JOHN BARRON: The Federal Government continued its drive to sell the carbon tax yesterday with Treasurer Wayne Swan releasing Treasury modelling to support his claim that the tax would have no significant impact on jobs or economic growth. The Government is hoping to finalise negotiations on the tax this month and make details of its plan public soon thereafter. For an Opposition view on the carbon tax battle as it stands today, ABC NewsRadio’s Marius Benson is speaking here to Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.
MARIUS BENSON: Simon Birmingham, the Treasurer laid out the prospects for the economic impact of the carbon tax for Australia yesterday – he says a marginal impact at worst on the economy in terms of growth and on jobs.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Treasurer yesterday decided to pick the eye teeth out of the economic modelling that he has received, and we all know that’s a fairly meaningless thing when it comes to comprehensive economic modelling. The devil will be in the detail. He released some selective details, claiming a potential starting price for the carbon tax at $20 without of course acknowledging that it may not start there, it may well need to be higher and it will go up each and every year and therefore the impact will of course increase.
MARIUS BENSON: Well, if you think the Government’s figures are dubious or partial is the Opposition able to provide any solid statistical basis for its own carbon policy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Opposition had our policies all costed for the last election. Our direct action policy on climate change was costed at that stage and of course when we resubmit it for the next election we will make sure that it is costed again fully in that regard, but what we see today is yet more evidence that the Government’s claims on its carbon tax are misleading. They keep trying to say that the rest of the world is getting ahead of Australia. That’s clearly not true. The Centre for Independent Economics has released a report today identifying that not one other major coal mining country has or has plans to impose a carbon tax like the Gillard Government. Not one, nada, nil, zero. That’s a fairly clear indictment of the Government that they are putting a major exporting industry for Australia at risk.
MARIUS BENSON: You refer there to research by the Centre for Independent Economics but it’s not terribly independent research. It was commissioned by the Australian Coal Association. Lobby groups do that – they pay for research to support their case and that’s what’s happened in this case.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Sure, and they’ve been totally transparent about who paid for it, where it’s come from, but in the end, of course, it’s up to the Government, if they dispute this research, to release evidence to the contrary.
MARIUS BENSON: But are you happy yourself to rely on research that’s commissioned by a lobby group – the Australian Coal Association? You’re citing it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, Marius, I think the Centre for Independent Economics is a credible research institute.   Yes, they are paid to do work but, in the end, they’re paid to do work and their credibility stands on whether their work is genuine and up to the task.
MARIUS BENSON: But you know how lobbying works. If you want to put a case, you don’t simply put out a press release these days. You commission research to find what you want to find.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think in this case we have to accept that it is a good reliable source that it’s come from. Yes, it’s been paid for by the coal industry. That’s acknowledged and they haven’t tried to hide that fact at all.
MARIUS BENSON: What about the coal industry itself, though? I mean, the coal industry is warning here of the impact of a carbon price on it but the coal industry is enjoying a boom at the moment. The latest June quarter figures showed coal prices around $330 a tonne, an increase of 53 per cent in the export price.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this, of course, is one of the ironies of the policy approach that the Gillard Government is taking. They seem to be trying to say that our coal exports will be fine and it will be okay for the rest of the world to burn Australia’s coal and to buy Australia’s coal and to emit in that way, but Australians will have to pay more to do likewise.
MARIUS BENSON: If you’re critical of the figures that the Government is providing yesterday – the Treasury figures that the Government is providing, you’re saying they’re selective – what about the figures you provide yourself in your own direct action policy, for example? You list job losses that would be a result of the carbon tax – 126,000 full time jobs lost or foregone – and the sources you quote to support that are the Minerals Council of Australia, again the Australian Coal Association, Rio Tinto, BlueScope Steel. Are they independent sources?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, these were of course evidence provided to Senate inquiries, to Parliamentary committees, to Government itself during the debate around the CPRS [Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme] that was drawn out and of course we used all of that evidence that we could muster in preparing the Coalition’s policy that was released publicly around 18 months ago now, so it’s been out there for a long time to be subject of scrutiny and proper debate and we welcome that in that regard.
MARIUS BENSON: Simon Birmingham, thank you very much.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure.