Thursday, 21 October 2010
Matters of Public Importance
There was no greater commitment to Australian industry given by this government than the commitment that was given by the Prime Minister, by the Treasurer and by the Minister for Resources and Energy to the mining industry just prior to the calling of the election. This commitment has now plainly been broken. When you see someone of the stature of Australia’s Rio Tinto chief, Sam Walsh, going on national television, as he did last night, to say, ‘If you can’t trust the government, who can you trust?’ you know that there is a developing crisis of confidence surrounding this government, a gathering certainty that this is a government which simply cannot be trusted to keep any commitment. Its commitments to industry, its commitments to the public and its commitments to its own heartland all have been junked in the days and weeks following the recent election.
When it comes to the mining tax, there is no better illustration of the fact that this government cannot be trusted to keep its commitments. First of all, you could not trust the government’s figures. When it first introduced the mining tax, it said the tax would raise $12 billion in two years. That commitment lasted just a few short weeks. Then we learned that the original version of the mining tax was going to raise not $12 billion but $24 billion. You could not trust the government’s process. The initial version of the mining tax was brought in without any serious consultation with the industry. Then there was a $38 million advertising campaign brought in by this government, which had not gone through any of the due process requirements which government is supposed to observe. You could not trust its judgment, because this was plainly a tax that was going to seriously damage the most important industry in this country, the industry upon which all of us rely for our continued prosperity.
Above all else, what you could not trust this government for was honesty, because the commitment that it made in black and white, in writing, before the election has plainly been junked after the election. It is as plain as the words on the page on the minerals resource rent tax heads of agreement:
All State and Territory royalties will be creditable against the resources tax liability …
There is no question of date, no question of ‘Yes, before that time but not after this time’; it is an absolutely unqualified commitment:
All State and Territory royalties will be creditable against the resources tax liability …
So this was an absolutely straight commitment that the government made to the three big mining companies of this country, a commitment which has now been absolutely broken, a commitment which has now been completely trashed because it serves the purposes of the government after the election to do something completely different to what it promised to do before the election. This is the fundamental problem with this government. This is what erodes the real legitimacy of this government—the fact that it has not kept its commitments. It said one thing before the election to win votes, and it has done consistently another thing since the election to try to form government and hold government.
Let me offer this thought. We have the Australian boss of Rio Tinto, Mr Sam Walsh, stating calmly and honestly what is the true situation: ‘If you can’t trust the government, who can you trust?’ You would think, with a statement like that from someone as well respected as Sam Walsh, that the government would come to its senses. But I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is obvious from what we have heard in this parliament, two days running, that there is no way that this government will honour its pre-election agreement. I give you this tip, Mr Deputy Speaker: if Mr Walsh keeps speaking out, as he should be able to, what will we see from this government? Not honesty, not going back to keep its commitment—we will see threats; we will see bullying; we will see the kind of intimidation which is the stock in trade of this government.
This is a government which simply cannot keep its word. Those of us in this chamber who watched the election debate a couple of months ago would remember the Prime Minister being asked what her greatest contribution to the life of the nation over the last three years had been. After a great deal of stumbling and hesitation she finally came up with one achievement. Her one achievement was the establishment of uniform national occupational health and safety laws right around the country. It turns out that this one achievement does not exist. It is an achievement which is being disputed, questioned and undermined by the Premier of New South Wales.
What did the Prime Minister say in response to the obstruction of the Premier of New South Wales? She said, ‘A deal is a deal.’ If a deal is a deal between the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales, why isn’t a deal equally a deal between the Prime Minister and the mining industry of this country? If a deal is a deal when it suits the Prime Minister to keep it, why isn’t it also a deal when it does not suit the Prime Minister to keep it? This is the fundamental dishonesty which we see from this government time after time. This is the fundamental dishonesty that will bring this government down.
