Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra
TUE 08 NOVEMBER 2011
Subject(s): Carbon pricing, Australia Network
PM: Good afternoon. I’m joined by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, I would alert you to the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister has to leave I believe at 20 past two to commence his journeys to APEC.
Today we have made history. After all of these years of debate and division our nation has got the job done and from the 1st of July we will see a price on carbon pollution.
I’ll hand now to the Deputy Prime Minister for some remarks.
DPM: Thanks very much Prime Minister. Today is an historic day for economic reform in our country. This is one of the great Labor reforms on par with the floating of the exchange rate, the bringing down of the tariff wall, the introduction of compulsory superannuation. It is one of those reforms that owes a great deal to the tenacity and commitment of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change. They have fought for this against the odds. Against entrenched interests that have no interest in reform in Australia. It is a great reform that will lock in future prosperity, it will support jobs and job creation, it will drive investment in clean energy and most importantly, it will look after the environment which we leave to subsequent generations. This is a very important intergenerational reform for our economy and for our environment.
MINISTER COMBET: Thanks very much Prime Minister. The first thing I would actually like to do is to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister because this has obviously been a very difficult issue to prosecute and yet it is such an extremely important environmental and economic reform. I would also like to thank the Prime Minister for having the confidence in me to have carriage of this particular portfolio. I’m very pleased that the legislation has passed the Senate today and that we’re going to be able to undertake the work of cutting our pollution and innovating and driving investment in cleaner energy sources in our economy. It’s a very important thing for the future of our country and for future generations.
Importantly with the Clean Energy package, it will be environmentally effective for the reasons that we’ve articulated so many times. At least 160 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions cut from our economy in the year 2020, with the capacity to do more. It will be economically responsible because this will drive investment in clean energy sources, it will drive innovation and it will drive productivity. And thirdly this set of reforms will be socially fair, and is strongly in a Labor Party tradition. Of course more than half of the revenue from the carbon price will go towards an important tax reform. That means, tax cuts for people earning up to $80,000 in particular and it will also finance of course an increase in the aged pension, an increase in family tax benefits and other Commonwealth payments. It is socially fair because the people who need help the most will receive the assistance that they need. So on those three fronts – economic responsibility, environmental effectiveness and social equity, this is a very important reform for this country.
PM: We’re happy to take questions, Mark.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you say it’s a historic day for reform, you say that work begins now in terms of cutting Australia’s carbon pollution (inaudible) deeply unpopular at this stage according to the polls, what do you intend to do now differently to turn this debate around and can you turn it around?
PM: This reform is right for our country’s future, it’s the right thing to do, it’s the most effective way we can cut carbon pollution and create a clean energy future. So of course we will keep explaining to people what putting a price on carbon means, that it means less carbon pollution, that it means new clean energy jobs and opportunities, that it means more money in the pockets of families that need that money the most. We will be getting the information to people that they do need. I understand this has been a bitter debate and that there are Australians that still view carbon pricing with a great deal of anxiety, they will have the opportunity to see carbon pricing in operation for themselves from the 1st of July next year, they will be able to see what the tax cuts mean for their family, the family payments increases, what the pension increases mean for their family. They’ll also be able to see the move Australia will be making to a clean energy future as we cut carbon pollution.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Senator Abetz in the absence of his leader today said that the Opposition would maintain its opposition to this tax, it will turn the next election into a referendum against it and it will seek a mandate to repeal it lock, stock and barrel and ask the Labor Party to respect that mandate.
PM: And your question is?
JOURNALIST: How do you react to that?
PM: How I react to that is let’s be serious here. Every living Liberal leader supports a price on carbon including the current Leader of the Opposition if the truth be told.
PM: Yes, Phil.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the ACCC has already caught a couple of businesses trying to pass on carbon tax price increases to consumers already. A liquor store put up prices by 20 percent, some taxi drivers were adding carbon fares to their fares. What do you say to business and consumers about all of that? What message do you want people to (inaudible)?
PM: Well we’ve ensured that there’s strong enforcement here so that anybody who makes a misrepresentation that a price increase is somehow about carbon pricing but really they’re just profiteering, can face penalties of more than a million dollars. So there is strong enforcement here, anybody who’s thinking of doing the wrong thing should think about how they’re going to feel when more than a million dollars comes out of their pocket.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister do you regret not seeking a clearer mandate at the last election for a carbon price instead of talking about a citizen’s assembly and that sort of thing, do you regret not just coming out and saying ‘we’re going to do it’?
PM: Look, I’ve made the decisions in the nation’s interests, certainly acting on putting a price on carbon in this Parliament, getting this legislation through, having the price start on the 1st of July next year is in the interest of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, will there be a new advertising campaign and when would that start and secondly would you repeat for us what I think Mr Combet has said in the past and that is that in Opposition Labor would continue to support a carbon price and would try to stop a Liberal Government rescinding it.
