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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 8028


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (18:03): As I stand here in the chamber tonight and look down at the list of bills being considered together, there is a temptation to go through each of the bills, to talk about each of the schedules, to examine the purpose of the carbon tax, to look at the efficacy of the mechanism, to look at the compensation arrangements and to look at all of the consequential provisions of other pieces of legislation. That is a temptation, but I think to do so would be a mistake because the real significance of the debate we are having here today is not actually the provisions contained in the bills. The real subject matter of the debate is that of deceit. It is that of a government that went to the last election with the solemn pledge that it would not introduce a carbon tax. The exact phraseology used by the Prime Minister was:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

She was echoed in that sentiment by the Treasurer, who referred to the hysteria that people who believed that a Labor govern­ment could possibly introduce a carbon tax were expressing. Anyone who had the temerity to doubt the statement of the Prime Minister that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led was basically branded an hysterical. The Australian people took the word of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer in good faith. They cast their ballots, whether it was for the government or the coalition parties or for another party, in the sure and certain knowledge that if Labor re-formed government they would not introduce a carbon tax. We know all too well and all too clearly that what the Prime Minister said before the last election represents perhaps the most blatant, clear and unequivocal lie in recent Australian political history. That is why I say that it would be a mistake in this debate to focus on the provisions of the bills. That is what the government would like us to do, and indeed that is what many government senators are doing: looking at the actual provisions of the bills. But to do so obscures the very reason that we are here in the first place: because those opposite are seeking to give effect to a fundamental breach of promise.

I do, however, at the outset, want to focus a little bit on my home state of Victoria. My state of Victoria will be hit first and it will be hit hardest by the carbon tax. The reason for that is Victoria has a great comparative advantage: it has access to a cheap energy supply; it has access to cheap brown coal. It has been the underpinning of Victorian industry. It has been the underpinning of the success of many Victorian businesses that they can access such a cheap and constant power supply.

Another reason I contend that Victoria will be hit first and hardest by a carbon tax is the importance of manufacturing to the Victorian economy. A few kilometres from my electorate office in Mentone is the centre of Dandenong. Dandenong is at the heart of the manufacturing precinct of Victoria. Something in the order of 44 per cent of Victoria's manufacturing output comes from the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, particularly based around Dandenong and Dandenong South. I have visited many manufacturers over the last several months. I have visited quite a few of them with Ms Mirabella, from the other place, the shadow minister for industry. I visited many of them with the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott. And the story at each and every manufacturer is the same: the carbon tax will be bad for business.

I had the great pleasure a couple of months back of going to the annual general meeting of the South East Melbourne Manufacturers Association in Dandenong. There would have been 300 manufacturers there. The reasons I went along were twofold. Firstly, I like spending time with manufacturers, I like hearing about their business success stories and I like hearing about the people they employ. But the other reason I went along to the annual general meeting of the South East Melbourne Manufacturers Association was the guest speaker at that meeting, who was Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, the member for Isaacs and the parliamentary secretary for the carbon tax. I have to hand it to Mr Dreyfus. He did have a fair bit of front. He addressed these 300 manufacturers on the topic of the carbon tax and 'why it is good for your business'. That was an audacious thing to do, but clearly he has the strength of his convictions. So Mr Dreyfus was standing there, addressing 300 manufacturers on the subject of the carbon tax and 'why it is good for your business'. When it came time for questions, one manufacturer stood up and said, 'Mr Dreyfus: the electricity bill for our business is $120,000 a year and it is going to go up by 10 per cent.' Mr Dreyfus listened to that. Another manufacturer stood up and said, 'Mr Dreyfus, I can top that: our power bill is going to increase under a carbon tax by $130,000 a year'—an electricity bill increase of $130,000 a year! Mr Dreyfus's response to that was words to the effect of, 'Well, I think that just goes to prove my point that the effect of a carbon tax will be modest.' Another manufacturer got to his feet and said, 'Mr Dreyfus, we're in the medical devices business. One of our leading products costs $1,500 a year to produce. We have a margin on that product of $5, and the carbon tax is going to wipe that margin off.' The response of Mr Dreyfus to that manufacturer was, 'Well, I think what that tells us is that your business has other problems, doesn't it?' The arrogance, the condescension, the lack of understanding of what it actually takes to build a business, to invest your capital, to take a risk, to employ people—no understanding at all. The best that I can say of Mr Dreyfus in that circumstance was that at least he had the guts to front up, but I have to say he was on a hiding to nothing—and quite rightly so.

