Tuesday, 29 May 2007
by leave—I move:
That this House censures the Prime Minister for his refusal to tell the House and the Australian people how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on the ‘climate clever’ campaign and his cunning answers to questions asked in this House in order to avoid accountability to the Australian people.
The reason this censure motion has been moved goes to the heart of accountability in this parliament. It goes to whether the executive government is accountable to the parliament for moneys expended in general. But also there is a second question at stake here, and it is the whole essence of our democracy depending on, when we contest matters at an election, and in the lead-up to an election, whether we have a government in this country which, rather than arguing its own proposition to the people, instead systematically dips its hand into the pockets of Australian taxpayers, takes that money and expends it on one advertising campaign after the other in order to convince the Australian people that it is suddenly serious about any of the propositions it is putting forward.
We have seen it already on industrial relations. We are seeing it in a range of other areas as well. And we are about to see it on this question of climate change. We may well ask ourselves this question: why are the government now seeking to use taxpayers’ money to advance their case on climate change to the Australian people barely 3½ months before the election? The reason is: they stand condemned, for they have no credibility on climate change.
As a government which have now been in office for 11 years, where is their credibility? Where lie their credentials on the whole question of climate change and the associated challenge of water? Where do they lie? If you go back to the origin of this entire debate, which is the link between human activity on the one hand and climate change on the other, we began proceedings in the parliament at the beginning of this year with the Prime Minister standing opposite, at the dispatch box, and saying to the Australian people that there was no such connection. He said that the jury was still out, and he was reinforced by many of his ministerial colleagues. And they wonder why, in the events which have unfolded since then, the Australian people doubt whether they have any credibility and standing on this matter whatsoever. Out of your mouth, Prime Minister, at this dispatch box, you confessed your own deep and continuing scepticism about the connection between human activity, greenhouse gas emissions and therefore climate change. And the Prime Minister wonders why the Australian people doubt him. Well, do you know something, Prime Minister? The Australian people look people in the eye and they know when they are being fair dinkum. You have spent 11 years not being fair dinkum on this—
and the Australian people can spot that at 100 paces. In this case, Prime Minister, we are not just dealing with an idle matter of politics which is relevant today and gone tomorrow. We are dealing with the fundamental question of the sustainability of life on the planet. We are concerned about the fundamental question of what environment we bequeath to our kids. We are concerned about the impact which climate change, left unaddressed, will have on the economy, on our businesses, on the entire fabric of the Australian way of life. When it comes to our quality of life, our access to beaches, waterfronts et cetera, this is a challenge which goes to the heart and soul of what Australia is all about.
And guess what has happened? We have had in this place a Prime Minister who, for 11 years, has stood in this place and been a rolled-gold climate change denier. Earlier we described him as a ‘climate change sceptic’. There is one place you graduate to from being a climate change sceptic and that is to the status of being a climate change denier. But suddenly what we discover is that there has been a change.
What is the change that has caused our Prime Minister to have his Damascus-road experience on the question of climate change? Could it be something to do with Crosby and Textor? Could it possibly be something to do with opinion polls? Could it possibly be to do with someone having their ear to the electoral ground, 3½ months before this Prime Minister has to call an election, and him saying, ‘Jeez—we’ve got a problem here! And what are we going to do about it? How do we convince the Australian people that I, John Winston Howard, am suddenly convinced about a proposition I have spent the previous 11 years denying?’
He is going to talk later this week about emissions trading. In 2003, Prime Minister, your cabinet considered a submission on this. The Prime Minister knows that. It is a fact. It is an inescapable, proven fact that the Prime Minister, four years ago, had a submission before him on emissions trading which was rejected in toto. You took no action—
The Prime Minister took no action whatsoever on the question of emissions trading when he had the opportunity to act and the national interest demanded that he act. Instead, what he did was to pander to certain sectional interests in the community and decide instead to sit on his hands and do nothing—to do precisely zero. Prime Minister, that is not leadership. That is not leadership at all. That is just waiting around, kicking the sand and waiting till the next opinion poll comes in. And do you know something? Everyone in the country knows it. And if you, 3½ months before an election, think that it is a clever thing to do—and obviously the Prime Minister believes it is clever—to sink your hand deep into the pockets of Australian taxpayers and pull out a huge bucket of money to fund some clever ads on television, to convince the Australian people that suddenly you take this proposition seriously, the Australian people are not about to be fooled. They want a Prime Minister in this country who will exercise national leadership on a—
matter of national interest and have consistently done so ever since the evidence has been in.
We can go to the early government reports on climate change. If there were some evidence to be argued, on the opposite side of politics, that they had only just received a report which joins the dots on climate change, you could perhaps accept the proposition. But no—if you look at the earlier risk assessments of the relevant government agencies of the Commonwealth government on the impact of climate change, its existence and its connection with economic impact and environmental impact, you will see the government has had this evidence in its possession for years. Everybody knows that.
So what has changed? The science has not changed. The opinion polls have changed. And when the opinion polls change, the folk over there in the advisers box get to work, and they drum up an advertising campaign, reaching deep into the pockets of taxpayers, happy to spend tens of millions of dollars on it, in order to craft a piece of Crosby-Textor-driven analysis, in order to try and convince people that suddenly the Damascus road conversion has occurred.
