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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5287


Mr HUNT (Flinders) (15:49): It has come to this: on a day when the Prime Minister proudly tells the Herald Sun that her contribution to helping the planet is to run the pool pump at the Lodge at least one hour less per day, she refuses to rule out a petrol tax on the Australian people. It has come to this: on a day when the Prime Minister also tells the Herald Sun that her contribution to protecting the planet is to buy local fresh and in-season fruit and vegetables when in residence at the Lodge—and you can just imagine her down at Coles Manuka pushing a trolley in the tracksuit pants before going back to what the Minister for Foreign Affairs politely calls 'Boganville'-the Prime Minister of Australia is announced to be contemplating an unelected citizens assembly of one, with maybe a few friends, to determine Australia's taxation policy and the tax rates on petrol, electricity, gas, groceries, automobiles and housing.

On this day, when the Prime Minister is happy to talk about running the pool pump at the Lodge for one hour less, when she is happy to talk about an occasional trip to Coles Manuka to pick up a few fresh fruit and vegetable items, she is contemplating an unelected citizens assembly of one, with maybe a few friends, to determine the tax rates for electricity, petrol, gas, groceries, automobiles, housing and the cost of farming and food production in this country. That is what we are seeing in terms of the democratic deficit in this country on this day in this place. That is why this matter of public importance is important, because it is about the imminent threat to Australia in both our economic health and our democratic health.

There are two great democratic threats in the way in which the government is approaching this carbon tax. The first is about participation. What we have is a principle, which the government will not renounce, of allowing unelected officials to set tax rates on the most basic, essential items for this country. Call me nostalgic, but I seem to remember that the Boston Tea Party focused on the issue of taxation without representation. That small principle of taxation without representation has a reasonable heritage in Western parliaments around the world. It was rejected 240-odd years ago and it has been rejected ever since. This government is unable to make a decision and form an agreement with its alliance partners and puppet-masters, the Greens. It cannot make a decision, so it seeks to refer responsibility for a most basic decision on taxation to an unelected committee, effectively a citizens assembly of one or two or three, that can determine the tax rates that Australian families will pay for electricity, petrol, gas, groceries, houses and automobiles, amongst many other items. This is an abrogation of responsibility. The nature of governance, the purpose of a prime ministerial role, the task of a parliamentarian, is to allow the people of Australia to have a voice and have a role in and a responsibility for determining the rates of taxation of this nation and their impact on households so they can determine, through their representatives, the effective prices that they will pay for goods and services and the effective rates they will pay through taxation.

We are at a critical and extraordinary moment in Australian political history, where an unelected body has been proposed and a prime minister is refusing to rule out the creation of an unelected body with effective control over the taxation rates of essential services. As I say, for over 240 years the Western world has been somewhat suspicious of taxation without representation. What we are seeing now is a policy where the government is refusing to rule out accepting, acknowledging and endorsing a committee which would effectively take power away from this parliament and disenfranchise the people of Australia over a fundamental decision. I repeat: the reason is that the government has no authority. It is a government which is fundamentally lacking in authority, lacking in legitimacy and lacking in the capacity to implement its own decisions. It is not in control of its own destiny; it is certainly not in control of the country. In order to resolve an internal alliance matter with the Greens, the ALP—the government of Australia, the Prime Minister of Australia—are contemplating ceding sovereignty over taxes to an unelected body. That is what it has come to in this parliament on this day.

We make it clear that this is an imminent threat to Australia. I make the point that the democratic deficit operates firstly in terms of participation and secondly in terms of truth. In terms of participation, the most fundamental right that an Australian citizen has is to make or break governments on the basis of the policies they take to an election. All members of this House will remember that the government of today, led by the Prime Minister of today, went to the election with the Prime Minister stating on the Monday prior to the election:

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

That statement could not have been more categorical, and it was made in the context of an opposition campaign to say that there would be a carbon tax. It was not a casual statement; it was not a chance statement. This was the primary issue of the day because we foresaw that, whatever happened in the House of Representatives, a deal would have to be done in the Senate which would bring on a carbon tax as a consequence of the government's relationship with the Greens. This was foreseen, the government was forewarned, but it was denied by the Prime Minister and by candidates seeking a mandate from the people of Australia to carry out policies. This happened not just once. On the day before the election, the Prime Minister said on the front page of the Australian:

I rule out a carbon tax.

The question has to be, why did she say that? What was there to lead her to object so much to the term 'carbon tax'? The Prime Minister said that because she knew that the Australian public would not endorse her, would not endorse her government and would not allow her to form government if she advocated a carbon tax, because it conveyed to the Australian people, in the words that the emissions trading scheme did not, that the people would pay in terms of higher prices for electricity, petrol, gas, groceries—all the essentials of life. It was an act of fundamental dishonesty on a critical issue at a critical juncture. It was an act of betrayal of the Australian people because it was fundamentally dishonest, and every member of the government today knows that.

