House debates

Monday, 22 August 2011


Carbon Tax Plebiscite Bill 2011; Second Reading

Debate resumed on the motion:

That this bill be now read a second time.

8:00 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Carbon Tax Plebiscite Bill before the House is an embarrassing leftover from the Leader of the Opposition's attempt to have a vote that even he said he would not abide by. Having told this parliament that a plebiscite was going to be brought before it, the Leader of the Opposition has had to follow through. But it is difficult to know what the Leader of the Opposition expects to make of this. As with his 'say one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience' approach, on this issue the Leader of the Opposition has said on some days that he would abide by the results of a plebiscite and on other days that he would not abide by the results of a plebiscite.

I think ordinary Australians see this for the stunt that it is. They recognise that what faces Australia now are two very different plans. The major political parties in Australia are committed to the same targets. Both sides of the House are committed to a target of a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. That percentage sounds fairly small, but it is important to remember that is against a business-as-usual case in which emissions rise substantially and in a context in which the Australian economy grows substantially. If you think of total carbon emissions per dollar of GDP, the five per cent emissions reduction target actually represents a halving of the carbon intensity in the Australian economy. So it is a target worth fighting for. It is going to make a real difference to the environment.

I am pleased that, at least for now, the opposition are in the tent on that policy. The trouble is that they are in the tent in the most inefficient way. While the government are looking at the high-speed rail solution, the coalition are standing by the side of the road seeing if they can thumb a ride from anyone going by because their battered jalopy has broken down.

The government's strategy goes directly to the problem. It goes directly to the fact that dangerous carbon pollution is causing world temperatures to rise. We have seen steady warming—there is a clear consensus among scientists that the world is warming and that humans are causing that warming. We know, for example, that in Australia each decade since World War II has been warmer than the one that preceded it. We know that sea level rises have occurred. We know that temperature rises have occurred. And we know that the pattern of temperature change is consistent with human induced warming. If you look at the different levels of the atmosphere in which the warming has taken place, what you see will be entirely consistent with what anthropogenic climate change models would predict. That means we need to go directly to the heart of the problem, and the government is doing that by pricing carbon pollution. By putting a price on carbon pollution we induce innovation in the market, we encourage entrepreneurs to make the decisions that will ensure that we as a community reduce dangerous carbon pollution to the greatest extent possible.

By contrast, the coalition has a 'subsidies for polluters' plan. While Labor will put in place a price on pollution and provide generous assistance to households and businesses and investment in renewables, the coalition will slug Australian households. We thought that slug would be $720 a year until the coalition said that they would not internationally link those schemes. Whereas the trend throughout the world has been international linkage of carbon pricing schemes, the coalition now has a 'go it alone' approach. That, of course, would push up the cost to households. Our estimate now is that the cost of the coalition's 'subsidies for polluters' scheme would be $1,300 for each Australian household. That would be a substantial slug, and what you would get for it would be a much less effective scheme.

At the same time, the coalition are committed to axing the very public servants who would be needed to administer their scheme. We will encourage polluters to put in place abatement technologies and to use their fuel more effectively. We will encourage households to choose the lower carbon product on the shelf. But the coalition's direct action program, far from allowing them to scrap the department of climate change—as they have claimed—would most likely require more public servants to administer. It would most likely require an increase in personnel because, if you put in place a scheme which is straight out of central planning, you need more people to do that central planning.

We have seen throughout this process the Prime Minister being willing to face the hard questions. The Prime Minister has constantly been willing to go out and speak to people in shopping centres and engage with people at community meetings. She has engaged with a wide cross-section of Australians. But the Leader of the Opposition has constantly been running away. He is only willing to speak to hand-picked audiences. He is only willing to speak to the party faithful.

A couple of weekends ago, after walking out of a Western Australian Liberal Party conference, which voted for a royal commission into climate science, a great embarrassment on the Liberal Party if ever there was one—one assumes the next Western Australian Liberal Party motion will be for a royal commission into the notion that Elvis is alive and well and living in Subiaco, or into whether or not the moon landing was faked—the Leader of the Opposition literally ran away from journalists. They asked him hard questions, and his car was not there to pick him up, so he had to run around the corner.

