Tuesday, 5 July 2011
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Warringah moving immediately:
That the Prime Minister immediately explain why she is so determined to deceive the Australian people about the details of her carbon tax by refusing to release the details for the full scrutiny of the Parliament this week. In particular:
(1) why should anyone trust:
(a) the Prime Minister to tell them the truth on the carbon tax now, when, six days before the election, she said that "there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead";
(b) the Prime Minister to tell them the truth now, when, one day before the election, she said "I rule out a carbon tax";
(c) the Prime Minister to tell them the truth now, when she said only yesterday that "when I'm in a position to give people the details about a carbon tax I will" yet is refusing to release the details to this Parliament and is hiding from scrutiny;
(d) this Prime Minister when she is trying to sneak through a carbon tax without a mandate when the only real mandate of this Parliament is a mandate NOT to introduce a carbon tax; and
(e) this Prime Minister who rules out giving people a vote on the carbon tax by refusing to call an election and now refusing to allow a plebiscite; and
(2) that the House calls on the Prime Minister to recall Parliament next week to debate her carbon tax and give the answers that the forgotten families of Australia are demanding today.
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I do not wish to take up the time of the Leader of the Opposition, which is why the clock has been stopped, but I do raise the issue of whether that motion is in fact a motion and is in order. It seems to me to be a series of questions rather than a motion being put before this House. A number of the motions for suspension that have been moved by the Leader of the Opposition, when we have had time to scrutinise them after the event, have clearly not in fact been motions of this House.
Order! I am happy to accept the motion. I would say that I have had a growing concern about some of the matter that has been put into the motions for which the suspensions have been called. It is perhaps something that over the break I should reflect upon. Having not taken action on other motions, I will allow this motion to proceed. I would hope that at some future opportunity we would have less preamble and argument in the proposed motions. I will allow the motion to be debated. It is a motion for the suspension of standing orders. The Leader of the Opposition has the call.
Mr Speaker, I thank you for your ruling and I also thank the Leader of the House for the courtesy that has been extended. It is very important that standing orders be suspended, because this matter cannot wait. It is urgent that this Prime Minister stand up and explain herself before this House, because this is a Prime Minister who is constantly running away from scrutiny. This is a Prime Minister who wants to indulge in spin and hide from scrutiny. We saw in this parliament today, time after time, ministers who are on strike. That is what we have seen from this government today in question time. We have seen ministers who have been on strike. They have constantly demanded that questions be asked; they have constantly demanded that question time run its full tenure; and then, when questions are duly asked, they go on strike and refuse to answer them. This is a shameful and embarrassing performance from a government that just gets worse every single day.
The Prime Minister says that next week she will go around our country talking to families and workers. Fair enough, but what about explaining herself to this parliament? This is a Prime Minister who was not honest with the Australian people before the last election. Fifteen times, no less, I said during the election campaign: as sure as night follows day, if this government is re-elected there will be a carbon tax. We all know what the Prime Minister said. She said, six days before the election, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' Then she said, the day before the election, 'I rule out a carbon tax.' That is why standing orders need to be suspended—so this Prime Minister can explain herself. She should explain why she is running away from the people at a plebiscite. She should explain why she is trying to have her carbon tax sneaked through this parliament, whose mandate, if this parliament has any mandate at all, is not to introduce this carbon tax. That is why standing orders should be suspended and that is why this Prime Minister should explain herself.
This is a Prime Minister who is afraid. She is very afraid. She is afraid of voters, she is afraid of workers, and now she is afraid of this parliament. She will not answer questions this week—we saw that in the parliament today. She will not answer questions next week, because she will not recall the parliament. She will not even face the parliament now. No recent previous Prime Minister would have shown such gutlessness in the face of the parliament. This is the fourth or fifth time that this Prime Minister, in a cowardly fashion, has scurried out of this parliament to have a Tim Tam in the whip's office instead of facing this parliament, as she should, to explain herself.
Standing orders must be suspended because the arguments that this government relies upon to justify its carbon tax are both lies. This Prime Minister says the thousand big polluters will pay. If it is just a thousand big polluters, why on earth is there a compensation package? Why on earth is there a battlers buffer if it is just the evil 1,000 who are going to have to pay this tax. It is complete nonsense. The voters are not mugs, and the Prime Minister should explain herself, which is why standing orders should be suspended.
The other lie that this Prime Minister and the government—
The other deception that this Prime Minister relies upon to justify a carbon tax is that the rest of the world is acting. I will tell you what the rest of the world is doing: it is massively increasing its carbon dioxide emissions—by 500 per cent in the case of China; by 350 per cent in the case of India—and it is laughing at us inflicting on ourselves an unnecessary new tax that will be nothing but an act of economic self-harm.
Standing orders must be suspended because this is the biggest structural change in our economic history and it should not be foisted upon our people, rushed through this parliament, without this Prime Minister giving a much better account of herself than has so far been managed.
