Gillard Government Censure Motion

I move:

That the Senate censures the government for its gross deception of the Australian people by introducing a carbon tax after specifically ruling out such a measure during the election.

The Labor-Green alliance’s carbon tax announced last week is one of the biggest deceptions perpetrated on the Australian people. That is why this government deserves to be censured. It is a gross betrayal of the Australian people by their government. That is why this government deserves to be censured. It is dishonesty writ large. That is why this government deserves to be censured.

Let us be clear: in the last week of the campaign Labor specifically, solemnly and shamelessly promised no carbon tax. Let us just go through the list of examples that we have. Ms Gillard said:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

Nothing could have been clearer. On 20 August, the day before the election, when things were very tight and everybody knew the election was close, Ms Gillard said:

I rule out a carbon tax.

Nothing could have been clearer. Indeed, her deputy, Mr Swan, said:

We have made our position very clear. We have ruled it out.

Then on 15 August he said:

Well, certainly, what we rejected is this hysterical allegation somehow that we are moving toward a carbon tax. We certainly reject that.

We now know that the government and the Labor Party were at all times moving to a carbon tax. So they made this specific, solemn and shameless promise to the Australian people in the dying days of the election that there would be no carbon tax. When the polls were desperately tight, Labor made the promise of no carbon tax, which allowed them to cling to power by their fingernails, with a little help from their friends in the Greens. Who in this place doubts that if Labor had said in the week leading up to the election, ‘We will introduce a carbon tax,’ they today would be sitting on this side of the chamber? They would be in opposition and there is no doubt that Tony Abbott would be the leader of a majority coalition government.

So Australians are quite right in asking today: ‘How is it that two members of the House of Representatives and five senators can dictate the nation’s policy against the policies on which 147 members of the House of Representatives and 71 senators were elected?’ It seems that the Greens tail that was wagging this Labor government has now morphed into the full backbone and skeleton and is directing absolutely every move of this conscienceless government. We now know the heavy price the Australian people are paying for this government: deceit before the election, deals immediately after the election and, now, these pathetic denials of the most disingenuous kind. Make no mistake. Labor’s promise of ‘no carbon tax’ was its election eve promise. It was express; it was emphatic. That is why Labor’s flagrant breach is such a gross and unprecedented betrayal of the Australian people and that is why it is imperative that this chamber censures the government.

This betrayal will impact every single Australian in every sphere of their lives. It will rightly shatter any vestige of confidence that may remain in the integrity of this government. It will punch holes in every household budget. It will destroy tens of thousands of jobs. And, perversely, it will make things worse for the environment in the absence of a global agreement. You can be assured that the factory owners of the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—are cheering on this Labor-Green madness, because they know that their products will now be able to displace the Australian made products, which are so much cleaner.

Senator Wong —You are sounding like Scott Morrison.

Senator ABETZ —An example that I can give to the senator from South Australia is—

Senator Wong interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —that in her very own home state there is a manufacturer of zinc—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Those on my right—

Senator Wong —You are bloody shameful.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, withdraw that.

Senator Wong —I withdraw.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senators on both sides, this does not help. We have a motion before the chair that the chamber has agreed to hear. Senator Abetz deserves to be heard. This is not helping Senator Abetz or me. When we have silence on both sides we will proceed.

Senator ABETZ —I can understand the sensitivity and shrillness, especially that of Senator Wong, the failed minister for climate change. Let us not forget that in 2007 climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time. Then what happened to it? While she was minister, it all of a sudden got dumped. And at whose insistence? At Ms Gillard’s insistence. We know that courtesy of Mr Rudd’s leaks during the last election. Nobody from Labor has denied it. So we have a situation in which this person who is Prime Minister today convinced the former Prime Minister, who she knifed, that it was no longer the greatest moral challenge of our time. Then she sought to take control of the Labor Party. She specifically promised the Australian people that she was not Mr Rudd, but—

Senator Ronaldson —The ‘real Julia’.

