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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6351

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:44): I have great pleasure in following the member for Herbert and his impassioned speech. Speakers on this side have covered a lot of territory here this evening and expressed a great deal of reservation about this legislation, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Bill 2012, and with very good reason. In joining this debate I want to reflect on the complete lack of trust which exists between this Prime Minister, this government and the Australian people. There is a long list of reasons—and we have already heard many of them tonight—why the coalition are not supporting this legislation, but the most compelling one of all is the issue of trust. We simply do not trust this government to be able to deliver value for money under its Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Quite simply, I could not trust this Treasurer with 10 bucks, and I certainly will not trust him with $10 billion of taxpayers' money. This does feel like deja vu all over again. As the member for Cowper remarked earlier this evening, this legislation has all the hallmarks of Labor's other financial disasters.

People listening to the broadcast of this debate at home or in their cars might be thinking: how did we get to this judgment? Are we being a little bit too harsh on the Labor Party? I just say to people listening to this tonight: let's start with the Rudd and Gillard government's track record in delivering major projects and their financial mismanagement. I want to begin with prior convictions, if you like, so I will start with the home insulation debacle. That scheme saw the tragic loss of four young people killed in the rush to implement the scheme. We had homes burnt to the ground and others severely damaged by fire. We had a legitimate industry destroyed as confidence was eroded amongst the Australian public in the whole home insulation industry and we had jobs lost. That was one of the greatest debacles in Australian political history, all at the hands of this government, shovelling money out the door in a so-called quest for clean energy.

Then we had the Green Loans Program, which is one that a lot of people have forgotten about, and the training of assessors. I am testing my memory but I think the government intended to train about 1,500 assessors. But someone forgot to tell training organisations, so 10,000 Green Loans home assessors were trained. That would not be so bad, I suppose, if it did not come at any cost to the people involved, but people actually lost their hard-earned money to undertake that training. Those poor people put up amounts of $2,000 to $3,000 each to become assessors in the false hope that there was a job at the end of it. This government completely mismanaged the program so, unfortunately, these people were training for jobs that never existed. Again, it was a complete financial disaster, but at least in this case, as far as I am aware, no-one died in the government's mismanagement of that program.

But the grand-daddy of them all is undoubtedly the government's Building the Education Revolution. This program, which amounted to about $16 billion, as I recall, was plagued with problems from the absolute start. In fact, it has got to the stage now throughout regional Australia that BER stands for 'builders early retirement'. Builders were in a position where they could inflate their prices to suit the market, they could move from the cities into regional areas, do a job and not necessarily take much care because they were never coming back to that town in their life, and the government picked up the tab. I think this program is the worst example of government mismanagement that I have ever been made aware of. Not only did it involve $16 billion, but the greatest concern of all was that the government refused to listen to local communities.

This program was not based on need, on whether the school community needed an upgrade. It was the government's version of that old sideshow alley call 'Every child wins a prize'. In this case every school got a building, regardless of whether they needed it or whether they needed the template design, because that was what they copped. The only time there was value for money out the program was when the independent schools had control of some of the money.

I will just reflect on comments made by the former head of Treasury, Dr Ken Henry, who told the ABC last week that value for money was only a second or third order concern, on that particular program, in terms of the government's stimulus package. I think that sums up this government: value for money was only a second or third order concern. But for the people who were having their hard-earned tax dollars spent in this manner, I can tell you now that value for money is the No. 1 priority they expect from us in this place. Value for money is what they want to see at every opportunity.

