(as aired, from longer pre-recorded interview)

TOM TILLEY: The Government’s announced its first major election promise since Kevin Rudd’s been back at the helm. They’ll now move to the carbon pricing system much sooner – one year sooner – than they had planned under Julia Gillard. It’s a move that Labor hopes will neutralise Tony Abbott’s pledge to abolish the carbon tax.
TOM TILLEY: … today’s announcement has very interesting implications for the Coalition because at the centre of Tony Abbott’s election pledge is a three-platform promise really – stop the boats, abolish the carbon tax and get Australia out of debt. Now, just before the show I spoke to Simon Birmingham – he’s the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Environment – and I asked him whether Rudd’s plan to move to an emissions trading scheme sooner means that the Coalition’s pledge to abolish the carbon tax is now redundant.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, not at all, Tom, because he is far from abolishing the carbon tax. What Kevin Rudd is doing is changing the way the carbon tax works for 12 months only. When you get around to 2015, the carbon tax will still be exactly the same under Kevin Rudd as it was going to be under Julia Gillard – from 2015, right through the next 5, 10, 20, 50 years if the Labor Party is re-elected.
TOM TILLEY: But it’s not a tax, is it? It’s a market. It’s an emissions trading scheme.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Government will still be charging people for the emissions of CO2 equivalent so, in the end, it is still a charge, a levy, a tax … and that may be okay if it was actually going to work but the Government’s own modelling shows that emissions in Australia still go up under the carbon tax or emissions trading scheme, call it whatever you want. The emissions still go up. People pay a penalty, so all we get is no environmental benefit but a less competitive economy here in Australia.
TOM TILLEY: It’s interesting that you say it doesn’t make much difference what you call it because Tony Abbott himself actually is on the record in the past as having supported an emissions trading scheme under the leadership of John Howard and also Malcolm Turnbull and then he changed that policy once he became the Leader of the Coalition. I mean, does that show some real inconsistency about what Tony Abbott really thinks about an emissions trading scheme?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: What we saw was that circumstances around the world dramatically changed with the Copenhagen convention [Copenhagen] which saw a real failure of the world to agree on a uniform track for how we would deal with global emissions levels and I believe it’s really important that we tackle emissions but, in the end, the types of carbon tax/trading scheme that’s being talked about only work if you have comparable global action.
TOM TILLEY: Is it hypocritical, Simon, that you’re there calling for global action but at the same time saying that you don’t want us to join the biggest carbon market in the world, the European carbon market?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Because we don’t think that that market is working effectively and we don’t think that’s the best outcome for Australia to achieve the 5 per cent reduction target, we think there’s a better way for us to do it and we think that, by getting on the front foot and delivering the incentives to enact change here in Australia to our emissions profile and abatement activities, we can actually set Australia up better for the long term as a lower carbon economy than would be the case by simply relying on buying offshore permits.
TOM TILLEY: Simon, is it a bit ironic at least that the Coalition, who is all about small government and minimising taxes, is proposing a system that relies on revenue raised from taxes, directly paid by the government, and opposing a Labor model that is a market-based system?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor’s model raises by 2020 more than $11 billion a year in revenue for the Government. That’s a vast sum that it raises, churns through government coffers and spits out in a variety of different ways, so we shouldn’t fooled by the fact that Labor’s is a very big government program. It’s a very big government program that taxes heavily, spends heavily and yet still has to rely on offshoring the emissions reduction, so our program is far more targeted. By targeting investment where the 5 per cent reduction can occur, we’re being very careful in the use of dollars and minimising the amount of dollars that has to occur…
TOM TILLEY: But they’re creating a market system and you’re spending tax revenue.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s not much of a market system when all they’re doing is churning money through government coffers and still relying on buying offshore permits.
TOM TILLEY: Today Tony Abbott, when he was speaking about Labor’s change in policy, said ‘it is a market in the non-delivery of invisible substance to no one’. What does he mean by ‘invisible substance’ in that sentence?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it is an invisible substance…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Emissions are not things that you can visibly see, so that’s simply a factual statement. In the end…
TOM TILLEY: Is he saying they’re not a problem? Is he saying that carbon emissions are not a big problem or not manmade when he says that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all and the Coalition’s been very clear, and Tony’s been very clear, that we accept that the climate’s changing, that activities of man are making a contribution to that and that we want to see something happen in that regard. That’s why we’re committed to exactly the same 5 per cent reduction target as Labor’s. We believe our policies can do it here in Australia and do it with no impact on Australian industry and competitiveness…
TOM TILLEY: Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for joining us on Hack today.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s been a pleasure with you, Tom.