Carbon tax bill opens fresh debate about job security

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Australia’s industry watchdog is pleading with the government to deal with “key industry concerns” about the risks associated with the carbon tax for local manufacturers, particularly where future job security is concerned. 

Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday introduced the first of 18 bills to parliament to establish the carbon price regime, which will see Australia’s big polluters paying a tax per tonne of carbon emitted from September 2012. 

It is becoming clearer every day that the carbon tax will eventuate, with Gillard warning coalition MPs yesterday to vote for the bill or they’d be harshly judged by history. The government’s support from Greens and independents is further fuel to push the legislation through. 

Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) chief executive, Heather Ridout, has been raising public concern for months that the fixes carbon prices are too high for industry – especially when it is struggling with a high Australian dollar and rising electricity prices.  

"The Government has dealt with some of the technical matters raised by Ai Group and others. However, our key issues of concern have not been addressed and remain major stumbling blocks," Ridout said yesterday, after the details of the first carbon tax bill were announced. 

"Given the volatile and uncertain domestic and global economic climate and the lack of an international consensus on action to address climate change, the timing of the introduction of the carbon tax could hardly be worse,” Ridout said. 

"In this environment the risks of imposing damaging costs on Australian industry are amplified.” 

Too high, too soon

Ridout has maintained all along that there should be price flexibility in the carbon tax legislation, and that the starting price should be $10 maximum.   

"The high fixed prices from mid 2012 to mid 2015, are a major area of concern for Australian businesses.  The set prices of $23 to $25.40 in these years are well out of step with international carbon prices, currently hovering between $16 and $18 a tonne in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme,” she said. 

Ridout has also been pushing for the government to sort out legacy emissions reduction schemes across Australia before the national tax is introduced. This has also not been addressed in the bill. 

“There is still no clear strategy to cut back the tangle of inefficient emissions reduction measures that has proliferated across Australia,” she said. 

Importantly, Ridout says there is not enough assistance for manufacturers in certain sectors, and is nervous for their future once the tax is introduced. 

“For many manufacturers assistance measures are not well matched to address the upfront impacts,” Ridout said. 

"Ai Group has raised these issues many times. There is still time to address them. Fixed and inflexible prices can be amended.  Assistance for less intensive manufacturers should be addressed by a swift and highly accessible rollout of the proposed $1.2 billion in grants. 

"We will examine the draft legislation closely in the coming weeks, and make further input to the Joint Committee that has been announced.” 

Industry debate snowballs

Meanwhile, the Australia Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is all for the carbon tax, saying the new bill will provide certainty to Australian workers and their families and allow them to begin planning for the largest economic adjustment for a generation. 

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the package had addressed union concerns about household costs, protection of existing jobs, and investment in new job-creating technologies.

She said it was now time for the scare campaigns to end, and for Australian industry to begin preparing to reduce their emissions and build new industries for the long-term security of their profits and their employees.

“Today is a turning point in the carbon price debate,” Kearney said.

“With the facts now on the table, it is clear that doomsday predictions about jobs and the impact on living costs are untrue.

“We intend to spend coming days examining the package in more detail, but today’s announcement ticks the right boxes by protecting jobs, supporting household incomes, and driving new investment in renewable energy.” 

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) however has similar concerns to Ai Group, claiming Australian jobs are not stable until the carbon tax is taken off the agenda. 

"By introducing a carbon tax at a time when unemployment is now rising … the government is taking a serious and unwarranted risk with the security of jobs," ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson told AAP yesterday.