Subject: Climate Change
GEOFF ROBINSON: Australia's Labor-led government may have a fight on its hands to get its controversial climate change plan through parliament. It revealed the price to - it revealed the proposal to put a price on carbon emissions last month, but it's got just a slim majority in both the upper and lower houses of parliament. Now, the Labor MP, Mark Dreyfus, is Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. He's in Wellington to speak to a conference about the plan and he's with me now in the Wellington studio. Good morning. Thanks for joining us.
MARK DREYFUS: Morning Geoff.
GEOFF ROBINSON: So, technically, you've got a minority government, haven't you, with support from, what, four Independents. Are they all going to vote for this plan?
MARK DREYFUS: They are, and that's what we've spent the nine or so months since the election negotiating. We've announced on 10 July - the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Greg Combet, the senior Climate Change Minister have announced a comprehensive clean energy future plan which includes an emissions trading scheme. A bit like the one that New Zealand's had since 2008.
GEOFF ROBINSON: Now, the way it works over there, it's a price which will be paid by, you think, the top 500, sort of, mining and environmental companies. Not a tax.
MARK DREYFUS: It's a tax - well, not a tax. I don't think we get into those, sort of, word games. It's caused us considerable political difficulty in Australia over that. It's a price on carbon that's going to be paid by around the top 500 polluters in Australia. So, that on every tonne of carbon pollution that they emit, they're going to be now paying a price. And the revenue from that carbon price scheme is going to be directed to about [indistinct] to about half, assistance to households. And as to the rest, assistance to industry and business to support jobs, and to support investment in clean energy.
GEOFF ROBINSON: Because, inevitably, those companies will put their prices up, presumably, to offset the carbon price they've got to pay. So, it's going to trickle down and everyone's going to end up paying.
MARK DREYFUS: There's some pass through and, of course, some industries can't pass through. They're the industries we see as energy-intensive trade exposed industries. And when I talk about the assistance to jobs and business, it's to those industries that can't pass through in order to maintain competitiveness that the assistance is going to be directed.
GEOFF ROBINSON: So, are you buying votes by giving money to voters to offset the carbon price?
MARK DREYFUS: Not at all. We think it's important that even though there's going to be a modest CPI - Consumer Price Index - rise only, Treasury have calculated that rise as about 0.7 per cent. But it's important to assist low and middle-income households, in particular, to meet the cost increases - those modest cost increases that are expected. And that's why our scheme uses the carbon price revenue to give assistance to about nine in 10 of Australian households.
GEOFF ROBINSON: How confident are you about getting it through the legislative process?
MARK DREYFUS: Very confident. And that puts us in a different position to where we were in 2009 where we had two failed attempts to put an emissions trading scheme through the Australian Parliament. We didn't then have guaranteed support in the Australian Senate. And despite attempts - despite the legislation passing through our lower house in May of '09 and, again, in October of 2009, it failed to pass the Senate on both occasions.
This time around, we have committed support in the lower house from the four crossbenchers who've indicated they're going to support the legislation, and we have support in the Senate from the Greens Party which, after 1 July, hold the balance of power.
GEOFF ROBINSON: And you must be rubbing your hands with glee watching Tony Abbott, on the one hand, the Opposition saying we're against it, but knowing that Malcolm Turnbull, his opponent, if you like, within his own party, he seems to be in favour of what you're doing, although he can't say so.
MARK DREYFUS: Well, it's apparent that - and it's always been apparent, that there are tremendous divisions in the Liberal Party. Tony Abbott, the present Opposition Leader, won his post only with the support of a single vote in his party room. There remain a very substantial number of members of the Opposition, particularly in the Liberal Party, who support an emissions trading scheme, who support taking action on climate change, and I'd hope that some time in the not too distant future, we can get Australia politically to the position that you've reached here in New Zealand some time back and - you could say also, that has been reached in the United Kingdom where there's bipartisan support for an emissions trading scheme, bipartisan support for taking action on climate change.
GEOFF ROBINSON: Nice to get the message from David Cameron to Julia Gillard saying you've done the right thing.
MARK DREYFUS: It was. And we've had similar expressions of support from the New Zealand Government. Nick Smith, one of the two climate change ministers here, was very clear, the day after the announcement by the Prime Minister on 10 July, that New Zealand are pleased to see us taking action on climate change, pleased to see Australia finally getting around to introducing an emissions trading scheme, which you've had here since 2008.
GEOFF ROBINSON: We like to lead the way.
MARK DREYFUS: And [laughs] I'm looking forward to talking to Nick Smith and the other Climate Change Minister, Tim Groser, while I'm here.
GEOFF ROBINSON: Thank you for joining us this morning. Talking to Mark Dreyfus, he's Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.