Then we go to the specifics of what has been in the debate in the last four days. The question the Prime Minister has been incapable of answering for the last four days is: has the government got a taxpayer funded advertising campaign in the pipeline and how much does it cost? I do not know how many questions we have asked on this subject. It is at least 10, I think, and probably more. But what we have seen in response to each of these questions put to the Prime Minister is a classic exercise in prime ministerial duck-and-weave and obfuscation. The thing about this modus operandi, Prime Minister, is that the Australian people believed it for a while. The Prime Minister of old, the John Howard of old, would not have engaged in this sort of behaviour; he would have been much cleverer than he is being at present. But I have to say that, when I look at the behaviour in the last four days, this is a different John Howard from the one we have seen before. It would have been a much slicker performance. This has only been a half-slick performance.
As a result, people see through it with great transparency. What they see is a Prime Minister saying, ‘I don’t want to admit to the Australian people that I’m using their money to try and prop up my political interests before an election.’ That is the core interest, and the Prime Minister cannot escape from it. That is the core interest driving this Prime Minister’s behaviour—a core interest, a partisan interest, a sectional interest. But guess what, Prime Minister? It is not the national interest. That is the difference. Instead we have a Prime Minister who has used every parliamentary ruse known to man, and some beyond that, to try to escape responsibility at this dispatch box for such basic questions as we have asked. Is it so hard to answer the question: does an ad exist with a lady boiling up a cup of tea? Is that so hard to answer?
I am a reasonable man. I understand that the Prime Minister himself may not have that at his disposal, but the chaps he is speaking to at the moment actually do have it at their disposal. They are the advisers. One of those advisers sits on the government’s communications advisory committee, and that is the unit which provides secretariat services to the Special Minister of State and the Special Minister of State has responsibility for providing ministerial approval for the allocation of budgetary resources for publicly funded advertising campaigns. That is the mechanism. This Prime Minister linked through his chief of staff to that minister—join the dots and what you have got is a whole bunch of people who know what is going on.
But guess what? Once again we have got a kids overboard problem. There seems to be this problem between what they know and what the Prime Minister knows. Once again it seems to be that everyone else out there, everyone else in the bureaucracy, everyone else out in ministerial land knows there is a problem here, as they did in kids overboard. But, blow me down, the Prime Minister doesn’t. I wonder why that is the case! Prime Minister, I return to what I have said several times before. Once upon a time, the Prime Minister could have got away with this, but they have seen it so often, case in, case out—kids overboard, Iraq and the wheat for weapons scandal. ‘Not my responsibility, someone else’s responsibility; not my knowledge, someone else’s knowledge. I’m just the Prime Minister,’ he says, ‘I wouldn’t be expected to know these things.’ But do you know something, Prime Minister? We have this old-fashioned convention in this country, inherited from the United Kingdom, and it is called the Westminster system. I know the Prime Minister finds this uncomfortable, but in this place you are accountable to the parliament. After 11 years in office I believe the Prime Minister no longer accepts that basic fact.
I can understand the Prime Minister not answering one question and a bit of duck-and-weave, but, if the opposition asks 10 questions on a simple proposition and asks for a bit of honesty, do you think it is too hard to give it to the parliament? I have to say that, on this, the Prime Minister has been found out, and found out most badly indeed. Basic questions such as, if we can’t tell the Australian people whether these ads have an elderly lady in them making a cup of tea, how about whether in fact money has been spent on putting together a letter which, we understand, is to go out to eight million or 10 million Australian households from the Prime Minister?’ If it is a letter from a minister I could understand the chaps over there in the advisers box thinking, ‘Well, you know, someone out there in another ministerial office might know.’ But, if it is to be from the Prime Minister, do you think someone in the Prime Minister’s office might know?
What about something as core and as central as this: if this campaign is to be called ‘Climate Clever’—now there’s a clever title if ever I heard one!—do you think that those two words might bring the occasional memory tweak as to whether the campaign is to be called that or is called that already? When it comes to ‘Climate Clever’, this is an extraordinary moment of self-revelation. This politician, this Prime Minister, is a very clever politician, a very cunning politician and, some have said, ‘sometimes a cynical politician’. How could the government hit upon a name for a campaign called ‘Climate Clever’ and think they would get away with it? It is intended to be a clever campaign, because the cleverness is apparently supposed to lie in this proposition: ‘We don’t believe in climate change but the cleverness lies in trying to convince you people out there that we do.’ That is the core proposition here. Going back to the accountability point, you would think the Prime Minister would know whether or not a campaign called ‘Climate Clever’ existed, or at least that those advising him would know that fact. So we have no knowledge of whether we have a television ad out there which has a lady in it boiling up a cup of tea; we have no knowledge of whether letters have been prepared to be sent out by the Prime Minister to Australian households; we have no knowledge of the fact, or the proposition or the question of whether this campaign is in fact to be called ‘Climate Clever’—apparently we know none of these things!
