Carbon Pricing


Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (16:25): It is with pleasure that I rise to speak on this motion about the carbon tax, a very good motion put forward by my colleague Senator Cormann. Senator Singh talked about scaremongering and fearmongering. Let us look at some of the scaremongers. Tim Flannery said that Brisbane would run out of water and so would Melbourne. 'You will never see the dams full again,' he said. Adelaide, he said, would be as dry as a bone. What is the situation now? Who was doing the scaremongering? Who was spreading the fear that, if this tax did not come in, it was never going to rain again—we would never again have the big floods. Well, we had a drought in Australia from 1895 to 1907—12 years. That was followed by floods. This time we had a drought from 2002 to 2010—and what was it followed by? Floods. Every drought is broken by a flood.

Let us get back to the point of this great motion put forward by Senator Cormann and to that promise made by Prime Minister Gillard before the last election. That promise will haunt her to her political death, which will probably come in about—I give it until October. I know, Mr Acting Deputy President Cameron, that you are not a gambling man; you would never behave that way. But I will be looking for someone to have a $10 lottery ticket with me that Ms Gillard is not Prime Minister by the end of October this year. The numbers are being counted. Mr Rudd will not give up. Perhaps, Senator Stephens, you would like to join in that lottery ticket wager?

Senator Stephens: You're on.

Senator WILLIAMS: The numbers are being counted—the word is getting around parliament that Mr Rudd will not give up until he gets his job back. If the polls do not improve, if they still show a 31 or 32 per cent primary vote for Labor come October, who is going to follow Ms Gillard over the political cliff come the next election? They will be wanting Mr Rudd back to restore some credibility for the next poll.

This magnificent carbon tax being introduced—why do we have it? Who drove this tax? People are saying the Greens drove it with their balance of power. I say that there is a certain member for New England, Mr Tony Windsor, who drove it as much as anyone. He demanded, before he gave his vote to the Labor-Greens alliance and put them into government, that the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee be formed. It is quite amazing. Just prior to the last election—on 21 August 2010, I believe—Mr Windsor was being interviewed on ABC Radio in Tamworth. Prior to that, he had introduced a private member's bill into the House of Representatives seeking a 20 per cent reduction in emissions from Australia by 2020 and a massive 80 per cent by 2050. When Kelly Fuller, the well-known broadcaster on the ABC's Morning Show in Tamworth, asked, 'Mr Windsor, why did you put this bill in?' he said, 'That is not my bill—I just did that on behalf of some of my constituents.' He walked around it. But he would not support Mr Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme because it was only five per cent by 2020. Then he drove us all away.

The people of New England will not be fooled and the polls this week showed it. Mr Windsor, who got a 62 per cent primary vote in New England at the last election, is now polling at 24 per cent—62 per cent down to 24 per cent. Politicians do not own those seats; the people own those seats. They will have their say and they will square up with Mr Windsor at next election for the way he deceived his electorate—the way he let them think he was a conservative Independent and then aligned himself with the socialist government we have in this nation today. The people will have the final say and we look forward to it. This tax is a tax on regional Australia. Already we have higher electricity prices than in the cities. I again congratulate Senator Cormann for moving this motion. In rural Western Australia the price of electricity is 30 per cent more than in Perth. Add 10 per cent onto that and who pays the biggest increase? Those in the rural and regional areas. The one group that will be hit big time is our truckies. We have just passed legislation about fair rates. I was not too concerned about it—although I know that the big end of town likes to force our truckies to work hard and perhaps work for next to nothing. But this government has already taken 6 cents a litre off the truckies rebate—$480 million. Senator Carr will be interested to know that the truckies use eight billion litres of diesel a year. The government has added $480 million to the cost of truckies' fuel. These are the people who carry our nation, and those opposite are supposed to represent them. Senator Sterle and Senator Conroy are staunch supporters of the Transport Workers Union, yet on 1 July 2014 they are going to put another $520 million tax on the truckies. That will be $1 billion a year extra tax on our truckies' fuel.

Who is affected the most by this tax? Those in regional Australia—in places like Inverell, where I live. We do not have a rail system. Everything in town comes in on the road, by truck. Every load of wool, every load of wheat, comes by road, and the thousand head of cattle slaughtered each day at abattoirs in Inverell come in on the road and they go out on the road. We are going to tax our truckies an extra $1 billion fuel tax a year, and that is going to change the planet. It will mean that, come next election, if there is not a change in government the truckies will face that extra $520 million on 1 July 2014. There will not be one truckie voting for the Labor Party come next election. They know the government is doing them over for $1 billion worth in total, and they will change their vote.

