I rise today—again somewhat miffed by some of the contributions from those on the other side—with regard to the Steel Transformation Plan and the reasons for it to be put in place. Some of the contributions to the debate have indicated that this plan is part of an adjustment process and part of a very neatly put together taxation system when in reality it is a knee-jerk reaction. Straight away, immediately after the imposition of the carbon tax, they are out here with the bandaids. This plan is the very first bandaid—and it is a very large bandaid—to try to save the two biggest players in the very important steel industry. But once again they are only going to talk to the big players in this and through regulation say, ‘The only ones who’ve got eligibility to this compensation package are the very largest.’ This plan seems to be a rerun of the mining tax. They are only going to have a handful of players—only the very big players—in the room, and they will negotiate with them. They will take the pain away from those who have the greatest capacity to bear it.
It is good to see Senator Madigan in the room. I am not sure if Senator Madigan was around that table—I suspect that he was not—but he as a steel manufacturer must be bleeding at the gills at the thought that BlueScope and OneSteel are getting special assistance, whereas the manufacturing sector, which is very small in Senator Madigan’s area but employs lots of people and is very important and provides the capacity for us to manufacture items, particularly in rural and regional Australia, which add a lot of value and a lot of independence will not receive any assistance. Sadly, Senator Madigan will not be in that. Senator Madigan, I am not sure if you are going to have a little wind turbine on your head or a special solar operated shirt as you weld your forge, but I wish you good luck with all of that, mate.
Senator Singh said some pretty interesting things during her contribution. She accused us in this place of taking a political position. I do not know about that—it seems pretty critical. She said that she could not understand why we were so negative about this tax. Senator Singh, I listened carefully to your maiden speech, and I think that you will make a very good contribution in this place. I know from the sorts of things you said that you must have good values, so I hope that you understand that we have taken our position on this because we gave our word to the Australian people that, if elected to government, we would not put a price on carbon: we would not introduce a CPRS and we would not introduce a carbon tax. That is what we said to the Australian people, and the Australian people thought when they went to an election that neither of the two principal organisations, the Australian Labor Party and the coalition, was going to impose a carbon tax. Senator Singh, the reason we have taken the position that we have on the carbon tax is that we have decided to honour our promise whereas you on the other side have decided to dishonour your promise in the worst possible way.
Then, Senator Singh, you accused us all of being climate deniers. I am not a climate change denier at all. I think a lot of the science is a bit confusing, but we will look at it on balance as we go along. We have certainly given the planet the benefit of the doubt, and we have agreed—as have the Australian Labor Party—that we will reduce our emissions by five per cent by 2020. The difference in our policies is that the direct action policy will, through a clearly audited arrangement and a clearly audited investment, be able to reduce our emissions by five per cent by 2020 whereas, if you look carefully at the plan and the modelling of those on the other side, you will find that they are falling short by 43 million tonnes. The Australian Labor Party are not reducing Australia’s carbon footprint by five per cent by 2020—in fact, they are falling considerably short of that target. But it is okay; we are going to go and buy carbon credits on a market that does not exist and spend $3.5 billion every year until 2020—and that money would build an awful lot of schools and hospitals—rising eventually to $57 billion a year. So, in 2050, we will be sitting in this place saying, ‘By the way, in the forward estimates there is one little line item—$150 billion that we are sending offshore.’ That is the Australian Labor Party’s plan. It is absolutely appalling, and it needs to be exposed for exactly what it is. It will do absolutely nothing to the climate, yet it is going to cost us that sort of money. This should not be seen in isolation; those billions and billions of dollars that we are sending off shore to buy a piece of paper so that the sea can be kept at the right level means that we are not going to be able to spend money on other things. The figures are absolutely terrifying.
Senator Singh said that businesses want certainty. They do want certainty, but I do not think they want the grim certainty of the financial future that this government has just provided them. If you went down to the company which Senator Singh referred to who manufacture steel for armoured vehicles and asked them, ‘Would you have liked a carbon tax?’ they would have said, ‘Absolutely not.’ There is no point putting your arm around the wounded soldier with a bullet hole in his leg and giving him your bandaid while saying, ‘It will be okay; I’m going to help you get better,’ when you were the one who shot him in the leg. It would be the height of hypocrisy for you to do that.
This steel plan is a short package of $300 million, and the question is: what is going to happen when it runs out? It is just going to delay the inevitable, which is that we are not going to be able to compete with imported products and that Australia, one of the world’s great steel producers, will not even be independent. We know that the very next day after the government announced this $300 billion steel plan $300 million was wiped off the joint share packages of BlueScope and OneSteel. Of course, the steel plan now being brought in will do them no good at all—and, aside from that, the $300 million in the plan has come from Australian taxpayers, which means fewer schools and fewer hospitals. The people who own the shares are not companies; they are people. They are Australians, and the shares represent their superannuation, and $300 million of that has been wiped out.
They have already transformed the steel industry as part of their contagion of incompetence by ensuring that this small steel plan has already gone and had its effect—that is, it has had no net effect at all on looking after the steel industry, which is so important to manufacturing today. Senator Carr, on the other side, on his watch, has been responsible for over 105,000 jobs lost in the manufacturing sector, and I can tell you that what they do not really need now is a bullet wound in the head. It is not a wound; there is no bandaid that will fix this. It has been demonstrated, once again, that this carbon tax will be the end of another essential Australian industry. (Time expired)
Download media release:
111109 Second Reading – Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011.pdf