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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8537


Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (15:02): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to questions without notice asked by Senators Brandis and Cormann, the Leader of The Nationals in the Senate (Senator Joyce) and Senator McKenzie today relating to the carbon tax.

The government now has its carbon tax. Its carbon tax has passed through the Senate, and some would say that this is a breach of faith with the Australian community by virtue of passing a tax which was promised faithfully would not be passed under a government Julia Gillard led. Some would say that it is a move taken at the expense of the Australian standard of living. Some would say it is a move that will make no difference to the overall level of carbon pollution around the world. But at least the government does have its tax. Now I think it is time for the government to start to answer some questions about how this tax will work and what effect it will have on the Australian people.

But today in question time the government failed to do that. The government were asked a series of questions by opposition senators. How will this affect regional Australia? What level of difference is there between electricity costs in regional Australia and major cities, and how will the carbon tax affect that? Is this not the largest per capita carbon tax in the world? To all of those questions Minister Wong contemptuously threw back political point scoring, revelling in the hubris which is now characteristic of this government with respect to this issue. They are out of touch, have lost the plot and are unable to explain what their plans for the carbon tax, with its huge change to the Australian economy, will mean. Today the opportunity they had to provide those answers on the basis of having passed their carbon tax was once again lost.

I understand how the government can proceed on that basis in this cocoon which is the federal parliament. They can have the carbon tax pass when the galleries are full of staffers and members of GetUp! to cheer them on and hurry them on their way, but I would not commend this approach when it gets to the broader electorate. This govern­ment has comprehensively failed to sell this policy to the broader electorate. Outside this place there are people who are concerned, worried and feeling betrayed by a govern­ment that said it would not take this step but now has done. If the Prime Minister were to be believed when she said some months ago that she would begin her task of passing this carbon tax by building a deep and lasting consensus around it, she has failed and failed miserably.

Senator Abetz: No, there's a great consensus—against it!

Senator HUMPHRIES: Indeed. I take that intervention. We have got a consensus today: it is a consensus of the Australian people that this should not proceed, yet that is exactly what has happened in this house today.

The government's hopes apparently are pinned on the thought that it all will not be as bad as it appears to be on paper at the moment. Of course, if the government's predictions are right and we see electricity rises of only 10 per cent in the first year, the government might be doing quite well, because bodies like the Centre for Internat­ional Economics are telling us that that could be only a small sample of what is to come. Electricity prices could leap by 30 per cent. The effect on household earnings could be a fall of $11½ thousand, not the $5½ thousand forecast by the government. The loss of production to the Australian economy between now and 2020 could be more like $180 billion than the $32 billion forecast by the government.

The crowning achievement here is that the government not only has passed this tax today against the wishes of the Australian people and in breach of its own promises to the electorate at the last election only 12 months ago, it has also said it will not allow the tax to be repealed even if the next election becomes a referendum on the carbon tax and even if the Australian electorate overwhelmingly backs a coalition govern­ment with a mandate to repeal this legisla­tion. How contemptuous has the Labor Party become of what is right, what is decent and what is appropriate in the democratic institutions of Australia's parliament. They believe they should do this because they think it is right and they do not care what the electorate thinks, but the fact is the electorate has the final say on this. The government should take that on board when it decides what to do with this tax. (Time expired)