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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 10987


Mr MELHAM (Banks) (12:02): The Parliament House website provides a definition of Australian government. The Australian Parliament consists of three elements which make Australia a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The definition then outlines the five important functions of parliament:

to provide for the formation of a government;

to legislate;

to provide the funds needed for government;

to provide a forum for popular representation; and

to scrutinise the actions of government.

It is important today for us to revisit the functions of the parliament, given its current state. Consider the last of the five functions—to scrutinise the actions of government. This is the role of an opposition: to provide an alternative to government actions or policies. In this capacity the opposition scrutinises the government and seeks to hold them accountable for their decisions. I have served both in government and in opposition. Never in all those years have I experienced the vitriolic and disingenuous attacks orchestrated by this opposition. Worse, the attacks are destructive, not constructive, as the Westminster tradition would have it. Of course the opposition must fulfil its role to question and to probe government policies. It would not be doing its job if it did not do so. This parliament has a history of robust and healthy debate, as it should. House of Representatives Practice5th edition, chapter 2 states:

The Opposition is an important component in the structure of the House and is considered to be essential for the proper working of democratic government and the parliamentary process in the Westminster system.

The critical question today is not whether the coalition is in its rights to oppose the government but how the opposition opposes. There we have our dilemma. Let me outline one of the myths being perpetuated by this opposition, who are insisting that the clean energy future legislation is being 'rushed' through the parliament. What rubbish!

The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee was established on 29 September 2010 and held its first meeting on 7 October 2010. The opposition, as we all know, chose not to participate. A series of meetings was held in most months between then and May this year to develop the framework for a carbon price. The final agreement was released on 10 July 2011. So for a year the opposition had the opportunity to participate. If we accept the fact that they did not participate to make a political point, they still had access to the communiques to keep an eye on how the agreement was progressing.

On 28 July, the Treasurer, together with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, released the exposure drafts of the key bills in the government's clean energy legislative package. They sought submissions from the public. The bills were finally introduced into the parliament on 12 September. To any reasonable person, on any reasonable test, this is not 'rushing'. As shadow minister for justice and customs, I recall being sent complex bills dealing with national security at 9 pm one night—these were the terrorism bills—with the instruction that they were to be debated at 9.30 the next morning. That is rushing. I recall saying to the parliament on 13 March 2002:

The Howard g overnment tabled these bills right after the dinner break last night. They delivered 119 pages of legislation and 12 3 pages of explanatory memoranda under the cover of darkness —and they expect us to consider the legislation overnight and to come back this morning with our response.

And I further said:

Labor is committed to rigorous scrutiny of these bills. Where they provide a sound framework for tackling terrorism without intruding into our society's freedoms, the bill s will get our support.

I note that subsequently 95 per cent of the opposition's amendments were picked up by the government and there was bipartisan support for that legislation, but that was not how the process started. The Leader of the House has made it crystal clear that time will be made available for debate. This opposition refuses to accept the premise for their behaviour, which is that they are not the government. What I find most offensive and what is so abominable is the deliberate misleading of the Australian public. My colleague the member for Eden-Monaro, on Wednesday, 14 September, referred to what was in his view the most shameful aspect of this debate as 'the deception, the distortion and the denial that we have seen demonstrated by the coalition'. I could not agree more. What I cannot abide is the deception that is being practised on the public. The behaviour and the claims made by the opposition demonstrate clearly that the opposition are not fit to hold office.

I am confident that a majority of my constituents believe that climate change is real and that action to reduce its causes and effects is necessary. However, I also acknowledge that many members of the community have been misled, deceived and scared by the campaign against this reform. The style and conduct of this debate have made it impossible to have a rational discussion on a complex policy challenge. I intend to outline some of the more outrageous claims made by the opposition in the past months. On 1 June in this place the Leader of the Opposition claimed:

Let there be no doubt about the intentions of the authors of this carbon tax legislation: they want to kill manufacturing industry in this country.

The truth is that this government, unlike its predecessor, fully supports a vibrant and innovative manufacturing industry. In August the Leader of the Opposition continued his scaremongering on manufacturing when he said:

We aren't going to stop using steel under a carbon tax, it's just that it's much more likely to be imported steel than locally made steel.

That was stated in an interview on Radio MTR on 23 August 2011. Do not let the facts get in the way of a good story! The truth is that steel manufacturers BlueScope and OneSteel have both said the carbon price will have no impact on their competitiveness. The government will shield locally-made steel from 94.5 per cent of the impact of a carbon price. A $300 million steel transformation plan will provide further assistance to BlueScope and OneSteel to invest and innovate in steel manufacturing operations.

In an interview on the Sunrise program on 14 July, the Leader of the Opposition said:

This carbon tax is going to drive the cost of living for vulnerable pensioners up and up and up.

The reality, of course, is completely different. The government is providing assistance to help meet any price impacts for pensioners. That assistance will be permanent. In my own seat, more than 22,100 pensioners will receive an extra $338 per year for singles and up to $510 per year for couples in their pension payments. More than 11,400 families in Banks will receive household assistance through their family assistance payments of up to, per year, $110 per eligible child for families receiving family tax benefit A and up to $69 for families receiving family tax benefit B. More than 1,400 single parents in Banks will get an extra $289 per year in increased income support. They will also receive assistance through increased family payments.

