Speech - Senate Chamber - Carbon Tax Debate

Oh, how a once proud Labor Party has become a pathetic shadow of its former self. Today we are witnessing again the Australian Labor Party coming into this chamber to do the Greens' bidding.

Yesterday the first and most urgent item on the Government's agenda was to remove a Coalition Senator from the chairmanship of a committee and to replace that very good Senator with a Greens Senator who has only been here for five minutes.

It was Senator Ludwig, Manager of Government Business in the Senate, who moved the motion, doing the Greens' dirty work.

Here he is again today and his first item of business is to bring to fruition that which the Australian Greens bragged about on their website before the Senate was even told what was planned in relation to the truncating of the debate on the Clean Energy Bills.

I refer to the Greens website, which told us that there was going to be an historic vote. It said:

If you are near Canberra next Tuesday, please come to the Senate to see the historic carbon price package pass into law.

We were able to access that well before—indeed, hours before—Senator Ludwig rang Senator Fifield to tell him what the Labor Party had in mind.

It is quite clear that the Greens and GetUp! developed their strategy, put it up on their websites and then told the hapless Manager of Government Business in the Senate, “You will now ring the Opposition and tell them that this is what is going to happen,” and, like Senator Brown's ventriloquist doll, that is exactly what Senator Ludwig did.

I was surprised at Senator Ludwig's speech this morning because I could have sworn it was Senator Brown speaking, but Senator Brown did not move his lips at all.

An expert ventriloquist is our Senator Brown because he has a willing doll in Senator Ludwig, who is willing to mouth that which Senator Brown wishes to put to the Senate.

It is interesting that it is always the Labor Party doing their dirty work. It is never the Greens actually getting up and asking, “We want to pull a stunt on Tuesday”; therefore, can we bring the vote forward?” No, they do it under the guise of the Australian Labor Party and the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, which highlights yet again that they are in an alliance and therefore not deserving of the chairmanship of a committee, which they got just the other day.

One wonders what the Greens, with arrogance and hubris oozing out of every pore of their collective body, see the role of the Senate as being. They put up on their website what is going to happen. Yesterday it was the chairmanship of a committee. Today it is a vote of the Senate in relation to truncating what the Australian Labor Party and the Greens boast to be the most important piece of legislation ever to come before this Parliament.

When they say it is historic, I think they are right. As we know, the books of history are littered with events good and bad. This will be an historic event which will go down on the bad side of the ledger. History will record that the Australian people were deceived, that a leader of the Australian Labor Party and a Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party went to the electorate saying there would be no carbon tax.

Every single Labor Member and Senator in this place and the other place were elected on a promise of no carbon tax, as were every one of the Coalition Members and Senators. So well over 90 per cent of parliamentarians were elected on a no-carbon-tax policy. Yet, somehow, it is going to get through against the express promise of all those Parliamentarians to the Australian people. This gross deceit is now dressed up as being historic.

The Australian Greens might boast and gloat and say this is a wonderful historic day when the tail is able to wag the Australian Labor Party dog, but I say to those in the Australian Labor Party that this will be an historic day for the Australian Labor Party as well because the good, conservative, blue-collar workers whose jobs you will be destroying and whose cost of living you will be increasing will know that those good, traditional Labor values for which you once stood have now been discarded in favour of doing the bidding of the Australian Greens.

That is why the Australian people wherever I go these days are saying, “Eric, when can we have an election?”

I have been involved in politics a long time, not only as a Senator, but as a State President and before that as a rank-and-file volunteer. Come election time, most people say, “Oh no, not again, not another election.” Now the Australian people are actually clamouring and asking: “When can we have another election?”

The reason for that is that they feel betrayed and they feel deceived. They have a right to feel deceived, because that is exactly what the Australian Labor Party has done to so many of their very good and very faithful followers—people have who have voted for the Australian Labor Party for generations in fact.

A lady came up to me the other day and said, “My father and his father before him were proud Australian Labor Party voters. I'm 70 years myself, Senator Abetz, but do you know what? Come the next elections, State and Federal, I will be voting for your party, Senator Abetz. I never thought I'd be saying that to you, but it's nice to meet you here at the shopping centre.” That was at Eastlands, over on the eastern shore of Hobart. She indicated to me that she was switching her vote, and the reason was the deceit and betrayal by the Australian Labor Party in relation to the carbon tax promise.

The Australian Labor Party is right to call what will happen on Tuesday a historic day, but it will be a day that will be marked in the index of the history books under the word treachery.

You will look up the word treachery and you will see an insert underneath it: ALP carbon tax. Because that is exactly what the Australian Labor Party has done: it has deceived the Australian people.

This Government has no moral authority to introduce this legislation, because it said it would not. As a result, of course, it stands to reason that neither does it have a mandate for this legislation. Indeed, the exact opposite is true. Nor can the Australian Labor Party hide behind the assertion, “Sure, we said one thing before the election, but the Australian people have changed their mind. There is popular support for this move. We were somehow out of step and we are now going to bow to the will of the Australian people.” We know that that is untrue as well.

So on what basis does the Australian Labor Party come into this place and vote for this legislation? No moral authority, no mandate, no popular support: why would you do it other than to protect one job, the job of the Prime Minister Ms Gillard? That is the only reason, and it is a shameful reason. When you lie to the electorate in a democracy you do not have a mandate and you do not have popular support. One wonders what motivates the Government in relation to these matters.

I understand that the Australian Greens have a view on pre-commitment with poker machines. I never knew that their views on pre-commitment extended to votes of the Senate, because they have pre-committed by their media releases votes of the Senate in relation to I think it was Senator Wright getting a chairmanship before the Senate had decided anything.

