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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8516


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (13:39): President Ronald Reagan once criticised government economic policy as policy which goes along like this: if it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; and if it stops moving, subsidise it. This morning Labor went through stages 1 and 2: they imposed the tax and then they wanted to make sure that things would stop moving, so they whacked on massive regulation. Now we are dealing with stage 3 of that process in bad economic policy, which is to come up with a subsidy to deal with the hurt and the absolutely devastating impact that will come from the first two stages, namely a bad Labor-Greens tax and massive regulatory burdens—which, of course, will make Australia less competitive internationally, will cost jobs, will help steel manufacturers in other parts of the world take market share away from steel manufacturers in Australia and will help higher emitting manufacturers in other countries take market share away from lower emitting manufacturers in Australia. This of course will lead to a shifting of emissions to other parts of the world, where emissions will be higher for the same level of economic output than they would have been had the activity taken place in Australia.

Manufacturing workers across Australia understand this very well. That is why, when the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, travelled across Australia speaking with workers in manufacturing business after manufacturing business about the impact of this bad and toxic carbon tax on their jobs, they got it. They knew that Labor were imposing a cost on production which was not going to be faced by their competitors in China. They understood that Labor were acting with the Greens to make Australian manufacturing businesses less competitive internationally—and for no reason, because it is not going to lead to a reduction in global emissions. On the contrary, it is actually going to lead to an increase in global emissions. So there they were, manufacturing workers across Australia, being asked to make a sacrifice which they know, which the Australian Labor Party in their heart of hearts know, which all of us know, will not actually make a difference to the global environment. That clearly was a problem for the Labor Party.

It was also a problem for one particular union boss named Paul Howes, the National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union. As he was travelling behind in the wake of Mr Abbott, as he was travelling from manufacturing business to manufacturing business, he got the very clear feedback from his members that they, along with the overwhelming majority of manufacturing workers across Australia, hate this carbon tax because they know that it will cost jobs, that it will lead to lower real wages—the Treasury modelling tells us so—and that their families will face increased cost-of-living pressures.

You might remember, Mr Acting Deputy President Furner, because I know you are a student of the media on a daily basis, that a few months ago Mr Howes was there on the front page of the Australian, sending a message to his members. But he was doing more than sending a message to his members, he was sending a message to the Prime Minister, whom he helped install just over a year ago. He said, 'If this carbon tax costs one single job I will oppose it.' Some people might ask, 'Who cares what Paul Howes thinks?'—I am sure some people on the inside of the Labor Party would ask 'Who cares what Paul Howes thinks?' I know that the Greens would ask 'Who cares what Paul Howes thinks?' But of course the Prime Minister was in a bit of a bind, because she needed the Greens to be able to hold onto power, she needed to go along with the Greens in pushing the carbon tax—even though she had promised before the last election that there would be no carbon tax—and she needed Paul Howes in order to be able to stay on as leader. The Prime Minister knew that if Paul Howes was going to send a message to Labor members of parliament that they needed to vote against this carbon tax because it was going to cost jobs then she was going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble. And that, of course, is the context for this. This package we are dealing with today is really the price Julia Gillard had to pay to Paul Howes in order to buy his silence. Inadequate as this package is to deal with the damage that will be inflicted on the Australian manufacturing sector through the carbon tax, this is the price that Prime Minister Gillard had to pay so that Paul Howes stopped making comments on the front pages of the newspapers about how bad this tax would be for jobs.

You can understand why Paul Howes was feeling a little bit intimidated: he was following Mr Abbott from one manufacturing business to the next and Mr Abbott was getting standing ovations from workers at those manufacturing businesses because he was standing up for them against this Labor government, which does not care about workers. I walked into these big manufacturing businesses with Tony Abbott and I could not believe it. I have never experienced anything like it—standing ovations from workers for Tony Abbott, because he was standing up for them in the face of a government that does not care and has sold its soul to the Greens political party.

