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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 7602


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (17:42): I note that the previous speaker on behalf of the government still had four minutes to go in extolling the virtues of the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and the related bills.

Much has been made in this chamber about the infamous broken promise: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' I recently met a 20-year-old woman who quite obviously knew very little of politics. She lived at home with her mother and father and she worked in a nine-to-five job. I began talking to her and asked what she knew about our Prime Minister. She said, 'Well, not a lot, but I know she broke a promise.' I said, 'What do you mean, a promise?' She said, 'She said that there would be no carbon tax, and she is introducing one.' This is a common theme out there in the public amongst people who are not as immersed in politics as you or I might be, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The Prime Minister has absolutely trashed the prime ministerial imprimatur. Let's look at what she actually said: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' That is: 'I'm leading, and it is my choice to have no carbon tax. My good name—my integrity, my reputation—is in the line that I have just given you, and that is: if I am the leader, there will be no carbon tax.' Why did she say it in those terms, putting her own integrity on the line? The answer is very simply found in the words of her finance minister, Senator Wong. In 2009, Senator Wong said:

The introduction of a carbon price ahead of effective international action can lead to perverse incentives for such industries to relocate or source production offshore … There is no point in imposing a carbon price domestically which results in emissions and production transferring internationally for no environmental gain.

There it is: the cat is out of the bag through their own words. Why would they say before a federal poll, 'We don't want a carbon tax'? Why would the Prime Minister put her integrity on the line by saying that no government that she led would ever have a carbon tax? Because they well know that this is a poison pill for our economy. They well know that $9 billion will be ripped out of our economy every year. Every day—rain, hail or shine—pensioners, new home buyers and students will have a 10 per cent hike in their two-monthly electricity bill. Why did she say it? Because everyone knows that there will be a nine per cent hike in everybody's gas bills. Billions of dollars will go offshore in these crazy carbon credit schemes that really only have the approval of bankers and spivs. This is from a senator who had a formative period in Kalgoorlie, where an ounce of gold was something of value and it got that way over generations and centuries.

The people in this government, as incompetent as they have proved to be day in, day out, seek to put a price of $23 onto a tonne of carbon. This is the craziest, nuttiest thing that any government has undertaken and there is no-one else in the world doing it. In fact, the truth is that every one of our major credible trading partners is reversing out of this at a thousand miles an hour. But it is a lot worse than just the Prime Minister trashing her own imprimatur and integrity. Every single government senator adopted her stance before the last election. And yet listen to them now. You would think that this carbon tax was some sort of magic, a device that is going to protect the future of humanity. This is just a crass revenue-raising device that achieves absolutely nothing for the environment. Indeed, Senator Wong has belled the cat: all that it is going to do is send jobs, revenue and resources offshore. That is what we have come to with this crazy scheme.

At the end of the day, the only real explanation as to why the Prime Minister and her finance minister would identify the problems with a carbon tax and yet suddenly embrace it is this outrageous and immoral deal with the Greens that they made in seeking their support for putting Labor in power—this faustian deal to hang on to the keys to the Lodge. It fits perfectly with the longstanding perception of the psyche of the Labor Party. A famous former Labor senator expressed this very well. He said, 'Whatever it takes is what they'd do.' This is whatever it takes.

Here we have over a thousand pages of legislation with just one week allowed for the public to make submissions on them. This is all about power and no responsibility, perfectly in line with what we have seen before. There was a drunken sailor approach to school halls. Then there was the pink batts scheme. It is costing us more than $1 billion to repair the damage of a scheme that was outrageously administered. Then we saw the live animal exports issue. Senator Ludwig and this crazy government extinguished the livelihoods of many Australians at the stroke of a pen without understanding anything about it. This highly complex legislation has over 1,000 pages. It is legislation that carries with it severe criminal penalties.

