Senate debates

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Gillard Government

3:50 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received from Senator Fifield:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The failure during the two years of the Gillard Prime Ministership to honour the commitment to fix the climate change, mining tax and border protection policy disasters.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Senate for the support in considering this matter of public importance: the failure during the two years of the Gillard prime ministership to honour the commitment to fix the climate change, mining tax and border protection policy disasters.

It is important to remember that this year we have noted the passing of the second anniversary of when Prime Minister Gillard stuck the knife into former Prime Minister Rudd and assumed the leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party. She and the Labor Party may not have wanted to note that anniversary but, nonetheless, it is an anniversary worth noting. It may have passed without the slightest consideration on the Labor side but, for the Australian people, it marks two years of chronic failure to address the very things that Prime Minister Gillard said she was elected to do in the first place. When asked to justify why it was necessary for her—the loyal deputy who was as likely to ever become Leader of the Labor Party as she was to play full forward for the Western Bulldogs—to backtrack on those solemn promises she apparently made to Mr Rudd, to her Labor colleagues and to the Australian people, Ms Gillard said that it was because the government had lost its way. In particular, she highlighted three areas in which she believed that the government had lost its way and it was necessary to fix its policy direction. Those three areas were the government's climate change policies, the mining tax policy and the border protection policy disaster.

Where are we at two years later? Two years later, it is safe to say that Australia is in a deeper hole on all three fronts than it was two years ago, that all of these issues are now mired in greater public controversy, that all of these issues now see greater waste and that all of these issues see greater threat to the Australian public and, of course, to the operation of government in this country.

Let me address these three issues. I will do so in reverse. I will start with the border protection policy disaster because this of course is a matter that is the subject of a very serious debate in the other place as we speak. We have seen today yet more tragedy on the sea. We have seen today yet another instance of human life being placed at risk because of a failure of policy in this country. It is disappointing to see arguments being put now that the way to end this human tragedy at sea is somehow to risk human rights on land—because that seems to be the proposal that is being pushed and put forward by the government.

There is a hue and cry at present, because of the tragedies we are seeing, for something to be done. It is an admirable instinct that when we see tragedy, when we see cause for action, there is a cry for something to be done. But the something that should be done must always be something that will make the situation better. The something that should be done must be something that is well considered and well thought through. In this case, sadly, the something that is being embraced by those opposite and being embraced by some of the crossbenchers in the other place is the so-called Malaysia solution.

The Malaysia solution represents an amazing transition of government policy for Ms Gillard in particular. Ms Gillard was once dead set against any form of offshore processing—dead set against it. Then, as Labor leader going into the last election, she decided that she was willing to accept a form of offshore processing and was up to negotiate a regional processing arrangement that would see a centre established in East Timor but that she would never consider offshore processing in a country that was not a signatory to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. After she managed to cobble together her government, we saw the situation where the East Timor proposal fell apart. The government, of course, had failed to dot its i's and cross its t's or indeed to do even the scantiest bit of homework about the East Timor proposal. It fell apart, and the government went looking elsewhere. Ultimately laid on the table was this Malaysia proposal. Remarkable—a country that is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

I know that many opposite in this place and in the other place have grave concerns at the idea of Australia sending people who arrive here seeking asylum to Malaysia to be put at the back of the queue of others in Malaysia, with no guaranteed protections that Australia could reasonably be certain of to be afforded to their human rights. I know those concerns are shared by people opposite because people opposite have shared them with me. I have also heard them share them publicly. And I share those concerns.

The No. 1 reason why the Malaysia option should be rejected by this parliament is obviously the concern about the failure to be able to protect the most basic human rights of those who have come seeking asylum. It is the No. 1 difference between the proposal for Nauru and the proposal for Malaysia, because at least under the Nauru proposal the Australian government was in charge. Nauru has now become a signatory to the UN convention but nonetheless, importantly, the Australian government was in charge of the facilities. People were still processed in a manner in which their rights were not just respected but guaranteed. That is not the case with regard to Malaysia.

That is why the amendment to what is before the other place should be accepted. Then we could get something done. Then we could get a solution to this issue. Then we could actually see some progress on this very important subject, rather than the government doggedly sticking to an option that even those who really care about this issue in their own party know is an awful, awful solution.

