Speech - Carbon Tax Bills - Senate

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

So spoke the Labor Party through its current leader to the Australian people just days before the last election. At a time when the polls were perilously close—they were tight—Labor, its leader and its deputy leader solemnly promised the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax. Suggestions that there would be were dismissed by Labor as hysterical.

Nothing could be clearer: Labor sought and obtained a mandate from the Australian people not to impose a carbon tax. The fact that we are debating these 1½ reams of legislation, 18 or 19 bills, to impose a carbon tax is the legislative proof of Labor's deceit and of Labor's contempt for the Australian people.

The Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills, if they are turned into Acts, should they pass this place, will be 19 separate acts of deceit, 19 separate acts of betrayal, 19 separate acts signifying the contempt in which Labor holds the Australian people.

Every single Labor member of the other place and every single Labor Senator elected at the last election was elected on the clear promise of no carbon tax. In fairness, however, they were elected on a promise to see if a community consensus could be built around a carbon price. Here Labor have succeeded, and spectacularly so. A consensus, and a very strong one, has been developed—a consensus to which Labor and Ms Gillard should lay personal claim because, but for their advocacy, the consensus would not be as strong as it is today. But, alas for Labor, the clear, strong, overwhelming consensus on a carbon price is a consensus in opposition. The Australian people do not want a carbon tax.

Despite spending millions of dollars of Australian taxpayers' money in a desperate advertising campaign, despite Labor funding their carbon tax cheer groups in the community, despite setting up their propaganda unit in Mr Combet's office, the consensus Labor have established in the Australian community is an overwhelming consensus against the carbon tax.

This overwhelming consensus against this destructive and corrosive tax is built on three factors: firstly, the blatant deceit of the electorate by Labor; secondly, the fact that it is bad policy; and, thirdly, that the carbon tax will do nothing for the environment.

As the Senate embarks on the second reading debate of the Orwellianly named clean energy package, Australians know it is a package based on deceit, a package based on a dirty deal.

Rather than debating the clean energy package, we should in fact be renaming it the 'dirty deal package' because it was struck with a dirty deal with the Australian Greens—a party, incidentally, led by a person who advocated for coal-fired power stations in his opposition to renewable, environmentally friendly hydro generation. It was in this month 30 years ago that Dr Brown was advocating coal-fired thermal power generation as 'the best centralised option we have' and 'manifestly better' than more dams for Tasmania. Oh, what a visionary thinker! But consistency, integrity and robustness of thought have never been that de facto Prime Minister's strong suit.

Why the ALP would listen to the Greens' policy prognosis and prescription after a three-decade record littered with policy failures is emblematic of how the Australian Labor Party has lost its way. But, as the proverb so correctly tells us, if you do not believe in something you will fall for anything. The worst 21st century exemplar of that proverb is the hapless Australian Labor Party of today, an ALP whose light on the hill is no longer powered by reliable, base load, traditional Labor thought but powered by faltering and flickering transitory trendy fads changing it from a once-strong, clear beam to a pale, intermittent, slowly dying ember. The ALP has not only lost its moral compass; it has lost its policy map as well.

That is why it should be no surprise that Labor has served up this policy mishmash, which will increase the cost of living, tighten the throttle around the throats of our farmers and small businesses even further and reduce our manufacturing sector's capacity to compete with imports, let alone in overseas markets—not to mention the destructive impact on our volunteer sector and the disability sector.

The carbon tax will impact every endeavour of human life, from our power bills to our grocery bills to our rates. The costs of running schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and prisons will all rise. Volunteering will become more expensive.

As everyone is impacted, so everyone will pay. That is why, on sober reflection, countries that were previously preparing to go down this route have accepted the wisdom of what the former climate change Minister, Senator Wong, said about a carbon tax: it is 'no magic bullet'. She was right then and she remains right today. She is especially right in the absence of unified global action. But she will be here in this chamber compounding her party's deceit on the electorate by trying to explain away what everybody knows to be true: the carbon tax is no solution.

As the Greens-Labor Government foolishly and recklessly rush to create this toxic tax, they tell us that countries all around the world are moving just as quickly. I have to concede that they are right. Countries are moving just as quickly—but in the opposite direction. A quick perusal of international headlines just this month shows the unmistakable trend. Canada's Foreign Minister, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government just last week, when specifically asked whether Canada would be introducing a similar regime, gave a one-word, two-letter answer. Have a guess what that was. It was an absolute no.

If we needed a country to compare ourselves with population-wise—a federation, a resource based country—the country we would identify with most closely would be Canada. They have deliberately said no to a carbon tax. Japan has indefinitely postponed its carbon tax. The European scheme—which, might I add, is at only 10 per cent of the proposed Australian level—is facing collapse whilst Europe fully reconsiders its position. The United Kingdom is reducing its green energy subsidies. New Zealand is winding its scheme back. Russia is taking no further action. France is saying no. South Korea is delaying. The list is ever growing. The United States is not proceeding; President Obama has said so. Individual US states, such as New Hampshire, are repealing their carbon tax type laws, as are the provinces of Canada, such as Ontario. And of course the Chicago emissions trading scheme has collapsed. Even Spain, once heralded as 'the future', along with California, is slashing its wind power subsidies by 40 per cent.

So let us not have this deceptive nonsense that we must act now or be left behind. The world is moving in the opposite direction. If this tax is legislated we will be the only country in the world with an economy-wide carbon tax, with the highest rate.