PM: Labor supports our nation having a clean energy future and the best, cheapest way of doing that is putting a price on carbon, so yes we support putting a price on carbon because we want to cut carbon pollution, have a clean energy future and we’ve done this reform in a Labor way, making sure that we are looking after working families and pensioners. So Labor supports this legislation now, we will support it into the future, but before we get to that question Michelle, comes the issue about the huffing and puffing we’re seeing from the Opposition, the statements about signatures in blood, all of that is to disguise the fact they’ve got their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs, they’ve got really no intention of repealing this. Every living Liberal leader including the current Leader of the Opposition is on the record as supporting a price on carbon.
And Wayne will add to that.
DPM: I would just like to add to that because we’ve had the Leader of the Opposition take off with his tail between his legs today after all of the tough guy talk. I mean, what a spineless retreat.
JOURNALIST: And the advertising campaign though?
PM: We will do what is necessary to get correct information to people. There have been any number of ridiculous and false claims made during this debate to cause anxiety amongst working people, to cause anxiety amongst small and medium businesses and indeed to cause anxiety for some bigger businesses. So I want people to have the right information about what carbon pricing means for them.
JOURNALIST: Your scheme is putting a proper price on carbon here, it’s about twice what the market rate is overseas. Is that putting a bigger load onto Australian companies and does it highlight that your system here should be more flexible in terms of pricing?
PM: Well as you all know I’ve been to the G20 and I’m not surprised that we are seeing volatility in all the markets in Europe, not surprised at all. And so yes we’re seeing volatility in carbon markets too, but in designing this scheme we’ve obviously made decisions about the long term trends for carbon pricing, so when the scheme moves to being an internationally linked emissions trading scheme, we’ve made projections about pricing at that point.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Senator Milne said that the carbon package that just passed the Senate was superior to CPRS, do you share her assessment?
PM: This is the right carbon pricing package for our nation, key amongst its features: it will cut carbon pollution, it does that by putting a price on the biggest polluters in our nation, getting them to pay the price of putting carbon pollution into our atmosphere, what they currently do for free.
As a result of that I’ve already met with business leaders who are thinking of the innovations and work practice changes they will bring to cut carbon pollution and that’s the whole point because it’s that carbon pollution that is damaging our environment. But we have done this scheme in a Labor way, making sure that as we deal with that big challenge for the environment in which we live, we have given assistance to those who need it the most, so I am particularly proud, I’m proud of all of this package but I am particularly proud of the tax reform elements of this package which means working people, particularly people who are coming off welfare into work, particularly women who are returning to work after caring for their families won’t lose a cent of what they earn in tax.
Yes, Phil Hudson. Phil Coorey. You’re looking curiously alike today, I’m not quite sure why. They’ve both taken that as a compliment.
Yes, Phil Coorey. Sir.
JOURNALIST: You’re government’s had a pretty rough trot for the last 10 months, do you regard today in any way as a turning point? Would you like to see an upturn now (inaudible)
PM: This is about what’s right for the nation’s future. That’s what’s guided us every day of the last 10 months as we’ve worked on this package and it’s what will guide us as this package is delivered and implemented from 1 July on.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I know self-analysis is always a little risky, but I’m wondering if you can identify what it is about you as a Prime Minister, you as a person, as a leader, that has made this reform which has eluded so many others come real today?
PM: I’m not someone given to a great deal of self-analysis or self obsession, I’ll let all of my friends here do this.
DPM: Let me have a go.
DPM: The reason this legislation is passing is because the PM is as tough as nails and as you know, putting in place long-term reform, tough reform in this country is always hard. And this has been hard, it’s been a really tough debate. But when you look at this today, this has been a victory for the optimists, and a defeat for the naysayers. Because the one thing you can say about the Labor Party is we have an optimistic view about the future of our country and what we can achieve. And we’ve got positive policies for the future and sometimes, that means you’re going to have a really difficult type of debate. And we’ve had a really difficult public debate. But because of the leadership of the Prime Minister in this debate and the Minister for Climate Change, we’ve got this legislation through.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’re talking about tough debates. You’ve won this one, you’ve got the mining tax debate. How confident are you of getting through that mining tax legislation through the House my years’ end?
PM: I might get the Deputy Prime Minister to answer that, given he’s been working on it whilst I’ve been at the G20.