If these propositions, or questions, that I put forward in the last several days were wrong, or fundamentally wrong, I would have thought that at the end of question time yesterday we might have heard about it. I would have thought that the Prime Minister would have been like lightning to the dispatch box, saying, ‘The Leader of the Opposition has just got it wrong.’ If that was not to be the mechanism, the Tony O’Leary memorial device, which is go up to the press gallery and tell everyone that it is wrong, would have been executed as plan B. That was not done either, was it? So under those circumstances, putting the evidence together, guess what we have concluded? We have concluded that all these things are true. If they are not, the Prime Minister has a lot of time at the dispatch box after I conclude my remarks to tell us whether we have any of these elements wrong. Is there a campaign called ‘Climate Clever’? Is the Prime Minister aware of the existence of letters to be sent out by him to Australian households? Is there a TV ad which has a lady boiling up a kettle in it? Do all these things exist, or are they the collective figments of the opposition’s imagination.
When I first asked these questions, I put them in the interrogative. I asked whether he would confirm whether these things were true. When we received the information, as we have done from whistleblowers on this occasion, we wanted to test whether the proposition was accurate. That is why it was put in the way in which it was. But the answers to each of those propositions for the Prime Minister has caused us to conclude that, frankly, there is something which smells a lot here.
Today the duck-and-weave reached new heights when suddenly the Prime Minister was confronted with the following dilemma. How could money be spent on programs, including the preparation of ads, the market testing of those ads through opinion poll research and the filming of those ads, and perhaps even the booking of advertising space for those ads if the campaign itself does not exist? Instead, the dissimulation lay in this—the Prime Minister’s argument to the parliament that the campaign itself does not exist until it actually hits the media. In other words, the expenditure of funds up until this point is some mystical process which exists out there in some other realm, beyond public policy. The core problem is, as the Prime Minister unwittingly said in answer to one of my earlier questions: things don’t get approved in this place for the expenditure of moneys until ministers approve them. He went on to say that I should know that as a former public servant. Prime Minister, I do know that.
That leads to the next question, which was put through the dispatch box to the Prime Minister: who then approved the money for all these things, which the government have refused to deny up until now exist? Who approved the money for the ad with the lady boiling up the cup of tea? Who approved the money for the market research work? Who approved the money for all these things? Remember, the Prime Minister himself said: ‘Things don’t happen until ministers approve them.’ So, who approved them, Prime Minister? How much was approved? How much was this entire campaign about to cost?
This represents, in a nutshell—it is a stark, staring example—this government’s standards of public accountability. We have seen it up hill and down dale throughout the life of this government, but the curve has gone like that. It started off with little things, but it has got much bigger. It started off with dissimulation on things like the ‘kids overboard’ affair. It started off, and got worse, with the misrepresentations of this parliament on key questions concerning our reasons for going to war in Iraq. It continued through the ungodly saga we saw with the wheat for weapons scandal, whereby $300 million worth of bribes was authorised by this government through its approval relationship with the AWB for payment to Saddam Hussein, whose best financial supporter around the world was none other than the HMAS Howard government. No other source of foreign income exceeded that 300 million bucks, Prime Minister. It was a truck load of money—$300 million.
Put all those things together, and what do we have? We have a pattern of behaviour. We have a pattern of behaviour from a Prime Minister and a government who have been in office too long, a pattern of behaviour from a Prime Minister and a government who regard the public purse as something to be raided in order to fund and prop up their election campaigns, a public purse which can be drawn upon in order to convince the Australian people, or attempt to do so, just prior to an election, that suddenly the Prime Minister has got serious about something he has never, ever believed in.
If this were about a marginal question in politics, then it would just come and go as one of those things that happen in this place, and that people do not think about any more. But it is about something really important. It is about climate change. It is about whether we are going to be serious as a country in dealing with this challenge. It is about whether we have a government which has ever been serious about this challenge. It has to do with whether we have a real approach to emissions trading. It has to do with whether we have a real approach to boosting mandatory renewable energy targets. It has to do with whether we have a real approach to how we ensure that proper demand side management occurs across the Australian economy. It has to do very much with whether we have a viable strategy out there for the development of clean coal technologies. It has to do with all these things. But it has ultimately to do with this: whether we have a government which believes that climate change must form the basis of government action now or whether we have a government which believes that the only challenge in politics is to somehow scrimp and trick its way through to the next election and then go back to business as usual.