The indecent haste to get this legislation through is simply based on Labor's need to feed its insatiable vanity. If we recall the discredited and defunct Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, we might learn a few lessons. We were told that the scheme was urgently needed because climate change was 'the greatest moral challenge of our time' and that the world could not afford to be denied the huge environmental benefit that a five per cent reduction in our 1.5 per cent global emissions would make. The hyperbole was flowing thick and fast.

Of course, the real reason for the urgency at that time was the desire for Labor to be the performing clowns of Copenhagen, to wave their legislation around at an international forum and say, 'How clever are we?' Now, two years later, the torrent of hyperbole is, thankfully, absent, but the excuse has changed to 'business needs certainty'. The businesses I speak with tell me they prefer the uncertainty of life to the certainty of what death has to offer. Of course, the urgency has nothing to with Labor's new-found concern for business certainty. If they were concerned about business certainty they would not have broken their solemn promise that there would be no carbon tax. If that was their main concern they would not have broken their solemn promise that there would be no carbon tax. If that was their main concern, they would not be going down this route at all.

Once again we find that Labor wants to be the world's performing dunces at another international conference, this time at Durban. Our nation was saved from Labor's desire for international humiliation once. Let us hope we can be saved again.

The feedback I receive is that the world community is looking on in disbelief as Australia prepares to inflict unilateral economic pain on itself for no environmental gain, in the hope that someone might stop to admire and notice.

Let us be clear. Those that may stop to admire will be those with whom we compete internationally. The first ones, I am sure, will be Canada. The next ones, I am sure, will be the United States, New Zealand, Japan—and the list goes on. If the Government are genuinely concerned about the world environment, they have a few other options available to them, very easy options.

They could decide to sell uranium to India. Just that one decision would make a bigger dent in carbon dioxide emissions than the carbon tax in Australia will. They could expand and encourage Australia's native forestry, thus slowing the rate of forest destruction in other parts of the world. They could accept native forest wood waste as biomass for renewable energy. And, of course, they could seek to do something about Australia's shrinking forest plantations. But instead the Government have brought us pink batts and cash for clunkers, all in the name of the environment. Being rightly emboldened by the runaway success of pink batts and cash for clunkers, they now bring us this forest of legislation in the name of the environment.

This is the question Labor needs to respond to: what will this legislation do for the environment? By how much will world temperatures decrease and when? How much will sea levels be reduced by? How much lower will sea levels be and when?

I suspect Australians would be willing to suffer some economic pain for environmental gain, but the reality is that, as our economy becomes less efficient under a carbon tax and prices itself out of world markets, those economies without a carbon tax, with even greater levels of pollution than Australia, will simply have their production substituted for ours, with the resultant effect of even greater carbon emissions into the world's atmosphere.

It is exactly this experience that is making Europe reconsider its stance on carbon pricing. I do not ask this rhetorically: where have all the European aluminium smelters gone? Not to wind power, not to solar panels. They have actually gone—gone offshore, to Africa and elsewhere. And how are the environmental standards there? Undoubtedly a lot better than they previously were in Europe! But that is the message that Labor is trying to sell us. So the world's environment suffers further, at the behest of those who put blind zealotry ahead of sound, evidence based public policy. It is reminiscent of a person who preferred coal power over hydro power some 30 years ago.

Let us ask the question: what would a five per cent reduction now do in relation to the world's environment? Professor Graham Farquhar of the Australian National University Climate Change Institute has said: The aim of the carbon tax is to reduce Australian emissions by five per cent. In turn, the aim of that reduction is to put political or economic pressure to encourage or shame other countries to reduce their emissions by five per cent. If we are successful and all the countries of the world reduce their emissions to five per cent below what they would have been, then the anthropogenic climate that we would otherwise have seen in 2031 will be postponed until—when?— 2032.

Twelve months later. That has to be part of the context of this debate.

Labor's whole carbon tax deceit is compounded by other deceits. The Treasury modelling is all based on other countries following Australia suit. Well, the list of countries I have read out indicates that the world is moving in the opposite direction to Australia. So what they are doing is compounding their lie with erroneous modelling to suggest an outcome which is false. We then have the claim that we will have a lot of green jobs. All the world's studies have shown that, for every green job created, there is a huge taxpayer subsidy and about two or three mainstream jobs suffer and fall by the wayside. As a result, there is a net loss of jobs.

Let us go to some of the impacts of this legislation on everyday Australians. Among the great sufferers will in fact be the single-income families of Australia, part of Labor's social engineering. But the reason that the Labor Party deceived the electorate about this is that they knew this was a toxic tax, they knew it was bad policy and they knew they could not sell it to the Australian people. Why? Because it will be a $9 billion per annum tax. It will increase power bills by 10 percent. It will increase gas bills by nine percent. And that is on Labor's own assessments. There will be higher marginal tax rates. There will be a huge impact on single-income families. Two hundred and eighty thousand self-funded retirees will be worse off.

As we analyse this legislation, we see it was built on a deceit and it is now being compounded by shonky and flawed modelling based on the suggestion that the rest of the world is following and the assumption that somehow this will do something beneficial to the world environment.

As we have pointed out, this legislation will in fact make the world's environment worse, cost Australians their standard of living, destroy jobs and be of no benefit.

So why, with Labor knowing this, are they doing what they are doing?

I think the Prime Minister may have been right when she said, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' because it is the Australian Greens, under Senator Bob Brown, that are actually leading this Government.

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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