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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 5634

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (18:43): It is with disappointment and dismay that I rise this evening to bring to the attention of the Senate a serious breach of trust being perpetrated on the good people of the federal seat of Calare by their federal member, John Cobb. It came to my attention earlier this week that the federal member for Calare has been promoting an event for Monday night in his electorate regarding the government's plan to price carbon. I have a copy of the flyer that has been distributed in the community by the organisers of this forum. It says: 'Carbon tax community forum—how will the carbon tax affect you?'

Organisers have been letterboxing this flyer in the local community. I have even heard that residents in Lithgow are aware of the upcoming event and are intending to attend. The flyer is very engaging because there is a survey on the back and the question is posed by the member:

Do you agree with the federal government's proposed carbon tax? If you could raise one issue in parliament about the proposed carbon tax, what would it be?

Then, down below, are postal details. They happen to be the postal address and fax number of the member for Calare. I thought that this was a very impressive and highly commendable effort by the member for Calare. Information sharing and encouraging healthy debate about these issues is a refreshing way for the member for Calare to approach this very important but contentious issue. Indeed, it is the biggest economic reform that our nation has undertaken for several decades.

Even though I did not receive an invitation to this forum, there is nothing I would rather do on a Monday night. I contacted the organisers of the event and asked to be put on the speaking list. I was told I would be welcomed and would able to speak for the allotted time period of 10 minutes which the four other speakers on the list, including the member for Calare, have been allotted. Today, my office was informed by the organisers of the event that I would not be allowed to attend and speak. The organisers are no doubt fearful of what I might say in respect of these issues and may have been instructed by the member for Calare to censor the information being provided to the audience. Local residents need to be aware that this community forum, which is seeking to 'shed some light' on the government's climate change policy, according to the media release associated with it, is nothing more than a phoney forum. No government representative will be allowed to speak to the forum. No government representative will be allowed to take questions from concerned residents who attend the forum. Those residents will leave that room without the ability to make an informed decision about a major economic reform that affects them, their community, small businesses and families. I say, 'What a great shame.' The forum will serve only to muddy the waters, unless residents are told the full story regarding the government's plan to price carbon and the plan's effects on local communities. I cannot see the point of holding a public forum in the community, especially on an issue as important as climate change, that does not allow both sides of the argument to be put.

A number of local residents have contacted my office to express their anger about the fact that both sides of the story will not be put at this community forum. How can community leaders such as the member for Calare be so willing to blindfold residents on this important issue? It is wrong, and it is extremely disrespectful to the hardworking people of Calare, in particular those small business people who are crying out for information about this important economic reform.

Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to sit on the Senate Select Committee on Scrutiny of New Taxes looking at this particular issue. I have been travelling around Australia, particularly around rural and regional Australia, talking to business people, in particular small business people, and residents about the government's proposal to price carbon and the effects on them and their livelihoods. The one thing that I have taken out of all of these hearings is the fact that there is a greater need for information about the reforms in the community. Unfortunately, I will not be able to inform the good people of Calare at this community forum about the fact that the government's plan to price carbon will ensure that six million households receive compensation to ensure that they can make the transition to the new economy without a dramatic effect on their livelihoods. I will not be able to inform the good people of Calare about the tax cuts that the government is offering as part of its program to price carbon. I will not be able to inform them of the pension increases that will come for the hardworking people of Calare, in particular for those pensioners who have served that community over many years, many of whom are now on fixed incomes. I will not have the opportunity to let them know of the assistance that they are entitled to from the government as a result of these reforms. I will not be able to inform families of the effects of the price of carbon on them and of the assistance that they are eligible to receive, which will put them in a position to make the transition into the new economy. Most importantly, I will not be able to inform some of the small businesses about the government assistance that they are entitled to receive in respect of promoting energy efficiency as a result of this very important economic reform.

This is disrespectful to the people of Calare. Nonetheless, I will be attending on Monday night. I believe that it is important that the debate surrounding climate change be well informed, particularly for small business people and families in rural and regional communities. Although I will not be given the opportunity to speak, I intend to be there and to make myself available to those good residents to talk to them about the issue, to have an honest debate with them about their concerns and to provide them with information concerning this very important reform.

In conclusion, I am outraged that the member for Calare has sought to muzzle a government representative at this very important public forum. I say to the member for Calare: 'Allow a government representative to put the case for the government and to inform people of this important economic reform and its effects on their businesses, families and of the assistance they are eligible to receive.' What is the member for Calare afraid of? We need to promote good, open, honest debate in the community about this important reform. I will be attending on Monday night in Bathurst to do all I can by talking to the good people of Calare about this very important economic reform. I encourage the member for Calare to allow me the same opportunity he will have, to talk for 10 minutes to those who attend the forum, and put the case for reform and the government's climate change program.