Senate Speech - Extension of sitting hours

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania - Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:43):  The coalition opposes the motion which seeks to extend the hours of the Senate. The reason we do that is that the Senate is currently being confronted with an unseemly rush to get a package of legislation through this chamber, a package of legislation that is built on deceit.

The Labor government went to the last election saying 'there will be no carbon tax' and, but for this package of legislation, there would be no need for these extended hours. It is amazing, isn't it, how the Labor Party are able to dress up their deceit of the Australian people?

They call this the 'clean energy' package. It should be called the 'dirty hands' package, because that is exactly what it is. It is based on their deceit of the Australian people, whereby Ms Gillard said about a week before the election, when the polls were neck and neck, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Either she deceived the Australian people or she has to accept that which a lot of Australians now suspect that she in fact is not leading this government but Senator Bob Brown and the Australian Greens are.

No matter how Senator Ludwig, Labor and the Greens try to dress up this clean energy package, it is a dirty package and it is a deceitful package. There is no doubt that, if Ms Gillard had said to the Australian people six days before the last election, 'There will be a carbon tax,' she would not be Prime Minister today and Mr Abbott would be the Prime Minister of a majority coalition government.

No matter how much they seek to dress up the morality and the importance of this package even calling it a "clean package" when it is conceived and built in deceit. The Australian people know what this is about. It is about rushing through a deceit on the Australian people.

This is a package of some one-and-a-half dozen bills. Labor boasts that this is going to be the biggest change to the Australian economy ever. Let us just assume for the moment that their boast is right. If their boast is right, how is it that the only parliamentary examination of this package of bills is to be the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation that was set up where Labor and the Greens ruthlessly used their numbers to get the chairmanship and the deputy chairmanship, completely and utterly against normal parliamentary procedure?

That is how desperate they are to ensure that there is no proper examination of this legislation.

This committee which has to report, if I recall correctly, by 5 October, within 19 days will be one of the most truncated committees ever for a package of this size.

The committee is starting the hearings today. Guess who its first witnesses are? The department of the Treasury. Has Treasury finished its modelling?

We as a coalition asked that question yesterday of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. She refused to answer. When a point of order was taken as to relevance about the very specific question, 'Has the modelling been finished?' she again refused. The committee today will be discussing with Treasury the impact of this legislation in the absence of the Treasury modelling having been made available to it.

But Senator Ludwig says how gracious the government are in giving us all this time. If they were genuine, they would be giving us the Treasury modelling. Why do we need new Treasury modelling? Because the first lot of modelling was based on $20 a tonne and we now know it was the Greens that foisted $23 a tonne on this hapless and hopeless government.

This is a government that cannot get a trick. I do not know what it is about them but they have this unique capacity to come out with big headlines with everything else turning to custard underneath. Remember cash for clunkers, pink batts, Building the Education Revolution, green loans, solar panels, the East Timor solution and the Malaysian solution.

No matter what area of government endeavour you look at, this is a government that is highlighted by one word - incompetence. With this package of legislation they add another word, and that is deceit.

We are being asked to support legislation and support the rushing through of legislation of an incompetent government which has based its mandate and this legislation on deceit of the Australian people.

Why the rush? Why does the legislation have to be passed, as this motion would suggest, by 21 November? In fact, the parliament is scheduled to sit for a week after that, so why can it not be finished at least at the end of the current proposed parliamentary timetable? Why does it have to be truncated before the parliament rises?

I ask the government and the Australian people: why would you seek to impose a carbon tax the highest, the heaviest and the most damaging carbon tax anywhere in the world at a time when the International Monetary Fund is telling us to be prepared for a double-dip recession, at a time when the economy especially in Europe and the United States is not flash and at a time when we should be fastening our seatbelts for another economic crisis?

When they are warning us that commodity prices may well start tanking very shortly, here is this government hell-bent on imposing not only a carbon tax but also a mining tax just to make sure that if one does not kill off the Australian economy the two combined will hopefully have that effect.

Why this rush? It is amazing how history repeats itself with this Labor government and they cannot learn from their past mistakes.

This is a government that sought to go to Copenhagen with legislation, and we remember that. We would have been the clowns of Copenhagen. We would have been seen as the fools of the world, going to Copenhagen with a legislated Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme when not a single other country in the world was going to do that. Not content with or learning from that failure, Labor are now desperate to get Australia to go to Durban so we can be the dunces of Durban and wave legislation around and say, 'How clever are we: we have legislated a scheme which is going to destroy Australian jobs, destroy the Australian economy and do nothing for the world environment to boot.' We know that to be the case.

The question the government have to answer is: why is there this indecent haste on a policy that they promised the Australian people they would not implement? Indeed, the Australian people are quite right to ask how it is especially in the House of Representatives where every single Labor and coalition member was elected on a promise of no carbon tax that in all likelihood a majority of House of Representatives members are now going to vote for a carbon tax.

How is it that this Greens tail can wag the Labor dog? The reason is that there is no spine in the dog. Ms Gillard, when confronted with the spoils of office, was willing to forego any promises she had made to the Australian people. She was willing to trade anything to remain Prime Minister. I do not care what she trades in a personal capacity but I do mind, and the coalition minds, when she trades Australia's future in doing so and that is what she has done. She will be recorded in history as having done so and will be judged very harshly.

