GLEN BARTHOMOLEW: Here at home, though, in federal politics Parliament's back today for a final two-week sitting before the long winter break. With the carbon tax just a fortnight away, that issue will loom large in debate. The Parliament will also be considering Bills on gay marriage, which are being presented today. And Parliament will be sitting in the absence of the Prime Minister, who's in Mexico now for the G20 meeting of major economies. For a Government view on the Parliamentary week ahead and reaction to the Greek news, Marius Benson is speaking here to the Trade Minister Craig Emerson.
MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, Greece has voted overnight basically to stay with Europe, do whatever it takes in terms of austerity measures to stay with Europe and remain in the Eurozone. Is that something Australia welcomes?
CRAIG EMERSON: Austerity is important. The Greek economy needs to be more competitive, so let's see how it pans out, Marius. But obviously the G20 will be seized of developments in Greece.
BENSON: The Prime Minster is in Mexico for the G20 and she's spoken briefly on her arrival, or soon after her arrival there. Basically, she was saying what you'd expect in terms of Australia being pro-trade, pro-growth, with a focus on jobs and fighting protection measures. These are well-known themes. Is there anything specific that Australia is looking to come from the G20 meeting?
EMERSON: In respect of trade, there's a negotiation that's been going on obviously for a long time called the Doha Round. And the Prime Minister of Australia has been pursuing new pathways to the ultimate completion of the Doha Round and, in that context, has been pushing for trade facilitation - which is really streamlining customs procedures. This is a negotiation we believe can be completed successfully without waiting for a grand bargain to descend from the sky. And I'm hopeful that the G20 will see the merit in that and give that a tick.
BENSON: Now, there are a few things on the parliamentary agenda as Parliament resumes today. One is the carbon tax, obviously, because that's coming in in two weeks. Could I ask you, in your capacity as Trade Minister, a question about the carbon tax - because some people say it's hypocritical and nonsense for Australia to bring in even a measure like the carbon tax to curb emissions here when we're selling so much coal to the world; that's Australian carbon going into the atmosphere. And last year we sold $44 billion worth of coal.
EMERSON: Yes, and we're looking at ways of reducing emissions from coal. No-one ever said that there would be a situation where coal production and exports completely finish at any particular date.
BENSON: But you're looking to expand coal exports rather than reduce them.
EMERSON: Well, because economic growth around the world is expanding. That industrial powerhouse, China, is expanding. But we are looking at the transition to a lower carbon future. We're also producing very large quantities of LNG, which is regarded as transitional fuel to a low-carbon future.
BENSON: Now, same-sex marriage is also a topic for discussion. Bills are being presented to Parliament for debate this week. You're against same-sex marriage yourself, and it's a conscience vote on the Labor side. Are you certain that the idea, the proposal, will be rejected in Parliament?
EMERSON: Well, I'm not absolutely certain of the timetable of any vote on this, to be honest with you Marius. But I think it would be presumptuous therefore of me to start interpreting the views of colleagues. It is a conscience vote on the Labor side. It's not a conscience vote, at least in respect of the Shadow Cabinet, on the Coalition side. So, I think on this matter we should just wait and see how it pans out.
BENSON: Okay. There's a Galaxy poll out today which shows that Labor is still miles behind: 54-46 the gap after preferences. And the poll also shows that two-thirds of people prefer Kevin Rudd. Two years after you dumped Kevin Rudd, do you believe it was a mistake to dump him?
EMERSON: Well, we are where we are and we settled the leadership issue. We actually had a ballot earlier on, and that has now been decisive …
BENSON: Sure, but can I ask you to address that specific issue: was it a mistake to dump Kevin Rudd?
EMERSON: Well, no, I don't think it was. And my view is that Julia Gillard is a very strong leader. She's taken on the big decisions, including putting a price on carbon. And we know that that of itself is a controversial decision. We're now less than two weeks before the implementation of the carbon price, and then we'll see how we go when Mr Abbott seeks to explain how he's going to cut pensions and increase taxes - because under him there will be no carbon price. Well, I think that is implausible. And over time the Australian people will understand that they don't see the funny side of cuts in pensions and increases in taxes.
BENSON: Craig Emerson, thanks again.
EMERSON: Thanks very much, Marius.
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