The member for Cowper went through a long list of renewable energy failures in his speech tonight, and I will not go through them again, but he made the point that this government has not learnt from its own bitter experiences, let alone experiences throughout the world when it comes to clean energy programs. It is simply going out to the marketplace and saying to the Australian people: 'Just trust us, we will deliver.' Unfortunately, there is a huge deficit of trust in the Australian community when it comes to this government, and it starts at the Prime Minister's office. It starts with her now infamous line when she told the Australian people: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' Every bit of legislation to do with the clean energy future, including the legislation we are discussing tonight, comes back to that line from the Prime Minister: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'

I have said before and I repeat now that the Prime Minister has been partly true to that line because there is no carbon tax under the government she leads. There is a carbon tax under the government that Bob Brown leads and now Christine Milne leads. It is the grubby deal with the Greens which has forced this government into this position. I do not believe members opposite are actually being true to themselves in this regard. I do not think they believe a lot of the information they are forced to propagate throughout the community. I believe it is just because they have done a deal with the Greens that they are forced into this position, because I do not believe that members of the Labor Party could be so stupid. This Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a pay-off to the Greens, at vast expense to Australian taxpayers.

In addition to the $10 billion, there is another little project we are not hearing much about at the moment, so it is good to see the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is in the chamber. This project is called Contract for Closure—and at the mere mention of this policy the minister has left the chamber. I think this Contract for Closure links very nicely into the debate tonight because of this government's obsession with pandering to the Greens. I am not sure many Australians understand what this Contract for Closure policy is all about. What the government has promised to do is to retire 2,000 megawatts of coal fired power generation in Australia. Basically, the companies are going to be bought out by the government—by taxpayers, who are going to cough up all the money once again—so the companies have been invited to express their interest in being part of Contract for Closure. What we have seen, though, since this was announced and the expressions of interest closed is that the government has gone strangely quiet on this process because, as I understand it, the negotiations are going absolutely nowhere. You always know when the Labor Party is in a bit of strife because the dorothy dixers put up in question time by the Labor Party backbench just stop. There has not been a mention of Contract for Closure, as far as I can recall, in months, because it is a dud policy. The Minister for Resources and Energy, who is not here tonight, knows it. He can barely even say the name of the policy, he hates it so much. He knows it is a disgrace. The minister for energy is the only one I have seen, actually, who has had a little bit of credibility. He has given himself a bit of wriggle room. He has backed away from the policy a bit, because he is on the record as saying there is actually no guarantee that it will go ahead if they cannot negotiate a price that suits the government. So the minister for energy has given himself a bit of wriggle room.

The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency joins me again. Contract or Closure we are talking about, Minister, just in case you had not heard the words for awhile.

Mr Combet: I have heard of it.

Mr CHESTER: I understand. The minister has heard of it. But no-one is talking about it, Minister—because it is a dud.

Mr Combet: It is commercial-in-confidence.

Mr CHESTER: Oh, because it is commercial-in-confidence!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Rishworth ): Order! I will make sure the speaker continues to make his remarks through the chair.

Mr CHESTER: Thank you, Deputy Speaker Rishworth, I accept your admonition. The Minister for Resources and Energy has backed away from it and he is not talking about it, saying unless we negotiate a deal that suits the government. But I think that really is the minister's code for, 'Oops, we've stuffed up. We didn't realise how much this would cost to pay out the owners of the power stations. We'd really like to go quiet on this one. We would like to just sneak out of this one and let no-one really notice that we ever talked about Contract for Closure.' The mere threat of Contract for Closure has been a social and economic disaster for a region like mine.

I know the minister at the table understands coal communities, but this policy of Contract for Closure has destroyed confidence in my region already, at a time when the economy is already soft. The government likes to blame that softness on other factors—and these are genuine factors: the high dollar, the European financial crisis, and high transport and wage costs. All of those are having an impact on heavy industry and on the manufacturing sector. But the question I continually put to members opposite—and I have yet to receive a decent answer to—is: Why are you making it harder? Why are you making it harder for Australian manufacturers? Why would any Australian government at a time like this do anything, anything at all, that would make it harder for Australians to compete on world markets? And I get silence like I have yet again tonight. Silence once again. Not one member opposite has got any explanation at all for why you would introduce a carbon tax and make things harder for Australian industry at this difficult time.

Mr Ciobo: Because they promised they would.

Mr CHESTER: No, the Greens promised they would. Government ministers claim to stand up for local jobs; they do claim to stand up for blue-collar workers. Then they like to say that members on this side are overstating the impact of a carbon tax.

I would like to refer briefly, in the time, I have left to a letter I received this week from a gentleman in my electorate who actually wrote to the Minister for Resources and Energy. This is a letter from Angelo Gaudiano. I have not got time to go through the whole letter, but I did get the opportunity to table it the other day thanks to the government's goodwill. Mr Gaudiano said:

Since the formation of Energy Brix Australia in 1993 we have worked hard to survive. We have had to cut back in numbers and have sacrificed pay rises just so the company would remain viable. The company has also spent a lot of money and resources on the plant over the years to make it more reliable and efficient. The company and its employees have endured many hurdles and have turned a loss making business into a profit making business with a future.

Since the introduction of the Carbon Tax, the Company has endured financial difficulties due to low electricity prices. Due to this financial strain on the business the maintenance on the plant has been reduced which has caused a downturn in production due to breakdowns. Once the carbon tax comes into effect at the start of July the business will be unviable. It will have to shut. Over 200 workers will lose their jobs and the community will be greatly affected with families leaving the area.

…   …   …

The Prime Minister promised that no one will lose their jobs or be disadvantaged by the Carbon Tax. The Union (CFMEU) promised that no one will lose their jobs or be disadvantaged by the Carbon tax. The Union promised it would work with the Government in ensuring alternative base load power stations be constructed in the area so that it will provide jobs for the long term. So far nothing has been done. ...

…   …   …

… I worry for the future of my family and I fear for the future of the community that I live in and have invested in as I know it is going to suffer greatly in the very near future and take many years to recover from the effects that this unpopular carbon tax legislation will bring.

I am also tired talk about clean energy transition by local governments and groups. Talk does not produce jobs. We need positive action now. So please take my letter seriously, I am very frustrated and scared about my future.

Angelo is a boiler turbine operator who informs me the minister has not responded to his letter. What a surprise! What a surprise that people like Angelo simply do not trust this government! And why would they?

Today I had the opportunity also to ask questions to the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. I asked him some questions about the Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Program. This little beauty is a $200-million program to assist communities strongly affected by carbon pricing! But, remarkably, given that the carbon tax comes into effect on 1 July—that there are going to be announcements, supposedly, on Contract for Closure, on 1 July—the minister informed me that the guidelines for this program have not been developed yet. What are we waiting for? It is less than five weeks away and the guidelines for the $200-million structural adjustment package for regional communities have not been developed yet. This Contract for Closure is a dud policy from a dud government and this Clean Energy Finance Corporation just adds to the long list of policy failures from a government that has forgotten who it is meant to represent.

The Labor Party of old used to stand up for blue-collar workers like Angelo Gaudiano. Now it stands for staying in power at all costs, and it is doing pathetic deals with the Greens, who have never created a job in regional Australia and are a direct threat to jobs in a wide range of regional industries.

I have mentioned before in the House, and I will say it again tonight: there is an absolute crisis of confidence in regional communities directly linked to the uncertainty this government has created through its reckless decision to legislate for the world's biggest carbon tax. As long as this carbon tax hangs over the heads of Australian businesses it is hard to see that confidence being restored. Until this government actually asks the Australian people for their permission to introduce a carbon tax, they will never be trusted again.

It simply staggers me that this once grand old party that claimed to represent blue-collar workers could come in here every day and still pretend that it represents the workers of this nation, when it has a policy in place to sack hundreds of blue-collar workers in power stations throughout Australia and has no plan whatsoever on the table to actually compensate those communities or provide alternative arrangements. The carbon tax will come into effect on 1 July and once this Contract for Closure policy is announced there will be more jobs lost in communities like mine. This government assures me—the minister assured me today—that the guidelines have not been prepared yet. The Australian people simply do not trust this government and its assurances, they do not trust this Prime Minister with their jobs and I would love to see her show the same passion for their jobs as she has shown in fighting to keep her own. (Time expired)