SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  I want to touch on two matters today – firstly, the matter of Wayne Hanson’s comments from the AWU and, secondly, the meeting today of the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change in Canberra. Firstly, in relation to the AWU… We have a union leader, another union leader, bell the cat on the issue of the carbon tax and its impact on working Australians. We’ve seen Wayne Hanson come out and say this will put Australia ahead of the rest of the world in action on climate change, it will have an impact on jobs and it will put at risk the very future of towns like Port Pirie and Whyalla in South Australia, equally towns like Gladstone in Queensland, Newcastle in New South Wales and Geelong in Victoria. It will be felt around the nation.
What I call on today is for all union leaders to have the same courage as Wayne Hanson, stand up and oppose this carbon tax. If Australia’s union leaders are fair dinkum about wanting to stand up for Australian jobs then they will come out and stand in opposition to the carbon tax. The carbon tax will clearly, the carbon tax will clearly put at risk Australia’s competitiveness, make Australia’s industry less competitive and in doing so will jeopardise Australian jobs. That’s why union leaders, if they want to stand up for Australian jobs, need to stand against the carbon tax. That’s what they should do and I call on them all to come out today and take that stance.
Meanwhile, today the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee is meeting in Canberra. This is the committee that was established last year and in February endorsed Julia Gillard’s carbon tax framework. It’s been working on this for months. Today is the day they should release the carbon tax price and they should tell us how much it will increase by each year. If this committee isn’t talking about the starting price, about how much it will increase by, or compensation measures, then what on earth are they talking about? So this committee of Julia Gillard, her key people on climate change working in Canberra, needs to come out today and make it clear just what they’re planning on the carbon tax.
JOURNALIST:  Why do you think Julia Gillard has been so sketchy on details?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, Julia Gillard seems to have gone on a flight of fancy with this carbon tax believing that she can convince people that any action on climate change is better than none. Well, that’s not the case. Action on climate change needs to be responsible and measured and ensure that it delivers results for the environment while protecting Australian jobs. The carbon tax doesn’t do this.
Now, we’ve seen Greg Combet and Julia Gillard respond to Wayne Hanson’s attacks today and they’ve brushed them off. It seems that the Government has both a tin ear for criticism and a complete disregard for protecting Australian jobs in this matter. They should be heeding the criticisms of the union movement. I praise those union leaders who’ve come out so far and criticised the carbon tax and I call on the rest to get their act together and recognise that this is a genuine threat to Australian industry and Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST:  Don’t you think it’s quite extraordinary that you’ve got unions really lashing out at a Labor Government?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  I think it shows the level of anger and public concern that exists around the carbon tax. These union leaders would not naturally criticise the Labor Government. Clearly, they’ve heard the concerns of their members and on hearing the concerns of their members they’re now acting. That’s what all union leaders should do – listen to their membership, hear the concerns of their members that jobs will be on the line and take a stand against this policy. This policy threatens the viability of jobs in Australia, threatens their union members. They should all be standing up, not just a couple of them.
JOURNALIST:  Do you think… we’ve had the unions say that steel companies should get either full compensation or at least that no jobs should be lost in those areas. The Government is responding by saying that, you know, there will be a high level of compensation without exactly saying how much. What do you think the Government should be doing? Should they be fully compensating these industries where jobs could be at risk?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  The problem the Government’s got is that it can’t compensate everybody and protect everyone from the adverse impacts of this carbon tax. In the end, some people will end up paying more. Householders will end up paying more – millions of them will be worse off. Some industries will end up paying more – they will be worse off and their competitiveness will be hit. The Government can’t find a magic solution that makes it better for everyone from this. That’s why it’s a bad policy. It’s a bad policy because it will have widespread adverse impacts on cost of living pressures and on Australian jobs and competitiveness. That’s why they should rule out the carbon tax, adopt a better way. The Coalition’s outlined one where you can have targeted incentives for real action on climate change rather than just a tax where you somehow just hope that it will reduce emissions.
JOURNALIST:  If the Government sticks to its carbon tax… obviously you want it to be scrapped, but if it sticks to its carbon tax how do you think they should go about protecting jobs and helping these industries who are under threat?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, the Government needs to listen to the many criticisms from business, from unions. This is a widespread area of concern about the carbon tax. They need to hear those concerns, but there’s no fixing a bad tax. In the end, people will be worse off under the carbon tax and some jobs will be at risk under the carbon tax. There’s no getting away from that reality. Julia Gillard has had days now since Paul Howes asked her to give a commitment that not one job would be lost. She and Greg Combet have failed to give that commitment because they can’t. They know that jobs are at risk and jobs will be lost. That’s why they should be ruling out the carbon tax and coming up with a better policy.
JOURNALIST:  Do you agree with the unions that towns like Pirie and Whyalla could be wiped out essentially if the Carbon tax is brought in?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Businesses like BlueScope in Whyalla, Nyrstar in Port Pirie, are absolutely critical to the viability of those towns. They have lived and thrived off being manufacturing centres for decades. Now, if you take that out, you lose very much the heart of those towns and you cast hundreds or thousands of people into the unemployment queues. That’s just not a viable option for those towns or for Australia generally. If we want to be a country that continues to make things and continues to have a manufacturing sector then we need not have this carbon tax. The carbon tax will jeopardise our manufacturing sector and the future of Australian industry.
JOURNALIST:  Do you think the Government made an error by announcing the carbon tax but refusing to announce further detail?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, the Government has an opportunity today to put its cards on the table and tell us what the price of the carbon tax will be. Tell us how much it will increase by. Tell us what the compensation measures will be. This is the challenge for the Government. They’re sitting there in Canberra today discussing the carbon tax framework. If they aren’t making decisions or discussing the basic price, how much it will increase by, at the meeting today, what on earth are they talking about? So get on with it, be honest and open with Australians and tell us the details of this carbon tax. Stop hiding behind vague statements.
JOURNALIST:  Do you think actually they do know a bit of the detail but are just putting off telling the public? Or they’re just really flying blind?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  The Government released the framework for the carbon tax back in February. They’ve been having countless meeting since then. If they’re not talking about the detail, what are they talking about? Clearly, they’ve done modelling. Clearly, they’ve looked at options and, clearly, they must now be making decisions. They should be making these things public rather than doing it all behind closed doors.
JOURNALIST:  Do you think they might be scared that people are just thinking that this is another cash grab so that they can reach surplus by 2013?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, people often ask ‘why is Julia Gillard doing this?’ Well, it seems as if she’s gone down this path because the Government loves new taxes. They wanted a new mining tax, they wanted a Queensland flood tax, they want a carbon tax. It’s tax upon tax upon tax for the Government and yet still we see budget deficits and so much waste. Well, this is the wrong approach and there’s a better way to tackle climate change and certainly there’s a better way to run the Australian economy.