CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Carbon tax to be litmus test for new Senate
, July 5, 2014
With the new Senate term commencing on July 1, the focus of much of the horse-trading will shift to the minor parties with the balance of power in the upper house.
Already, Tony Abbott has reintroduced the legislation to repeal the carbon tax — one of the signature issues of the 2013 election. The carbon tax will be the wedge which the Abbott government uses to get its Budget measures through the Senate.
This is the second time the carbon tax repeal bills have been introduced since last year’s election. The bills were passed by the House of Representatives last year and rejected by the Senate in March this year. The new Senate has been recalled on July 7 to consider the bills again.
Later this year, the Abbott government will have to put to the Senate its more unpopular propositions, including the Medicare co-payment, indexation of the petroleum excise and the abolition of controls on university fees, which are highly unlikely to get through.
With the shift in the balance of power, the PM is putting the acid right back on the new Senate. Speaking recently at a factory in Laverton, Victoria, Mr Abbott said, “This current Parliament was elected to get rid of the carbon tax.”
He went on: “If there was one thing that I said time and time again before the election, it was this — change the government and you will lose the carbon tax. Well, the people did change the government. The people did change the Senate.
“I will be reintroducing the carbon tax repeal legislation into the Parliament today. It will be dealt with urgently by the new Senate after July 1, and I expect this carbon tax — this toxic tax — to be gone.”
Labor and the Greens, however, are determined to frustrate the government. They have challenged the Prime Minister, in the event that his budget measures are defeated, to call a double dissolution of both houses of parliament — where the quota for filling a Senate vacancy would be halved.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has announced a series of Abbott government measures which Labor will oppose.
He said Labor would move to defeat more than a dozen budget proposals, including the measures referred to above, the axing of the seniors’ supplement worth up to $876 a year, changing Family Tax Benefits, raising the retirement age to 70 and requiring job-seekers under 30 to wait six months to become eligible for unemployment benefits.
The Greens will support Labor in its opposition to these measures.
But most of the new senators, recently elected for a six-year term, are at least willing to talk.
In his speech in parliament, the Prime Minister set out the government’s agenda for the new Senate, beginning with the repeal of the carbon tax, and extending to the other contentious issues where he faces major challenges to getting his measures through.
He said: “Today the government reintroduces the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013. As I said back in November of last year when I introduced this Bill for the first time, the Australian people have already voted on this Bill and now the Parliament again gets its chance.
“The people have spoken and now, it’s up to this Parliament to show that it’s listened. The Australian people pronounced their judgment against the carbon tax: they want it gone and this Bill delivers. It delivers on the Coalition’s commitment to the Australian people to scrap this toxic tax.”
Mr Abbott went on to defend Joe Hockey’s Budget as tough but visionary: “It was about setting this country on a path to long-term structural change.”
He said that, with the repeal of the carbon tax, households would benefit by about $550 a year on average.
Because of this Bill, household electricity bills will be around $200 lower next financial year without the tax, gas bills will be about $70 lower, and prices for groceries, household items and services would also fall “because the price of power is embedded in every price in our economy”.
To ensure that the cost savings are passed on to consumers, he said that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) would monitor compliance.
As a sweetener to the electorate, he told Parliament that although the carbon tax would go, the carbon tax compensation will stay “so that every Australian should be better off”.
Repealing the carbon tax will reduce costs for all Australian businesses, he said.
“Now the previous government said and argued that only big business paid the carbon tax, but this simply wasn’t true. Every small business paid the carbon tax through higher electricity and gas bills and higher costs for supplies.”
The PM also argued that the carbon tax acts as a reverse tariff.
“Not only does the carbon tax make it more difficult for Australian businesses to compete abroad; it makes it more difficult for domestic businesses to compete at home — because there is no carbon tax on imports.”
He also said that repealing the carbon tax would remove over 1,000 pages of primary and subordinate legislation, cut the size of the climate change bureaucracy, reduce the cost of living, make jobs more secure and improve the competitive position of our country.
The next few weeks will give us a good idea whether the Abbott government will get its key budget measures through parliament.