Monday, 31 October 2011
Clean Energy Legislation
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and 17 related bills.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that further consideration of the Clean Energy Bill 2010 and 17 related bills not take place until after elections for the 44th Parliament have been held and the parliament has met.
There has been no greater betrayal of the Australian people than the introduction of the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and its 1½ reams of associated bills and explanatory memoranda. Make no mistake that, of the people sitting opposite, half of them were elected on a solemn promise to their constituents that there would be no carbon tax. If the carbon tax was such a great idea, why did Ms Gillard, Mr Swan and the Labor Party say, only six days before the last election, there would be no carbon tax? If the carbon tax was such a great vote winner and if they had confidence in their own policies, they would have gone to the people promising a carbon tax and they would have romped in, one would have assumed. The fact is the Australian Labor Party knew full well that the Australian people opposed a carbon tax. And, as time has gone by, that opposition has increased manifold. Indeed, the latest poll indicates that those who strongly support a carbon tax are 17 per cent of the Australian population and those who strongly oppose a carbon tax represent 44 per cent of the Australian population. When you put just those who support or oppose it, is a 60-40 divide in favour of the coalition policy of opposing a carbon tax.
We in the coalition believe that the Australian people should be entitled to a say. We believe that there are precedents for a government changing its mind to go to the Australian people. The Australian Labor Party, as is their wont, inject into the carbon tax debate the suggestion that Mr Howard changed his mind on the GST. As is the wont with Labor, what they say is right but it is grossly misleading, because Mr Howard did change his mind but he had the decency and character to do this. The coalition said to the Australian people: 'We have changed our mind. Previously we said no GST; therefore if you re-elect us we will impose a GST but only if you give us the mandate.' The Australian people trusted the Howard government and gave us the mandate and, as they say, the rest is history.
Here we had a clear promise on the eve of an election to the Australian people where the Prime Minister herself, staring down the camera lens into, she was hoping, every living room in the country, said that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. And when we said, 'Don't believe Labor as they have form in this area,' they wheeled out the hapless Treasurer, the deputy leader, Mr Swan, to say that we were being hysterical. Well, the Australian people now know we were historical, not hysterical, and exactly what we claimed is now coming to pass.
The Australian people have a right to ask how, when every coalition member in the House of Representatives and the Senate and every Labor member in the House of Representatives and the Senate were elected on a no-carbon-tax policy, somehow it is going to get through the chambers of this parliament. The only reason is the gross act of betrayal perpetrated on the Australian people by the Australian Labor Party. That is why we as a coalition believe that these carbon tax bills—and let us dispense with this nonsense of 'clean energy bills'—represent a huge measure which, with the impact of a $9 billion tax take, will increase power bills by a minimum of 10 per cent, increase gas bills by nine per cent, lead to higher marginal tax rates with a higher impact especially on single-income families—part of Labor's social engineering—and will impact over a quarter of a million self-funded retirees. All these people have a right to have a say. All these people have a right to cast judgment on a government that has so betrayed them. That is why we as a coalition are calling on all Labor senators, especially those who were elected at the last election on the promise of no carbon tax, to search their conscience and vote, as they promised the Australian electorate they would, against any measure for a carbon tax. They can redeem themselves by supporting this proposal so that the 44th Parliament gets to deal with the issue.
I rise to support this suspension of standing orders motion by Senator Abetz and, in particular, the intent of this suspension of standing orders to facilitate this chamber deferring debate on the clean energy bills until after an election is conducted. This is a pretty simple proposition: that fundamental change of this nature to the way the Australian economy works should actually be put to the people and that the Australian people should have a say on a matter this significant that will see such sweeping changes to every aspect of the Australian economy. Yet we see those opposite seeking to deny the Australian people that choice. You must ask the question: what is it that they are afraid of? What is it that this government are afraid of when it comes to actually giving the Australian people a choice on the clean energy bills, on Labor's carbon tax, which they promised not to introduce? It would seem they are afraid that the Australian people will disagree with them. They are afraid that they will lose power. They are afraid that the Australian people will say this carbon tax is a dog of a package, that it does not achieve emissions reductions, that it does not achieve what the government claim it does and that all it does is impose dramatically higher costs across the Australian economy and in doing so weakens our economic standing into the future.
