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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8604


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (21:10): I think we all know that, in relation to the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011, there is only one reason that we are standing here today in this chamber debating this particular compensation package, and that is that today the Australian people witnessed the greatest fraud ever perpetrated upon them: they witnessed the passing of the carbon tax legislation. They witnessed Labor senators on that side of the chamber completely, totally and utterly betraying the policy position that the Labor Party took to the 2010 election, which was, as we all know—because we have stood here and said it time and again—'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' But what happened? The Labor Party, in order to form government, had to get into bed with the Australian Greens. Paul Sheehan, in his opinion column in the Sydney Morning Herald which was published under the banner headline 'Green by name, flaky by nature', said this:

The Greens are a fraudulent brand. There are not enough letters of the alphabet to encompass the image fraud this party is perpetrating on the electorate. It is simply not a party preoccupied with the environment.

That is the party that the Australian Labor Party formed government with, and as a result Australians witnessed today the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on them: the passing of the carbon tax legislation.

But, you see, the Labor Party had a small problem. In agreeing with the Greens to pass this toxic tax, they had upset a number of the unions that put the Labor Party into this place. For example, the great Paul Howes made a great big song and dance in the early days of the carbon tax when he said to the Prime Minister, the Labor Party and the people that he allegedly represents, 'If one job is lost under the carbon tax legislation, we will withdraw all support for the Gillard Labor government.' So the Labor Party had a bit of a problem, because they had done a deal with the devil—with the Australian Greens party—to push the carbon tax legislation through, but in doing so they had now upset the people on their own side. As Senator Mason has so eloquently said in this place, the Australian Labor Party are being cannibalised on the left by the Australian Greens and they are being sold out on the right. The Australian Labor Party now stand for absolutely nothing unless somebody is telling them what they have to do by way of a deal.

So what did the Labor Party have to do? In order to ensure that Mr Howes did not actually do what he had threatened to do—because, believe you me, there has been more than one job lost since the carbon tax legislation was announced—they had to put in place the compensation package that we are debating in this chamber tonight. There is no doubt that, if there were no carbon tax, we would not be standing here tonight debating a package that, as the shadow minister Senator Birmingham so eloquently said, is allegedly going to transform the Australian steel industry. Well, if we are transforming the Australian steel industry with this compensation package, God help the Australian steel industry. We all know—because Minister Combet himself is on the record as saying—that the only reason the government have brought this bill before the parliament is that they know that, in putting through the carbon tax legislation, there will be, without a doubt, a detrimental effect not only on the steel industry but on industries throughout Australia. That detrimental effect may well see the loss of jobs because of the closing down of these businesses in Australia.

Again, I go back to Paul Howes, the great saviour of the worker, who said, 'If one job is lost because of the carbon tax legislation, I will withdraw all of my support.' So what did Minister Combet come out with? On 10 October 2011 Minister Combet actually admitted that the establishment of the Steel Transformation Plan has been purely driven by the carbon tax. Why do I say that? It is because Minister Combet said, 'The negotiation of this Steel Transformation Plan did come out of the discussions we have had with the steel companies for months now over the carbon price issue.'

We on this side of the chamber have also had discussions with companies within the steel industry and the manufacturing industry in Australia. I am sure that when those industries came to see us on this side of the chamber they said to us exactly what they were saying to those on the other side of the chamber, which was: 'If you go through with this legislation, do you understand what the implications of it will be? It is bad enough that the carbon tax means a new tax for Australia of $9 billion a year. It is bad enough that the carbon tax means a 10 per cent hike in electricity costs for the mums and dads of Australia. It is bad enough that the carbon tax means a nine per cent hike in gas bills, and that is in the first year alone. It is bad enough that the carbon tax means a $4.3 billion hit on the budget bottom line. But, on top of that, it may well see the end of the steel manufacturing business as we know it in Australia.' So I say to Mr Howes, 'If you are actually a man of principle, if you are actually a man of your word, you will do exactly what you said you would do and withdraw all support from the Australian Labor Party.'

Even though the government have put forward this compensation package—or, as they like to call it, the Steel Transformation Plan—there is a problem for the steel industry in Australia. That problem is this: under the package that we are debating tonight, there are only two steel manufacturing firms in Australia that are going to benefit if this package passes the Senate. That is not us on this side of the chamber saying that; that is written into the Labor Party's legislation. I greatly doubt anybody on that side, let alone members of the Australian Greens, have actually bothered to read this legislation but, if they had, they would have seen in proposed section 4 that there is a defined term. That defined term is 'eligible corporation'. An eligible corporation comes down to two firms in Australia. Those firms are BlueScope Steel and OneSteel.

What that says to us on this side of the chamber and to the mums and dads of Australia who are going to be paying under the carbon tax that today passed through this place is that the great Labor Party, who said they never do deals, have done yet another deal. It was bad enough that the Labor Party did a deal with the big miners on the mining tax. It was bad enough that they did a deal with asylum seekers on the Oceanic Viking. But just to appease unionists and Paul Howes, the Australian Labor Party have done yet another deal. That deal results in just two steel manufacturers in Australia actually qualifying under this package. Senator Birmingham named so many of the other steel businesses in his speech tonight—thousands of steel fabricators all over the country. These are not big companies. Go to my patron seat of Brand and the Kwinana industrial strip back in Western Australia and you will see that these are not big companies.