She says it is very important that we have a price signal on so-called carbon pollution. The whole point of a price signal is that if the price is not high the signal does not work. That is what she has to explain: just how high this price signal is going to be. If you cannot trust this Prime Minister to tell the truth, you cannot trust this Prime Minister to get the details of the biggest tax change in our history right. If you cannot trust this government to install pink batts for free without causing fires in hundreds of roofs, you cannot trust them to introduce the biggest tax change in our history. If you cannot trust this government to build school halls without rip-off after rip-off, you cannot trust this government to get the biggest and the most complicated change in our history right.
Look at what this government have done to the live cattle trade. Haven't they shown a great deal of competence! Haven't they shown a great deal of skill in execution! Haven't they shown the kind of attention to detail that you would like to require of a government that have now embarked upon the biggest and the most complex change in our history! That is why we need the Prime Minister in this parliament now, that is why we need the parliament recalled and that is why we need the parliament to scrutinise the carbon tax changes—because we cannot trust this government to get anything right, let alone the biggest and the most complex change in our history. This is the most incompetent government in our history. They cannot be trusted to get right the most complex change in our history.
Members opposite know that this Prime Minister and this government are going to get it wrong. Let's face it—this is the Prime Minister who talks to the Greens much more than she talks to her own backbench. This is the Prime Minister who talks to the Independents much more than she talks to the union officials who know what is going on with workers' jobs in our country. If she spent a bit more time talking to Paul Howes and Tony Sheldon about the carbon tax and a bit less time talking to Bob Brown, she would not be getting it so very, very wrong.
This coalition will be the voice of the voiceless—that is what we will be in this parliament. As former Prime Minister Paul Keating so memorably said: 'If you don't understand it, don't vote for it. If you do understand it, you will never vote for it.' We need to scrutinise this carbon tax. We need more democracy, less hypocrisy. We need more scrutiny, less spin. That is why this suspension should be supported. (Time expired)
I signed a piece of paper that seconded it. We knew something was happening yesterday when the Prime Minister said that the details of the carbon tax would be released in the fullness of time while, at the same time, Senator Christine Milne was on Sky News saying it would be released at the end of the week. The Prime Minister started question time today complaining that we had lost the opportunity to ask 136 questions by moving suspensions. I say to the Australian people: it is not the questions that are being asked; it is the answers that are not being given. That is accountability; that is what this parliament is for.
Now we have a general strike in the government. There are a whole lot of union officials on that side, but I never thought they would call the whole government out on strike. They have done it today. They have refused to answer questions about the details of something they have decided on and partially announced but which they want to announce outside of the parliamentary cycle. They are doing that to avoid the scrutiny of the Australian people in the parliament. They are doing it because they are cowards. They are running away from the scrutiny of parliament. I cannot recall any prime minister in living memory who has run away from the parliament and scurried out of the chamber rather than face scrutiny of their own policies. Would Keating have done it?
Opposition members: No!
Would Hawke have done it?
Opposition members: No!
Would Whitlam have done it?
Opposition members: No!
Would Chifley have done it?
Opposition members: No!
Would Curtin have done it?
Opposition members: No!
Would Menzies or Holt or Fraser have done it? No—because they were men of courage. They were people with principles. We have a weak, insipid Prime Minister who is scared of scrutiny. She is more interested in getting free airtime on commercial TV on Sunday night than she is in actually answering questions in this place.
But hang on! All is good—Wayne Swan is right behind her! We can all rest easy—Australia is in safe hands! If the Prime Minister drops the ball at first slip, we have a great second slipper, right up there with Allan Border—Wayne Swan, the Treasurer. We asked the Treasurer whether boats would have a fuel tax. He could not answer the question. We asked about trucks. He could not answer the question. We asked about oil refineries today. He could not answer the question. We even gave the Leader of the House a question and he could not answer it. He said, 'Wait five days.' What a coward we have at the dispatch box too! What a wimp! You know what I bet? I bet he does not know. I reckon the member for New England can answer and I reckon the member for Lyne can answer, because they are the architects of the carbon tax, together with the Greens and the Prime Minister.
The fundamental point, the problem this Prime Minister has, is this: the questions we are asking in this place are the questions her own backbenchers are being asked by their constituents. The Prime Minister knows that if she announced all the details of the carbon tax today and she could not answer the questions in this place over the next few days the knives would be out. All the backbench members—the member for Reid, the member for Greenway, the member for Banks over there—are being asked simple questions as to whether the carbon tax applies to trucks, whether it applies to landscaping and whether and how it applies to electricity. They are being asked by their constituents the same questions that we are being asked, and we are asking those questions in this place. The Prime Minister and, more alarmingly, the Treasurer and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency cannot answer those basic questions. Instead, they go to rhetoric. Instead, they talk about the battlers buffer. Let me tell you—the battlers buffer is the battlers bluff. It is about the fact that the Labor Party wants to increase the cost of living for everyday Australians but it does not want to be accountable for its words and actions.
This parliament is the place where the questions must be asked; this is the place where the questions must be answered. If we are going to have to suffer an inglorious end to this prime ministership and this government, so be it. We will ask the questions for the Australian people and the Australian people demand some real answers.
