TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – CENTENNIAL COAL NEWSTAN COLLIERY, FASSIFERN NSW
THE HON GREG COMBET AM MP
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
Minister for Industry and Innovation
1 July 2012
SUBJECT: Carbon pricing
E & O E – Proof only
COMBET: Thanks very much for coming. It’s a bit cool, but one thing’s certain, the sun’s come up today and with the carbon price starting today the world has not come to an end. And of course, one of the forecasts that Tony Abbott made was that the coal industry would die. It’d be the end of the coal industry. I wanted to be here at a coal mine in my own electorate, in my own region. I represent many coalminers, production is happening today and the coal industry has a very bright future and with job security within the industry. So I’m very pleased to be here at a coal mine in my own region today just to make sure that things are okay.
The fact of the matter is that this is an environmental reform that Australia needs to make. It’s manageable economically. It’ll only have a very modest impact on prices. We’re providing an average of $10.10 a week in cash assistance to households across the country and this will set the country up in good stead for the future. It’s an economically manageable reform, one that we do need to make, and one that we’re doing in a socially fair and equitable manner.
So I’m pleased to be able to be here today, just to make sure that the coal industry’s okay. I’ve seen some video footage this morning from Whyalla. Mr Abbott predicted Whyalla would be wiped off the map, but my colleague Gary Gray was there with his mum this morning. I’ve also had reports from supermarkets in different places around the country that prices at Coles and Woolies and the independent grocer supermarkets have not gone up. In fact there’s one report of bread prices coming down from $2.50 to $2 in one supermarket. So there’s been no increases in prices generally today in supermarkets where people buy their goods.
But from today, importantly, a very important income tax reform starts. From today, the income tax-free threshold increases from $6,000 to $18,200. And what that means is that one million of the lowest paid people in this country will no longer be paying tax and filing a tax return. That’s the sort of thing that we’re able to do by asking the biggest polluters to pay for their pollution, we’re able to implement an important tax reform like that, that helps low and middle income households.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a bit early to start forecasting about these companies? I mean, the tax is less than 24 hours old.
COMBET: I think it’s fair enough today given everything that Mr Abbott has said over the last 18 months about doom and gloom, the death of industries, and regions, unimaginable price increases, to draw attention to the fact of just how ludicrous his statements have been. How deceitful they have been. The fear that has unnecessarily been engendered in communities like this, here in my own electorate and my own region. They were all unfounded. This is a reform that is perfectly manageable. One that is a responsible thing to do. It will see Australia play its fair part in international efforts to tackle climate change, and we’re doing it in a way that millions of households will be better off.
JOURNALIST: Greg, what about here in the Hunter? What do you say to people at Hydro that blame the carbon tax for the 450 job losses up there and Tomago aluminium with 100 jobs?
COMBET: The company itself, Norsk Hydro, made absolutely clear that the reason the smelter at Kurri Kurri closed down is because of low aluminium prices internationally, because of the high value of the Australian dollar, and one other very important factor and that is that the NSW Government was not able to go far enough on an electricity contract to ensure the viability of that facility. It’s closed down before the carbon price has even started and it’s completely deceitful to be suggesting that it’s responsible for its closure.
JOURNALIST: State Treasury modelling indicates that 18,500 jobs will be lost in the Hunter as a result of the carbon tax. Do you think that’s accurate?
COMBET: Well that’s all garbage, of course, that Barry O’Farrell has put out to try and scare people and it’s not reliable. They’ve made those figures up against some mythical baseline. It is not the case. Jobs are growing in our economy. Unemployment is at one of its lowest levels in the Hunter that we’ve ever seen. Unemployment nationally is at five per cent, and the Treasury modelling with a carbon price in place is that the economy will continue to grow, incomes will continue to grow, and there’ll be 1.6 million extra jobs by the year 2020, in just eight years time. This is an economically manageable reform and regions like the Hunter will continue to grow.
JOURNALIST: The Minerals Council has said that today’s introduction of the carbon tax and also the Minerals Resource Rent Tax is a double whammy for this industry and it’s going to affect investment in the future. What’s your response to that?
COMBET: There are hundreds of billions of dollars in the pipeline in investment in the resources sector. A hundred billion dollars of investment in the coal industry alone in the next few years. Hundreds of billions in the rest of the resources sector. Jobs are going to continue to grow. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax, which also starts from today, is simply evidence of the Government spreading the benefits of the mining boom to the rest of the community.
From the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the carbon price the revenue will be used, for example, to fund a tax break for small businesses. Millions of small businesspeople will benefit from these taxes coming in to place. Small businesses will have access to an instant asset write off of $6,500 per asset that they purchase, an unlimited number of assets in a financial year, and it will be a big benefit to them.
But the Minerals Resource Rent Tax also spreads the benefits of the boom to working people by, over time, increasing their superannuation contributions for their retirement from nine per cent to 12 per cent. And it will also benefit regions like the Hunter, and other parts around the country that are producing minerals wealth, by putting money into a regional infrastructure fund. And we need to invest as a community in infrastructure, out of the minerals boom we’ll have some more money to do it.
