Mar 22, 2011

Matters of public importance – Gillard Government

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (Leader of the House) (3:49 PM) — You have to admire the irony of the member for Warringah coming in here and speaking to a broadbased, broadbrush MPI—there are no specifics in it at all—about conviction and about truthfulness. The member for Warringah—the Leader of the Opposition—is indeed a conviction politician. He has a conviction that he should have been Prime Minister and that he should have won the election last August. But he lost, and what we have seen since then is played out before all of the Australian people: that frustration and anger. Do you remember the Mark Riley moment? All of us saw that there, and we see it across the chamber in question time all the time: the anger, sheer frustration and aggressiveness that a position which he believes is his by right should not be just given to him. Let me tell you: you have to earn the trust of the Australian people.

There is no reason whatsoever why the community should trust the Leader of the Opposition. You just have to listen to what he said himself. On 17 May last year in an interview on The 7.30 Report he said:

… sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.

So forget about everything that he has said in here today; he himself in his own words says that you cannot believe him because they were not carefully scripted remarks. There is no wonder that there is some nervousness from those behind him, because his colleagues do not trust him either. He said this during the Howard years, episode 4—it is a great little quote about the Howard Costello leadership:

Inevitably in those conversations you, to give comfort and reassurance to people, probably say things like “Mate, it’ll be your turn pretty soon and I’ll be on your side when that turn, when that time comes.”

… … …

Look, all sorts of things get said in those late night comfort sessions and I’m not going to say that I never said anything like that.

… … …

But it’s one thing to pledge undying love late at night after lots of booze, another thing in the cold light of day to actually do some of these things. And it’s wrong to think that late night love talk is necessarily going to be acted upon in the same way that a legal contract is going to be acted upon.

The Leader of the Opposition in his own words—deceitful not just to the Australian public but to his own colleagues.

Remember after August, when the Leader of the Opposition made grand statements about a kinder, gentler parliament? Remember that we were going to agree that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker would be paired. We were going to change the operations of this parliament. But he said, ‘I think we can have a kinder, gentler polity;’ on 24 August. On 18 September he said:

The important thing in the weeks and months and years ahead is to channel that disappointment and that frustration constructively and the only constructive way to channel that frustration and disappointment is to redouble our attacks on the Labor Party.

That is what we have seen from the Leader of the Opposition: whether it is on the National Broadband Network, national health reform or tackling climate change, his first instinct—indeed, his only instinct—is to oppose. Remember that he said on 3 February 2010 on the Neil Mitchell program:

No, no, we’ll go to the election campaign, Neil, with a list of promises, a list of commitments and we will fund them without new or increased taxes.

That lasted till May and his budget reply, when he said on 13 May 2010:

… the fairest way to have a paid parental leave scheme anytime soon is through a modest levy on companies’ taxable income …

Lasted three months, that one. But, of course, earlier on, when he was actually in government and in a position to do something about something that this government has fixed, he said:

I’m dead against paid maternity leave as a compulsory thing.

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compulsory paid maternity leave: over this Government’s dead body, frankly. It just won’t happen.

So when he is in opposition, after this government takes action on this issue, he says:

It’s high time this country had a national paid parental-leave scheme.

Of course we remember what he had to say about Work Choices. He says, of course, that they are not going to return to Work Choices, but this is what he had to say on 19 March 2008:

The Howard government’s industrial legislation was good for wages, it was good for jobs and it was good for workers and let’s never forget that.

He went on, on 13 August, to say that workplace reform was one of his greatest achievements. In Battlelines in July 2009 he said:

Work Choices was a political mistake, but may not have been an economic one.

So we know from the whole frame of policy that the Leader of the Opposition is someone who has no vision for the country and is determined to oppose for opposition’s sake. That is no way to appear to be an alternative leader of the country.

But, of course, there is nowhere more critical to his failure than in his attitude towards taking action on climate change. He was part of a government that was frozen in time while the world warmed around it. While other countries were taking action—while the north-east states in the US were setting up an emissions trading system, when the Chicago Climate Exchange was being established, when the Europeans were introducing an ETS—the Howard government, of course, captured by climate and market sceptics, refused to act until the end. We know that the then Treasurer, Peter Costello, in 2002 took an ETS to the cabinet and got rolled. Then Prime Minister Howard refused to take action on climate change until he was in trouble in the lead-up to the 2007 election. He had a bit to say at the Melbourne Press Club at the Hyatt hotel on 17 July. I encourage those opposite, who say they are the inheritors of the Howard legacy, to go have a look—not the shadow Treasurer, who gets it and knows in his heart of hearts that action on climate change is necessary, as do the member for Wentworth and a range of people over on that side of the House. They know that some action has to be taken on climate change. But this is what Prime Minister Howard said in 2007. Think about the current debate that is going on when you listen to these words:

In the face of risk, a prudent conservative takes insurance. We should, in the words of Rupert Murdoch, give the planet the benefit of the doubt given the potential dangers of climate change.

