I want to speak briefly on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill and related bills. I will speak briefly as I want the Senate to deal as quickly as possible with the passage of these bills because the Australian people made it so clear, in their mandate at the federal election sixth months ago, that they wanted us to deal with this.
I briefly wanted to mention a specific bill in that package—the Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013. That is the bill which deals with amending the provisions to remove the carbon price imposed through the excise equivalent customs duty on aviation fuel. I remind the chamber what great news this is for the embattled airline industry and for the workers of that industry, who, together with their CEOs, are facing the very real challenges of operating in a highly competitive industry. As Virgin CEO John Borghetti said last week:
… the best assistance the government and the Opposition—
that includes Labor and the Greens—
can provide is the removal of the carbon tax, which has cost this industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
We have seen over recent weeks the impact of that cost impost daily as it ricochets throughout our economy and impacts, particularly, on the airline industry.
The chamber has heard again over the last six months—and over the previous two years—of the impacts of the toxic, ill-conceived and ineffective attack on households and businesses. The reality is that electricity costs rose 15.3 per cent in the first quarter after the tax came into effect. Household fuel and gas costs rose 14 per cent. Businesses have similarly been struggling under the weight of the carbon tax and, for our largest dairy food company, Murray Goulburn, it was an annual cost of $14 million in the first year of the carbon tax coming into effect. That was an impost of $14 million on a farmers' cooperative trying to take the best produce in the world—a lot of it grown down south in my state of Victoria—to the international markets.
But it was not only businesses that bore the cost of carbon tax. In 2012-13 the carbon tax cost more than $13.4 million across the Victorian public health system, including $208,000 to Albury-Wodonga Health. But my focus tonight is on regional Victoria—specifically dairy and horticulture, our two great agricultural industries, particularly in the north of the state—and the food processing sector. Victoria's dairy sector accounts for 65.6 per cent of Australia's milk production and our exports were valued at over $1.8 billion—86 per cent of the value of Australia's total dairy exports. According to Australian Dairy Farmers, the average cost of the carbon tax on a dairy farm—and we heard this over and over again, and those opposite tonight refuse to heed the fact that with their carbon tax they had actually forgotten about the dairy farmers—would be between $5½ thousand and $7,000 per annum. This is significant in the context that these farmers and small business people are price takers and are trying to compete in a highly competitive global market. According to modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, the average savings to farms of the full repeal of the carbon price in 2014-15 would be $4½ thousand for the dairy industry and $4,620 for vegetable growers.
If the ALP and the Greens wanted to see vibrant regional communities being economically sustainable with our environmental standards and our land and water management practices, which are world-class—if you want to judge environmental practice, Australia leads the world in how to sustainably manage our water and land resources—they would be getting rid of this tax so that the good work of Australian farmers and, indeed, regional communities more broadly could be undertaken.
It is not only dairy farmers but the regional Victorian food industry that is struggling to remain competitive under the carbon tax. Our food manufacturers are already dealing with the impacts, and the Australian Food and Grocery Council's carbon tax survey from July 2013 found that 28 per cent of respondents experienced a greater than five per cent increase in their costs due to the carbon tax. To those opposite, most of whom have not operated their own business, five per cent does not sound like a lot of money, but these businesses are operating in incredibly challenging circumstances. With the high Australian dollar and the cost of doing business, including input costs—and not just labour costs but chemical costs, refrigeration, transport costs et cetera—five per cent is a significant amount of money. Sixty-seven per cent of survey respondents reported they were unable to pass those costs on. This carbon tax is crushing Australian industry. The data is in.
The former, Labor government also planned to extend the carbon tax to fuel used by the trucking industry from 1 July 2014, only three months away. If those opposite, like Glenn Sterle—Senator Sterle, I apologise—cared about a vibrant, sustainable trucking industry, he would be voting to repeal this to get rid of the impost on those in the sector in only three months time. We know industry needs time to plan and budget, but, with this uncertainty continuing, it is a cruel reminder of what Australians have had to live under with the incompetent legislative agenda program of the former government over the past six years.
The freight and logistics sector accounts for about 15 per cent of the Victorian economy, and extending the carbon tax to fuel will mean an effective carbon tax on each and every one of Australia's 47,000 trucking businesses, 85 per cent of which have fewer than five employees. That is small business; that is mums and dads. These are not the multinationals that the Greens are so keen to talk about and that Labor wants to smash. These are mums and dads operating throughout regional and urban Australia. These companies employ small numbers of people and may not make the headlines but are struggling under the hangover of bad legislation left by the former government, which Australians overwhelmingly voted against on 7 September. Labor and the Greens claim to support regional Australia and the agriculture industry and, indeed, made several badge-of-honour statements, if you like, in weekly regional papers in the lead-up to the election. But their absolute contempt for the mandate given to this place by regional Australia, who voted in overwhelming proportions to get rid of the carbon tax, makes a mockery of those words, so glibly spoken, particularly by Senator Milne, in the lead-up to the federal election. Now is the time to prove their support for regional Australia, because regional Australians want the carbon tax gone—and that election result could not have been clearer.
We are here to reflect the people's will. This is not about whether climate change is real or imagined—we must act on climate change—but we can address it without strangling business and agriculture. Let's face it, we know that the disproportionate effect of this tax was felt in regional Australia and in our industry. It is time for Labor and the Greens to stop denying the coalition government's mandate to repeal the carbon tax and deliver much-needed financial relief for our regional communities so that we can be sustainable, promote good environmental practice internationally through our land and water management practices and, more importantly, keep employing Australians.