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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 7223

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (16:58): We can well understand why the Labor Party wants to rush this legislation through the parliament with the minimum amount of scrutiny. The Labor Party is embarrassed. The Labor Party knows that this is bad legislation. The Labor Party knows that the carbon tax is not in our national interest. The Labor Party knows that the carbon tax will push up the cost of everything, will make us less competitive internationally, will cost jobs, will reduce real wages and will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Labor Party knows that. The Labor Party is not pursuing this carbon tax because they think that it is the right thing to do. They are pursuing this carbon tax because that was the price that the Prime Minister had to pay to stay in power, because that is the price that the Australian Greens demanded from Julia Gillard for their support for her staying on in government. We have a responsibility to expose the many flaws in this legislation. We have a responsibility to make sure that every last problem—and there are many of them—in this carbon tax is properly aired so that people across Australia understand what this arrogant, dictatorial, anti-democratic Labor-Greens government wants to impose on them. This is a bad tax. We know that Labor members think it is a bad tax, because they tell us so privately in the corridors of parliament. Labor senators and members of the House of Representatives tell us privately, 'Yeah, mate, we know that this is no good. We know it's not going to do anything to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. We know it's bad for jobs. We know it's going to push up the cost of everything, but what choice have we? The Prime Minister went out in the courtyard on 24 February and nailed her colours to the mast. She made the announcement, and now we're stuck with it. There's no way back for us.' That is what they tell us privately in the corridors of parliament. The sensible people on the Labor side know that this is bad for Australia. The sensible people on the Labor side are prepared to admit, in the privacy of conversations, that the only reason this bad carbon tax is being pushed on the Australian people against their will is because the Australian Greens forced the government to do it.

Do not tell us that the Prime Minister has always been committed to putting a price on carbon, because we know it is not true. We know that Julia Gillard, as the then Deputy Prime Minister, went to the then Prime Minister and said, 'Kill the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It's no good. It's not in Australia's national interest.' We know that the Prime Minister went to the last election saying emphatically, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' This is, as Senator Fifield said, the most emphatic, most brazen, most clear-cut pre-election commitment ever made by a Prime Minister—it was made five days before the election, only to be broken less than a month after the election.

Let us remind ourselves of the process. Not only did the Prime Minister say that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led; she said that before they would do anything about putting a price on carbon they would commit themselves to building community consensus. We have a community consensus, and the community consensus is that people do not want this carbon tax. People know it will not work. They know that it will impose significant sacrifices on working families across Australia, that it will push up the cost of everything, that it will cost jobs and that it will reduce real wages, but that emissions in Australia and overseas will continue to grow. This of course is according to the govern­ment's own modelling. So, yes, we understand why the government wants to rush this legislation through. We understand why, in defiance of parliamentary convention, it has refused to have a proper and thorough inquiry into the 19 bills, the 1,100 pages of legislation, that are going to come before the Senate very soon.

We are not going to make it easy for the government to rush this through with the minimum amount of scrutiny. We think that the Australian people deserve to have the Senate scrutinise properly this bad carbon tax legislation, to put the sunlight into every nook and corner of it. The Senate commissioned, on 30 September last year, the Senate Select Committee on the Scrutiny of New Taxes to inquire into a number of taxes, including the mining tax and the carbon tax. It is really funny. Labor senators on the committee at the time said, 'How can you possibly include a carbon tax in the terms of reference for the scrutiny of new taxes committee? There will be no carbon tax.' Clearly, the message had not quite filtered through from the Deputy Prime Minister, Bob Brown, to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to the Labor senators on my committee that, yes, there would be a carbon tax. Looking back over the last 12 months, you would think it pretty funny if it were not so serious. But this is what we have been getting from this government over the last 12 months.

There was the promise before the last election that there would be no carbon tax, the promise was broken immediately after the election and there was an announcement in the Prime Minister's courtyard in February—no detail, just that there would now be a carbon tax. Given that they understood, after three or four years of debate under the Rudd and Gillard governments about what a carbon tax would and would not do, how bad it would be, people were pretty upset when the Prime Minister said there would be a carbon tax. There was a big outcry. Everybody says you should not take too much notice of the polls, but there is a fine balance between leadership and arrogance. You know what? This government has crossed the line from leadership to complete and utter arrogance and contempt for the Australian people.