I remind Senator Ludwig and those who are genuinely interested of the need to ventilate issues. The Labor Party were always against tax reform and the goods and services tax. We accepted that, but that change, that reform to the Australian economy, spent five months in this chamber and was scrutinised by four specialist committees five months; four specialist committees. Labor and the Greens wait for it will not allow a single Senate committee to have a look at this legislation. They will say, 'We have this joint committee,' but it will have to report within 19 days not five months and at this stage it does not even have the new Treasury modelling. How can the committee do its work without the Treasury modelling? It is a joke and it is treating the Australian parliament and the committee with contempt other than those committee members who are part and parcel of and conniving with that contempt, such as the deputy chair, Senator Milne, who is willing to be part and parcel of this deceit of the Australian people.

Ms Gillard went to the last election promising there would be no carbon tax. She then said she wanted to build a consensus about putting a price on carbon. I congratulate her; she has achieved a consensus. The consensus is against a price on carbon. The consensus is against a carbon tax. Yet she is wilfully flouting the will of the Australian people and she is willingly flouting her own solemn promise to the Australian people the promise that she solemnly made, staring down the camera, speaking to the Australian people, saying that there would be no carbon tax.

As I go around the country, electorate to electorate, little newspaper to little newspaper regional papers the Labor Party are always telling us how important the carbon tax is. What they never tell us is why they went to the last election on a no carbon tax promise. They do not apologise to their electorates and they do not explain to their electorates why they changed their minds they just hope they can airbrush it out. When confronted, they cannot provide a single answer other than that the Australian Greens foisted the carbon tax upon them. That is the shame of the Australian Labor Party. I am sure that the Labor Party of the Ben Chifley's and the John Curtin's of this world would never have countenanced the sort of hectoring and bullying and blackmail which this government is willing to submit itself to from the Australian Greens.

That is why it is good to see a genuine labour representative in this place like Senator Madigan from the DLP. At least he understands the impact this carbon tax is going to have on the workers of Australia and on the businesses of Australia. He also understands that it will make not one iota of difference to the world's environment.

I would invite any Labor speaker or indeed any Greens speaker in this debate to tell us how much world temperatures will go down if we legislate this carbon tax. Can they tell us how much less sea levels will rise if we legislate this carbon tax?

Whenever I am in a debate with a Labor or Greens member or senator, I continually ask that question and they can never give a response. What is the reason? Because they know it will make no difference. This is all about a huge cash grab by a desperate Treasurer and a desperate government wanting to do the right thing by the Greens and trying to scramble together enough money to make their budget balance.

Is it not bizarre that overnight another Labor Treasurer who has been unable ever to deliver a surplus gets, as did Lehman Brothers and Paul Keating, some gong for economic management while great Australian Treasurers, such as Peter Costello, never got one? It really does make one wonder how these international organisations operate when Lehman Brothers get an award and, my goodness, they have a lot to answer for and Paul Keating, the man who got us into all the debt that the coalition had to clear up, gets a gong and now Mr Swan gets a gong. I think it is a perfect trifecta. Mr Costello should be very happy that he was never given a gong, because he would be in very uncomfortable company if he were to have got one.

But I digress. The simple fact is this: this package of bills, this dirty package, is based on deceit. The Labor Party know it. It is not based on good economics, it is not based on good social policy and it is not based on good environmental policy. I see Senator Brown in the chamber, a man who is able to make great prognostications about the future of our nation. I still remember 1981, when there was a proposal for a clean energy power generation scheme in Tasmania. Senator Brown led the charge against it.

Do you know what his proposal was as an alternative power supply? The building of a coal fired power station. That was his proposal when Director of the Wilderness Society of Tasmania.

The good thing is, when people stay around for a while you can ask what were their predictions 30 years ago; what was their public policy proposal 30 years ago. We would have had a coal fired power station in Tasmania belching out CO2 emissions if Senator Brown, then Director of the Wilderness Society, had had his way.

Of course Senator Brown in this debate will make all sorts of predictions about the future, about what is going to happen if we do not pass this legislation, but I just remind people of some of the other predictions that Senator Brown and the Greens have made that simply have not come to pass.

This is a government beholden to the Greens. It will do whatever the Greens require of it. I know that there are many Labor people who do not want to vote for this package of bills. They know it is destructive. They know it is going to devastate the Australian economy in the absence of world action.

We as a coalition say you can change and show leadership in a sensible manner through a direct action plan without mugging your economy and without mugging Australian jobs. Yet Labor, having promised no carbon tax, are now seeking to rush one through this chamber and of course inflict it on us so that they can go to Durban as some sort of heroes. They will go to Durban as the dunces of the world, having legislated a dirty package that will destroy jobs, destroy the wealth of our nation and do nothing for the environment.

I ask again, how can the government assert it is giving us enough time on this debate while it is withholding fundamental Treasury modelling? As the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future meets today, that modelling will not be available.

When we ask questions about the impact, day after day after day on behalf of this government Senator Wong simply refuses to answer the questions that do need to be answered.

Can I simply say to Labor, you might be able to get away with it in the chamber in 2011 but you will not be able to get away with it when the Australian people cast their verdict on you.

You cannot make a solemn promise to the Australian people and then simply discarded it like a soiled tissue as being of no consequence.

This is a matter of the most serious nature.

The Australian people do not want this carbon tax, they do not want this government, and we as a coalition will fight this all the way.


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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