LUKE GRANT: Now, as you know, the UN Climate Change Conference is happening in South Africa, in Durban. Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment… Liberal Senator for South Australia and joins us on the line. Afternoon, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Luke. Good afternoon, listeners.
LUKE GRANT: Good to talk to you. Durban – do you expect anything to come out of that? From what I’ve read in the lead up to it, no one thinks there’ll be much at all accomplished. What’s your take on it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, well, I think that’s a fair summary, Luke. Nobody does seem to expect there’ll be much come out of it. I had a look through the agenda earlier today and the agenda for this Durban conference is very dense and convoluted, to say the least, but certainly doesn’t look like it’s terribly much focused on outcomes and, without any real major outcome towards global agreement on climate change action from Durban, we’ll have the perverse situation where next year the Kyoto Protocol will come to an end – so the only globally legally binding agreement in place on climate change will end next year – just as Australia implements a carbon tax and so we will be…
LUKE GRANT: So, when Kyoto goes, there’ll be essentially nothing left to insist that countries of the world do anything?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right. Kyoto is the only legally binding agreement in place that exists across countries at present and, sadly, it expires next year, there doesn’t appear to be any hope of a replacement to Kyoto, or an extension to Kyoto, being agreed upon and so that means we’ll see this perverse situation where the world will enter a void where there is no agreement to act just as, in Australia, the Gillard Government applies its carbon tax on Australians.
LUKE GRANT: Now, we have obviously thought, I guess… or the Government, I should say, has thought that by implementing a carbon tax, some countries around the world will go ‘wow, look at Australia, they’re doing something we should’. Is there any sense that there might be, even given what might happen with Kyoto, a country or two or seven or whatever it might be that might follow us down the track or are they retreating?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, of course, we saw President Obama here just a couple of weeks ago just after the carbon tax had passed the Parliament and his reaction was essentially to say ‘well, it’s all very courageous of the Gillard Government to pass a carbon tax but we certainly won’t be going down that path’ and the US is confident that, through vehicle standards and other measures, they can do their bit without the need for a carbon tax and, of course, it’s worth remembering that this carbon tax we’re having in Australia doesn’t actually reduce emissions in Australia anyway. The level of emissions in Australia will still go up between now and 2020, even with the carbon tax in place, so it is a strange gesture that comes at enormous cost to many, many people.
LUKE GRANT: What about our… the entourage, the Australian entourage, attending? Listening to Chris Smith, my colleague here, the other day run through the people who were going along… these things don’t come cheap, do they?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all, and some information that I sourced through the Senate Estimates process shows that the Department of Climate Change [and Energy Efficiency] in 2010 managed to spend some $3.1 million on overseas travel, or around $250,000 a month, and so Australians will, I think, rightly wonder, as they’re about to be asked to pay a carbon tax, how it is that so much money can be spent on sending people around the world to engage in these conferences which, if they were getting meaningful outcomes, might be worthwhile but, sadly, we seem a long way from meaningful outcomes.
LUKE GRANT: Yeah, absolutely. As always, appreciate your time. Thank you, Senator. Senator Simon Birmingham, amongst other things the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.