DPM: Well we’re going to give it our best shot because there’s a really strong case for this legislation. Mining companies are super profitable because the Terms of Trade are at 140 year highs, and we need to spread the benefits of that to every corner of our country. So we think there is a very strong case for the resource rent tax, in particular to look after those sections of the economy that aren’t in the fast lane. To build up the superannuation savings of low paid Australian workers. To invest in infrastructure. And to give a very significant tax cut for small business. I think that case is very appealing to the minor parties and the independents in the Parliament and we’re going to argue to them and talk to them about why this case is strong, but also have that discussion in the wider community as well, because as is the case with the carbon price, vested interests are out there mounting unsubstantiated scare campaigns, which are unravelling by the day, with the MRRT as well as the carbon price.
JOURNALIST: Mr Swan, can I just ask-
PM: Your excellency Ms Tingle, yes.
JOURNALIST: Your excellency Prime Minister. Can I just ask Mr Swan a question on MRRT. Does the concession by Andrew Forrest that he doesn’t think he’ll have to pay any MRRT suggest that there’s a bit of a hole in your evidence?
DPM: No what it suggests is he’s changed his position. Because his previous position was that he would have to pay and it would be very damaging for his company. He’s now changed his mind. The fact is Mr Forrest has been running an unsubstantiated fear campaign about this, that is unravelling as we speak, I’m looking forward to all of the evidence being presented over the next couple of days before the hearings that are going on before the House. The fact is that we’ve put in our estimates what we expect to receive, the great bulk of that will be paid by very large companies.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, following on Michelle’s question earlier, you’ve spoken about the need for business certainty. Will you give a clear guarantee today that Labor in opposition would vote for with the Greens to stop Tony Abbott repealing the tax?
PM: This is our package. We will support out package. We’ll support it today, we will support it tomorrow, we will support it in a year’s time, five year’s time, ten year’s time. We will support our package.
But I am inviting you to ask yourself a question before you get there, which is do you think in circumstances where every living Liberal leader has supported putting a price on carbon, that any of the overdramatised statements of the Leader of the Opposition can really be taken seriously.
Yes, he sees not it to be in his short term political advantage to keep his protest campaign going on carbon pricing, but he is on the record as supporting putting a price on carbon. So before we get to any of this analysis about Labor’s position, let’s do the analysis that lies in front of it: do you seriously think that Mr Abbott who has been on the record as a supporter of carbon pricing, is really going to try and repeal this package. I think that’s the question for focussing on.
Sorry we’ll go here and then come across. Yep.
JOURNALIST: I wonder whether you’re a little overly cautious in responding to Phil Coorey’s question, because given the polls, you’ve got a reform through, you’ve had successful international summits and some more to come, surely, do you feel that things are finally starting to turn your way after a tough year?
PM: Every day what I get up and do is think about what’s in the nation’s interests. On carbon pricing, this is in our interests to cut carbon pollution, to create clean energy jobs, to give families more money in their pockets, to have a major tax reform, this is in our nation’s interests. Then the MRRT, in these days of the patchwork economy where we’re seeing growth but we’re seeing differential growth, to share opportunity for all, that’s the right policy for the nation’s future. To make sure that opportunity means something for every child, our education reform agenda, very important, that’s what I get up and think about. I think about how we can make sure we don’t leave anybody behind during these days of economic growth which is why we’re passionate about the health reforms we’ve delivered already, we’re very, very fixated on delivering the mental health package from the budget and we are starting the hard work that would lead this nation to a national disability insurance scheme. They’re the things on my mind.
SO we’ll just go here and here and then we’ll go. Yes.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the determination of the Australia at work tender is casts doubt on the Government’s entire tender process?
PM: Look there’s an Australian Federal Police investigation in train, we received very clear advice from the Australian Government Solicitor and we’ve acted in accordance with it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Combet there are various claims circulating today that electricity prices are now going to rise inordinately as a result of this new carbon price, what do you say to that?
COMBET: Well we published Treasury modelling which showed what the price impact of the clean energy package would be and of course those price increases over the economy are only a 0.7 per cent increase in the CPI. And as we have been at pains to make very clear to people, low and middle income households will receive assistance in the form of tax cuts and increases in family tax benefits and other Commonwealth payments. We had the curious spectacle though in the Senate here today, which was somewhat related to this issue, where we’ve had Tony Abbott claiming in recent weeks that businesses shouldn’t be engaging in the purchasing of forward permits or forward purchasing of carbon permits and yet the Liberals supported an amendment today with Senator Xenophon that was encouraging the purchasing of forward permits, at least that was their argument. So I think all of that side of the discussion is pretty confused by the Coalition.
JOURNALIST: Why did you not support that amendment just quickly?
COMBET: Well because we’ve put measures in place in the clean energy package to deal with that issue. We’ve had months and months in the preparation of this policy in dialogue with electricity generators. And there are measures in place that we have a great degree of confidence in, that will work in the electricity generating sector including, at the end of the day, access to working capital if that is needed to assist generators purchasing permits. But we believe the private sector will provide that facility for the generators quite efficiently.