What a sad and sorry state of affairs it is when a democratically elected government in a country with such a proud democratic history as Australia's is afraid of the will of the people, when the government of the day is afraid of hearing what the Australian people think and of testing the judgment of the Australian people. Labor minister after Labor minister, Labor member after Labor member, Labor senator after Labor senator stand and proclaim that this is a transformational plan and that it is sweeping in its impact. If it is so transforming, if it is so sweeping, if it will have such enormous impact, why not put it to the people? Why not convince them of the merits of it? Of course they choose not to do so—and they choose not to do so purely out of fear. Why would the Australian people reject it? They would reject it because of concerns about the impact it will have on the Australian economy—not just those direct hip pocket concerns around cost of living, true and reasonable though those concerns may be, but also broader concerns about the impact on Australia's competitiveness and the fact that this will put Australian industry at a disadvantage and potentially, of course, ultimately threaten Australian jobs.
We need only look at what is a very topical matter at present to see why Australians would hold those concerns: the state of the aviation and tourism industries in this country. This legislation is quite discriminatory in its application; it discriminates against Australian industry. Nowhere is that more evident than when we look at the aviation sector. The legislative package proposed by the government will apply a tax and a cost to domestic aviation in Australia but it will not apply a tax or a cost to aviation outside Australia. Qantas, who of course have been somewhat in the headlines over the weekend, estimate that the carbon pricing scheme, the carbon tax, will cost about $110 million or $115 million to their bottom line in 2012-13. That one company, which is obviously under particular financial duress, faces a price impact of $115 million. They have said they will have to pass that cost through to consumers. But of course the aviation sector, the tourism transport sector, is an incredibly competitive sector and when they pass it through to consumers we know that business will shift. In this case where will it shift? Business will shift from travel within Australia to travel outside Australia because it will become even cheaper comparatively for people to choose to holiday in places like Bali and Vanuatu than to holiday in North Queensland or in my own state of South Australia.
This is a discriminatory tax. The government know that if they took it to the people it would fail. That is why they are running scared. They are running scared of full and thorough debate in this place and they are running scared of full and thorough debate in the Australian community. For those reasons they should stand condemned.
The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Abetz, has moved a motion that will allow the Labor senators in this chamber to retain, and redeem themselves with, some of the integrity they have lost with the passage of these bills through the parliament so far. Just before the last election, on several occasions the Leader of the Labor Party promised the Australian people there would be no carbon tax under a government she led, and her deputy, Mr Swan, repeated that promise. I appreciate that Ms Gillard, in her absolute determination to retain the trappings of office as Prime Minister, was prepared to make any deal with anybody simply to retain her residence at the Lodge and to retain the big white cars. She even went to that party that we all now know, and have known for a long time, is full of absolute hypocrisy—that is, the Greens political party. She did a deal with the greatest hypocritical party ever seen in this Senate to stay in office, and the deal was: we will roll over to the Greens political party and introduce a carbon tax, notwithstanding that we promised the Australian public solemnly that we would not do that.
I appreciate, as our leader has said, that sometimes you are required to change your mind. In Ms Gillard's case, it was simply to retain the trappings of power as Prime Minister. If she had any intestinal fortitude, if she had any integrity at all, she would have said, 'Okay, let's have a carbon tax but let's do what John Howard did: let's go back to the Australian people, tell the Australian people that we are now going to introduce a carbon tax and let the Australian people have a say.' As a Queensland senator, I am absolutely shattered and disgusted that several Labor members in my home state of Queensland were elected on the basis that they promised there would be no carbon tax. I refer particularly to Ms Kirsten Livermore, who is currently and for a little while longer the Labor Party member for Capricornia. Her electorate will have most to lose if the carbon tax is actually introduced. Ms Livermore said before the last election that she would not vote for a carbon tax, and a couple of weeks ago in the House of Representatives she did the exact opposite. I know from the time I spend in Rockhampton and Central Queensland that her constituents are absolutely livid with Livermore because she has breached their trust and betrayed them. Her electorate, more than any in Queensland, depends upon the coalmining industry. If you go to that electorate, Madam Acting President, you will see along the Yeppoon coast, around Emu Park, the literally thousands of new houses that have sprung up there. They are houses that have principally been acquired by families whose breadwinner works in the coalmines of Central Queensland. They are the people whose jobs will be at risk. The Labor Party and the Greens have threatened to shut down the coalmining industry, which will have a devastating effect on the Central Queensland economy and all of the workers in the Rockhampton area who work in that industry. This carbon tax will attack their jobs and, more importantly, the livelihoods and futures of their families. The mortgages on their houses could well be put at risk with the passage of this bill. If the carbon tax were going to do one iota of good for the environment then you might almost understand why Ms Gillard lied and changed her mind. We all know that this tax will not make one iota of difference to the world's climate. What it will do is destroy the jobs and livelihoods of many people like those people in the electorate of Capricornia.
