JOURNALIST: First of all, what are your thoughts on the Australian Energy Market Commission report that says electricity prices will rise between 20 to 40 per cent by 2013?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s a 30 per cent rise in electricity prices that Australians are facing and that’s without a carbon tax, so Australians really will be wondering what Labor’s plans are, how people will be able to afford electricity in the future if you have this 30 per cent rise and on top of that the carbon tax is applied. In the end, electricity is not a luxury, it’s an essential and so we need to have electricity at affordable prices for Australians and the Government needs to explain how it will make that happen if people are already facing massive price rises before they even get this carbon tax.
JOURNALIST: Given that it probably won’t be taking the carbon tax into account, how bad do you think it will get if these increases are combined? How bad do you think things will get if this is without a carbon tax and you have the carbon tax increase on top of that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, up to 40 per cent increases without a carbon tax. It’s not hard to see that electricity over the next decade will get significantly more expensive for all Australians. It’s hard to put figures on it. That’s why the Government needs to release all the modelling they’ve got, but what is clear is that just in the space of the next couple of years, 30 to 40 per cent rises are going to be faced by households for electricity – 30 to 40 per cent without a carbon tax. The Government needs to say how much will it be with a carbon tax.
JOURNALIST: So the main cause of this particular price rise is the rising cost of the electricity network. Do you think that’s a result of network mismanagement?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, there’s a raft of factors feeding into this and Government policy decisions are part of the increase as well – the renewable energy scheme, State Government policy decisions all feed into this. Government needs to do all it can to reduce cost of living pressures for Australians, and the problem is the carbon tax will put things in exactly the opposite direction. That will just further escalate electricity and everything else Australians need.
JOURNALIST: It’s going to make things really difficult for people who are already battling, though, isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Plenty of battlers already struggle to pay the electricity bill. People are already cautious about when they switch on their heating, when they switch on the air conditioning. 30 per cent rise, add a carbon tax on top of that, people will start seeing electricity as a luxury rather than the necessity that it is.
JOURNALIST: So would the Opposition support the pollution reducing measures on new cars announced today by Anthony Albanese [Minister for Infrastructure and Transport] even if car prices do go up?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is a good example of where you have action that guarantees some returns, so these measures will provide definite returns on environmental standards and on health returns as well. It’s a contrast to the carbon tax where the only guarantee is that prices will go up, so in principle we welcome the new standards and see the standards as delivering on actual health and environmental benefits rather than just the cost of living pressures that you get from the carbon tax.
JOURNALIST: Without the decent hike as well that adds to what we were just talking about with electricity prices plus this, it’s going to make things… not just electricity prices a luxury, it’s going to make having a car… all those sorts of things a luxury too, isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, a new car is, of course, a bit of a luxury already. A car is an essential but a new car is a little bit of a luxury. We think that obviously reducing pollution, and this is real pollution that is being reduced, it will improve air quality, it will deliver definite environmental and health benefits… that’s probably a good thing. We’ll look at the detail and reserve judgment until we see the final detail, but in principle we think this makes sense, it will deliver apparently health and environmental benefits. It’s not just like the carbon tax, which is a pure slug on the cost of living.
JOURNALIST: Even if it is going to put a significant dent on the family finances?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, you don’t buy a new car every year. You switch your electricity on every day. That’s what the key difference between these measures are – that in the end a new car is a bit of a luxury, a car is certainly not and everybody needs to have a car. When you trade up, when you go to get a new car, you know that’s a little bit of a luxury. Of course we need to be mindful of the cost pressures there but if there are real health benefits, if there are real environmental benefits, then in the end Australians, I think, will accept this is something with benefit to it. Nobody’s been able to show what the clear benefit of a carbon tax is. There’s just a cost of higher cost of living.