Senate debates

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Western Australia State Election

4:49 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

My apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am reminded of that point. I will not use my prop. The Leader of the Opposition, as we know, built his public profile as the secretary of the Australian Workers Union. We know that the current secretary of the AWU is Paul Howes, who is now known to many Australians for his key role in the 2010 coup.

Senator Polley interjecting—

This is a very important speech, Senator Polley. I have got lots to talk about. If you could let me speak uninterrupted, I would like to move through the critical issue of the union movement and the carbon tax and ridding Western Australians of jobs. There is a link between the trade union movement and jobs. I hope you are aware of that. The carbon tax is acting to limit job growth. So 3½ years on, several Labor leadership battles and a change of government leader, what did we find? We find the AWU is still in the vanguard of the pro-carbon tax movement, despite a devastating election defeat for the Labor Party based in large part on its introduction of a job destroying carbon tax.

A union that is supposed to represent the interests of working Australians continues to support a tax that destroys jobs for working people. It does not make sense. Who is leading the push for the retention of the carbon tax, which Australians so clearly rejected on Saturday, 7 September? The AWU's Paul Howes has urged Labor MPs to fight to save the tax, and now the Labor leader who owes it all to the AWU is falling right in step with his union's position. Mr Shorten may have changed his mind on the Labor leadership on several occasions over the last few years but his devotion to the carbon tax remains unstinting.

Just to summarise: in relation to the carbon tax, the Labor and the Greens senators in this place, including those who are supposed to represent Western Australia, saw their vote plummet last September. Let me remind you, Senator Sterle, just how much it plummeted. In Labor's case it had a record low for Western Australia. Labor's primary vote was—Senator Sterle, can you guess?—close to 30 per cent. The Labor Party's primary vote in Western Australia was 28.7 per cent. If that were not enough of a message, fewer than one in three Western Australians were prepared to support Labor on the election day last September.

The benefits for Western Australian households that flow from scrapping Labor's carbon tax will leave households right around the nation, including of course in Western Australia, on average $550 better off. Without a carbon tax, household electricity bills in the next financial year for West Australians could be on average $200 cheaper. Household gas could be $70 cheaper. Who is standing in the way of this cost-of-living saving for Western Australian families? The Australian Labor Party, aided and abetted by the Australian Greens.

One of the great furphies that the previous Labor government pushed when it was trying to introduce its carbon tax was that it would only be paid by what they called the 'big polluters'. As anyone with a modicum of common sense can tell you, this was utter nonsense. It stands to reason that, if businesses and manufacturers find their energy costs increasing as a result of a carbon tax, they are not simply going to shrug their shoulders and cop it. They will pass the increased costs along to consumers, and that is the basic concept that was taught to many of us in high school economics across our country.

Yet it is a basic concept that is apparently beyond the wit of the members of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens in this place, who continue to deny that their carbon tax is responsible for placing upward pressure on the cost of living for Western Australian families. Far from impacting only on the 'big polluters', as Labor and the Greens have claimed, their carbon tax has washed right through our economy. Everyone across Western Australia has been hit—schools, aged-care homes, hospitals, small businesses and families. Everyone has struggled with the slug on electricity prices brought about by the introduction of Labor's carbon tax.

This is not a secret. This was the very theory behind the introduction of this tax—to force up energy prices and thereby reduce emissions. This is not some accidental by-product of the tax. Labor and the Greens think WA should pay more and they are proud of that. On 5 April they might just be reminded yet again of the result they enjoyed—or did not enjoy, as the case is—on Saturday, 7 September last year. The carbon tax was a cynical slug on Western Australian families, a deal done by a desperate Labor Party forced to bend to the will of the Australian Greens in order to maintain their desperate hold on government. This is Labor's idea of what it means to stand up for Western Australia, it would seem.

I would like to talk now about the mining tax. I know this is of significant interest to my colleague from Western Australia Senator Back, who spoke about this earlier in the week in this chamber. This tax and the minerals resources rent tax and their implication for jobs in Western Australia have been discussed at length this week. The mining tax is probably the most anti-Western Australian policy implemented by the most anti-Western Australian government our country has ever had to contend with. Again, the people of Western Australia spoke clearly and firmly on 7 September last year. They want this mining tax gone. They want the carbon tax gone with it.

This week, the Abbott government brought legislation to this chamber to do just that, to rid Australia's mining and resources sector of a tax that is costing them a fortune in compliance costs but barely raising any revenue. What did we find from senators opposite? Did we hear a rational acceptance of the fact that the mining tax plainly does not work, that it has failed to generate the revenue Labor said it would create? Did we hear an admission from a chastened Labor Party that it had got it wrong and that the only decent thing to do is to scrap this tax, which is acting as another handbrake on investment and job creation in a sector of our economy which, as we all know, is currently moving though some challenging phases? No, we did not. Instead, we heard senators from both Labor and the Greens arguing for the retention of this flawed, hopelessly inefficient tax that has done so much damage to the mining and resources sector that is so critical to the success of Western Australia.

