darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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November 1, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (15:51): It is with a deep sense of sorrow that I join this debate. I feel sorry for the Australian people, who have had this carbon tax imposed on them without any chance at all to vote on the merits of the policy. They have had enormous increases in their electricity and gas bills—nine and 10 per cent imposed on them in the first year alone by a government that gave them no chance whatsoever to decide whether they actually supported the policy. I feel sorry for Australian business owners and farmers, who have incurred the extra energy costs, making them less competitive with their international trading partners.

You might find this hard to believe, but I also feel sorry for those opposite—those who are the true believers in the Australian Labor Party, the ones who are still committed to standing up for the battlers, the ones who are interested in fiercely representing the interests of the blue-collar workers and are still interested in helping those in the community who are less fortunate.

I feel sorry for those opposite, because their grand old party has been led down a path to political oblivion by a leadership team that lacks judgement and lacks political conviction beyond its own survival. I get the opportunity, as other members on this side do, to move around my electorate a lot. I speak to a lot of blue-collar workers. Many of them have been union members. Many of them are involved in Latrobe Valley power stations. They tell me they feel absolutely abandoned by the Australian Labor Party. Latrobe Valley power station workers have been facing the uncertainty over the last two years of this government’s Contract for Closure policy. What they asked me during that whole debate was why this Prime Minister doesn’t fight for their jobs like she fights for her own job. That is what they say to me; they ask, ‘Why doesn’t she fight as hard for my job as she’s fought for her own job within her own team?’

So it has been up to me and my colleagues, like the member for Flinders and others in the coalition, to fight to stop the Contract for Closure policy on their behalf. The reason we fought so hard in relation to that policy in particular is that it is about protecting jobs, about protecting blue-collar workers. It is also about reducing the cost of living for all Australian people.

I just have a message for the Prime Minister and her cabinet, and I mean this in all sincerity: I can tell you now that the blue-collar workers who used to support the Australian Labor Party in the Latrobe Valley have had an absolute gutful of being vilified and being called ‘big polluters’ by this government and the Greens. They have absolutely had a gutful of being told what jobs they can have and what jobs they cannot have, and they have had a gutful of listening to this Greens mantra, which is being preached by inner-city MPs who have absolutely no understanding of life in regional Australia. They are angry; they are still angry. Those opposite might want to console themselves with a Newspoll bounce this week, but let me assure them that they are still out there waiting for you; they are angry and they are waiting for you.

The Contract for Closure policy, as part of the carbon tax policy, was always going to force higher electricity prices and energy prices across the board, and that is what we are seeing. It was always going to force the switch to more expensive forms of power generation, making it tougher for Australian businesses, making it tougher for Australian families and also making it tougher for Australian pensioners and those on low incomes.

This matter of public importance debate today is a critical discussion for the House because it reveals the arrogance of the modern Labor Party. The previous speaker really typified my concerns with the modern Australian Labor Party. This party has become so out of touch. It has no interest in the issues that actually affect regional communities. But those on this side of the House are not surprised by that. We are not surprised that the ALP has no interest in regional issues, because there is not a single member of the Labor cabinet who actually lives in regional Australia. I believe that, to have a passion for regional Australia—to actually care about the future of regional Australia—you have to live amongst us; you have to live and breathe and work amongst the people of regional Australia. There is not a single cabinet minister who is completely committed to standing up for the interests of regional Australia. So we should not be surprised that we do not have anyone in the Labor cabinet advocating on behalf of regional communities.

One of the great myths of the carbon tax debate has been this claim by those opposite that only the so-called big polluters pay the carbon tax. But what we know now—the lived experience of the carbon tax—is that it has forced up energy prices on every household, on every business, on every factory, on every sporting club, on every hospital and on every aged-care and childcare facility. And every Australian knows it, except those opposite, who are still out here every day parroting the party lines fed to them by their party apparatchiks.

Those opposite also like to claim that somehow our opposition to the carbon tax—our anti-carbon-tax campaign—is running out of puff. I can tell you now that the winds of change are still blowing right across Australia, and every member on this side remains committed to fighting this battle all the way to the next election. Those opposite would like to believe that the community has moved on, that no-one is worried about it anymore. Well, if no-one is worried about it anymore, why not test the theory? If this government is so confident that no-one cares anymore about the carbon tax—

Ms Marino: Go to an election.