When he arrives here in Canberra, we see much the same. The Leader of the Opposition made his way up to Dickson—my local shopping centre, where I held a mobile office last Saturday—and sought to hold a media stunt, at a local butcher. The only slight snag he ran into was that the butcher would not have a cut of it. The butcher would not let the Leader of the Opposition through the door. So the Leader of the Opposition had to drive down to the other end of Canberra—to Fyshwick—to find another butcher, who would let him in. The matter, not surprisingly, arose at the subsequent media conference—this was on 17 August—that the Leader of the Opposition put in place. Questions were put to the Leader of the Opposition such as:

Did your office try to persuade the owners to let you still come in this morning?

Mr Abbott's answer:

Again, I'm not going to go into the ins and the outs …

The next question was:

So they didn't refuse to let you in?

Mr Abbott's response:

But the point I try to make at all times is …

The journalist asked:

But on the subject, though, were you refused entry to that shop? Were you refused entry to the shop by the staff there?

The Leader of the Opposition said:

I can understand why the Australian people feel deeply ripped off …

Finally, at that point, one of the journalists said:

But you're not answering the question, Mr Abbott.

And that is symptomatic of the Leader of the Opposition's approach. It was noted in Twitter:

So much for steak-holders.

And 'Will Mr Abbott again appear on Meat the Press?' Another wag noted, 'Perhaps some of his schedulers might be in for the chop.'

But while there is much amusement to be had from the Leader of the Opposition's flips and backflips, we are dealing here with very serious issues. Those serious issues concern those of us who are serious about long-term economic reform when we see the sort of scare campaign that the Leader of the Opposition is running. On A Current Affair on 1 December 2009, the Leader of the Opposition said, 'This will be a truth campaign, not a scare campaign.' But, alas, we have seen anything but. At a doorstop on 12 July the Leader of the Opposition said:

… the whole purpose of the carbon tax is to phase out the coal industry.

That is not true at all. We know that trade-exposed emissions-intensive industries will have generous assistance available to them. We know that the permits that will be provided will be provided for good reason: Labor has always been the party that has stood up for Australian jobs. And Labor recognises that because climate change is a global problem we will not solve anything by exporting pollution overseas. If an emitter simply moves to another country then that will not do any good for climate change. So we want to ensure that emissions do not move overseas, but we do not want to blunt the effect of the carbon price. Providing free permits prevents that: the price effect is still there but by providing the free permits we will ensure that the jobs are maintained.

The Leader of the Opposition has said, at the Peabody Metropolitan mine on 9 June 2011:

… the problem is that this mine will be one of many mines under threat if Julia Gillard's carbon tax goes ahead.

Later on that occasion the Leader of the Opposition said:

A carbon tax ultimately means death to the coal industry and that's very, very bad news for the Illawarra, bad news for this mine and everyone who works here.

This constant scare campaign would be one thing if it was just directed to people in this place, but Australians are busy people, they often only have a chance to get small snippets of the news—maybe a few grabs here and there—so it is not surprising that, having run a vigorous scare campaign over the past couple of years, Mr Abbott has succeeded in scaring some Australians. We have seen the effect of that in the trucks that have arrived, snarling up the traffic in my electorate this morning.

But just because you run a scare campaign does not mean you have your facts right. Mr Abbott has said that as a result of the carbon price Whyalla will be 'wiped off the map'. He said that at a doorstop on 22 April 2011. But that is not the view of the steel companies. OneSteel is completing a $65 million upgrade of its Whyalla blast furnace to extend its working life beyond 2020. BlueScope has described the carbon price as 'a pragmatic solution to a complex problem'.

We have had many respected voices in the industry who have recognised the importance of putting a price on carbon pollution. The value of using a market based mechanism is that if you start early then you are able to achieve least-cost abatement. As with many things in life, as the Prime Minister has noted, this will not get cheaper by putting it off.

The Leader of the Opposition has had a multiplicity of positions on carbon pricing. In 19 July 2011 he said:

I've never been in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.

But that stands in stark contrast with his interview on Sky News when he said, on 29 July 2009:

I also think that if you want to put a price on carbon, why not just do it with a simple tax?

Then he supported the emissions trading scheme. On 22 November 2009 on 2UE he said, 'You cannot have a climate change policy without supporting this ETS at this time.' On 2 October 2009, on Lateline, he said:

We don't want to play games with the planet. So we are taking this issue seriously and we would like to see an ETS …

As the member for Wentworth has noted on his blog on 7 December 2009:

His only redeeming virtue in this remarkable lack of conviction is that every time he announced a new position to me he would preface it with "Mate, mate, I know I am a bit of a weathervane on this, but …

Australians are increasingly realising that the Leader of the Opposition will say anything to any audience.

