darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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September 20. 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (15:59): The minister clearly should have stuck to the script. He liked to claim that the shadow minister’s address was pathetic. He liked to claim that there was a desperate, failing, fear campaign. All this week we have had members opposite saying that our carbon tax campaign has run into a brick wall. They claim the community has moved on and that nobody is worried about it anymore. I thought’ ‘Why not test the theory? How might we test the theory?’ If the government is so confident, if the minister is so confident that no one cares about his carbon tax anymore, what not test the theory? Why don’t we have an election? Minister, why do we not have an election and test the theory? Here is something novel: you say you want to fight; well, do not run from the Australian people. Let them have a chance to have their say. The carbon tax is a bad tax. It is not based on the truth and we will repeal it. We can repeal it, we will repeal it and we look forward to the day we get the opportunity to do so.

No one has forgotten about the fundamental breach of trust of this Prime Minister and it goes to the core of every little piece of anger in the community relating to the carbon tax. What was it that the Prime Minister told the Australian people before the last election? ‘I rule out a carbon tax. There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.’ The Treasurer was also complicit in that deceit. He said that claims about the plans for a carbon tax were ‘hysterical’. Well, they are not as hysterical as the claims from the Treasurer that they are going to have a budget surplus this year. They are not as hysterical as that because, quite frankly, that will never happen.

I am prepared to bet that the Treasurer will never deliver a surplus. In fact, I have invited the Treasurer to put his money where his mouth is. I have offered him a $1,000 bet. In October last year I offered the Treasurer a genuine wager. He will not bet with me. But if he so confident why would he not? I said, ‘Here is a chance to win 1,000 bucks for your favourite charity, Treasurer.’ I told him in this chamber if he delivers that budget surplus this financial year I would donate $1,000 to his favourite charity. But if he does not deliver the surplus he will donate $1,000 to my favourite charity, which happens to be my local surf lifesaving club. This is a Treasurer who has presided over four budget deficits in a row. Like the rest of Australia, I simply do not believe he will ever achieve a surplus. I am prepared to put my money where my mouth is. I am not sure while why the Treasurer will not do the same.

All Australians, just like me, want to know where the money is going to come from. This government has no credibility on economic issues. At a time when the economy is slowing, no one has faith in this Treasurer or this Prime Minister to get the big calls right, which goes to the very heart of this matter of public importance. I am disappointed the Prime Minister is not here. At a time when the manufacturing sector is struggling and the mining industry is giving indications that times are getting tough and when the agricultural sector is going through hard times to compete on world markets, why would any government elected to govern in the national interest make it harder? Why would you make it harder for the manufacturing sector, for the mining sector and for the agricultural sector? Why would you make it harder for any Australian industry to compete with the imposition of the world’s biggest carbon tax?

What we are seeing, as this Treasurer tries to prop up this artificial surplus he keeps talking about, is a freeze on spending by the government on programs like the Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Package, which was meant to assist regions adversely affected by the carbon tax. Members who are not from regional electorates may not have heard of this package before but it is a $200-million package and not a cent of that package has been delivered. In fact, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government admitted during the budget consideration in detail stage that the guidelines of the $200-million package had not even been prepared.

Regional communities were promised in the lead up to the introduction of the carbon tax that they would be helped through the adjustment phase, that there would be structural adjustment funding. I am sure the minister at the table knows that. This is what the minister for regional development, the Minister for Climate Change and the Prime Minister repeated during visits to my electorate in the Latrobe Valley. This is what the minister for regional development said during the budget consideration in detail:

The guidelines for the Structural Adjustment Fund for the regions most affected by the carbon pricing initiative are still being considered and, in any event, they were always going to be contingent upon impact, once we knew where the ‘contracts for closure’ were going to occur.

Those who were not listening at that time may not have picked up the get-out-of-jail card hidden in the minister’s weasel words: ‘…they were always going to be contingent upon impact, once we knew where the contracts for closure were going to occur.’ But the problem is the contracts-for-closure process has now been abandoned. Are we to assume that the $200 million is gone? The $200 million that was meant to be given to regional Australia is gone because, according to the minister, it was always going to be contingent upon contracts for closure. Those opposite might say that is fair enough. The contracts for closure is gone and the $200 million package is gone. Except that is not true. That is not what the government promised.