Mr CHESTER: Go to an election! That is one way to test the theory. We could go to an election. If the Australian community has really moved on, what is stopping us from going to an election?

Ms Saffin: You’re dreaming!

Mr CHESTER: The member for Page says I’m dreaming. I am dreaming—dreaming that anyone in this government would have the decency to actually let the Australian people in on their dirty little secret that they always planned to have a carbon tax. If this Prime Minister is so arrogant and out of touch—if she actually thinks the Australian people do not care anymore about her fundamental breach of trust—then let us test the theory. Let’s have the election. It would give the Australian people a chance to finally have their say on whether or not they want to have a carbon tax, which this Prime Minister explicitly ruled out prior to the last election.

I can assure those opposite that no-one in the community has forgotten that fundamental breach of trust. It goes to the core of every bit of anger that is still there in the community, because they know they simply cannot trust this Prime Minister or anything she says. This is the Prime Minister who said boldly before the last election, ‘I rule out a carbon tax,’ and, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead’. Of course, the Treasurer himself was complicit in this deceit, because he said that the claims about a carbon tax were ‘hysterical’. They were perhaps not as hysterical as his claims about returning the budget to surplus this year—but I have digressed.

I said at the outset that I feel sorry for the true believers in the Australian Labor Party, and I do save my greatest sorrow for those who are offended by the deal the Prime Minister did with the Australian Greens. How they must hang their heads in shame in this place knowing that they are in power with the Australian Greens—getting into bed with the Australian Greens for a grubby political deal must tear at the heart and soul of the true believers in the Australian Labor Party.

Finally, and I suppose in the spirit of the Spring Racing Carnival, I was inspired to review the list of previous Melbourne Cup winners—and I can assure the House that the list of Melbourne Cup winners is a rich treasure trove of metaphors for the Labor cabinet. We had the minister himself—

Mr Christensen: The government that stops the nation!

Mr CHESTER: The government that stops the nation—I love it! The minister himself reminds us of Comedy King, who won in 1910. As he stood here joking about the carbon tax, he was hoping voters were thinking, ‘It’s just a carbon tax; What A Nuisance’—the winner in 1985. Then, of course, there is the member for Maribyrnong—or Rising Fast, as he is known; he was the winner in 1954. He displayed his might and power to destroy the member for Griffith. Ominously—

Mr Hunt: I am waiting for Light Fingers.

Mr CHESTER: Oh, we will get to Light Fingers, don’t worry. Ominously, though, the member for Griffith is the Think Big of the Labor Party—ominous because he saluted twice. So perhaps the grey stayer from Griffith has another run in him yet. Of course—and the member for Flinders has been waiting for this—there is the Treasurer, old Light Fingers himself, a winner in 1965. But, with a little bit more research—and in light of his mining tax flop—perhaps he is Subzero. Only this Treasurer could deliver a tax that delivers zero—a winner in 1992 but not such a big success in 2012. I do like that—the government that stops a nation.

But the metaphors are everywhere to describe this dysfunctional government and its carbon tax. I will leave it to others to decide which of those opposite has the title Windbag—the winner in 1925.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr CHESTER: Yes, there was Big Red and White Nose, but I am not going there! All I can say is that, when the minister stood in this place and tried to describe our approach to the carbon tax as something akin to the Fine Cotton affair, I was reminded that the Fine Cotton affair looked like a picnic race meeting compared with the carbon tax con, which really is the Melbourne Cup of all deceits. This carbon tax should be sent to the knackery. I thank the minister for his inspiration today.

This is a government that has made a lot of promises to the Australian people. The Prime Minister made a promise before the last election that there would be ‘no carbon tax under a government I lead’. This Prime Minister has also made promises in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski review, yet we have not had one announcement from the Prime Minister on how she is actually going to pay for any of this. This is a government that is running out of excuses, running out of ideas, and I feel sorry for the Australian people that they will not get their chance, probably until the next Melbourne Cup, to finish their race.

I thank the House for the opportunity, and let me assure those opposite that no-one on this side has run out of puff when it comes to our campaign to destroy the carbon tax.

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