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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 10280

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10:39): Elections are like contracts. When you sign a contract you keep your side of the deal or there will be repercussions—and where I come from, a handshake is as good as a contract, particularly among men and women of good honour. In an election when you make a promise you keep your side of the deal or there will be repercussions. All the Australian people want from this Prime Minister is for her to keep her side of the deal, to honour her solemn contract with the Australian people that there will be no carbon tax under the government she leads. That is not much to ask of any normal Prime Minister or any normal government. But there is nothing normal about this Labor government; there is nothing honourable about this government either. There is nothing normal or honourable about a Labor government which is turning its back on the Australian workers just to make sure the Greens will continue to support that dysfunctional government.

There is also a lot of talk around this place about mandates. Prime Minister Gillard has a very clear mandate. Like almost every other member in this place, Prime Minister Gillard campaigned to not introduce a carbon tax. Does anyone in this place, or out there listening around Australia, really believe that she would be the Prime Minister if she had promised to introduce such a tax just a week out from the election?

Unlike the Prime Minister, I believe in honouring my contracts—and I have a clear mandate from the people of Gippsland to vote against this tax, which even the Prime Minister acknowledged in her own speech will do absolutely nothing for the environment. I invite members to take a very close look at the speech the Prime Minister made in this place earlier this week. There is not a single mention in that speech of a measurable environmental outcome as a result of this carbon tax.

They used to come into this place and wax lyrical about saving Kakadu and saving the Great Barrier Reef. Those were myths, but at least they tried to pretend that their carbon tax would actually do something for the environment. In the Prime Minister's speech there is not one mention of a single environmental outcome that will be achieved from this carbon tax, and the people of Australia understand that. The people of Australia understand that Australia acting alone, with just 1.5 per cent of man-made global emissions, cannot do a single thing in terms of saving those Australian icons—if they even believe every single word of the doomsayers out there who are predicting such extraordinary environmental outcomes.

My contract, as I outlined in my first speech in this place, is that I will always ask myself: what is in the best interests of the people of Gippsland? What is in the best interests of the people who sent me here to represent them? The people in my community are at the absolute pointy end of this debate. For us, this is about our jobs; it is about our children's futures in our key industries like power generation, manufacturing, small business and all forms of agriculture. This is not some abstract debate about polar bears. It is about people in my community having a future in the Gippsland-Latrobe Valley region.

Unlike the government, I have given the people in my electorate a chance to have their say because I respect their opinions. Those opposite have been arrogant and dismissive. Anytime there has been a protest in this place, people have been harangued and bullied. We even had the undignified sight of the Leader of the House referring to protesters in this place as being of 'no consequence'. The arrogance in that statement will hang around this government's neck like a dead albatross until the next election. How dare a minister in this place describe people as being of no consequence.

The Prime Minister promised to wear out her shoe leather; she said she would go out there and consult on her carbon tax. Well, I have saved her a bit of time. I sent some postcards out to my electorate to give the people of the Latrobe Valley in particular the chance to have their say. I invited them to fill out a postcard and send Julia Gillard a message. I did not say what they had to put in their message; I just invited them to send Julia Gillard a message. It is interesting that I sent this postcard to the strongest Labor-voting parts of my electorate—Traralgon, Churchill and Morwell—and I have received, as you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, almost 900 responses. The pile here on my right is the pile against the carbon tax and the pile on my left is the pile in favour of the carbon tax. For the sake of the Hansard, we can measure the piles. The pile on the right, against the carbon tax, is about 20 centimetres high; and the pile on the left—well, we will be generous and say it is 1½ centimetres high. Thirty-two people were in favour of the carbon tax and about 870 were against the tax.

These are some of the messages from the people the government describes as being of no consequence. This is what these people are saying to me. Natasha from Traralgon said:

It means that my husband may lose his job at Hazelwood power station. We cannot provide to our children the simple things in life, like a good education, due to rising living expenses. Not good enough, Julia.

From Joanne in Tyers:

Small business is the backbone of this country and Julia Gillard will destroy this with a carbon tax, especially in the Latrobe Valley. The Latrobe Valley is a great place to live but without jobs people will go elsewhere. The Greens and Labor are only interested in city people.

From Malcolm in Morwell:

With the global financial crisis possibly getting worse now is not the time to introduce a carbon tax, which will create great unemployment. We must put the welfare of Australians first. This tax will not change the climate.

There are some very intelligent people in my electorate, I must say. Ian in Traralgon said:

Don't do it. People are struggling to pay their bills now. The cost of everything we do and buy will go up. This will make no difference to our pollution output. It's just a grab for cash to pay for your mistakes.

From Mal in Morwell:

As a self-funded retiree will you compensate me for the potential loss of value in my home? Come clean and put it to the vote.

Another, from Shaun in Traralgon, said:

Dear Julia, I am a CFMEU member. I feel I was misled at the last election—

Join the club, Shaun. Shaun felt he was misled. He goes on:

I work for Australian Paper and can only see the negatives for our industry and the local community.

From Nola in Churchill:

As a pensioner I don't want your carbon tax. Even though you say we will be compensated it will not be enough to give pensioners a reasonable lifestyle with all rising costs due to this unwanted or needed tax that was not voted for by the public.

And from Neville in Traralgon:

Julia, if you believe the population needs a carbon tax, call an election and see where you stand. It's a tax grab and will do nothing for the environment.

I could go on. There are many more. Geoff from Churchill says:

How can you sell coal to countries with no carbon emissions tax and shut down our power industry as we know it? It is a death warrant to Australian manufacturing and a leg-up to China.