But it was not just Prime Minister Gillard who was in the gun sight of those workers, it was also Mr Howes. Mr Howes at some point is going to be up for re-election as the national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, and that will happen before Ms Gillard is up for re-election as Prime Minister of Australia—that is, if things go according to plan. One never knows in relation to this. Mr Howes could not ignore what his members were thinking; he could not ignore the fact that his members, manufacturing workers across Australia, were completely against the carbon tax. They understand that this tax will push up the cost of living, make us less competitive internationally and cost us jobs. He could not ignore it, so he went on the front page of the papers and said, 'If this is going to cost one single job, I will make sure that my members in parliament are going to be against it.'

Can the government give Mr Howes a guarantee that the carbon tax, which was passed earlier today, will not cost a single job? No, of course they cannot. Try as they may to point to the Treasury modelling, that modelling never assessed the impact of the carbon tax on jobs. There has been a lot of dishonest spin, from the Prime Minister down. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy have all dishonestly claimed that Treasury modelling shows that the carbon tax will not have an impact on jobs. They have also said that jobs will continue to grow.

The truth of the matter is that Treasury, at the direction of the government, has included an assumption in its modelling of the impact of the carbon tax that effectively means that the government is assuming that full employment will continue irrespective of a carbon tax. Treasury has included a technical assumption that the so-called non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, NAIRU, will remain constant over the long term and will not be impacted by the changes caused by the carbon tax.

Common-sense logic will tell you that that is not the way things work in the real world. Common-sense logic will tell you that if manufacturing businesses in China and other places become more competitive and we become less competitive and manufacturing businesses in China and other places take market share away from us, clearly that is going to have an impact on jobs in Australia. By the same token, common-sense logic will tell you that, for businesses in Australia competing with imports from overseas, if those imports from overseas become cheaper and more cost effective and more competitive because manufacturers in other parts of the world do not face the same cost increases as the manufacturing businesses in Australia will under the Labor-Greens carbon tax, clearly that is going to have an impact on jobs.

Labor of course does not want people—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): Order! I remind the senator that we are debating the Steel Transformation Plan Bill at this stage. I have been patiently listening to your contribution and I am yet to hear any deliberation or input in regard to this particular bill. So I draw you back to the intent and content of this particular bill.

Senator CORMANN: My contribution is entirely consistent with this legislation because it goes directly to the reason the government has put this forward in the first place. The government has moved to injure, hurt and damage manufacturing businesses across Australia. Then one of Labor's own, the national secretary of a major union that has significant sway with the Labor caucus and with Prime Minister Gillard, because he helped deliver her the leadership numbers, expressed concern about the damage this carbon tax is going to do to manufacturing and the impact it is going to have on jobs. This bill we are debating today is the price that Prime Minister Gillard has to pay in order to buy Paul Howes's silence.

This bill is a very inadequate attempt to avoid damage to Australia's manufacturing businesses. Incidentally, it focuses on only two businesses. This bill provides $300 million in assistance to two businesses: BlueScope and OneSteel. What about all the other manufacturing businesses that are going to be hurt by Labor's carbon tax? Why is there no assistance for the workers in all the other manufacturing businesses that are going to be damaged by the job-destroying carbon tax that Labor has pushed through this parliament? The reason is that Paul Howes's political problem is his re-election, and the problem is particularly acute in the steel industry, particularly when it comes to BlueScope and OneSteel. That is why we have this piece of legislation in front of us.

