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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8158


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (15:39): We have heard in parliament today many statements from ministers opposite about the international difficulties facing the Australian economy. In fact, in defending the government's imminent abandonment of the previous cast-iron commitment to achieving a surplus in 2012-13, they have spoken abundantly of the dire economic circumstances in which our country is now placed. Indeed, there are many economic difficulties facing our country right now. We have the worst retail confidence figures in decades. In fact, we have a retail strike in the shops of our country. We have large companies now announcing a series of significant job cuts. We have unemployment starting to rise. We have the international share market in turmoil. We have some European countries really struggling with their sovereign debt. We have the euro, the world's largest currency, under great pressure.

In the face of all of these difficulties, and in the face of a very fragile international and domestic situation, what is the response of this government? The response of this government is to persist with yet another big new tax. The reason we have this government persisting with a carbon tax that will knock our economy for six in the face of all of these difficulties is that its response to every difficulty is a great big new tax. The mining industry is making big profits, so we have a mining tax. There is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: let us have a carbon tax. There were floods in Queensland: let us have a flood tax. Young people are drinking too much: let us have an alcopops tax. This is a government which responds to every single problem in the community with more regulation and more tax.

The Australian people, I regret to say, are losing confidence in our economy. They are losing confidence in our economic prospects because they have lost confidence in this government. They are absolutely entitled to have lost confidence in this government because, by any reasonable measure, this is the most incompetent government in living memory. It is the most incompetent government bar none. Some people have said that this government is the most incompetent government since Gough Whitlam's, but that is very unfair to Gough Whitlam, who did not lack ideals and never sold the soul of the Labor Party to Senator Bob Brown and the Greens. Wherever we look, there is a web of incompetence and untrustworthiness from this government. This is a government that could not be put pink batts into people's roofs without houses burning down. This is a government which could not build school halls without rip-off after rip-off. This is a government which could not preserve the live cattle trade in the face of a TV program.

With all of the problems of infrastructure in our country—the clogged roads, the queues and queues of ships out the front of ports, the railroads that have not been extended in some cases in 100 years—what is this government going to do? Spend $50 billion it does not have putting fibre to people's homes whether they need it, want it or can afford it—and the $50 billion it will spend is just to connect to the fibre, not to use it. This is the most incompetent, the most extravagant government in living memory, and now this government wants to be trusted with the most complex and most difficult tax change in Australian history. This is a government of truly monumental waste and ineptitude.

There was a lot of talk today, a lot of bluster from this government, in parliament about the surplus which, to any acute listener, clearly is never, ever going to be delivered. The promise to deliver a surplus is going to turn out to be just as reliable, just as trustworthy as the notorious promise, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' Let us look at what this government has done when it comes to being prudent, frugal and trustworthy with the Australian people's money. It inherited a $20 billion surplus in 2007-08 and boasted it would deliver a $22 billion surplus in the following fiscal year. What did it actually give us? A $27 billion deficit. But they are never satisfied with mere mediocrity; this government wants to achieve records of incompetence and wastefulness. In 2009-10, not satisfied with a $27 billion deficit, they delivered us a $55 billion deficit. Just to ensure that the $55 billion deficit in 2009-10 was not a fluke and they were absolutely committed to waste, incompetence and extravagance, they gave us a $49 billion deficit in the current financial year. For an encore, it is going to be a $23 billion deficit in 2011-12. Then, finally, with a miracle to rival the loaves and the fishes, after achieving $150 billion plus in accumulated deficits, they say, 'And we're going to have a $3.5 billion surplus.' At that rate they will have to do it for 50 years just to repay the extravagance and incompetence of the first four years of the current administration. If we cannot trust this government with money, we should never trust them with a new tax.