The two other issues related to this matter of public importance, the mining tax and the climate change policies, which of course have turned into the carbon tax—the carbon tax that Ms Gillard said before the last election would never be introduced under a government she led—are equally areas of policy disaster. They are disasters on a less tragic scale when it comes to human life but certainly on a scale that is significant for the Australian economy, which will have significant ramifications for all Australians going forward. In a few days time, these taxes will take effect and have dramatic repercussions across the Australian economy. The mining tax poses great uncertainty to the budget and this week we have seen total uncertainty as to whether the mining tax will manage to raise any money at all—a remarkable situation. It is totally uncertain as to how this tax will deliver for the Australian government. However, there is no doubt the carbon tax will, in the first three years of a fixed price, raise billions and billions of dollars, a fixed price way above anything applied anywhere else in the world, with a scope and a coverage across the economy far beyond that anywhere else in the world.

Labor's carbon tax will threaten Australian jobs in Australian industry because it is applied here and not applied in the countries who are our major competitors or our major trading partners. It will have a direct cost-of-living impact on all Australians, especially on the millions of Australian households who, as government modelling admits, will be worse off. Across these three areas what does the report card say for Ms Gillard after two years? It says she and the Labor Party have gone backwards on these policy failures.

4:00 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we have it again, another Orwellian motion from the Orwellian writers of the Liberal Party. The only major party in this parliament doing anything about climate change and spreading the benefits of the mining boom and border protection is the Australian Labor Party. All those opposite ever do is say no to policy reform in these areas. In fact, they are so negative that their spokesperson on immigration said on 7.30 the other evening that he would even vote against their own policy in the parliament if it were put forward by the Australian Labor Party. That shows the credentials of those opposite when it comes to serious consideration and resolution of issues, in particular the most pressing issue facing our nation at the moment—that is, border protection. I will come to that in a moment.

In respect of climate change, it is a complete furphy that the Labor Party is not delivering on its commitments. Nine out of 10 climate scientists all agree that human induced global warming is pushing up the planet's temperature and that, if we do not do something about it, there will be catastrophic economic and social consequences. The Stern review and the Garnaut review were the most comprehensive economic and scientific studies into this issue. In the wake of those reviews, Australia made an international commitment to reduce emissions by five per cent by 2020. The opposition has now adopted that target and we have the same target for the reduction of emissions in our economy—five per cent by 2020.

The question then becomes: how do we achieve that in the most efficient method? There have been no fewer than 37 parliamentary inquiries in this parliament into that very question. Each and every one of them has recommended a market based mechanism as the most effective, efficient and cheapest way to reduce emissions in our economy. That was the finding of the Shergold review, implemented by John Howard when he was Prime Minister of this country.

What is this parliament to do? Ignore those 37 parliamentary inquiries, ignore all of the work conducted by those experts into this issue? We would be fools, and the Australian public would see us as such, if we were to ignore the advice of those experts. That is why Labor is implementing its policy of a market based mechanism to reduce carbon emissions in our economy over time.

We all know that households, families, have made changes to their behaviour to reduce emissions and their carbon footprint. They have been involved, at increasing cost, in refitting their houses, installing energy efficient light bulbs, refitting their showerheads and investing in low-emission vehicles instead of gas guzzlers. Households and families have made a commitment to reduce their carbon emissions. This government believes it is about time that big business and big companies that are responsible for the overwhelming majority of emissions in our economy did the same thing, that they pulled their weight and took on some of the responsibility that households in this country have taken to reduce emissions. That is what our plan is all about.

Three hundred companies will pay a price for the right to pollute. There will be cost increases. We have never said there will not be. There is no cost-free way to reduce emissions in our economy, despite what those opposite would like the Australian public to believe. There will be costs associated with it and we have asked Treasury to model those. The modelling has estimated that the cost impact on the CPI will be 0.7 per cent, one fifth of the cost impact of the goods and services tax when it was introduced by the Howard government. When that was done, Treasury modelled the cost impacts of the GST. They said that the cost impact would be 2.49 per cent on the CPI. What did it come in at? It came in at 2.5 per cent. They were spot on then with their modelling and they will be spot on again—0.7 per cent on the CPI will be the cost impact of Labor's clean energy future package. On average, households will receive $10.10 per week to compensate them for the average rise to the CPI of $9.90 per week.

And we have given extra powers to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to prosecute companies who seek to price gouge and take advantage of the fundamental change which will be occurring in our economy over the coming months and years. The longer we wait to take action on climate change the greater the cost will be and the greater the cost will be for future generations of Australians. It will not be us who will be paying it if we do not do something now; it will be our children and our grandchildren. They would pay hell of a lot more than we would to deal with this issue. That is why we are acting on climate change and that is why we have implemented the Clean Energy Future package.