This Prime Minister stands censured and condemned for misleading this parliament systematically over the last four days on such a basic question of public accountability, but his offence is compounded by the fact that this misleading of the parliament relates to a core challenge which goes not just to the interests of this place today but to the national interest and to the future of climate change on the planet. (Time expired)
Let me start by saying that I totally reject all of the charges contained in the censure motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Having just had an opportunity to read it for the first time, it is about accountability; it is about the government being accountable to this parliament for the expenditure of money. Let me say in immediate answer to that that in Budget Paper No. 2 there is contained on page 147 an entry saying, ‘Climate change—small business and household action initiative’ which speaks of the provision of $52.8 million over five years ‘to increase community understanding of climate change and assist households and small businesses to reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions’. So I say immediately to the Leader of the Opposition: don’t you come in here with your humbug and hubris and start accusing me of having breached parliamentary—
Let me say again to the Leader of the Opposition, through you, Mr Speaker: don’t you come in here with your puffed up hubris and start lecturing this side of the House about accountability under the Westminster system when the very budget paper itself contained a full disclosure of the intention of this government to spend a sum of $52.8 million over a period of five years. This is meant to be the kernel, the very core, of the censure motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition—that we are behaving in a cavalier way towards the parliament, that we are unaccountable, that we do not disclose what we are doing. Yet in the budget papers it says:
The Government will provide $52.8 million over five years to increase community understanding of climate change and assist households and small businesses to reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
That is the first reply that I make to the Leader of the Opposition. Most of his speech was about the politics and the policies of climate change. I will come to that in a moment, but let me deal with one or two things along the way. Let me deal with his fervid attempt to drag into this debate criticism of my conduct in relation to AWB and my conduct in relation to the war in Iraq. Let me remind the Leader of the Opposition that it was the Leader of the Opposition who went to the Zionist Council of Victoria and said it was an empirical fact that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Let me remind the Leader of the Opposition that, despite the fact that he deliberately and calculatedly accused me of being a liar in relation to AWB—
He did not mince words. He said, ‘And I say this calmly and deliberately: the Prime Minister has lied about AWB.’ I remind the Leader of the Opposition that I was cleared of that charge by none other than Mr Terry Cole. We had the courage and the guts not to hide behind parliamentary privilege in making those sorts of allegations. We had the guts to establish a royal commission—and in my case to go before that royal commission and to have my name cleared from the baseless allegation that had been made against me and against the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: don’t come into this place with your confected moral outrage and start lecturing those who sit on this side of the House about standards of propriety. The Leader of the Opposition is somebody who will resort, under parliamentary privilege, to all sorts of character attacks, but when his character is attacked he has the most fragile glass jaw in Australian politics. Everyone is aware of the behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition over the infamous ‘false dawn’ episode. Everyone knows how he harassed on almost an hourly basis the news editors of major newspapers in Australia. Everyone knows how he made the life of many journalists over the Easter weekend a veritable hell, all in the name of trying to extract from them some apology for something that, in the end, was demonstrated to be absolutely correct. The Leader of the Opposition has the most fragile glass jaw in Australian politics. He is the last person to come into this parliament and start lecturing me or any of my colleagues about accountability and propriety.
Of course the government has set aside money for an information campaign in relation to climate change. It was contained in the budget papers. It could not be more transparent than that.
The form of that campaign has not been settled. No approval has been given for the distribution of that campaign. Everything that I have told the parliament in relation to that is absolutely true and does not represent the sort of behaviour alluded to by the Leader of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition has come into this place feeling very much the cock of the walk. He feels full of himself. He feels very much on top of everything. He thinks everything is going swimmingly his way. He is entitled to behave like that and I understand why he might behave like that, but let me remind the Leader of the Opposition that there is a long way to go before a decision is made by his master and mine—that is, the Australian people. There is a long way to go before the Australian people make a decision about who is better able to handle the most vital economic decision to be taken in this country’s experience over the next 10 years. The Leader of the Opposition spent most of his speech talking about the politics and the policies of climate change. Let me say to all members of this House that I am not a climate change sceptic; I am a climate change realist. I am somebody who believes that there is mounting evidence that human behaviour is contributing to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions not only in Australia but all around the world. But I am also somebody who believes that if this country gets this decision wrong, we will pay a very heavy price. We will hurt our economy and we will destroy the jobs of Australians, particularly in the coal industry. If we take the advice of Europeans, if we take the advice of foreigners and not of experts here in Australia, we are bound to get this decision wrong.
My charge against the Labor Party in relation to this issue is that they have been driven by extreme ideology and not by common sense. Why do I make that charge and what is the basis of that charge? I make that charge because, amongst other things, the Labor Party have rejected the cleanest and greenest alternative to the current use of fossil fuel available in the Australian community—that is, nuclear power. Only somebody driven by ideology could close their mind to the possibility that nuclear power might be part of the solution. Only somebody who is driven by ideology rather than economic rationality and economic common sense could close their mind to the fact that 80 per cent of France’s electricity is generated by nuclear power, that 27 per cent of California’s electricity is generated by nuclear power, and that nuclear power is staging a comeback in many other parts of the world. In fact, generation for nuclear power stations is cleaner and safer than for coal-fired power stations. They are cleaner and safer than gas-fired power stations. Only an ideologue, therefore, could turn their mind against at least considering nuclear power as being part of the solution.
Worse than that, only somebody who is economically irresponsible could take a decision to commit this country to achieving a greenhouse gas reduction target without knowing the economic consequences of meeting that target. That is what the Australian Labor Party has done. The Australian Labor Party has said, ‘We are committed to a reduction of 60 per cent in our greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050,’ without knowing what the economic implications of that are. To use the basic language of the Australian community, that is putting the cart before the horse. That is making a decision without knowing the full implications of it. That is being recklessly indifferent to the economic future of this country. That is ignoring the costs that that might represent to the coal-miners of Australia. It is ignoring the costs that it might represent to the transport industry of this country.
