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Sky News 'AM Agenda' with Kieran Gilbert

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Topics: Carbon price; asylum seekers; allegations of security breaches within Defence; counter
terrorism

KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning and welcome to AM Agenda. The Multi-party Committee on Climate Change
meets again today in Canberra as reports suggest the carbon price will have to get to forty dollars
per tonne quickly in order to drive the desired change from coal to gas fired electricity
generation.

With me on the program this morning to discuss this and all the other matters of the day, the Home
Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor in Melbourne. Good morning Minister.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Good morning Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: And from Brisbane we have the Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senate and the Shadow
Attorney-General Senator George Brandis. Senator Brandis, good morning to you.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Morning Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to start with the Minister if I can, Brendan O'Connor. This report that
Deloitte has issued advice to the Resources Minister that the $40 per tonne price is needed to
drive the desired change from coal to gas fired electricity generation.

As far as you're aware, does that number sound about right?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well as you've also indicated, the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change is
meeting again very soon, and indeed they will continue to discuss these issues.

The Government is focused on ensuring we get a carbon price in order to ensure our economy changes
for the better and we do that by placing a price on fewer than 1000 businesses in this country,
that's our plan.

As for a price, that will be determined. It's too early to be making decisions around that
particular issue and that will continue to be considered as the Multi-Party Committee does its good
work.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Greens seem to be indicating this morning Minister that that $40 figure is
about right, and yet the Climate Change Minister told us on Sky News, I think it was about a month
ago, that it would be well south of the $40 figure. What's happening here? How are you going to
bring those expectations together?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I haven't heard the comments made but I'll take from what you've said it may be
the case The Greens have indicated their view, but in the end that's why we have a Multi-Party
Committee to discuss and reconcile differences, and of course there are different perspectives and
as we've also indicated, we need to get this thing right.

We will get it done. We will make sure that we help transform Australia's economy because we are
per capita the highest polluter in the world. We need to be ensuring our economy moves into the low
carbon future and that's why we'll continue to do the good work.

But Kieran, it is too premature to be indicating a particular price. We need to continue our work
here.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Senator Brandis, let's get you into the discussion. I want to point to part
of this report by Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald that's got this information today
about this Deloitte research.

It also suggests the continued investment uncertainty, and in that bracket they've got the
Coalition's direct action plan but that will add almost $5 per megawatt hour to the cost of power
by 2017 equating to about $1 billion on the nation's power bill.

So the direct action plan that the Coalition puts forward is actually seen as an example of ongoing
uncertainty for business.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well there will be no uncertainty under a coalition government Kieran because we
won't be having a carbon tax. It's as simple as that. I think anybody reading the story in the
Fairfax papers this morning will be very, very alarmed that, you know, we've been told, you know,
for some months now that the carbon price was factored in at $26 a tonne and we now learn that the
Government's own advice is that it will have no impact at all unless it cuts in at at least $40 a
tonne.

Now I think Australian households watching this program and reading these stories in the paper this
morning must just be scratching their heads and saying, you know, how many more hits are we going
to get from this government?

The fact is that at $26 a tonne petrol prices would go up by at least 6 1/2 cents a litre, and on
the Government's own calculation the average electricity bill would go up by $873 a year.

They're now talking about, and I note that Brendan O'Connor hasn't ruled it out, a starting price
of $40 a tonne which is half as much again. So that's more than an extra 10 cents a litre on petrol
and well over $1000 a year extra on household electricity bills. Where does it end?

KIERAN GILBERT: This report though, this Deloitte advice Senator, you might say that the Coalition
policy has clarity, that you're going to reject your carbon price but the Deloitte analysis
apparently considers the direct action plan of the Coalition as feeding uncertainty rather than
providing the certainty that you speak of.

GEORGE BRANDIS: No that's not right. That's not a correct reading, with respect Kieran. What the
report which I've just been reading myself says is that uncertainty about what the carbon tax will
be is one of the drivers of short term investment decisions that might put upward pressure on
electricity prices.

But the Coalition's position is very simple. There will be no uncertainty with us because there
will be no carbon tax. There will be no $26 a tonne or $40 a tonne. There will be no carbon tax
under a Coalition government.

That, by the way, if I needed to remind you was the pledge on which Julia Gillard was also elected
but Julia Gillard has walked away from that commitment.

