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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 3284


Senator KROGER (Victoria) (16:24): The flagrant disregard with which the Gillard government is treating the Australian public on the proposed introduction of a carbon tax is disgraceful, and they should stand condemned.

Before the last federal election, we heard many people quote the Prime Minister's own words: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. She said this because she knew that a carbon tax was unacceptable to the men and women of Australia. Australia should not take an isolated approach to the reduction of carbon emissions. Instead, the actions of any Australian government must take into account the actions of all other Western developed nations and the emerging economic powerhouses of China and India; we should not act alone.

With Australia emitting only a very small percentage of global emissions, it is incumĀ­bent upon us to consider the effect that a carbon tax will have on the businesses and industries of Australia against the overall impact of anything we can do to make a difference in the global economy. We do not live in a silo—as much as those on the other side of the chamber would like to think that that is the case, it is simply not the case—and any action we take must give consideration first to Australian industry and second to the flow-on effect it will have on the cost of living for all Australian families.

In the manufacturing sector, we have seen job losses since early 2008 at a record high—108,000 jobs have been lost. That has happened before the introduction of a carbon tax and its application to the so-called 1,000 biggest emitters. In my home state of Victoria, which has the largest number of manufacturers in Australia, businesses are looking at being put out of operation, as energy costs are primed to skyrocket. Victoria is heavily dependent on brown coal energy, and many more Victorians are therefore set to lose their jobs. Many Victorian businesses operate with a very small profit margin and have no so-called 'fat in the system' to sustain escalating costs. This means that they can either pass on the extra costs or, if they cannot pass them on, go out of business—it is as simple as that.

The Australian Labor Party draws its senators and members from the union movement, so I am dumbfounded that it is not seeking to protect the livelihood of the workers, who are the very people it professes to represent. This reflects the Labor Party's old class-war rhetoric in which the employer is always the bad guy—the capitalist making money off the workers. But if Labor had any understanding of business they would know that employers have the interests of employees at heart and that the futures and livelihoods of employers and employees are inextricably linked.

A carbon tax will not only put many employers out of business; it will also, sadly, put many workers out of a job. The government should reflect further and take a hard look at what is happening in other countries to see what happens when you do not have a healthy economy and when the health of your economy is not at the front and centre of your agenda. Only a fool would think that China and India will not prioritise their own economic advancement and put their consideration of global emissions lower down the list. This government does not need to take into account the situation globally in order to determine its course of action.The public polls taken on this issue over the last few months have all been consistent and they all tell us the same thing: Australians do not want a carbon tax and are rightfully concerned about the impact it would have on rising costs of living.

The modelling that was undertaken on the impact of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's ETS, based on a carbon price of $26 a tonne, showed that it would add an average $300 per year to electricity prices and upwards to $500 in New South Wales. A carbon tax would also increase grocery prices by virtue of the energy used in getting those very groceries onto the shelves. This is a government that only knows how to govern with the imposition of more taxes. It is not a wealth creator, not a job creator, but rather a spender of more taxpayer-funded money. With 14 new and increased taxes since its election, a rising deficit and increasing, escalating national debt, a carbon tax will ultimately be another measure to raise income.

The Prime Minister's assurances that all tax raised will be directed to those most affected does nothing to assuage the concern that those very people who may be compensated for increasing costs may well be out of a job. In my mind, it is always better to empower the individual with the opportunity to work and provide for themselves, and to provide and offer governance which encourages and raises productivity, thereby giving them the opportunity to improve their own standards, rather than to tax them to oblivion.

This is a government that has shown it cannot be trusted. We are now debating a carbon tax because of the short-term political expediency of the Prime Minister. In negotiating a formal alliance with the Greens, we know that Prime Minister Gillard did a backroom deal with the Greens for their support to form government. Let there be no misunderstanding here: this is a government that knows it is on the skids. We only have to walk down the corridors here to see the concerned faces of those who sit on the other side of the chamber. This is government on the skids. It knows it but it has clearly locked itself into a series of commitments. It is a government that has put itself before the interests of the Australian people. It is a government that puts power before the interests and livelihoods of the Australian people.

But I regret to say to those who may be listening to this: you have not seen anything yet. At least here in the Senate we have been able to hold the government to account in some small measure to date. We have been able to engage in dialogue which has been able to influence the policy direction of this government. However, after 1 July, the Australian Greens will provide the AustĀ­ralian Labor Party the support they need so that they will hold a majority in this place. It is because of the deal with the Greens that we are now discussing a carbon tax, and there is nobody in this place who does not believe otherwise. It is purely because of the backroom deals that have taken place that we now have a carbon tax on the table that we are discussing. It is only fair to ask how high the Greens will demand the government to jump for their continuing support to get whatever legislation the government wants through this place.

In conclusion, it is a sad day when the people of Australia are ignored. It is a sad day when the voice of the Commonwealth parliament is ignored. It is an even sadder day when the government benches, those on the other side of the chamber, do not stand up for the rights of their constituents and tell the Prime Minister that enough is enough. (Time expired)