I, too, stand here to support the motion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The reality for Australians today is that if the Prime Minister of Australia, the Australian Labor Party, the Labor Party members in the other place and the Labor Party senators in this place actually stood by the very clear promise made by the Australian Labor Party the day before the election that there would be no carbon tax under a Labor government then we would not be standing here today debating this motion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate—but we are. We are here for a very, very disappointing reason. Each of the Labor Party members who were elected at the last election and each of the Labor Party senators who were elected at the last election were elected on the basis of a blatant lie. That lie—the statement made by the now Prime Minister of Australia the day before the 2010 election—will haunt the Prime Minister to her political grave.
Recently, I was at a community fair in the electorate of Brand. Those in Western Australia who live in the seat of Brand will know that it is currently held by Mr Gray, the Special Minister of State. At the community fair, I had a petition. It was a 'no carbon tax' petition. Within one hour of walking around the fair, I had collected in excess of 250 signatures. But what is worse for Mr Gray is that I did not have to go around asking for the signatures. I had people coming up to me, saying: 'Thank goodness we found you. Can we please put our name to your petition.' I would ask them why, and they would say: 'Because we don't like being lied to. That is exactly what the Australian Labor Party did to us the day before the election. They lied to us, and we don't like being treated as fools.' They also said: 'We will never be voting Labor again.' I had over 250 signatures in an hour. The majority of people who signed the petition found me; I did not have to go out and find them.
What was the lie? Let us just put it on the record again. The lie was the Prime Minister of Australia saying just before the election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.'
That is exactly right, Senator Abetz, nothing could be clearer: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Yet, look at where we are today, on 31 October 2011. We are having to debate the suspension of standing orders to give every single member on the other side an opportunity to redeem themselves—an opportunity to say to the Australian people, 'What we said the day before the election we actually meant.' But do you think they will do that? Absolutely not. The Australian people would expect nothing less from those on the other side. Why is that? Because the Australian Labor Party will always take the cheap political option instead of doing what is right in relation to the national interest.
The policy that the Labor Party are asking the Senate to vote on today is all economic pain for no environmental gain. It is not senators on this side who are saying that. The Australian Labor Party's own documentation, which they have released, on the impact of the carbon tax clearly shows that, after this toxic tax is imposed on the people of Australia, jobs will go offshore while electricity prices will increase, and emissions in Australia will also increase. You really need to ask yourself why the Australian Labor Party are imposing such a toxic tax on the people of Australia when the Australian Labor Party's own modelling clearly shows that this tax has nothing to do with the environment; it is all about filling a big black hole.
Those opposite are attempting to entertain us, but the issue that is currently before the chair is Senator Abetz's motion to suspend standing orders. The debate about the clean energy future bills will come on today, should we get there notwithstanding the stunts from those opposite. All of the issues that the opposition want to raise about those particular bills can be raised at that point. I have got no doubt that they will continue to outline their extreme position. They will continue to oppose the clean energy package, as they have signalled. They will continue to say that they intend to repeal the legislation to take away the assistance to households, to take away the assistance to the land sector and to take away assistance to the food and foundry sectors. They will continue to advocate for a position which does not recognise that we need to act. Carbon pricing and climate change policy have been widely debated in Australia for more than a decade, yet those opposite continue to say they need more time.
Just to demonstrate how silly this motion is, it effectively says that it wants to put off the debate until the next parliament. We all know that the current motion cannot bind a future parliament in any event. The only thing it signals is that they do not intend to actually repeal the legislation. What they intend to do, should they be successful, is to bring the clean energy bills back up again. If this motion were successful and they acted according to it, they would bring it back. That is the silliness of the motion. I am sure they do not actually mean that, but that is the form of words they have put forward. If we were fortunate enough to win the next election then we would clearly want the legislation to continue, so it would be entirely consistent with our position rather than theirs. In any event, I think that is a slight distraction. It is only a stunt. This demonstrates it is only a stunt. It was designed as a stunt. It is a procedural motion that we do not need. However, they do want to continue to press the point rather than get on with the substantive debate on the clean energy bills because they do not want to debate the substantive issue. They want to continue to raise silly procedural points, as I have clearly demonstrated. If you were to take them at face value on this procedural motion, they would effectively be signalling that they would agree to these bills coming back in any event and we would continue.