Mr Sheldon, the boss of the Transport Workers Union, calls this a death tax. The Transport Workers Union will no doubt finance the Australian Labor Party come election time, and no doubt many on that side of the chamber are supported by the Transport Workers Union, yet Mr Sheldon calls this a death tax. Why? Because he says it sweats the trucks and it sweats the drivers even more. What he means is that we are making the drivers work longer hours, trying to exist, and then they are shortcutting maintenance on the trucks by, for example, not replacing the brake linings when they are due and not checking or replacing half worn-out universal joints, making it more dangerous to drive the truck. That is what Mr Sheldon is saying, and I agree with him totally. That is what this tax on our truckies is—it is a death tax. Make no mistake about it, with a change in government at the next election the truckies will not face that extra $520 million tax on their diesel, brought on by these people who are supported by the Transport Workers Union. It is amazing what they are doing to the people who support them.

I mentioned the abattoirs. Senator Cormann and our Select Committee on Climate Change visited Tamworth—unfortunately, Mr Acting Deputy President Cameron, you were not present in the room with us that day at Tamworth but you were certainly there in voice on the telephone. There will be a $1.74 million cost to Bindaree Beef in the first year. They employ 630 people. They pay, I would say, $650,000 in gross wages a week in our country town of 12,000 people, and the government is going to put another cost of $1.74 million onto them through the carbon tax. See how it affects regional Australia? This is the area our nation's wealth is derived from, and it is those who export our iron ore and coal and our food exports including beef and grain that will cop it the most. American abattoirs are competing against Bindaree Beef at Inverell—an export abattoir, supplying beef into those great markets such as South Korea and Japan—but in America they do not have to pay these costs. Yet we are expected to compete. How do we do that when the government just keeps lumping charges onto magnificent industries like this.

Macquarie Generation is situated in the Hunter Valley between Singleton and Muswellbrook. They produce 40 per cent of New South Wales's electricity. This year they will make a profit of $125 million for their owners, the New South Wales government. New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia are the only states that still own their generators. Next year their profit will be reduced from $125 million down to $20 million, and the year after their profit will be? Absolutely zero. What is that going to cost the state government of New South Wales, already struggling for money with a $5 billion hole in its budget left by that rabble of a government that was thrown out on 26 March 2011? They left a huge financial mess, and that is why they got massacred—just like in Queensland. That will be the cost to the New South Wales government just in one small sector. I still say they should have had a closer look at the Constitution. I notice that when Macquarie Generation make $125 million a year they do not pay any tax to Canberra because section 114 of the Constitution says that the Commonwealth shall not impose any tax on property of any kind belonging to a state. Macquarie Generation is owned by the state. How can the Commonwealth put a carbon tax on Macquarie Generation, a state-owned property? The Constitution says it cannot. I wish Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia had challenged the constitutionality of this tax in the High Court. I do not think it is constitutional, but it is probably a bit late in the day for that.

What will this tax do to local government? Again, when our Senate select committee was in Tamworth we heard it was going to cost the Tamworth council an extra $300,000 a year for electricity alone. Where does a local government just pluck $300,000 from? Of course they get it from their ratepayers. But it gets worse. The local Tamworth council rubbish dump—landfill, local tip, call it what you like—has now been listed as one of the 33 landfills in Australia, out of more than 500 local governments, that is going to come under the carbon tax. If action is not taken in some way or another, it will cost them at least $350,000 a year by 2017 to operate their rubbish tip. Yet the rubbish tip down the road that might only have 20,000 tonnes does not bear any cost at all. So here we are in New England, the seat of Mr Windsor, the people's representative—and I will get to that in a minute. He is now in discussions with the government, saying, 'How do we save costs for the LPG industry and how do we save costs for the Tamworth council?' With his primary vote at 24 per cent, he would want to be doing something to try and save the furniture; the house is already gone.

Mr Windsor did a poll of New England which had 1,600 responses returned, out of 93,000 voters, on same-sex marriage and other issues, but he did not poll the electorate on the carbon tax. We had a poll at the last election where 44 per cent of the people in New England voted for the Liberal and National parties in the Senate. Easily coming in second was the National Party candidate, Tim Coates. I sent out forms in New England, and 4,947 were returned, of which 4,408, or 89 per cent, said they did not support the carbon tax. It is no wonder Mr Windsor's primary vote is down to 24 per cent. In Inverell, where I live, 775 were returned: 94 per cent said no, and just 46 votes said yes. The people's representative said no. But, just like the Prime Minister with her promise—which, as I said, will haunt her to her political grave—the member for New England turned his back on his electorate, and now we face this tax.