That is a pretty good sentiment. We agree with that. He also spoke about the responsibility that this generation has to future generations. He termed it, perhaps differently from how I would:

The Burkean sentiment—that society is a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born—comes as second nature.

I disagree that it is second nature to those opposite. I think one of the defining divisions in Australian politics today is between those on the two sides of the chamber. We take a view about the long term, whether it be action on climate change, action on the National Broadband Network, investing in education or investing in infrastructure. But this is what then Prime Minister Howard had to say further on:

Now we must position Australia for a low carbon future. We face a major new reform challenge in designing an emissions trading system and setting a long-term goal for reducing our emissions in the absence of a global carbon scheme.

He then said:

Australia brings formidable assets to this challenge: an educated, can-do and adaptable people a modern; flexible economy; world class scientific expertise; deep global engagement and an enviable reputation for institution-building and reform. We have mobilised these assets before and will do so again to help build a new global climate change framework and to facilitate Australia’s transition to lower carbon emissions. No great challenge has ever yielded to fear or guilt.

I ask the Leader of the Opposition to think about that. I say to those opposite that this government will also not be yielding to the fear campaign of the climate sceptics opposite, led by the Leader of the Opposition.

Indeed, then Prime Minister Howard went on to talk about the importance of market based mechanisms and those who oppose market based mechanisms. He said:

They are the real climate change deniers because they deny rational, realistic and sustainable policy solutions.

He went on to say:

Being among the first movers on carbon trading in this region will bring new opportunities and we intend to grasp them.

It is extraordinary that those opposite have walked away completely from that view. It took John Howard a long time to get to that view, but eventually he did get there—in July 2007.

We know that Lord Stern in his seminal report referred to climate change as the world’s greatest market failure. Indeed it is. Because we fail to put a price on emissions, high carbon polluters can emit for free and someone else pays the cost. The idea that it is free is an illusion. The cost is paid not just by this generation but by future generations, which is why this government is determined to ensure that polluters pay and that we use that payment by the big polluters—up to the 1,000 top companies emitting pollution—to provide assistance to households and businesses for adjustment and support for climate change action.

Those opposite want to take taxpayers’ money and give it to the big polluters—$30 billion of it; $720 each. They want to put their hand in everyone’s pocket. The shadow Treasurer said yesterday that they not only want to remove the price on carbon but will remove any assistance that is there, whether it be tax cuts, direct payments and assistance, support for pensioners or support for industry. That is an extraordinary proposition from those opposite.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has made a fundamental error, because straightaway he was out there just opposing the price on carbon. The second position he took was that he would not just oppose that but oppose the assistance measures that will occur. And then there is this nonsense about, ‘Put it in the budget.’ We have announced when it comes in—1 July 2012. We have made that announcement, so you can discount this nonsense and windbaggery from those opposite.

The third and perhaps most significant mistake he made was completely aligning the opposition with the climate change sceptics and ratbags. There are people out there who have extreme positions on these issues and the Leader of the Opposition wants to mobilise them in his so-called people’s action—and we will see some of it outside Parliament House tomorrow. He has become a hostage to these climate change deniers and that is why we see contradictions day after day. Last week, within 24 hours, we saw: ‘Climate change is nonsense; the science is not proven,’ and, ‘No, I think climate change is real.’ That was within 24 hours because he is, as the member for Wentworth said, trying to be a weathervane on these issues.

The same person who says, ‘There is no doubt that climate change is real; there is no doubt that mankind contributes to it,’ is just as capable of saying, ‘Climate change is crap.’ Then he has the gumption to come before this chamber and speak about truthfulness and being fair dinkum with the Australian people. Just as the flood tax scare did not work, the scare campaign on this will not work. The Australian people are better than that. They want a positive future not just for them but for their kids and their grandkids. Those of us in this chamber who have had the privilege of seeing the Great Barrier Reef want our kids and grandkids to have that privilege as well. (Time expired)