By contrast, the approach taken by this government has been to find out the consequences of action before committing ourselves to it. That is why, not last week, not last month but in December of last year, I committed this government, in cooperation with Australian industry, to putting together an examination of the shape and form of an emissions trading system suitable for Australia. This week, the government will receive the report. That report will be a joint effort of the five most senior bureaucrats in the federal government and five representatives of the business community, including the resource sector of the Australian economy. This will be the most detailed, economically sustainable and intellectually consistent examination of the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, emissions tradings and related issues concerning climate change that has ever been put together in Australia.
This will be an Australian report for Australian conditions to preserve the strength of the Australian economy and make sure that we protect Australian jobs. It will not be a grab bag of proposals taken holus-bolus from a report written by an Englishman for European conditions and designed to promote the political objectives of the British government. That is what the Stern report is all about. Stern is not the biblical scholar of climate change that is posited by those who sit opposite. Stern has written from the perspective of an Englishman, from the European circumstance and from the European point of view. He does not have in mind the unique circumstances of Australia.
Amongst other things, Stern has suggested—and I ask the Leader of the Opposition to listen to this very carefully—that we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by the year 2020. In other words, Stern says that in 13 years we have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from current levels. Does the Leader of the Opposition have any idea what that means for the Australian economy? Does the Leader of the Opposition have any idea of the impact that would have on electricity prices? Does the Leader of the Opposition have any idea of the impact that would have on jobs in the resource industry? Does he have any idea of the impact that would have on overall economic growth in the Australian community? If he did have that idea then I do not think he would have so enthusiastically embraced the recommendations of Sir Nicholas Stern’s report.
What we want in relation to climate change is a measured, balanced response. We need to address the growth in greenhouse gas emissions but we need to do it in a way that matches the particular characteristics of the Australian economy, recognises the resource base of the Australian economy and, above all, do it in a way that maintains the ongoing strength of the Australian economy.
I finish with this proposition: if greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and associated matters represent a challenge to make the most important economic decisions this country will take in a decade, it is imperative that those who have demonstrated a capacity to make difficult economic decisions remain in charge of the taking of those important decisions.
Today’s censure motion against the Prime Minister is a defining moment in the life of this parliament—defining because it proves once and for all that, when it comes to climate change and the policies this country needs to have in place to deal with the issue of climate change, this Prime Minister just does not get it. There were 11 denials before today—11 denials when the Prime Minister was asked questions about the taxpayer funded campaigns, and still he was not able to confirm whether or not the campaign, which we know to have been planned, was actually in existence. And the Prime Minister’s comments about Sir Nicholas Stern deserve to be noted immediately. I will be interested to see whether the Treasurer endorses the Prime Minister’s remarks that the task of Sir Nicholas Stern was to promote the political interests of the British parliament.
I say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the House, that it was actually the debate that the Prime Minister had with Sir Nicholas Stern, as Sir Nicholas Stern pointed out quite clearly once he visited Australia, which showed that the Prime Minister’s intransigence and the government’s intransigence in not signing Kyoto was an impediment to us making progress on the issue of challenging global warming.
Let us go back to the parliament last week. On 23 May the Prime Minister was asked about taxpayer funded full-colour brochures on climate change with a personal covering letter. He said, ‘No such decision has been made by me or, to my knowledge, by the government.’ When he was asked whether this pamphlet had been market tested, along with the covering letter, again we got no answer. Then on 24 May he was asked whether $176,000 had been allocated for market testing and research by Blue Moon Pty Ltd. That was already on the public record from Senate estimates. I am happy to tender that particular correspondence right now. It is marked 23 May 2007—’Dear Dr Holland’, ‘from Mark Tucker’:
Blue Moon Research and Planning Pty Ltd were appointed on a single select arrangement to undertake developmental, formative and evaluation research for the Climate Change Community Information and Education Campaign on 16 April 2007 by the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications.
I think that is fairly clear. But still, when asked about this particular and specific campaign and undertaking by Blue Moon research, the Prime Minister said:
I simply repeat what I said yesterday: the government has not decided on any campaign.
And then asked again whether the ministerial committee, on which Mr Nutt sits as his representative, had approached the market research company and whether a contract had been entered into, Mr Howard said:
I repeat what I said yesterday: the government has not approved this campaign.
And so it went on and on. On Monday this week, when asked about whether the non-existent advertising campaign—because now we have newspaper reports and clear indications that there is such a campaign—had an elderly lady in it, talking about practical responses to climate change, the Prime Minister said again:
I can only repeat what I said: no campaign has been approved.
Why is it that we know so much about a campaign that the Prime Minister knows so little about? That is really the question that lies at the heart of this censure motion: where is the Prime Minister’s capacity to answer a question here, on matters that everybody else seems to know something about but he does not?
There is a very familiar pattern here for Australians listening to this. Because they will be aware of the fact that, when the Prime Minister was first asked a question about this, he specifically said, ‘I am very careful with my answers’. That is the expression that he used: ‘I am very careful with my answers’. When he was asked whether or not Richard Davies had anything to do with sighting the contract for this particular campaign, again he refused to answer. When he was consequently asked questions in this House, up until this point in time today, he refused to answer. Then finally, when he was asked the last question by the Leader of the Opposition, he said, ‘I will come back to the House and provide you with some information.’ What he has come back and provided the House with is an answer that says the information campaign that was noted in the budget papers is actually the campaign that everybody has been talking about. In that case, why did the Prime Minister not say that on Wednesday last week, on Thursday last week, on Monday this week and on Tuesday this week? If that is what the campaign is, why didn’t the Prime Minister come straight out and say that when he was first asked that question? This would have been the worst performance by a Prime Minister in this House since Billy McMahon when it comes to dealing with questions—the least convincing, least credible performance that we have seen in this House. It is a performance that was driven by ideology, not a performance that was driven by conviction or accountability.