Let me give you a few figures, Mr Acting Deputy President Cameron. We have the Greens wanting to shut down every coalmine in Australia—every one. It is amazing. China produces 51 per cent of the world's coal. Last year, they burnt 3.1 billion tonnes of coal, increasing their consumption of coal by a massive 434 million tonnes. In one year, they increased their burning of coal by 434 million tonnes. In Australia last year, we produced a total of 421 million tonnes of coal, domestic and export. So China increased their burning of coal by more than the whole of Australia produced in a year. But, if we shut down every coalmine in Australia, that is going to change the planet? That is rubbish. China will produce 10.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide this year. Senator Singh said, 'China's taking action.' But, under Treasury figures, China will produce 17.9 billion tonnes of coal by 2020. They are going to go up by 7.6 billion tonnes. And is this tax that is coming in in Australia going to change something? No, it is not. Australian produces 578 million tonnes of CO2. Under the government's plan, we will get up to 621 million tonnes by 2020. We are going to go up by 43 million tonnes a year. Those are the government's figures; that is Treasury's plan. That is not a reduction.

How are we going to reduce our emissions by five per cent or whatever? We are going to spend $3½ billion a year buying carbon credits. From where? From overseas. People are going to say, 'We've planted this many trees and here's a carbon credit for sale,' but who is going to check that? This opens the whole thing up to fraud. We are spending $3½ billion of taxpayers' money and our CO2output is going up by 43 million tonnes a year under the government's plan. It is just going to open up a whole network of falsified credits and fraud throughout the world. It is simply outrageous.

I turn to the cement industry. In Australia, we produce 10 million tonnes of cement a year. We also import two million tonnes. That is 12 million tonnes of cement a year. When we make one tonne of cement in Australia, we produce 0.8 of a tonne of CO2; so, for 10 million tonnes of cement, we would produce eight million tonnes of CO2. In China, they produce one billion tonnes of CO2 a year—one billion. But when they make one tonne of cement they produce 1.1 tonnes of CO2. This is a $10 million tax on our 14 cement plants in Australia, which are in regional Australia, of course. They cannot afford an extra $10 million in tax, with the high dollar and cheap imports. It will shut down those 1,875 blue-collar jobs for workers whom the Labor Party is supposed to represent. When they go, they will ask why.

So, if we shut down the industry in Australia, those 10 million tonnes of cement that produce eight million tonnes of CO2 will be produced in China, where they will produce 11 million tonnes of CO2. By producing our cement, their CO2 emissions will go up by three million tonnes. That is what we mean about transferring our industries overseas; whether it be steel, aluminium or cement, this is what we are facing. But somehow this carbon tax is going to reduce CO2 emissions around the world and cool the planet! It is outrageous.

I am a firm believer in climate change. I think the climate has been changing for thousands of years. For instance, 18,000 years ago, the Whitsunday Islands off Queensland did not exist. They were part of the mainland of Australia, with all that ice over the landscape. Then, 10,000 years ago, the planet started to warm, the ice started to melt, sea levels rose and the Whitsunday Islands were formed. Now, what made the planet warm 10,000 years ago? I do not think it was coal-fired electricity generators. I do not think it was V8 Mustangs roaring around the United States or wherever. I do not think it was even four-cylinder petrol cars being burnt or the truckie running his 600-horsepower Cummins up the track. It was Mother Nature and climate change. It has been happening for thousands of years. And somehow we are going to stop all that? No, we are not. We will not stop it. Nature will run its course.

What we need to do is look after our environment, look after our land. Australia's greatest asset is the soil on our farms that produces our food. If we increase the level of carbon in that soil by three per cent—which is equivalent to 150 tonnes of CO2 per hectare—over 450 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia, we will neutralise 100 per cent of our emissions for more than 100 years and we would have better farm country for it. Some of the farm county—Moree, the black soil plains—used to be five per cent carbon. Now it is down to one per cent, even to 0.5 per cent. We need to increase carbon in the soil. We need to give an incentive to farmers to help them balance the calcium and magnesium in the soil by putting more lime on the country and raising the calcium level and to let mother nature do its thing. That is better for the soil—fewer chemicals. That is what we want to do. If you do not have healthy soil, you do not grow healthy food. If you do not have healthy food, you do not have healthy people. People need nutrition in their food and that is what we intend to give them. We do not intend to treat farmers the way Bob Carr did when he was Premier of New South Wales—with a big stick. We intend to entice farmers with a carrot, working with the man on the land and his wife and family to help them achieve what they want to achieve. It is very hard for them to be green when so many are so far in the red. That is what we wish to do.

The government say that agriculture is excluded. No it is not. You are putting the cost on the truckies for fuel and you are putting the cost of electricity up. Do you think farmers drive the shearing shed with the old hand-wound machines? No, they have electric shearing plants. Agriculture will be included. The costs will flow on and once again our farmers, trying to competing on the world market, will have extra costs here. This is simply crazy.

Senator Cormann, we commend you for the motion. This is a tax that Australia will not accept. Australians will let the government know that at the next election. The government misled the people at the last election and the people will not put up with it again. They will square up come next election day.