The second element of this goes to the mining boom and the mining tax. Well, Labor have delivered the minerals resource rent tax. We have seen that these companies are making super profits, many of them international companies sending some of those profits overseas—profits from minerals that belong to the Australian people. We have seen that the royalty system that the states have is inefficient and does not tax properly the returns that people are getting from some of these mines. That is why we implemented the minerals resource rent tax in consultation with representatives of the mining industry. What will that deliver? It will deliver an increase in superannuation from nine to 12 per cent over the next eight years, boosting retirement incomes for Australians. It will also deliver greater investment in rural and regional infrastructure—in roads, rail and ports—in some of these important mining towns that are crying out for sufficient investment in their infrastructure.

Through other policies, we are spreading the benefits of the mining boom. We understand that Australian families who are not in the fast lane in our economy are feeling the effects of cost-of-living increases. That is why we are implementing tax cuts through the recent budget. Anyone on less than $80,000 will receive a tax cut of $300 per year on average. We are tripling the tax-free threshold, taking it from $6,000 to $18,000—a great win for people on low incomes, as most of them will now pay no tax. They will pay no tax under Labor, which is a great incentive for those people.

We are introducing the schoolkids bonus because we understand there are cost pressures associated with sending kids to school. Families will get compensation in the form of $410 for primary school students and $820 for high school students. We have implemented a supplementary payment to ensure that families can meet electricity and gas price increases, the majority of which are due to network upgrades being undertaken by state governments, which have offered insufficient rebates to families and households to cover the cost of these network upgrades. We are not doing that. We understand these cost pressures and so we are providing people with sufficient compensation, not only through the Clean Energy Future package but also through a supplementary payment to help meet those cost increases. We are increasing family tax benefits to ensure that those who are on the lowest incomes in our economy get the extra support they need to make the transition to a clean energy future. We have increased our investment in the areas of disability support and aged care, with a $1 billion investment over the coming financial year in the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and extra money for aged care—in particular, for home-care support.

How would those opposite spread the benefits of the mining boom? We do not know. We do not know because they will not tell us. All they have told us is that they oppose the minerals resource rent tax. They oppose taxing the biggest miners and using that revenue to spread the benefits to families in this country. They oppose that. What we do know is that they are planning $70 billion worth of cuts to services—$70 billion. At each and every opportunity I ask them: what will those cuts involve? Will it be Medicare? Will it be the childcare rebate? Will it be pensions?

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: the senator is misleading the Senate in a wilful manner, because he knows that the opposition has not said that—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order, Senator Brandis.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

In fact, we have said the opposite.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point, Senator Brandis. There is no point of order. Senator Thistlethwaite.

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis could put that to bed by coming out and saying they will not cut those services in any way—

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I just said that!

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

but he knows he cannot. (Time expired)

4:11 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, looking at the Hon. Julia Gillard's two years as Prime Minister of our country. Some over there might be celebrating, but I do not think many are. Why are the polls so bad for Labor? This longstanding party is supposed to represent the workers. As I often say, you cannot find a shearer among the Labor Party senators over there, even though the shearers started their party—now it is full of union reps. They are the ones going around selling the tickets, getting the commissions, getting the free ride. What are they celebrating from the two years of the Hon. Julia Gillard as Prime Minister?

Remember the words Ms Gillard used when she had the faceless men, Paul Howes and the crew, around her to dispose of the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd? She said the government had 'lost its way'. Next thing, she will tell us the government has found its way! How ridiculous. Before the last election, we all heard—and I am sure you remember it very well, Mr Deputy President—what Ms Gillard, and Treasurer Swan, said about a carbon tax. I will not repeat it; everyone has heard it a hundred times.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

No, say it again.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will say it again, at the request of Senator Brandis: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.'

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Who said that?

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was the Prime Minister, who is still the Prime Minister thanks to people like Independents Mr Rob Oakeshott, Mr Tony Windsor and a couple of others. How could you stand in front of a camera and make a commitment to the Australian people that you would not bring in a carbon tax and then, after the election, go back on that—following pressure from the Greens, of course? Don't leave the Greens out of it. They are the ones who want to shut everything down, close every coalmine in Australia, have us go live in caves and issue us with three sticks of wood a week to keep ourselves warm and cook our meals. That is where they want to take us—

Senator Di Natale interjecting

Sorry, two sticks of wood, Senator Di Natale is pointing out!

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is that what he was doing?

