SANDY ALOISI: The Prime Minister will today outline plans for spending cuts to cover revenue lost by Labor’s new carbon abatement plans which will see the carbon tax replaced by a floating price by next July but, even before the release of details of Labor’s plan, Tony Abbott has dismissed all carbon trading schemes, describing them as a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one. Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment. He gave this Opposition view on the issue to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Simon Birmingham, one of the points that the Opposition has been making about the Government’s scheme is that it’s the same scheme, just a different label, but the difference between the fixed price and the floating price is $24 as opposed to maybe $6. There is a difference between $24 and $6 a tonne.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There is Marius, but this is a difference for one year only. Let’s not be fooled by the illusion of some claim that Kevin Rudd is abolishing the carbon tax and that people won’t be paying for emissions and, through that, for their electricity bills in future. People will be paying exactly the same as they were under Julia Gillard’s scheme for every year into the future except one.
MARIUS BENSON: Tony Abbott has been criticised in some quarters this morning for his statement that emissions trading is a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one. Is it fair to read that as being pretty dismissive about the market mechanism and the problem?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this, of course, is a Government-created so-called market, so you have a massive, massive Government-created sale of permits a tax, essentially but by 2020 we’ll still, under Kevin Rudd, be raising more than $11 billion a year, so the Government will take in that $11 billion, churn it around, spit it out in a variety of ways… this is actually highly interventionist stuff, so for anybody to claim that this is some pure market-driven approach is quite misleading when you look at the reality of the extent of Government intervention here and the fact this is all created by Government legislation.
MARIUS BENSON: But when you look at what Tony Abbott is saying there, when he says this is an invisible substance, what’s the significance of CO2 [carbon dioxide] being invisible?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, that’s just clearly a statement of fact and, of course, you are looking at trying to regulate something that is a new area of regulation but what the real point here is…
MARIUS BENSON: Sure, but the particular word ‘invisible’ has been taken by some as being quite dismissive of this, suggesting that Tony Abbott doesn’t believe it’s a serious problem; it’s just an invisible substance.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Tony’s been very clear, as has the Coalition, that we accept well and truly that climate change is real, that mankind is making a contribution to it and that we should do something about it. We share with the Labor Party the same commitment to the 5 per cent reduction by 2020. Kevin Rudd’s trying to rebrand Julia Gillard’s policy. He’s trying to pretend they’re somehow abolishing Julia Gillard’s policy. The reality is they’re keeping more than 90 per cent of Julia Gillard’s policy.
MARIUS BENSON: On your own Direct Action Plan, in terms of the criticism made by Tony Abbott yesterday, your own Plan pays polluters similarly, identically, for the non-delivery of the same invisible substance.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, our Plan targets action for the 5 per cent reduction and this is a very key difference, Marius, that we will go out to the market, in a tender, and we’ll invite people to demonstrate how and where they can achieve emissions abatement or emissions reduction activities and we will then, indeed, incentivise payments for delivery of the 5 per cent reduction. Labor’s policy goes about taxing 60 to 70 per cent of the economy’s emissions across Australia and then hopes to achieve a reduction but, even on their own Treasury modelling, still fails to do so and is reliant on purchasing offshore permits for the reduction, so you actually have under Labor’s policy, if you like, an offshoring of the problem where you rely on these international permits. Under the Coalition’s policy, we will achieve the 5 per cent reduction in emissions here in Australia.
MARIUS BENSON: Whatever the argument about the merits of the mechanism for achieving a reduction, science says, the overwhelming opinion in science is, that not enough is being done to prevent the danger of a two-degree increase in global temperatures or beyond with unknown consequences. Do you believe more should be done?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Marius, I would love to see, at a global level, more being done and I hope that, as we approach 2015 and the period from then through to 2020 where we are meant to be seeing a finalisation of global climate change talks and a move towards a new globally binding treaty… that we see some success this time and that should obviously guide what Australia does beyond 2020 and our current reduction pathway but we can’t ignore the fact that the Copenhagen talks, back when Kevin Rudd was last Prime Minister, were a complete failure and debacle, that there isn’t any type of unified global approach to this, that there isn’t a legally binding global treaty and that many countries have completely rejected the type of carbon tax or emissions trading scheme, call it what you will, that Labor is still attached to.
MARIUS BENSON: Senator, thanks very much.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Marius.
SANDY ALOISI: The Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Simon Birmingham, speaking to Marius Benson.