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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10741

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (10:02): I rise to speak on the carbon bills that are before the House, the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills, which we are debating as part of this move by the government to introduce a carbon tax into the Australian economy by 1 July next year. You cannot have this debate in this chamber without stepping through the history of how we got to this point. I reflect upon some of the comments of the previous speaker, the member for Capricornia. She mentioned that this debate has now been held in this House for three or so years, and indeed it has. The former government took to the 2007 election an emissions trading scheme which the Labor government then put into a proposal called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in the last parliament. They brought it to this place, I think, on three occasions, and it was defeated each time through the parliament.

Then, of course, the Labor Party, led by the now Prime Minister, decided that it was a policy that they no longer wanted to have as part of their platform to go to the 2010 election, so in April 2010 the 'gang of four', as it was known—the former Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the former Minister for Finance and Deregulation—decided, outside the cabinet process, to do away with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme because, they said at the time, there was not a consensus for it and therefore they did not want to pursue it any longer. It was reported—of course, these things sometimes leak; we are not sure how these things ever leak—that the now Prime Minister was leading the charge about making that change to the Labor Party's policy position. That is a reasonable thing, of course, for a cabinet to do: to change its mind on a policy. So they went to the 2010 election following a change of leadership in our country. The new Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister, then took a very clear and explicit promise to the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. She said that five days out. Just a day out from the election, on the front page of the Australian newspaper of 20 August 2010, she was reported as saying, 'I refugee le out a carbon tax.' She was not alone. On 12 August 2010, some nine days before the election, the Treasurer said, 'We have made our position very clear; we have ruled it out.' This specifically dealt with a question that was asked on the 7.30 Report by, I presume, Kerry O'Brien.

So there was a very clear position, and that position was, fundamentally, that the Labor Party would seek to develop a community consensus. They were going to have 150 people chosen from throughout Australia, separate from the parliament, to come to Canberra to develop a community consensus. Of course, 150 people are chosen by the electorate to come to Canberra to develop policy, but they were going to have 150 people who were separate from the parliament to develop a consensus. They were going to have 'cash for clunkers'. That was the big announcement with regard to climate change during the last election, an absolutely economically insane proposal that would have wasted more money than any of their other programs, whether it be wastage on school halls or the insulation debacle. Cash for clunkers would have put all that to a side because it was such a ridiculous policy proposal. Thankfully, it was dumped when the Queensland floods occurred earlier this year.

But that was, in essence, what this Prime Minister and this Labor government took to the election All those members on the other side who were elected—72 of them—were elected on the promise that they would not have a carbon tax as part of their policy program. They very clearly ruled it out. They did not even countenance having an emissions trading scheme, as some have tried to suggest in the last few days. There was a very clear promise at the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a government that this Prime Minister led. In fact, it was a promise that the Treasurer also made. That was the position of the Labor Party.

The position of the Liberal Party and the National Party, if I can speak for my colleague at the table who is part of the coalition, is that we would also not have a carbon tax and we would not support an emissions trading scheme. We made that decision after the Copenhagen consensus fell over, and that meant a big change in the events in the world. There was a view that, because we were coming to the end of 2009, the Copenhagen conference—President Obama and the world—would be able to bring together an agreement which would lead to global action on climate change: global targets and therefore a global price. Of course, that did not happen. Copenhagen, even for its greatest supporters, was an abject failure and that changed the essence of this debate. So we took to the election a very clear promise that we would achieve a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 with what is called direct action.

The Labor Party now stand in this place and elsewhere, and their supporters in the community—the ever-diminishing group of people in the community who say they support the Labor government—make the claim that you just have to forget about this promise and move on. They think that somehow the Prime Minister is showing leadership, that this is something she had to bring together because of the parliament—and that is the other excuse we hear. We heard grand speeches by people like the member for Capricornia and the Prime Minister when she introduced this bill about how wonderful this is going to be for the economy, how it is going to lift our standard of living and create jobs and more opportunities. Yet the thing she is most fearful of seems to be actually giving the Australian people the opportunity to have a view on this.

In fact, there was a very interesting article in the Australian newspaper last Friday from a well-renowned economist, Henry Ergas, which talked very specifically about how the bills would be impossible to be unwound. If the Australian people did not like the direction of this government and there was a change of government, the 17 bills we are debating today would be impossible for a future government to unwind. I think that shows the complete lack of regard that the Labor Party and this Prime Minister have for the electorate on this matter. They refuse point blank to listen to what the Australian people want to do on this issue. In my electorate I constantly hear feedback from the Australian people that this issue should be taken to an election before this parliament makes a decision to implement a carbon tax. It is the right thing to do.

