Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (20:47): I rise to contribute to this debate on the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and six related bills that we should never, ever have had in this chamber. I am glad that you are in the chair, Madam Acting Deputy President Stephens, because of your consistent interest in the steel industry, with your many questions in this chamber.


Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: Madam Acting Deputy President, there might be a problem with the microphones, but there is an echo in the background, unless it is Senator Carol Brown still going on for some reason. I am not too sure, but you might keep an eye on that, Madam Acting Deputy President.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: It is an echo, I am sure! I would like to add something. If we raise the soil carbon by three per cent over 450 million hectares of agricultural land in this country, that would equate to 150 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. If we did that, that would actually neutralise Australia's CO2 emissions not by five per cent or 10 per cent but for more than 100 years. So we need to work with our farmers to ensure that we protect our soils, our greatest asset, because that soil has to grow our food. It is a health issue: if you do not have good, healthy soil, then you do not grow healthy food and you do not have healthy people. That is what it comes down to.

But let us look at this legislation before us. So often we heard from people such as Senator Wong and members of the government in the other place say: 'We must have a price on carbon to bring certainty to our nation.' Certainty? Here we are changing the laws on this carbon tax emissions-trading scheme on a regular basis. How uncertain is the government about this whole plan? We will come back to the start of this matter.

There are 150 members of the House of Representatives. At the last election, on 21 August 2010,146 of the 150 members of parliament elected in the other place went to the election saying that they would not introduce a carbon tax. A Greens member was elected, the member for Melbourne, Mr Adam Bandt, sadly, because of Liberal preferences to the Greens instead of to the Labor Party. I hope that changes at the next election; it certainly worked well at the Victorian election last time. There are two members of parliament up my way: the member for New England, Mr Tony Windsor; and Mr Robert Oakeshott, the member for Lyne. Mr Windsor said that one of the conditions to him putting his support behind Ms Julia Gillard to go into The Lodge was that she form a multiparty climate change committee. And that she did. The next thing you know is that we have the tax—

Government senators interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: Madam Acting Deputy President, those members on the other side are being very rude, aren't they? Hopefully, they will improve their behaviour as the night goes on. I will not be too ambitious. But I see that Senator Bishop is now there to keep them in order, which is a good thing.

Getting back to this legislation, I must correct something my colleague Senator Kroger said. Senator Kroger said that our emissions are going to go up to 621 million tonnes by 2020. Senator Kroger, figures out last week show that that figure has been underestimated. It is going to go up 16 million tonnes more than that. It is going to go up to 637 million tonnes by 2020. You underestimated how much our emissions are going to go up.

Senator Kroger: I am being generous to the government.

Senator WILLIAMS: I can see that you are being generous to the government, Senator Kroger. We are going to go from 578 million tonnes in 2010 to 637 million tonnes in 2020, with a $9 billion carbon tax that is going to go up and up and up.

The reason the Greens have supported the removal of the floor price is that they are hoping it is going to escalate enormously and that that will save the planet. No, it will not. We know the Greens want to shut down every coalmine in Australia.

Senator Rhiannon: That's not true.

Senator WILLIAMS: It has been your policy to shut down the coalmines and go to all renewable energy. It is amazing. I will repeat those figures: this year China will burn 3.1 billion tonnes of coal, 434 million tonnes more than last year. They will increase their consumption of coal more in one year than Australia produces in total. We produce 421 million tonnes of coal for export and domestic use. China will increase their consumption of coal by more than the total that this nation produces. That is a fact. And there will be no reduction in CO2 emissions around the world. In fact, figures show that China will go from 10.3 billion tonnes this year to a massive 17.9 billion—not million, billion—tonnes by 2020. They are going to go up by 7.6 billion tonnes. We are going to go up by 59 million tonnes, from 578 million to 637 million tonnes, and somehow we are going to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. That simply will not work.

In three years time, if this government is still in place, we will go to an emissions trading scheme. Let me explain what an emissions trading scheme is. It is a scheme where wealthy people sell fresh air to wealthy people and poor people pay for it. I will repeat that: an emissions trading scheme is where wealthy people sell fresh air to wealthy people and the battlers pay for it. That is all it is, and somehow it is going to reduce our CO2 levels. No, it is not.

