Senate Speech - Carbon Tax Bills

Mr Acting Deputy President, the Coalition believes that this suite of bills should not be submitted to a truncated joint committee as proposed by the Greens and the Labor Party.

If we cast our minds back, for example, to when we had tax reform in this country, four separate specialist Senate committees were used over a period of five months to adequately air the issues at stake.

The Labor Party boasts and would say that it's so-called Carbon Tax reform, that is anything but a reform; if anything, it will deform the Australian economy, is the biggest change and reform ever in Australian economic history.

The Labor Party went to the 2007 election promising Operation Sunlight. Remember that term 'Operation Sunlight' where the Labor Party said it would allow the sun to shine in, that everything would be adequately examined and that the Australian people, through the parliamentary processes, would be given sufficient time to consider all the issues on each and every occasion.

Yet, here we have the suggestion of a joint committee to report by 5 October, if I am not mistaken, in literally a few days, on that which the Labor Party claims to be the biggest reform ever in Australian economic history.

The simple fact is the Labor Party and the Greens are trying to truncate this so that they can go to Durban with a piece of legislation that has passed the Parliament. 

The Australian nation has been in this space before. If we cast our minds back to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme - that dismally failed - the imperative on that occasion was that we have it legislated by Copenhagen so we could waive some legislation around at Copenhagen and prove to the rest of the world what great leaders we were.

Of course, what happened at Copenhagen was that not a single country was willing to sign up to that which, had we passed this legislation, would have made us look like the clowns of Copenhagen.

Not having learnt from that, this Green-Labor alliance now wants Australia to look like the dunces of Durban, because they want this legislation passed so Ms Gillard can go to Durban and waive the legislation around and say: 'How clever are we? We are the only country in the world willing to deform our economy, to shed jobs and to shed wealth without making one slight bit of difference to the world's environment.'

The only environment that Labor and the Greens are concerned about is the environment within the United Nations, and Mr Rudd's standing and Ms Gillard's standing.

We, as the Coalition, will not be part and parcel of sacrificing the Australian national interest on the altar of Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard's vanity. It is going far too far for this Parliament to agree to this suite of changes. I thought at one stage it was 13 bills, then it was 18, and I now understand it is 19 bills.

Why is it that we should not fully explore the impact of this legislation? This Carbon Tax has a far-reaching impact. It will not only be on the 500 so-called biggest polluters. If it is the 500 biggest polluters, give us the list of the 500. It is about 500; it is not exactly 500. The Government says, 'We cannot give you the list, but pass our legislation.'

This is a Government that is all about its own personal vanity and also a Government led by the Australian Greens.

This Prime Minister, who is now seeking to drive this through the parliament with a truncated Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation, is the Prime Minister that went to the election last year claiming, 'There will be no Carbon Tax under a Government I lead.' She has a choice: she either leads this Government and has, therefore, misled the Australian people or she does not lead this Government because Senator Bob Brown and the Greens lead it.

That is the question the Labor Party has to answer. It is not only Ms Gillard that needs to answer this question. Every single Labor backbencher has to look in the mirror and ask: given that I was elected on a promise of no Carbon Tax, how can I faithfully seek to represent my electors by voting for this legislation?

The Australian people are quite right to ask: how is it that a few Greens can dictate the policy when over 90 per cent of the parliamentarians in both houses in this place were elected on a bipartisan policy - and I want to stress this - of no Carbon Tax?

Every single Labor member, every single Coalition member, and I assume the new Democratic Labor Party Senator as well, was elected on a promise of no Carbon Tax.

The reason is that Ms Gillard will do anything she needs to do to retain the Prime Ministership. She will do anything and she will sacrifice the national interest in her vain bid to remain Prime Minister.

This Carbon Tax will have far-reaching consequences. I visited a manufacturer in Geelong with Senator Michael Ronaldson. It was a new business just restarting after a hiatus of a couple of years. Interestingly, their power bill in rough terms in manufacturing came to $50,000 per month.

If you take the Government at its word - and I know it is foolish to do so, but let us do so just for this occasion - a 10 per cent hike in power prices would mean that over a 12-month period a start-up business now has $60,000 wiped off its bottom line just for its energy input. They said, 'Gee, that is a big hit, Senator.' Well, yes, it is.

Moreover, they pay rates to the local Government, don't they? Local Government are huge consumers of energy. What are local Government going to do? They will have to increase their rates, passed on to this company, to pay for the increased cost of energy and street lighting. So this small manufacturing business, just starting up again after a hiatus of two years, will see their costs increase by at least $60,000 per annum, if not a lot more.

We can go to the volunteer sector as well. What about Meals on Wheels? What about those that provide shelter to the homeless? They have energy bills as well.

They will be slugged with this 10 per cent impost and that is being very generous to the Government because most commentators are now saying the impost on energy bills will be a lot higher than 10 per cent.

So you can look at the small business sector, you can look at the volunteer sector and you can look at big business. You can have a look at our mining and exports. Is this joint committee going to deal with all these aspects of all the legislation by 5 October? Of course not.

The Government and the Greens simply do not want proper scrutiny of this legislation because they are scared of what it will reveal if we go through this mammoth wad of papers and examine it word by word, clause by clause. 

There is a huge issue at stake in relation to this Carbon Tax. It is a fundamental point. Senator Ludwig is busily making notes. The one point that he has to answer in this debate is: why did he and each of his cabinet colleagues go to the last election promising no Carbon Tax? Labor knew it was bad policy. Labour knew that, if Ms Gillard went to the people of Australia at the last election and said, 'Under a Government I lead there will be a Carbon Tax because we will save the world through it,' she would not be Prime Minister today. Mr Abbott would be the Prime Minister of a majority Coalition Government. There is no doubt about that.

