Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (13:02): I rise today to speak on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. I have gone through the plethora of bills to try to see if there is anything really positive that I can speak on but, quite frankly, the more you look into the legislation the greater your concern for your local community and the impacts that this legislation is going to have on it, both socially and economically. For that reason, I certainly support the coalition’s position in vehemently opposing the imposition of this very, very unfair, job-destroying and ineffective carbon tax on my community-and, by extension, on the nation. There is no doubt that we live in a global economy, and these bills are certainly going to impose a very, very unfair impost on business, industries and families and they will have a serious negative impact on our trading with competing countries who do not have to endure this particular tax.
I think what makes this particularly difficult is that this whole debate has been predicated on deceit and dishonesty. The Prime Minister stated very clearly on 16 August 2010 on the Ten Network:
There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.
And in an interview in the Australian on 20 August she said quite clearly and categorically:
I rule out a carbon tax.
The Australian public voted on this issue. They accepted the Prime Minister on her word and on the basis that she would not introduce a carbon tax. To now break her word and introduce it without first taking this to an election represents, in my view, a very gross breach of trust with the Australian people. When I speak to people in my electorate you see that that is very much the consensus. They are very, very disappointed and they feel very much betrayed. I am talking here about people who would have voted for the Labor Party at the last election, and they feel very betrayed.
I was a member of this House back in 1998 when we went to an election on the GST. Much has been said about the then Prime Minister, John Howard, changing his view. But at least he had the conviction to take the issue to an election. We lost quite a few of our colleagues at that time but, nevertheless, we won that election based on that commitment, and subsequently a GST was introduced. I notice that a lot of attention is being focused on the Leader of the Opposition and this nonsense about his ‘No, no, no’ and ‘He is not going to support these bills’ et cetera. I was here back in the days when we talked about the GST, and it was ‘No, no, no, no’ from the then Leader of the Opposition and that was the chorus from the opposition at that time-and the member across the chamber from me, the member for Banks, was part of that very, very loud chorus at the time. So I think it is a little bit hypocritical to now come into this place and suggest that, because we have some very serious and real concerns about this legislation and the impact that it is going to have on our community, we do not have the right to express our concerns and say, ‘No; we believe there is a better way.’
People always say that we have to keep up with the world. I do not have a problem with that but, at the end of the day, we should not lead so that we are so far out in front that we get absolutely destroyed. They were talking about what has been happening overseas. There is no other country that is planning to impose an economy-wide carbon price. The Productivity Commission clearly stated that not one country on earth is bringing in an economy-wide carbon tax or emissions trading scheme.
In the United States, for example, all moves towards a national cap-and-trade scheme have been abandoned. The government always uses Europe as an example-they say, ‘Europe has got an ETS’-of course it has an ETS, but it certainly does not cover the whole economy. It provides many industries with free emissions permits, and the ETS, interestingly enough. only raises about $500 million a year. The tax we are talking about here in Australia, a much smaller economy, would be raising $9 billion to kick off with. That is a hell of a cost in relation to the Australian people. The government also claims that China is acting to reduce its carbon emissions, but the reality is that China is forecast to rise by something like 500 per cent by the year 2020. So that does not seem to me to be much of a significant reduction in costs.
The actual carbon price would start at $23 a tonne, but after three years that price-it will not be fixed-will float in line with market prices. Government will 38 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Monday, 19 September 2011 CHAMBER
have no control over that. By the government’s own forecast, that price will increase to $29 a tonne in 2016, $37 a tonne in 2020, and over $350 a tonne in 2050. What on earth is that going to do for our cost of living? The Centre for International Economics has forecast that the price will rise to $49 a tonne by 2016.