It is quite amazing that those on the other side have tampered with this legislation from day one, have been all over the shop, never had a mandate to bring it in. What gives four out of 150 members of the House of Representatives a mandate? They did not have a mandate. Those four—the Greens member, Mr Wilkie, Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott—were just complicit in this government betraying the Australian people. But people will be able to square the ledger on that come the next election in those seats, as I always say. The seats do not belong to the politicians, they belong to the people. You betray the people and they will square it up for you at the next election.

When this scheme came out I remember the Prime Minister saying she was going to wear out her shoe leather travelling here, there and everywhere. I remember writing to the Prime Minister the day after she said she would visit every Australian family who wanted to know more about the carbon tax. She was going to wear out as many pairs of shoes as it needed to get the message across that the carbon tax was just what the country needed. So I wrote to her inviting her to New England, the heartland of the turncoat Independent, Mr Tony Windsor. And—surprise, surprise—I never even received a reply from the Prime Minister, even though she was going to talk to every family who wanted to know about the carbon tax. It turns out the Prime Minister did venture out for a few days but scurried back into her office very quickly when she got a taste of what the Australian people actually thought of this.

The tax is designed to increase electricity prices. I have just been part of the Senate Select Committee on Electricity Prices. We have seen electricity price rises. People have turned off the second fridge. People have turned down the thermostat on the hot water system from 75 degrees to 60 degrees. People are already saving because of the cost of the infrastructure, the poles and the wires, needed to accommodate the huge demand on a hot day, for example, when air conditioners are going flat out. However, most of the time the demand is not at that extreme level. But, as I said, electricity prices have already gone up. We saw the 19 per cent increase on 1 July in New South Wales, half of it from infrastructure after 16 years of neglect by the Australian Labor Party government in New South Wales. That is the government we are hearing so much about now that had a huge interest in grazing properties that just happened to have coal underneath them. What sort of cattle did they run? 'Ones that eat grass.' Were they beef cattle? 'I'm not sure.' Were they dairy cattle? 'I'm not sure.' Were they on agistment? 'I'm not sure.' Did you talk to an agronomist? 'A what?' Now we have seen it all!

In 16 years of neglect from that mob, we have seen infrastructure falling apart and hence the extra cost brought in by IPART, the independent pricing authority in New South Wales. So why is this floor price being removed? Is this about the certainty that was promised to the Australian people? 'We must have a price on carbon for certainty,' they were told. But, hang on—when we finally get it through both houses, where they had no mandate to do that, we are now going to change it. Why are we changing it? Well, we know why the Greens are supporting it: because they want to see the price go up and up and up. It is as simple as that.

The fact is we cannot fool the Australian people. They know why their cost of living is going up. I will quote from some of the emails my office has received. One is from Nicola of Tamworth, who says: 'My husband and I are both against the carbon tax. If I had known Tony Windsor was going to side with Labor and the Greens I would never have voted for him. I have heard many other people in our electorate say the same thing. As far as the carbon tax goes, I think the government is rushing into it. The government is very hypocritical. They want a carbon tax but they reap the benefits of taxes from coalmining.' What a good point. The government say, 'Let's stop burning coal, burning fossil fuels,' but they take the taxes from the coalmines.

Another email is from Denise who says: 'I am in the Lyne electorate and continually feel disappointed with the representation of Rob Oakeshott as our elected federal MP. Regardless of his views, I cannot understand why he gives support to a leader that literally lied to the Australian people re the carbon tax. Now is not the time for another tax.' I could not agree more, Denise.

Why didn't the Prime Minister visit Nicola and Denise and their families? Why didn't their local members, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, listen to their concerns? I did a poll through the seats of New England and Lyne on the carbon tax. In New England I found 89 per cent of the returned ballot papers were against the carbon tax; in Lyne it was 87 per cent. Yet at election time people are told: 'Vote 1 Tony Windsor, the people's representative'. What, when 89 per cent of some 6,000 returned forms in the poll say they didn't want it? That is not being the people's representative.

The Hunter region has been hit with job losses. I know that Labor would like to forget the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter which closed and cost over 350 jobs. The company conceded that their problems stemmed from the high dollar, low metal prices, increasing energy costs and the carbon tax. There was no sign of the local federal member there, Mr Fitzgibbon. They have to ask his boss why she was putting 350 of his constituents out of work.