I have here a fact sheet that I printed out this morning on the Clean Energy Future website. Let me read the section on the Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Package.

The $200 million Regional Structural Assistance Package will be set aside for structural adjustment assistance for regions and communities, and if required there will be other initiatives which assist strongly affected areas and sectors.

The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government will monitor the impacts of the carbon price on regions to determine areas where structural adjustment assistance may be required

… … …

Funding will support regional communities on a case-by-case basis. Examples of programs that may be supported include support for displaced workers and their families, support for affected small businesses, community development programs and economic diversification programs.

It is interesting the minister, who is due to speak next, has run from the House. I am assuming he is going to try and find this little fact sheet and try and find what the writing instructions are going to be about contracts for closure and the $200 million. The reason I wanted record that in Hansard is, I imagine, that website may be adjusted in the very near future. I imagine the fact sheet may be pulled from the website because in this fact sheet there is not one mention of contracts for closure. The package was put together because the government supposedly understood that some regions and communities will face more significant impacts than others from reforms like the carbon price.

On 11 July this year Minister Crean put out a press release with the heading: Clean Energy Opportunity for Regional Australia.Mr Crean said:

… the Government recognised the reality that some regions and communities would face more significant impacts than others.

Labor’s major economic reforms of the past have been underpinned by structural adjustment assistance, to ease the transition for affected regions and communities.

We will build on our legacy with a $200 million Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Package.

We will closely monitor the impact of the carbon price and ensure affected communities have access to the employment and training opportunities needed to underpin community development and economic diversification.

There was no mention again about the $200 million and the fund being contingent upon the contracts for closure program. Where is the $200 million?

Mr McCormack: It is in the dispatch box.

Mr CHESTER: No, I am not going to search in the dispatch box. I fear the good people of the Latrobe Valley and regional Australia have been conned again by the Gillard government. We were promised ‘no carbon tax under a government I lead’ and now we have that tax—thanks to a grubby little deal with the Greens and the Independents. We were promised a Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Package to help secure jobs and protect our future and we have received nothing, zero, nought, zilch, nada. It is a saving. I will be interested to see if the minister has been able to find the answer in the last couple of minutes. We have been conned. There is no structural adjustment package funding, and if the Prime Minister was honest with the Australian people she would walk in here and explain it herself. She would confirm that the package has been abandoned.

Mr McCormack: How mendacious!

Mr CHESTER: The member for Riverina says it is mendacious. I just said that so it would get on the record.

The Prime Minister would confirm that $200 million has been covered up by the Treasurer, who is desperately trying to cling to his claim of a surplus in this financial year. Make no mistake: the cuts are coming, and this program is on the chopping block because this government has given up on Australia’s blue-collar workers.

The other great con about the carbon tax that this government likes to perpetrate in the community is that only the so-called biggest polluters will pay that carbon tax. That is as misleading as the Prime Minister’s promise that there will be no carbon tax under a government she leads, because everyone pays the carbon tax through energy prices—through our local football and netball clubs, with their lights; our local aged care facilities; our hospitals and our surf clubs. The Lakes Entrance fishing industry wrote to me the other day. They have a $24,000 a year estimated increase in their power bills. And the carbon tax will affect local dairy farmers. The member for Forrest has dairy farmers in her electorate as well. They are going to be hit with a $5,000 extra cost to their energy bills on an annual basis. Everyone pays a carbon tax every day of the week.

But what does the Prime Minister say when asked about these increased costs? The Prime Minister repeatedly comes in here and says that businesses can pass those costs through. So the Prime Minister is quite happy for the cost of living to increase. In fact, she is suggesting that businesses pass the cost through and make life more difficult for their customers.

What concerns me most of all in relation to the carbon tax is the crisis of confidence it has caused in regional communities. It is directly linked to the uncertainty this government has created through its reckless decision to legislate the world’s biggest carbon tax. As long as this carbon tax hangs over the heads of regional Australians and their businesses and families it is hard to see that confidence being restored.

If the members opposite really think the anti-carbon tax campaign has run out of steam—if they really think we have hit a brick wall with this campaign—then let’s have an election. Let’s let the people of Australia decide.

(Time expired)

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