STEVE PRICE: Listening to that interview with Greg Combet is the acting Environment spokesman for the Coalition, Simon Birmingham – Greg Hunt is on location in East Timor. Simon, thanks for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good evening, Steve. Good evening to your listeners.
STEVE PRICE: A $29 price where we’re going to base tax cuts on it but it might never get there?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, indeed. It may never get there. It may be, as you suggested to Greg Combet, lower. It may, equally, be higher. We had Christine Milne out there today grinning like a Cheshire cat, suggesting that she thought it could be as high as $50 a tonne by 2015 and, of course, if that happens, it blows all of Greg Combet and the Government’s ‘compensation’ projections out of the water and really becomes a very serious burden on Australian industry, who in many instances are competing with countries not in Europe but, of course, with other countries that are far more reliant on agricultural and mineral exports.
STEVE PRICE: Greg Combet says the only uncertainty in all of this is Tony Abbott and, by association, you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s just not true at all, Steve. We have had a consistent policy all along. We went to the last election promising there’d be no carbon tax and, unlike Julia Gillard, we’ll be going to the next election promising there’ll be no carbon tax and that is a consistent policy from the Opposition and, yes, we will move – quickly, swiftly, as fast as we possibly can – to repeal the carbon tax, if elected, and to give business the certainty they deserve: that they won’t have to face this unfair impost that just renders them less competitive than so many of the nations we compete with for trade and export dollars, particularly in our region.
STEVE PRICE: Simon, the sorts of deals that Greg Combet announced today, when in place and signed… isn’t that going to make it much more difficult for you to back out and scrap this? I mean, presumably if we have, in writing, agreements with Europe, they’re not going to be necessarily easy to break.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’ll have to work through those issues with the Europeans, Steve, but, in the end, they will be aware, in signing up to this, what the policy of the alternative government of Australia is – what Tony Abbott’s Coalition’s policy is – and they’ll be acutely aware of that, signing on to this. It won’t take effect in any meaningful sense, of course, until 2015 which is well after the next election, so I don’t think there is anything insurmountable in this that couldn’t be overcome quite easily in the repeal of the carbon tax laws.
STEVE PRICE: You’ve had a suspicion for a while that this floating [floor] price was going to be dumped, haven’t you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it depends who you listen to. The commentators for a while have said that it was on the way out but just last week Greg Combet was saying that the Government was committed to the floor price and, back when trying to sell this carbon tax originally, Julia Gillard said a floor price was necessary to limit market volatility. Now it seems as if, of course, a floor price is not necessary at all and it doesn’t matter whether it crashes from $29 down to the $10 it currently is in Europe or whether it jumps right up to the $50 that Christine Milne’s predicting by 2015. That, of course, is terrible uncertainty for Australian households and businesses.
STEVE PRICE: Does it worry you that we’re doing deals with Europe?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think we need to be conscious of the fact that our economy is quite different, Steve. We are, as I said, a country very reliant on agricultural and mineral resource exports in a way that is quite different to most of the economies of Europe and, in the end, they are sectors… particularly the mining sector that is very harshly hit by this carbon tax and we really are putting investment in this country, and jobs in this country, on the line by going down a path that just increases the cost of doing business here.
STEVE PRICE: What about the idea that you introduce a carbon tax and then two months later change it? I mean, if we were going to not have a floor price and we felt that it was so important to do a deal with – as we’ve had described to us today by both Christine Milne and Greg Combet – you know, an economy with 500 million people in it, why didn’t we do it in the first place?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That is probably the most remarkable aspect of all of this, Steve. It’s less than two months since the carbon tax came into operation and here we are seeing major fundamental changes to the way it will work – changes that increase uncertainty and changes that potentially will see even higher cost rises in Australia – that, if this is so good and if this is so necessary to how the carbon tax was going to operate, why wasn’t it done in the first place?
STEVE PRICE: Does it have to be legislated – this association with Europe – or is it something that the legislation allows for?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There will be, I suspect, some changes to the legislation… in fact, I’m certain, given some of the details the Government’s announced today, there will have to be some changes to the legislation. That’s a matter for the Government to, of course, bring that forward. In the end, the Opposition has consistently opposed every aspect of the carbon tax legislation – whether it be the cash handouts or the tax itself, we’ve been very consistent in our position that, if you oppose one part of this package, you should oppose it all and I’m sure that will continue to be our position.
STEVE PRICE: Thanks for hanging on the line and listening through that interview [with Greg Combet] – I appreciate talking to you tonight, Simon, thanks.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Steve.
STEVE PRICE: Simon Birmingham there, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary and Acting Environment [Shadow] Minister.