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18.11.13 Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013

Monday, 18 November 2013

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (17:12): I rise to speak on the on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013. If only the member for Fraser were talking about the carbon tax, we might have a reasonable, rational debate, because on 1 October 2013 he asserted that the carbon tax is the only type of market mechanism that can meet Australia's emissions reduction targets. That was his assertion in the Canberra Times. Of course, we know he is a true believer of the carbon tax. He has taken a poll of his electorate, of all of the bureaucrats that work in the climate change department, and they all say that we should have a carbon tax.

I have one thing to say to the member for Fraser, and that is that he ought to get out of Canberra more. He ought to go down to the streets of our major cities, to where the businesses and households are, and ask them how their electricity bills are going. He should say, 'What's happening?' He should find out what is happening outside of Canberra. Member for Fraser, you will find a place over the lake; if you keep going a few hundred kilometres, you will hit a place called Sydney, and that is where most of the economic ingenuity in this country comes from. That is where all of the small and medium businesses and households are that have to work hard to pay your carbon tax.

We know for a fact that no country in the world currently imposes an economy-wide carbon tax on greenhouse emissions—none. There are none that have a carbon price set, as it is today, at $25. This is the highest price in the world. With a trade exposed economy and a scheme that compensates large businesses, we saw the former government in a rush to compensate large businesses; but they did nothing for small businesses, nothing for medium businesses and nothing for those households in Sydney, New South Wales, who have had a 57 per cent increase in their power bills since 2010. I will say that again for the benefit of the member for Fraser: outside of Canberra, in a major city in our country, there has been a 57 per cent power increase in electricity bills for households since 2010. A segment of that increase is directly related to the carbon tax, which is designed to increase the price of electricity in order to punish producers, big businesses and what the former government referred to as 'polluters'. It is hypocritical for the member for Fraser to stand here and say, 'We respect the ingenuity of business in Australia today.' In opposition, they become great advocates of our business, but when they were in government they referred to them as the biggest, dirtiest polluters that had to be targeted with the world's most expensive carbon tax. That is what they did when they were in government. Of course, our medium and small businesses could fend for themselves. There was no compensation package for medium and small businesses. They had to suffer under the burden of increased electricity prices, refrigerant gases and all of the ongoing, flowing impacts of the carbon tax with no thought of their continued operation. The member for Fraser should be very keenly aware that his position of 100 per cent, die-in-a-ditch carbon tax—that he would not repeal the carbon tax under any circumstances—which comes into effect in July 2014. That is when the carbon tax is extended to the transport sector in Australia. If the member for Fraser thinks that, when we extend the carbon tax to the truck transport sector, the cost of every good and service in this country will not go up, he really does need to get out of Canberra more.

The government has the intention of repealing the carbon tax. It has been our clear position for the last three years since the former government brought it in without a mandate. They never had a mandate; they never sought a mandate; they never asked the Australian people whether they would approve of a carbon tax; and they put one in without their consent. Ever since that day, the electorate has been crystal clear about their dislike for that tactic—not seeking a mandate, not asking the Australian people first for something such as an economy wide carbon tax. So, we arrive three years later and we have just had another election, where the Australian people have voted emphatically for the removal of the carbon tax. Why have they voted for the removal of the carbon tax? Because they have accepted the proposition put forward by the former opposition and others that the former government had this completely wrong. This was not the way to reduce emissions by putting in the world's most expensive carbon tax, punishing our economy, risking our economic prosperity, punishing households and small to medium is businesses without any real environmental impact or regard for what would the emissions reduction be. They have clearly voted in such a clear way that it is really hypocritical for the Labor Party to say: 'We do not respect your mandate; you do not have a mandate to do what you have clearly been articulating for the last three years.'

The removal of the carbon tax, we know, will reduce and lower the cost of living on average across all households by $550, according to Treasury modelling—that is, households will be $550 better off. There are better ways of helping the environment. It was good to see the member for Fraser list all of the environmental credentials of the coalition. He was very methodical, speaking about our position. There are many and better ways of speaking to a better environment and of dealing with the problems of pollution and carbon emissions than taxing the economy. It is an odd view that the Australian taxation system is going to save the planet. It is an odd view that the Greens attack the Prime Minister every time there is a typhoon. It is an odd view that the Greens get up and say there is another bushfire and it is an example of why we should not repeal the carbon tax. If we already have a carbon tax and bushfires are more frequent, then I do not see any benefit from that tax and I do not think removing it will have any impact upon those individual fires or storms. Why then do the Greens and their bedfellows, the Labor Party, continue this line of argument? It is because they are guilty, in my view, of a fundamental mistake in Australian politics and in world politics today: this debate is not about the science; it is not about scientifically-based action or scientific responses. It has been confounded by politics. We understand what the Labor Party's agenda is—a left-wing ideological agenda to wrap up the instruments of our economy. They used some of the science which may be true—some of the things which are happening—to say that we need an economy-wide carbon tax, where you have to get permits to produce. It ignores the fact that small and medium businesses do not produce goods and services for fun; they do not pump out pollution for laughs. They do it because of demand for consumer goods and services.