That stands in stark contrasts to the leaders that have come before him. There are many things on which I would disagree with former prime minister John Howard but he did take seriously the challenge of carbon pollution. He commissioned work to be done on climate change and the use of market based mechanisms in the late 1990s. Former prime minister John Howard went to the 2007 election promising to implement an emissions trading scheme. The member for Wentworth, as Leader of the Opposition, continued that tradition. Why? Because sensible conservatives around the world recognise that market based solutions to environmental problems are in the great tradition of small 'l' liberalism. As a result, we on this side of the House are now the heirs to the Deakin legacy. We are the heirs to the legacy of ongoing reform. We stand for economic reform, for the long game, for focusing on solutions that will build a better Australia.

The modern Liberal Party has simply turned into the party of no. They hate us on every issue. You can see that hate is palpable when they hold their community meetings. But ultimately they need us. The modern Liberal and National parties are no longer parties of ideologies, of belief, as they once were. They are now anti-Labor parties. They are now antireform parties. They need us because without us they stand for nothing. The definition of the modern Liberal-National Party platform these days is 'Whatever the Labor Party is for, we are against it.' They are the party of opposition, the party of denial, the party of negativity and the party of no.

There is another party like that in world politics and that is the Tea Party. We have seen Senator Bernardi calling for an Australian Tea Party. Senator Bernardi would like to see the Tea Party imported into Australia, but we do not need a modern Tea Party because we have the Liberal and National parties willing to say anything to any audience, willing to oppose anything that this government puts forward. They have been willing to oppose so many sensible reforms over the course of this year, including reforms which they introduced. We saw the extraordinary situation earlier this year in which reforms on fuel taxation introduced by then Treasurer Peter Costello were opposed by the Liberal and National parties for the sake of a cheap headline. They decided that it was better to back economic populism rather than support economic reform that was in the long-run interests of Australia.

The Leader of the Opposition is pursuing a strategy which has its antecedence in the doomsday cult leader. Doomsday cult leaders are greatly successful for a number of different reasons. The first thing a doomsday cult leader can do is offer absolutely everything to their followers: 'You want free food? I've got it. You want free wine? I've got it. You want free love? I've got it.' You can see that in the $70 billion black hole in the opposition's costings. The opposition have such a deep hole in their costings because they are willing to offer something to everybody but are never able to say where the money will come from. If you want to stand before the Australian people as an alternative government you need to identify where the savings are coming from. But, no, the opposition would rather stand up as a doomsday cult and say you can have anything you want: 'You won't have to pay for it; we'll give it all to you.'

The second similarity with a doomsday cult is that the opposition are predicting the end of the world. They have—like all good doomsday cult leaders—a particular date in mind. Their date is 1 July 2012. On 1 July 2012 prices will skyrocket, towns will be wiped off the map and whole industries will be destroyed. We know that none of these claims are true. We know the price effect will be 0.7 per cent of the CPI, less than one-third of the price impact of the GST. We know that generous assistance to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries will ensure that jobs are supported. We know that the generous household assistance will ensure that Australians are able to buy the basket of goods that they currently buy. But for those running the doomsday cult it is useful to have a date on which the world will end. That is how you rally the supporters around you. You need to have a concrete moment at which the world will end and that date for the opposition is 1 July 2012.

There is just one small problem—one which is common to all doomsday cults—and that is the date eventually comes around. There is a day on which you have to look your followers in the eye and say, 'Well, it didn't quite pan out the way we said it would.' And so on 2 July 2012 the opposition will be looking their followers in the eye and trying to explain why the prices on the shelves and jobs look pretty much the way they used to. I do not think we should predict that the cult will completely fall apart. I am indebted to some work by Leon Festinger and other sociological researchers and their book When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. They note that after the failure of events to come true groups sometimes regroup realising that as a form of coping mechanism—called dissonance reduction, a form of rationalisation—members often dedicate themselves with renewed vigour to the group's cause after a failed prophecy. They rationalise with expectation, such as the belief that their actions forestalled the disaster. I suspect we will see some of Festinger's rationalisations after 1 July 2012. But that doomsday cult leader strategy will not wash with the Australian people. They will see straight through the Leader of the Opposition.

