IAN HENSCHKE:  Let’s get down to the carbon tax with Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia … and also one of the key figures involved in bringing about this carbon tax, Senator Christine Milne, the Deputy Leader of the Greens. Well, first to you, Simon Birmingham, it’s certainly not as scary as we were led to believe, is it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Ian, I think it is a great concern for many Australians. In the end, this is a tax that is unlike anything other countries around the rest of the world have; therefore it will render much of Australian industry less competitive than the rest of the world and it does put a very direct cost pressure through onto Australian households.
IAN HENSCHKE: But when you have a look at the cost pressure on Australian households, I think the average household it was going to be a cost of $9.90, you get $10.10 back – you’re talking about 20 cents. I mean, this was going to be a great big new tax. In fact, it’s a tiny little extra bit of money each week.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s actually a ten per cent increase in electricity bills in the first year, a nine per cent increase in gas bills in the first year, a $515 a year hit in the first year and the key thing, though, Ian, to pick up out of all this is the compensation comes in the first year and that’s it…
IAN HENSCHKE: …Well, no…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … the price keeps going up with the carbon tax.
IAN HENSCHKE: … we just had Penny Wong on Breakfast this morning saying that it would be adjusted each year as time went on because that was one of the questions raised by one of the listeners.
IAN HENSCHKE:  Simon Birmingham, this idea that we just heard Christine Milne put forward, is that it’s all very well to worry about your electricity bill or your grocery bill now but I think one of the deep green thinkers said that we should be thinking about decisions that affect seven generations forward so if you take action now aren’t you doing something to help your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren into the future?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Ian, look, there are two points I’d make to this in regards to I guess the question of how effective is this carbon tax and will it actually work for this generation or generations in the future.  Firstly, at the domestic level, the Treasury modelling released yesterday shows that, even with this carbon tax in place, the way that it and the emissions trading scheme that follows it is structured, we will see carbon emissions in Australia, our own domestic emissions, increase from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes by 2020, so in fact we’ll actually have growth in domestic emissions of 43 million tonnes by 2020 even with the carbon tax – we won’t manage to reduce our emissions domestically…
IAN HENSCHKE:  Well, quickly, let’s go back to Senator Christine Milne on that because that’s a fairly alarming statement, isn’t it?
CHRISTINE MILNE:  Well, the thing is you can ‘cherry pick’ the Treasury modelling. It also shows that by 2050, under both scenarios of a 450 or a 550 parts per million [global greenhouse gas concentration levels], our emissions start to fall but equally the assumptions of the Treasury modelling are very conservative.  I believe once we get this massive investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and landscape carbon through the Biodiversity Fund and the psychological shift, we are going to see Australia reduce its emissions faster than is anticipated by the modelling.
IAN HENSCHKE:  Tony Abbott was very big on this idea of using the land of Australia, the carbon credits… perhaps Simon Birmingham could explain what the Liberals will be doing in that area?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, the Coalition policy for a direct action fund [Emissions Reduction Fund] certainly allows and encourages farmers to have better use of our soils, investment in new technology – a number of the things that Christine and others want to talk up out of this Government package are part of Coalition policy but are funded out of having a more efficient Government…
IAN HENSCHKE: So you’re backing tree planting to soak up carbon? That was the Liberal policy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That is just one part of it, Ian, but that is an important part along with better carbon capture in our soils, along with new technologies such as carbon capture through algae that can actually be used for biofuels and like…
IAN HENSCHKE:  Alright and, Christine Milne, is that part of this package that’s been announced yesterday?
CHRISTINE MILNE:  Well, certainly the Carbon Farming Initiative looks at how we can generate permits or credits for people in rural and regional Australia for activities such as maintaining the carbon stores through avoided deforestation for example and degradation…
IAN HENSCHKE: Will there be credits for trees that are planted on properties? Carbon credits per tonne?