The Prime Minister said, 'Don't you worry, as soon as the detail is out, as soon as we have told you how much you are going to have to pay, as soon as we have told you how much compensation there's going to be and where we're going to redistribute all the money, you're going to be happy. You're going to like the carbon tax.' Guess what? The announcement was made on 10 July and people still hate the carbon tax. What happened then? The Prime Minister said 'Don't you worry. I am going to wear out my shoe leather. I am going to walk down every street and shopping centre and tell people this is a great tax—and then they're going to love it.' Guess what? The longer the Prime Minister did that, the more unpopular the carbon tax became. Very quickly, the Prime Minister retreated from the shopping centres of Australia to the bosom of the press gallery in Canberra. Remember when she walked around a shopping centre with Mr Perrett, the member for Moreton? A lady approached the Prime Minister and Mr Perrett and asked, 'Why did you lie to us? Why did you tell us before the election that there would be no carbon tax, only to impose a carbon tax on us immediately after the election?' If Mr Perrett was serious about keeping faith with the people in his electorate, if he was serious about keeping faith with the lady in the shopping centre in his electorate, he would have voted against the carbon tax legislation this morning. But any suggestion by Mr Perrett that somehow he is committed to keeping faith with his electorate is just ridiculous. It is all about internal Labor Party leadership wranglings. It is all related to the internal soap opera that has become the Australian government.

After a couple of days talking to real people out in the community about the carbon tax and the impact it will have on household budgets, on the economy, on jobs and so on, the Prime Minister realised: 'Gee, this is a pretty unpopular tax. I'd better go back to somewhere where people are actually going to like it, where people are going to be friendly, where people are going to tell me that what I am doing is the right thing to do.' The National Press Club was holding a lunch, and of course that was nice and friendly territory for the Prime Minister. I will never forget the question that one particular journalist asked: 'Prime Minister, how can we help you make this bad tax more popular?' This was from a journalist. 'How can we help you sell this tax, Prime Minister?'

In every poll, every bit of feedback that senators and members on this side of the chamber—and, I am pretty sure, on the Labor Party side of the chamber—have been getting from the community as we travel around Australia, as we talk to real people, as we meet with people in the shopping centres of Australia, as we meet with people in the businesses of Australia, as we meet with people in manufacturing businesses across Australia, we see that people get it. People understand why this is a bad tax. People understand that making higher emitting manufacturers in China more competitive than lower emitting equivalent manufacturers in Australia is not effective action on climate change. People understand that when you help a higher emitting business in China take market share from a lower emitting business in Australia you are just shifting the emissions overseas to areas where they are arguably going to be higher than they would have been in Australia. That is not effective action on climate change; that is a reckless and irresponsible act of economic self-harm. It is our job to prevent this government from inflicting harm on the Australian people. It is our job to protect the Australian people from this bad carbon tax which will push up the cost of living, which will reduce our international competitiveness and which will cost jobs and reduce real wages without doing anything to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

We know that the government lied before the last election. We know that the Prime Minister lied before the last election when she said that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. But the lie continues today. Firstly, we should take a bit of a step back and remind ourselves what this whole carbon tax is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about Australia making a contribution to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. If that is what it is actually about then the first question that one should ask is: by how much will the carbon tax put forward by the Gillard government reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? What will be the net effect of the carbon tax in Australia on global emissions? That is the question that I asked the Secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who was not able to answer it. I asked that question of the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in this chamber, Senator Wong, in question time a couple of weeks ago. She could not answer. Given the failure of Copenhagen, given that there is no appropriately comprehensive global agreement, carbon pricing might be a nice theoretical economic concept but it does not work in practice because we are working in a global environment. If we are trying to address a global problem in a global trade and global emissions environment then we have to make sure that our policy response here in Australia fits in with what happens internationally.