The government senators in their new found wisdom on climate change—having gone to the people saying, 'No, we're not touching a carbon tax; we're not doing that'—are suddenly all jumping up and advocating it. They keep saying that it is like the GST. This is nothing like the GST. John Howard had the courage of his convictions and went to the people and said, 'If you like it and believe in tax reform, believe in me; if you don't, vote for the other side.' That is what he said. He had the courage of his convictions. This government lacks all courage and all integrity. They—all of them, all of these senators—said: 'We're not having a carbon tax. Vote for us. That is not a political issue.' Now look at them. They are pushing 1,000 pages of the most complex legislation, legislation that will seek to wring the lifeblood out of our economy. And to what end?

I have heard the Greens say today that there will no more cyclones, that it will cure encephalitis, that it will stop floods and that there will be no more drought. Give me a break. This is absolutely the craziest and stupidest thing that the Labor Party has ever got sucked into in all of its life and I for one will not let them forget it. 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' is what she said and she will be hoist on that petard between now and the day that she makes that huge concessional speech after the next election, because it is going to be a beaut.

John Howard took his GST legislation to the people. He took the time to explain it and advocate for it, because he had the courage of his convictions, as did his ministers, backbench members and senators. He won a mandate. He then had committees spend five months considering the legislation and there were submissions made over those five months by the public. How long have we had with this legislation? One week. And we have had one week in the face of the famous promise: 'We're not going to have it.' Then we get a week to look at it. This is just an absolute con job on the Australian public, with criminal sanctions to boot—they sound like absolute offences. This is the most outrageous conduct of a democratically elected government in our history.

And all the while the Labor senators on the other side, having told us they would not touch this with a barge pole prior to the election, tell us this is now in the national interest. They wouldn't know the national interest if it sat on their lap and started to wiggle! This is an absolute assault, particularly on my home state of Western Australia. This is just absolutely outrageous. There we have a state that is 1.8 million square kilometres. We depend on airlines and heavy-haulage trucks. Kalgoorlie gets its fuel by trucks and train. Meekatharra, Leonora, Laverton, Newman, Tom Price and Broome all get their fuel and groceries by trucks that are heavier than 4.5 tonnes—and after 2015 you will be paying a carbon tax if you are driving a truck heavier than 4.5 tonnes. This carbon tax is a classic assault on Western Australia, and I for one am not going to lie down and let it roll through like the government expects us to.

The carbon tax also plunders the livelihoods of small business. These people who are living in regional Australia, who are producing the export wealth of the country, have to pay this carbon price because it will be pushed onto the price like sales tax was. This is going to be an absolute nightmare for people trying to do business in regional and remote Australia, particularly Western Australia. But what does the government say about that? Absolutely nothing, because it is hanging on by its toenails to three seats out of our 15 in Western Australia. It does not give a fig about the politics of Western Australia. In fact, the ALP secretary has a big file on WA and it is entitled, 'Why Bother? We're going to get slaughtered no matter what happens.' And the two obvious reasons for that slaughter are that they are introducing a carbon tax that absolutely chops Western Australians fair in the neck, and on top of that they are attacking our mining industry with the craziest, most inept and undeveloped mining tax anybody in Canberra, in Treasury, could dream up. And I tell you what: it is going to blow up fairly in their faces. You can say goodbye to Stephen Smith—the seat of Perth will waltz out the window to the tune of Waltzing Matilda. You can say goodbye to Gary Gray. And I tell you what: Glenn Sterle, if he is sitting at the bottom of the Senate ticket, in the No. 2 spot, will be very nervous.

The last poll had the government with a primary vote of 31 per cent. With this promise—'no carbon tax under a government I lead'—they are plumbing the depths of about 21 or 22 per cent. These guys stand to be beaten by the Greens, particularly in the seat of Fremantle. That is how well the Labor Party is tracking in Western Australia. They are an absolute class political force. They are so classy that the state Labor opposition is actually attacking them. A more incompetent bunch you could not wish to meet—but they are actually taking the high moral ground with this crazy, incompetent bunch of ne'er-do-wells here in Canberra. It is something to behold.