I have been spending a fair bit of time in my part of Melbourne. On Saturday mornings I like to get out, visit a shopping centre, set up a card table, put up a few banners—the wording on them, you may be interested, Madam Acting Deputy President, says, 'Say no: stop Labor's carbon tax', in lovely bright yellow letters on a crisp black background. I am usually flanked by two of those. And with some friends I collect petitions against the carbon tax. I have to say that I have been bowled over by the rush of people saying, 'Where do I sign? Where's a pen? Let me put my name down. How do I get rid of this government? Come on you guys, what are you doing? Can't you get rid of this government? How do we stop this carbon tax?' It has happened time and again. I set up my card table with my friends in the shopping centre of Berwick, in the seat of Ms Laura Smyth, the member for La Trobe. I have to say I was bowled over with people saying, 'Where do I sign? How do I stop this tax? How do we get rid of this government?' On another Saturday morning I set up my card table in Mordialloc, in front of the Safeways, in the electorate of Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, the local member for the seat of Isaacs. And again the same thing: bowled over by people saying, 'Where can I sign? How do we stop this government? How do we get rid of this carbon tax?'

On another Saturday morning I set up my card table at Dingley Village shops in the electorate of Mr Simon Crean, the electorate of Hotham. The same thing happened there with people saying: 'Give me a pen. Where do I sign? How do we get rid of this government? How do we stop this tax?' On another Saturday morning at the Cranbourne shops I set up my card table in the electorate of Mr Anthony Byrne, the member for Holt. The same thing happened again with people saying: 'Where do I sign? How do we stop this government? How do we stop this tax?' It was the same thing over and over again.

The reason there was that passion and the reason we obtained literally thousands of signatures from people was that these people felt like they had been gypped, if I can use that technical term. They know they were lied to. They know they were fibbed to. They know they were sold a bill of goods. They know they were told, 'There will not be a carbon tax.' They feel ripped off. They are not happy about it and they should not be happy about it because there should be a fundamental bond of trust between the electors and the elected. This government has broken that fundamental bond of trust and the Australian people are not happy about it.

Madam Acting Deputy President, I know you are interested in what I do with my Saturday mornings and you are probably also interested in what I do with my Friday nights. On the night that Her Majesty had a reception here in the Great Hall, I could not attend. I conveyed my apologies because I had a prior engagement. That prior engagement was in a hall in the suburb of Cheltenham in the south-east suburbs of Melbourne. Coincidentally, it happens to be in the electorate of Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, member for Isaacs and parliamentary secretary for the carbon tax. The occasion was a rally against the carbon tax and we had 90 or 100 people there. I do want to tell you in my own words what occurred there but I can do better than that—I can quote the words of Mr Dreyfus who obviously felt very strongly about the event because he wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax. I will just share a little bit of it with you. It is headed 'Baillieu government joining Abbott's circus.' It starts:

The Tony Abbott circus of lies and misinformation about climate change and the carbon price came to my electorate, Isaacs in Melbourne, last week. And this time the state Baillieu government joined the show, with no less than six state MPs lining up to deceive and alarm the residents and business people of southern suburban Cheltenham.

