GRANT GOLDMAN: … Now, the Coalition has moved to limit electricity price rises in the face of this new legislation. If the carbon tax passes today they say the Prime Minister should do the honourable thing and not gazette the legislation and immediately call an election so that Australians can actually finally have their say on the carbon tax, and it is interesting all the polls say irrefutably that if we did go to an election that people would vote against it. In the meantime, as I mentioned, the Coalition will seek to limit the possible rises to electricity prices under Labor’s carbon tax by moving an amendment giving the Government one last chance. Now, let’s speak to the Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Greg Hunt. Good morning Greg. But firstly we’ll speak to Senator Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Grant and listeners. How are you?
GRANT GOLDMAN: Good. Now, look, they’ve been banging on about this for quite some time. They should have gone to an election. It’s clear that the majority of Australians don’t want this but it’s being shoved down our throat.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes, look, that’s right, Grant, and we have tried and failed once again to move an amendment to this carbon tax legislation which would at least have forced the Government to take it to an election. That’s what we sought to do during committee stage yesterday, at one stage, was to make clear the Opposition believed we should put this very clearly to an election, give the Australian people their say. If the Government had the courage of its convictions this is precisely what it would do. Instead, they’re scared. They know this carbon tax is deeply unpopular around Australia, that people recognise that it doesn’t achieve the object of reducing emissions but it does increase costs for all Australians and it does threaten Australia’s competitiveness internationally.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Of course, we’re not sabre rattling here, are we? The carbon tax will impose a massive slug on the electricity bills for all Australians. Look, the Labor Party keeps saying that ‘well, people will be looked after financially.’ Who gets looked after and who doesn’t?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s just it, Grant. At least 3 million Australian households will not be compensated under this carbon tax. That’s on the Government’s own figures, so that’s not a scaremongering or sabre rattling exercise. We know that over 3 million people will be worse off on the Government’s own figures. Their assumptions are incredibly optimistic. They assume an extent of global action that doesn’t look remotely on the horizon in terms of climate action and climate change, so what, of course, we’ll see if they’ve got their optimistic assumptions wrong – which, sadly, I believe they have – this tax will be even greater on Australia and if the impacts are greater then even more people will be worse off. Three million people worse off, or 3 million households worse off, is the starting point but from there, when you see electricity prices rises initially go up by 10 per cent and there are concerns from the electricity generators sector, including from the New South Wales Government, that those rises could be even steeper as a result of the carbon tax and the way this is being structured, many, many people will feel it hard.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Simon, I’ll go back to what John Howard said about the carbon tax. He said if we were to have a carbon tax it will be on the understanding that the rest of the world will do that because that gives us parity with the rest of the world, so from that statement are we able to glean the fact that perhaps Australia could become uncompetitive in world markets?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s a very serious concern about that. Just yesterday we saw a $1 billion investment by a chemicals company based in the Prime Minister’s own electorate in Victoria go by the wayside and it’s really just the first of many possible examples we will see – businesses walking with their feet, talking with their feet on the carbon tax and its impact on competitiveness in Australia. If we have this tax on Australian businesses and the rest of the world doesn’t, then obviously Australian businesses are going to – and global businesses in particular are going to – look at where they can put their investment dollars and, if they can get a better return by making the same products internationally overseas, then that’s what they’ll do.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Okay, so we’ve got the top 500 companies that are going to be taxed. Surely their boards would be meeting saying ‘well, do we really need to put up with this tax? Do we love Australia that much that we’re prepared to pay tax, whereas if we moved offshore we wouldn’t be paying it?’
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Many of those top 500 companies, Grant, are already international companies. They already have operations overseas in many instances. They work in ways where competing bids from different entities around the world will go to their board with tables and argue here’s the rate of return we can provide for this billion dollar investment versus the rate of return another country can provide for this billion dollar investment, so that’s the real risk for Australia. Yes, we know there is a direct impact to households with a 10 per cent slug initially to electricity prices and the like but, over the longer term, the real concern is that this is very much a tax on industry; a tax on jobs. It renders us more uncompetitive than our competing nations overseas – that’s where investment will go and, firstly, this carbon tax is broader in its reach, bigger in its scope, higher in its price than anything seen anywhere else around the world.
GRANT GOLDMAN: We’ve got some investigating for you to do. This rumour that we’ve been hearing for quite some time – it’s not going away. The rumour is three major companies in Australia that are heavily unionised – heavily unionised – are exempt from this tax. That’s a rumour I keep getting thrown at me and I thought who better than you to perhaps have a look at that one.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Grant, I’ll certainly try to investigate that. What the Government is trying to set up here is a scheme that really is a giant money-go-round. It has around $9 billion a year in tax coming in – coming in as a result of this tax – and yet the Government churns out to its chosen winners, its chosen few, more than $9 billion a year in spending, so some industry sectors do see a lot of money in the early years of the carbon tax going their way and it’s being paid off to ensure their silence, their acquiescence, at this stage of the debate, but of course all of the compensation is of a shorter time duration and it will start to fade out over time, so it won’t just be households who get a bit of compensation in the first years but then keep seeing the prices go up and up – a lot of industries see the compensation they get erode over time and many industries will be worse off as well, so there’ll be a big hit when it comes in next year but that hit and that impact will increase every year thereafter.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Just a final word on Penny Wong. I watched her yesterday and she was struggling a little bit because you probably heard me play her statements on the carbon tax. She says it’s not the ‘be all and end all’ and that’s not where we should be going as the Labor Party yet there she was championing the fact that we’re going ahead with it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Grant, there’s a lot of deep hypocrisy running through this debate. Penny Wong, indeed, as Climate Change Minister railed against the idea of a carbon tax as an alternative to Kevin Rudd’s CPRS [Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme] or ETS [emissions trading scheme]. We had, of course, back then the Greens arguing for unconditional cuts of 25 per cent by 2020 to Australia’s emissions. They’ve all sold out – they’ve all gone for something totally different but, most significantly, they’ve all gone for something that is the direct opposite of what Julia Gillard promised at the last election and that really is a key point that isn’t going to escape anyone’s memory for a long time.
GRANT GOLDMAN: No doubt about it. Good to talk to you this morning and final word is that it will be passed through Parliament around midday today.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Unfortunately it will become law around midday today and from then Julia Gillard will lead a Government that has imposed a carbon tax.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Great. Thank you for your time this morning.