Of course, since Copenhagen we have known that there is no prospect of a comprehensive global agreement to price emissions any time soon. That changed the debate in Australia. That changed our public policy interest in Australia. When Labor senators and Labor members in the other place, one after the other, quote ad nauseam how John Howard as Prime Minister was going to pursue an emissions trading scheme, they are right: the Howard government was committed to an emissions trading scheme—in the context of an appropriately compre­hensive global agreement. But guess what: Australia's national interest changed in Copenhagen.

When Copenhagen failed to reach any agreement on pricing carbon, when it became clear in Copenhagen that there was no prospect of an appropriately compre­hensive global agreement to price emissions, Australia's national interest became not to have a carbon tax, not to have an emissions trading scheme in Australia but to pursue direct action initiatives—that is, to invest our money, to invest our resources and to invest our efforts in reducing emissions in Australia in a way that achieves a net reduction in emissions in the world. Direct action does not just shift emissions overseas; it reduces emissions in a way that achieves a net reduction. That is one of the many features that make direct action much more attractive than the government's carbon tax proposal.

The government have absolutely no capacity to entertain any of this policy discussion because they are strangled and locked in. They are under the thumb of Senator Bob Brown, Senator Milne and the Australian Greens. They are in a straitjacket. The Australian Labor Party these days are in the Australian Greens' straitjacket. So whatever the merits of the argument, whatever is right and whatever is wrong, whatever is good policy or whatever is bad policy, the Labor Party have absolutely no flexibility to consider policy issues on their merits because the Greens will not let them. That is the real tragedy with all of this.

The lie is still continuing. For example, again this morning the Prime Minister went on radio and said that emissions are going to reduce between now and 2020, when the Treasury's own modelling says that emissions are going to go up between now and 2020. The Prime Minister said on the radio this morning that there would be an additional 1.6 million jobs across Australia, according to Treasury modelling. That is actually not true. The Treasury modelling never assessed the impact of the carbon tax on jobs. It included a technical assumption that the carbon tax would have no impact on levels of unemployment in the long run, given that the economy will continue to grow. When you impose an assumption like that on the model, of course it is going to tell you what you want it to tell you, but that does not mean that the government actually ever credibly assessed the impact of the carbon tax on jobs. It did not.

It did not report on the impact of the carbon tax on regional Australia either. The state Labor government in New South Wales, before they were defeated, actually did some modelling on the impact of carbon pricing on regional areas through Frontier Economics. The impact was a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in economic activity in many regions of Australia. That was the assessment at the time and since then there have been many more assessments conducted by governments in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland. They all say the same thing—that is, that this carbon tax will push up the cost of everything, reduce our international competitiveness, cost jobs and reduce real wages without doing anything to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

The other thing the Prime Minister said was that the economy will continue to grow. When you look at the Treasury modelling it actually tells us that, if we have this carbon tax in place followed by an emissions trading scheme, by 2050 our GDP will be 2.8 per cent lower than it otherwise would have been. The government then say: 'That does not matter. That is not much, 2.8 per cent. Who cares? It is going to continue to grow. What is 2.8 per cent between friends?' It is funny how their rhetoric changes depending on what argument they are trying to pursue. When the government were talking about the impact of the productivity improvements through COAG reforms, they said that a 2.5 per cent increase in GDP was a great thing, a significant increase. The Productivity Com­mission estimated the National Competition Policy reforms increased Australia's GDP by 2.5 per cent. When it was an increase in GDP of 2.5 per cent we heard, 'That is massive, that is significant, that is incredible. How fantastic! What a great job we have done through our massive economic reform.' But when there is an economic change that reduces our GDP by 2.8 per cent we hear, 'That is hardly anything. Who cares? That is nothing.'

We know that a reduction in GDP of 2.8 per cent by 2050 actually means in practice that the government's carbon tax legislation will see a reduction in GDP between now and 2050 of $1 trillion in today's dollars. That is extraordinary. That is nearly the whole GDP for the whole of Australia for a whole year. What that means in practice is that people across Australia will be required to work for a whole year effectively for nothing in order to pay for the impact of the carbon tax between now and 2050.

I am running out of time, which proves the point that the Senate and the parliament need much more time to debate the many flaws and problems in this legislation and the devastating impact that this carbon tax will have on families and communities across Australia. That is why we will not support any initiatives by the government to rush this legislation through the Senate inappropriately. (Time expired)