8:20 pm

Photo of Andrew RobbAndrew Robb (Goldstein, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Coalition Policy Development Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

My goodness! The member for Fraser is clearly a man of enormous integrity—of great integrity, I would say, by the way in which he carries himself—but he has let himself down with this contribution. He had an opportunity today to show some remorse for misleading those 95,000 members of the seat of Fraser in the ACT. He had said to those people that under no circumstances would a Labor government in which he became a member introduce a carbon tax. Three weeks later the story had changed. A man of his integrity, a man of such upright standing in the ACT—a former lecturer, of all things—would surely seek to take any opportunity to clear his name, to demonstrate his integrity, to show that he was not seeking to deliberately mislead the people of Fraser. We are giving him a chance with this bill—a bill that he did not in fact address for more than 10 seconds of his 20-minute diatribe. I do not know what it was, to be honest. We have been in a parallel universe for the last 20 minutes. He did his best, yet at no stage did he grasp the opportunity that we are presenting this government to go to the people with a vote without the risk of losing government. That is what the plebiscite is all about. That is what the member for Fraser should have concerned himself with. We want to understand why this government is refusing to support this bill? What is their fear of going to the people, especially when there are no consequences from an electoral point of view? We were giving you that opportunity. If you were a man of integrity you would have taken it. You would have referred to it, you would have talked about it, you would have given us reasons other than some nonsense from centuries ago that you were referring to.

It is a very clear proposition. The Carbon Tax Plebiscite Bill 2011 in practical terms gives the government—a weak government; a characterless government; a government of no authority, no presence, no vision—a chance at least to seek to regain some modicum of trust and respectability within the community. Why is the community not listening to the leader of the government? Why have the people turned off? Why is there a crisis of confidence, which is more important? Here is your opportunity to start to restore some confidence back into the community. We have a crisis of confidence in this government. This government has created a circumstance in which only three weeks into a new term of office they betrayed the people who voted for them. They broke the trust of the people who voted for them. People thought they went to the election committed to not introducing a carbon tax. Do you think this government would have won if they had said they were going to introduce a carbon tax? Not on your nelly—there was not a prospect they would be on the government benches. They misled people to vote for them to get into government and within a matter of three weeks they had broken their word. This is an act of betrayal to the people who voted for them at the last election.

This government has been given a chance by us to correct that great sin of betrayal that they perpetrated and this Prime Minister perpetrated—and I suspect led many people of integrity on the other side to mouth her words, to mouth her promises, to go along with the charade that this Prime Minister presented to the people before the last election—then to break it within a matter of three weeks in order to stay in government in a grubby deal done with the Greens. We have seen nothing for the last 12 months but an agenda which has been dominated by the Greens and the crossbenchers. There is not one issue that you can refer to, really, that has not been dictated by the crossbenchers and the Greens. This is a pathetic situation.

There are people out there who are deeply concerned. You cannot walk in the street in Melbourne where I live—or go to the airport or go anywhere in Australia—without people stopping you on the street, people you have never known, never spoken to. Even my Labor mates are saying to me: 'What can you do to get rid of that mob? What can you do to bring on an election?' At least what you can do is make sure this carbon tax—this thing which is a demonstration of the lack of empathy and identification with the problems people are facing—is nipped in the bud, that this thing is stopped in its tracks.

At a time when the exchange rate is at a level it has never been at, at a time when half the economy is in recession and the other half booming, at a time when people are facing enormous cost of living pressures that they cannot deal with, people cannot understand for one minute that this government would persist with this idiotic carbon tax, which is dripping with intervention, dripping with socialism.

If you wanted to introduce a price on carbon in a way which is going to maximise the amount of intervention in hundreds of our biggest employers, you would bring in a carbon tax. I know this. I had the shadow ministry for climate change for a year when the previous Prime Minister was working up his model. This carbon tax will morph into exactly the same model that we were presented and rejected on two occasions. In fact its absence was supported at the last election by the vote that those opposite got in their lies to the Australian people, when the Prime Minister said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' That was a cast-iron commitment. It was deliberately said. It was said again and again in the last fortnight to make sure that people understood this. If the Prime Minister had not made that commitment, this government, which hangs on by the slimmest of margins—we won 750,000 more votes, we won one more seat—would have lost. They have the crossbenchers with, again, a series of grubby commitments.

Member for Fremantle, you tell me how you support this boatpeople business. You cannot sit there and tell me you are a person of integrity. So many people on the other side are people of integrity but they have been forced to succumb to the grubby betrayal of the Australian people by this Prime Minister and this government. I do not know how you hold your heads high at any stage. On so many fronts you have betrayed the Australian people. That is why we have a crisis of confidence.

