Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Clean Energy Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Household Assistance Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Tax Laws Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Fuel Tax Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Customs Tariff Amendment) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Excise Tariff Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment Bill 2011, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Unit Shortfall Charge — General) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge — Auctions) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge — Fixed Charge) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (International Unit Surrender Charge) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Charges — Customs) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Charges — Excise) Bill 2011, Clean Energy Regulator Bill 2011, Climate Change Authority Bill 2011; First Reading

3:57 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

Three weeks? I suggested it was operating for two weeks but it was only in session for one week. As all of us in this place know very well, the most direct parallel in recent parliamentary history in Australia is that of the goods and services tax and the new tax system legislation. There we had multiple Senate committees examining that package of legislation at the same time and doing so for over five months. This chamber, as a result of the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party combining, denied the Senate's committees the opportunity to examine the clean energy legislation.

We have a combination of problems here when it comes to parliamentary scrutiny. In the House of Representatives we had a very rushed examination. We had the curtailing, or the guillotining, of debate in the House of Representatives. We also had the forestalling of the work of the Senate committees. So the last place and the last opportunity for scrutiny for this package of bills is the Australian Senate, and we want to seek every opportunity to make sure that that happens. That is why we are moving that these bills not proceed without formalities and that they not be taken together. We have a job to do. We know the numbers are stacked against us but, regardless of whether a result in this place is a foregone conclusion, this chamber has a job to do. This chamber has a job as a house of review and senators have a responsibility as legislators to make sure that there is appropriate examination of the bills that come before this place.

What we are seeing with this package of bills is the ultimate in gesture politics, but unlike usual gesture politics this has a detrimental effect. Usually in gesture politics there is some symbolic act taken but no detriment or harm is done. However, this is a political gesture which will do enormous damage to Australia, it will do enormous damage to Australian businesses, it will do enormous damage to Australian households and, for that matter—looking specifically at my shadow portfolio of disabilities, carers and the voluntary sector—it will do enormous damage to Australians with disabilities, to charitable organisations, to not-for-profit organisations and to the voluntary sector.

This legislation will be like a punch to the solar plexus for the not-for-profit sector in Australia. As a parliament we are meant to be keeping an eye out and trying to make life easier for Australians who are particularly vulnerable and who face additional challenges because of circumstances beyond their control, such as people with disabilities. Whereas the usual starting point for a government with any policy or piece of legislation is to do no harm, the starting point of this government with its policy and with its package of legislation is to do harm. That is the purpose of it. This was very clearly unearthed in the Senate Select Committee on Scrutiny of New Taxes, which Senator Cormann chaired, and despite all the obstacles in their way it was also something which was brought to the fore by Senator Birmingham and Senator Cormann together in the sham joint committee. So we should be in no doubt that this legislation will do harm, because that is its objective: it seeks to do harm. We would be derelict in our duty as an opposition if we did not take each and every opportunity that this parliament affords for scrutiny—whether it be in matters of public interest, matters of public importance, motions to take note of answers, question time, questions on notice, Senate estimates, debate on legislation, debate on procedural motions, or whatever opportunity is presented by this chamber—to hold the government to account.

If there is one thing I am not going to do, and that Senator Abetz, Senator Cormann, Senator Birmingham and Senator Williams are not going to do, it is to be complicit in facilitating the breach of an election promise solemnly given by the Prime Minister of Australia. We will not do that. We do not care how often those on the other side accuse us of being obstructionist or difficult. We are not. We are doing our job. The attitude of those opposite is: 'The numbers are in the bag. We're going to get this through. The opposition should lie back, let it all happen, think of a brighter and better day and just turn a blind eye.' That is the attitude of the government. Apart from showing contempt for the parliament, apart from not valuing the role of review that this chamber has, more than anything it just shows contempt for the Australian public.

It is bad enough that the Australian Labor Party formed government—I will not say 'won the election', because that is certainly debatable—on the back of a lie and won many of the seats that it holds on the back of a lie. That is bad enough in and of itself. It deserves to be condemned for that and that alone. But, recognising that it is in the nature of the Australian Labor Party to be dishonest and to deceive the Australian public, the very least that the government should have done was to ensure adequate scrutiny of this package of legislation in the other place and in the Australian Senate and its committees. It has not done that.

But there still is the opportunity for the Australian Labor Party to redeem its soul. There is still the opportunity for the Australian Labor Party to regain some dignity. There is still the opportunity for the Australian Labor Party to seek to reconnect with those people who used to support it. I say 'used to support it', because it is very clear now that the traditional base of the Australian Labor Party do not support it. But it is not too late for the Australian Labor Party to redeem its soul, to reconnect with its traditional supporters and to regain some dignity and some integrity. The way that it can do that is by discharging this legislation. As I said this morning, it is open to the government to discharge this legislation.

Having done that, the Prime Minister should go to Yarralumla and say to Her Excellency the Governor-General: 'I've made an awful blue. It seemed a good idea at the time to tell the Australian people that I wouldn't introduce a carbon tax, but it's kind of caught up to me. The Australian public are kind of onto me. The game is up. I know that, so therefore, Governor-General, I'm seeking an election to seek a mandate for this package of legislation.' Then the Prime Minister, having secured an election, should have the strength of her convictions and say to the Australian public: 'This carbon tax is good for you. You need this carbon tax. You want this carbon tax. You just don't know how lucky you'll be if you end up getting a carbon tax.' That is what she should say if she really has the strength of her convictions.

That reminds me that I have seen one member of the Australian Labor Party do just that. That was the member for Isaacs, Mr Dreyfus. I was very fortunate: I attended the annual general meeting a few weeks back of an organisation called SEMMA, the South East Melbourne Manufacturers Alliance. Dandenong, where this meeting was held, is the heart of the manufacturing belt of Victoria. Something of the order of 44 per cent of Victoria's manufacturing output comes from the south-east. The topic of Mark Dreyfus's address to these 300 manufacturers in Dandenong was 'The carbon tax and why it's good for your business'. I must confess I did take a little bit of perverse pleasure in seeing 300 manufacturers strip flesh from the body of Mr Dreyfus, but what I found particularly informative was when one manufacturer stood up and said, 'Mr Dreyfus, the electricity bill for my manufacturing business is going to go up by $120,000 a year as a result of the carbon tax,' to which Mr Dreyfus replied in words to the effect of, 'That just goes to prove my point that the effect of the carbon tax will be modest.' They just do not get it. Another manufacturer stood up and said: 'We're in the medical devices business. One of our products costs $1,500 to make. Our margin on the product is $16, and the carbon tax will completely wipe that out.' Mr Dreyfus said words to the effect of, 'I think what that tells us is that your business has other problems.'


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