We should never trust this government with a new tax. Particularly, we should not trust this government with a new tax that is specifically designed to change the way every single Australian lives and every single Australian works, making it deliberately more expensive to turn on our fridges, TVs, air conditioners and heaters, making it deliberately more expensive to buy goods that have to be transported by truck around our country. Even on the government's own figures there is an immediate 10 per cent rise in electricity prices under this tax. There is an immediate nine per cent rise in gas prices under this new tax. We know, because we know that governments put the best possible presentation on these things, that groceries are going up and up and up and that power will go up and up and up in addition to the government's current estimates. There is an estimate from the Food and Grocery Council of a five per cent increase in grocery prices. The automotive industry says there will be a $400-plus increase in the price of Australian automobiles. Is it any wonder that iconic Australian businesses are now restructuring and moving offshore, because this government, at an extremely difficult time in international economic circumstances—at a very fragile time in the economic life of this country—has only one instinct: to go ahead with a bad and unnecessary new tax?

This carbon tax, on top of the mining tax and the treatment of Telstra, is just going to add to the perceptions of sovereign risk that are now damaging brand Australia right around the world. This is just going to add to the job difficulties that this country is likely to face thanks to the policies of this government. Under the carbon tax there have been estimates of 10,000 lost jobs in the coal industry, 23,000 lost jobs in the mining industry more generally, 45,000 lost jobs in energy-intensive industries generally and 126,000 lost jobs right around our economy, mostly in regional Australia—and for what?

This is all supposed to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. But if you go to the document that the Prime Minister released on carbon Sunday, you will see that the carbon tax is not going to cut our emissions; it is actually going to increase them. Here in black and white we see that our current emissions are 578 million tonnes in the current year. In 2020, thanks to what will by then be a $29-a-tonne carbon tax, they go up to 620 million tonnes. What an absurd policy. A policy that is supposed to cut our emissions actually increases them. The only way we actually get our abatement target in 2020 is by buying nearly 100 million tonnes of carbon credits from abroad at the cost of $3½ billion. That is $3½ billion shoved out of the pockets of Australian consumers via Australian businesses into the pockets of international carbon traders—and aren't they an honest and reliable crew? Safe as Solomon Brothers, the international carbon trading fraternity—

An opposition member: Lehman Brothers.

Mr ABBOTT: Lehman Brothers. Solomon Brothers are a good firm! But it is $3½ billion into the pockets of the international carbon traders just to achieve the abatement target of 2020.

But it gets worse. This government is going to give us, on its own figures, a carbon tax not of $23 a tonne, not $29 a tonne but of $131 a tonne by 2050. You know what our emissions are going to be? Our emissions are going to be 545 million tonnes. So we are going to go through all this turmoil, all this upheaval, all this investment flight, all these job losses and all this pressure on the cost to Australian families for years and years—four decades of pain—for what? Our carbon emissions go, on the government's own figures, from 578 million tonnes to 545 million tonnes. It is going to achieve its 80 per cent emissions reduction target by spending—would you believe it?—$57 billion buying more than 400 million tonnes of emissions abatement from the carbon traders overseas. This is a lunatic policy. If I had not seen it in black-and-white in the government's own documents, I would not have believed it. I say, through this parliament, to the Australian people: look at the government's own figures. I am not making this up: a $131 a tonne carbon tax. It hardly makes a single difference to our environment but, by God, Mr Speaker, it is going to make a difference to our country. It is going to hurt jobs, hurt investments and hurt the struggling families of Australia.

Members opposite seem to be very interested in what may or may not have been said to Alan Jones. I have got what was said to Alan Jones this morning on the radio by former Labor senator John Black, who was asked about what Labor members of this parliament are doing. He said:

Sweating a great deal and looking for alternative employment.

Mr Albanese interjecting

Mr ABBOTT: So I say to the member for Grayndler: you can crack hardy all you like, but not even your seat is safe, mate. That is why this Prime Minister's job is not safe. A very clear message is going out from the Australian people to this government: there can be no tax collection without an election. If this government had any honesty, any decency, that is what we would have: an election now. (Time expired)