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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 16 June 2014: Labor's chaos over the carbon tax; Budget 2014

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for the Environment


16 June 2014




Topics: Labor’s chaos over the carbon tax, Budget 2014

GREG HUNT: This morning we see another example of Labor chaos over the carbon tax. They voted to keep the carbon tax. Yesterday Mark Butler said they want to terminate the carbon tax. Next week, however, they’re going to vote to keep the carbon tax. But next month they might want to drop the carbon tax.

We know what our policy is - and that’s to reduce our emissions without a massive electricity and gas tax. The Australian people know what our policy is and they voted for it. The Australian people voted to abolish a carbon tax that doesn’t work. They voted to abolish a carbon tax which cost $7.6 billion in its first year, but which contributed to a 0.1 per cent decrease only in emissions.

In other words, massive pain for effectively no gain.

Right now, Mr Shorten must make it clear - do they want to abolish the carbon tax? Or keep the carbon tax? Because in the Parliament of Australia next week the legislation will be put to the Parliament and to the Labor party and it will be a great test of their words - whether or not you can trust them.

Pre-election they wanted to terminate the carbon tax. Now they say they want to terminate it again. In the meantime they voted to keep it and next week it looks like they’re going to vote to keep it.

We will abolish the carbon tax as we said we’d do, but we will reduce emissions without a massive electricity and gas tax. It’s over to Labor to make it clear in the midst of the chaos what they actually believe in.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hunt, why did you promise the solar industry that you would continue the roofs program when you didn't have the permission of senior colleagues?

GREG HUNT: Well, let's make it absolutely clear. We are cleaning up a massive budgetary mess. There was $240 billion of deficit over the last six years. Let me run just through it - $27 billion, $54 billion, $47 billion, $43 billion, $18 billion and $49 billion.

In the end, difficult decisions had to be made. But we have added a billion dollars to the emissions reductions fund. We have added half a billion dollars all up for a Green Army and we’ve had to find over half a billion dollars to fill the black hole of unfunded capital in relation to a Bureau of Meteorology supercomputer and an icebreaker, both of which are critical national infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: Sorry Mr Hunt, just back to the question, you didn't answer the question, Mr Hunt. The question was relating to the solar roofs program. Why did you assure the industry you would continue that when you didn't have the permission of your senior colleagues? I didn't ask you about the deficit, if you could just address that question please.

GREG HUNT: We had to make difficult decisions in a Budget to undo Labor's catastrophic mess. Part of this is making sure that Australians have a lower cost of living and that is why we will be abolishing the carbon tax lock, stock and barrel.

The question for Labor is whether or not they will abolish it or whether or not they are going to pretend to abolish it and say they're against it and then vote for it.

JOURNALIST: You reeled off all the financial reasons you needed to go back on the solar roof scheme but you knew about all of them when you last made the pledge in November to keep the scheme.

GREG HUNT: Well, I think what you’ll find is that the critical national infrastructure of more than half a billion dollars was not something that they had ever revealed before the election, was not something which was on the table. So I think that that's very important to understand.

JOURNALIST: Did you consult your colleagues before making that announcement in November? Is that the reason why that had to be wound back?

GREG HUNT: Look, I think that what we’ve done is make difficult decisions across the board to try to undo Labor's budget mess.

JOURNALIST: So did you break a promise?

GREG HUNT: We’ve made difficult decisions and that’s the situation.

JOURNALIST: And who rolled you - the Prime Minister?

GREG HUNT: Let me be clear here. That we have had a Budget mess that the whole of the Government has had to fix up. And right across the Government, we’ve had to make difficult decisions. And the reason’s clear.

$240 billion of consistent deficits over six years. That's an extraordinary figure and it was unsustainable and not something which we were in a position as a Government to accept any longer.

JOURNALIST: This report says the Prime Minister rolled you. Is that humiliating for you?

GREG HUNT: Let me be clear here. We had a tremendous run of outcomes from my perspective in terms of a billion dollars for the Emissions Reduction Fund. $500 million for the Green Army and over half a billion dollars for the critical national infrastructure.

These were things which in a difficult budget environment were tremendous outcomes. But all up, we have to deal with things which were not going to be able to fit within the overall budget profile. It’s as simple as that.

JOURNALIST: Will the Abbott Government be using the double dissolution trigger the Greens want to create in the Senate regarding the CEFC?

GREG HUNT: Well, let’s see how the CEFC goes. There’s a long way to go. There’s a new Senate that will be coming and we want to put all of the bills to the new Senate. But we are absolutely determined to repeal the carbon tax.

And the question today - remember after five years of Labor having one position and then another on the carbon tax, is whether or not they actually support the carbon tax.

Because last week the carbon tax was indispensible, it was fundamental. This week it appears to be dispensable and not fundamental. We’ve had this charade debate for half a decade from the ALP where the carbon tax was to be introduced, then it was removed, then there was never going to be a carbon tax under a government that Julia Gillard led, and then there was a carbon tax.

At the last election they were going to terminate it, then they voted to keep it, now they want to terminate it, next week they’re probably going to vote to keep it. This is not a very clear understanding of policy and the message is clear - the Australian people voted to repeal the carbon tax because it doesn’t do the job and there wasn’t a mandate.

We have a mandate to repeal it. We expect that to be honoured and we expect the ALP to be clear - do they or do they not intend to reintroduce the carbon tax if it’s repealed.

JOURNALIST: You’ve spoken about the carbon tax again, this line that it’s pain without the gain, despite a recent report showing that if you look at Australia’s emissions on a trajectory they went down the most under the carbon tax that they have for a couple of decades.

GREG HUNT: I think you’ll find that what has occurred is that sadly, for all the wrong reasons we have lost major manufacturing industries overseas. For example, we’ve lost the Kurri Kurri smelter. We are about to lose the Port Henry smelter and if the Labor party wants to claim that the carbon tax has destroyed those two aluminium plants I would like to hear that issue today.

So, the biggest impact on electricity demand - not according to us - but according to the Australian Energy Market Operator has been the shift of Australian production to China, and India, and Indonesia, of the major metals and mining sector.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hunt, is re-indexing the fuel excise a carbon price signal?

GREG HUNT: Look, what it is, is an approximately 40 cents per week change, or $20 per year change, so I accept the Prime Minister’s views, of course. But...

JOURNALIST: That it is a carbon price signal?

GREG HUNT: Let’s deal with the facts here. The facts are that this is a $20 a year, or 40 cent a week change.

Thanks very much.