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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10875

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (19:03): I know that, across Australia tonight, there will be a number of people who, sitting behind the wheel of a truck or sitting in their house just preparing to watch the ABC news—in fact, people in all situations right across the nation—are actually listening to what is happening in the parliament. So I should explain that I am here, standing in the Parliament of Australia, and we are considering the introduction in this parliament of a carbon tax that has connected to it 18 ancillary bills that were presented by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. This is part of the debate that we are having to talk about them on both sides of the House. But it seems that those on the other side of the House, the proponents of this tax, have lost interest completely. They have in the House only the minister at the table, Minister Burke. So, just to explain to the Australian people, I am standing in, basically, an empty parliament, considering something that is going to affect every member of our society for generations. There are those who say that that is a positive. I say: that is a negative.

I have been opposed to the carbon tax. But I want to take you back a step, because people would then say to me: 'Russell Broadbent, member for McMillan: you are a Liberal. The Liberal Party, in coalition with the National Party, under John Howard proposed such a scheme, an emissions trading scheme'—Dr Shergold's baby, at that time, and Mr Howard agreed that we would look at it. But then, in a recent interview, he, the former Prime Minister, said, 'It was always my intention that I would only act on this if the world acted with us.' And that is right for this nation right now.

Why would we put ourselves in the position of being less competitive than our major competitors around the world? In fact, to those who argue that the world has acted: it has not. If you could put to me today that we could not operate in the world unless we had an emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax proposal, and that the other people that we trade with the world had already enacted one, then there would be a case for us to participate. But today there is no case. I put it to you that there are those in the commentariat, such Don Argus, whom I would like to come to in a minute, and others of stature who put their name to economic writing—that is extremely important to them, because they put their name and reputation to it—who oppose this issue.

How did it come about? I am not one to attack the Prime Minister, but I will say this. A politician may make a statement on an issue—especially when people are about to vote on who they want to run the country—with the intention that the people of Australia will understand what their intent is in regard to that issue. During the last election Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, 'There will be no carbon tax under my government.' I believe she was genuine when she said that. I believe it was her intent that under her government in this term there would be no carbon tax. However, circumstances came about whereby the Prime Minister of the day, to remain Prime Minister of the day, needed to do a deal with some others, including the Greens, who demanded a carbon tax or a response to climate change.

I can accept that; that is the process of politics. But if a politician, of any ilk, changes their mind, it is appropriate for them to honestly come to the Australian people and say: 'Look, I cannot hide this from you. I said that before the election and now I am saying this. Here are the reasons why. That is what happened then. That is what I said to you. But, honestly, I have to say to you now that I have done this deal with some other parties which leads me to say that I will be offering the Australian people a carbon tax.' The failure to do that was not appreciated by the nation.

I think the Australian people would have accepted it if they had been told by the Prime Minister, 'I am going to introduce a carbon tax—even though I said before that I was not going to—and here are the reasons why.' I think the Australian people would have accepted the Prime Minister being brutally honest with them, but she failed to be honest with them and this has caused all the trouble about the legitimacy of the introduction of this tax, especially when we are not focused on another election, I do not think, within weeks or months—I do not know; it could be—but certainly we are in the two-year time frame of an election campaign.

If the Prime Minister had said: 'Look, what I am going to do with this is lay it out for you'—which could be the introduction of these bills now—'but I will not introduce it until after I have taken it to the Australian people.' That would have been acceptable to the Australian people, because there would have been a long debate about it and there would have been reasonable consideration of the carbon tax. The Australian people would have got to have their say. They would have voted, exactly as they did with John Howard and the momentous introduction of the GST. The people of Australia had a say. And he just got there. I was part of that. I think we lost 19 seats, and mine was one of them. That is why I said to the people on the back bench of the Labor Party a few weeks ago, 'If you're not sitting in a safe seat, have a look around at your colleagues who are in safe seats, who have a buffer, because they are still going to be here after the election, and you will not.'