The Prime Minister referred in his response to the censure motion and the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition to all of the things that his government had done and the approach that it was going to take on climate change. What the Prime Minister did not refer to was the fact that the government is simply responding to the poll-driven research that it has, and it is on that basis that it has set in train a marketing and climate change campaign which it has called the ‘Climate Clever’ campaign. We read that the tone of the campaign would ‘create a sense of urgency about the issue of climate change’. There should be a very good reason that we feel a sense of urgency about the issue of climate change—because, for 11 years this government has denied it, and now we have greenhouse gas emissions due to skyrocket some 27 per cent by 2050 as a consequence of this government’s inaction. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that will cost a lot more than $23 million on a campaign.
The campaign was said to be ‘positioning the government as the primary balanced voice on climate change’. It is certainly the case that this issue could do with some balance, with the Howard government managing to spend some $5.2 million of its Solar Cities campaign, underspent in the budget, and constantly running the line that in actual fact the damage to the Australian economy will come as a consequence of dealing with climate change. Companies in this country, leading business entities in this country, do not happen to agree. In actual fact this is where the Prime Minister has got it wrong. Not only is he trying to cover up the fact that the government was intending to have an expensive, taxpayer funded marketing campaign out there telling Australians what they were doing about climate change, but he also—and this was clear in his answer to us—does not understand that it is businesses and Australians themselves that will do most and benefit most from responsible action on climate change. Action on climate change can help business competitiveness and economic growth. That is the single, straightforward assertion that we make on this side of the House.
What is it that we require in order to see that sustainable economic growth? A national emissions trading scheme—something that the Prime Minister himself has blocked. He blocked a cabinet submission in 2003 to that end. We need national leadership on climate change, yet where is the evidence of the Prime Minister leading on this issue? He has been dragged kicking and screaming into this debate. He says he is not sceptical about climate change. The correct quote is: ‘I am not sceptical about some of the more gloomy predictions.’ Australians listening to this debate and the Labor Party on this side of the House understand that climate change represents the single most important economic and environmental issue that we face—
and that urgent and immediate action to deal with climate change is necessary—not rhetoric, not taxpayer funded public awareness campaigns and not spin-doctoring of an order of magnitude that is going to cost the Australian taxpayer somewhere between $23 million and $50 million.
A censure motion is a serious motion to bring into this House, and in his answer the Prime Minister showed that the motion was appropriately and responsibly moved. We have a situation in which the Prime Minister over a certain period in office has effectively let down the Australian people. He has let down the Australian people in two ways: he has let them down by not taking climate change seriously and he has let them down by coming into the House and giving the level of answers which make clear that he is perfectly prepared to have a public awareness campaign go out into the public domain although he knows nothing whatsoever about it. The Prime Minister is fond of saying:
People can talk theoretically about what might happen to Australia and the planet in 50 years’ time.
I accept that climate change is a challenge, I accept the broad theory about global warming. I am sceptical about a lot of the more gloomy predictions.
But critically, the Prime Minister was asked a series of simple questions in this House—questions on Wednesday and Thursday and again on Monday and Tuesday—
and was unable to and refused to answer any of them. Then today we suddenly find that the Prime Minister acknowledges that there may be a campaign of one kind or another, but it is one that only gets approved once we see it on TV. This is a new form of public awareness campaign. It is not a campaign until it turns up on television. That will not be satisfactory to the Australian people and it is not satisfactory to the parliament. When we are in a situation of censuring the Prime Minister on an issue of this seriousness, we censure him—
for these reasons. When the question of whether or not there was a campaign was put to the Prime Minister, he would have been aware that a marketing campaign had been thought about, that the planning had been done and that the expenditures were underway. He also would have been aware at that point that the specific purpose of this campaign was to reposition the Australian government as a positive force for dealing with climate change. Regrettably, the Howard government’s track record speaks for itself. This is the government that blocked emissions trading. This is the government that refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol. This is the government that will not support clean energy. In fact, the Prime Minister is on the record as saying that the contribution clean energy will make to dealing with reducing greenhouse gas emissions is marginal. This is the government that will not take the issue of climate change—which all Australians feel passionately needs to be addressed here and now—seriously at all. All it has done is try and spin its way out of trouble and, in spinning its way out of trouble, begin the process of doing what it has done for the last 11 years and has increased in magnitude in the last 12 months—which is to spend more taxpayers’ money convincing Australians that it is doing the things that people, deep in their hearts, know that it is not. That is the worst thing of all about this government. Not only is it leading the Australian people in a way which does not give them confidence about facing the future, but it is prepared to use a public relations campaign, spin doctors and marketing in order to convince Australians of something otherwise.