The reason the Prime Minister said 'I rule out a carbon tax' is that she knew that, if she did not, she would have lost the election. So she went to the election on a grand deception—a deception of the Australian people which goes right to the heart of legitimacy. And lest it be said 'we always intended a carbon price', the government's policy in the weeks leading up to the election was, firstly, no carbon tax and, secondly, a citizens assembly to produce—I remember the words clearly—a deep and lasting consensus. I suspect there has not been a deep and lasting consensus in favour of the carbon tax at this stage. Thirdly, and this is my favourite of all the policies, there was cash for clunkers. Cash for clunkers had a half-life of about three hours, before everybody realised it would produce emission savings at about $400 per tonne. They were the official election policies.

The democratic deficit is real, and there should be a chance for the Australian public to genuinely vote on who determines the taxes Australians face, who determines the circumstances under which they pay those taxes and who determines what those taxes will be. This government went to the election denying that there would be a carbon tax and it should now take the proposal for a tax to an election. Anything less than that will be a travesty of the democratic process, a betrayal of the Westminster system, and will be a simple insult to the ordinary working families of the Australia, who deserve to have the trust placed in them to make their own decisions about their own future.

The second great democratic issue at stake in this debate right now, when it is proposed that unelected officials be given the chance to levy taxation on Australian families, on Australian pensioners, on Australia farmers and on Australian small businesses, is the issue of truth. The government has told us that families will be no worse off. The government has told us that it is all some mythical 1,000 companies. But let me quote from the Garnaut report today:

Australian households will ultimately bear the full cost of a carbon price.

Elsewhere in the report there are words to the effect that in the long run households will pay almost the entire carbon price as business passes on the costs. Those statements are both true. This system is designed to increase the cost of electricity; it is intended to increase the cost of electricity; its sole purpose is to increase the cost of electricity. And it will do it. It will do it over and above any other effects, and we do not walk away from that. But it will increase the cost of electricity.

Lest it be said that we are quoting our own material, Treasury's modelling has talked about an $863 increase in the cost of living for families under a $30-per-tonne carbon tax. No matter where it starts, no matter what games they play in the first year, the impact will be a rise every year. The Garnaut report today confirms that there is an escalator that will continue for many years.

Petrol will go up by 6.5 cents a litre. And if they play an offset game in the first year, what the Garnaut report also confirms, and the Prime Minister would not deny today, petrol indexation is effectively back. Every year after year one petrol will go up, and they cannot deny that. They must rule out increasing the cost of petrol.

Gas will go up by 10 per cent. Groceries will go up by 5 per cent, according to the Australian Food and Grocery Council. Then there are the impacts on business, which are very simple. Let me give you an example that I think sums it all up. The cost of an Australian made car, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, will increase by up to $412 per vehicle. The cost of a foreign vehicle from China, Japan or Korea will not change at all. How can it be that an Australian made vehicle will increase by $412? There are members from South Australia in this chamber and I ask them: do you think it is acceptable that an Australian made vehicle goes up by $412 while a foreign vehicle does not increase in price by one dollar? That goes to the heart of the flaws in this model and this approach. What they are saying is that we will increase the price of Australian made goods while imported goods are not penalised. Again, lest it be said that this was our work, this is the work of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and they have built on the findings of the National Farmers' Federation, which only yesterday said that there would be a $36,000 increase on a Western Australian wheat farmer at a carbon price of $36-per-tonne. The cost of food will go up and the profitability of farming will go down but the cost of imports does not change. That is the critical element that this government will not acknowledge.

On the same day, the government has withheld the Productivity Commission report into the impacts and approaches to dealing with carbon pricing in other countries. The reason is that they are ashamed of it, and they want to release it out of the parliamentary session. So, they are willing to leak the fact, as they did overnight, that they are happy to have a new citizens' assembly of one or two or three to determine the taxation rates, but they are not willing to release the work of the Productivity Commission in this parliamentary session so that we can talk about the real action occurring around the world, whether it is in China, the United States, Japan or Canada. That is the democratic deficit that is occurring.

Also, let me make it absolutely clear that the cost of a house, according to the Housing Industry Association, will go up by $6,000. Against all of that background—electricity, petrol, gas, groceries up $863 a year, Australian made cars going up by $412 whilst foreign cars from North Asia do not increase by a dollar at all—what we see here is a plan for an advertising campaign, with no plan to protect the Australian economy, and a plan for unelected officials to determine the taxation rates in Australia. It is time for the Australian government to stand up for Australia and reject this tax and adopt a better way that will not drive up the cost of living for Australian families. (Time expired)