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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10136

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (18:36): It is an honour to stand before the parliament tonight and follow through on what I promised my electorate I would do. That was along with 148—maybe 147, if you want to argue the point—other members in this House, who all went to the last election promising that there would not be a carbon tax. I am happy to stand here tonight and honour my undertaking. I wish those opposite would do the same. In fact, my electorate and electorates right around Australia wish Labor members would actually do what they promised. They still have ringing in their ears the deceitful words of a Prime Minister who got elected by stooging the Australian public by promising, 'There will not a carbon tax under the government I lead'.

The Prime Minister has rightly been attacked for making such a blatant and calculated statement so late in the election campaign and clearly motivated by the hesitation of many thousands of Australian voters who believed in their hearts that you could not quite take the Prime Minister at her word. After the backflip involving the abandonment of Kevin Rudd's climate tax arrangement and Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, people were not convinced—and we on this side of the House understood. That is why there were repeated challenges to the Gillard government, its ministers and the Prime Minister to be frank and straight with the Australian public about their intentions concerning a carbon tax.

The Leader of the Opposition, I think at least a dozen times, highlighted what we understood was the secret agenda of the Labor Party and of Prime Minister Gillard and her ministers. That was to sneak in, slip-slide into office, hope that no-one really challenged them on their intentions with the carbon tax and go and do it anyway in the spirit of what Peter Garrett once outlined before the 2007 election—just get in, do what you need to do and then do whatever you feel like afterwards. That was the concern the Australian public had. So, staring down the barrel of a camera, just as I am doing now, the Prime Minister sought to reassure Australian voters that there would be no carbon tax under a government she would lead.

That was designed to remove the hesitation that so many Australian voters had about what Labor was really planning, and because of that I am certain that numbers of voters in many electorates across Australia thought: 'Well, okay; that's as black-and-white as it gets. If that's what the Prime Minister of Australia, albeit one that has only just arrived, is going to say, staring down the lens of a camera, maybe we could take her at her word.' That proved not to be the case. So a government was formed, a Prime Minister was re-elected by one of the most calculated deceptions, which exercised a great democratic deficit—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The honourable member for Dunkley well knows that it is outside the standing orders—in particular standing order 90—for him to accuse the Prime Minister of a calculated deception. I require him to withdraw.

Mr BILLSON: I thought 'lie' was the word, but I am not using that and I will withdraw if that language is too strong.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It refers to imputations or improper motives. Have you withdrawn?

Mr BILLSON: Yes, I have, and you are right, Mr Deputy Speaker; I was accusing the Prime Minister of improper motive. That was exactly my point, so if that offends the standing orders I do apologise, because that was precisely what I was doing.

What happened after that reassurance? People voted, believing the Prime Minister. So a government was formed, and I must say that in this House of Representatives there are a number of Labor members who, on the basis of that reassurance, which has been proven not to be reliable, now sit in this place. There are elected Labor members here under false pretences, and the Australian public has not forgiven the Gillard government, the Prime Minister herself or, I would say, a number of the Labor members who went out to their electorates promising there would be no carbon tax under a government that the Prime Minister would lead.

So I am here tonight speaking in support of the exact undertakings I gave my electorate prior to the election and during the campaign and I just wish the Labor members would do the same. What has happened with one of the most extraordinary, not even subtle, about-faces for political self-interest that I can remember is that it has really rattled and unsettled the Australian community, and it has really caused an enormous chill to run through the Australian small business community. This manoeuvring by the Gillard Labor government has been very poor in its creation, and I have touched on what I think was an extraordinary democratic deficit in the way in which it has been brought about. It is now being perpetrated with a conscious and intentional disregard of the impact of these actions on a very important part of the Australian community—that is, the small business community.

Despite all of the carve outs and compensation arrangements that are touched upon and are a part of this bundle of bills that are before the House, the small business community has been completely ignored. More than two million small businesses and family enterprises will all face increased costs with no direct support, having been ignored by the Gillard Labor government. It is as clear as night following day and certain as to what the impact of this will be that the Gillard government is not on the side of small business, because if it were it would have factored small business's circumstances into its approach. Instead, despite a chorus of concern from the small business community about the added cost to its energy requirements and all of the inputs that will build and compound at every step and every stage of the production and supply service chain, no compensation in any direct sense has been provided to guard against the risk to jobs and small business viability that this carbon tax creates.

People in my electorate, as they are right across Australia, are wondering why the government is prepared to risk their jobs just to try to secure their own—why the Prime Minister is trying to secure her position by risking the jobs of many hardworking Australians and the viability of small businesses and the livelihoods of people operating and managing them. This dismissive attitude reared its head just recently, quite remarkably, in the Hon. Greg Combet's speech to the Press Club. He sought to argue that there were a number of myths surrounding the debate about the carbon tax, and he chose particularly to say—and I think quite recklessly in the way he described it—that it was a myth that small businesses are in some kind of jeopardy from the carbon tax. He went on to describe how he thought that the cost impact on them would be modest, which I found quite a remarkable statement to make given that, while the government has done modelling on households solely for the purpose of assisting Labor MPs to sell this Labor policy in their electorates, no effort has been made to model the impact of a carbon tax on different sectors of the economy and particularly on small businesses and family enterprises. But despite that lack of any evidence, Minister Combet still sought to say to anybody who had done that work and arrived at conclusions that were unhelpful for the government that they were wrong and he was right. In fact, he went and distorted some of the material that had been provided to him by COSBOA, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, who actually had been begging the minister to do some analysis on the impact of the carbon tax and provided some basic figures against which it hoped the government would do the work that it should have done long ago.