I want to refer to the transport industry, our truckies. Under this crazy plan, on 1 July 2014 we are going to impose almost another 7c a litre diesel tax on our truckies—about $515 million. This government in its desperate state of finances because of its reckless spending and waste, has already added around $500 million a year road-user charges or diesel tax to our truckies. Now it is going to add another $500 million—that will be $1 billion a year that our truckies will have to pay as an extra diesel tax under this government. The Transport Workers Union's Mr Sheldon described it—and I know that my colleague Senator Cormann was in the inquiry—as a 'death tax'. How many people on that side are in here because of the Transport Workers Union? Mr Sheldon said it was a 'death tax' that would 'sweat' the trucks and 'sweat' the drivers, meaning working the drivers harder and causing neglect of safety and the upkeep of their rig. That is what the Transport Workers Union think of the carbon tax. Why aren't you removing that?

Truckies have already endorsed Euro 4 motors, a new design in motors that is basically pollutant free and very clean. There is one problem with them: they use about 10 per cent more fuel. The amount of fuel burnt in the motors has a direct effect on how much carbon dioxide is emitted. They actually burn 10 per cent more fuel so they are putting out CO2but when it comes to sulfur, lead and carbon monoxide, they are extremely clean. And with unburnt diesel you do not see the black smoke coming out of the stacks when you are pulling up the hills these days, just a little heat glow. So they have done their bit and, because they use 10 per cent more fuel, they are actually paying, in effect, more fuel tax. They are paying their bit to clean up the environment and so this government is going to slam another half a billion dollar diesel tax on our truckies. It was not long ago that we looked at legislation for 'safe rates' to help our truckies, yet between the carbon tax and the extra road-user charge, this government will cost our truckies, by 1 July 2014, an extra $1 billion a year tax.

On my travels in the Hunter Valley I was speaking to Martin Transport—yellow Kenworths, B-doubles, double-decker cattle and four-decker sheep—well-known carriers who do a great job. It is going to cost that business $1 million extra fuel tax a year. One million dollars to a stock transport company doing their thing, to shift stock around our country to the abattoirs, around the farms, wherever they are taking them—just a lazy $1 million! What are they going to do with that cost? They are going to pass it on to—who? They are going to pass it on to the farmers, the cow cockies, the graziers or the abattoirs. The abattoirs are already finding it hard to compete with their competitors in America with our high Australian dollar brought about by high interest rates in this country brought about by ridiculous stimulus spending at a time when the Reserve Bank was raising interest rates, another stupid move. So they have got to compete and there are extra costs compared with their competitors. Whether it be abattoirs exporting cattle to South Korea, Japan or wherever, they have to compete against American beef producers and processors who do not face these costs. This is what we are doing and that is why this whole carbon tax plan is so ridiculous.

In summary, I would just like to say that there was never ever a mandate to introduce this tax. A hundred and forty-six of the 150 members of the House of Representatives went to the last election saying that they would not bring in a carbon tax. Four out of 150 is no mandate. I suppose one is a Green so that gives them a mandate, and then of course you have got the others, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, going along with them, listening to advice of that great economist who is not even a scientist, Ross Garnaut. What a great thing to have. Here is someone on a scientific issue as a key adviser to government, who is an economist not even a scientist, on a climate change policy. That is an irony in itself.

I would just like to reaffirm what opposition leader Tony Abbott has said. The next election will be a referendum on the carbon tax and, if the coalition is elected to government, as I hope we are, then that carbon tax is going. It is a $1 trillion tax. That is a lot of noughts—$1 million is a lot of money, and $1,000 million, $1 billion, is a lot of money. But $1,000 billion is a huge amount of money. It is a $1 trillion tax on our economy in today's money, by the year 2050, while the rest of the world are doing very, very little.

You are not going to change the CO2 levels. Ours are going up. We do not have a tent over our nation, but just a tax so that you can compensate people for the price of electricity going up—we will put the price up and then we will compensate you for it! But you have not compensated business. When will people in this place on that side of the chamber learn that it is the business sector that drives our nation's wealth, and the more you strangle that business sector the more you strangle the living standards and prosperity of our nation? That is exactly what this carbon tax is doing and, as for the removal of the floor price, the whole scheme is ridiculous and the sooner it goes the better.