MATHIAS CORMANN: Simon Birmingham and I… we are meeting with South Australian families and businesses today to talk with them about the impact of the carbon tax on them. The carbon tax, of course, will push up the cost of everything, it will make Australia less competitive internationally, it will cost jobs, it’ll hurt small business and of course all of that without doing anything to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
We’ve just met with the management of Adelaide Brighton and, of course, Adelaide Brighton is one of those businesses here in South Australia which will be seriously hit by the carbon tax. Julia Gillard has to explain why it is good for the environment to make polluters in China, producing cement in China, more competitive than Adelaide Brighton here in South Australia. Why is it in the best interest of the environment to shift emissions to China, to shift jobs to China, to lose jobs here out of Adelaide when this is not going to do anything to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?
The Labor-Green carbon tax is not effective action on climate change. It is an irresponsible act of economic self-harm and of course I do also have a message for Labor Members and Senators here across South Australia today. They supported Julia Gillard’s promise before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under the Government she leads. If the carbon tax is such a good idea, why did Julia Gillard not tell us about it before the last election? And if Julia Gillard and Labor Members and Senators across South Australia are so convinced that the carbon tax is such a good idea now, why are they so scared to take it to the Australian people at an election? Of course, the reason they’re so scared is because they know it won’t withstand scrutiny and, of course, there is a better plan. The Coalition has got a better plan which would help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and which is fully costed, which is responsible and, of course, which wouldn’t have such a devastating impact on the budget as Labor’s carbon tax will do.
A few comments from Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Mathias. It’s great to have Mathias in town today and the opportunity to visit some of the South Australian businesses who will be most harshly affected by this carbon tax. Thousands of South Australian jobs will be on the line at businesses like Adelaide Brighton Cement and Penrice Soda and many, many others as a result of the carbon tax.
These are businesses that have already done their bit to try to reduce their emissions but by their very nature they are emissions-intensive processes. We need cement, though. Nobody’s suggesting that Australia will operate without cement and if it doesn’t get made across the river here in Port Adelaide it will be imported, and so we won’t see any reduction in global emissions, we will just see less jobs in South Australia, less industry in South Australia, less opportunity in South Australia. This is the flaw of the Government’s carbon tax it drives emissions and jobs offshore, all at the expense of course of opportunities here in Australia.
I understand later this week the Premier will be meeting with the Climate Change Minister. The challenge to him is to get a guarantee for theses jobs, to make sure that South Australian jobs are protected, Mr Rann, because right now they certainly won’t be. The challenge for him, as well, is to make sure that it’s clear all the companies who are paying this tax should be made public to the Australian people. That detail should be there and, particularly in South Australia, the list they say it’s 25 should be made clear… the businesses, the sites, tell us who they are, who will be paying the tax.
Of course, it’s not just the direct emitters, though. We will see every small business in Australia face ten per cent increases in electricity costs, nine per cent increases in gas costs. These will flow through to the cost of everything. That’s why this afternoon we’ll be meeting with hundreds of concerned South Australians about the carbon tax at a community forum and tomorrow we’ll be travelling to Mount Gambier to hear from regional SA, and especially transport businesses, about their concerns with this tax.
JOURNALIST: You say the carbon tax will cost thousands of jobs at industries like ABC across the river here. Was that the impression impressed on you by Adelaide Brighton themselves and, if so, why aren’t they here to back up your assertion?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Adelaide Brighton issued their stock exchange notice on Monday indicating there would be an immediate $5 million hit to profits and that they would have to consider import substitution in place of domestic production, so they’re making it very clear there is an impact, they’ve publicly told the stock exchange, it’s there for all to see and it’s these types of jobs that are simply on the line. We can’t, as an economy, function without products like cement, but the jobs will simply be shifted offshore.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I might just make a point here too, Julia Gillard calls businesses like Adelaide Brighton the ‘big polluters’. Now, businesses like Adelaide Brighton are the big employers and they’re the big employers across Australia who have made significant efforts over the last 20 years to become as energy efficient, as environmentally efficient, as possible. Now, by making a more polluting business in China more competitive, by helping a more polluting business in China to take market share away from a business like Adelaide Brighton, of course that’s going to have an impact on jobs in Australia and all of that without doing anything to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s really the point. The people across Australia are being asked to make a sacrifice that is not going to make any difference whatsoever because all it will do is shift emissions from Australia overseas and arguably it will increase global emissions because, of course, for the same process that is done very environmentally efficiently here in South Australia there will be more emissions in China, not less.
