ANDREW GREENE: Julia Gillard’s carbon tax has been terminated. That’s the key message Kevin Rudd was keen to impress today as he confirmed the budget cuts needed to move early to an emissions trading scheme. The Opposition says it’s a con and there’s only temporary relief for families. Ditching the carbon tax leaves asylum seeker boats as the one other big issue the Prime Minister has to confront before calling an election. Joining me this evening to discuss this and other matters is the Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham and Labor Senator Louise Pratt. Welcome to you both.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Andrew, Louise.
LOUISE PRATT: Good afternoon.
ANDREW GREENE: But, first tonight, let’s hear from the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader on the move to an emissions trading scheme.
KEVIN RUDD: Under this scheme that we are bringing in, this will mean average families $380 a year better off. Under Mr Abbott’s scheme when fully implemented $1200 a year worse off. … The Government has decided to terminate the carbon tax.
TONY ABBOTT: He’s not the terminator, he’s the exaggerator. He’s not the terminator, he’s the fabricator. He’s changed its name but he hasn’t abolished the tax.
ANDREW GREENE: Simon Birmingham, this was an issue that was causing a lot of damage to Labor in the electorate. Has it taken a lot of the wind out of your sails?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all, Andrew, because what we saw today was not Kevin Rudd the terminator, but Kevin Rudd the con artist. In the end, this change is a superficial, technical change for one year of operation of the carbon tax only. The reality…
ANDREW GREENE: How is it different to, in essential sense, to the Opposition putting a price on carbon through direct action?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s very different and I’ll explain it quite clearly here and that is: the Coalition’s policy will provide incentives to get the 5 per cent of emissions reduction that we’re committed to by 2020. The Government, by contrast, taxes some 60 to 70 per cent of the Australian economy’s emissions across a whole swathe of industries in an attempt that fails to actually achieve those reductions and still relies on buying offshore permits. The simple truth here is that, from 1 July 2015 onwards, Kevin Rudd’s carbon tax is identical to Julia Gillard’s carbon tax. Today’s changes by Kevin Rudd are completely superficial, only relate to one year or 12 months of operation of the carbon tax compared to what Julia Gillard had planned and it’s a complete lie or fabrication by Mr Rudd to say there’s a $380-a-year saving. There is no saving compared to Julia Gillard’s scheme after 1 July 2015. This is just a 12-month band-aid job.
ANDREW GREENE: Senator Birmingham, is it sensible when we’re having this debate to be describing carbon as an invisible substance, in a way mocking the whole approach to pricing carbon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think what we’re looking at here is that the Government tries to pretend it’s creating this very pure market. It’s far from a pure market. This is an enormous area of Government intervention. By 2020, the Government’s policy will see more than $11 billion in carbon permits sold, revenue back to government, churned through government, spewed out to a variety of different areas of government. This is a hugely Government-interventionist scheme. By contrast, the Coalition’s policy in 2020 will invest around $1 billion, less than one-tenth of the Government’s carbon tax, in targeted action to achieve that 5 per cent reduction, so the two policies are chalk and cheese. Ours will go to the market by tender to find the most efficient areas of emissions reduction; the Government’s, by contrast, in the end, will tax huge swathes of emissions and generate more than $11 billion still, under Kevin Rudd, in carbon tax revenue in 2020.
ANDREW GREENE: But how long will your scheme be in place? The shadow minister, Greg Hunt, today would only really commit to 2020. Is it a short-term approach, as Malcolm Turnbull has said?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the Coalition is committed, as the Government is, to an unconditional 5 per cent reduction target by 2020. Beyond 2020, as to what Australia’s reduction target is, depends very much, as it should, on what the rest of the world does and those world discussions, those global discussions, on future climate change actions are tied up in the 2015 to 2020 global agreements that are being negotiated and we can only hope that they’re a lot more successful at getting some global agreement in place than the Copenhagen debacle was, which Kevin Rudd, of course, was front and centre at in his last tenure as Prime Minister.
ANDREW GREENE: What does it say about the Opposition’s approach to the issue of climate change when many in the party don’t accept the science and the leader is describing carbon as an invisible substance being traded in a way that, you know, it was almost non-existent?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Tony Abbott and the Coalition generally have been very clear that we accept climate change is happening, we accept that mankind is making a contribution to it and we’re committed to achieving the 5 per cent reduction target by 2020 regardless of what the rest of the world does. What we want to see is a policy in place in Australia that incentivises action here in Australia, sets Australia up well for a future where we are less reliant on emissions-intensive activities and that’s why our policy directs action here domestically in Australia rather than offshoring it, as the Government’s reliance on international permits does, but most importantly our policy doesn’t destroy the competitiveness of Australia and protects Australian jobs and ensures the cost-of-living impact is minimised for the Australian households.
ANDREW GREENE: Now, we’ll move on and Indonesia’s Foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has described the Coalition’s policy to turn back asylum seeker boats as unilateral action that he doesn’t support. The federal Coalition had been encouraged by his earlier statement yesterday that he was open to discussions about the plan if the Coalition wins the election.
MARTY NATALEGAWA: If I was asked whether we support or not support the ‘push back the boat’ policy, clearly from our perspective such a policy would constitute a unilateral type of measure that we do not support.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well it’s not for him to rule it in or rule it out because that’s a domestic policy for Australia and the Coalition is not seeking the agreement of Indonesia … and, at the end of the day, Australia has to decide its policies on its borders.
ANDREW GREENE: Simon, do you need Indonesia’s cooperation to make your policy work?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We don’t need formal agreements with Indonesia. We don’t need to have structured discussions between the Indonesian President and the Australian Prime Minister on these matters. They’re not the things that happened under John Howard. In the end, under John Howard this policy did work, we were able to successfully implement it and do so without the type of agreements Labor keeps challenging us to put in place, so you can manage to direct Australian policy, as the Australian Government rightly should, and let’s understand here: we’re talking about Indonesian-flagged and Indonesian-crewed vessels that get into international waters that ultimately head to Australian waters. It is perfectly within the rights of the Australian Government to seek to turn those vessels around and point them back towards Indonesia.
And, finally tonight, the Opposition Leader was left slightly red faced today while visiting Tasmania forgetting the name of the Liberal candidate in a key seat.
JOURNALIST: Can you name your candidate for Denison here in Tasmania?
TONY ABBOTT: I’m afraid I’m here in Bass and I’m talking to… with our candidate for Bass and I’m afraid you’ve got me on that one.
ANDREW GREENE: Simon, is it essential that the Opposition Leader can remember the names of all 150 or so candidates?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Andrew, that’s just it, there are 150 House of Reps seats, there are 76 Senate seats… I don’t think these type of ‘gotcha’ moments really do anything on a day when our focus should be on the policies and the fact that today the Government has pretended to change its carbon tax but, in the end, is keeping its carbon tax well into the future.
ANDREW GREENE: We’ll have to leave it there, unfortunately. Simon Birmingham and Louise Pratt, thanks for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks so much, Andrew.
LOUISE PRATT: Thank you.