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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6146

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:05): What a sad day it is when the formerly formidable member for Eden-Monaro has had the surgery as well. They have hidden the scars, but he has become just another zombie as he walks out of this chamber now. He stood up for his clubs in the fight over poker machines, but they got to him in the last two weeks. It is a tragedy to see the formerly formidable member for Eden-Monaro come in here and just parrot the party lines. One of his last references was to the promise of new green jobs. I say to the member for Eden-Monaro as he leaves the chamber: try going to the bank manager tomorrow and getting a new home loan on the back of a job that the Labor Party and the Greens have promised you in the future. You will get laughed out of the bank.

It is with a great deal of sadness that I contribute to this matter of public importance debate to discuss the adverse impacts on the manufacturing sector of the Gillard Labor government's proposed carbon tax. It is sadness not only for the jobs of hardworking Australians, particularly in regional areas which are being put at risk by this government, but also for the slow and lingering death of the Australian Labor Party under the Julia Gillard prime ministership. We really need to ask how it all came to this. The Labor Party actually used to stand for something. It used to stand up for the workers, or so it claimed. Now they come in here like meek, little mice, who would not dare squeak their concerns on any issue. We need to ask: what happened to the light on the hill? The light is going out and it is probably because of the carbon tax. The only way to get ahead in the modern Labor Party is to come into this place, sit down, shut up and vote the way the party tells you to vote.

The member for Indi talked about the zombie-like presentations from members opposite, as they are forced not to think for themselves but to just parrot the party lines. When we walk through the doors of Parliament House of a morning, we see members from the Labor Party sticking to the script, using the lines from the focus groups. When it comes to the carbon tax, we can see the clear lines they have been told to use. 'You always have to talk about dangerous climate change—

Ms O'Neill: It's true.

Mr CHESTER: Yes, it is true that you have to talk about dangerous climate change. It is in the key messages every day; I know that. 'Don't forget to mention the thousand biggest polluters. Get that in there if you can. You get the elephant stamp if you get this one right: if you can get the thousand biggest polluters, dangerous climate change and the dirty coal fired power stations in the one grab, you are ministerial material.' You are on the way to the top! People of regional Australia, people employed in the manufacturing sector, have had an absolute gutful of the way this government are vilifying hardworking Australians who just happen to work for those nasty thousand biggest polluters. Those thousand biggest polluters happen to be some of the biggest employers in this country. Every time they vilify those people, those opposite do themselves an enormous discredit amongst the Australian people.

It has not always been this way. The Labor Party used to stand up for workers. I give the example of the former member for Throsby, Jennie George. I did not always agree with everything Jennie had to say, but at least she had some personal integrity when she stood up to say something in this place. She tried to stand up for the workers who sent her here. Today in the Australian she called for the steel industry to be kept out of the carbon tax until similar regimes are operating in competitor countries. She said:

... I think Australians would agree we have to have a viable domestic steelmaking industry in Australia.

That is hardly a revolutionary thought from a former union boss but it has come as a bolt from the blue for many of those opposite. Ms George wants us to wait until competitor nations have an impost on steel before we introduce such a tax. Why will more members of the modern-day Labor Party not be honest with the Australian people? Why will they not acknowledge that any policy that puts Australian manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage will cost Australia jobs? It will add to the cost of living for households and it will undermine the national economy.

In the last 12 months, I had the bizarre experience on my local ABC radio station when they invited me on to have a chat and have a debate with a union boss. I will not name the union boss for the sake of his own credibility—what is left of it.

Mrs Mirabella: Go on.

Mr CHESTER: Okay. So John Parker from the union gets on the radio and talks about the need for a transitional package, a structural adjustment package, a household assistance program. He had all the Labor buzzwords—maybe they are sending them out to the Latrobe Valley power station unions as well—but he did not say anything about power station workers whose jobs he is meant to be fighting for in the first place.

Ms O'Dwyer: It won't guarantee jobs.

