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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1811

Ms O’DWYER (9:19 PM) —The Prime Minister has practised a great deception on the Australian people. Far from being the economic conservative she promised, she has proved, yet again, that at her core she is an economic vandal. Last week, the Prime Minister declared that she would bring in a carbon tax, without a mandate, without an election, without taking it to the people—without any analysis on the impact on the Australian economy, on Australian jobs and on Australian families. It is difficult to think of any other policy with such wide-ranging effects for the Australian economy and for the average Australian that has been implemented without giving the people the chance to cast their vote on it.

This is an arrogant government, a government that would seek to impose a new tax with such significant implications for the cost of basic goods and services without allowing the people of Australia to have a say. But not only will this government deny the Australian people a say; it has lied to them. On 16 August, before the federal election, the Prime Minister stated categorically, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.’ On 20 August she made the same pledge, saying, ‘I rule out a carbon tax.’ The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, was equally explicit, saying, ‘We have made our position very clear. We have ruled it out.’ He went on to say, on 15 August, in response to a question regarding a price on carbon, ‘Well, certainly what we rejected is this hysterical allegation somehow that we are moving towards a carbon tax … we certainly reject that.’

Yet now the Prime Minister refers to her previous statements and that of her Treasurer as ‘semantics’. But this fiction of semantics is even too much for Graham Richardson, former senator and Labor fixer, to bear. You will recall that Graham Richardson is the author of Whatever it Takes and a keen advocate for that philosophy in politics. In today’s Australian newspaper he states:

No weasel words, no amount of spin can alter the record; she promised solemnly there would be no carbon tax from a government she led. The words were strong. There was no wriggle room, no back door.

Having gone to such lengths to assure the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax, it is inconceivable that the government would now seek to impose one. The opposition was labelled ‘hysterical’ for suggesting that the government was contemplating a carbon tax. This was the extent to which the government was prepared to go to assure voters that there would be no carbon tax if they voted for it. And yet, just 26 days after the federal election, the Prime Minister was asked if she still ruled out a carbon tax, to which she replied, ‘I just think the rule-in, rule-out games are a little bit silly.’

Well, our record is very different. When the Howard government developed its proposal for tax reform, we took it to the 1998 election. The GST, which involved significant changes to Australia’s taxation system, was put to the Australian people, who were given an opportunity to vote for or against the coalition on the strength of our policies. The GST, which was introduced in 2000, was not universally popular. It did not have the instant support of all Australians. It required the government to make its case and to convince Australians that a new tax system was necessary to secure Australia’s future prosperity. It must be said that we got rid of a number of taxes in order to implement it and to secure funding for state governments.

The Labor-Greens government under Prime Minister Gillard has shown how weak it truly is by subverting this important democratic process. It is an indication that the government has no faith in its own policy, because it is not prepared to make a case for it. Instead, it has made an explicit commitment not to introduce it and then, after the election, has breached faith with the Australian people. It is clear that the government is not in control of its own policy process. This is the result of a government that relies on the Greens to maintain its power in the parliament.

Australians see Labor’s broken promise as a breach of trust with the electorate and a deliberate attempt to deceive them in order to win government. For Labor, it is merely the cost of doing business. This Labor government seems completely oblivious to the fact that it has made history with a broken promise of this size. And that is no mean feat when you consider Labor’s recent track record on promises, from GP superclinics to hospital takeovers and to open and transparent government. They must be thanking their lucky stars that they broke their promise so early on GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch. The increased grocery and petrol prices as a result of a carbon tax would not have held up particularly well under their scheme. At $26 a tonne it would add over $300 to electricity bills and 6.5c a litre to petrol.

But this promise is not just another GroceryWatch, laptops in schools or any number of other broken promises that we have come to expect from Labor. This is the backflip to end all backflips, because it was done without any real conviction, it was done merely to sustain power, it was done against the will of the people and because the implications for the economy, jobs and cost of living are enormous. A respected economist, Henry Ergas, noted today in the Australian:

… in terms of Australia’s national interest, it is difficult to think of a policy more harmful than such a unilateral tax.

Labor’s carbon tax will be felt most clearly by households when they fill up at the petrol pump or when they receive their electricity bill. The Australian Industry Group has released a report into energy prices, based on data from the New South Wales Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. The report states that the total annual electricity bill in 2012-13 will be $300 higher under Labor’s carbon tax. For the average four-person household it will be $500 higher. Labor’s very own climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, has said that a carbon tax will increase the cost of petrol by 2.5 cents per litre for every $10 of tax. This means that Labor’s carbon tax of $26 per tonne will increase the price of petrol by over 6.5 cents per litre. These of course are not insignificant costs. For households that are already struggling, this will severely affect their economic position. The Prime Minister does not understand that there are many Australians who will not be able to deal with the inevitable price increases without a reduction in their standard of living.

The carbon tax is another of Labor’s reactionary policies that has not been thought through. When Prime Minister Gillard took over from the previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, she claimed to have resolved the mining tax impasse and had reached an agreement with the major mining companies. This agreement has now broken down due to the government’s failure to uphold its end of the bargain. Prime Minister Gillard also said she had found a way to process asylum seekers in East Timor, yet this too has fallen through because she failed to consult with the East Timorese government. She said she had a brand-new plan for health reform, but it turns out it was simply the former Prime Minister’s policy rebadged as her own—the same policy that failed to win support from state governments.

This carbon tax is another example of a policy that has not been thought through but is designed to cover for the government’s lack of real policy ideas. Labor hopes that by putting forward a carbon tax it will be able to win support from the Greens in parliament, but the people of Australia have once again been lumped with a policy that has not been properly planned and will certainly not be effective. This policy is not about helping the environment and it is not about outcomes; it is a new tax and a political strategy to maintain power with the help of the Greens.

By contrast, the coalition do have a real policy to take effective action to invest in emissions reduction. Our policy involves $10.5 billion of investment in direct abatement projects. We do not need to introduce yet another new tax that will eat away at household budgets. Labor’s overriding political philosophy is to tax. When you realise that you cannot reach a budget surplus, introduce a mining tax. When you refuse to cut wasteful spending, introduce a flood tax. When you need the Greens to support you in the parliament, introduce a carbon tax. This $16 billion tax, on top of the $38.5 billion mining tax and the $1.8 billion flood tax is just the beginning. These are just the starting figures. If we are serious about climate change then we should look to direct action. If we are serious about preserving and improving our natural environment we should maintain a strong economy.