Thursday, 21 October 2010
Matters of Public Importance
I rise in this matter of public importance to speak about a breakdown in trust between this government and Australian industries, a breakdown in trust between this government and the Australian people and a breakdown in trust exemplified by this Prime Minister’s failure to honour a written commitment to three mining companies. Coming from the great mining state of Western Australia, I know how deeply concerned the Western Australian mining industry is about this broken promise from the Prime Minister. They are astonished at how the Prime Minister has walked away from a promise that she made to three mining companies. All Australians know that the Prime Minister reached an agreement with these companies prior to the election—at least she purported to reach an agreement, though the precise details have remained secret. But it now appears that the agreement is not worth the paper on which it was written. The heads of those mining companies appear somewhat shocked at this betrayal by the Prime Minister, with Rio Tinto’s chief, Sam Walsh, asking, ‘If you can’t trust the government, who can you trust?’
These mining companies appear shocked, but it is my melancholy duty to inform the House that the mining companies should have seen this coming. Ask the member for Griffith. After all, he was repeatedly assured by his loyal deputy’s public statements that she would be more likely to fly to Mars than to challenge for the leadership of the Labor Party. She ridiculed the idea of a leadership challenge, saying that she was more likely to play full-forward for the Western Bulldogs than to challenge for the leadership. Yet challenge she did. If we cast our minds back to the sorry demise of the member for Griffith, a clearer picture starts to emerge: there is a pattern in this Prime Minister’s conduct. Rely on this Prime Minister, and it will end in tears.
Remember how the former Prime Minister made the fatal decision to dump his clear 2007 election promise to implement an emissions trading scheme, having previously argued it was necessary in order to deal with what he described as ‘the greatest moral challenge’ of our age? Why did he dump his policy? On whose advice did he do it? We now know that it was his loyal deputy who was most persuasive and convinced him against his better judgment to dump the emissions trading scheme, a decision that was fatal to his leadership. When things became difficult for the member for Griffith and he as leader most needed the support of his loyal deputy, she betrayed him—she betrayed the trust he had placed in her. Given the repeated and unequivocal assurances she had given to the member for Griffith which had implications for the highest office in the land—that of Prime Minister—it is fair to ask: is there any promise, any commitment, that the current Prime Minister can be trusted to honour?
The matter of public importance today relates to Australian industry, and one of the biggest issues facing Australian industry is the government’s response to climate change. Australian industry knows that this Prime Minister convinced the former Prime Minister to dump the emissions trading scheme. They know that this Prime Minister repeatedly said prior to the election that there would be no carbon tax under any government she led. They know that this Prime Minister ruled out a carbon tax the day before the election. There were no ifs or buts; she categorically ruled out a carbon tax. Mind you, this Prime Minister’s only climate change policy was a citizens assembly, which was widely ridiculed. It was the policy howler of the 2010 election, right up there with Medicare Gold, another of her policy shockers. Yet after the election and true to form we now have a carbon tax on the agenda.
What is Australian industry to make of that astonishing backflip? What should the Australian people make of it? There is no room for interpretation and there are no grey areas—it is fundamental dishonesty. The Prime Minister gave her solemn word to the Australian people one day before an election that there would be no carbon tax and then brazenly broke that commitment a few weeks after the election. It is safe to assume that all sorts of backroom deals were done with the Greens and the Independents who supported this truly awful government. Faced with a choice between honouring commitments to the Australian people and doing deals to cling to power, the Prime Minister chooses the latter.
Let me return to the agreement the Prime Minister says she reached with the mining companies and quickly recap. The former Prime Minister announced the super profits tax on the mining sector that would have destroyed dozens of jobs and sent mining investment offshore. We on this side of the House opposed ferociously this opportunistic grab for cash. We opposed the potential destruction of jobs. We opposed the destruction of investment confidence. We opposed this attack on one of the most productive sectors of our economy. Mining companies, outraged at the complete lack of consultation or warning, launched a highly effective advertising campaign against the government’s super profits tax. The member for Griffith decided to tough it out but was betrayed by his deputy, who had been plotting his downfall for weeks, if not months. After the political assassination, the new Prime Minister justified it by saying that the government had lost its way under the member for Griffith’s leadership. She said she had to fix the problem of asylum seekers coming by boat, she had to fix the problem of climate change and she had to fix the mining tax. But we know that she has fixed none of them. This year, 107 boats have arrived, 21 of them since the election. The citizens assembly has been dumped and we now have a committee. But, with great fanfare and theatre, the great negotiator took personal responsibility for negotiating a deal with the three largest mining companies.
The Prime Minister invited them to Canberra. She excluded Treasury officials and others because the great negotiator believed she could do it all herself, with the assistance of her Treasurer. After a few days the champagne bottles were wheeled in. The Prime Minister announced she had reached an agreement. At the time, there was great suspicion that a room full of mining executives would have outsmarted the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, but the Prime Minister assured everyone she had negotiated a rock-solid deal. The Prime Minister has repeatedly said she would honour the terms of the deal but yet again her assurances have been worthless, because the Prime Minister now realises the mining executives negotiated a better deal than she understood at the time. Surprise, surprise! Who could have seen that coming—that a room full of tough and clever business operators would get the better of this Treasurer and Prime Minister? Who would have thought? The agreement makes it clear that state royalties are creditable against the mining tax. That is what the deal says. In fact, the mining companies would never have agreed otherwise. But there is an important principle at stake here. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the negotiations, the companies had an explicit written agreement with the Prime Minister of our nation.
Perhaps they should have listened to the views of one Laurie Oakes, describing this Prime Minister’s behaviour over another of her policy blunders, regarding East Timor. Remember how the Prime Minister announced a regional processing centre in East Timor and then tried to say that when she said East Timor she did not mean East Timor? Laurie Oakes said:
Julia Gillard just looked silly and slippery and slimy and shifty in all that and it’s a very, very bad start to her prime ministerial career.
No wonder the distinguished Mr Oakes is up for a Walkley award.
What is clear is that this government is bad for business. There is no commitment that this government can give that business and industry can trust will be honoured, because there is no commitment that cannot be broken under this Prime Minister. There is no promise that she will not break. At the first whiff of political opportunism, this Prime Minister will renege on any promise at any time. This is a government based on lies. This is a government based on falsehoods. Promises not to introduce a carbon tax? Broken. Promises that state royalties could be offset against the mining tax? Broken. This Prime Minister and her government cannot be trusted. Australian industry, Australian business and the Australian people cannot trust this government. They cannot trust this Prime Minister. There is no worse indictment of the leader of this nation.