Mr CHESTER: It will not guarantee their jobs. The Latrobe Valley power station workers who talk to me do not want a household assistance package. They want the decency of a job and that is the simple fact that this Labor Party fail to recognise. I have repeatedly challenged the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to be honest with the people of my electorate and undertake a cost-benefit analysis and report back to the community on what the impact of this carbon tax is going to be. Everyone recognises that the people of the Latrobe Valley will be in the firing line and likely to be the most adversely affected by this policy. The government cannot expect the families and the workers in the Latrobe Valley to support this tax if the government do not have the honesty to explain to them what the costs and the alleged benefits are going to be. That is a reasonable position I have put to the minister for climate change on many occasions and he is yet to provide any guarantee to power station workers in the Latrobe Valley.

Mr Perrett: Send us a copy of your direct action flyer.

Mr CHESTER: The member for Moreton has woken up. If he cannot tell people how their jobs will be affected under this government's carbon tax, why would anyone vote for it. Labor's response is to say that members on this side are scaremongering, that we do not know what we are talking about. How do they respond to industry concerns? Industries like BlueScope Steel have concerns. In relation to a carbon tax, on 28 February this year, chief executive of BlueScope Steel, Paul O'Malley, said:

That is clearly economic vandalism. It clearly says we don't want manufacturing in Australia.

He further said:

... the policy framework at the moment is wrong. It seems to be captured by people who don't care whether there are manufacturing jobs in Australia, and you just wonder whether there is an anti-manufacturing focus in Australia and that people want jobs to go offshore.

Suddenly, the member for Moreton is silent. Manufacturing is important in Gippsland. We are renowned for the power stations in the Latrobe Valley, which will also be adversely affected by this government's plans. We also have a manufacturing sector which provides more than 5,000 jobs across 465 businesses. Businesses like Gippsland aviation, National Foods in Morwell and Patties Foods in Bairnsdale all have very high energy costs and will take a hit under the carbon tax. Another significant employer in my electorate is Murray Goulburn. The dairy industry does not get talked about much in this place, but it is one of the largest exporters in Victoria and it produces 65 per cent of Australia's milk across 4½ thousand dairy farms. It might be useful for members opposite to start listening to what some of Australia's major manufacturers are saying. During an interview on ABC Radio about the carbon tax, Murray Goulburn's Manager of Industry and Government Affairs, Robert Poole, said:

A carbon tax in Australia doesn't influence the world market price. As everyone should know milk prices in Australia are predominantly driven by that. The price in the international dairy market, including Australia, isn't going to change because of a carbon tax. Therefore any costs that it ... imposes we have to wear and that means our farmers have to wear them.

He further said:

We don't want our international competitiveness reduced through a tax at this stage ... We don't see that's going to help the environment and don't see how that will help us as a major contributor to the Australian economy.

The United Dairy Farmers of Victoria have expressed similar concerns and they have tried to bring them to the attention of government. The member for Eden-Monaro was in the House earlier talking about compensation for emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. Individual dairy farmers will not benefit from any compensation package under this government. We know that, the government know that and dairy farmers know that as well. UDV president, Chris Griffin said:

Calculations by our organisation indicate that a $20 carbon price would cost the dairy industry over $45 million per annum. This would work out to a $5000 charge for each Australian dairy farm per year.

The biggest concern of all though remains with the fundamental breach of trust between this government and the Australian people. On this point, the Labor Party has simply nowhere to hide. On 20 August last year we had this news clipping from the Australian: 'PM's carbon price promise'—here it is in full colour—and the Prime Minister says, 'I rule out a carbon tax.'

Mr Christensen: Can you read that again?

Mr CHESTER: 'I rule out a carbon tax.' That is what the Prime Minister had to say to the Australian people on the eve of the last election. Australians could not trust this Prime Minister before the election and they cannot trust her today when it comes to their jobs. Anything less than taking this back to the Australian people will perpetuate the fraud that this Labor Party has become. It is a government based on a lie and it is addicted to spin, which is completely out of touch with the hopes and the aspirations of regional communities.