It begs a very interesting question: why was Senator Wright given that chairmanship and not Senator Sarah Hanson-Young? She has more seniority, she has been here longer, we know that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee deals with matters legal and immigration, which were her forte. But, somehow, the Greens have overlooked her. Senator Milne, who is in the chamber, is busy studying her papers. We know why, but we will leave that for the Australian Greens to sort out.

That is another indication of the arrogance of the Australian Greens: that they were willing to put out a press release, pre-commit the Senate and indicate what was going to happen. On the Greens website yesterday the same arrogance and hubris showed through.

It is an honour and a privilege to be able to serve in this place, and for the Greens to treat this place now as their own fiefdom, because they can make the Australian Labor Party do whatever they want, is not something to be proud of and it is not something to be claimed as historic.

I return to the once great Australian Labor Party. They do have a few days left to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Australian people. They might do that by trying to change their leader. We do not know what they are going to do in that regard; that is for them to determine.

One thing I would say to the Australian Labor Party, that once great party that did actually look after workers, that was actually concerned about jobs, that was actually concerned about people's cost of living, is that you still have a few days left to change your mind. You can change your vote. You can decide, “We will in fact honour that which we promised, we will in fact honour the mandate we were given, we will in fact honour the popular view of the Australian people,” all three of which are against the introduction of the carbon tax.

I have no doubt that if the Australian Labor Party were to do that their support in the opinion polls would go up. It would go up; there is no doubt about that. I say to the Labor Party: “Change the leaders as often as you like. Your problem is not your leader and your leadership; your problem is your policy.” It is a policy that is nowadays linked inextricably with the Australian Greens. You have formed a dirty deal with the Australian Greens. You have formed an alliance and partnership that will haunt you to your political graves, because the Australian workers, whom you used to champion, whom you used to look after, know that the carbon tax proposals are bad proposals for their jobs and their cost of living.

But these workers are also very decent people, very decent Australians, who are genuinely concerned about the future of our environment. But they know that this carbon tax suite of measures will do nothing to help or protect the environment.

The coal workers in the states of Queensland and New South Wales say, “It is passing strange, is it not, that this Australian Labor Party, that used to support us, says it is right to dig up coal in Australia, ship it to China, burn it in China for the benefit of the Chinese and not tax it but, if we dig out the same Australian coal and burn it in Australia for the benefit of Australians, it is an unmitigated evil that needs to be taxed?”

Senator Ronaldson:  Extraordinary.

Senator ABETZ:  It is, as Senator Ronaldson just said, extraordinary. Where is the logic in that? Ms Gillard is saying to people, “We will increase our coal exports despite these clean energy bills.” So we are going to ship out the coal from Australia, give everybody else the advantage of our high-quality, cheap coal, without a tax, but tax Australians who want to use Australian coal for Australian households and Australian manufacturing. Go figure. But this is the policy of the once proud Australian Labor Party.

As we have said before as a Coalition, time and time again, there is a better way in relation to this. We have a direct action plan. I will not repeat that now, other than to say it is good, practical and fully costed.

If the Australian Labor Party were genuinely concerned about carbon dioxide emissions, what could they do for the benefit of the people of the world? They could simply to say to the Indian government, “You can have some of our uranium.” That would do more than anything this carbon tax could provide. That would reduce carbon dioxide emissions many times more than this carbon tax would. But once again the Australian Workers Union people and other unionists and Labor Party people would say: “Hang on a moment. How is it that this once proud Australian Labor Party says you can dig out Australian uranium, ship it to another country to allow them to use it to heat their homes and to help the supply of electricity for their manufacturing sectors, and that that is a good thing to do, but somehow it is an unmitigated evil if we dig out Australian uranium for use in Australia by Australians for Australians?” That is the great dilemma that the Australian Labor Party has.

I have said once before to Senator Ludwig, “If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.” The Australian Labor Party has deliberately got together with the Australian Greens and they now have flea-infested policies all over them, from the carbon tax to all manner of other things.

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator ABETZ:  I agree with Senator Brandis. Senator Scott Ryan went one better than that analogy. He disagreed with me. The flea analogy was not all that good, he thought. He thought the Greens were more like a tick that was—

Senator Brandis:  Sucking the lifeblood.

Senator ABETZ:  Sucking the life out of the Australian Labor Party. That is what the Australian Greens are doing, and lemming-like the Australian Labor Party just march towards the cliff.

They know what is going to happen. They still have three days. I somehow think that the reason that they have sought to truncate this debate is that they are not sure that they could have kept the whole Labor caucus together in relation to this issue for the next couple of weeks.

The Labor Party also need to explain to this place whether Senator Stephen Conroy is going to make a contribution in this debate and put on the table how strongly he feels about the need for a carbon tax. I somehow think that he will not be making a contribution and that they will be seeking to put him out of his misery more quickly by having this legislation voted on earlier than anticipated.

The Manager of Government Business in the Senate also needs to advise the Senate why they came into this place, moved an extension of hours and days—indeed an extra sitting week—on the basis of the need to debate the carbon tax. That was the reason. Some might call it a deceit but nevertheless it was the reason given—a reason that we now know does not stack up, because the very rationale for it has now been swept away.

We gave up private Coalition Opposition time in this place to help get the carbon tax debate through this chamber, to cooperate with the Government to ensure that we could fully ventilate the issues in relation to the carbon tax. And what does the government do? It simply throws that generous behaviour by the Opposition back in our faces by saying, “If you give us an extra half a day for this debate—thank you very much—we'll truncate the debate by a full week.”

Everything this Government does, from the “no carbon tax” promise to the promise of an extra week in this place to debate this issue, is based on falsehoods and is misleading, which is completely unacceptable to us as an opposition.

That is why we will be voting against this measure by the Government—because the Parliamentary process deserves to be honoured.

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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