It is interesting to note that those who are really running the government at the moment-Greens senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne-say that the price needs to be at least $40 a tonne and that there needs to be a shift away from coal for electricity generation. Another Greens senator, Senator Hanson-Young, has canvassed a price of up to $100 a tonne. You can only imagine what sort of impact that is going to have not only on our economy but also on the cost of living of so many people. Any compensation is only being factored in for the introduction of this; this is not ongoing. I can assure you that, as the costs continue to escalate, the cost of living will be escalating with that. It will really make for a hell of an impost, particularly for those who can least afford it.
Cairns has a very diverse economy. From a regional perspective, we have mining-we have the Rio Tinto bauxite mine-but we also have agriculture and horticulture and we have a small Navy base. But tourism is the primary lifeblood of our economy, and we should never forget that. We have done it tough over the last few years, and businesses are now just starting to try to come back. Of course the floods and cyclones certainly have not helped; neither has the loss of flights into our international airport. That is just starting to recover now. There was the tsunami in Japan, one of our main feeder markets, and there was the disaster with the earthquakes in New Zealand, another major and important market for our economy.
We were in fact the unemployment capital of Australia; we were up to 13 per cent at one stage, and the value of the Australian dollar makes it very tough. So the last thing we need is a significant cost increase. They talk about whether we are going to compensate households for electricity and other living costs-as I said, very short term.
When you talk to people like Charlie and Pip Woodward-they have the Capita Group in my electorate, one of the major tourism operators there, operating buses, boats and a whole range of other experiences up there-you find that the increase in the cost of electricity and fuel is going to be quite profound. We have many other great companies up there, including Quicksilver, Jim and Jo Wallace, and Great Adventure Boats. Their costs for fuel for the dive boats going out to the Great Barrier Reef is going to be very significant. These are costs that they have to pass on; they cannot carry these costs. Down Under Tours, James and Gordon Dixon, is a bus tour operation that travels quite extensively around our region. They also have these costs that they are going to have to pass on to the consumer, in a market that is already very, very price sensitive. To suggest that they can cover these costs, while they are still trying to recover from the impacts of the last couple of years, is a nonsense. On top of that they have no control over costs such as electricity and other costs. Again, it is something that they have to pass on.
One of the big concerns I have is in relation to the impact on our airlines. As I said, we have just started to attract further services into Cairns, and this means that there is an opportunity for the whole region. The international airport is an area where people arrive and disperse. The fuel costs in relation to this are going to make travelling into this area a lot less competitive.
Those on the other side say that it is only a minimum cost and they are all doing it overseas, but I note that the International Air Cargo Association has recently urged the EU to suspend the implementation of its emissions trading scheme on aviation and instead pursue a global agreement on aviation carbon emissions. They firmly believe that the aviation emissions must be addressed through a global framework; otherwise it will not result in any decrease in emissions but it will certainly impose a massive impost on the aviation sector. Yet here we are looking at putting the same thing on Australian aviation as well. I think that what we need to do is what we have committed to do in opposition, and that is looking for direct action. One of the things we are looking at is the development, through James Cook University, of carbon dioxide-eating algae that is being developed up there. Professor Kirsten Heimann is heading that project and they are going to retrofit it onto the stacks at Tarong Energy in Queensland. Basically, the algae consumes the carbon dioxide, they are able to harvest the algae, which grows at an accelerated rate, and from that they are able to take biodiesel, stock food and fertiliser. To me that is a much more practical way of reducing emissions. Investing in that creates an opportunity to export not our jobs but a technology that we as Australians can get a benefit from and, in the meantime, we can continue to reduce our own emissions.
I note that we are talking about buying foreign carbon credits. We have seen them in the media in recent times, and I have got to say: start selling credits into equatorial Guinea or Nigeria. That is the sort of thing that would happen if it is a repeat of a lot of the other initiatives that this government has been involved in. I think it is absolutely appalling that we are continuing down this track. I think there are far better ways in which we could do this. We have got to look at alternatives. I think it is right that we should be absolutely opposing this. I think that the compensation will never cover the costs of the losses of the things that we are going to see for families.