Back in June, we saw the now Prime Minister politically execute the former Prime Minister because, she said, the government had lost its way. She said back then that the way to restore the government’s position was to fix the big problems. First of all, she was going to fix the mining tax. Then she was going to fix the boat people problem. Finally, she was going to fix the climate change problem. On none of these issues has the Prime Minister’s commitment been met. Each of these fixes is unravelling. The government is still lost. What is worse is that, because the government is lost, the Australian people are still suffering these serious threats to their wellbeing.
First of all, you cannot trust this government to protect the mining industry, which is still under deadly threat. You still have out-of-control borders because you cannot trust this government to deliver on its commitments on border protection and on detention centres. Most of all, you cannot trust this government to deliver on its commitments not to have a carbon tax. I put this question to the parliament: if the former Prime Minister could not trust the current Prime Minister, why should the Australian people ever trust the current Prime Minister? If the member for Griffith could not trust the member for Lalor, why should the Australian people ever trust the current Prime Minister of this country?
As I said, this Prime Minister made commitment after commitment in the course of that election campaign and each one of those serious commitments has been systematically undermined since the election. One of the first commitments that the Prime Minister made in office was to open a processing centre in East Timor. This was the processing centre which she proudly announced to the Australian public without properly discussing with the East Timorese government. This was the Prime Minister of Australia announcing to the Australian people that something would be done in a foreign country without first discussing it properly with the government of that foreign country. It was, if I may say so, perhaps the first sign that the Prime Minister was not up to it. So in the Prime Minister’s very first major announcement there was an indication that she had been overpromoted and that she fundamentally lacks judgment—a conclusion that the Australian people are increasingly coming to because each one of her big decisions has unravelled or is unravelling.
Her commitment to have an asylum seeker processing centre in East Timor will never be delivered. The East Timorese will not have it. The Indonesians do not like it. It will not work anyway. What we have seen since this election is a government in panic. It has effectively junked the East Timorese detention centres and is now opening more detention places here in Australia in flagrant breach of its election commitments. We heard the Prime Minister on radio just before the election twisting and turning and sneaking her way around a question on the expansion of the detention centre at Curtin. We had a categorical denial from the Prime Minister’s office of any plans to have a detention centre at the Scherger air base. Both of those prime ministerial commitments were completely junked once the election was over.
Then there was the infamous commitment not to have a carbon tax. The day before the election she could not have been more clear. On the front page of the Australian newspaper she was quoted as saying, ‘I rule out a carbon tax.’ She ruled it out to win votes. Then she ruled it in to try to form a government. What we have seen from this Prime Minister is a fundamental inability to keep any commitments whatsoever. Her justification for breaking that fundamental commitment was, ‘There was an election and the state of the parliament proved, showed or meant that I could not keep that commitment.’ I remind the Prime Minister that there are no fewer than 144 members of this parliament who got elected ruling out a carbon tax. Every single member of parliament on this side got elected ruling out a carbon tax. Every single member from the Labor Party got elected ruling out a carbon tax. One member of parliament, the member for Melbourne, got elected ruling in a carbon tax. In the weird calculus of this Prime Minister, one vote somehow intimidates and coerces 144.
If the Prime Minister’s logic is to be believed, the most powerful member of the House of Representatives is not the Prime Minister but the member for Melbourne, and the most powerful person in this parliament, at least while this government is in office, is Senator Brown, the Leader of the Greens, because the Greens plainly have this government intimidated. The true situation is that Labor is in government but the Greens are in power: whether it is strengthening the mining tax, whether it is weakening border protection, whether it is introducing a carbon tax—these are Greens initiatives which this government is being drawn towards. Labor is in government but the Greens are in power.
It is no wonder that Senator Faulkner said recently that the Labor Party is long on cunning but short on courage. It is no wonder that Senator Faulkner did not want to serve in the Prime Minister’s government. It is no wonder that he preferred the member for Griffith, Mr Rudd, to the current Prime Minister. And it is no wonder that this is the first government in memory not to get a poll bounce after re-election. People do not trust it, and they should not trust it. (Time expired)