KIERAN GILBERT: This afternoon our focus is on the battle over the power bill the Federal Government and the Opposition, the Commonwealth and the states each blaming each other for soaring electricity prices but is it all too late for Prime Minister Gillard to reframe this debate and why didn’t she take on the states on this issue sooner?
JULIA GILLARD: At the moment there is an incentive for state governments that reap dividends from power assets to keep investing in the poles and wires, to over-invest in the poles and wires, because the more they invest in the poles and wires then the greater the dividends they get so let’s look here in New South Wales a 70 per cent increase in prices over the last four years. That’s separate to carbon pricing and we’ve seen a 60 per cent increase in the dividends that the State Government gets…
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister speaking there in Newcastle today
Tony Abbot has also been on this issue. He was asked whether or not he believes the states should be doing more to put downward pressure on power bills and electricity prices.
TONY ABBOTT: … the Federal Government should be doing more to keep power prices down and the best thing it can do is scrap the carbon tax. 70 per cent of the price rise here in the [Northern] Territory is the result of the carbon tax. 50 per cent of the price rise in New South Wales is the result of the carbon tax. 100 per cent of the price rise in Queensland is the result of the carbon tax…
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me on the program this afternoon, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Senator Simon Birmingham, in Adelaide. Good afternoon, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Kieran.
KIERAN GILBERT: And in Melbourne we’ve got the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Mark Dreyfus.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, the regulators themselves have said they haven’t got enough teeth. They’ve pointed that out. The Prime Minister and Mr Dreyfus and others are arguing that the regulators need more clout if the states aren’t going to cooperate. This morning, Mr Abbott was asked this three times, refused to say whether he supports greater powers for the regulators. Do you think it should have more teeth to enforce some standards here?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, on that front, let’s see some detail rather than some rhetoric. It’s easy to say you want to give regulators more power but what does that actually mean? What are they actually proposing in this regard? What we’ve seen this week is just the greatest act of breathtaking hypocrisy from this Prime Minister ever. If this Prime Minister is concerned, if Julia Gillard is concerned, about power prices, well, she could effect a nationwide nine per cent reduction in power prices, effectively overnight, by axing her carbon tax so it’s very clear here that the Prime Minister isn’t really caring about power prices. For the last 12 to 18 months she has worked day and night to effect a nine to 10 per cent increase nationwide in power prices by getting the carbon tax through the Parliament so to now turn around a month or so after having achieved that and say ‘actually, I’m very worried about power prices and it’s all the fault of state governments and I’m going to beat up on those state governments’ is just such a hypocritical act and I am sure the Australian people will see through it for what it is.
KIERAN GILBERT: You know there is a key difference, though, and that is that with the Prime Minister’s power price rises, as you’ve described it, there’s a lot of compensation going out the door as well. With the states’ upgrade to their infrastructure, the poles and wires, no such compensation’s been forthcoming.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, three to four million households will be worse off, under the Government’s own modelling, under the carbon tax so the compensation certainly does not reach everybody but, look, everybody acknowledges that power prices have gone up. If Mark Dreyfus and Julia Gillard want to come here to South Australia, where we’ve had a Labor Government for more than a decade, where we have some of the highest power prices not just in Australia but in the world, and talk to the Labor Government here about what they’ve done wrong and how they’ve managed the electricity industry here in terms of power pricing regulation, I’ll welcome the visit. I’ll look forward to seeing that this isn’t just an attack, or an attempted attack, on the Coalition governments in the eastern states but is actually a fair-minded thing so, Julia Gillard, come to Adelaide, take it up to Jay Weatherill, let’s see whether you’re genuine about this.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you concede that there is an issue here, when it comes to the states, of ‘gold-plating’ infrastructure, as it’s been described, and just a flawed policy where the more they invest in the infrastructure and push up the power bills, essentially, the more that they reap in revenue?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, there are different circumstances in each state and we do need to recognise that. New South Wales and South Australia have both, under Labor administrations, seen significant increases in power prices. One, however, has been in private hands for some time and the other has not so there are quite significant differences here and the Prime Minister is, in many ways, simplifying what is a complex argument when it comes to power prices across the board at that state level in terms of production and transmission and distribution costs but there is one simple fact here and that is: the Prime Minister is responsible for the bulk of the power price increase that is occurring across the nation this year for half of the power price increase in New South Wales, for virtually all of the power price increase in Queensland, for around 80 per cent of the power price increase, I think, in Victoria or the Northern Territory so there are significant hikes going up around the country, all because of this Prime Minister’s carbon tax and people should not forget the hypocrisy of this.
KIERAN GILBERT: Gentlemen, before we went to the break … we reported, out of Alan Joyce’s speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sydney, about 2,800 fulltime job cuts as part of the Qantas transformation…
KIERAN GILBERT: … Senator Birmingham, your thoughts on this? Obviously Qantas has had a troubled time in terms of its industrial relations in recent times.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, any job losses are obviously of concern and we will feel very much for those who will be directly affected by it. Qantas, and Qantas International in particular, has been bleeding in terms of its profitability for some period of time and it’s been evident to everybody that they would have to make major changes. Qantas has faced, as you just highlighted, a number of industrial relations problems. They’ve had to take some very difficult steps to try to deal with those and that certainly wouldn’t have made it any easier for the company but the tourism industry generally in Australia is doing it very tough at present. They’re doing it tough because of the high Australian dollar, because of the increased cost of doing business in Australia on a range of fronts, some of which do relate to Government policy and, indeed, they’re not exactly being helped by the measures this Government have undertaken in terms of increases to passenger movement charges and taxes that apply directly to the tourism industry so I think there’s some policy issues here the Government should look at that apply to tourism, impact on aviation and Qantas, but obviously today people will be thinking primarily about those whose jobs are on the line.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, a couple of other quick issues around today that we’ve been discussing, just quickly if you can we’ve only got a couple of minutes left but, first, to you, Senator Birmingham, on the three-cornered contest looming in the seat of Lyne this is Rob Oakeshott’s seat Matt Adamson, the former rugby league player, apparently being courted by the Liberals. Are these sorts of… these sorts of contests need to be avoided, obviously, to maximise the Coalition’s chances, do they not, and is this a sign of hubris that everyone wants a piece of the next election?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, I’m a South Australian Liberal and, happily in South Australia, we don’t have those issues with the National Party. We sorted that out long ago in this state and it’s a very Liberal-focused contest here in every single electorate but, for New South Wales and for Lyne, I’ll leave that to the New South Wales party organisation to sort out.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mark Dreyfus and Senator Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for that, appreciate your time today.