LUKE GRANT: One of the Opposition Senators who tried to stop this going through today is Senator Simon Birmingham who joins us on the line. Afternoon, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Luke, and good afternoon to your listeners.
LUKE GRANT: Now, give us a sense of where things were this morning. It’s my understanding that what you were trying to do was have electricity prices protected through this legislation but you had no luck.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Luke, we made a last ditch effort this morning to try to at least limit the extent of the grotesque and obscene electricity price rises that we’ll see under this carbon tax. We know that there’ll be price rises of at least 10 per cent but electricity generators lobbied all sides of politics arguing that, because of the way they have to pay for permits years before they need them, that will of course force prices up even more, so what we tried to do was at least defer those payments until the year that those electricity generators need those permits under the carbon tax. Now, unfortunately even on that – a matter which wouldn’t have stopped the carbon tax, wouldn’t have stopped its implementation but would at least have stopped 10 per cent electricity price rises turning into 20 per cent electricity price rises – Labor and the Greens stood in our way just doggedly, clearly, wanting to make Australians have to pay more and pay through the nose for their electricity.
LUKE GRANT: Now, there was some high-fiving today. I wonder who you think the political winners are today and I’m sure you think the Australian population are the losers but is this a great day for the Greens, a great day for the Government? Who has a win today?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Greens were certainly like the cat who got the cream today and they were celebrating, hugging, kissing, backslapping – it was really quite tragic to watch when you understand and appreciate that this tax will have severe and negative consequences for many Australians who won’t be able to afford the increased costs or who work for businesses that are going to face real competitive pressures with businesses overseas, so the Greens certainly were pretty happy with themselves and, look, they have reason to be. They managed to force a Prime Minister to do the exact opposite of what she promised to do at the last election. Julia Gillard stared down the barrel of that camera six days before the last election, said there would be no carbon tax under a government she led, then, days after the election, did the deal with the Greens that ensures that today there is a carbon tax under the Government Julia Gillard leads.
LUKE GRANT: They’re going to run this line that in no circumstances will the Coalition repeal the tax, so what do you say to the… well, particularly Christine Milne who said that today, that this is the great lie of the Liberal Party that there’ll be a repealing of the tax; in fact, there won’t be? What do you say to her?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is beyond mischief making by the Greens and Labor Party and so on – this is utter, utter desperation on their behalf. Tony Abbott and the entire Coalition team could not be any clearer that we have opposed this carbon tax at every stage of its debate through the Parliament and we will repeal it if we win the next election. The real test is: will the Labor Party accept the verdict of the Australian people if the Coalition wins the next election? That election will be unquestionably a referendum on this carbon tax package and whether it’s the right policy for Australia and if the Coalition does win that election it will have been a repudiation of Labor’s policies and an endorsement of the Liberal-National Party approach to repeal the carbon tax. Will Labor get out of the way if that occurs and let us remove this tax?
LUKE GRANT: Yeah, interesting point. I’ve made the point to your Federal Director, Brian Loughnane, who I saw last week, and a couple of other senior Liberals – I don’t think, as a voter, it’s good enough to go to the people and say ‘we’re going to repeal the tax’. I think what we want – what Australians really want from this – is some sort of guarantee that this can’t happen again. Now, it locks both sides in and a senior Liberal figure that wasn’t Brian Loughnane said ‘oh, no politician will agree to that’ but at some point surely integrity and honour overtake the politics. Surely what you take to the people – your list of policies, what you intend to do over the three years – surely we can expect that to be basically what you’ll do and that you won’t do a U-turn half way through for your own political expediency. Is there any feeling within Coalition ranks that in fact you’ve got to come up with some sort of integrity bill so that we, the taxpayers, don’t get ripped off again?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Luke, those sorts of issues are a real challenge. We have, in my home state of South Australia, a ‘truth in political advertising’ clause in our state electoral laws and I’d love to say that it worked a treat and actually enhanced the political debate in SA during state elections but, instead, all it does is see lawyers and others tied up in knots arguing over the nuances of what each party puts into their ads, so it doesn’t…
LUKE GRANT: That’s what… Simon, that’s one of the great frustrations. We’ll see an ad – and you can rest assured it’ll happen – that’ll say that you guys will race back WorkChoices. Now, you’ll deny that forever and you probably won’t do it but that goes to air for a week or two weeks. That shouldn’t happen. I can’t go and pick some grass out across the road and say ‘eat two mouthfuls of this and your hair will turn blond and you’ll suddenly put on four kilos of muscle’ without, you know, the Government taking me to court and calling me a fraud. How is it possible politicians can – with due respect to you – can run this crap and we’re meant to believe it or otherwise? I mean, it’s just really ordinary.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think the essential thing is you have to… unfortunately in our system… although, it’s a robust system but occasionally it lets us down… this is an occasion where it’s let us down, but in the end you have to look at the integrity of the parties and the individuals involved. The last time I can think of a Government so deceiving the Australian people at an election and then doing the opposite afterwards was, of course, the instance of Paul Keating, back in 1993, who campaigned on his ‘L-A-W law’ tax cuts…
LUKE GRANT: Yeah, you’re right. You’re right.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … and then rolled them back afterwards. John Howard, to his credit, went to the 1996 election saying there would never ever be a GST. When he changed his mind in around 1997 he said ‘I’m not going to legislate this, I’m going to take it to the next election’ and that’s what he did – he staked his Prime Ministership on it, he staked his Government on it, he took it to the 1998 election. When he won, he then introduced it. That’s the way that significant policy changes should be made in Australia and if politicians are making significant changes of mind, that’s the way those changes of mind should be dealt with as well and for Julia Gillard the test now is not to go to Yarralumla and ask the Governor-General to proclaim this new carbon tax as the law, but to go to Yarralumla and ask the Governor-General to call an election and test it with the will of the people.
LUKE GRANT: Alright, always good to talk with you. Thanks so much for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Luke.
LUKE GRANT: Good on you. That’s Senator Simon Birmingham.