I spoke a few weeks ago about when I was sitting in that chair down there and Paul Keating was in opposition. If you ever saw Paul Keating in full flight in this House, you would know that it was something to behold. I can tell you: there were not many orators like Paul Keating, not many with such absolute dominance of the parliament. Paul Keating looked over and said to me, 'You're gone.' And I was. And now I am looking at where Labor members normally sit, and I can say to them, 'You're gone.' This carbon tax is unacceptable to the Australian people in the form it has been put to them.

It is not just me. I have the greatest admiration for Don Argus, who has been used by the government for his astute ability in many areas. He says in his address 'Are we still the lucky country?':

… I have previously stated my view that mainstream science is right in pointing to high risks from unmitigated climate change. I have also said that economic growth and a healthy climate are not mutually exclusive.

I have some concerns about the proposed carbon tax and in its current form I do not think the tax and associated policies are in Australia’s best interest.

First, I have deep reservations about Australia being a world leader in this area when it represents less than 2% of global CO2 emissions. Should we be proposing a scheme when much of the world has yet to commit to a carbon price?

These sentiments echo those of Nobel prize winner, Michael Spence. In his book, “The Next Convergence”,—

which I have purchased now—

Michael makes the point that countries should coordinate plans so nations and regions do not suffer competitive disadvantages. It is also surely imprudent to introduce new taxes when there is so much global uncertainty and confidence is faltering.

Even the Productivity Commission said it will cost jobs, it will increase inflation and it will increase electricity costs. If you have those three in place and the government then talks about, and only talks about, this being a tax on 'big polluters'—who are the big polluters? They are the electricity companies in Gippsland, Darren Chester's seat, and the workers in my seat of McMillan. They are calling them the big polluters. Who these big polluters are, the government has yet to say, yet here we are in this House discussing a bill that will directly affect every Australian and every 'big polluter'. The government refuses to release the list of the names of the big polluters that will be directly affected by this legislation. If power costs are to increase by 10 per cent with the passage of this legislation, those costs have to be passed on, if they can be passed on, to every household. But where does that leave the so-called big polluters—or, as I call them, electricity producers—who provide the power for all the reverse cycle air conditioners that are going into the new homes on the outskirts of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as well as, probably, into every new development in both small and large towns? I saw a whole street of homes built in front of my house. Every one of them had a reverse cycle air conditioner, and every one of them relied on power from the electricity producers.

This legislation is not good for Australia now. Time after time there are newspaper articles saying this. I will quote the Australian; in fact, I will not quote the Australian—that is not seen by the government as appropriate. Instead, I will quote the Herald Sun. It said:

… Julia Gillard fronted the media yesterday spruiking the benefits of the controversial carbon tax, looming large in the background was the metaphorical rhinoceros.

In this case it was Bob Brown and his Greens team, who since the last election have been pulling the Government's strings.

These are not my words, Bob; these are the Sun Herald's words. The article continued:

Their influence over the Federal Government should not be underestimated, particularly when the Prime Minister herself promised in the election campaign there would be no carbon tax on her watch.

…   …   …

Once again families who strive hard to better themselves and try to build a future, are targeted by a government that claims to represent workers.

…   …   …

But it appears the only certainty will be that household costs will keep rising, with more jobs on the line. That's for certain.

I do not want my community to be uncompetitive internationally; I want my community to do the best it can to reduce the carbon footprint that we put down. I think there are myriad ways to do exactly that, and I think there is a great opportunity for our nation to say, 'We want to reduce our emissions.' How we go about that can be a topic of conversation and debate from now until the next election.

So tonight I call on the government, if they have any political decency—and I mean political decency; I am not denigrating those on the other side or the Independents or anybody else—to say, 'We are prepared to lay down these 19 bills, which the government does not have a good record of managing, until the next election and to let the Australian people vote.' Let the people have a say so that they are part of the legislation, not opposed to the legislation.

Debate adjourned.