KATHRYN STOLARCHUK: And joining us now from Adelaide is the Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator, firstly on these new emissions standards for vehicles, the Government has admitted that these measures will come with a cost, so does the Opposition support it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, good afternoon and, look, in principle the Opposition does support these measures. From what we can see and what we understand, we gather they will provide good environmental benefits, good health benefits. These are of course positives. There will be clear cut benefits from these and that is something that we welcome, so the devil can always be in the detail and we’ll be looking closely at that detail but in principle the Opposition can see there are some clear benefits and, of course, having cleaner air on our streets for all of us to breathe is obviously a plus for everyone.
KATHRYN STOLARCHUK: So you do think that these measures will help clean up the skies and improve public health?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, we accept that there appears to be evidence and advice that getting these particular emissions of chemicals reduced from cars will actually provide for better air for all of us to breathe on our streets. There will actually be benefit especially in the big cities where congestion of course is greater, where you have some of these more serious problems, so there’s a plus that we can see from this. We want to approach it sensibly and rationally and we’ll look at the detail but in principle from what the Government said, what we’ve seen that’s been announced today, it does look like it’s a sensible possible measure.
KATHRYN STOLARCHUK: Okay, well turning to power costs now, a new Government-commissioned report has found electricity prices could jump by 30 per cent over the next three years, so isn’t it true that most of the factors identified are to do with upgrading old state infrastructure?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, there’s a raft of factors identified. Some of them relate to Federal Government policies, some relate to State Government policies that have been put in place and, yes, some relate to infrastructure upgrades but what’s clear from this is that around 30 per cent extra will be on people’s power bills in the next couple of years. That’s a significant increase. In the end, electricity is not a luxury good. It’s not something you do once in a while like buying a new car, for example, with the previous issue we were discussing. Electricity’s something people use absolutely every day of their lives and, of course, these extra cost pressures are all being built in without the carbon tax. The carbon tax will just put a further layer of cost on top of these 30 per cent rises that are already being forecast.
KATHRYN STOLARCHUK: So this week the Productivity Commission was critical of so called direct action measures advocated by the Coalition, so doesn’t that report and this one underline the need to price carbon in an efficient way using a market based approach?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, far from it. This report shows that people are already facing real and direct cost of living pressures when it comes to their electricity bills, that between 2010 and 2013 they’re facing a 30 per cent rise in electricity bills without a carbon tax. Now, you put the carbon tax on top of that and, of course, electricity starts to go from being that essential good that everybody should be sensibly using to being something that becomes more of a luxury that many people won’t be able to afford to use and this is a real concern. The Government needs to get the details, the modelling, all of that out for this carbon tax so we can see just what the real impact of it will be, but you have to understand that people are already feeling the pressure as a result of these price rises.
KATHRYN STOLARCHUK: Now, will the Coalition consider scaling back renewable energy targets and initiatives, especially in light of the fact that New South Wales is scaling back its solar programs?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Coalition has supported on a bipartisan basis the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target by 2020. We see this as something that is actually a real and tangible outcome unlike the carbon tax where the only guarantee you get is that the tax is passed through and everyone’s cost of living goes up. The Renewable Energy Target will result in growth in our renewable energy sector and that, of course, is a good thing. Now, we’re mindful of the cost impacts of it. We’re concerned about some of the reports of 11 per cent of these price rises being attributable to those renewable energy targets and we’ll be looking very closely at the policies but our commitment to trying to get that 20 per cent target stands. We proposed some suggestions back when it was legislated that sadly weren’t accepted that would have put more focus on better innovation around baseload energy and things that we think are important for that sector and so we’ll continue to look at good policies in that area, but we want to see renewable energy grow. Australia’s already doing a lot to make it grow and that’s why we think you don’t need to put an extra carbon tax in place to get significant growth in this renewable space. There are smarter ways of doing it.
KATHRYN STOLARCHUK: Okay, Senator Simon Birmingham, thanks for speaking to ABC News 24.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure.