Two thousand meatworkers employed at Australia's biggest abattoir are bracing for the full impact of the federal government's controversial carbon tax as threats of plant shutdowns and industrial calamity grip the processing sector in the wake of the legislation taking effect this week.
Similar levels of high anxiety are mirrored at other major sites around the country, as plants with carbon emissions above the 25,000 tonne per year threshold prepare to be slugged the $23/tonne tax.
For the world's biggest meat processor, JBS, which operates Brisbane's giant Dinmore facility on the western outskirts of the city, the carbon tax could see the company pay more than $1.8 million in dues to federal government coffers based on its annual CO2 emissions calculations of 80,000 tonnes.
Company spokesman John Berry fears export performance will be the first casualty as JBS looks to mitigate the pain by spreading the increased cost burden across its 10 other Australian plants, several of which emit less then 25,000 tonnes.
"The truth of the matter is we are an energy-intensive, trade-exposed business," he said.
"As a business, we are a large exporter which is now having to wear the costs of a tax that our competitors such as the US and Brazil don't have to deal with."
Mr Berry would not be drawn on how JBS intended to soften the blow to its bottom line, remaining tightlipped on plans to drop shifts or close plants to reduce carbon emissions.
Mr Berry's comments follow concerns aired last week by Teys senior managers who have floated the possibility of temporarily closing their plant at Beenleigh, south of Brisbane, to bring their emissions below the 25,000 tonne threshold.
Company spokesman Tom Maguire said Teys would face a tax bill of almost $2 million if the drastic action was not taken.
Other plants facing similar cost pressures around the country could follow suit.
Despite primary production excluded from the tax, AgForce president Brent Finlay has reiterated his organisation's opposition to the legislation based on the pressures it expects will be exerted across the supply chain as increased costs are passed on.
"Costs through the entire supply chain will be passed back to primary producers," he said.
"Unfortunately, as price takers, we do not have the option to pass this on further."
Mr Berry said Australian beef exporters were also price takers in the global market and increased costs at home could not be passed on to overseas customers.
"Dinmore was built to the scale that it is today to be an internationally competitive export processing facility," he said.
"This carbon tax is a direct threat on the ability of the plant to compete effectively.
"I believe the processing sector has been misunderstood and needs more incentive programs from the government to help processing plants improve their emissions."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said July 1 marked the first day in the nation's history that major greenhouse gas emitters would be required to pay for their pollution.
Ms Gillard said Australia's carbon pollution would be at least 159 million tonnes less per annum than it would be without the new policy or the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road.
To help families with the costs that some businesses will pass on to them, a new round of tax cuts are also starting, including trebling the tax-free threshold from $6000 to $18,200.
"A carbon price is a responsible economic reform," she said.
"Treasury modelling shows the economy will continue to grow with a carbon price in place 1.6 million new jobs will be created to 2020 and new industries in clean technology and renewable energy will be created."
Opposition leader Tony Abbott has vowed to repeal the tax if his party wins office at the next election.
Mr Abbott attacked the multi-billion dollar carbon trading scheme for producing dire economic consequences while failing to achieve little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
He said the consistent message from businesses with overseas and domestic operations is that the carbon tax will boost investment abroad.
"It is a reverse tariff damaging Australian jobs and protecting foreign jobs."
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