MICHAEL ROWLAND: So, Lyndal, we’re witnessing there a moment in history – the official passage through Parliament of the bills facilitating the introduction of a carbon tax. The Senate vote next.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Yes, the Clean Energy Future bills, the package of 18 bills has now passed the House of Representatives. The Parliament’s now voting on that final piece of legislation, the Steel Transformation Plan [Bill].
I’ve been joined in the studio now by the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Simon Birmingham, a Senator. Simon Birmingham, welcome to News 24.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Lyndal.
LYNDAL CURTIS: These bills will hit the Senate next. What are you expecting to happen when they do?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we will have a vigorous debate in the Senate. We will try to, once again, highlight the many, many flaws in this package and, of course, the many, many concerns about this package for Australia’s future – the concerns about what it will do to the competitiveness of Australian industry, the concerns about what it means for a future job market in Australia and, of course, the concerns about the cost of living impacts it will have on all Australian families.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Senate debate, though, will be different from last time [on the defeated Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme] because the Government has the numbers, the Greens will support it. In the end, these bills will go through the Parliament and, all things being equal, this will be law and come into being on the 1st of July next year. Once people see it in action, do you think that the sorts of warnings you have been making – the Opposition’s been making – will hold up against scrutiny?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They’re not just warnings that the Opposition has been making. They are, in fact, facts that are backed up by the Government’s own Treasury modelling – modelling that we think is quite conservative in its estimates – but Australians will see, come the 1st of July next year, 10 per cent extra on their electricity bills right around the country, whether you’re a household or a family, whether you’re a small business or a medium or a big business, everyone will face that 10 per cent increase in electricity bills, significant rises to gas, to water, to rent, to housing construction charges. These things will flow right through the economy, they will be big imposts and they will keep going up year after year, so the impacts will be real, they will be felt and they will be there for all Australians to see.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Let’s take the division [pause for House of Representatives vote].
LYNDAL CURTIS: And now these are the final, third reading. There is one final vote to go on both of these pieces of legislation [18 Clean Energy Bills and the Steel Transformation Plan Bill] but, on the numbers we’ve already seen this morning, they will get through. Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, is still with me in the Parliament House studio. Simon, the Prime Minister promised that this would be her year of decision and delivery. Clearly, she has been able to deliver this and she’s likely to be also able to deliver the mining tax. Does this put some trust back in the Prime Minister, that she can do these things?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think what she is delivering on are, of course, things that undermine trust in the Prime Minister, in particular this carbon tax. What we’re witnessing at present is an act of betrayal, by not just the Prime Minister but by all 72 Labor Members of the House of Representatives. These Members were all backed, from the Prime Minister down, into the election on the basis of there not being a carbon tax. They’ve now passed it through the House of Representatives. This is a massive act of betrayal on their behalf to their electorates, to the people who voted for them, to people who went to the ballot box believing that there would not be a carbon tax and we just went through a farcical Parliamentary inquiry into these bills and we had just six days to get submissions from Australians on 1100 pages of legislation but more than 4½ thousand people took the time to make their views known and overwhelmingly they feel betrayed by the Prime Minister. They won’t be happy to see delivery of this tax or of this legislation. They will feel let down in the extreme.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Well, we spoke about before, the Senate will next debate these bills. Would you be expecting that every Opposition Senator will want to have their say on these bills?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There are passionate views in the Coalition just as there are throughout the Australian community and, absolutely, I imagine that Coalition Senators will want to have their say. I imagine that we will want to have it…
LYNDAL CURTIS: We’ll just take the Clerk now.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And there we see the Government MPs and Ministers filing out. We saw the Prime Minister and the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, congratulating each other and receiving the congratulations of other Government Members. Even the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, came over to congratulate them and walked out of the Chamber with a big smile on his face just in front of the Prime Minister who also had a big smile on her face. And it does seem like one MP is being ejected from the House. There was a bit of rowdiness from the Opposition and from the galleries as well as the bills went through, applause too, and Harry Jenkins is just asserting his control back over the Chamber as the bills have passed through and the noise from that dies down.
I’m still with the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Simon Birmingham. Simon, the bills have gone through the Parliament. No doubt the Government will get something of a boost from this, won’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, well, look, we saw a bit of hubris from the Government there as they backslapped each other seeing this go through, but I think most Australians will remember the imagery of Julia Gillard staring down the barrel of that camera days before the election saying there will be no carbon tax and a victory like this is really a Pyrrhic victory for the Government. They’re not, of course, implementing something the Australian people want. They’re not implementing a policy that is going to reduce Australia’s emissions. They’re not implementing a policy that will deliver the things they say it will deliver. Instead, they’re implementing a policy that threatens jobs and pushes up the cost of living and this is the reality the Government is going to have to deal with for the days, weeks, months, years ahead, however long it is until the next election.
LYNDAL CURTIS: A lot of the warnings you’ve had [made] – the Opposition has had [made] – about the impact of the carbon price bills have been based on the rise of cost in electricity. Tony Abbott has warned about the impact of that on business, but given that the cost of electricity has risen so much, as the Opposition Leader himself pointed out in the Parliament yesterday, that’s not damaged the economy; the economy’s not in freefall; there aren’t massive job losses. Why will a rise in electricity prices as a result of the carbon price have a much more damaging effect than the rises that have already happened?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, let me make a few points there. Firstly, in relation to the fact that prices have risen for electricity over the last few years, that’s true. We’ve seen significant price rises and, in fact, the impetus for people to be very efficient in their electricity use is already there and that’s why we’ve seen Australia’s emissions intensity drop dramatically over the last decade, that actually people are very cautious about how they use electricity and this carbon tax won’t make a difference to that. They’re already very cautious about it – households, businesses alike – but as for its impact, well, it is still a very sharp spike that will come through in the first year. It’s an increase that will be layered on top of that every year but it’s not just, of course, electricity. We do see many trade exposed industries that will be direct payers of the carbon tax and we will see those businesses, particularly, struggle to compete against countries around the rest of the world, especially our trading partners in the region who just do not have the same price in place. We need to remember this is the highest carbon price in the world.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And, finally, we’ll go back to what you think might happen in the Senate. You said that there are a lot of Opposition MPs passionate about this legislation, no doubt many of them will want to talk. Will you be doing anything that may be seen as filibustering, trying to delay a vote on these bills?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, there’s plenty to examine without the need for a filibuster on this. We saw the farce in the House of Reps that, because of the Government’s gag, the consideration in detail of these 1100-plus pages of legislation lasted just a few hours overnight. That’s really quite a pathetic assessment of such a fundamental reform to our economy. I would hope that we’ll see better in the Senate, that we will actually have a proper consideration in detail, committee stage in the Senate, where we get to ask the Minister, get to ask Penny Wong, for detailed answers about the modelling, the assumptions, the operation of this carbon tax and, of course, what’s happening in the rest of the world because the evidence suggests that nobody is going down the same path in terms of policy and that very few countries are living up to the types of commitments that Australia is making in emissions reductions.
LYNDAL CURTIS: So you would think that… with all that happening, that the bills would pass or wouldn’t pass by the end of this year?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think the Government’s already made it clear that they will gag debate in the Senate as well at some stage, so if the Government does that, if the Government holds together under Julia Gillard and they keep their nerve on the carbon tax and the Greens stick with them, they’ll gag debate and they’ll get through probably, but we will do our best to expose the many, many flaws in this and to highlight, not just to the Australian people but to Labor Senators and Members, the flaws in what they’re proposing and why they should change their minds about this bad policy.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for that.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Lyndal.