Indeed, when we said to the Australian people at the time, 'Don't believe the Labor Party,' what were we accused of? Senator Ludwig's Queensland colleague, the hapless Treasurer Mr Swan, said, 'It is an hysterical allegation.'

In fact, it was not hysterical. It was historical because the Labor Party has form. They promise one thing before an election and then do exactly the opposite after. Every Australian that is old enough will remember Mr Keating promising the L-A-W law tax cuts and, as soon as he was re-elected in 1993, he repealed the laws. Not only did he not provide the tax cuts but he actually increased taxes. So we were being historical, not hysterical.

How can the Labor Party look in the mirror every morning and say, 'How come we are going down this path'? There is a simple reason. Ms Gillard was willing to sell the national interest so she could remain Prime Minister.

We have now heard this from Mr Adam Bandt, the Green member for Melbourne. If I have the date right, I think on 11 July he issued a press release saying that when he and Ms Gillard sat down to determine whether they could come to an agreement the first thing he asked for was a price on carbon, and she said yes without any argument.

Why didn't Ms Gillard have the personal integrity, the backbone, the moral courage to say, 'Mr Bandt, thanks for the offer but I made a solemn promise to the Australian people. I gazed down a TV camera and said to the Australian people: there will be no Carbon Tax. I cannot go back on my word'? Does she really think that the Greens would have sided with the Coalition in those circumstances? Of course not, but she was too weak, too desperate to retain the prime ministership. She was unwilling to take a stand even on such a fundamental issue.

I think that the Australian people are very responsible people, very sincere people. If they thought a Carbon Tax would provide a dividend for the environment, they would actually support it. But the overwhelming evidence is that a Carbon Tax in Australia, with Australia going it alone, will not provide an environmental dividend. That is the overwhelming evidence that you cannot overcome. 

The Coalition would be willing to revisit this issue in the context of the world uniting and saying: 'Let's all do this together. Let's walk in lock-step to ensure that we all bring emissions down without disadvantaging one or the other country.' We would be willing to look at the issue again, but Australia acting alone is sheer lunacy. It is economic vandalism and will do nothing for the Australian environment.

These are the issues that need to be aired. These are the issues that need to be discussed.

Indeed, Ms Gillard herself before the last election was so convinced that there was no consensus in the Australian community about going down this path that she was going to have her - what was it?- citizens assembly or something. There was to be an assembly of 150 people to try to build a consensus. She did not have the climate change group; she dropped that. Why? Because the Greens said it was a dumb idea, and for once I agree with the Greens. It was a dumb idea. It was a stupid idea and should never have been put up, but it indicates how devoid the Labor Party are of policy.

But the Labor Party have, and I congratulate them on this, developed a consensus in the Australian community about climate change. The consensus is: no Carbon Tax. That is the consensus that Ms Gillard has been able to grow and develop within the Australian community. She is now confronted with this consensus, which is overwhelming, even in my home state of Tasmania. I have seen some figures recently showing overwhelmingly that the Tasmanian people, like the Australian people in the national opinion polls, are awake to the nonsense of a Carbon Tax being introduced with Australia acting alone.

Let's not have this nonsense that people all around the world are adopting it. The minister might like to explain to the Australian people and the Senate in this debate what Japan is doing, what France is doing, what the United States is doing, what New Zealand is doing, what Canada is doing, what New Hampshire is doing. Let's hold up the great economies that Ms Gillard held up like California when she was over there, and like Spain. These are the economies that have gone down this route and they are now economic basket cases in anybody's language.

Take the European Union's trading scheme, which is one-tenth of that which we would impose on our own nation. It is 10 times as high, 10 times as devastating and, what is more, 10 times as rortable. We know there are scandals in the European system. In as sophisticated a country as Norway they are now having investigations into the rorting of the Carbon Tax scheme over there. With 10 times as much money available here, one would anticipate that there will be 10 times the temptation to rort the system. Where are the protections in this legislation in relation to that? Where are the protections to ensure that over $3 billion worth of Australian capital does not flow out of our nation each and every year in the vain pursuit of purchasing carbon credits elsewhere in the world?

These are matters worthy of detailed consideration, not to be lightly dealt with by a so-called joint committee that will look at these matters for a matter of a few days and then report with a foregone conclusion. This is a matter deserving of this parliament's specialist committees having a very, very close look at the detail -how it is going to impact on the volunteer sector, on the small business sector and on big businesses.

Speaking of big businesses, let's turn to our export industries. Ms Gillard goes to the coalmines and says, 'No worries - the coalmining and coal export industry will go full throttle under my Government.' Strange, that, isn't it? We are willing to sell our coal to the rest of the world for one purpose only: they will burn it for energy. And we will sell it to them without a Carbon Tax. But if Australians in Australia want to burn Australian coal they will be subjected to a Carbon Tax.

Some people might say that that is a double standard. Most people would say that there is some inconsistency here. But this is typical of Labor Party policy, because coal now seems to have gone into the same category as uranium. The Labor Party says of uranium, 'Yes, let's export it to the rest of the world to allow them to make energy from it,' but then they say to the Australian people it is somehow immoral for Australians to use their own uranium to create energy in Australia.

So the inconsistency is in fact consistent on both uranium and coal, but the Australian people are quite right to ask: where is the consistency, where is the morality, in that stand? And there is none. There is an inconsistency that cannot be explained.

We as a Coalition support the view that these matters should be canvassed in detail and given due consideration, but to try to set up a joint committee with a truncated timetable so that we can become the dunces of Durban like Mr Rudd wanted us to be the clowns of Copenhagen is not on the Coalition's agenda. We will not bend to the Greens in relation to this. We will fight this Carbon Tax all the way and ensure that all aspects of it are properly exposed for the benefit of the Australian people.

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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