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It may have meant something else, Senator McEwen; I am not sure! The point I make is this: we live in a modern world and we have to produce. We have to produce a lot of food in rural Australia, and we in rural Australia are so proud of our farmers and what they produce—and I have spent all my life living in rural Australia. We not only have to feed the Australian people; we also have to feed millions of other people overseas. As I said, we have to produce, but we live in a modern world, so we have, for example, big tractors. Case IH STXs these days have 460 horsepower. Farmers do not go along behind a Clydesdale horse with a one-furrow mouldboard plough any longer. We have to produce large volumes of food. Going back to the Prime Minister's commitment that there would be no carbon tax, we find out today that agriculture is exempted from the carbon tax, except for the $3.2 billion in the first year it is going to cost farmers, going up another $3.7 billion come July 2014. When we add another $520 million tax to the truckies' diesel to the carbon tax, it is no wonder that Tony Sheldon, boss of the Transport Workers Union, called it 'a death tax'. So much for the transparency and honesty Ms Gillard said she would deliver two years ago.

Sadly, we are talking about asylum seekers again. Sadly, another tragedy is unfolding today. This is really a serious issue. We know what happened. I can take you back to July-August 2001, when a thousand asylum seekers a month were coming to Australia. The coalition government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, and the immigration minister, Mr Phillip Ruddock—a very capable man and a man I have huge respect for—had a problem. The problem was that people were coming to this country in droves. They were putting their lives at risk on those leaky boats, paying their way to get here. Now we have tragedies again. We had a problem and we fixed the problem. It was this Labor government that said: 'Oh, let's abolish temporary protection visas; let's lower the bar; let's send a signal to those people-traffickers over there with their boats looking for an easy dollar—an easy retirement amount in Indonesia—and open the industry again.' Look at the tragedies we have faced—last week, last weekend and now again today. This must be stopped.

The Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, said before the last election that she had the problem solved—East Timor would solve the problem. She told all of Australia that. It was her open and transparent way of communicating with Australia again, just as she had not communicated with the East Timorese government. That is where the problem was—nothing had been put in place. When that falls apart, along comes the Malaysian solution—something that we will never accept because the Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, said on Perth radio that this government she leads would not send asylum seekers to countries that are not signatories of the 1957 Refugee Convention. And where did she want to send them? To a country that is not a signatory to that convention. It is simply another false statement. Of course, the High Court put an end to that. To think that you would send 800 asylum seekers in Australia to Malaysia and take 4,000 from Malaysia, when we cannot guarantee their health or the education for their youngsters and we cannot look after them properly. What is the government doing? It is a sad day when we find ourselves facing the loss of life with disasters happening far too frequently.

What is wrong with the solution that the coalition government had? I was not in this place then, but in 2001 the coalition government had the problem—it was looking them in the face—and they found a solution and brought it to a stop. Members of the government have sadly created the problem again, because they changed the rules and sent a clear message that we are an easy touch. The end result is the loss of life. This is the transparency, the accountability and the stability that the Prime Minister talked about after the election with the Independents, including my federal member, Mr Tony Windsor, in the seat of New England, who went with this government for stability, accountability and longevity. There would be millions of Australians who would be saying, 'We wish we didn't have the longevity now—just bring on an election and let the people of Australia have a say in who runs this country.' The problem this government has is that the Australian people do not trust this government. They do not trust them on their promise that the carbon tax, which will hit small business starting this Sunday. This Saturday we celebrate Australian small business, the biggest employer. I have worked in that sector all my life, either farming or small business, either driving trucks or a small business on the land. We love small business, but small business do not trust this government. They did not want that tax. They do not trust this government for the way it borrows money—last Friday the gross debt was $233.45 billion.

They do not trust the way the government borrows the money or how they waste the money. We have seen the programs, such as the Building the Education Revolution. You hand all that money to New South Wales, the proud state I come from, but its Labor government employed Reed Constructions to do all the programs in the New England area and the North Coast. Just this week we find a builder at Moree owed $640,000 by Reed Constructions, which was hand picked by the Labor government and is in administration. They have done their dough—$640,000 to a builder in Moree, not to mention the $80-odd thousand to the little builder in Warialda. These people will not see their money now. This is the way the government handles money—you are so irresponsible with taxpayers' money or the money you borrowed and the debt you are building. That is why the people do not trust you, especially in regional Australia, with your carbon tax. It is going to hurt the regions more than anywhere else, where electricity prices are already higher and where they are already facing tough times with the high dollar and higher cost of living. The people do not trust you. They have every reason not to trust the government, because of what it has done to our nation with debt, with border protection, with waste of money, with broken promises, with new tax after new tax to fill your big hole of debt.

