PAUL MURRAY: … in the Senate Estimates committee. Under the spotlight at that stage was the amount of money that the Federal Government has been spending advertising its carbon tax package. Senator Simon Birmingham was in those Senate Estimates yesterday. What we found out was that the Government has actually blown the budget on what it said it was going to spend on advertising the carbon tax, but also what came out yesterday was a whole lot of payments to green groups – a lot of the green groups who have been supporting the ‘Say Yes’ coalition – and very interesting payments they were indeed. Senator Simon Birmingham, who’s a Liberal Senator from South Australia, joins me now. G’day, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, Paul, and g’day to your listeners.
PAUL MURRAY: Just tell us what happened in terms of the spending package on the carbon tax advertising campaign.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Paul, what we’ve seen is an absolutely flagrant abuse of taxpayers’ money as the Government has, for rank political purposes, taken taxpayer dollars and used it to try to convince people that their carbon tax is a good idea. Now, they appear to have failed miserably on that but we’ve seen, of course, some $24 million spent on television ads, sending a glossy brochure to every household – large sums of money and around double what the Government said they would spend in regards to this campaign, and then, as you mentioned, supplementary to that we’ve got a $13 million Climate Change Foundation Campaign being run and within that we’re seeing significant sums being given to what is effectively the Government’s cheer squad on the carbon tax – a whole raft of environmental groups who have been campaigning for the carbon tax and keep saying how wonderful the Government is and this seems to be a very convenient back door way of rewarding them for their praise.
PAUL MURRAY: Just to deal with the carbon tax, just to tidy that up, that was a $4 million blowout, wasn’t it, on the advertising campaign?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it was a $4 million blowout if you take out of that, of course, all of the campaign development costs and all of the costs around the actual distribution of the brochure and so on as well so if you just look at television buy – ‘media buy’ they call it – then there was a $4 million blowout on the $12 million that the Government promised but you need to make the ads, you need to do all of those sorts of things, so in many ways it really blew out by double when you look at the whole communications package they put together. They said there’d be a $12 million ad campaign and they ended up spending $24 million on designing the ads, putting them to air and then putting in complementary bits of glossy paper in everybody’s letterboxes.
PAUL MURRAY: On those payments to the green groups, let’s just go through some of them because I found these pretty fascinating – $400,000 to the Australian Conservation Foundation. Now, this was to fund a series of presentations on climate change from a whole lot of people apparently who were trained by Al Gore’s movement in the US.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Paul. We have apparently hundreds of Australians going out to run presentations based on the Al Gore model of talking about climate science and, look, I’ve got nothing against people, of course, putting the facts forward on climate science but there is something curious about the fact that the ACF has been one of the largest and loudest supporters of the carbon tax and of the Government’s moves here, suddenly get a $400,000 grant to go and do something that you would think is normally their core business, which is taxpayers’ dollars going to an organisation that is being very, very friendly to the Government on this highly charged and highly political issue.
PAUL MURRAY: Another one that’s been really friendly is The Climate Institute. Now, I find this amazing, given that the Federal Government has got a thing called the Australian Treasury, why they gave The Climate Institute $250,000 for an independent assessment on the impacts of the carbon price on the cost of living.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, and that’s just it, Paul. You would think that this work is absolutely core work of Federal Government agencies and, right across all of these grants, many of them are things and activities that you would expect Government departments to already be doing and there’s a lot of duplication involved here and a lot of very convenient handing out of taxpayer dollars to these organisations and it really does look like a raft of grants to a veritable cheer squad for the Government rather than a sensible use of taxpayer dollars.
PAUL MURRAY: I hadn’t heard of that group ClimateWorks before but I’m told it’s part of the ‘Say Yes’ coalition. What was that $460,000 grant to them for?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this one seems particularly hazy and in fact there is still scope for it possibly to be stopped because they indicated that the ink doesn’t seem to be dry on the contract for this one and it’s rather hazy about raising awareness of some of the issues around the carbon tax but obviously they’re not going to be raising awareness of the issues for the cost of living pressures for Australians or the threat to Australian industry and jobs. I’m sure they’ll be putting a very positive tone over the veneer over the carbon tax, so this ClimateWorks Australia grant – $460,000… we’ve asked for all of the applications and paperwork for that to be made public and we’ll certainly be pursuing that to find out exactly why and how and what justification has been put on this type of money going to an organisation like that.
PAUL MURRAY: I would have thought the whole… the $24 million advertising campaign that blew out $4 million… I would have thought that that was about raising community awareness. I mean, this just looks like a way of propping up a green group.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Paul, I think community awareness of the carbon tax is pretty strong, and community awareness is strong as is community opposition to it, and people know that this is a tax that is a slug on their cost of living, it’s a tax that is a slug on the competitiveness for Australian industry and therefore threatens job prospects in the future. They know it’s a tax that they don’t want because it’s not going to reduce Australia’s emissions, so, you know, I think awareness is strong. We don’t need to spend any more money raising awareness and certainly the Labor Party doesn’t need to spend any more taxpayer money trying to sell a political message – a message that suits the Labor Party – about this carbon tax. If the Labor Party wants to sell its carbon tax then they should use Labor Party money to do so, not taxpayers’ money.
PAUL MURRAY: Thanks for talking to us.
PAUL MURRAY: Senator Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, who was on that Senate Estimates committee. The amount of money that sloshes around in Canberra is quite extraordinary and what they spend it on even more extraordinary.