More than 3,200 job seekers in Banks will get up to $218 extra per year if they are single and $390 per year if they are couples. Students, depending on the rate and the type of payment they receive, will get up to $177 per year. More than 2,300 self-funded retirees will receive an extra $338 per year if they are single and up to $510 if they are couples. It is expected that the carbon price will add 0.7 per cent to the consumer price index. The impact of the GST on the CPI was 2.5 per cent. The household assistance package will directly assist those who need it and it will not—I repeat: it will not—drive up the cost of living for vulnerable pensioners.

Why did The Leader of the Opposition continue his claim on the impact of the carbon price on pensioners even after it had been disproved? On 8 September, he said at a seniors forum in Tumbi Umbi, 'The compensation to pensioners is temporary; the tax is permanent.' The truth is that the government will provide permanent increases in pensions and benefits. There will be lump sum payments from May to June 2012 followed by increases in fortnightly payments from March 2013. Pensions, allowances and family benefits will then keep pace with the cost of living, as they are indexed in line with the consumer price index. I am appalled by the Leader of the Opposition's deceit and disingenuous claims, which are all aimed at hurting people.

The Leader of the Opposition continues to utilise simplistic arguments squashed into mindless sound bites. The Leader of the Opposition is playing a game of misleading the public. Again this was demonstrated in an interview on 7 July on Radio 2SM when he said:

One of the things that people haven't quite twigged to is that carbon dioxide is invisible, it's weightless and it's odourless, how are we going to police these emissions?

The reality is that Australian corporations have been reporting their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since July 2008 under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007. When the Leader of the Opposition's colleague the member for Wentworth introduced this legislation into parliament he said: 'The bill I am introducing today lays the foundation for Australia's emissions trading scheme. Robust data reported under this bill will form the basis of emissions liabilities under emissions trading.' Even after details of the carbon price were released, the Leader of the Opposition has continued to make false claims and grand assertions, such as, 'The thing about the carbon tax is that it will clean out people's wallets and it will wipe out jobs big time.' He said that on 15 August 2011 at Parliament House. Treasury modelling shows that there will be an extra 1.6 million jobs by 2020 under a carbon price while gross national income per person in today's dollars will be $9,000 higher. The Leader of the Opposition's irresponsible scare campaign continues. Last week in parliament he said:

The New South Wales Treasury modelling—

and this was modelling originally undertaken for the New South Wales Labor government when Michael Costa was the Treasurer of New South Wales—

predicts that 31,000 jobs will be lost in New South Wales by 2030 as a result of the carbon tax …

Not surprisingly, the truth is different. The New South Wales Treasury commissioned modelling by Frontier Economics in August this year under the New South Wales Liberal government. Frontier's report finds employment in New South Wales will grow to 2030 under a carbon price, but by 0.45 per cent less than it would without a carbon price. Modelling by federal Treasury shows 400,000 extra jobs will be created in New South Wales by 2020 with a carbon price.

Recently I have been receiving emails from constituents on the opposition's latest fatuous claim that Australian taxpayers will spend an estimated $3.5 billion in 2020 to buy up foreign carbon credits. Naturally the reality is quite different. When the carbon price mechanism moves to an emissions trading scheme, the government will sell a fixed number of carbon permits each year to polluters covered by the scheme. Polluters who do not buy enough Australian permits to meet their obligations will then have to either reduce their pollution or buy international permits up to 50 per cent of their liability. It will be the polluters who buy the international permits to meet their carbon price mechanism obligations, not the government.

Earlier in the debate, the member for Hasluck complained that a constituent in his electorate said they would no longer be able to afford the electricity that they need for a heart condition during summer. The member should not be fuelling their fears; he should be honest with his constituent and comfort them. The government will introduce a new essential medical equipment payment from 1 July 2012 which will help eligible concession card holders who have high electricity usage as a result of equipment they need to use in their home to help manage their disability or medical condition.

The essential medical equipment payment will provide $140 per year to the 110,000 eligible concession card holders who have high electricity use due to the equipment they need to help manage their disability or medical condition. That $140 is expected to cover the entire impact of the cost of running a kidney dialysis machine, which is the highest-energy-use machine expected to be covered. They are the facts. So let us have a debate on the facts—not on false facts, facts that are manufactured to try to support a particular view.

I think another point needs to be made in relation to the carbon price and this argument about an emissions trading scheme: bipartisanship went out with the election of the member for Warringah as the Leader of the Opposition. It was John Howard who took an emissions trading scheme on behalf of the conservatives to the 2000 election. It was the member for Wentworth who supported an emissions trading scheme for the former Prime Minister Mr Rudd. It was politics that led the opposition to split in relation to their support for an emissions trading scheme.

That is what we are confronting here today: a campaign of fear. It is easier to run a negative campaign, a campaign of fear, than to actually have a debate on the facts. At the end of the day, this is a defining debate, and the opposition stands condemned. I know that there are people on the other side who support a price on carbon and who support an emissions trading scheme. There is not unanimity there but there is an acceptance of the collective view and the majority view on their side of politics. Let's have an honest debate, not a dishonest debate. Let's argue the facts; I think the facts speak for themselves. There is only one way forward and that is to support this legislation.