The Opposition is sticking to ours. Under an Abbott Government there will be no carbon tax full
stop.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well we'll disagree on the analysis of what the Deloitte report was meaning
in that, but let's move on. The price is one thing, Minister O'Connor if I can go back to you, but
the escalator is another, just how quickly the price will go up. Now tell me, is this part of the
expectation management that we're seeing here, that you're actually releasing this advice, floating
a higher figure and then you'll come in lower and keep everyone or try to keep everyone happy in
the process?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, we're disclosing information that's relevant to the debate. This is the
Government that wants to be upfront with the Australian people and indeed we should do that.

And that's what we'll continue to do to ensure that people are fully informed of the matters that
the Government considers when it comes to this historic decision about having a carbon price in
order for us to get to a market mechanism to protect our longer term interests.

And this government is about thinking about the longer term, not about conducting a scare campaign
that the Opposition love to do. We have to talk about the fundamental issues that matter for
Australians and I also would like to indicate Kieran that we're not alone.

I mean the Economist Intelligence Unit recently indicated that more than two-thirds of Australian
businesses are now modelling for a carbon price and that's because businesses know that they need
to transform our economy as well. It's the Opposition that are showing a disregard

for the long term future of the interests of this country.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well let's look at where these talks are at Minister. The Multi-Party Committee are
holding talks today here in Canberra. Apparently the final talks are going to commence over a
weekend in a fortnight from now.

How important is it politically that you get this sewn up, that you get the final detail done, the
compensation, so that you've actually got a bit more detail behind the - and a bit more substance
behind your repudiation of what's been a successful campaign thus far for Mr Abbott and his team?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Oh, of course it's important that we resolve these matters as quickly as possible
but we'll do it in a way that ensures we've got the best approach possible, and as the Prime
Minister's made clear, we will get this job done.

It's fundamental Kieran to our economy to ensure that we're not left behind. We don't need to lead
the way on all of these things globally but we cannot allow our economy to be stuck when everyone
else is moving to a low carbon economy.

And that's why it's important and that's why you'll see enormous work, not only by the Government
but all members of the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change because this is an absolute
essential reform for Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Brandis, I'll go to you now for your response to that.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Could I respond to that and I wonder if we could reintroduce a little bit of rather
than sort of talking about esoteric things like what the Economist Intelligence Unit might be
saying to each other in London at the moment.

I think that we should reintroduce a little bit of a reality into this debate and think about what
Australians - every day Australians - are saying to each other in the workplaces and shopping
centres of Australia today. They don't want it. This government promised it wouldn't introduce it.
It is going ahead to introduce it - the carbon tax - because it had to do a deal with Bob Brown to
sacrifice the interests of working families in order to get back into government.

And it will make not one iota of difference in the absence of coordinated international action, and
Brendan is quite wrong when he said everyone is moving in this direction.

The big polluting economies are not. China is not introducing a carbon tax or an emissions trading
scheme. The United States is not introducing a carbon tax and the Obama administration has
abandoned the emissions trading scheme, neither is Russia, neither is India and the Coalition's
view is that in the absence of coordinated international action...

BRENDAN OCONNOR: Do nothing, do nothing.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...all this will do is will exploit Australian jobs to the high polluting cheap
labour economies with India and China...

BRENDAN OCONNOR: See we have to be prepared to deal with this issue and clearly Tony Abbott wants
to put his head in the sand and hope it goes away. It will not go away and if we're not prepared
for the changes globally then we'll be left behind, there's no doubt in our mind.

KIERAN GILBERT: Gentlemen, we've got to take a quick break. We'll be right back. Stay with us on AM
Agenda his morning.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

KIERAN GILBERT: With me this morning, the Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor in Melbourne and
in Brisbane the Shadow Attorney-General and the Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator
George Brandis.

Senator Brandis, before we move on from the carbon tax debate, I do want to ask you, if the detail
is locked in and the final numbers are crunched by the Multi-Party Committee, they get it done and
they can legislate, is it viable then for the Coalition to continue with the message that you will
adopt a policy of rollback, like Kim Beazley did infamously with the GST? Is that viable for
business certainty into the future, do you think, once the tax, if it is successful, is
implemented?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, that's what we'll be doing, Kieran. That's what we've undertaken to the
public. This is a government that does not have a mandate. This is a government that does not have
a mandate to legislate a carbon tax. In fact, as Tony Abbott said in his budget reply speech last
Thursday night, it actually has a mandate not to have a carbon tax, because...