4:21 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That contribution by Senator Williams really did show in the first few minutes what this debate is really about—that is about the fact that the opposition still have not got over the fact that we are in government. They still do not accept that we govern and are doing an extremely good job. The economy is strong—

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

No thanks to you.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course, Senator Brandis knows everything about everything. What would the coalition have done during the global financial crisis? We know what they would have done—nothing. That is exactly what they have done for nearly two years. They have done nothing—worse than nothing: they have embarked on scare campaign after scare campaign. The only thing that they do know is the word no. They have continually said no, and the Australian public are sick of it. They have actually at some point to come out with some positive policies. They have not done that; they have not got any—it is no, no, no.

Mr Abbott is known for his negativity, and, unfortunately, he has been getting his way in your caucus room. It is about time some that some of you stood up. I know that Senator Brandis has probably got a few ideas—whether they are good or not is a judgment you will have to make yourself, Mr Deputy Acting President—but from what I have seen of Senator Brandis's work—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

He's actually the Deputy President.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry—Mr Deputy President.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Continue, Senator Brown.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He's not acting; he's fair dinkum.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know; he is a good Tasmanian senator. Let us have a look at the matter of public importance that Senator Fifield has proposed. Obviously, he has again embarked on the wild absurdities which are constantly being perpetrated by those opposite. He has listed three issues. As usual, the first one is carbon pricing and climate change. Let us look at the evidence; we know what that will tell us. We are acting on climate change. We are placing a price on carbon. Those opposite can sit on the other side of the chamber and take pot shots at the government over climate change, but it is worth remembering that they too used to believe, that those opposite, under Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull, were supporters of a carbon price.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wasn't here!

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They supported an emissions trading scheme. I am sure there are still some on that side of the chamber who believe. Some of those opposite know that taking action on climate change is the right thing to do. They know that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and they know that a price on carbon is the most effective and efficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They do not have to believe me—I am sure they will not—but it is worth remembering that some of those opposite have stated their belief in climate change and in the need to introduce a carbon price. Okay, Senator Williams, you were not here. You are relieved of that obligation. But we know that your leader, Mr Abbott, said on Lateline in October 2009:

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

Again, Mr Turnbull—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, who said that?

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Abbott, of course. Mr—I was going to say Mr Negativity—Mr Abbott.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well you have; do not do it again!

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sorry, Mr Deputy President. Next we have Mr Turnbull, who said on Q&A on 26 July 2010:

… you won't find an economist anywhere that will tell you anything other than that the most efficient and effective way to cut emissions is by putting a price on carbon.

While Mr Abbot's comments would suggest he was supportive of a carbon price, nothing could be further from the truth, because, as we know, over the past two years Mr Abbott has been running around spreading falsehoods and mistruths. He has engaged in the mother of all scare campaigns, which, unfortunately, has also reached Tasmania, as you would be aware, Mr Deputy President. He has been forecasting the end of entire industries. He has sent out his shadow ministry and his backbenchers, to go around predicting the end of towns, saying that whole towns will be wiped off the map. He has been trying to scare households into thinking that the sky is going to fall.

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Even puppies and kittens.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, and today of course we had puppies and kittens brought into the negative story that is being told by Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott has been saying that the carbon price will be the wrecking ball that destroys Australia. But, slowly and surely, Mr Abbott has had to back away from these claims. Slowly, the truth is catching up with Mr Abbott. I look forward to 1 July when the carbon price is implemented and the mother of all scare campaigns can come crashing down.

Mr Abbott knows he is spreading mistruths. He knows that his mindless negativity and falsehoods will catch up with him and that he will be exposed. We have seen him, as we have seen the rest of the opposition, slowly shift away from his earlier description of the carbon price. He has gone from calling the carbon price the wrecking ball that will destroy industries and wipe towns off the map to now describing it as a python. Mr Abbott knows that his absurdities will be exposed. I do look forward to the time when those falsehoods are exposed.

While Mr Abbott has focused on spreading mistruths we have been getting on with talking about the facts of our scheme. I will take this opportunity to examine those facts. The federal Labor government's clean energy future package will place a price on carbon, it will cut pollution and it will drive investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure such as solar, gas and wind. Let us be clear: the carbon price will not be paid for by ordinary Australians. The carbon price is about making polluters pay. As such, only Australia's biggest polluters will pay the carbon price. All money raised by the carbon price will go to supporting jobs, to driving investment in clean energy technology and to households. This support to households through increased payments and tax cuts will be targeted to those who need it most. We will ensure pensioners, low- and middle-income earners and families doing it tough will be looked after. Nine out of 10 Australian households will receive assistance through a combination of tax and other increases to payments. Almost six million households will get tax cuts or increases to payments that cover the entire average price increase expected under a carbon price. Over four million Australian households will receive an extra buffer against the average price impact of the carbon price. These households will get assistance that is worth 120 per cent of the average price impact of the carbon price. All households will benefit from not having to pay the carbon price on any fuels including petrol, diesel and LPG for passenger motor vehicles. It is also worth remembering that this assistance is permanent, and the government will review the adequacy of the assistance each year and will increase it further if necessary.

