Mr PITT (Hinkler) (16:01): As a former farmer and small business owner I understand the many difficulties facing the sugar industry and the Hinkler business community more broadly. In a recent submission to government on the repeal of the carbon tax, Queensland cane growers advised that Labor’s tax had increased the cost of production by $20 million since it was introduced, hurting the industry’s international competitiveness.
Sugar cane is Queensland’s largest agricultural crop by volume and value. With 80 per cent of Australia’s sugar exported overseas, it is also Australia’s seventh largest agricultural export. Australia’s sugar exports were worth $1.4 billion last financial year, making us the third largest supplier in the world. The industry also employs 50,000 people, directly and indirectly.
Irrigators have been hardest hit by the carbon tax. Cane growers indicate that repealing the carbon tax will save them up to 10 per cent on their energy bills and save thousands of jobs. It will also bring significant supply chain benefits. The tax inflated the price of goods like fertiliser and chemicals. Industry research shows growers are paying up to 33 cents extra per tonne this financial year to produce the same crop they did in 2010-11, before the introduction of the tax. As cane growers are not able to pass the cost on to their international consumers, the increased cost of production is being paid for directly from the bottom line, in some cases leading to a reduction of wages and the loss of jobs. Cane growers have always opposed the carbon tax, and for good reason. Repealing Labor’s carbon tax will go some way to helping restore profitability to the industry and provide workers with greater job security.
Despite the significant impact of the carbon tax and the relatively high trade exposure of the industry, sugar cane growers did not receive any assistance under the Clean Energy Futures package. The Queensland Cane Growers Organisation argues that they are the only sugar cane growers in the world to operate without some form of subsidy, trade barrier or market control. The only way Australia’s cane farmers remain competitive by global standards is through constantly improving productivity and by containing the cost of production relative to cane producers in Thailand, Brazil and India.
Agribusiness contributes greatly to the economic viability of regional communities like Hinkler and that is why this government is committed to repealing the carbon tax. Like cane growers, Hinkler’s horticulturalists are price-takers and not price-setters, which means they are unable to pass the cost of the carbon tax on to their markets. Peter Hockings, Executive Officer at BFVG, recently told me his members were deeply concerned about their future under Labor’s carbon tax. The tax has been the final nail in the coffin for many.
Many growers are eager to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, but argue a tax is not the way to go about it. They, like this government, favour direct action, improving productivity and finding efficiencies. They are paying more for fertiliser, more to transport their products to market, and more to dispose of their organic waste material. As well as the increased cost of electricity for irrigators, our growers are paying more for their cold storage.
Our farmers are not the only ones paying more for refrigerant gases. Businesses like the Woodgate Beach General Store, which services a small community, have taken a big hit. Owners, Barry and Rose, are looking to retire and know their prospects for selling the business will be better without a carbon tax. Businesses and community groups already running on tight budgets are feeling the pinch. The carbon tax has impacted on the cost of gas in the bowls club. It affects the electricity costs for the ice-makers who supply our commercial and recreational fishermen. It has increased costs for the local library and community hall.
But the strong opposition to Labor’s tax does not stop there. Allow me to read just one of the many letters my office received in relation to the carbon tax, which said:
l am contacting you to express my concern of the impending rise in the cost of living and loss of industry when the carbon tax is introduced.
As a senior Australian I am finding that my dollar does not perform in the supermarket, petrol bowser or when paying rates.
I am fearful that the increased costs levelled at councils, through the introduction of the carbon tax, will mean I will have trouble finding the funds to meet the financial demands of life.
Being a baby boomer, I bought an investment property in Maryborough, as our superannuation would only support us for about six months in retirement.
There is no work for people my age in Hervey Bay and unfortunately, because we now have an investment property asset, we are not entitled to any Centrelink benefit and miss out on government assistant packages.
To gain employment we left the Bay in 2011 to pursue seasonal work. We cannot afford this tax and I ask that you take steps to prevent its introduction.
I am pleased to say, Madam Speaker, that the removal of the carbon tax in 2014-15 will save households around $550 a year. At the election, the people voted overwhelmingly for change. It was a referendum on the carbon tax and a referendum on Labor’s $9 billion a year hit to the Australian economy.
The SPEAKER: I call the honourable member for Port Adelaide, but just for 20 seconds.