I am pleased once again to have the opportunity to speak to this procedural motion. Suspensions of standing orders are moved with monotonous predictability by the Leader of the Opposition. We have heard a lot of rhetoric from the Leader of the Opposition about the importance of parliament, about the opportunity to ask questions and hear answers. But yet again question time has been cut short—another three questions have been missed out on as a result of this suspension motion. In total more than seven full question times have been lost this year as a result of suspension of standing orders motions by those opposite. They are the first opposition in Australia's history since Federation to have chosen to not even try to hold the government to account during question time.
The Leader of the Opposition exposed yet again his denial of the science of climate change when he referred in his speech today to 'so-called carbon pollution'. Yet again he could not help himself from questioning the science. We know he questions the science and has contempt for great Australian organisations such as the CSIRO. We know that he has contempt for Australia's economists, even though every respectable economist knows that we need to put a price on carbon. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition was asked on 7.30 last night:
Can you name a single credible economist who believes that your plan will work?
He could not. He named ACCI, an organisation. And Lord Monckton does not count. He is a discredited peer, a loon from the House of Lords in the UK, who has no credibility back home and who has been dismissed by Margaret Thatcher—one of the first of the world's leaders to take action on climate change. The discredited Lord Monckton comes here and gets together with his namesake in heart across there. When the Leader of the Opposition could not name an economist, Chris Uhlmann asked:
A single economist? A name?
And, look, I'm not gonna get in the business of "Our economist is better than your economists" …
Just one will do—any one will do; a single economist who supports his position. We know that economists who support putting a price on carbon include Paul Brennan, head of economics from Citigroup Global Markets; Chris Caton, chief economist with the BT Financial Group—
Opposition members interjecting—
Besa Deda, chief economist at St George, Saul Eslake, Bill Evans, Joshua Gans, Richard Gibbs, Stephen Grenville, Stephen Halmarick, John Hewson, Raja Junankar, Geoff Weir, Glenn Withers—every respectable economist in this country knows that the way to get action is to put a price on carbon. It is one thing that those opposite are climate sceptics but it is another thing altogether that they are also market sceptics—they are also sceptical about the role of the market.
One would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition might have been a bit nervous about going on 7.30. Remember that during the election campaign he went on there and said to the whole world that they could not believe a thing he said unless it was in writing? Since then he has walked away even from that commitment. Last night he had another shocker. I predict this will be his annual appearance on 7.30he has not been on there all year, up till now. He was asked:
But in the end, do you agree that the budget's funded by taxes, so there will be a carbon tax?
That is, under his scheme. Tony Abbott replied:
Look, I accept that everything has a cost …
He has acknowledged that the difference between the government's position and the opposition's is that we want to put a price on carbon for the top 1,000 polluters and give assistance with that money to ordinary Australian households, to families and to industries and support action on climate change while those opposite want to tax ordinary working families through the tax system in order to give subsidies to the big polluters. That is what this debate is about, pure and simple. But there is more. Their so-called direct action plan—the one that is going to have trees planted in an area greater than the size of Germany—does have in it a bit of detail. Under 'Operation of Fund', on page 14, it mentions something that we have not heard them talk about. They want to keep it a secret. Because I have an interest in this policy I am one of the few people to have read their document, if only for amusement. It says:
Businesses that undertake activity with an emissions level above their 'business as usual' levels will incur a financial penalty.
That sounds like a tax to me. It goes on:
The value of penalties will be on a sliding scale at levels commensurate with the size of the business and the extent to which they exceed their 'business as usual' levels.
That is there in their policy. We have not heard them talk about that up till now, have we? We have not heard them talk about that because this man opposite is the only living Liberal leader who is opposed to a price on carbon. We know that he is all opposition and no leader, all division and no vision. He is the stuntman of Australian politics who yesterday, two weeks after he said he would be in here to move his private member's bill that he would not be bound by, came in here and had his five minutes. The bill will be deferred until sometime in August for a vote. He is so committed to this great plebiscite that he could not get through the first interview without saying that he would not even be bound by it.
This inconsistent rank opportunist of an opposition leader simply should be rejected for his failure to come up with substance. It is consistent—we have heard it all before. Does this sound familiar: 'People will go towards Christmas without having a job. Kids will not be enjoying the Christmas they have been used to. But all of this is irrelevant because we are on an ideological kick here'? Who said that? The member for Mackellar. When did she say it? In 1992. What was she talking about? Compulsory superannuation. It was going to wreck the economy. Opening up Australia to globalisation was going to wreck the economy. Every major reform put forward by Labor—because it is only Labor that has the courage to tackle the big issues—has been opposed by those opposite with rank, hysterical opportunism.
What we know is that the Leader of the Opposition—the walking vuvuzela of Australian politics—is committed to one thing because he only has one tune: no, no, no, no, no. He does it over and over again, no matter what the issue. There is no opportunity to put forward a serious alternative vision, and it is no wonder that so many of his own team are embarrassed by the position that they are now putting forward: rejecting the science of climate change and the need for action. (Time expired)
That the motion (Mr Abbott's) be agreed to.
The House divided. [15:59]