Sovereign risk is associated with poor decisions. We have so many areas where there have been problems with this government: the BER, the pink batts, the health scheme. They promised to take over with a majority funding of health. All we have is mountains more bureaucrats. There was the PBS. The ink wasn't even dry on an 18-month deal and they broke it. Now we have, potentially, major new pharmaceutical companies, who spend $1 billion a year on R&D, quietly taking some of that out of the country. We have people who are deeply concerned about so many other areas. The live cattle job was pathetic. The insult that has been meted out to the Indonesian people is just profound: 40 per cent of their meat supply cut off with just a letter to the Indonesian government. They have had 100 years of humiliation from colonisation and other things and what do we do? We cut off the supply of 40 per cent of their meat to all of their people with only a letter provided to them. Who do we think we are as a country? They are our biggest neighbour—with 300 million people. They are a part of our future, no matter what you think. No matter what you think, they are good people and they are going to be a very big part of our future. And what do we do? This government offends them. It is a disgrace!

We are giving this government an opportunity to restore at least a very small modicum of trust and respectability by giving them a chance to have a vote which does not put their position as government in jeopardy—the position that they seem to be prepared to risk at any point. The support being given to the member for Dobell is sickening. Look at the evidence that comes out daily. Look at what we saw today from Fairfax—that he has lied; that he is a thief. Yet the Prime Minister stands up here daily and supports it. This government is causing a crisis of confidence in the Australian economy and is doing untold and long-term damage. This bill must be supported. (Time expired)

8:30 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to oppose this bill, the Carbon Tax Plebiscite Bill 2011. It is the first bill in this place that I have had reason to speak against. Before I go into my discussion on my opposition to the bill, I just want to take issue with some of the comments that the member for Goldstein made, particularly his comment that we have no agenda. That is complete and utter nonsense. We have an agenda to improve education in this country. We have an agenda to improve health in this country. We have provided 50 per cent more funding for health in this country. We have an agenda to deal with ageing population and aged care for this country. We have an agenda for dealing with people with disabilities for this country. We have an agenda to link this country through the NBN and through improving infrastructure. We have made the most significant investment in infrastructure that has ever been made in this country. We had an agenda from 2007 onwards that saved this country from recession. You need just look at what is happening in the rest of the world, where most of the world is in very deep trouble. But here we are in Australia with low debt against GDP, five per cent unemployment and an economy that is going well.

The member for Goldstein's comments that we are 'agendaless' are complete and utter nonsense. We have an agenda to embrace the future, to position this nation for a prosperous future, through a range of mechanisms. And what do we get from the other side? Nothing; we just get no, no, no and opposition to everything that we want to do. It is the opposition that is the agenda vacuum; it is certainly not the government. We have had a very strong agenda since we have been in government. Since 2007 we have had a strong agenda that we have fulfilled, and we will have a strong agenda for the future of this country.

I am speaking against this bill because I believe it must absolutely be defeated not just because it is yet another example of the Leader of the Opposition's denial of climate change but because it also represents a very significant challenge to the nature of government in this country. I say that because this bill is not about consulting the Australian people. This bill is not about reflecting a national view on government policy. This bill is about allowing the Leader of the Opposition to conduct a push poll with a price tag of $80 million, with the tab to be picked up by the Australian taxpayer. It is also a poll that, should it not go his way, he has no intention of honouring. How do we know this? We know this because he said so himself.

This bill before us tonight is just another stunt. It is another way for the Leader of the Opposition to get his name in the headlines, to continue his fear campaign, to continue to divide this nation, to continue to scare this nation and to continue to oppose everything because he has nothing positive to offer this nation. This is not leadership; this is not the bill of someone who cares about the issues or has a policy program or an agenda for the country. It is in fact the antithesis of these things. This bill actually says to the Australian people that coming up with positive policy solutions to the challenges facing Australia is just a little too difficult for the Leader of the Opposition.

In contrast to the agenda and statements being put forward by those opposite—some of which I suspect would be welcome in a Flat Earth Society meeting—this government has a positive and serious approach to tackling dangerous climate change. It is an approach for which this government convened a multi-party committee to get consensus on the best way to tackle this problem—a committee that those opposite refused to take part in, continuing their proud tradition in this place since the last election of opposition for the sake of opposition. It is a package which is true to Labor's core values of protecting jobs and looking after those who need protection most—low- and middle-income Australians. It is a package that will cut carbon pollution. It will drive investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure to ensure that generations of Australians to come enjoy the environment that so many of us have taken for granted.