Worse still, if the words of some Australian Greens senators are to be believed, they have further plans for Western Australia in relation to this mining tax. I was in this chamber on Tuesday awaiting my own turn to speak on the legislation repealing the mining tax when Senator Wright spoke of 'strengthening' the mining tax. When senators from the Greens talk about strengthening a tax, that is a byword for 'increasing' the tax. As I noted the other day, I was half expecting Senator Ludlam to run into the chamber at full pelt and wrestle Senator Wright to the ground before any details of the Greens' plan to 'strengthen' the mining tax could escape her lips.

I suppose I should at least applaud Senator Wright for the honesty she displayed in her contribution. It was far braver than Senator Ludlam's 'viral' contribution to the adjournment debate a couple of weeks ago when he wandered into this place and, under the cover of parliamentary privilege, mendaciously chose to pepper the Prime Minister with a series of vile epithets. Senator Wright's decision to alert Western Australians to the Greens' plans to increase the mining tax was also far braver than the current position of the Australian Labor Party.

I have referred already this week to the Leader of the Opposition's now infamous Sky News appearance with David Speers during his recent visit to Perth when, despite being asked five times in a row whether Labor still supports the mining tax, he was unable to state a coherent position. If you watch the video of that interview, you will notice there are two ambulances in the background. Perhaps they were there to administer treatment to the Leader of the Opposition's media team, who were no doubt in shock following his calamitous performance on Sky News.

The Leader of the Opposition's Labor colleague the member for Perth, however, did not find herself quite so tongue-tied recently. Senators will be aware that, less than 24 hours after being appointed as Labor's shadow parliamentary secretary for Western Australia, the member for Perth, Ms MacTiernan, said that the mining tax was 'sound'. Labor's parliamentary secretary for Western Australia is telling us that a tax that is holding back the Western Australian economy is sound.

Senator Back interjecting—

In a doorstop interview yesterday outside this very building, Senator Back, the member for Perth said this: 'Look, it's complete nonsense to say that the carbon tax or indeed the mining tax has in fact had a negative impact on the Western Australian economy.' This is the person that the Leader of the Opposition has appointed to his team, to use his own words, to 'make WA's voice inside Labor even stronger'. I will not pass comment on the member for Perth's vocal abilities, but I will suggest that she may want to have her eyes tested, because, if the member for Perth honestly believes that the carbon tax and the mining tax have not significantly damaged the Western Australian economy, she is incredibly short-sighted. It is worrying that she and her Labor colleagues cannot see the thousands of Western Australian families and small businesses struggling with increases in their electricity costs as a result of the carbon tax. It is troubling that Labor and the Greens cannot see, or perhaps just do not care, that businesses have been forced to scale back their operations, or in some cases close, as they struggle with the higher production costs that these taxes have foisted upon them. It is sad that parties who come into this place and claim to represent the interest of workers cannot see that it is their pursuit of higher taxes and increased regulation that is in fact limiting opportunities for employment growth in my home state of Western Australia.

As if the attitudes of Labor and the Australian Greens on the important issues of the carbon tax and the mining tax were not enough, there is also the issue, important to Western Australians, of border security, something that was comprehensively botched by the last government, largely as a result of pursuing the policy approach adopted by the Australian Greens. For Western Australians, border protection is not just a discussion that occurs in the abstract. When Senator Ludlam came into this chamber a couple of weeks ago and urged the Prime Minister to 'understand that you are now closer to Denpasar than Western Sydney', he was absolutely right. Indeed, the Prime Minister does understand that. He understands it a whole lot better than Senator Ludlam does in regard to this particular issue.

It was made perfectly plain to all Western Australians last year, when the Labor government was still in office and a boat carrying people arriving in Australia illegally sailed calmly into Geraldton harbour, just 400 kilometres north of Perth. Western Australians have seen for themselves exactly what happens when an Australian government pursues policies in the name of 'compassion': people smugglers are emboldened. That is why we saw tragedies like the one that unfolded on the rocks of Christmas Island in late 2011: because people smugglers were emboldened. That is why, over the years that Labor was in office and contracted its policy approach on illegal immigration out to the Greens, we had more than 1,100 people lose their lives at sea: because people smugglers were emboldened. And it is why one afternoon last year a boat full of illegal arrivals was able to sail brazenly into Geraldton harbour, in full view of local residents. If the challenge of dealing with illegal boats did not seem relevant to Western Australia before these things happened, it certainly does now, and that is why Western Australians respect the job that this new government—including its Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, our very own Western Australian Senator Cash—is doing through Operation Sovereign Borders. (Time expired)


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