MARTIN KING: How weird? From ‘climate change denier’ we’re suddenly talking about the Holocaust. To me it’s just a bizarre nexus, a bizarre link, but a link that made Christopher Pyne see red. Was this a Julia Gillard dig? Was the Prime Minister being mischievous? And Julia Gillard would be well aware of comments made by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet that Tony Abbott is a ‘climate change denier’ and we all know what connotations the word ‘denier’ raises. It raises links with the Jewish Holocaust if you’re a ‘denier’. If that’s what Julia Gillard and Greg Combet are doing it is scandalous, it’s repulsive, if that’s what they’re doing, but is that what they are doing? Of course, they could easily call Tony Abbott a climate change ‘sceptic’, which is more common usage, but for some reason they like the word ‘denier’. One thing we can’t deny is that Julia Gillard has broken yet another promise, this time that she won’t be rancorous in Parliament. It was last year the Prime Minister called for all Members of Parliament to conduct themselves in debates in the House with less rancour. It was her call, her wish, her initiative. Well, of course, the Prime Minister has broken her own heartfelt pledge and her own behaviour has been rancorous to say the least, I reckon, not to mention insulating and sarcastic and sardonic. She’s not the only one, of course, but it’s just another example of our Prime Minister not being true to her word and there’s no denying that.
Okay, now, Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and we are talking about carbon dioxide tax advertising. Good afternoon to you, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Martin, and good afternoon to your listeners.
MARTIN KING: Okay, now, can I ask you first up… you heard what Julia Gillard said in Federal Parliament?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I did, yes. I was in Senate Question Time but I must say I did have a little ear to what was going on in the House of Reps as well and of course I just heard your good summary there.
MARTIN KING: Yeah, well, we’re talking about the carbon dioxide tax and that’s what they were talking about. What’s your reaction to what was said in Parliament?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh look, I think the use of language in this by the Prime Minister and her Ministers is quite scurrilous. You make the point very well, Martin, that the commonplace term, if people want to throw it around, is to talk about ‘climate change sceptics’. For some reason, and these things are rarely done by mistake, they have decided to use ‘climate change denier’ today. The Labor Party ‘focus groups’ and workshops everything that it does, or it comes up with every phrase that it uses, very, very carefully and I think Christopher Pyne was right to find the phrase offensive and of course Tony Abbott pointed out that not only is it offensive but it’s also wrong.
MARTIN KING: Is Julia Gillard seriously suggesting, though, that… any link to the Holocaust when she uses the word ‘denier’?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: She has, I am confident, carefully chosen her language and for some reason has gone away from using ‘sceptic’ in favour of using ‘denier’. Now, it’s up to her to explain why she has done that but she’s a clever politician, she doesn’t make mistakes in the words that she uses, so she has deliberately chosen to change the words she’s used. She has to answer why she’s done that but I do think there are those in our community, especially people of Jewish descent, who are sensitive about the way the word ‘denier’ is used and to draw any parallels is quite an outrageous thing and this policy discussion about the so called ‘carbon tax’ should really be had at a much higher plane about the issues around it and coming up with the best policy options for Australia that don’t put these huge cost of living impacts onto Australian families and households.
MARTIN KING: Do you think this is a sign that politics in this country has sunk to a new low?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh look, I think, from what I could hear of today’s Question Time in the House of Reps, it was a Question Time very full of emotion. If Julia Gillard and the Government have decided to deliberately use this word ‘denier’ because there are any connotations attached to it, well that is a new low. Now, I would hope that’s not the case but, as I said, she doesn’t choose her words lightly, she’s a clever politician in that regard and she should explain why she chose to shift from using the word ‘sceptic’ to the word ‘denier’. As an Opposition, Coalition, we would really frankly not be debating this. We want to debate the merits of policies and particularly debate the fact that we have a policy approach that can ensure Australians don’t face hundreds of dollars more on their electricity bills, 6 ½ or more cents a litre extra on their petrol prices and of course, as a result of those impacts on the cost of production for everything, higher costs right through the production chain for everything that we all consume in every different way.
MARTIN KING: It’s been a very emotional Parliament since it’s come back this year. Harry Jenkins, the [House of Representatives] Speaker, was complaining about his blood pressure before. You blokes better be careful!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, I hope Harry looks after himself. He may not be of my side of politics but I trust he looks after himself and keeps his blood pressure under control.
MARTIN KING: Now, Senator, to the Government’s expected advertising blitz. How determined is the Opposition that our taxpayer dollars will not be used?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is quite outrageous, Martin, and it is yet another backdown and mistruth from the Labor Government. Julia Gillard has made it clear previously that she doesn’t think taxpayers should fund advertising for political purposes. Before the Labor Government came to power in 2007, she stated in very clear, ‘black and white’ terms, ‘Labor will end the abuse of taxpayer funded government advertising’. Well, nothing more could be an abuse of taxpayer funds than to…
MARTIN KING: Well, it couldn’t get more political than this, could it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s exactly it. Any ads that are produced that go to air while this debate is happening will clearly be of a political nature. They will clearly be designed to try to prop up the Government’s support, to try to build some type of community belief that this carbon tax is necessary. Now, if [the] Government wants to claim this is an information campaign, then there’s a place for Government funded information campaigns, but they should be on things that will happen, not things that are under debate at present and this is firmly under debate. It may never get through the Parliament. It may never happen and they certainly shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ hard earned dollars to flog this dead horse, the carbon tax, and try to use that to generate the public support to help get it through the Parliament. If it can’t stand on it own merits, if Julia Gillard can’t sell it on its own merits, she certainly should not be digging into taxpayers’ pockets to help try to sell it.
MARTIN KING: Fair enough. Okay, Simon, thank you for that. Appreciate your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Any time, Martin, an absolute pleasure.
MARTIN KING: Thank you. Simon Birmingham there, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.