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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11382


Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (13:24): We are here to debate 19 bills of betrayal that represent the triumph of political vice over policy virtue, bills of betrayal that sacrifice the prosperity of the Australian people at the altar of the Prime Minister's personal survival in her job. Everyone in this House knows that this government is in extremis. Everyone in this House is asking the same question, particularly those opposite, in relation to the Prime Minister's standing in the opinion polls: how low can things go? You would think that in such a circumstance the Prime Minister would observe the basic lesson of politics: when you are in a hole, stop digging. But, no, there she is, shovel in hand, burrowing ever deeper.

The political fortunes of the Prime Minister are a matter for her; that is her business. Of much greater concern is the fact that this misbegotten tax will bury the economic fortunes of Australian families and small business. Every Australian household will be whacked by this tax 100 times a day. They will be whacked every time they turn on a light, they will be whacked every time their kids turn on the Xbox and they will be whacked every time they go to the pub or to the footy. Earlier this year, radio MTR in Melbourne indulged in a bit of satire that would have been hilarious if it were not so tragic. They adapted to the carbon tax debate a famous song by Sting. Their adapted words were:

Every breath you take

Every cent you make

With every promise they break

There'll be no escape

She'll be taxing you

Every single day

More and more you pay

Carbon tax

You obey

It's the Labor way

She'll be taxing you

For satire to be successful it must be anchored in truth. Truer words than those have never been spoken. Of course, the Prime Minister has promised up hill and down dale that the compensation scheme will leave nine out of 10 Australian families better off. Really! Does anyone really believe that a government that could not deliver a simple home insulation program can insulate Australian families from the impacts of a carbon tax that will reach into the wallets of Australian families every minute of every day of every month of every year once these bills are passed?

My kids are not present in the gallery and you will pleased to know, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, that at their young age they do not yet read Hansard so I can let you in on a secret: there is no Santa Claus. I worry that some on the other side of this House still believe that old St Nick exists so I feel compelled to inform the idealists opposite that there is no magic solution to render their scheme painless. That is because their carbon tax is intended to modify behaviour through premeditated economic pain. You do not need to take our word for it on this side of the House. The Prime Minister said as much in February when she declared that the very point of pricing carbon was to have that effect.

This tax will drive up the price of energy. It is intended to. Electricity bills paid by Australian families and businesses will spike by at least 10 per cent. Gas prices will climb by nine per cent, and that is just in the first year alone. But it is not just household budgets that will take a hit. You do not need to be a Nobel prize winning economist to figure out that the basic impact of the carbon tax on businesses throughout Australia will be significant. If you raise business operating costs, you kill jobs. If you raise business operating costs, you hinder the ability of Australian firms to compete overseas. It will mean that businesses will hire fewer and lay off more, and in some instances those increased prices will be enough to push companies over the edge. Some shops will close and some factories will go belly up.

Throughout Australia this tax will trigger a giant sucking sound as jobs are siphoned offshore to places where foreign governments are smart enough not to engage in stand-alone economic masochism. This Prime Minister obviously thinks that she is the political equivalent of Star Trek's Captain Kirk. She thinks she is boldly going where no government has gone before but, as we know, there is a fine line between boldness and complete recklessness. The Prime Minister is acting like the proverbial fool—rushing in where angels and every other advanced national economy fear to tread. In the United States the Obama administration could not pass the Waxman-Markey emissions trading scheme bill even when the Democrats controlled both houses of congress. But wait. In answer to a question in question time the minister for climate change seized upon California as a shining example for emissions trading. I know fiscal know-how is not exactly this government's strong suit, but someone needs to let the minister know that America's so-called golden state is not so golden after all. California has an unemployment rate of 12 per cent and a state budget deficit of US$26 billion. Is that really an example the minister is seeking to emulate?

And then of course there is China, so often heralded by the minister as an inspiring model of carbon correctness. Yet documents obtained by the Institute of Public Affairs show that the government's claims about China's higher carbon tax levels are bogus. In reality China's carbon price is about three-quarters of what the government intends to impose on Australia against the public's will. You do not need to take my word for it; you do not even need to take the word of a member of this side of the House for it. During this past April former Keating government minister Gary Johns penned a piece for the Australian entitled 'Dodgy figures, wrong questions plague debate'. In his article Johns wrote:

The Chinese must think Gillard a fool. Vivid Economics—

which did the study on which the government's claims were based—

has been colourful with its analysis. They wildly overstate China's and wildly understate Australia's implicit carbon price.