Let me examine and refute the claim that Australia is going to do it alone internationally when it comes to the carbon price. While those opposite continue to wage their scare campaign, next week Australia will join more than three-quarters of the world's advanced economies in tackling climate change with an emissions trading scheme. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has conducted an analysis that shows from 2013 there will be more than 50 national or subnational emission trading schemes in place around the world. These schemes will cover a combined population of more than 850 million people and account for around 30 per cent of the global economy, or 27 times the size of the Australian economy in 2012.

Whilst Mr Abbott and the Liberal opposition continue to engage in unfounded scare campaigns— (Timeexpired)

4:31 pm

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

Government senators have risen in this place on this matter of public importance to defend the most conspicuous failures of the Gillard Labor government. It seems to me that they would be more intent on defining the problem and talking about the issue that the government is trying to confront than actually defending the government's solutions to those problems. They know as well as anybody else in Australia at the moment, observing these issues, that the very issues on which the Prime Minister defined the success or failure of her prime ministership are the very issues on which the government is most seriously failing.

On the issue of border protection, on the issue of new taxes, on the issue of climate change, confidence in the government's solutions to these problems is at rock bottom. There has never been less confidence in this government's capacity to handle any one of those three issues than there is today. That speaks volumes about how poorly this government has handled each of those issues.

Senator Carol Brown tells us we are running a scare campaign. Let us talk about the facts. Firstly, no country currently imposes an economy-wide tax on greenhouse emissions or has in place an economy-wide ETS. The United States, Canada, India, China, Japan and many others have all made it clear they will not be moving to the kind of broad based carbon tax that Australia is picking up. We are alone in taking this extraordinarily punitive approach to dealing with this problem, punitive to the ordinary men and women of Australia. Senator Brown said only the biggest polluters will pay the carbon price. Really? If that is the case why is compensation, such as it is, being directed to ordinary households.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Because they'll pay as well.

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed, they will, Senator Williams—they will pay as well. This is a measure of the extraordinary hole that the government has dug for itself, that they are running these kinds of ridiculous lines—'Only the top 500 polluters will pay'—but it is not the polluters who are getting the compensation; it is the households. Why are householders getting compensation? Because they are the ones who will pay at the end of the day with this extraordinarily stupid new tax.

We are told the carbon tax will not affect ordinary Australians, but already the dominos are falling. In my home of Canberra, Brindabella Airlines announced that they would cancel regular flights between Canberra and Albury and Canberra and Armidale. Why? Because the cost of the carbon tax has made it uneconomic to run routes of that kind. They estimate that the extra cost on the fuel that those routes entail caused by the carbon tax advent will contribute something like $1,000 a day to the cost of running the airline. It is the equivalent of $10 for every fare paid on that airline each day of the week, and that is why they have had to close those routes. That is a fact. They have had to make that decision. The decision has been made and the routes have gone. That is not scaremongering; it is fact.

The cost of the carbon tax to people living in this territory will be particularly severe because it is a cold city, as members opposite do not need to be reminded at the moment. It is a cold city and people here have higher than average earnings, which means that—again, these are not my figures; they are the figures of the ACT Labor government—60 per cent of Canberra households will be undercompensated for the carbon tax and 22 per cent of households in the ACT will receive no compensation whatsoever. If those opposite—and I am sure Senator Lundy would not be so foolish—think that 22 per cent of Canberrans are rich, are 'fat cats' who do not need compensation, clearly something is wrong with this badly flawed carbon tax.

The border protection policies of this government have failed. We only need to look at the many iterations of its policy to work out how badly it is floundering around, looking for new solutions every few months. This Prime Minister said she would fix the issue of border protection, of arrivals by boat, which had dogged the Rudd government. So she announced there would be a new solution. We would send our asylum seekers to be processed in East Timor, but the East Timorese had other ideas. They said no, you are not bringing refugees to be processed in East Timor. Then the government said they would go to a regional solution: 'We will have a regional solution that signs up other countries in our region to sort this problem out collectively.' How many countries today are signed up to the Labor government's regional solution, announced more than two years ago? The answer is, at best, one, if you want to count the bilateral arrangement with Malaysia as a regional solution. It is not a regional solution; it is one country. It is a special deal done for one country—a deal which is extraordinarily ill-advised which entails sending 800 refugees to Malaysia and having 4,000 come back to Australia. It is an extraordinarily badly designed arrangement and one which entails putting asylum seekers into a setting where they have been and will be caned. That is a completely unacceptable option. Do not take my word for it; ask the people on Labor's backbench who cannot live with that solution. I hope some of those present today also cannot live with it.