JOURNALIST: But Adelaide Brighton and Penrice, they will get concessions, though, won’t they, to offset the impact of the tax?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, they won’t get enough concessions to offset the whole impact of the tax and this is the whole point. A lot of the businesses that we’ve been talking to, and Adelaide Brighton today is the same, a lot of their production already now is on the edge when it comes to international competitiveness and any additional cost which is not faced by competitors in countries like China could well put them over the edge and for what purpose? For no purpose whatsoever! This is a business here in South Australia which has made significant efforts over the last 20 years to clean up its act, to become as energy efficient and as environmentally efficient as possible and yet this Government, by imposing a carbon tax on them a tax which is not faced by cement producers in China will shift emissions, shift jobs and, of course, shift business to China.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s a key point when it comes to cement production in Australia that we learnt meeting with Adelaide Brighton Labor loves to hold up the European Union’s emissions trading scheme as a standard. Well, even the EU doesn’t tax cement in the way the Labor Government is planning to tax cement in Australia, so that is a direct impact that will see Australian cement manufacturing not just less efficient than that in China but less efficient than that in the EU where they have an ETS.
JOURNALIST: What’s the imperative for naming these 25 companies in South Australia or, indeed, the rest of them nationally? Do you think the companies themselves would want to be on the top polluters list?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Many of these companies, of course, are self identifying, as we have with Adelaide Brighton, Penrice, Qantas who had to make a stock exchange announcement the other day but it is important for this debate to have transparency around it and the Government is hiding at present behind certain restrictions about whether they can release the data. Well, let’s get the approval of the companies, get it out there so we can have a transparent debate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s just be very clear on this as well. I mean, the Government whenever it gets a bit tricky, and whenever they try to hide the impact of their carbon tax on the Australian economy, they try to hide behind some sort of obscure process but earlier this year they released the detail on all of the top emitters across Australia. It’s actually on the Climate Change Department’s website and many newspapers and media outlets across Australia reported on it at the time. There was a list of the top 50 so called emitters and of course they published earlier this year that whole information. There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t publish it now and it’s just another trick because this is a Government that has clearly got something to hide when it comes about the impact of their carbon tax.
JOURNALIST: Senator Birmingham, you’re the Opposition’s Environment spokesman and you’re standing in Port Adelaide in front of a bunch of smoke stacks. It’s well documented that the Port has a lot of problems with pollution because of the industries behind us. Are you defending the indefensible?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: These industries have been here, in the case of Adelaide Brighton Cement, for more than a hundred years producing in Port Adelaide. I’m not hearing anybody suggest that we can have a modern economy in South Australia without cement. We need it for the most basic things; we need it to make our homes, to build businesses, to actually ensure we have a properly functioning economy but if the industries…
JOURNALIST: But can we make cement with less pollution to the Port Adelaide district? Would that not be an advantage?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, they have done a lot to make sure they reduce local pollution, local impact and of course they want to reduce emissions as much as possible. Using electricity costs money. They actually want to make themselves as cost effective as possible and that’s why they have done many things to reduce their emissions footprint already. They are at the margins, though, in competing with imports overseas and we can choose, as a country, to either make things in Australia or to import them from overseas. The carbon tax will see us import more from overseas.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with your colleague Mitch Williams’s comments over nuclear energy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I think we need, as a country, to have a real, fair dinkum debate about our energy security in the future and it is about making sure that we treat all energy sources in an equitable manner but the Coalition has made it clear we are happy to have a discussion about nuclear energy when the Labor Party is happy to come to the table. That is, of course, a debate that is pointless to have at present when you’ve got one side of politics who will provide no investment certainty for an industry if they even wish to look at setting up here so it is a bit of a moot debate.
JOURNALIST: What would your personal contribution be to that debate when it happens?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, if it happens we obviously need to make sure that anything is environmentally sound and economically stacks up as well. Right now the pressure, though, is of course on electricity prices that are already forecast to go up, because of the carbon tax, by ten per cent in the first year. Ten per cent rise in electricity prices is something that all businesses will face pressure from, whether they’re a big business like Adelaide Brighton Cement or the corner store.