When these issues were first raised in Senate estimates, it would have been very simple for the government to come into the parliament and make clear what their response was, and that the campaign that had been identified in Senate estimates was the campaign identified by the Prime Minister in his answer to the House. Why didn’t the Prime Minister do that? Why didn’t he come straight in and say, ‘In fact this relates to the public information campaign that the minister for the environment spoke about before he went away to Alaska.’ The answer is that it was not that campaign at all. This is an additional campaign whose primary task is to deal with the poor opinion polling the Prime Minister is facing and the lack of confidence that the Australian public have in the government’s ability to deal with the issue of climate change on the basis of their record of the past 11 years, their denial, their refusal to ratify Kyoto and their consistent undermining of the issue of climate change per se.
The Prime Minister has now said that he will be providing a responsible, moderated, real answer and a real framework to deal with the issue of climate change. What has taken so long? If he said last night, as was reported, that there is a dark cloud out there—and the Prime Minister is now coming into the chamber—
about the consequences of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, I can tell him that the dark cloud has arrived. If the Prime Minister thinks that the Australian people are going to forgive him for six months of lack of action, they certainly will not forgive him for 11 years of lack of action on climate change. In failing to square up to the parliament and the people and answer the questions that were put to him repeatedly—on occasion after occasion—and only now, in this phantom campaign which the Prime Minister finally acknowledges exists, in bringing himself into the House to deal with those questions, the Prime Minister is well censured.
It is true that my mouth is dry because I feel deeply for the future of this country. I feel that under this Prime Minister we have not been led to deal with climate change and to respond to it and we have not been led in a way which gives confidence. There is a responsible future government here that understands the campaign is underway. The Prime Minister stands condemned.
I hope the Leader of the Opposition is not walking out of the chamber on his own censure motion, because, if he were, you might get the idea that this is a political stunt rather than something he feels very deeply about. I think the last speaker, the member for Kingsford Smith, said that a censure motion is a very serious motion—and the censure of a Prime Minister is a very, very serious parliamentary tactic. For the Leader of the Opposition to walk out before the censure motion is even fully debated is, I think, almost unprecedented. He spends most of his time here in question time with his back turned, and the moment his censure motion comes up for debate—and, may I say, total repudiation—he leaves the chamber. Let us just record that for the sake of Hansard: so outraged is the Leader of the Opposition by the Prime Minister’s conduct that he moves to censure him and then leaves the chamber—an indication of the bona fides.
Let us come to this censure motion that has been moved. The Leader of the Opposition believes that the House should censure the Prime Minister for his refusal to tell the House and the Australian people how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on the Climate Clever campaign, blah, blah, blah. The essence of the charge is that there is a campaign that the government is going to engage in, that the government refuses to come clean in relation to how much this is going to cost and that, by doing so, the Prime Minister has refused to tell either the House or the Australian people. This falls apart on day one because, far from the government refusing to tell the Australian people about this campaign, when I brought down the budget on 8 May, when I tabled Budget Paper No. 2 in this House, this supposedly secret campaign was described as follows:
The Government will provide $52.8 million over five years to increase community understanding of climate change …
That is how secret it was. It was in black and white in a prepared document tabled in this House as part of the budget and forming part of the appropriation. This will be in the appropriation bills, as disclosed in this document, Budget Paper No. 2. The Labor Party may well have trouble understanding Budget Paper No. 2, the measures document, because when Labor was in government there was no Budget Paper No. 2. Labor never had a measures document. This is something which I introduced. It puts every decision that the government has made since the MYEFO into a measures document so that nobody can be under any misapprehension as to what we are appropriating money for. This is a secret campaign, but there it is, on 8 May, on page 147 of Budget Paper No. 2. But if you know how to read a measures document you would read not only the description of how much is being spent but also the following:
Further information can be found in the press release of 4 March 2007 issued by the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.
So we have a secret campaign which has now been disclosed in the budget papers. Then we go back to the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull’s press release of 4 March 2007—and have a listen to this big secret:
The Australian Government will help households and small businesses become more energy efficient and potentially carbon neutral, through a $52.8 million Small Business and Household Climate Change Action initiative.
There it is, in a press release issued on 4 March 2007. By the way, if you had read the press release you would know that it says:
All Australian households will receive information explaining climate change and giving them tips on how to become more energy efficient in their homes and their workplaces.
So there it is, on 4 March 2007—the first big leak on the secret campaign! On 8 May we had the next big leak on the secret campaign. And then in the House of Representatives on 21 May—before the Prime Minister had been asked any questions in relation to this—Mr Georganas, the member for Hindmarsh, said:
My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. How much taxpayers’ money will the government spend on a climate change and water advertising campaign between now and the next federal election?
In answer, Mr Turnbull said:
I thank the member for Hindmarsh for his question. I do not believe there is any secret about that … there is a $52 million information campaign to promote awareness of energy efficiency.