KIEREN GILBERT: It has a mandate for a carbon price doesn't it? Because it's gone through the last
few elections to...

GEORGE BRANDIS: No it doesn't.

KIERAN GILBERT: ... to say that it would put in place an ETS.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Incorrect. It doesn't have a mandate for a carbon price.

KIERAN GILBERT: So it hasn't pursued a carbon trading scheme?

GEORGE BRANDIS: What Julia Gillard said in the last election campaign, I might remind you Kieran,
is that the Government was going to have 150 citizens chosen at random to advise it about what its
carbon abatement strategy should be. That's the only policy, affirmative policy, which was a
nothing policy, that the Government took to the election.

The only promise in relation to carbon pollution that stood out clear and sharp at the last
election campaign, was Julia Gillard's statement six days before the election, there will be no
carbon tax...

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...under the Government [inaudible].

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And Kieran, I think it's - on that...

KIERAN GILBERT: Brendan O'Connor, let me ask you the question though.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Sure.

KIERAN GILBERT: I'll get you to respond to it. But I want to ask you the question - is the issue
undermining the Government right now, the fact that you don't have a clear mandate to pursue a
carbon price, as Senator Brandis has argued?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And as you said yourself...

KIERAN GILBERT: ...because the Prime Minister's argument...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And as you said yourself, Kieran, we've always said that we would be moving
toward a market based response to climate change in circumstances...

KIERAN GILBERT: But the Prime Minister undermined that with the comments she made ...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And circumstances did change. We were left, of course, with a Parliament where
there was not an absolute majority by either major party. After which, of course, a whole range of
things did occur and we have and she's made that clear.

GEORGE BRANDIS: And that's why you stole [inaudible].

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Hold on - George you've had your go. Just give me moment. But the fact is we did
make that change and indeed she's made that very clear and we've accepted that. But can I say it is
very interesting. You've asked George as to whether the Opposition will reverse the decision by
Parliament to enact a carbon price?

Well indeed, they'll have to explain how they'll be taking back the compensation from the
households, from the businesses, that is going to be provided as a result of this reform and I
don't think that's even possible to unravel such a complex policy and I do believe that Tony Abbott
and George and others are kidding themselves if they think they can do that and I really do believe
it's incumbent upon them to explain why they will do that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay just quickly, Senator Brandis I want to get onto a few other issues - but
that's not going to be the easiest thing to do is it? When the tax compensation, the pension rises
and so on are eventually announced to say okay, we're going to scrap that.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Look, the issue is a furphy because no matter what compensation arrangements...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: It can't be done.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...the Government puts in place, it's not going to be enough to relieve the pressure
on households and on the cost of living of this massive, big new tax.

Our policy is very clear. It's exactly the same policy as we took to the last election and in fact
it's the policy the Labor Party took to the last election. There will be no carbon tax on our watch
and if the Parliament passes a carbon tax in defiance of the electorate, because if it were to do
so, it would be explicitly defying the wishes of the electorate. Then we will repeal if were to be
elected at the next election.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Let's move on. I want to ask you Brendan O'Connor about the Malaysia policy
on asylum seekers. Two boats have arrived since that policy was announced prior to the budget. When
will these groups of people that have arrived, sent to Christmas Island, when will they be sent to
Malaysia?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: As we made clear since last Saturday week when the Prime Minster announced her
agreement with the Prime Minister of Malaysia, those vessels that arrive and are detected in our
waters from that time will be sent to a third country and we...

KIEREN GILBERT: When will that take place?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, as the Prime Minister's indicated, we need to finalise the detail. But we
have...

KIERAN GILBERT: Are you talking weeks or months? Weeks or months or years?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, I'm not going to put a time on it. But we've made clear and as the Minister
for Immigration's made clear, that we have an arrangement in place now with Malaysia that we'll bed
down.

KIERAN GILBERT: So they could be stuck there for years you're saying?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: We'll bed down the detail. I think that's not the case, Kieran. We've made clear
we have an agreement in place. We're now just conducting the details to realise what is already a
very clear expression between the Prime Ministers of two sovereign nations and that is we are going
to break the model that is being sold by people smugglers, to lure people on these unseaworthy
vessels. We're going to do that and that will be done. And once done, those people who've been
interdicted in our waters since last Saturday will indeed be sent to a third country.

KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Brandis, quickly - I do want to get onto some defence security breaches as
well. We've only got about five minutes. But I do want to also give you a response to that.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well Kieran, you know, let's remember why we have this problem. We have this
problem because in August 2008 the Labor Party abandoned the tough but effective policies of the
Howard Government and they've been in a mess ever since. We've have an unprecedentedly high number
of boat arrivals in the calendar year 2010. There are, I think 135 boat arrivals in a year, about
three a week.

Whereas under the Howard Government's policies, to which an Abbott Government would return, we had
the problem solved with the boat arrivals were down to an average of about three a year. So there's
been a 50-fold increase under the weak policies of this Labor Government and now they're all over
the place. One moment they're not going back to the Pacific Solution. The next moment they're
opening Manus Island. One moment they're not going to have temporary protection visas. The next
moment they are. The one moment they're saying well we can't possibly have offshore processing in a
country that isn't a party to the UN Refugee Convention. Then they've got this idea of a Malaysian
process, even though Malaysia isn't a party. They are chopping and changing on a weekly basis,
'cause frankly...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: This is a complex issue.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...they do not know what to do.

KIERAN GILBERT: Gentlemen, we've got to move on. Deliberate fabrication of security clearances
apparently within Defence. Defence staff, contracted staff are advised to make deliberate
fabrications in giving security clearances. Quickly, on this issue Brendan O'Connor, this is a big
concern. In a related issue, I want to ask you about the Government's 2010 Counter Terrorism White
Paper, suggesting Canberra may have lost some of its focus. This is an AAP report and it suggests
that in 2010 that there'd be an additional review undertaken of those laws in late 2010 as agreed
by COAG. Apparently, that review of the counter terrorism legislation has not taken place. Those
two related issues, if I can get your response?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: As for the first matter, Defence has made clear that the allegations about the
fabrication of security clearance information are not correct. Any such allegations, of course,
will be examined by the Inspector General of Defence, as is appropriate. So, as I'm advised, these
allegations are not true and that's the advice provided by Defence. But, as I say, there's an
independent person who's able to examine these matters and should examine them, if there is any
evidence to suggest otherwise.

KIERAN GILBERT: And what about the review of the counter terrorism legislation agreed to by COAG in
February 2006? It was meant to be undertaken in late 2010. Apparently that has not happened. The
Attorney-General's Department could not say the review has taken place.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Sure, look there's a constant review, because of legislative requirements,
Parliamentary oversight, sunset clauses, you name it. We have a whole array of ways to make sure we
have our laws correct in this area of public policy. This is a very important area of public policy
and I have to say to you, Kieran, our focus is very intense when it comes to looking at these
issues, because it is the number one priority of this country.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet works very long and hard to ensure that we do everything
we possibly can to mitigate against risks to our citizens or to this nation. We're very pleased to
see, of course, the recent capitulation by the death of Osama Bin Laden, the number one terrorist
in the world. But we do know that the Taliban are a potent force and therefore we have to continue
to be vigilant and we will be vigilant, because it's our number one priority.

KIERAN GILBERT: I've got to go to Senator Brandis. We're running out of time, Senator Brandis,
quickly.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, let me quickly respond. First of all, the allegations are serious and we will
pursue them in Senate Estimates and in other forums. Secondly, it is absolutely true that this
Government has taken its eye off the ball when it comes...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Nonsense.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...to national security.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Absolute nonsense.

GEORGE BRANDIS: This review was meant to have happened before...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: This is an area of bipartisanship. It's outrageous that you should suggest such a
thing. This is an outrageous slur and it's a bipartisan position and George you should not be
saying that.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...as a matter of fact - if I may finish. As a matter of fact the - as a matter of
fact there is a statutory officer, the independent reviewer or terrorism laws, which was created
under an Act. First suggested, I might say, by the Liberal Party and ultimately taken up by the
Government. It took the Government fourteen months, until six weeks ago, even to fill that office
with the appointment of Mr Bret Walker SC. So, you know, the Government is so interested in being
at the top of its game on reforming antiterrorism laws, that it delayed by more than a year in
appointing that statutory

KIERAN GILBERT: My apologies. I have to wrap up our discussion. We're out of time. In fact, we're
over time. Senator Brandis and Brendan O'Connor, thanks for that and thanks to Pete Veness from AAP
for that story on the counter terrorism review. That's all for AM Agenda this morning. I'm Kieran
Gilbert. Thanks for your company.