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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 522

Senator FISHER (5:39 PM) —Thanks, Acting Deputy President Boyce, for this opportunity to speak on the Labor government’s breaking of its unequivocal election commitment to not introduce a carbon tax. That is where my pleasure at rising to speak begins and ends. This is yet another broken Labor promise. The Australian electorate will not forget the Labor government’s broken promises prior to the election: its broken promise to have a Fuelwatch scheme, its broken promise to have a GroceryWatch scheme, its broken promise to deliver X number of computers in schools and its broken promise to create 260 child-care centres and 35 GP superclinics.

Senator Farrell interjecting—

Senator FISHER —As if, Senator Farrell—as if! This time around, the day before the election, we were told unequivocally—as no doubt others have said—by the now Prime Minister, Prime Minister Gillard: ‘I rule out a carbon tax.’ It was front-page news. The Treasurer said to Meet The Press on 15 August 2010:

What we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax.

More broken promises—as we are coming to expect from the Gillard Labor government.

The Prime Minister has also announced a committee to investigate, assess and hear from experts about a carbon tax, says Senator Furner. No, no, no, Senator Furner; no, no, no, Labor government. This Labor government is proposing to set up a committee for which there are two prerequisites for joining. Firstly, you can only be on the thing if you believe in a carbon price. Secondly, you can only be on the committee and do the work if you are going to agree on the outcome—that is, that there should be a carbon price. That was made clear in the Prime Minister’s letter of invitation to the committee, which said that parliamentary representatives:

… who acknowledge that … reducing carbon pollution by 2020 will require a carbon price—

will be invited to join the committee.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Ha!

Senator FISHER —You are quite right, Senator Macdonald. This is vintage Labor—you cannot join the committee unless you believe in a carbon price. It is vintage Labor, vintage union movement. It is akin to ‘no ticket, no start’: ‘No belief in a carbon price? Then no start on the committee; no seat at the table.’

Term of reference No. 3 for the committee is:

3. The Committee is established on the basis that a carbon price is an economic reform that is required …

Well, there is a lot of choice in that, a lot of freedom of association—union membership is obviously non-compulsory! It is vintage Labor—you must believe in the outcome before you are entitled to a seat at the table. Not only does that show a lack of freedom of association; it strikes another chord fundamental to the cause of the union movement—which, of course, bankrolls the Labor Party—and that is the ‘closed shop’. In other words, you have to have a closed mind before you can belong to this closed shop of a climate change committee. Your view must be, No. 1, that a carbon price is necessary to reduce carbon pollution and, No. 2, that carbon pollution is the culprit that the Labor government would have us believe—broken promises writ large.

The next aspect of the broken promise is the secrecy, the ‘Sh! Do not tell’ of this committee’s terms of reference. Term of reference No. 8 says:

The Committee will ensure its deliberations and papers remain confidential to the Committee and the Cabinet until a final position is agreed or all parties to the Committee agree otherwise.

What has happened to the Prime Minister’s promise:

So let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in, let our Parliament be more open than it was before.

It is obvious. It is vintage Labor—no ticket, no start on this committee. It is a closed shop: a closed mind before you get on the committee and a closed mind to the outcome. And, by the way, thou shalt not speak—silence, a shroud of secrecy around the committee and its deliberations.

Why should that be a surprise to the Australian people? Well, it will not be when we reflect on the broken promises and the botched delivery of the Home Insulation Program. That program was supposed to do three things. Firstly, it was supposed to stimulate the economy. That certainly happened, didn’t it! We are now in the process of, essentially, backing money out of the economy as the government tries to mop up the mess left by its botched and bungled Home Insulation Program. Secondly, it was supposed to create jobs. Yes, workers flocked to the industry at the behest of the government, only to have their jobs taken out from underneath them by the stroke of a ministerial pen when the scheme was scratched. The insulation industry had its reputation unjustifiably tarnished, and thus far the government has broken its promises to help the industry get back on its feet. Thirdly, the Home Insulation Program was supposed to help the environment. How so, when in so many homes that had insulation fitted there was no analysis done to ensure that it was the right sort of insulation—if it was even insulation at all—to be installed in that sort of ceiling and in that sort of climate? In those situations where insulation now is to be taken out, some of that insulation is not even biodegradable. So there is no evidence—indeed there is evidence to the contrary; there are plenty of carbon miles involved in this—that there was any benefit to the environment through the Home Insulation Program. To the contrary, the only indications are that there was harm done to the environment by the broken promises and botched delivery of the Home Insulation Program.

What about the National Broadband Network? Broken promise. NBN round 1 was supposedly about fibre to the node. The government trashed NBN round 1—they broke that promise—when it became apparent to them that the private sector did not have sufficient confidence to join with the government and invest in NBN round 1, at a cost of some $4.7 billion. Never mind that; move to promise No. 2, at a cost of some $43 billion. ‘We will promise,’ said the Labor government, ‘fibre to the home.’

So there are broken promises on the National Broadband Network in terms of moving from NBN round 1 to NBN round 2, in terms of the delivery time frame and, even more fundamentally than that, in terms of the Prime Minister’s promise to let the sun shine in. How is the sun coming in on a National Broadband Network that has had no cost-benefit analysis and has an implementation plan that makes a raft of assumptions? If the assumptions are proven true, they show that this thing can be built but we are left wondering and unable to see the empirics as to how McKinsey and Co. got to the assumptions upon which the implementation study is based.

There is no NBN Co. business case. At the last Senate estimates, Minister Conroy triumphantly said, effectively, ‘You can’t see the business case today, you can’t see it tomorrow and you won’t see it once it is done.’ Mr Quigley of NBN Co. now tells us that NBN Co. is in the process of revamping its business case in light of the government’s deal with the so-called regional Independents, to prioritise delivery of the NBN to the bush. On what basis is the government able to plan that it will deliver to the bush as a priority, as it says it will? When it says it will deliver to the bush straightaway, what is ‘straightaway’? On what basis is the government making its plans to deliver to the bush and at what price to places in metropolitan Australia which presumably were going to have the build earlier rather than later, prior to the deal with the Independents? What impact does the rejigging of the NBN build have on NBN Co.’s potential returns?

We do not know the answers, because Gillard Labor is not going to let the sun shine in. We are not going to see the empirics of the assumptions made by McKinsey and Co. in their implementation study. We are not going to see, says the minister, NBN Co.’s business case. Worse than that, this government has not done, and promises never to do, a cost-benefit analysis, because, to paraphrase the words of Mr Quinlivan from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy: ‘Why do a cost-benefit analysis of a policy commitment a government has already made? Why do a cost-benefit analysis of a policy that a government has said it is going to implement anyway?’

The implementation study makes a raft of assumptions. Industry experts question whether they will come about but say that, if those assumptions do come about, then this thing can be built. But the implementation study does not say that the NBN is a thing that should be built, and it is reprehensible that this government thus far has got away with not doing a cost-benefit analysis on the National Broadband Network to show that it is a thing that should be built.

The Australian people are probably, unfortunately, not surprised by the government’s breaking of its promise to not introduce a carbon tax. They are probably not surprised by the fact that, in breaking that promise and in walking towards what it seems to hope is the inevitable result, a carbon tax, Julia Gillard’s Labor government is demonstrating vintage Labor, vintage payback to the union movement and its core principle of closed shops—no pre-belief then no start; no ticket, no start, no seat on this committee.