So in Western Australia, the cash cow of the nation, where unemployment is down below four per cent, we are working our guts out to pay for this huge bureaucratic nirvana here in Canberra—and what does this Prime Minister do? She introduces two taxes that are going to rip the rug out and chop us off at the knees—absolutely disgraceful. Two out of every three Western Australians vote other than for the Labor Party. I tell you what: it will very shortly be five out of six voting other than for the Labor Party. These guys do not have a clue about a tonne of value.

This is the joke that is permeating anybody who has a modicum of scientific or commercial understanding. In terms of the imposition of a value on a tonne of carbon, there is no better example than what happened in Europe. It went up to €30 a tonne, and all the mums and dads got involved, and there was an emissions trading scheme—and guess where the price went? Down to less than €1. This is the sort of thing that this Labor Party produces, with its crazy NBN, done off the balance sheet with no cost-benefit analysis, the pink batts, the live exports and the Qantas saga we had last weekend. Every turn of every corner has an aroma of extreme incompetence: ministers who cannot answer questions in the Senate, who do not have a clue about their portfolios. They are too busy playing political games, knifing someone here, promoting someone there. The rock star Rudd has to be promoted. This is the sort of thing that leads us to looking for money and then tacking on an excuse for it, like a carbon tax—'Let's call it a carbon tax: it has a good environmental feel to it, we can sell it to the plebs, it is money rolling in and then we can fritter that money away and no-one will be any wiser.'

The mining tax is very similar: 'Let's go to the next budget with these two taxes passed before Christmas so that we can say there'll be a high revenue yield. We won't get a high revenue yield, but at least we can put it in the budget as if there is going to be one, so that our 'surplus' budget has a modicum of credibility. We've been in power for four years as the Labor Party, we haven't come within a bull's roar of a surplus and we're not going to—but we'll get the figures, project them forward and pretend we're going to have a surplus. We'll do the biggest con job and fraud on the Australian electorate in our history, and they'll get suckered by it, just like they did when the Prime Minister said, "There will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead"—oh no, it's me. I'm the Prime Minister. You can trust us because, if I lead the government, there will be no carbon tax.' Absolutely pathetic.

I should say, Mr Acting Deputy President, no-one is factoring in that in Western Australia, and probably Victoria and New South Wales, the biggest on-grid users of electricity are the water corporations, the water utilities. Gigalitres of water are moved around cities and moved around regional areas using electrical pumps. Sewage is being pumped out and moved to sewage plants. All of this is chewing up electricity. Are the states going to wear increased carbon tax prices added into the cost structure of these utilities? Not on your nelly! They are going to pass these costs on. Your electricity bill is going to go through the roof—up 10 per cent per annum, year in and year out. The Labor Party say, 'You're going to get tax cuts,' as though that were some sort of Christmas present.

They advocate how good Spain is doing on renewable energy. Well, have a look at Spain: it is on its knees, broke and begging for mercy from the central European banks because it is paying more cents per kilowatt hour that anybody else with renewable energy. And those opposite are advocating the same path. That is where they want to take us. That is where they want us to go. They want us to be sucked into this high-cost renewable energy when we have cheaper energy coming out of the Gippsland in Victoria than do any of our trading partners. The manufacturing industries of Victoria depend upon the low cents per kilowatt hour of Gippsland. These guys have got it completely wrong. This carbon tax is the biggest con job that Australia has ever seen. It is a rip-off. States like Queensland and Western Australia are paying through the nose for this, with their remote distances and mining operations.

Magnetite requires energy to take the 30 per cent iron ore grade up to 70 per cent before export. That is all about energy. So the carbon tax and the mining tax kill what is potentially another coal industry for us. Magnetite is throughout Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, but it is only viable if you can then beneficiate it at a reasonable cost. These two taxes go a long way toward extinguishing what is potentially a fabulous industry for all of us. But, no, these guys have got it absolutely wrong. They have as much commercial understanding as the ministers that sit opposite me in this Senate have—zero. They are union hacks and former members of staff of members of parliament . They have never, ever understood a net present value calculation, and they come in here saying, 'This is going to save the planet.' The best thing that could happen for all of us is that someone wakes up and says: 'Let's save the Australian people. Let's give them a vote.' Thank you.