To put this in a historical context, many on the Labor Party side, including the minister at the table, will remember that former Prime Minister Howard took to the 1998 election a promise that he would implement a goods and services tax. That was after a promise made in 1995 when he said there would never ever be a GST. In 1997 he changed his mind and he took the proposal to the election. He took the Australian people into his trust. He just won the election, it is fair to say, because there was, dare I say, a scare campaign run against the proposal, but he was able to get it through with a slim majority, it must be said. He passed it through this parliament but in the Senate the Labor Party—even though he had taken it to an election—refused to accept the wisdom of the implementation of a goods and services tax and opposed it every step of the way.

We saw the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the then shadow treasurer, the member for Hotham, day after day come in with the former Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, and there would be a stunt of the day—there were the Hockey bear pyjamas, there were cans of fruit—they tried every trick in the book to oppose this tax. They predicted the end of the world, they predicted every possible outcome from the implementation of the goods and services tax. Their mates in the states did the same even though they now sit back and enjoy the vast revenue that the GST brings. Let's not be too precious about this claim that somehow there is a scare campaign being run. The fact is that the Labor Party, when they had their opportunity in opposition, when John Howard had taken a policy proposal to an election, still opposed it every step of the way.

I say to the Labor Party, if they are so proud of this legislation, we should stop this debate today. We should have an election, they should take it to an election, they should get the endorsement of the electorate and they will then have the moral right to pursue this policy through the parliament. That is the opportunity that the Labor Party have and they refuse point blank to take it. So this debate is held under a dark cloud of a complete fib prior to the election and a complete backflip on the position. Now we see legislation which is designed to make it impossible for the Australian people in a future time to withdraw their support for a government who did not get their trust in the first place.

While I am talking about scare campaigns and claims, I noticed last night on Four Corners there was a piece which included an interview with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who made some unbelievable claims about scare campaigns and how somehow the debate in Australia was being dragged down in comparison with what had happened in the past. I am sure the minister for climate change used to be a very senior member of the ACTU executive; I am nearly positive that was the case. I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong but there was certainly a guy with dark-rimmed glasses, who looks very much like the minister for climate change, who was a very senior member of the ACTU executive when they smashed up Parliament House. They smashed the front of this place to bits. They caused thousands and thousands of dollars of damage in 1996 and I am sure that is the man who was on Four Corners last night making this claim:

You know, the whole hype that Tony Abbott has created about in his terms 'unimaginable you know cost impacts', of course is completely deceitful and untrue.

The concern he has generated about job security is also completely unfounded and untrue.

He has said that the entire coal industry will be destroyed. That's what he said!

He's forecast that entire towns and regions are going to be wiped off the map, that the manufacturing industry will die.

I mean, this is the most absurd hyperventilating tripe that I can remember in public life.

I can take the minister for climate change back to some other hyperventilating tripe if he likes. How about the waterfront dispute? Let us go back to the waterfront dispute when again I am sure a guy who looked very much like the minister for climate change was the head of the ACTU which led the most vicious personal campaign against the minister at the time whose family received death threats and were moved out of Melbourne because of the behaviour of people in the ACTU that he led. Now he seeks in this place and outside to make claims that somehow we on this side, by opposing this tax, are encouraging the most hyperventilating tripe. Give me a break. This man has no credibility when it comes to this issue. He led some of the most vicious protests, some of the biggest fibs ever known in Australian public life when it came to reforms that the Howard government moved, important reforms which have made our country and our economy stronger, and now he seeks to somehow create this perception that it is all the Leader of the Opposition's fault that the Australian people have lost trust in this government who refused to take them into their trust in the first place. They are hung by their own petard when it comes to these issues.

In relation to the actual claims also by those on the other side, in the time I have remaining, that this is somehow moving in concert with the rest of the world, in pace with the rest of the world, that of course is also wrong. We saw with the breakdown of the Copenhagen talks that the world is not moving to put a global price on greenhouse emissions. We saw in their own documentation and their own modelling that there are suggestions that this is based on the fact that somehow the United States by 2016, halfway through the next presidential term, will have a global price on emissions. That is simply not true. The United States will not have a global price on emissions by that time

Yesterday in the Australian Mr John Lee, who is an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney, wrote a fascinating piece about the pace of change in China. He said:

While gross domestic product has been growing at about 10 per cent during the past five years, Chinese consumption of coal has been increasing at about 17 per cent each year and coal production has been increasing by more than 20 per cent in the same period.

It is clear from what the Chinese are doing that they are moving to continue their growth and they are doing it in any way they can. The quickest way that they are doing it is through coal fired power plants and through nuclear power plants. So the world is not moving. International comparisons also say that the carbon tax that this government has before the parliament will raise $9 billion a year. The European scheme raised about $500 million each year in its first five years of operation, so this is the world's biggest carbon tax. It is also a carbon tax which will have local effects. A local manufacturer in my electorate Mr David Hall has submitted to the inquiry about the dangers that this has for his business. His competitors are in the United States where they will not have to deal with this carbon tax, but he will have to deal with the carbon tax. This is a bad piece of policy at the wrong time with no environmental gain. At the very least, the Labor Party should take this to an election and get the Australian people's support before they push ahead with it. (Time expired)