CHRISTINE MILNE:  Yes, there will…
IAN HENSCHKE:  Simon Birmingham, Tony Abbott was actually for a carbon tax a couple of years ago – he was quoted on Sky TV [Sky News Australia], so when you say this is all about trust, can you trust what Tony Abbott is saying?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, I think Tony Abbott was answering a hypothetical question there about different options for pricing rather than actually stating a clear policy for a carbon tax. Tony Abbott’s never had a policy for a carbon tax and certainly the Opposition stands steadfastly against this, not least because the Productivity Commission found that no other country in the world has an economy-wide carbon tax or an economy-wide emissions trading scheme in place…
IAN HENSCHKE: I thought the New Zealand Prime Minister was here saying that they’ve got a carbon tax in New Zealand so they’ve got one in New Zealand.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And obviously the Productivity Commission has found differences between the economy-wide measures that Australia is proposing versus those of New Zealand or the EU or other places that are cited as examples and if you look at the EU scheme, which is one of the most oft cited ones, it generates at present around $500 million a year revenue in for government. This carbon tax of Julia Gillard’s will generate $9 billion a year – 500 million versus 9 billion. They’re chalk and cheese.
IAN HENSCHKE:  Matt the truckie from Craigmore… good morning, Matt.
CALLER, MATT: Good morning, Ian, and good morning to your panel. I wondered if Christine could just answer the question for me because yesterday during the [press] conference Julia Gillard couldn’t answer the question of how many jobs would be directly lost as a result, Wayne Swan couldn’t answer it and the Greens didn’t answer it although I see Adam Bandt was happily telling us that Hazelwood [Power Station] will shut down because that’s the filthiest power plant in the country so I wonder if Christine in all her transparency could tell us all just how many jobs will be lost irregardless of whether they might or might not get another job after? Just how many jobs will be lost in this country because of this?
IAN HENSCHKE:  Okay, Christine Milne?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, equally, Matt, how many jobs will be created? Nobody can answer either question. The issue here is there will be transitional assistance in those communities where it will be needed and the close down of the dirtiest powers stations in Australia will be a staged thing. Obviously they will bid to get into that 2000 megawatts [of highly emissions-intensive electricity generation capacity by 2020] to be shut down and at the same time the price on brown coal will mean that it will make it more viable for gas to come on and the jobs will transition out of some energy generation [sectors] into others, so I would think there will be that transition.
IAN HENSCHKE: Just quickly on that one, Christine Milne, we’ve got Leigh Creek here in South Australia – a brown coal deposit there. What about the people that actually work at Leigh Creek itself that are not involved in the power station?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, I’ll be interested to see… this is where the Stock Exchange and the financial rules come into play. I don’t believe that there is going to be an adverse impact on many of these companies that say there will be and we’ll be watching the Stock Exchange this week to see those companies report whether there’s going to be a material impact on their profitability into the future as a result of this foreshadowed change.
IAN HENSCHKE: But I come back to that point. There are people that at the moment are working at Leigh Creek in the brown coal industry. What will happen to them? Will they get some form of compensation directly if they lose their job?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, certainly if there is transitional assistance needed there’s money in the package to do that anywhere that that may occur but I believe that most coal mines will remain competitive because there’s been such an increase in the resource price over the last couple of years, but equally there’s going to be new jobs created as has happened in South Australia with renewables. You just have to look around the South Australian economy and see all those new jobs occurring there now.
IAN HENSCHKE:  Thanks for your time this morning, Senator Christine Milne. Very quickly, Simon Birmingham, you were going…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Firstly, Ian, I’d love to hear from Christine exactly where the transitional assistance for workers comes from. There might be money there for companies; I don’t see anything for workers who might actually lose their jobs in this scenario. Secondly, to try to give Matt the truckie a straight answer, Access Economics modelled in the last couple of months that at a $26 a tonne carbon price around 130,000 jobs would be lost in Australia. The Government’s come in at $23 a tonne, so perhaps it’ll be a little less than that but we’re probably looking at 100,000 jobs or more that could be lost…
IAN HENSCHKE: And could there be 100,000 created? And that would work out?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, Access Economics modelling is based, of course, on net terms so we’re looking at actual job losses there.  Treasury is looking at modelling where Treasury presumes that employment stays the same but in fact real incomes drop, so Treasury’s modelling says if you keep employment levels the same then the income of everyday Australians will drop.  The basic issue here, though, Ian, is domestic emissions will keep rising, global emissions will keep rising and Australians will be paying more – what’s the point of it all?
IAN HENSCHKE:  Thanks for your time this morning, Simon Birmingham, and Senator Christine Milne, Deputy Leader of the Greens before that.