ASHLEIGH GILLON: Joining me this afternoon on our panel of politicians, the Labor MP Graham Perrett – good afternoon to you – and joining us from Adelaide today the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Simon Birmingham – good afternoon to you as well.
We just heard some developing news a short time ago here on Sky News that the Federal Government has now approved a proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. Simon Birmingham, obviously you’re there in the state. Do you think that that expansion would be a good thing for South Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Oh, look, Ashleigh, this is a fantastic project and the conditional approval under the EPBC Act [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999] by the Federal Government is very welcome for the progress of Olympic Dam. Along the same lines, today, I understand the South Australian Government is holding a lockup during which in the next hour or two they will reveal the conditions that SA has put in place and some of the arrangements between the SA Government and BHP Billiton. These are all important to see a massive multi-billion dollar project, that’s been on the cards for a long, long time and has the potential to generate many, many jobs and enormous export income, actually go ahead, so I welcome it; it’s a great step forward.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: This is apparently going to be the world’s largest open cut mine. We look forward to hearing more details on this. We are expecting a news conference with the South Australian Government a little later…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  And, Ashleigh, if I can just say one other thing on the mine and that is this is the project that Mike Rann said very specifically he was staying around to see through, so people will look very closely this afternoon at the detail to see that SA has got good value out of this project and that it is a good deal and that in fact it was worth Mike Rann hanging around for this last couple of months as Premier to actually see it through and that he hasn’t been the lame duck that some forecast in these negotiations.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Let’s move on. There are a few other issues around today. This morning we’ve learnt that Julia Gillard has spoken directly to the 14-year-old boy detained in Indonesia for alleged drug offences. Is that a strange contact for the Prime Minister to make?
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Simon Birmingham, the Coalition’s been very critical in the past of the Government’s handling of cases where Australians have been caught up in scandals overseas, like the Stern Hu case comes to mind. How do you rate the Government’s handling of this one?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Well, look, Ashleigh, I think everyone of course wants the best for this young fella and to make sure that his rights are protected throughout this investigation, but I think there is a growing element of concern, not just from the Opposition but across the Australian community, about the political handling of this matter; whether in fact this young man is becoming a bit of a pawn in the game of one-upmanship between the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Foreign [Affairs] Minister, Kevin Rudd. As Graham just said, a lot of these matters are best handled behind closed doors. Well, you’ve got to ask the question, why has the Prime Minister’s office revealed and spruiked the fact this morning that she personally spoke to this young man? What’s to be gained from publicly revealing that? And of course the real question is what impact does this very high politicisation of this issue have in terms of the Indonesian authorities’ handling of it? Yes, there’ll be a big media profile on it, but that doesn’t require Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd to outdo each other in public comment, to outdo each other in public profile on the matter, and there is a real risk that that politicisation has a negative impact as against allowing Australia’s diplomats to go about quiet and effective diplomacy at the highest levels but behind closed doors as much as is possible to get the best outcome for this young man, not the best outcome for Australian politicians.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: The carbon tax vote – that’s going to be the big one this week in Parliament, of course. It’s been coming for a long time. On Wednesday we’re going to see the legislation voted on in the Lower House. Today we learnt that a new manufacturing group has been set up. This group is calling themselves Manufacturing Australia. It includes companies like Amcor and BlueScope Steel. We’ve seen this group saying that it really is going to keep lobbying the Government against introducing the carbon tax; at least wants it delayed until we see some sort of global deal on cutting emissions. That has already been welcomed this morning by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, but, Simon Birmingham, in the end, once this legislation goes through the Lower House that is a big win for Julia Gillard.
TONY ABBOTT: This carbon tax is Julia Gillard’s foreign content plan because it will put Australia’s manufacturing at a permanent competitive disadvantage, so she was talking about supporting local manufacturing last week; this week she wants to pass through the Parliament a carbon tax that will permanently damage it…
ASHLEIGH GILLON: The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, speaking there earlier on the Nine Network. Simon Birmingham, I’m keen for your view on this as well. Of course, this falls in your portfolio. The Government… I mean, this has been a real challenge for them to get it through and this week, when it finally sails through the Lower House, you’d have to acknowledge that they could deserve to have some celebrations. It’s taken them a lot of work for them to get to this point.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, in theory there’s meant to be nothing novel about a Government getting its legislation through the Lower House. That’s meant to be the status quo but what we will see this week, Ashleigh, is, presumably on Wednesday, 72 Labor MPs will engage in an act of betrayal against their electorates. Graham Pellett, Julia Gillard…. All of them went to the last election saying there would not be a carbon tax and they will file into the House of Representatives on Wednesday and do the precise opposite of what they told their electorate at this time last year, at last year’s election. That will be a real betrayal of Australian voters and people have a right to question why the Government is so unwilling to go to an election on this issue, to actually give the Australian people a real say about it and this threat to Australian manufacturing is real. We see Dick Warburton leading this group of manufacturers – a former Reserve Bank Board member, a very highly respected Australian – and they are highlighting the fact that Australian jobs are genuinely at risk and you can you have all of the Job Summits, forums, talkfests you want – the reality is that policies like the carbon tax place Australian industry at a competitive disadvantage and threaten Australian jobs.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well, speaking of Malcolm Turnbull, Simon Birmingham, we’re going to see a focus on what he does, of course, on Wednesday when that vote comes about.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, well, look, Malcolm has, I think, been clear that he’s never stood for a carbon tax. He’s never stood for a carbon tax and that has been a clear position all along but if Graham wants to talk about international action there’s a very simple fact here. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires next year and there is no replacement to that and no one expects one to be negotiated at Durban in a month or so’s time. There’s nothing on the horizon that says there will be a new, legally binding international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, so we will actually put on place next year in 2012 a carbon tax in the very year that the world enters a period without any global agreement, without any type of binding treaty that ensures other countries do follow any type of complementary action. It’s perfectly reasonable for manufacturing and for all of Australian industry to say ‘let’s at least wait until we see a level of international agreement that replaces Kyoto to ensure we’re not going in one direction next year as the rest of the world goes in the other direction’.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay, well we are going to hear a lot more on this issue this week with that historic vote in the Lower House as we see the carbon tax which will sail through the Lower House and then sail through again in the Senate, we’re expecting, next month.
Simon Birmingham, Graham Perrett, appreciate your time on the program as always.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Ashleigh. Thanks, Graham.