This package will see Australia's annual emissions reduced by at least 159 million tonnes in 2020. That is, as we have heard before, the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road. It will do this by placing a price on carbon for around 500 of this country's biggest polluters. It is a price on carbon for the 500 biggest polluters; it is not a tax on ordinary Australians. Under this package, according to Treasury modelling—and, unlike those opposite, I value the expertise of the Public Service and Treasury modelling—by 2050, $100 billion will have been invested in renewable energy; the renewable sector will have grown 17 times its current size; and 40 per cent of electricity generation will come from renewable sources. It will achieve this reduction and this investment in clean technologies while at the same time, as I said, protecting jobs and looking after low- and middle-income earners. Under our proposals, nine out of 10 households will receive assistance. People earning up to $80,000 will receive a tax cut, with the average tax cut being, I believe, at least $300. There will also be an increase to family tax benefit parts A and B and an increase in the pension.

Our package will support jobs, and modelling shows that jobs will continue to grow, with 1.6 million more jobs by 2020. We know that some areas will need more assistance. That is why we are providing $9.2 billion over three years as part of the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, which will support local jobs and encourage investment in local technology. Then there is the $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program to support industries to become more competitive in a cleaner future, including $200 million for jobs in food processing and metal forging industries. There is also the $1.3 billion Coal Sector Jobs Package and the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan to support those industries.

Our package is also one that takes into account the impacts on small business. As a former small business owner, this is something that is very dear to my heart. I know firsthand the issues that small business owners face, so I was pleased that the government took into account how it will impact on them. The government will extend the business instant tax write-off threshold to $6,500 to boost cash flow and help small businesses grow, invest and become more energy efficient. We will also establish a $40 million program to provide information to small business and community organisations on practical measures they can take to reduce energy costs. That is very, very important. People want to know what they can do themselves to reduce their energy costs and to reduce their carbon footprint.

Perhaps most importantly, small business will not be required to count their carbon output, nor will they have to fill in a single form as part of this reform package, something I know time-poor small business owners will greatly appreciate. This is just a small canvassing of the entire package; it is incredibly in-depth and it is incredibly comprehensive. It has been well thought out, considered, costed and modelled. By contrast, what do we see on the other side? We see a glib plan, the so-called Direct Action Plan, that will not achieve the bipartisan targets, that is uncosted and that will cost billions of dollars to implement, further exacerbating their already dismal attempts at good financial management of this country.

It is a policy which the member for Wentworth, a former leader of those opposite, himself acknowledged was one that could be easily dropped. It is the policy of a group of people who do not really believe that climate change is real. It is the policy of people who have no desire to make hard decisions, to tackle serious problems or to lead the Australian people. How do I know this? The Leader of the Opposition said it himself. He cannot avoid the fact that he declared climate change 'absolute crap'. Anyone could be forgiven for forgetting that he said this, since his opinion changes depending on the day's headlines and the community to which he is speaking. He wants a plebiscite on a carbon price, but he will not abide by it. He believes climate change is real and humanity has made a contribution to it, but he also thinks it is crap.

I do wonder what the Leader of the Opposition actually believes in, other than playing opportunistic politics. It is very easy to play to populist rhetoric and to make the easy choices—to outline a policy that lacks substance and hope no-one notices by the time the election comes around. However, I cannot as a member of this place and in good conscience abrogate my responsibilities to tackle climate change. I will not do that; I will not abrogate my responsibilities as the Leader of the Opposition has done as a leader of his community. I will not declare before my community that I am not capable of confronting the problems— (Time expired)

8:41 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise here tonight to support the motion that has been moved which calls on the government to give the people a say. We have seen through the government's actions today that they do not want to give the Australian people a say. We have had a group of people come to Canberra from across Australia to voice their opinion, and what was the reaction they got from this government? From the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, we had, 'This has been nothing but a convoy of no consequence.' From the Leader of the Greens, we had, 'They are moaners and whingers.' What arrogance from this Labor-Greens government. It is interesting that it is the minister for transport and the Leader of the Greens who have done a double act in condemning people who came to Canberra to have a say, because this is a Labor-Greens government, and that is why we have a carbon tax.

