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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4171


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (12:36): I was not going to speak in this debate, and I think—

Government senators interjecting

Senator WONG: Don't worry, I will be speaking on the suspension of standing orders and the upending of the Senate rules which no doubt you will do next.

I thank Senator Milne for allowing me to speak first. I will not be too long. There are a number of things in that stream of hyperbole which I think require a response from the Labor Party. Firstly, Senator Abetz says, 'People are concerned about the cost of living; this carbon price is a dreadful thing for cost of living'. What about the GP tax—that promise that you broke? You did not tell people that you would be introducing a $7 GP tax. As I recall, it was, 'No cuts to health; no cuts to education.' People care about the cost of living. What about the tax on pharmaceuticals, the increased co-payment, making it more expensive for people to get medication? Do you reckon that has an impact on people's cost of living? What about fuel excise? This is one for Senator Williams. What about the increase to fuel tax? That is also not something that was discussed before the election. Some might describe it as a carbon tax on steroids. What about the cuts to pensions? They might be something about cost of living—the cuts to pensions that the Prime Minister so arrogantly pretends do not exist. The thing about this government is that not only—

Senator Abetz interjecting

Senator WONG: I will take the interjection from the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He said, 'No cuts.' You tell that to Australia's pensioners. You are going to reduce the amount by which their pension increases from what it is now into the future. You tell them, 'Actually, love, that's not a cut. I'm going to take money back to the government, which is how I get a saving in my budget, but I'm not even going to do you the respect of acknowledging that it is a cut to your pension.'

Finally, there is the deregulation of university fees, making it harder for disadvantaged Australians and kids from working-class families to go to university. When Senator Abetz comes in here and cries about the cost of living, I hope everybody in this chamber and everybody who might consider this debate will think about the cost-of-living measures, the cost-of-living imposts, the increases to the cost of living of Australians, particularly middle- and low-income Australians, that the government are seeking to impose with their budget. Worst of all, they told lies before the election about whether they would do that.

There was a lot of talk about mandate in the contribution from Senator Abetz. Where is the mandate for the GP tax? Where is the mandate for the increases to the fuel excise? Where is the mandate for increases to the pharmaceuticals co-payment? Where is the mandate for cuts to the pension? Where is the mandate for putting university education out of the reach of so many Australians? If you want to talk about mandates, Senator Abetz, maybe the government should come in here and talk to Australians about why they lied to the Australian people and told them there would be no change to pensions, no cuts to health and no cuts to education.

Senator Abetz also talks about the manufacturing industry. A government whose Treasurer stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and goaded Holden to leave wants to talk to us about manufacturing jobs? The government, who ripped assistance away from the car industry and ensured that we have an end to the auto manufacturing industry here in Australia, want to come to this chamber and tell us that we have to get rid of the carbon price because that is better for manufacturing jobs, after demonstrating that they have no concern for manufacturing workers and their families. I think Senator Abetz said in his speech—and the Hansard will correct me if I am wrong—that the carbon tax had destroyed the Australian economy. If that is the case, what has this government done in terms of ripping away manufacturing jobs? What has this government done in terms of the hit on low- and middle-income earners, the hit on families, the hit on vulnerable Australians and the hit on elderly Australians? Let's get a bit of reality into this debate.

The Labor Party has made very clear: we support an emissions trading scheme. That is our position, and that is a floating price. With all of the word games and props that Senator Abetz uses, he glosses over that fact. We support an emissions trading scheme, which is what we went to the election with in 2007—a mandate which those opposite deny. We support an emissions trading scheme, like John Howard used to in 2007, like John Hewson does and like all sensible economists do, because it is the cheapest way for our economy to respond to climate change. It is the cheapest way for us to address this issue. Unlike those opposite, we do not believe it is a reasonable position, an ethical position, to say to Australians, 'It's all too hard. We don't want to do anything about climate change.' That is what this government wants. That is the position of this government. It is not the position of the Labor Party.