Let me at least outline, in the short space of time I have, that they had an opportunity to work through this. At one point in time, I am sure, those opposite believed in climate change and believed in the need for action. In fact Senator Birmingham is one who advocated strongly for it. Work was undertaken by the Howard government, most notably by Peter Shergold, who concluded that pricing carbon through a market based mechanism was the best approach to tackling climate change. They now want to adopt a completely different position. The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee met for nine months before completing its work in July this year while the government's clean energy future package was developed. Those opposite had an opportunity to be part of that. They chose not to be. They have continuously shown their hand. The federal coalition do not want to participate in a clean energy future, do not want to participate in pricing carbon and do not want to contribute to ensuring that we can sequester carbon. The government has consulted widely, including through the business and NGO roundtables as part of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. We do want to ensure that we have a bright future. We do want to ensure that we can continue to have this framework in place for our future generations. The government, to that end, released the framework for its carbon pricing policy and sought feedback. The draft legislation has been out for consultation since late July and there were over 1,300 submissions on it. (Time expired)
Senator Ludwig is absolutely wrong. He said that Senator Abetz's motion simply seeks to have this matter dealt with and supported after the next election. Quite to the contrary, what the motion seeks to do is to have all consideration of the package of bills not take place until after elections for the 44th Parliament. That means that the next election would be about what the last election should have been about—a carbon tax. We would debate the merits of a carbon tax: is it good; is it bad? Do the Australian people want it, yes or no? That is what the effect of this motion would be, and the 44th Parliament would then have the opportunity on the basis of that election result to give effect to the will of the Australian people. I am pretty confident that the voting public would make it clear that they do not want this legislation and that this legislation, if it is still on the books of the Senate—
It depends. Who knows? You might call a snap poll. There might not be a half Senate election, Senator Ludwig. That is what should happen. If the government will not discharge this legislation, at the very least they should take it to an election to see what the will of the voting public is, an opportunity that has been denied to the voting public. Senator Ludwig said that we on this side of the chamber do not want to debate the substantive issue, that we only want to debate procedural issues. The whole purpose of this motion is about the substantive issue—that is, the voting public have not had an opportunity to debate the merits of a carbon tax. That is the substantive issue that we are champing at the bit to get into, but we are champing at the bit to get into it in the form of an election.
Senator Cash mentioned that she had been out collecting anti-carbon-tax signatures on a petition. I have also been doing that. Over the last half-a-dozen or so mornings I have been out at the Berwick shops in the electorate of La Trobe, Ms Smyth's electorate, and I was basically bowled over in the rush of people saying: 'Let me put my signature on the petition. How do we get rid of this government? How do we stop that carbon tax?' I can tell you the electors of Latrobe feel that Ms Smyth has deceived them and they want her gone. I have also done the same thing at Mordialloc shops on a Saturday morning in the electorate of Mr Dreyfus, the seat of Isaacs. It was the same thing: I was bowled over in the rush of people saying, 'Where do I sign? How do we stop this government? How do we stop this carbon tax?'
The same thing happened at the Dingley Village shops in Mr Crean's electorate of Hotham. Again, I was bowled over in the rush by people asking: 'How do we stop this carbon tax? How do we get rid of this government? Just show me where to sign.' The same thing happened at the Cranbourne shops on a Saturday morning in Mr Byrne's electorate of Holt. I was bowled over in the rush by people saying: 'Where do I sign? How do we get rid of this government? How do we stop the carbon tax?' The voting public do not feel that they have had the opportunity to have their say—that is clear.
I should confess to the chamber that I did not make it to the reception for Her Majesty the Queen in the Great Hall the other Friday night, not because I did not want to be there but because I had a prior commitment to attend an anti-carbon tax rally in Cheltenham in the seat of Isaacs. I was joined by Senator Cormann, who wanted to put the case against a carbon tax; Mr Robb, the member for Goldstein, who co-hosted the forum; and the Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr O'Brien, who was there to talk about the devastating effect of a carbon tax on the people of Victoria. So stunned was the member for Isaacs by that public forum that he submitted an opinion piece to Fairfax online. He referred to it as a 'circus of lies and misinformation'. Never let your opponents know you are getting to them, but thank you, Mr Dreyfus, for doing that. He said in his opinion piece that only 90 people turned up. I have to say that 90 people on a Friday night in Cheltenham is pretty significant. That is a pretty leading indicator of what the voting public think.
The evidence is in. We do not need polls. Those of us who talk to our communities have the field evidence. The public feel that they were fibbed to. This should be delayed until after an election.
That the motion (Senator Abetz's) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. [11:21]
(The President—Senator Hogg)