Senator ABETZ —the ‘real Julia’—exactly right, Senator Ronaldson. ‘Trust me,’ she said. On the topic of trust, Senator Evans claims that he cannot remember what Ms Gillard said in her policy speech. Allow me to remind him. On the very first page, she said this: ‘I want to speak to you. I want to speak to you from my heart. I want to speak to you about my values.’ So it was from her heart and based on her values. I went through this document page by page, line by line, word by word, to see where there was this promise of a carbon price that had always been front and centre of Labor’s policy, according to Minister Evans. I am sorry: there was no mention of a carbon price; there was no mention of a carbon tax. Indeed, page after page, line after line, word after word, there is not a mention of a carbon tax or carbon price.

Finally, in the very last paragraph, eight lines from the end of Labor’s policy launch, is the only reference to climate change. That which was the great moral challenge of our time in 2007 was relegated to the very last paragraph and smothered in puerile pathetic plagiarisms of Mr Obama of the ‘Yes, we will’ kind. Climate change was thrown in at No. 5 out of nine. The statement was, ‘Yes, we will work together and tackle the challenge of climate change.’ That is it. In over 5,000 words, 12 words were devoted to climate change. And that was in the context of us having a citizens’ assembly. What was one of the first thing done after the election? The citizens’ assembly was axed. There was no pursuit of a community consensus, but there was a pursuit of a consensus with the Australian Greens and a few Independent members of the other house.

But the important thing is this: even with the acknowledgment that Ms Gillard said, ‘Yes, we will tackle climate change,’ after that she was asked, in effect, ‘Does “Yes, we will,” mean a tax on carbon?’ and she denied it. She denied it not once, not twice but on too many occasions to count, as did her Treasurer, Mr Swan. The denials were innumerable. The denials were shrill, with the coalition being labelled as hysterical and engaged in dishonest scare tactics.

Why the shrillness from Labor during the last election campaign? Why the unequivocal denials from Labor during the last election campaign? Why this grave betrayal now after the election campaign? Because, as we have seen only too often, Labor will say whatever and do whatever because their moral compass for government is ‘whatever it takes’.

The Australian people should feel aggrieved at this gross betrayal. But it is not only a gross betrayal; it is also bad policy. Here in the Senate are the two Greens leaders, pretending to be the champions of my home state of Tasmania. All I would ask them to do is read the Access Economics report on the impact that a carbon tax will have on transport. Their home state of Tasmania will suffer more greatly than any state in the Commonwealth. The cost of living will be most impacted in the southern part of Tasmania. And they claim to be senators from Tasmania.

Previously, we heard the shrill intervention of Senator Wong, a senator from South Australia. In her state, there is one of the cleanest manufacturers of zinc in the world. Indeed, in her home state, Nyrstar makes one tonne of zinc for about two tonnes of CO2 emitted. In China, that same one tonne of zinc is made with six tonnes of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere. So when we price our zinc out of the world market, the world market will buy its zinc not from South Australia or from my home state of Tasmania but from China. As a result, this madness of a carbon tax—in the absence of a world agreement, and that is an important caveat—will mean the pricing out of the marketplace of clean products in favour of dirtier products.

That is why I say to those on the Greens bench, on the crossbench and especially on the government bench: when you talk about a carbon tax in isolation, the factory owners of the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—are cheering you on from the sidelines, because they see the benefit for their economies. I happen to think that most Australians would be willing to suffer a bit of an economic loss if there were, on the other side of the ledger, an environmental dividend. But the simple fact is that there will not be an environmental dividend, and that is why this tax has such a disastrous bottom line. It will mug Australian jobs, it will mug Australia’s cost of living and, what is more, it will mug the world’s environment. We all know that. The Labor Party knows that. That is why Labor went to the last election solemnly promising that there would be no carbon tax. In August 2010 a carbon tax was a bad idea. Despite its being a bad idea, according to the Labor Party, we had the Greens willingly giving them their preferences.