Those opposite are saying that this motion is all about negativity. It is not about negativity; it is actually about saving the Prime Minister's credibility. It is giving her the option to say, 'I'm sorry; I got it wrong. I should not have deceived the Australian people before the last election. I shouldn't have misled them,' and to say to the Australian people, 'I shouldn't have spoken untruths, and I should have the courage to come before you and say, "I'm sorry that I deliberately deceived you and I want to make amends. I want to give you the chance to say whether or not you want this carbon tax."' The Prime Minister could restore some of her badly broken credibility by agreeing to this motion and allowing us to go to a referendum. The referendum would not be a political trick. It would simply ask, 'Do you support the government's plan to introduce a price on carbon to deal with climate change?' That is a fairly reasonable, sensible question. I do not think anyone could say that it is any way politically loaded. The Prime Minister could restore her credibility by putting that question to the Australian people and by saying: 'I know you're angry. I know that you will drive thousands and thousands of miles across the country to come here to Canberra to say "give us a say". We won't treat you with contempt. We won't call you a convoy of no consequence, a bunch of moaners and whingers. We'll give you more respect than that. We'll give you the respect that you deserve. We will give you a say. We'll admit that we misled you, that we deceived you, that we deliberately told you something before an election and then did the exact opposite after the election.'

It is a real shame that, once again, the government will not take up this very positive contribution to political debate in this country. This is a positive contribution because it is giving the Prime Minister a chance to say: 'I'm sorry; I shouldn't have deceived you. I am now going to do the right thing.' The people in my electorate of Wannon want her to do that, because everything they learn about this carbon tax worries them to the bone. The operators of our regional airline are saying that this is going to have real consequences for their business because they cannot pass the costs on to the people who fly on their airline. They are going to have to absorb the costs, and they are struggling as it is.

I can give you the example of two regional manufacturers in the town of Ararat who are actually doing things to reduce their carbon emissions, manufacturing equipment that leads to a reduction in emissions. Gason are producing seeders which seed directly into the earth so they require only minimum tillage. What is this government's response to manufacturers of technology that reduces emissions? They are going to be hit with more costs and they will not be able to compete with imports from Canada or China. AME Systems are doing the same for Kenworth trucks, providing technology that reduces emissions. What is the government's response to them? It is to hit them with more costs, which, once again, make it harder for them to compete with the manufacturing of this equipment that is occurring in China. What sort of government responds to manufacturing industries who are producing and providing low-emission technology by saying, 'We're going to put your costs up'?

Look at our farmers, who are competing with the high Australian dollar, who have to export. What is going to happen to them? A dairy farmer in my electorate will face a minimum cost of between $5,000 and $7,000. It is more likely to be in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, but at a minimum between $5,000 and $7,000 will be the annual costs put on their business—and they have to compete internationally. For grain growers on the average farm, there will be $36,000 of additional costs. What about our meat processors? It will be an extra 24c to 30c per carcass. These are the additional costs being put on our rural industries. They have nowhere to go; they have to absorb them.

These people want a voice. They want a say. When they voted in the last election, they did not think they were voting for a government that would put additional costs on them. They did not know that they were choosing a government that was going to put extra costs on their business, because the Prime Minister had said quite plainly, and it has never, ever been disputed:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead …

There have been all sorts of Houdini-like twists to try and get out of that, but that is the language that was used and those are the words that were spoken. There has been talk along the lines of 'It was a different parliament from the one beforehand' and 'We had to form government, so of course what I said before the election doesn't count; it's what I said after.' What a load of hogwash. It was very clear what the Prime Minister said before the last election, and it is very clear what she is doing now.

People want a say. They want to be able to say, 'We made the decision to introduce or not introduce this carbon tax.' That is what we are here discussing tonight—why they should be given that choice; why they should be able to vote in a plebiscite on a very simple question: 'Do you support the government's plan to introduce a price on carbon to deal with climate change?' It is not a trick question; it is a very simple one. I know the people of my electorate want the chance to vote—

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

And mine.

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

and other honourable members in this place are putting their hands up because they want that chance for their electorates.

I call on the Prime Minister to restore her credibility, to make a decision that will say to the Australian people: 'Once again, you can believe in your political leaders. Once again, you can look them in the eye and know that, when they say something, what they are saying is the honest truth.' Sadly, at the moment, the office of Prime Minister is being undermined on a daily basis by the fact that the Prime Minister said one thing before the election and did another thing after. This is her chance to redeem the office of Prime Minister in this country. I hope those opposite will take that chance and vote for this motion.

