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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 8037

Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (18:44): It is to the great shame of the Australian Labor Party that tonight I have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and 17 related bills. The fact that I along with other senators have that opportunity is an affront to the Australian people, who went to the polls last August secure in the knowledge that whether they voted for the ALP or the coalition they were not voting for a carbon tax. This is because the leaders of both had categorically denied that such a tax would be introduced under them in government. Prime Minister Gillard went so far as to say, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Yet here we are today witnessing a government that is led by Prime Minister Gillard seeking to have a carbon tax passed into law—a flip-flop most magnificent in its enormity and sinister in its deceit. A full 149 of the 150 members of the other place were elected under the policy of no carbon tax. A clear majority of this place were either elected or fought the last election under the policy of no carbon tax. Eighty-five to 90 per cent of voters Australia-wide cast their votes for candidates running under the policy of no carbon tax. Yet here we are debating just such a tax, with each and every government senator lining up to vote for a tax that they and their leader categorically ruled out just days prior to the last election.

Australian voters have a right to feel cynical about politics and those who practice the art. This is a clear case of politicians saying one thing to get elected and then doing something totally different once they have control of the treasury bench. The government's actions sully the reputation of all politicians and undermine the respect that Australians should feel for our democratic process. The government's only defence to this obvious and blatant deception implemented against the Australian people is that circumstances changed. Maybe they did, but not in any way that was not totally predictable prior to the election.

At the time that the Prime Minister made her solemn promise to the people of Australia that there would be no carbon tax under a government she leads, it was entirely predictable that the circumstances the Prime Minister and the ALP faced after the election would eventuate. Indeed, it was in just such circumstances that the Leader of the Opposition challenged her to rule out a carbon tax, a challenge that she took up and met by ruling out such a tax under a government she leads. So it is a bit rich for Labor senators to suggest in this place that the circumstances the ALP faced after the election were somehow so different that they required a breach of the solemn promise that they made to the Australian people. The fact is they were exactly the circumstances in which that promise was made.

The government claim that they had to breach their promise to the Australian people because things changed. But the only thing that changed were the numbers—they no longer had them and they wanted them. As a result, this Labor government proved itself willing to do anything to secure the numbers it needed to hang on to power after the election and entered into an unholy alliance with the far left Greens. They would not have had that opportunity had the Prime Minister not promised to not introduce a carbon tax. That promise made by the Prime Minister had a huge impact on an undecided voting public in August of last year, a public that clearly did not want a carbon tax. Without that promise, the Prime Minister would not have had to do unholy deals with the Greens or the Independents because the ALP would not have won the seats it did and Australians would not now be facing the likelihood of a tax on carbon. There is no doubt that the promise made by the Prime Minister on the eve of the election saved her seats because voters across Australia took her, the Treasurer and other Labor cabinet members, and in fact all Labor members and candidates at their word that they would not introduce a carbon tax. This is what saved them from being a one-term government. It saved them seats and given the way the numbers fell, that saved the Prime Minister's government.

What do the people of Australia feel about this? There is no doubt that they are angry, very angry. They feel betrayed, hoodwinked and duped by a dishonest leader of a dishonest party. At every level, Australians who voted Labor on the basis of the promise cannot wait to exercise their democratic right to change their mind and are clamouring for a new election to set things right. As I travel around my home state of Tasmania, the feeling is palpable. At shows and rural fairs, people literally line up to sign a petition against the government's toxic carbon tax. Young people go seeking out their friends so that they can bring them back to sign the petition. It is a far cry from the situation in Tasmania before the last election when many Tasmanians wanted to give the government the benefit of the doubt and give them another term. They felt comfortable in doing so, at least in part because of the promise made by Labor not to introduce a carbon tax. I doubt that so many of them would feel as comfortable with that decision now.

I have focused on the broken promise because this is crucial to any consideration of these bills, as the presentation of these bills in this place is a repudiation of democratic process and a representation of all that is wrong with politics in this country. Incidentally, earlier in this debate I heard government senators interjecting about core and non-core promises. I respond to those interjections because, just like accusations about Prime Minister Howard's GST, the raising of these issues is calculated to obfuscate the issue through misrepre­sentation of situations that are entirely different, so much so that comparing them is deliberately deceptive. After the 1996 election, the new coalition government found that the previous Keating Labor government had misled the public about the state of the public finances. The fiscal position was nowhere near as rosy as the then Labor government had represented prior to the 1996 election, so much so that many of the promises made by the coalition in the lead-up based on their understanding of the amount of money available simply were not possible to deliver.

Debate interrupted.