JOURNALIST: The spreading the benefits package the Federal Government’s planning to put in place, are we likely to see any of that spending here? I know already a report earlier this year showed that regions like Scone, where a lot of these minerals come from, are left short-changed so to speak when it comes to infrastructure funding.
COMBET: Well, let’s just take some evidence and take one project in this region that the Federal Labor Government has funded That the local Members of Parliament have fought for and achieved and that’s the Hunter Expressway. A well over $1 billion commitment. So don’t put to me that we are not funding infrastructure projects in this region. We are. Even on a smaller scale, just this week I’ve announced $6 million to put a sewer in for the first time in Wyee. That’s really important for a local community. A couple of weeks ago we announced another piece of funding with Lake Macquarie City Council for the Glendale Transport Interchange. That’s been on the drawing board for 20 odd years, now we can get on and start doing it because of money we’re putting in to the local region. Now as the Minerals Resource Rent Tax gathers revenue and money goes in to a regional infrastructure fund I can assure you that my colleagues Joel Fitzgibbon, Jill Hall, and Sharon Grierson, we will all be fighting to get infrastructure investments for this region.
JOURNALIST: Greg, in the bigger picture would it be fair to say the carbon tax has cost Labor majority Government?
COMBET: It’s been a really difficult political issue. I think everyone recognises that. It’s been argued over for years now. Don’t forget, John Howard took this same policy, carbon pricing, to the electorate in 2007 and so did Labor. We tried to legislate this policy in that first term of Government and it was defeated by the Greens and Tony Abbott in the Senate. But not before Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader had reached agreement with the Government to do it. It just demonstrates what a total opportunist Tony Abbott is. He’s supported a carbon tax previously, he’s supported an Emissions Trading Scheme previously, but when he saw his chance to stab Malcolm Turnbull in the back, that’s what he did. And now here is again running around like a headless chook claiming the end of the world, the end of the coal industry, the end of Whyalla, unimaginable price impacts, and today it’s fair enough to start to test him against his statements because they’ve been totally deceitful. He is a gutless political opportunist. He’s stood in front of groups of working people and said they’re going to lose their job, and they will not lose their job. He’s stood in front of groups of pensioners and said that they will never be able to afford the cost of living, and it is completely deceitful. We’ve increased the pension. Millions of pensioners will be better off with these changes.
JOURNALIST: Where to now Greg, with the carbon tax? How do you convince those that aren’t convinced from this day forward?
COMBET: From today, we move from fiction to fact. From Tony Abbott’s fear campaigning to testing against real-world experience with the carbon price in place. And I can assure you that I and my colleagues will be arguing our case, testing Tony Abbott’s false claims and pointing to the real experience and facts to convince the community, to the best of our ability, that this is the right thing to do.
JOURNALIST: Are you convinced that no jobs will be lost in the coal industry as a result of the carbon tax?
COMBET: Well, can you tell me how a hundred billion dollars is going to be coming into the coal industry and that it’s going to die? There’s jobs growth. This mine that we are visiting today is expanding. It’s expanding in full knowledge that the carbon price is coming in. A hundred billion dollars is coming in to new coal mining activity, jobs are expanding. All in the full knowledge, the full knowledge that carbon pricing is coming in to place. These investment decisions are still being made.
JOURNALIST: Will that carbon price be taken down the line to small business, though? Won’t it be just passed on?
COMBET: Well you’ve got to remember that the carbon price is paid directly by the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the economy, and it’s going to be well under 500 companies that have that obligation. Yes, some costs are passed through the system, but it only ends up with a modest price impact of 0.7 per cent, less than a cent in the dollar, on consumer prices. And of course, the Government’s providing tax cuts, pension increases, increases in Family Tax Benefits, to an average value of $10.10 a week extra in cash for Australian households. That’s the fact of it. We are asking the largest polluters, the largest greenhouse gas emitters in Australia, to purchase a permit for every tonne of carbon pollution they put in the atmosphere, and we’re using that revenue to help low and middle income households.
JOURNALIST: On a global scale, how is what is being done here in Australia really going to make much difference?
COMBET: We are in the top 20 of greenhouse gas emitters in the world. We might be a small population, but we produce a lot of carbon pollution. We are also, though, the highest emitter of greenhouse gasses per person amongst all of the advanced economies. Higher than the United States, for example. So other countries expect that we should play our fair part in an international effort to tackle climate change. China is introducing carbon pricing. Korea has just legislated to introduce a carbon price. Poor old New Zealand has had one in place for two years, they’re still there. And we’ll still be around. There’s an international effort to tackle climate change but we’ve got to play our fair part. California’s got carbon pricing. 27 countries across Europe have had carbon pricing for seven years now, and we’re talking about how to link our carbon pricing schemes together. So, we’re just playing our fair part. Nothing more, nothing less.