OPINION: Taxing times for dirty industry

Cutting the amount of pollution emitted into our atmosphere will help preserve our country’s future. So why is our industry so dirty about the carbon tax?

The carbon tax was passed through the senate this month, sign-posting the end of months of speculation from Australia’s manufacturers over whether or not the reform will go ahead.

Now, Manufacturers’ Monthly readers have no choice but to prepare for a future alongside the much-debated tax.

For some, the reform is a natural cost of living with climate change. For others, the tax is an unnecessary burden on their businesses, and possibly their livelihoods.

Either way, the carbon tax is imminent. It has been on the political agenda in one form or another since before the 2007 federal election, so its passage into policy last month should not have come as a surprise to manufacturers. 

But policies affecting businesses come and go. And from time to time, new laws are passed. Australians either celebrate or damn the decision; a few weeks pass, and then they move on. 

So why is the carbon tax still being met with so much opposition? 

Put simply, the tax doesn’t make sense – not to families struggling with rising electricity, grocery and housing prices, and certainly not for manufacturers battling the high dollar, overseas competition, the mining boom, a two-speed economy, job losses, industrial action, and any number of other ailments seemingly destined to wipe-out the industry for good.

Just look at the latest PMI, which shows manufacturing activity declined during October due to a serious lack of new orders.

The industry has had an extremely tough year, and their Christmas present for weathering the storm is a big, fat, tax.

To add insult to injury, both the government and trade unions insist the carbon tax is a positive reform for the industry: Just look at how many jobs it will create! See how it will boost the economy! This is the answer to global competition! 

And every time the government plugs the benefits of the tax, as though it’s a gift for the economy, local manufacturers shrink just a little bit lower knowing that, come July 2012, the $23-per-tonne carbon tax will be just another item on their list of overdue bills.

Here lies the problem. The reason the tax was thought-up in the first place has been forgotten – lost in the jumble of politics, fighting and self-righteousness. 

Picture this: the carbon tax is going to cut the carbon emitted into Australia’s atmosphere by at least 160 million tonnes a year by 2020. This will help ensure the longevity of our natural resources, animals, and people. It will make Australia a cleaner, healthier place for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren.

But before it even starts killing-off carbon, the tax is instead killing-off optimism. A report published on Manmonthly.com.au shows one of the major factors holding back manufacturing business growth is attitude; industry negativity has caused stagnation.

People don’t like paying taxes – it’s as simple as that. A policy designed to unite industry to tackle a higher cause should come with a reward – not a punishment paid by ‘dirty’ industry. It’s called ‘positive reinforcement’. 

Punishing industry for emitting carbon dioxide might make sense in the short-term, but it will cause detrimental and lasting side effects – and these have already begun to show in the gloomy attitude out there in our factories. 

Manufacturers would be much happier about forking-out for their carbon if the government created a rewards system, where every time a company paid $23 for a tonne of emissions, this money went towards creating clean technology to make saving that carbon easier.

Millions of dollars could be thrown into more research and development centres where Australian manufacturers could collaborate to create new and amazing innovations – not only in the area of clean technology, but also in infrastructure development, biomedical and pharmaceuticals research, and skills development to recruit tomorrow’s manufacturers.

Everyone with a ‘carbon share’ in that development would get a slice of the profit once it went to market, meaning carbon prices wouldn’t have to be passed on to the consumer at all.

If the government wants Australia to enter its clean energy future – and who doesn’t? – then it should work harder not to get the very same industry offside that will create the technology. 

Manufacturers just want to make stuff. Shouldn’t we let them get on with it?