For every older coal fired plant shut down in China over the past three years two new ones have been built and as a result Chinese coal consumption has increased 17 per cent per year over the same period. After all, who does the Prime Minister think is buying our coal and what does she think they are doing with it? The misleading and deceptive campaign waged by this government gives new meaning to that famous quip by Mark Twain:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

But this habit of playing fast and loose with the truth is not limited to dodgy data about China's carbon price. We all recall how the Prime Minister heavied the member for Griffith into postponing his emissions trading scheme after the shambolic Copenhagen climate conference collapsed in disarray; we all recall how the Prime Minister then moved seamlessly from procrastination to prevarication, from overt delay to outright deception; and we all recall how this Prime Minister gazed into the television cameras during last year's federal election campaign and vowed to the Australian public: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' But when the Prime Minister needed to seal the deal for political support with the Greens she threw her 'no carbon tax' promise overboard and her personal credibility went over the side as well. And then there is last year's palace coup. Only weeks before presiding over the political defenestration of the member for Griffith, this Prime Minister assured us that there was more chance of her becoming full-forward for the Western Bulldogs than challenging for the Labor leadership and prime ministership.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a supreme irony, isn't it, that the Prime Minister probably does have a greater chance of becoming full-forward for the Western Bulldogs than of remaining Prime Minister till the next election. With the legislation currently before this House we have a discredited Prime Minister leading a discredited government to impose a discredited carbon tax on a disinclined Australian people. If the Prime Minister told the parliament the sun was shining, members would be forgiven for ringing the Bureau of Meteorology for a second opinion. The late great Ronald Reagan once said that his guiding principle when negotiating with the Soviets was to trust but verify. In this case, a slight adaptation of that adage is required because this Prime Minister's history is so full of backflips, U-turns, broken promises and shattered political promises, the track record is so full of cheat and retreat, that the only healthy attitude one can take is to distrust and check again and again. That is why I cast such a jaundiced eye on the Prime Minister's promises of a clean, green renewable energy future funded by the revenue of her carbon tax, which she promised would never occur under the government she led.

In his speech on this bill the Leader of the Opposition noted the United Kingdom study released in March this year which found the cost of every job created in the renewable energy sector was that 3.7 existing jobs were lost, and he went on to make that point in great detail. The true believers on the other side of this debate are afflicted by a curious mix of economic ignorance and Messianic zeal. They are peddling pixie dust policies of wishful thinking and utopian dreaming, and for the Australia public it is a toxic combination. The only thing in which this Prime Minister clearly and truly believes is her own personal aggrandisement. This Prime Minister is willing to do any deal, bend in any direction, assume any political position in order to eke out her political survival. This legislation is pure political calculation designed to purchase Greens support, upon which her government depends. In the final equation the carbon tax is just, for this Prime Minister, the cost of doing business with Senator Bob Brown.

This is an exercise in cynicism and should be contrasted with the coalition's common-sense direct action program. Our direct action plan will lower Australians' carbon emissions by the same five per cent that the government claims, without blowing a gaping hole in the bottom line of Australian businesses and household budgets of Australian families. The Leader of the Opposition articulated this in his speech when the debate on these bills began, when he said:

There is a much better way to reduce emissions and the better way to reduce emissions is to work with the grain of the Australian people … to further encourage the intelligent, sensible things that Australians and Australian enterprises are doing now to reduce emissions.

The Prime Minister tried to claim in the debate on these bills that history would vindicate her. She asked members to think of being on the right side of history. I am in no mood to be lectured by a 'Julia-come-lately' on economic reform. During the 1980s and 1990s the Prime Minister was, of course, a rising star in Labor's political firmament. As president of the Australian Union of Students and later as leading light of the Socialist Left faction she certainly had the power of Labor's pulpit. Yet I do not recall her voicing support at the time for the Hawke-Keating free market reforms that received bipartisan support from the coalition. And given her past socialist leanings, I would be astonished to discover that all along she has been a closet devotee of Milton Friedman.

The Prime Minister's audacious claim to history rings hollow and rings hollow to all who heard it because her own political history is so hollow. At the last election nearly 84 per cent of voters cast their ballots for parties that were opposed to a carbon tax. This Prime Minister has no mandate to impose this carbon tax. If the Prime Minister truly believed that a carbon tax is the way to go, the Prime Minister would do what John Howard did with the goods and services tax: show the courage of her convictions and seek the assent and the permission of the Australian people at the ballot box. The fact that this Prime Minister has not, and will not, really reveals her devious nature on this important policy before the parliament today. The Australian people were made a promise before the last election by this Prime Minister. This Prime Minister deliberately broke that promise.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The honourable member will withdraw the accusation of deliberately misleading.

Mr TONY SMITH: Withdraw 'deliberately misleading'?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes, you cannot say it was deliberate.

Mr TONY SMITH: I withdraw, Deputy Speaker, in deference to you.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member's time has expired.