Finally, from the Rayners at Hiamdale:

… very worried about the increasing cost to our dairy farm, which most likely would make it unviable. Australians, the ones I know, don't want a carbon tax. We already pay so many taxes we are concerned about putting off investors. I don't think it will make any difference to the environment.

If time allowed, I could go on for about two or three hours reading these messages to the chamber, and it would be a lot better than what the Prime Minister has managed so far. This Prime Minister has refused to listen to the people in my community. To give her some credit, the Prime Minister actually visited once. She went to a meeting behind closed doors but did not hold a forum and did not talk to a single person on the street about how they feel about this carbon tax.

I invite members opposite who would like to read some of the messages to come to my office at any time they like. I would like them to come along and I will make the messages available at the front desk.. They can read through the positive pile of messages and they can read through the negative pile, if they like. Quite frankly I do not expect to be knocked over in the rush, because members opposite have stopped listening. There seems to be a form of political deafness which has set in. They hear only what they want to hear and they bully, harangue and belittle any opposing views.

In her speech the Prime Minister tried to take some high moral ground, although how anyone can aspire to high moral ground after such a fundamental breach of trust is simply beyond me. The Prime Minister actually lectured this side of the House and told us that the reason we have a vote is so that every member in this place can be judged on where they stand on the issues of great national debate. I say to those opposite, and to the Prime Minister: there is also a reason why we have elections. We have elections so people can be judged. We have them so that people can be judged on their performance in the past, on whether they have kept their promises and on the policies they put forward in the future. I say to those opposite: judgment day is coming for you and this insidious carbon tax.

The Prime Minister also challenged those on this side of the House to be on the right side of history. I join with the Leader of the Opposition in calling on the Prime Minister to be on the right side of the truth. Prime Minister, you must deal with that fundamental breach of trust before you have any honour in the eyes of the Australian people. Unless you deal with that fundamental breach of trust, they will not believe a single word you tell them. The Australian people have simply stopped listening to a Prime Minister who refuses to apologise for such a fundamental breach of trust.

This carbon tax will go down in history with all those other great ideas that have come forward from this Prime Minister. We have had the home insulation debacle and the citizens assembly. What happened to the citizens assembly? Have I missed it? It must be coming soon. Then the Prime Minister promised no action on the carbon tax until she had built a lasting consensus. Well, I have a consensus; here is my consensus. These postcards show about 870 people against and 32 in favour. I have a consensus in Gippsland. Prime Minister, how is the consensus going? I ask you that very simple question.

What are some of the other great ideas from this Prime Minister? We have had the East Timor solution. Are there any progress reports on the East Timor solution? Hello, anyone on the other side; how is East Timor going? Then we have had the Malaysian people swap deal, which was thrown out by the High Court despite constant reassurances from the Prime Minister and her minister that their legal advice was sound. They were on very good legal grounds, they told us.

The Australian people are embarrassed that they have such an inept and incompetent Prime Minister who simply refuses to listen to their views. Instead of lecturing us, the Prime Minister should come into this place and apologise for the fundamental breach of trust and ask the Australian people for a mandate, before the next election, to introduce this tax. I have no problem with this government deciding to legislate this tax, but I have an enormous problem with this government deciding to do that without first seeking a mandate from the Australian people. That is the great folly of this tax and this government's approach to the Australian people. Time is very limited, but I would like to make a couple of other comments and briefly refer to this ridiculous proposition that somehow only 500 of these so-called biggest polluters will pay this tax. This tax will cascade through the Australian economy like a toxic waterfall and add costs to every Australian family. It will hurt small businesses, it will make Australian exporters less competitive and it will cost jobs. A classic example is the dairy farmers in my electorate. Dairy farmers are high energy users; they use a lot of power. It is estimated by the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria that it would be in the order of $5,000 extra per year for an average sized dairy farm. Dairy farmers are not going to get any compensation. Their competitors are not going to be hit with this tax. They sell into world export markets and they are going to have to wear that cost. And do you know how they will wear that cost, Mr Deputy Speaker? They will wear that cost by making sacrifices. Dairy farmers' families will find that the family holiday will not be on this year. That $5,000 will come straight off their household income. Then they will think, 'Perhaps we won't go shopping for runners at the local sports store, we might have to go to Kmart; we might be buying cheaper shoes.' This will have an impact on everyday Australians every day of their lives and this government is lying to the Australian people when it claims that only the 500 so-called biggest polluters will pay the tax. Everyone will pay the tax every day.

The people in my electorate do not want the government's household assistance package. They do not want transition plans. They want the decency of a job. The people in my community keep asking: 'Why is it okay for Australia to export coal to China, India, Korea and Japan to burn in their coal-fired power stations?' Why is it okay for a powerstation worker using Australian coal in those countries to have a job, but it is not okay for a Latrobe Valley powerstation worker to have his job using brown coal, that great natural resource of the Latrobe Valley. The day the government can explain that to me, just maybe I will start to listen to their reassurances in relation to this carbon tax.

I say to those opposite: take up the Prime Minister's challenge, because here is your opportunity to make history. Those opposite have a very clear choice. They can stand up for the workers that they used to represent—that the Labor Party used to take great pride in representing—by crossing this chamber and voting down this tax. If only one of them had the courage of their convictions—if only one of them had the courage to stand up for the workers—they could walk over to this side and vote down this tax. So, they can stand up for the workers, they can walk across this side of the House and vote down this tax, or they can blindly follow this Prime Minister to her own political grave.