heat, the good old Australian heat, and they will not be able to turn on the air conditioners to stay cool, because of the unnecessary impost that has been caused with the carbon tax slugging their electricity bills and making them higher and higher. This is why people are so concerned about the impact that the carbon tax will have on their pensions, on their hip pocket and on their disposable income.

My electorate office receives many telephone calls daily—and I am not exaggerating; it does—and many, many emails from constituents concerned about the additional cost to their power bill that the carbon tax will add, is adding and has added. One such constituent is an age pensioner. She is paying $180 before usage on her gas and electricity. That is just to be hooked up. She is extremely worried about the impact that the carbon tax will have and believes that this proportion may double. She knows that her neighbours have turned off their gas—they have told her so—to avoid the increased costs. In doing so, they went without heating, and in summer they will go without cooling.

This is the true impact that the carbon tax will have on Australians. This is the true impact that Labor is having on Australians. Many of them were rusted-on Labor supporters—those people who looked to Labor, the party that said it had a social conscience. They have been denied and have been badly and sadly let down. The price rises are going to hurt families, singles and the elderly, and there is only a limited scope for a fall in usage, as people will still need to turn on their lights, cook their dinner, wash their clothes and do everything else that we should be able to do in a modern society. It is just un-Australian.

It is not just households which will feel these price hikes. Businesses in the Riverina have also contacted me to draw my attention to the effect that the carbon tax is having on their power bills. Many are concerned about their future and concerned about whether they will be able to still employ the people who are valuable workers for them, who help them to produce goods and services for this nation and who help pay taxes. Lorraine Richter, co-proprietor of the South Wagga Bakery, contacted me regarding her concerns about the jump in the bakery's electricity bill from July to August. Her July bill was $3,961.27, with the August bill being $4,947.46. Stated on her tax invoice from Country Energy for August was a carbon charge of $357.67. It is a huge cost to a small business. Based on this amount, Mrs Richter is rightly concerned about how her business will afford the extra almost $4,300 annually that the bakery will be forced to pay towards the carbon tax.

It is not just South Wagga Bakery; it is businesses right throughout the Riverina. It is Croker Grain. It is Visy pulp and paper mill. They are above the threshold, as are Wagga Wagga City Council, the Griffith and Coolamon councils and local abattoirs. They are not big polluters. They are companies and organisations employing people, doing things—service industries producing goods. Rex airlines, Regional Express, are also going to be hit by the carbon tax. It is just not good enough to slug these companies for no environmental gain.

The coalition have established a clear time line for how the carbon tax will be repealed if we are elected to government. On the day prior to the election date, the Leader of the Opposition will write to the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to make it clear that, if elected, the first priority for the Liberal-Nationals coalition government will be to repeal the carbon tax. On the same day, in the spirit of caretaker conventions, the coalition will also formally request the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to desist from making any further determinations in relation to grants, funding or financing. If elected, on day one the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, will instruct the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to draft legislation which repeals the carbon tax and to have the legislation within one month. Hopefully, we will be elected at the next election, but that will be up to the people—to decide whether they in fact want the carbon tax to continue, whether they want to be paying higher and higher electricity prices and whether they want to have all this economic pain for no environmental gain.

On the first day of a new government, the finance minister will notify the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that it should suspend its operations and instruct the department of finance to prepare legislation to permanently shut down the corporation. The environment minister will also instruct his or her department to commence the implementation of the coalition's direct action plan on the environment—a plan which, in a broad sense, contains many good things which will help protect the environment and which will lower emissions without all the economic pain. Within 100 days of a new government, the carbon tax will have been repealed—and this is absolutely necessary. We know it and Labor know it, but they just refuse to come clean on it.

Labor's carbon tax is a little more than 100 days old. It is already— (Time expired)

Cristy Houghton