Quite frankly, I think it is good to see state MPs working on a Friday night. It continues:

On stage before a not-so-large crowd of about 90—

Not-so-large crowd of about 90! I think 90 people on a Friday night about a public policy issue is not bad. You have got to be pretty arrogant as a local member to discourage 90 of your constituents who are gathering on a Friday night. Anyway, Mr Dreyfus says:

On stage before a not-so-large crowd of about 90 were Liberal federal frontbenchers Andrew Robb and Senator Mathias Cormann (who came all the way from WA to recite his slogans), state Energy Minister Michael O'Brien, and ringmaster Senator Mitch Fifield. In the audience were state Liberal MPs Inga Peulich, Murray Thompson, Lorraine Wreford, Donna Bauer and Elisabeth Miller. That's nine Liberal MPs in attendance at the circus!

I actually think it is a good thing that you have got nine members of parliament out there meeting their constituents, talking to them and listening to them. That is not something to be disparaged. It is a good thing to have members of parliament out and about and to have their constituents there engaging with them. That is a good thing. Mr Dreyfus continues:

The performers - Robb, Cormann, O'Brien and Fifield spouted the usual Liberal false claims.

I have got a little bit of advice for Mr Dreyfus: if one of your political opponents has got under your skin do not let them know, do not write an opinion piece for the paper and just pretend it is water off a duck's back. Anyway, I am grateful to him for putting pen to paper. It has given a lot of encouragement to many to continue the fight.

My point is that Labor are out of touch. They still do not understand that you cannot fib and you cannot lie to the Australian people and expect them to say: 'That is okay. No worries. Think nothing of it.' That fundamental bond of trust, which I spoke of before, between the electors and the elected has been broken. It is bad enough that that has been broken. It is bad enough that this government did not do the decent thing and take the carbon tax to the last election. But we do not expect much better from the Australian Labor Party. It is bad enough that they did that. I am tempted to say almost worse but it cannot be worse than that, because nothing can be worse than lying to the Australian people. You would have thought, having lied to the Australian people, that to try and reclaim a bit of dignity and to try and reclaim a bit of decency you would ensure that there was a decent parliamentary process—that there was proper scrutiny in this place.

We know the analogy that many on this side have cited before of the goods and services tax and the new tax system. There were five months of parliamentary inquiry and countless Senate committees meeting concurrently to examine that important legislation. This package of legislation, which is before us here, will have a much greater effect, and not for the good of the Australian people. It would be an understatement to say it was disappointing that only two weeks were provided for the Australian Senate to look at this legislation: this week, which is apparently meant to be for all the second reading speeches, and next week for the committee stage. It is bad enough that a motion was put through this place to bring a guillotine into effect to terminate the second reading stage at 3.45 pm on Thursday of next week. It is bad enough that the guillotine was to be put into effect to terminate all stages of the bill, regardless of where we are at, and bring the matter to a conclusion at the end of Thursday next week. That was bad enough, but we have the incredible situation today where that is going to change. Tomorrow the government, with the connivance of the Greens, is going to seek to bring this package of bills to a conclusion by 11 o'clock next Tuesday. This is in stark contrast to the words of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans, who said in his press release of 21 September that the Senate would have more than two full weeks to debate the clean energy package of bills. That is not true; that is a fib. The Senate will not have two full weeks; the Senate will not even have a week and a half. The guillotine is being brought forward. What we are talking about here is a gag on a gag. This is shameless, having a gag on a gag. We were promised that there would be two full weeks of debate. We do not think that is enough. Personally, I think there should have been about five months of appropriate examination.

But the ultimate deceit was Senator Evans's press release today, which is about putting a gag on a gag, headed 'Extended sitting hours for Senate to pass clean energy package'. Talk about doublethink—extended sitting hours. No, the government are not extending sitting hours, they are putting a gag on a gag. They are bringing a guillotine forward from a Thursday to a Tuesday. That is not extending hours, that is truncating hours, that is curtailing debate. It is an outrage. Compounding the fact that this government lied to the electorate at the last election, compounding the fact that they have not provided proper parliamentary scrutiny, what they are now doing is truncating the limited parliamentary scrutiny that is available. This is appalling. This bill should be opposed. This legislation should be opposed.