Senator BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (16:25): I thank the Greens for the opportunity to speak to this matter of public importance and note the fact that in doing so the Greens have highlighted another Labor broken promise. I am pleased that the Greens have done so. There are a number of ways in which they and their priorities have been the victims of these broken promises.
That, perhaps, is why the level of coordination and communication that used to exist between the marriage partners of the Greens and the Labor Party seems to have broken down a little bit. They obviously cannot manage to get their lines straight anymore. Senator Singh was just waxing lyrical about reductions in emissions that may have occurred and yet prior to her Senator Milne was waxing equally lyrical about how the latest global data indicates record level of emissions and emissions growth. Senator Milne is right: the challenge of climate change remains one of how you get a global solution; how you get global action; how you get emissions down from those who are far bigger emitters than Australia. Far too much of the debate in this place and far too much of the sidelining seems to be about this belief that Australia going it alone can make all the difference when the reality is that we need the action of the major emitters to make a real difference in this regard. From her rhetoric, Senator Singh seems to believe this. And this is true of Labor's and even the Greens' rhetoric.
We got this little lecture at the end about the biggest polluters—those evil and terrible biggest polluters. The carbon tax is paid by the biggest polluters, Senator Singh was telling the Senate. The carbon tax is paid by voters, because voters are consumers, just like tax is paid generally by voters. In the end, the carbon tax is passed through the economy, passed through the goods and services, into all manner of prices—and in particular, of course, the price of electricity, which has spiked directly because of the carbon tax by around 10 per cent nationwide. That is the impact that is hurting small businesses and consumers around the country and contributing very much to the tight margins that many businesses are facing.
Senator Singh went on from wrongly stating who is paying the price of Labor's carbon tax to talking about the fact that these are the polluters who are doing wrong. Let us make sure that these evil and terrible polluters are named and shamed! Should we try to reduce carbon emissions? Absolutely. But let us understand that the companies we are talking about here are in many instances companies that employ thousands and thousands of Australians. They generate jobs for many Australians. Entire towns and communities have been built upon these companies. They are making products, in many cases, that are essential to our public and private infrastructure needs. These are not evil wrongdoers; these are companies undertaking valuable economic activities. We should be seeking, of course, to reduce their emissions; but we should not be demonising them as the government—and Senator Singh in particular—seem hell-bent on doing. We should not be running around describing these companies with such pejorative language as 'evil big polluters' when the truth is that these are companies that overwhelmingly are simply doing their bit to try to employ Australians and grow our economy, and paying a whole world of Labor's new and increased taxes along the way.
It may come as a surprise, because the Greens had enough faith to sit down and do a handshake agreement or indeed sign a piece of paper with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, that the Greens have been dudded in relation to the deal they stitched up on the carbon tax. They have been dudded $100 million in today's budget. But it should not really come as a surprise, because it is one of so may broken promises—and, of course, the Greens have been dudded by the government before. It should not be a surprise, because tonight we will see a world of broken promises in the budget. We will see the biggest of all: the broken promise that relates to the delivery of a surplus this year, a promise that had been made on some 500 or 600 occasions by Ms Gillard and Mr Swan, let alone countless times by all the other members of the government. Just 12 months ago this was the surplus that was going to deliver; this was the start of a whole wave of surpluses. Now what we know is that, under this government, we are simply in the middle of a decade of debt.
There are other broken promises in this budget alone that also relate to the Greens' carbon tax deal: the promise of further tax cuts in 2015, the promise of an increase in the tax-free threshold that was due to occur—that was part of the Greens' deal with the Labor Party for the carbon tax, and that is another promise that will be broken in tonight's budget. So, even the carbon tax compensation to consumers and households is not sacred under this government. That compensation that consumers and households were promised they would get in return for having to pay the increased costs of living that come with a carbon tax is now starting to be stripped away. That is not the only part of assistance to households that is going to be stripped away in this budget. The so-called mining-tax-funded changes to FTB A are equally being stripped away tonight.
But there are other areas of the Greens' carbon tax package that we have started to see the government unwind. We have had a hit to families and to households with the 2015 tax cuts being abolished, and we have this $100 million cut to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Equally, once upon a time in the life of this carbon tax was the $2 billion Contract for Closure Program, which was going to provide funds and incentives to support the early closure of, in particular, brown coal fired power stations. Ultimately, the government scrapped that program and returned the funds to consolidated revenue. It has not helped their budget bottom line, I must note, as an aside; nonetheless, the government abandoned another commitment of what it would do out of the carbon tax.
And it is hardly surprising, because it is a long and sorry list of broken promises and bungles and mistakes that this government has racked up across the environment and climate change portfolios. It is little wonder the Greens decided to tear up their agreement with the government. It is just a shame that the Greens continue to prop up the government in every way possible—in the types of things that we have discussed many times in this chamber before, like the Home Insulation Program and the Green Loans Program, programs that were bungled by this government, programs that cost billions, inconvenienced thousands and caused severe hardship to many.
We have seen other programs come and go under this government. Indeed, just at the last election we saw commitments to things like the Citizens Assembly, or the Cash for Clunkers—Labor Party policies—
Senator Lundy interjecting—
That's right, Senator Lundy: Labor Party policies you took and ran under the last election and then promptly forgot about and tore up and abandoned straight afterwards in favour of imposing a carbon tax instead.
So we have seen dramatic change from this government of always doing, it seems, the opposite of that which it promised to do previously. I stand in this chamber not at all surprised by the fact that the government has broken another promise—that it has stepped away from another part of their carbon tax package. Of course, it is not making any changes to the tax itself. I note, though, that tonight when the budget is handed down the tax looks destined still to have unbelievable rates attached to it once it reaches its floating period. Once the carbon tax is floated I expect, based on all reports, that the government's budget will still be estimating far greater revenue receipts than it is likely to receive, despite the fact that it will be writing down billions of dollars in revenue in the budget tonight for those forward years.
The Greens can come into this place and complain if they like about the fact that the government has dudded them, but this is a government that has dudded so many others, broken so many other promises and has such a track record of breaking its promises that, frankly, I have little sympathy for the Greens in this regard, and it should certainly come as no surprise to them.