It is a completely unacceptable option and represents the complete and abject failure of this government, and no doubt sometime in the next few days there will be another solution, a different solution to this problem. All of this is taking place against a backdrop of knowing that there is a solution—a solution which worked, a solution which operated effectively to slow the arrival of boats to a trickle under the previous government. In fact, there were some years when there were no boat arrivals at all. It worked, and we are told that somehow this is unacceptable. What stands in its way is pride, particularly the pride of this Prime Minister, who promised to fix this problem who said that she would be the one to solve the problem that so dogged the Rudd government, and still the boats come—thousands and thousands of people arriving on our shores, with a huge jump in the cost of managing those asylum seekers. The cost used to be about $85 million a year under the Howard government and has now climbed to $1.2 billion a year.

I ask senators opposite to put aside the question about what is humane and what is fair to asylum seekers and ask themselves this: if somehow we could return to a policy which greatly reduced how much we have to spend dealing with unauthorised arrivals on our northern shores, how much benefit could we confer on the refugees of the world if we were to direct that $1 billion to assist people in refugee camps around the world? We do not admit any more refugees to this country under humanitarian settlement programs because we have to spend this money dealing with unauthorised arrivals on our shores. We still accept 13,500 people a year—the number is the same, it is just that more of them come on boats and fewer of them come through planned humanitarian resettlement programs. It is an extraordinary waste of money and it represents a huge immoral toll on the lives of people who are caught up in the tragedies we have seen in recent days. How extraordinary it is that this government should allow itself to get into this position.

Government senators have risen today to tell us what winners these policies are—how great the carbon tax is, how beneficial the mining tax will be to Australians, how effective its border protection policies are. Despite the evidence that these policies are anvils, which are dragging the government and its credibility to the bottom of the sea, government senators defend them and the Prime Minister, who was the architect of these policies in each case. I warn senators to be careful because the day is fast approaching when each of these senators will be faced with the question: do I dump this Prime Minister or do I leave her in place? When that question comes, if they answer, 'Yes, it is time to change the Prime Minister, again,' they will then have to answer the question: 'On what basis are we dumping the Prime Minister?' If it is not the questions of border protection, the mining tax and the carbon tax, what will be the basis for their decision? (Time expired)

4:41 pm

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to this debate today and, like always, it is another vexatious and frivolous motion put forward by those opposite, looking at a host of things that the government has been dealing with. This Sunday will mark the first anniversary where Australians can be proud that they are part of a clean energy future. They can be proud that this government is serious about tackling action on climate change. They can be proud that this government believes now is the right time to take action to ensure we leave behind the same environment that we enjoyed for future generations and for generations to come—generations like my first grandchild, who was born on the Queen's birthday this year. I want to leave something to that generation. That is what the opposition have failed to do: look to the future.

They will also find on 1 July that the world is not going to end and that householders will not be stuck with a huge bill for emissions, as those opposite have been spruiking. The first of July will also signal the first day of an Australian government driving cleaner investment technologies, a government which will push clean alternatives like solar, gas and wind. We must emphasise that households will not be paying for carbon emissions, only those high-emitting businesses will be directly affected by this scheme. The more they pollute, the more they will pay. This will push these companies, many of which will receive transitional assistance, to move to cleaner technologies.

On this side of the chamber, we are not the only ones who believe action on climate change is imperative. Many of those opposite spruiked their support for an emissions trading scheme, but are now speaking against it because they are disingenuous when it comes to tackling climate change and when it comes to this government progressively moving to a cleaner economy. For example, the member for Fadden, Stuart Robert, in August 2009 said in part:

We believe that we need to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. We are committed to an ETS, informed by the Copenhagen meetings at the end of 2009, with a start date no earlier than 2012 ...

Also in 2009, Senator Brandis expressed his support for an ETS. He said:

The Coalition's policy, as has been expressed this week in clear terms by Malcolm Turnbull

remember Malcolm Turnbull? He was knifed in the back by Mr Tony Abbott and the rest of them. Senator Brandis continued:

by Andrew Robb, by Greg Hunt, is support for an emissions trading scheme. In fact, it was Malcolm Turnbull as Minister for the Environment in the last year of the Howard Government who initiated legislation for an emissions trading scheme. So there is no doubt or ambiguity about the Coalition's position on this matter whatsoever.

