KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, good to have your company this morning. With me now from Brisbane is the Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Dr Emerson, thanks for your time. The Treasurer Wayne Swan said that the carbon tax was going to be a 'game changer'. Not much has changed in the poll today.
CRAIG EMERSON: Well what has happened is that the carbon price came in on the first of July, last Sunday a week ago, and Mr Abbott's credibility has fallen to the ground but the sky hasn't. It is Mr Abbott who was saying that price rises would be unimaginable; that seven communities would be wiped off the face of the earth; and his sidekick Barnaby Joyce saying that a leg of lamb would cost $100. So Mr Abbott's been exposed for this scare campaign. People are getting on with their lives, Kieran. That's the point, and there hasn't been this sort of catharsis that Mr Abbott said that there would be and he needs now to explain why he set out deliberately to terrify communities and to misrepresent the facts about the carbon price. It's his credibility that's lying in pieces on the ground now.
GILBERT: These numbers have been entrenched for months and months and months. Are you worried that people have just stopped listening to Prime Minister Gillard?
EMERSON: Well what I would say about all of this is that Mr Abbott has engaged in the mother of all scare campaigns. People are getting on with their lives. I know even to up to last week, Kieran, we had people saying 'gee, where do I pay this carbon tax? I'm a printer or whatever, where do I put it on the invoice?'. What has actually happened since the first of July is that people have come to realise that all of this mysticism about carbon pricing has not really been a concern. They will get on with their lives; the chooks will get up in the morning and lay their eggs; and we'll get on with the job of governing, Kieran. We don't get out of bed every Tuesday morning and check Newspoll, or every second Tuesday morning. What we do is make the right decisions in the long-term interests of this country and I think it's fair that we make decisions, for example about carbon pricing, knowing that they're tough decisions, knowing that they're not particularly popular decisions, instead of putting that off to future generations, booking up these problems to future generations and expecting them to pick up the tab on this. What we're doing is make the right decisions for the country's future.
GILBERT: On the asylum seeker policy there, in the Daily Telegraph today Simon Benson reports this letter from Tony Abbott to Julia Gillard saying that he won't be involved in the multiparty committee suggesting that it's the same alliance that enabled the passage of the carbon tax, it's been set up to achieve a predetermined political outcome. What I'm baffled about is how the Government even thought Tony Abbott was ever going to agree to it. He was never going to get around the same table as the Greens, Tony Windsor and the Government and work on a deal here. He believes the Coalition's got the right policy and you should adopt it.
EMERSON: Well any Opposition Leader deserves the courtesy of being invited onto a multiparty committee. I am not shocked that Mr Abbott has decided that he's not doing that. He does not believe that it's the role of an opposition to behave in the national interest; notwithstanding that John Howard when he was Prime Minister repeatedly argued that it was the role of the Labor Opposition on matters of national interest to support the Coalition. We did that on many pieces of national security legislation and we also did it….
GILBERT: But he believes the national interest is that the Coalition policy be reinstated because it worked.
EMERSON: Let me make the parallel: we did not believe in all aspects of John Howard's policy on asylum seekers. Nevertheless, we recognised that John Howard had formed the government of the day and as a consequence the Labor opposition actually joined with the Liberal National Party government and allowed particular aspects of asylum seeker policy to be implemented – not because we thought it was exactly the right policy but we thought we had a responsibility to behave in the national interest in opposition, as John Howard called upon us to do. Mr Abbott believes he has no responsibility to do that. One consequence of that and a terribly tragic one is that people are dying at sea. And Mr Abbott, 'Captain Courageous', he's got this policy of towing back boats into Indonesia and he says 'look we really need to nurture the relationship with Indonesia.' You would think that he would have raised this with the President of Indonesia. It's been confirmed today he did not. 'Captain Courageous' lacked the guts to raise the tow back policy with the President of Indonesia.
GILBERT: Well he would say that he'd wait until he's in government. Why do it from opposition?
EMERSON: Because he's supposed to be developing alternative policies. He says he's got a whole kit bag full of alternative policies, fully-costed election policies. And he's saying that this is the right policy for Australia and that relations with Indonesia are vitally important. During the live cattle trade issue we had the Coalition saying 'you need to be very careful about damaging the relationship with Indonesia.' That pales into complete insignificance compared with a policy of using Navy ships, risking Navy lives to tow back boats into Indonesian waters. This is completely unacceptable behaviour. The Indonesians know it; Mr Abbott knows it; and that's why he's so gutless as to not have the courage to raise it with the President when he had the opportunity.
GILBERT: And finally, Minister, on the Greens and the stoush with the Greens: if they're so extremist, loopy, populist – they're some of the descriptions your colleagues have used about the minor party – why is the Government in alliance with them?
EMERSON: Well we work with the Parliament as it is. And it's only been, I think, between… in the late '70s one time, and then between 2004 and 2007, that the government of the day has had a majority in both Houses of Parliament. Labor has worked with the Democrats; we've worked with Independents; we've worked with Greens. And while I have my criticisms of the Greens too, I think it's a bit rich for George to say they are an 'anti-democratic movement'. I mean, the people of Australia did actually vote them into the Senate, George. What are you saying? That we should ban the Green Party? Yes, we have our criticisms of the Greens, including the fact that the Greens sided with the Coalition in preventing any resolution of asylum seeker policy after the High Court's decision, and that resolution is necessary after the High Court's decision. And the Greens and the Coalition on this matter have formed an unholy alliance trying to stop any change in policy whatsoever. So again, I call on the Greens, I call on the Coalition to consider the national interest and help achieve the outcome of trying to stop people dying at sea. That's fundamentally important. It's the moral thing to do.
GILBERT: Trade Minister Craig Emerson, thanks for your time this morning. I appreciate it.
EMERSON: Thanks a lot, Kieran. Thanks very much.
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