ASHLEIGH GILLON: Joining me today on this historic day of the first day of the 43rd Parliament we have the Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, good afternoon to you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Ashleigh.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: And the Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, hello.
SCOTT LUDLAM: G’day.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: So first day today… what do you think, Simon, just how ugly is this going to be? We’ve already heard Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott waste no time in a slanging match in Parliament today.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I wouldn’t call it a slanging match, I think we’re getting down to the business of parliament and in particular after today we’ll get into the real business of parliament and that will be when we get back onto the issues. There’s been a lot of talk about Speakerships and Deputy Speakerships, pairings and things that frankly most mums and dads really couldn’t care less about. They want to hear us get back onto debating the issues, holding the Government to account. There’s only one paradigm when it comes to politics in a democracy and that is actually good government and we will be holding the Government to account, that’s what Tony’s said, we want to get on with that job, do it as robustly and as vigorously as possible to get good outcomes for all Australians.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Robustly, that’s one word, but the Government is already accusing Tony Abbott of being a wrecker, saying he’s going to make this as difficult as he can for Labor every step of the way. Is that sort of label something that could damage the Coalition in the long term?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor obviously, and they’re masters of spin, they’re trying to use this word at every opportunity and you hear it recited ad nauseum by every Labor MP who fronts up. We wouldn’t agree with that. Just because we’re not agreeing and being compliant with the Government doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be constructive in this Parliament. We want to get on with the job of the Parliament… that is to hold the Government to account, to ask them why they’ve back-flipped on their promises around a carbon tax, around a Citizens’ Assembly on climate change, to talk about the issues, they’re the things that we’re looking forward to really getting on with from day one, or day two, particularly from tomorrow when we get the first chance in Question Time.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Now Simon, you mentioned the Speaker kerfuffle we’ve seen over the past few weeks, today of course Harry Jenkins was re-elected as the Speaker, there was a lot of back-and-forth about who would take on that role and we saw that again in Parliament this morning…
Now normally here in the Press Gallery at Parliament House it wouldn’t pay too much attention to who is elected Deputy Speaker, today that was a different story, it’ll be watched with an eagle eye, Simon do you think that there could be any surprises, that there might be some rogue Liberals who are willing to defy Tony Abbott and join with Labor?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s been a great spirit in the Liberal and National Parties since the election result, to get a surge of new Members, people like Ken Wyatt who’s been celebrated by many people today, has added a real boost to our spirits and I would hope that the team will stay as one. We’ve seen everybody so far who’ve been approached by Labor reject those offers. I expect that’ll continue to be the case, I hope that will continue to be the case and, as we said before, that we can get past all of the ‘navel gazing’ of who occupies positions in Parliament and get back to the issues.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tony Abbott has said that he’ll be deciding [pairs] on what is the national interest and that’s quite difficult to determine when it comes down to the specifics of, you know, is Julia Gillard going overseas in the national interest, is she delivering a speech to lobbyists, is that in the national interest? You know, it’s very difficult.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is, Ashleigh, but as Scott said before this is an expensive place to run. We in the Senate have been used to the fact that you’ve got to have good reasons to get a pair for a long period of time, we’ve been used to the fact that everybody needs to turn up for a vote. These are normal things for the operation of the Senate. The House of Reps now finds itself in the same position. It means that people, as they should expect, will have to see their Members of Parliament front up to every vote, front up to the Parliament and if they’re not here, have a very good reason not to be here and that’s not at all unreasonable, we’re not looking to be unreasonable. We just want to make sure that this Parliament operates to the highest standard possible.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: It is going to be fascinating to see how it does actually work in practice.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: But still we have the other major party in this house not on the [Multi-Party Climate Change] Committee, not even having a voice there. Is that te right move politically for you Simon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Ashleigh, let’s look at the Government’s approach to this Committee and to this issue. Julia Gillard on several occasions in the days before the election explicitly ruled out a carbon tax, explicitly ruled it out. She went to the election promising a Citizens’ Assembly on climate change. Now in the weeks after forming government she’s junked the Citizens’ Assembly, back-flipped on the carbon tax ruling out and is now in this situation where, frankly, the tail is wagging the dog. The Greens have out a proposition to the Government, the Government’s junked all of its election commitments to accept the Greens’ proposition instead. Now, good luck to Scott and the Greens in what they’ve achieved there, but you have to recognise this Government has accepted that, they’ve put preconditions on this Committee, in particular a precondition that you have to accept a price on carbon as a predetermined outcome from day one. Now that stands in stark contrast to the Opposition’s policy against higher electricity prices, new taxes and in favour of direct action policies to reduce emissions and we’re not going to sign up to something that has a predetermined outcome just to try to snooker us into a corner.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Simon, can we just rewind in history, when Malcolm Turnbull was Leader you were one of those in the Liberal Party advocating a price on carbon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And look, we’ve come up with a very strong, clear policy, contrary to the way it’s positioned by many people. The direct action policy allows us to abate carbon through the cheapest possible means, by going to the market, finding those cheapest possible means and, indeed, ensuring then that you get your five per cent reduction or whatever else is required in the long term. If you look at the operation of this committee that’s proposed…
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Do you think more is actually required in the long term?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think in the long term you need a global solution. This whole problem didn’t start off being called global warming for no great reason. It is a global problem and until you get all of the major players at the table, you’re not going to be able to fix it by what Australia does. But let’s have a look at the operation of this committee and the real question for Scott and the Greens is do they accept the secretive nature of it? Do they accept the fact that this is a Cabinet committee where the advice it receives will be hidden under cloak of Cabinet confidence, where the discussions and the minutes will be hidden under cloak of Cabinet confidence, or would the Greens rather see this stuff released?
ASHLEIGH GILLON: That mustn’t sit well with you, Scott, having this secrecy? We won’t get to see how these discussions play out and what sort of tack the Committee is taking.
SCOTT LUDLAM: Just a sec, well we don’t get those details in public from Cabinet or its subcommittees already. I don’t recall anything being published from the negotiations between Minister Penny Wong and Macfarlane last year either. These negotiations need to be given the space to happen and you don’t necessarily want people looking over your shoulder with cameras while that’s going on. The Committee will release its deliberations, it’ll release the work that it’s doing. I don’t necessarily see any need for it to be publishing its minutes and the day-to-day process that’s going on.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: What about the advice that it’s receiving from the experts that are appearing? I mean there’s a vast difference between a Minister and a Shadow Minister sitting down and negotiating over detailed legislation versus what has been set up as a so-called cross-party committee. Cross-party committees of the Parliament are normally very open to public scrutiny… as you said, this is operating in a very closed-door manner.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: And these are debates we can expect to have as the Parliament does get off and running, we are out of time. Thank you both for joining us today, Simon Birmingham and Scott Ludlam, we’ll chat to you again, I’m sure, on this program shortly.