To decontextualise big business by saying they are the big the polluters that need to be punished or by saying that individuals or households have no responsibility or that this is not a whole-of-society problem that needs a whole-of-society response is a political angle that the Labor Party and the Greens developed. They are bedfellows. That is why we had projects like the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a major white elephant of government, to fund projects that could not get financing out in the private sector—things that would never get a go, things like the collapse of HIH. HIH was insuring movies, movies that would never make a buck—D-grade movies that no-one would ever insure. All of that risk was taken on by HIH. This was the concept of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation: that it would take on all of the risks in renewables and projects that nobody else would fund and could not get finance anywhere else. What a great idea!

That is why we are moving to repeal this dog's breakfast of a piece of legislation that the Labor Party put in. It sought to save one section of our society, the most productive part—all of our industry and all of our businesses. Somehow they were evil polluters, and no one else has any responsibility for our environment. The truth is that this is a whole-of-society challenge. We accept that carbon emissions have to be reduced, and the member for Fraser eloquently listed all our comments in relation to that. It does require a whole-of-society response. This will not be solved by the Australian taxation system alone, particularly for one segment. We have seen from around the world a change in attitudes. We have seen that voting populations around the world have cottoned onto this climate alarmism that has come from politics, and not from science. It has not come out of the scientific community, but we have seen regularly and with increasing frequency, politicians from the Labor Party seize on parts of the science and then try to develop their own scientific understanding for political gain, rather than in a measured and competent way address the problems that are being raised by science. We have terms like 'denialists' used in this debate by members opposite. The Leader of the Opposition referred to 'unilateral disarmament': if we repeal the carbon tax it would be the same thing as unilateral disarmament. That was the phrase he used. I would defy him to knock on a door in my electorate and say, 'If we get rid of the carbon tax, we are unilaterally disarming against climate change in Australia.'

Mr Frydenberg: It is a cold war mentality.

Mr HAWKE: The parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister is absolutely right: it is a cold war mentality in the Labor Party. If the Leader of the Opposition were game enough to walk into a household or small business in Western Sydney, they would articulate very clearly to the Leader of the Opposition that there are better and other ways of dealing with climate change that do not involve them paying higher power bills. This is considering the low number of emissions that Australia produces, in a global context, and the fact that we have seen even Japan revise down its targets this week. Japan acknowledges that with its nuclear switch-off it is now going to be responsible for three per cent increased emissions by 2020—they will not be dropping emissions, they will be increasing them.

The member for Kingsford Smith opposite, at the table, is saying 'Oh, well, nuclear power—we can't use the technological solutions available to the world today to reduce emissions. We have to cut ourselves off from the technological solutions, but we also have to somehow reduce emissions while increasing the size of our economy.' It does not stack up. But we have seen Japan acknowledge that. We have seen Canada say that they are changing their approach on this, in favour of more direct action on the environment.

That is what the government is saying. We have better ways of spending money, in a more direct fashion, and the Minister for the Environment will be putting together a full white-paper process on developing the best ways to reduce emissions. It will do this by directly targeting the worst of our polluters in Australia today and helping them do something about it, not by saying that everybody has to pay an increased rate of tax and then go around handing the money back out and not requiring any environmental fix, not requiring any change in those businesses that will produce any environmental benefit.

We sit here today, listening to member opposite, as I think the minister in question time eloquently said, in government-change denial. They are in denial of the fact that the coalition—the government—has a mandate to repeal the carbon tax. It is one of the clearest mandates that I can remember in following politics for 25 years. It is clear. It is unequivocal. It is directly from the voters from Australia. It is directly from all segments of Australia.

If you see a poll put up on the Sydney Morning Herald website, you sometimes see some pretty skewed results in favour of the left-of-centre of politics, but when it asked about climate change, 54 per cent of people said that ,yes, we have a mandate to remove the carbon tax. If you are getting 54 per cent polled on the Sydney Morning Herald website telling us we have a mandate to repeal the carbon tax, I think members opposite should look very closely at this, because the Australian voters have been clear and unequivocal. They have said: 'Yes, we want to get rid of this tax. We do not want to be paying the highest carbon tax in the world without any environmental benefit, and we do want to make sure that when the government designs schemes it does not add burdens to the prosperity of our society.'

Why is that important? It is because, if our economy grows at a slower rate, if our society is held back by the world's biggest tax in a trade exposed world, we will not have the level of prosperity we could attain. Without the level of prosperity we might attain, we will not have technological and other advancements that will enable better environmental outcomes. This is where the Labor Party fundamentally fails. A strong economy, a prosperous society, is the best way to obtain better environmental outcomes. The only way to produce a stronger economy and a more prosperous society is to let government let our businesses—our large businesses, our small businesses, our medium businesses, our families, households and individuals—develop the goods, services and products that we need, and to do so unrestricted from tax and regulatory burdens.

It is no accident that the further advanced a society gets, the better the environmental outcome. We need to go forward. That is where the member for Fraser, the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party are failing here in this debate today. They are looking backwards. They are looking at the past. They are saying: 'Well, why can't we have an ETS?' or 'Why couldn't we do that?', 'Why didn't we do that?' then 'Oh, this person said that three years ago'—or five years ago or eight years ago. Going forward, the Australian people have very clearly said to give us the strength to build a strong economy—and we will deliver better environmental outcomes.

We have seen attitudes in our community change. We have seen people listening to the science. We have seen people listening to the concerns of the scientific community saying that we need to do better as a society in the environment. Do not use your political ideology to highjack this debate, to turn it into something it is not, and above all, in a democratic society, respect the mandate of the Australian people—the clearest mandate that the Australian people have given any political party in the last 30 years. (Time expired)