This government broke a most emphatic promise not to introduce the carbon tax and it is going to inflict significant damage on workers and working families across Australia. That is why they are introducing this bill. This is the bill which is designed to buy Paul Howes's silence. And Paul Howes has been silent. He has sold out all the other manufacturing workers across Australia. He does not care about manufacturing workers outside of BlueScope and OneSteel, obviously, because he is quite happy for them to cop the full brunt of the Labor-Greens carbon tax. I say to Mr Howes, as I say to every single Labor senator in this chamber: the workers of Australia condemn you for this. Manufacturing workers across Australia will condemn you for what you have done in this chamber today. They will judge you harshly at the next election, because workers across Australia know that you have sacrificed them on the altar of staying in power courtesy of the Greens.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator CORMANN: Senator Polley is interjecting. I met with some manufacturing businesses in Tasmania. The owner of a manufacturing business in Devonport was on the front page of the local newspaper saying how this Labor carbon tax was going to cost jobs and how it was going to make him less competitive internationally. You know what happened? The local Labor member for Braddon, Mr Sidebottom, got stuck into his constituent. Instead of arguing the case for his constituency in Canberra, instead of arguing the case for good public policy, instead of standing up for jobs, instead of standing up for workers, he was selling the Canberra line back in Devonport. He was getting stuck into the local constituent. That is why Senator Polley is jumping up and down now, because the manufacturing workers in Devonport are not getting this assistance, the manufacturing workers in Launceston are not getting protection from this job-destroying Labor-Greens carbon tax. This is a dirty little deal between the Prime Minister, who was desperate to keep Paul Howes sweet, and Paul Howes, who is running for re-election as national secretary of the Labor Party, who could not possibly go and see his members at BlueScope and OneSteel and say to them, 'I have sold you out.' This is a pure numbers game.

Labor know that their carbon tax, which was passed in the Senate today with Labor and Green support, is a job-destroying tax. They know it is a tax which will push up the cost of everything. They know it is a tax which will make Australian manufacturing less competitive. They know it is a tax which will cost jobs. They know it is a tax which will see lower real wages. And all that while emissions continue to grow according to the government's own Treasury modelling. Manufacturing workers across Australia are entitled to ask: 'Why are you picking out these two businesses and giving them special treatment, even though it will not properly protect them from the carbon tax? What about all the other manufacturing businesses across Australia?' They are very legitimate questions. The only reason the government has put forward this bill is because Prime Minister Gillard had to buy Paul Howes's silence.

It is very much as President Regan said some time ago on another government's policy on the economy: if it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; if it stops moving, subsidise it. Labor have gone through the three phases in one day. They have taxed. They were worried that would not stop things in their tracks enough, so they regulated. And now here they are going to subsidise in order to fix up some of the mess. This is an inadequate way of fixing up the mess. This legislation will not fix up the mess. This is a cosy little deal for a union boss who got the Prime Minister into her office and who is now important and necessary to keep the Prime Minister in her office.

There is no way that the coalition can be party to something like this. What should happen is that the Labor Party should agree to take their job-destroying carbon tax to an election. If Labor think that this is such a good idea, if Labor think the policy is so good, if Labor think that they can explain to manufacturing workers across Australia why they are asked to make a sacrifice that is not going to make a difference to the environment, then why wouldn't you take it to an election? That is exactly what Labor should be doing. But of course Labor are frightened of the Australian people. They were frightened of the Australian people before the last election, which is why Prime Minister Gillard said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' in order to get across the line. She knew that if she had not said that, chances were that she was going to lose government. And after the election, having made that promise, Prime Minister Gillard was too weak to persist. She was too dependent on the votes of the Greens to cling onto power to do the right thing.

Now we have Senator Conroy come into the chamber, who has worked very hard to avoid the carbon tax debate all day. Senator Conroy made sure that he did not have to vote for this carbon tax this morning. Senator Conroy will be there as leader of the Labor Party in the Senate, hopefully in opposition, and will, along with opposition leader Bill Shorten, vote to rescind the carbon tax after the next election. Let there be no doubt that the next election will be a referendum on this very bad, job-destroying tax. If we win the next election we will rescind it. If there is no carbon tax then there is no need for this sort of mop-up subsidy attempt, which is actually not going to do anything to protect either steelworkers or any other manufacturing workers from the job-destroying impacts of this tax.

We have Senator Carr here, and he knows that this tax which Labor has passed today will make manufacturing businesses in China more competitive than manufacturing businesses in Australia. He knows that higher emitting manufacturing businesses in China will become more competitive than lower emitting businesses in Australia. He knows that as minister for industry he is complicit in making Australian businesses less competitive than higher polluting businesses in other parts of the world. Minister Carr, Minister Wong, Minister Sherry and Minister Ludwig have all sold out to the Greens. The only minister in this chamber who did not sold out to the Greens today was Minister Conroy. We all know that he does not agree with the carbon tax. We all know that he shares our judgment that this is a bad tax based on a lie.

Debate interrupted.