These are companies that were set up by mums and dads of Australia who believed in the Australian dream. They actually believed this was a country of opportunities. They actually believed that this was a country in which you could have a go. They actually believed that the role of government, when it comes in particular to small businesses in Australia, is to provide them with a regulatory environment in which they can grow and prosper. And then they got the government that was formed at the 2010 election. The closest the majority of those in the government have ever come to a business in Australia is to ensure that that business is closed down. That is the reality and that is what is reflected in the package that we are debating tonight. Two companies will actually qualify for assistance under this compensation package. All those thousands of small businesses, those thousands of mums and dads who took a risk and decided to have a go, will get absolutely nothing under the so-called steel transformation package that we are debating tonight.

The impact that that will have on jobs in Australia will be absolutely devastating. It is estimated that in 2006-07 there were approximately 91,000 employees across the entire Australian steel industry chain. Do you know what the problem with that is? Only 15,000 to 17,000 of them are employed by the two companies that will qualify for assistance under this steel package. So 91,000 employees across Australia are employed in this industry, but only 15,000 to 17,000 of those employees are employed by the two companies that will potentially qualify for compensation under this steel package. So when the Labor Party stand up in this place and say, 'We are the party that looks after the little person, we are the party that stands up for employees in Australia, we are the party that stands up for the workers,' that is nothing more and nothing less than hypocritical rhetoric. What does it say to the approximately 75,000 workers in the steel industry in Australia who are quite likely to lose their jobs? They will not qualify for any compensation under the steel industry transformation plan, but what they will qualify for is a lot of pain under the carbon tax legislation. And the Australian Labor Party have the audacity to say to the people of Australia that they are the party that stands up for the workers in this country! That is a mantle that the Australian Labor Party, when they got into bed with the Australian Greens in 2010, well and truly gave away. They vacated that space.

If you want to look at the impact of the carbon tax on the steel industry, you need only look at the devaluation in the shares of OneSteel and BlueScope Steel since the government announced its carbon tax legislation. The figures do not lie. On 23 February 2011 the share price for OneSteel was $2.86—and then the government announced its carbon tax. And since then, right up until today, 8 November 2011, the share price of OneSteel has absolutely plummeted, and that is almost solely due to the fact of the carbon tax. It has gone from $2.86 on 23 February 2011 to 96c today. And that is only OneSteel. If you look at BlueScope Steel, on 23 February 2011 they were trading at $2.20. And what was the one policy announcement that this government made? Despite their election promise to the Australian people, despite the fact that they promised that there would be no carbon tax under a Labor government, they announced the imposition of a carbon tax. And what did the share price of BlueScope Steel do?

Senator Mason: Tell us.

Senator CASH: Senator Mason, just like OneSteel it has plummeted. It was trading at $2.20 on 23 February 2011, but today it is trading at 74c. That is what you get when the majority of senators in this place on the government side are former trade unionists. That is what you get when the absolute closest that the people in the current government have ever come to a business is to ensure that that businesses is closed down. This is a government that just does not understand the reality of business. In particular, they do not understand the reality of small business and the fact that an announcement like the carbon tax—the pushing through of legislation that is going to increase the price of electricity, wages and almost everything that a small business touches—has an effect on a small business's bottom line.

Those of us on this side of the chamber know that the margins in small business are very small. If you move those margins, what you effectively do to that business is shut it down. Despite the fact that we are standing here tonight debating the Steel Transformation Plan Bill, none of those thousands of businesses—the thousands of steel fabricators all over Australia, many of them longstanding businesses operated by the mums and dads of Australia—will actually qualify for any compensation under this bill. What that says to those business owners is that they will have a decision to make, and the decision, as we know—because it has already been made by so many small businesses in Australia—is not going to be a very nice one. The decision will ultimately be to close their doors. And when they close their doors we all know what happens. They lay off employees—it is as simple as that. They lay off employees, and the mums and dads of Australia, who are already battling under the higher cost of living, will not have jobs and they will have no income.

That can all be put down to the Australian Labor Party, who promised the people of Australia prior to the 2010 election that they would not do this to them. They went to the election saying to the people of Australia, 'We will not impose a carbon tax on you.' And what that meant was: 'We will not impose a policy that is going to increase your electricity costs. We will not impose a policy that is going to directly increase your costs of living. We will not impose a policy that is going to see businesses in this country go offshore. We will not impose a policy that, in pushing businesses offshore, is going to see the closure of businesses in Australia and the loss of jobs by so many mums and dads across the many states of Australia.' But that is exactly what the Australian Labor Party did. Given the Labor government's betrayal of the people of Australia, it is patently true that Labor's continual claim that it alone is the party that looks after the workers is just more dishonest Labor rhetoric.