I’ve seen some long bows drawn and cynical exploitation of others’ misfortune in my time watching federal politics. But today’s effort by Australia’s finest jurist George Brandis in Senate Question Time to link the Fairfax announcement to the carbon price takes some sort of prize for crass opportunism and straight stupidity by an allegedly intelligent politician. Indeed, Brandis goes further than merely linking it, he outright says in his third question that the 1900 Fairfax jobs will be destroyed by the carbon price.

“Have you ever heard of the internet?” interjects Stephen Conroy. Possibly not. Apparently a carbon price that hasn’t even begun yet is responsible for the woes of the newspaper industry. Here’s the full text of the exchange. Penny Wong gets stuck into Brandis, and rightly so. These people are going to be running the country next year?

Carbon Pricing

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland—Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:23): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to the announcement by Fairfax Media today that it plans to slash 1,900 jobs and close its Chullora and Tullamarine printing presses by June 2014. Is the minister aware that every significant stage of the Fairfax production chain, from the cost of power to produce newsprint to the cost of fuel to transport that newsprint, to the cost of electricity to operate the printing plants, to the cost of distribution will be directly affected by the carbon tax? Does the minister accept any responsibility for the loss of yet thousands more Australian jobs as a direct result of this toxic tax based on a lie?

Senator Conroy: Have you ever heard of the internet?

Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:24): That is a fairly desperately long bow, to mix my metaphors. I know that the opposition want to believe that pricing carbon is responsible for ending civilisation as we know it, but to seriously suggest that a business decision made by a media company is something to do with a carbon price is a seriously odd thing to do. I am not an expert in this issue and I suspect Senator Conroy could give you a much lengthier discussion than I could—

Senator Fifield: It would be lengthy!

Senator WONG: It would be lengthy and it would be most illuminating for you, Senator Fifield. He could give you a very lengthy discussion about the various pressures driving changes in that sector. I would have thought the internet might have something to do with it. This is just another example of the sort of overblown claims that we saw from the other side.

I saw Mr Abbott in recent times has moved away from the carbon price being a ‘wrecking ball’ to now saying that is actually going to be a ‘python squeeze rather than a cobra strike’, trying to segue away from some of the ridiculous propositions that were put out there as part of the scare campaign, including that a town in my home state of South Australia would be wiped off the map. I tell you what: I reckon it is still going to be there on 2 July.

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland—Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:26): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the statement made by Fairfax Media in its announcement this morning that the business is ‘already operating in very difficult times’ why has the government made those existing difficulties even worse at the cost of nearly 2,000 jobs by introducing the world’s biggest carbon tax at the worst possible time?

Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:26): Unless the senator has got a quote somewhere, I have not noticed anybody suggesting that the carbon price is responsible for the reconfiguration of the media landscape in this country. I suspect that might be occurring for a range of different reasons.

Senator Conroy: Could be!

Senator WONG: It just might be! I think it is another example of an increasingly desperate scare campaign where, to try to make themselves relevant today, the opposition are actually jumping on today’s story and trying to link it somehow to carbon. It is a pretty extraordinary position.

In terms of where the economy is at, because there was some implication about that in the question, I again reiterate what Senator Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, has said: we have low unemployment, we have created over 800,000 jobs since we came to government, we have an economy that is over 10 per cent bigger than when we came to power, we have inflation contained and we have interest rates falling. So the sort of gloom and doom that is behind Senator Brandis’s question— (Time expired)

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland—Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:27): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What is the government’s message to the some 1,900 Fairfax Media employees whose jobs have been destroyed by its carbon tax? Why are they faced with unemployment? Why are their families faced with hardship when Julia Gillard went to the last election promising there would be no carbon tax under the government she leads?

Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:28): I would say to them: do not trust Senator Brandis and the opposition in this disgraceful fear campaign. If you really cared about the loss of jobs, Senator, you would not come in here trying to link it to a political scare campaign. If you really cared about the families, you would not come into this chamber and disgracefully use people’s commercial decisions which will impact upon those families for your political purposes. So do not come in here and tell us that we do not care, because I think people who are worried about what is happening in their employment at Fairfax are not going to take too kindly to you rocking up into the Senate chamber and asking ridiculous questions in an attempt to link it to your carbon scare campaign. The reality is that we on this side do care about employment, we care about workers. That is why we put jobs first. That is why 800,000 jobs have been created since we came to government. That is why we got rid of Work Choices, something you still want to bring back. Do not come in here and talk to us about job security, Senator Brandis. (Time expired)