They are your words, Senator Brandis. In 2009 another senator, Senator Eggleston, suggested that taxing carbon was the way to go. He said:

One way of avoiding the volatility of an emissions trading scheme would be to have a carbon tax. A carbon tax provides a very steady and known price for carbon, if you like, which is only varied by varying the tax. That tax can be set at a level that allows renewable energy systems to be competitive.

One of my duty seats is the electorate of Brisbane. I am really appalled that the Brisbane City Council's lord mayor, Graham Quirk, has blamed his hike in rates on a program that has yet to be implemented. It is going to be implemented this Sunday, yet he has already anticipated a rise in rates. Our assistance of $10.10 per week to households will compensate for this and it is no excuse to gouge ratepayers. Mr Quirk has added 0.7 per cent to rates, as he believes that pricing carbon will increase CPI by 0.7 per cent. This is unjustified, as CPI is a measure of inflation, not a measure of carbon pricing. Mr Quirk has also said Brisbane City Council will have to spend $1.3 million on carbon price administration and reporting. Once again, this is a fallacy. Brisbane City Council has already been reporting its greenhouse gas emissions for years under a national reporting system.

This is another scare campaign by the Liberal National Party. Just like Freddie Kruger in Nightmare on Elm Street, or Chucky in the Child's Play horror movies, you have the Mad Monk, Mr Tony Abbott, running around scaring everyone. Today it was reported in question time that he has even been scaring puppies and kittens here in Canberra with the lies they peddle in the scare campaign about the effects of the government's carbon emissions and renewable energy program.

On 1 July we will also see a new system of tax, with the tax-free threshold increasing from $6,000 to $18,200. One million Australians will no longer need to lodge a tax return, which will reduce the stress at tax time and also leave extra cash in the hands of our hardworking Australians.

Moving to the mineral resources tax, we will see the superannuation guarantee increase progressively until it reaches 12 per cent in 2019-20. I know those opposite opposed the superannuation guarantee legislation put in place when we were in government. We moved to allow workers to have something in retirement after their hardworking years in working life. So we are sharing the wealth of the mining boom, and that is exactly what we should be doing. We only have one opportunity to dig up our resources and this means we only have one opportunity to share the profits with Australians, and we will share it with all Australians.

I will move to the matter on everyone's lips today, particularly with the disastrous capsizing of a boat off Christmas Island, where approximately 130 people who were on board went into the water. Unfortunately, that is more and more becoming a reality and we need to deal with this issue. Fortunately, we have many brave men and women in the Australian Defence Force involved in the rescue and also men and women involved in the Customs department dealing with the rescue professionally and in a competent manner, picking those people up out of the water. For a long time now we have been willing to sit down with those opposite to negotiate a process to alleviate the threat, deal with the issue of border protection and combat the insidious trafficking by people smugglers who originate in Asia.

When it comes to how we deal with this, the Labor government is the only party that is willing to confront this issue and deal with offshore processing. I know those opposite indicate that they are willing to have some form of offshore processing, but when it comes to the point they are belligerent. Their bloody-mindedness in not being willing to sit down, negotiate and resolve it is stark. They are not even game to come to the table. They make these superficial claims and disingenuous offers to sit down and negotiate, but we cannot bring about a solution unless they are prepared to negotiate in good faith.

Included in our proposal to the opposition is the possibility of looking at Nauru and a review of temporary protection visas, which are coalition policies, as you would be aware, Acting Deputy President Crossin. This is an offer that has been continuously rejected by those opposite. We can only assume those opposite see more political benefit in continued boat arrivals than in pursuing their stated policies. They cannot deny that the High Court decision last year made all offshore processing illegal, including in Nauru.

We saw an attempt today by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives to put forward a bill. They were inferring that they wanted to resolve this issue and referred to countries that were signatories to the UNHCR refugee provisions. One of those countries is Somalia. Can you imagine sending refugees to the likes of Somalia? They would not even get to the coastline if they were trying to arrive on those shores with the pirates that surround the country. This shows the disingenuousness of those opposite in coming up with a solution to get this matter resolved. The only resolution is to sit down with the government of the day and resolve this matter, as we did when we were in opposition. However, we will not get a solution to this matter while you continue to play politics, as you always do, and continue down the road of disingenuousness. You allow yourselves to be continuously belligerent and bloody-minded so we cannot get a resolution to this insidious issue that confronts all of us in this country at this time.

Photo of Trish CrossinTrish Crossin (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for this discussion has expired.