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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8612

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (21:49): The Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011 represents the emergency surgery necessitated by an act of gross violence—in this case, gross economic violence, perpetrated by a government in lockstep with the Australian Greens, a government hopelessly out of its depth and hopelessly incompetent. Put very simply: but for the carbon tax we would not need this compensation package. That was revealed to the Australian people by Mr Combet himself, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, on 10 October 2011 when he admitted that the establishment of this so-called Steel Transformation Plan had been driven purely by the carbon tax.

As with all things Labor, this bill has an Orwellian title. It is called the Steel Transformation Plan Bill. Well, the steel industry has already been transformed, courtesy of this Labor government. The steel industry has been transformed because of the threat of the carbon tax which this parliament today voted to enact—might I add, against the express promise to the Australian people by those sitting with the Australian Labor Party.

The steel industry in this nation was in fact transformed with the announcement of the carbon tax. Hundreds of millions of dollars were struck off the share value of these big steel companies, great employers, great historic institutions in the Australian economic landscape. They were devastated by this announcement. People from time to time say: 'But what does it matter? It's a big steel company; why does it really matter?' You know why it really matters? Because superannuation companies, for example, invest, and invest heavily, in these sorts of companies, and what do superannuation companies do? They pay dividends to superannuants and the self-funded retirees of Australia. So when you mug industries like the steel industry and take away their financial viability, you take away income from the superannuants and the self-funded retirees of this country. That is why this sort of economic recklessness needs to be exposed and why we oppose this sort of so-called 'transformation'. It really is Orwellian to call the mugging of an industry a 'transformation'. I suppose if you are in a bad accident you can say that your body has been transformed. Most people would say that you have been badly injured. That is what Labor, in lock-step with the Australian Greens, have done to the steel industry, and that is why they have now decided to provide a bandaid measure of some $300 million.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Bandaids are not good for bullet wounds.

Senator ABETZ: As Senator Fierravanti-Wells interjected so very aptly just then, 'Bandaids are not good for bullet wounds.' They might cover up the damage, they might make the victim feel a little bit better, but that does not overcome the inherent damage or the inherent wound that has been inflicted. Let us make no mistake, the steel industry is only one of the industries to suffer.

In Europe the once proud aluminium smelting sector has moved, and in Europe they only have about one-tenth the carbon price that Australia is going to have foisted upon it. They have not moved to solar, they have not moved to wind power, they have moved to Africa. Does anybody actually believe that the environmental standards in Africa are better than they were in Europe prior to a carbon price in Europe, modest as it is? Of course not.

Similarly, we had the example in Australia earlier this week of Coogee Chemicals, a company that was willing to invest $1 billion in a world-class methanol plant, with 150 jobs and over $14 billion worth of exports to be earned by our country. Where have they gone? They have decided not to build in Australia. They have decided to build in China, where they admit the carbon footprint, the carbon dioxide emissions of that plant will now be four times what would have been emitted in a pre-carbon-tax Australia. That is why the legislation that was passed earlier today not only is so damaging to jobs and the economy but, perversely, is also going to damage the world environment.

This steel transformation bill is in fact the last of the 19 bills that make up the totality of this package. It is interesting to note that the people who were in the galleries earlier today are not here now to see through the steel transformation bill. They have no concern for the steelworkers. The Greens were bragging for a week that there was going to be an early vote and people should come to Canberra to the gallery and celebrate. They were out there asking everybody to come. During the debate, because some of the Labor contributions were so boring, especially that of Senator Wong, I spun around and I counted 100 empty seats in the gallery. What is more, half of the seats were filled by departmental officials whose jobs were on the line. This great popular movement in support of the carbon tax fell flat. The opinion polls have not deceived in relation to public support. Of course, we know that the opinion polls were telling Labor before the last election that a carbon tax would be immediate death. What did Labor do? They promised no carbon tax. A solemn promise.

Just before I came into the chamber I was doing some talkback radio on 2SM. Every single caller was feeling betrayed, not by the Australian Greens but by the Australian Labor Party. It is a party that once proudly stood for the working man, for a manufacturing sector in this country, and was genuinely concerned about ensuring that the cost of living did not get out of hand and about genuine job security. What we have instead now is a Labor Party that has sold its soul, its philosophical soul and policy soul, to the Australian Greens in a bid to stave off the death that it would have otherwise faced at the last election. By deceiving the Australian people, by doing a dirty deal with the Australian Greens, it may have staved off its execution for a period of three years.

The people of Australia will come to judge the Australian Labor Party as they judged it in 1996 after Mr Keating's promise of l-a-w law tax cuts. People in a democracy believe in the conventions of a democracy. They believe and require that their leaders should tell the truth. They believe that there is such an important commodity as integrity. That is why even a great President such as George Bush Sr, who was in stratospheric heights in the opinion polls in the United States, fell from glory because he had made a solemn promise, 'Read my lips: no new taxes.' At stratospheric heights in the opinion polls he increased the taxes and suffered the consequences. So it happened to Paul Keating when he promised l-a-w law tax cuts and then immediately revoked them after the election. I somehow think that we will get the trifecta at the next election. I am not saying that with any hubris or arrogance, I am just saying that that is the course of history and people will judge their leaders according to their promises and their delivery on those promises. That is why Mr Howard did the right thing when he changed his mind in relation to the goods and services tax. He said to the Australian people, 'Re-elect me and I will introduce a GST.' He gave the people the opportunity to have a say, an opportunity that has been denied the Australian people in relation to this carbon tax.

Debate interrupted.