Instead of using that material as an input to enable the government to get off its backside and actually do the work that it should have done a long time ago, Minister Combet waved that input data around as if it were the conclusion of some analysis and then said, 'Look, the impact was so minuscule, what are you worrying about?' But as if to be as insulting as he possibly could be, he went on to say:

But the fundamental point is that the cost is modest—

he is talking about the carbon tax, despite having no evidence to back that up—

and that it can be passed on to customers as small businesses are typically not trade exposed.

I found that a very fascinating statement. He is saying that it can be passed on to customers. These are very price-sensitive customers already groaning under increasing cost-of-living pressures that have been overseen by this government, but somehow those customers will be ready to soak up even more cost increases. But then he went on to make some of the most extraordinary statements I have ever heard. He said:

A drycleaner is not competing against drycleaners in China.


Drivers cannot get their cars serviced in India.

What remarkable statements when, at the same time he is making those points, elsewhere in the same speech and in this place, and anywhere else where a Labor minister can get anywhere near a microphone, they talk about the power of the price signal in their carbon tax to reduce demand. The very purpose of a carbon tax is to put financial harm and hardship in the way of people hoping that they will consume less of what it is that the carbon tax will be applied to.

He then basically says, 'Well, if you're in the dry-cleaning business, don't worry about it. Dry-cleaning won't be competing against drycleaners in China.' But the price signal will make sure that people think twice about taking their clothing or their household items to a drycleaner, because of the cost. Why? Because that is the design of the scheme. It is a price signal designed to reduce demand. Reduced demand means less work, less turnover, less activity for that small business drycleaner, yet the government seems to be completely indifferent or oblivious to that fact. In making his argument he is basically saying: 'Well, when it suits the government, the price signal of the carbon tax just doesn't apply, it just doesn't matter. Unless you are trade exposed, it doesn't matter.' He said:

Drivers cannot get their cars serviced in India.

But go and talk to any car maintenance and repair operation in Australia and they will tell you people are not getting their cars serviced. They will tell you they are not getting them converted to LPG, because they are concerned about what might come next from this government, given that when they look to the nation's capital they cannot see an adult in charge! They know that their turnover is dipping, their costs are going up, their commitments in rent and equipment continue, their inputs will be more expensive and their business viability is being placed at risk at a time of difficult economic circumstances—and yet you cannot get the government to give two hoots about those people.

That is why you look at the impact of what the government is doing. You look at survey after survey where you see this incompetent government is hollowing out confidence. It is hollowing out people's expectations of future prosperity, future growth potential. And does the government care? No, because they then say, 'But look at the macroeconomic figures: we're at trend growth now.' They are happy to say that we are the envy of the rest of the world—that is the language you keep hearing—because we have got an absolutely boisterous and prosperous mining sector. Apparently the joy there wipes out any concern that might happen anywhere else in the economy. That is the government's basic defence: we have mining, therefore it doesn't matter how the rest of the economy is functioning.

I will share with the government what is going on. In the retail area they are dealing with anxious consumers uncertain about what the government is on about and absolutely clear that the government is not confident about its own policies because it will not have them properly analysed. Consumers are saving money. In a country where Australian households ordinarily 'save', and I use that term in inverted commas, negative 0.5 per cent of their household income—that is, they extend their credit cards and their mortgages and their lines of finance to improve their standard of living—right now about $10.50 of every $100 a household earns is being saved. It is being saved because of the anxiety people have about this cost-of-living pressure that never seems to stop. The bills are getting bigger, the discretionary income is getting squeezed. They are cocooning against the impact of bad government policy, and we are debating a package of bills that could never be more totemic of a bad government policy.

This is not about whether you want to take action on climate change; that debate has been had. Both sides of the parliament, just as they agreed there would be no carbon tax after the last election, committed to a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. The government's plan hurts and harms everybody, every business, every activity and every point of expenditure. Everywhere where energy is consumed or embedded in anything you might do at any time of the day, for as long as you could possibly imagine, will cost more. The hope is that it will hurt so much you will change your ways. Regardless of your capacity to change, regardless of your capacity or opportunity to adapt or to reduce your emissions, you will cop it anyway.

The coalition's position is: why not work with those best placed to achieve abatements? Why not work with those able to reduce their emissions at least cost and provide some incentives for them to do so? So I say to this government: you stooged the electorate, but they are a wake-up to you guys. They know that you are not competent even at putting foil and fluff into the rooves of houses. How on earth can they have confidence in you implementing what your own side boasts will be a gargantuan change to the way we live and to our economy? And they think that you guys can get this right! I don't think so and many in the electorate don't. So I ask the government and the government members: why don't you do what you said you would do? Why don't you honour your promise to the Australian public? Why don't you make sure there is no carbon tax under the government the Prime Minister leads? (Time expired)