SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Electricity is not a luxury. It’s an essential good. What we see today are reports that electricity prices are going up by 30 per cent or more and that’s before you factor in a carbon price. Clearly, a carbon tax will push electricity up even more than the 30 per cent that’s already forecast over the next couple of years. Families, pensioners, Australians simply can’t afford these increased cost of living pressures, especially on basic essentials like electricity. Now, Labor needs to come clean and they need to say just how much more will electricity prices rise under their carbon tax than the 30-plus per cent that Australians are already going to be paying for.
JOURNALIST: Well, what do you propose as an alternative?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Coalition’s alternative is clear and that is a policy of direct action to tackle climate change, action that will ensure we reduce emissions without putting pressure on electricity prices. Labor’s carbon tax will very clearly put pressure on electricity prices and everything else throughout the Australian economy. They need to come clean, tell Australians how much will your electricity go up by above the 30 per cent that is already forecast.
JOURNALIST: Is it possible to make that estimate now, do you think?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor has clearly done modelling. Wayne Swan has chosen to drip feed out little bits of the modelling. Let’s see the whole lot. Let’s hear what the carbon price is going to be, how big will this tax be, how much Australians will pay for their electricity and for everything else.
JOURNALIST: Those electricity forecast numbers… it says that they were from last year and may be out of date, so how much faith can we put in them, that 30 per cent?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we see a range of 20 to 40 per cent, 30 per cent on average as the expected price rise. These are big price rises, whichever part they fall within that range. They’ll have a big impact in a short space of time on Australians’ cost of living. Electricity is not a luxury. It’s an essential – every family uses it, every pensioner uses it, every Australian uses it. They will pay more already. People just can’t afford to pay the extra that a carbon tax will apply on top of these already significant rises.
JOURNALIST: So you’re still sticking behind your Direct Action Plan, given that Tony Abbott a few years ago was talking about a carbon tax saying it was a good way to go if you were going to put a price on carbon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we stand very clearly by our policy. Our policy has been out in the market place since February of last year. The Coalition’s Direct Action Plan is there, while Labor has had an ETS [emissions trading scheme], backed away from an ETS, rejected a carbon tax, embraced a carbon tax. The Coalition’s policy on this is consistent. Labor is flip-flopping all over the place, but what we do know is that their current proposal, the carbon tax, will add to electricity price rises for all Australians.
JOURNALIST: You say the policy’s consistent, but haven’t the Liberals… I mean, Tony Abbott for a long time wouldn’t even confirm that he believed that the… climate change was caused directly by human activity. I mean, do you really think it’s a consistent policy given that the Liberals haven’t been as vocal as the Government have?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’ve been very clear. Our policy matches the Government’s in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions. We all want to achieve a 5 per cent reduction by 2020. That’s what our policy does. That’s what Labor says their policy will do. Our policy’s been out there for people to consider, to argue, to test, since February of last year. We still don’t know what Labor will do. They’ve proposed a carbon tax. They won’t tell us what the price is. They won’t tell us who’s in, who’s out, who’ll be compensated, who won’t be. It’s time to get some details on the table.
JOURNALIST: When do you want to see those?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Coalition’s had its detailed policy out since February of last year. Labor should bring its out as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: On the vehicle emissions scheme that’s proposed, what do you make of the timing of that in terms of how long it will take to implement?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, in principle, we welcome this scheme. It’s a good contrast with what we’re talking about on carbon emissions reductions. This is a scheme that will deliver better environmental returns, better health returns for all Australians and that’s a clear deliverable in contrast to the carbon tax where there’s no guarantee that you will actually get emissions reductions. Now, we’ll look at the detail of it. We’ll judge it on the detail. The devil is all too often in the detail of these things, but we think as a principled measure, making our cars more efficient, reducing the pollution that’s emitted from cars, is a sensible thing and provides direct benefits of an environmental and a health nature that you can’t see from a carbon tax.
JOURNALIST: So you’re saying that the details are not yet there yet or you haven’t had a chance to look at the detail?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, obviously this is an announcement the Government’s just made today, so we will go through the details and see exactly how they propose to implement it, what the costs will be for all Australians, but in principle this is a sensible measure. If it cleans up our roads and our streets, makes the air we breathe a little safer for everybody, then that’s obviously a good thing.
JOURNALIST: But if it’s expensive to Australian consumers, you’ve got the concern about the price on electricity and the effects on that. Would you then see that as an issue even though you want to change emissions and make environmental gains?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s obviously a big difference here. A new car is something that you might buy every few years. Electricity’s something you use every single day, so obviously in terms of the cost impact, we’ll be looking at that and we’ll consider it carefully but a new car is a little bit of a luxury. A car’s an essential but a new car’s a bit of a luxury that people only do on special occasions. Electricity is something you need all the time, every day, and that of course is a price rise that all Australians will feel.
JOURNALIST: You say that people only buy cars occasionally. Can it really make that much of an impact, then?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, obviously turning over the fleet is a slow process when you’re talking about changing all of the cars on Australia’s roads, but you’ve got to start somewhere and if this is going to provide health and environmental benefits, and very clearly so, then that’s a good thing.