SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (20:30): I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, the Clean Energy (Customs Tariff Amendment) Bill 2012 and the Clean Energy (Excise Tariff Legislation Amendment) Bill 2012. Let me say at the outset that those of us on this side have said all along that these carbon tax bills would need to come back to this place to be fixed up as time went on because of the process adopted by the government. I have no doubt this is just the first tranche of many occasions when we will see the carbon tax bills return to this chamber to be fixed up. These may be relatively technical changes ahead of the carbon tax’s commencement next week; nonetheless, the coalition has taken a firm stance of opposing all of the bills relating to the carbon tax and tonight we will oppose this bill related to the carbon tax.
In speaking in this debate I note that I have nine minutes left for the entire contribution to the debate on this legislation. This is symptomatic of everything this government has done during the life of this parliament in applying the guillotine continuously to legislation. They have been shameless in the approach they have undertaken. In this instance we are trying to fix up aspects of the government’s carbon tax less than a week before the tax commences, and this Senate has been given nine and a bit minutes in which to debate it. It is a truly remarkable process and a remarkable exercise of the brute force that Labor and the Greens seem to be willing to apply in their desire to be able to do whatever they think is fit in government with absolutely no consideration for the parliament, the processes of the parliament or indeed the many things they have said before. You need only track back through the record to find all of them who have served in this parliament for any length of time criticising exactly this type of legislative process. Yet here they are today enacting just the same sort of process.
As I said, these are relatively technical changes but it is important to reflect just what the carbon tax will mean looking forward from Sunday when it takes effect around Australia. There are some salient points that Australians I think understand about this and do recognise. Some of them have been touched on many times in this place, but let me highlight the fact that the carbon tax will not deliver what is promised. The key promise is that the carbon tax is about reducing Australia’s emissions. If we look into the foreseeable future and look at the global emissions picture, we see that certainly to 2020 the carbon tax, compared with other policy measures already in place, like the renewable energy target, is in fact minor in its impact on emissions and that Australia’s emissions will keep rising.
The carbon tax outsources much of the heavy lifting over the longer term to the international community through the purchase of abatement permits. We see, as we discussed earlier today with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation legislation, the fact that the carbon tax is a giant money-go-round where we see huge tracts of money come in on the one hand to government and huge tracts go out on the other hand-$9 billion or thereabouts every year churned through government, churned through the bureaucracy and spat back out again at the other side. In doing so it creates a giant new bureaucracy, a bureaucracy that is going to be busy fixing up the legislative mess that no doubt the government has created long way, a bureaucracy that is going to be busy spending the many billions of dollars. As I indicated earlier today, I am confident it will be a hardworking bureaucracy, but the fact that there are so many of them is just a demonstration of the fact that the government has created such a complicated mechanism and such a complicated system. So we have numerous new bureaucratic agencies in place. We nowadays have several hundred staff working at the Clean Energy Regulator, or the carbon cop, one of the several new statutory bodies established as a result of the carbon tax bills. Over the forward estimates more than $400 million in bureaucratic costs have been incurred as a result of this, and all of it just to administer this complex scheme and administer the tax and churn and spending that go with it.
Perhaps more important than even the waste is the effect on industry and the effect on households. We have seen time and time again, especially during question time, countless examples highlighted about the effect on industry and the effect on households. Perhaps the most remarkable of those was highlighted today by Senator Robinson in asking questions about the Alcoa facility near Geelong. It is quite remarkable that that Alcoa facility has just received a $40 million bailout from government. The government professes that that $40 million bailout is unrelated to the carbon tax, that it is, it seems, apparently a happy coincidence that that happens to equate to about the same amount of money that Alcoa will pay for that facility under the carbon tax. It is $40 million out from Alcoa into government coffers for the carbon tax and $40 million coincidentally back in to Alcoa from the government. There is some churn no doubt in between that will cost the taxpayer some money. What do we get for it, though? What do we get out of that type of churn where we see a company like Alcoa handing over that sort of money on the one hand and then receiving the same amount back on the other? Aside from the bureaucratic churn-nothing. There is nothing but bureaucratic churn. Wouldn’t it be far easier not to have the Alcoas of the world having to part with money just to get it back from government? How many other companies who are not in a position to lobby and agitate and so receive one of these government handouts will find themselves in a position where they are worse off?
What about Michell Wool in Salisbury, South Australia? They are wool processors with a proud history that dates back many, many years in my home state. But it is also a very energy intensive operation. They are doing something that many businesses have already given up on doing in Australia, but their life is going to be made that much harder in an effort to keep their operations in Australia. It becomes so much more attractive for companies like Michell simply to decide to process their wool offshore because of the ever-escalating power prices. This is the real fear for industry. When you boil it all down, the carbon tax will set up a situation where Australian industry will be less competitive than industry elsewhere in the world. Australia will be a less competitive place for investors to invest than elsewhere in the world. These are the real concerns about the impact that the carbon tax could have on jobs, on industry and on the future of Australia’s economy.
It is not just jobs and industry that are at stake. Households will also feel the pressure. As we approach 1 July next weekend, it is important to remember that even the government’s own modelling demonstrated that four million plus households will be worse off under the carbon tax. The government’s own Treasury modelling has shown that, after all the government has spent, after all the churn, after everything has been done and dusted, four million plus Australian households will still be worse off-and this is assuming the heroic assumptions that the government has made in its modelling about what will happen in the rest of the world will actually stand up to the test. We can see it as plainly as anybody that those assumptions will not stack up.
The odds are very much that many more households will be worse off and that, as the carbon tax goes up over time, compensation will not keep up with it. There is nothing in the forward estimates to suggest that compensation will keep up with where the carbon tax will go in the long term, and so it will not just be those four million plus households in the first instance but many, many more people who will pay a price for this, too.