8:51 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On a day when 1,000 workers in New South Wales and Victoria received the horrible news that they are potentially about to lose their jobs at BlueScope, and at a time when the region and the globe are grappling with enormous political difficulties, terrible instability and some really big challenges, it is very unfortunate that here in the national parliament, the place where all of our electors expect both sides to come and engage in serious debates about serious issues, we are bogged down in a ridiculous debate about a political stunt. It comes from a bloke who over the last 12 months of this parliament has engaged in more stunts than Evil Knievel in his entire life as a daredevil and a stuntman. He runs around the country in search of glowing vests and funny hats. There is not a small business in the country whose premise he will not terrorise in the hope of a media opportunity. Today we saw him attempting to bolster the numbers in something called a cavalcade or a convoy or some such thing in some attempt to blockade Parliament House and terrorise the residents of Canberra.

What we have here is an $80 million stunt, and I can tell you the people in my electorate, the electorate of Throsby in New South Wales, could come up with a lot better use for $80 million. I know those on the other side do not like school buildings, but $80 million would build around 80 libraries and school halls, science labs and language labs—that is about one for every high school in my electorate. That $80 million would go a long way to building much needed infrastructure to provide more hospital beds, and more doctors and nurses in my electorate, but those on the other side of the chamber suggest that that $80 million would be better spent on a political stunt.

We know it is a political stunt and it is all about the politics of no. It comes from the champion of no who launched himself on the political stage championing Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, whose first act as a political player in this country was to ensure that we live for another decade or so as a constitutional monarchy and not have the opportunity to reach full independence as a republic. The next mission—and I find this one really interesting—of the champion of no, deputised by his political godfather, the former Prime Minister, was to destroy Pauline Hanson, the former member for Oxley. He set himself off on that task and did a pretty good job of it, which I am sure is something that irks her enormously. It has always struck us as rather strange on this side of the House that, after he spent a year or so engaged in the task of destroying Pauline Hanson, he has spent the last 12 months in this parliament attempting to emulate her. When you pull out all of the policies, all of the populism and all of the ideas that he has brought before this parliament, you are reading from the One Nation playbook.

This is a bloke whose answer to everything is no, so it comes as no surprise to those of us on this side of the House that, the day after he proposes this stunt to the Australian people—this plebiscite that he wants to spend $80 million on—and before the vote has been held, he has already pronounced his verdict on the outcome of that plebiscite. He has told the people of Australia it does not matter what they say. He will reject it—this is the champion of no. So whatever the Australian people say in this proposed plebiscite, the Leader of the Opposition's answer is no.

We all know that in politics the issue is all about the question you ask. Further evidence of the stunt is in the question itself, because they had an option. They could quite easily have put up a bill that said that, given that we both have the same bipartisan target on reducing our carbon emissions—that is, five per cent over 2000 levels by 2020—and a bipartisan position on the contribution of renewable energy to that reduction in carbon emissions, and I know there are many on that side of the House who do not agree with that bipartisan proposition, it would have been very easy for the Leader of the Opposition to propose a question that said something like this: should we reduce our emissions in the most cost-effective way? That would have been a bona fide question to put in your plebiscite bill, wouldn't it?

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The 'member for Tutu' over there is rolling around in riotous laughter in search of a pair of ballet slippers. It would have been possible if he were fair dinkum. If he had any bona fides, the champion of no could have put a question to this parliament and to the Australian people in his draft bill: should we reduce our bipartisan target; should we reduce our emissions in the most cost-effective way?

We know that the Leader of the Opposition and those that follow in his cavalcade of no do not have the guts to put that proposition, because then we would have to engage in a debate about the costings. A debate about the costings would enable all Australians to see that the coalition's plan, the subsidies for big polluters plan, is in fact a tax on every Australian household to the tune of $1300 per annum. You will not see that in any of their propaganda. You will not see that in any of their speeches, but the fact of the matter is that, if we engaged in a debate about the most cost-effective way of reducing our bipartisan position on carbon emissions, we would be putting up our proposition, which puts a charge on the biggest polluters in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. We will reduce those emissions by five per cent by 2020. We will see that theirs is a tax on every Australian household of $1,300 per annum, contributing to the $70 billion black hole in their budget costings.

If they were fair dinkum, they would put that question to the Australian people, but they are not fair dinkum. They know that all they are engaged in is a political stunt with a predetermined outcome. They will say no because that is all they know how to do on that side of the House. We are engaged in a serious debate about how we can reduce our carbon pollution in this country and play our part in an international effort to reduce carbon pollution to stave off dangerous climate change.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.