That was on 21 May 2007—this big, secret campaign. Poor old Malcolm was probably wondering to himself, ‘How do I get this reported?’—and he is being accused of having a secret campaign. His is putting out press releases, he is coming to the dispatch box and he is putting it in the budget—and it has been a secret campaign all along. Give me a break! I say this to the member for Kingsford Smith: if you come to this dispatch box, move a censure motion and allege there is a secret campaign, you need a fact to back it up. The fact that it has been disclosed in a press release, in the budget papers and at this dispatch box means that the whole censure motion collapses. What the Prime Minister was in fact asked in relation to this—have a listen to this—was whether there was a full-colour brochure with a personal covering letter from the Prime Minister. He said:
No such decision has been made—
that is, on the full-colour brochure with personal covering letter—
But I do reserve the right to engage in a public information campaign …. I do reserve that right.
Of course he reserves the right. He had disclosed it in the budget papers, Malcolm had talked about it in his press release and Malcolm had said it to the House. The only question at this stage was whether it was going to be in full colour with a covering letter. That is the only question in relation to which the Prime Minister was reserving his right.
This is a pathetic censure. We could not have been more up-front about this campaign, including appropriating the money for it, than we were in relation to the budget. So not only has the government disclosed it but the Prime Minister has been entirely honest and entirely factual in his answers to these questions. It may well be that the opposition did not like the answers, but they cannot complain that he neither answered the question nor disclosed the campaign or that the appropriation for it would be made.
I want to go on to one other thing. Running out of ammunition in relation to the censure, the Leader of the Opposition then engaged in a general slur on the government, on the Prime Minister in particular. I want to make this point. When you attack somebody else’s character in the way that the Leader of the Opposition did, and he attacked it in relation to ‘children overboard’, in relation to the Iraq war and in relation to AWB—so when you want to get up in here and make allegations like that—the public and the parliament are entitled to examine your character. It is a basic principle.
I want to say to this House, I want to say to the press gallery, I want to say to the members and the public who are watching this: let us remember this fact that the Leader of the Opposition has engaged in character attack, because when his character is examined let us remember that it was the Leader of the Opposition who began the character attacks. The government is quite entitled, in repudiating those character attacks, to ask this question: how reliable, how honest and how candid has the Leader of the Opposition been when he has been under attack?
When he was asked about his association with Brian Burke, you will recall that he said it was all an accident that he met Brian Burke and that he just happened to be staying with the member for Cowan. That was not the truth, and everybody in Australia knows it. When he was asked the question whether or not his office knew about a proposal to bring forward a remembrance ceremony at Long Tan and he denied it, that was not the truth either. The truth of the matter was that his office knew about it and he went to extraordinary lengths to try to deny it, including some of the most uncouth language that has ever been used against journalists in private—and we all know what it was. We know what he is like when he is speaking in private. He is not the person that he would have you believe he is. The journalists who copped those phone calls know the level of the vitriol and uncouthness and the crudity of the language that he used in trying to deny that obvious truth.
We are entitled to ask how deep he holds his political convictions. For example, one of the things that the Labor Party has repeatedly opposed—and it opposed it when it was introduced in this parliament—is the Job Network. The Labor Party was absolutely opposed to the Job Network: they believed that job placement should be done by a government owned agency, Centrelink. The Leader of the Opposition believed that most certainly, but was his conviction deep? Was his conviction so deep that he would oppose this and not take benefit from it? No, it wasn’t that deep; it wasn’t quite that deep.
He will come into this parliament and will tell you that he is against industrial relations reforms. He will tell you that he is against individual contracts. Does that conviction run deep? Does it run deep—his opposition to individual contracts when it comes to industrial relations? I do not think that runs very deep at all, because he only appears to get outraged about certain employers who use individual contacts, not all employers who use individual contracts. He can get himself worked up about a motel owner at Goulburn but he cannot get himself worked up against all employers who use individual contracts.
He will take out advertisements saying he is an economic conservative. We are entitled to ask: how deep does his conviction run in relation to this? Did it run deep enough to support measures to balance the budget? Did it run deep enough to support the repayment of debt? Did it run deep enough to reform the Australian taxation system? Did it run deep enough to clean up the waterfront? Did it run deep enough to establish a future fund? Does it run deep enough to keep his hands off the Future Fund? It does not run that deep. At the bottom of this it is very hard to find a conviction that the Leader of the Opposition actually believes in and will stand by even when it is not popular.
It is very easy for him to stand up now, take out an advertisement and say in that advertisement: ‘I’m an economic conservative.’ But people are entitled to know where that economic conservative was when the hard decisions had to be taken. That is what they are entitled to know, because he is auditioning for a big job. He is auditioning for the job of Prime Minister of Australia, and we want to know when the heat is on if there is anything to him, if there is any conviction, if there is any ability to stand up and to make a hard decision. I tell you this: if you cannot make a hard decision, you cannot manage the Australian economy and you cannot be trusted with the management of the Australian economy, because people’s lives depend on it, people’s mortgages depend upon it and people’s businesses depend on it. It is much more than a focus group in the advertising agency; it is real hard work. I make this charge: I say that the Leader of the Opposition is not up to the job, he does not have the convictions, he cannot make a hard decision.
As for his censure, this would have to be one of the weakest censures about a ‘secret’ campaign which has been disclosed in this House on at least two occasions—the budget and at the dispatch box, backed up by press releases, backed up by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister does not deserve to be censured here; the person who ought to be censured is this lacklustre Leader of the Opposition.