One wonders whether a pre-election deal may in fact have been made, but that is for the Greens and the Labor Party to tell the Australian people. The simple fact remains that no manner of squirming and no manner of word games claimed by the Prime Minister can get her out of the solemn promise she made. This cuts at the very heart of our democratic system. Our democratic system is based on integrity. It is based on trust. It is based on the belief that when a government goes to the people with a promise it can in fact be believed and the promise can in fact be implemented.

Senator Cameron —No wonder they want to get rid of you. What a pathetic performance. You—the leader!

Senator ABETZ —Of Senator Cameron, who represents the zombies in this place, I ask, I wonder who said this:

I think when you go to an election and you give a promise to the Australian people, you should do everything in your power to honour that promise. … We want Australians to be able to say well, they said this and they did this.

The same person—there is a hint for you, Senator Cameron—also said:

If the reputation of this government is that we are stubborn in the delivery of our election promises, then we are stubborn in keeping our word to the Australian people. Then I’ll take that. I’ll take that as a badge of honour.

Who said that? None other than your Prime Minister. There she is on the record, absolutely ruling out a carbon tax, absolutely telling the Australian people how fundamental and important it is to have honesty and integrity in the delivery of an election promise. So I say to the Prime Minister and to the Labor Party: if you want to honour your election promise of no carbon tax, we in the coalition will support you all the way. We will assist you in that, because you and we were both elected on the same policy of no carbon tax.

Considering the vote that the coalition got and the vote that the Australian Labor Party got in comparison with the 10 per cent or so that the Greens got, the Australian people are asking, ‘How is it that the will of 90 per cent of the Australian people can be so shamelessly discarded?’ The reason is that Ms Gillard and Labor will do whatever it takes to cling onto power. That is their modus operandi. There is no morality in this. Let us not try to dress this up as some environmental policy, because it is not. It is a tax grab, but they are trying to give it a green veneer. It seems, in recent times, that, no matter what Labor is confronted with, the immediate reaction is tax. If there is a flood, let us have a tax; students, let us have a tax; resources, let us have a tax; alcohol, let us have a tax; carbon in the air, let us have a tax. These people are absolutely addicted to tax, even in circumstances in which they know it will hurt their base.

People like Senator Cameron and others who once were proud trade union leaders and who once were proud defenders of the Australian manufacturing sector are now sitting in this place selling that sector out. One indeed wonders why Senator Cameron had to go to all the trouble of knifing out Senator George Campbell from this place. Senator Campbell had become too weak; the Labor Party was deserting the workers. And now we have Senator Cameron following suit. We have in this one action by the government a window into how this government will behave.

Senator Sterle —Yawn. I am tired.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Sterle may well be tired.

Senator Sterle —I am bored.

Senator ABETZ —I imagine that listening to an intellectual argument for over five minutes would tire him. I can understand that, Senator Sterle. Nobody would complain if you were to take yourself outside of the chamber.

Senator Sterle —I am bored because you are boring me.

Senator ABETZ —What we have here is an issue of fundamental importance to the future of our nation. First of all, it is the democratic issue of a broken election promise, but not just any election promise: one that was made so solemnly, so deliberately and so carefully. There would be no carbon tax. Nothing could be clearer than that. Yet in question time today Senator Evans, despite knowing the fact, could not bring himself to admit that, yes, that is what the Prime Minister said; yes, it is a fact that the Labor Party’s election speech did not contain any mention of a carbon price or a carbon tax.

This government deserves the censure of the whole Senate. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that if there were a secret ballot there would be members of the Labor Party caucus who would be voting for this, because they were not even allowed to have a say. So much for the community consultation. The Prime Minister did not even consult the community representatives that were democratically elected. I think she knew what the result would be.

So I accept that on this occasion we will not have a secret ballot. But I plead with those on the crossbenches to consider the gravity of this situation, because this government is deserving of censure for its deceit, for its deals and for its denials, which have now morphed into their new carbon tax—a tax which will hurt every single Australian household budget, will costs tens of thousands of jobs and will mug the world environment to boot.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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