MARK PARTON: The Federal Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson often goes above and beyond the call of duty, ladies and gentlemen. Of course he's a regular guest with us on Wednesday, but he was busy doing other stuff then. But blow me down if he hasn't agreed to come on this morning and we thank him for it. Craig Emerson, good morning.
CRAIG EMERSON: Hello to you, Parto.
PARTON: Now I'm happy for us to make the headlines right here and right now. We just heard that Perkins' medal-winning moment for Australia, which wasn't gold, and I'm thinking of a song that you and I could sing here, Craig. What about 'silver is not a dirty word'?
EMERSON: I've got another one, although that is right up the Skyhooks alley.
EMERSON: For Brittany Broben: 'Sail on silver girl, sail on by; your time has come to shine'.
PARTON: Yeah. I mean, if you want to break into song with those, Emmo …
EMERSON: I think Simon and Garfunkel do a better rendition of 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters'.
PARTON: Perhaps, perhaps. Let's move on to more serious things. Tony Abbott – the wrecking ball, the attack dog – continues to strike so many chords with the voting public — look at these polls. But he's obviously one of the biggest pains in the backside for you. He's carrying on about electricity prices, but it's been pointed out that he is at odds with several of his frontbenchers over the causes of higher electricity prices.
EMERSON: He is, and the frontbenchers are right; he's wrong. The frontbenchers are Ian Macfarlane and Malcolm Turnbull, and they're pointing out that state electricity prices have gone through the roof. Sure, the carbon price is a component, but a relatively minor component for which there is compensation. And if Tony Abbott were truly concerned about rising electricity prices and its impact on the cost of living, he would be concerned about the big increases in the last few years in state electricity prices.
PARTON: The interesting thing here appears to be from the perspective of the electorate: that it doesn't really matter whether Tony Abbott's wrong or right.
EMERSON: What matters is the truth, and the truth is that these have been going up. I had a Twitter exchange actually with Barry O'Farrell last night, who said that all he's doing is taking the same $1.5 billion in dividends out of the New South Wales system that the previous State Government did. I don't think that really justifies it — to say 'I'm no worse than them' — and they've got some sort of rebate scheme. The point is that there are good arguments that there's been overinvestment. One way I might try to explain it, Parto, if I could, is we know the road from Canberra down to Batemans Bay. Every Easter, no doubt, it clogs up — and on long weekends. Do we want an eight-lane or a 10-lane tollway so there is no clogging on that road at any time but that motorists pay regardless of whether there is any congestion? And I think we need some common sense here, and that's not necessarily been what's been applied over the last few years. And the problem is it may not be applied in the future; that's why we're looking for reform.
PARTON: We mentioned your Parliamentary colleague Tony Abbott and the wrecking ball approach that he's had. It's been mentioned on a number of occasions by listeners to my segment with you that whenever anything is mentioned regarding any policy, your first move is to actually mention Tony Abbott.
EMERSON: I think that's quite true in many cases, and the reason is that for legislation, for reform, we need the whole parliament — or at least the majority of the parliament. And on the big issues, Mr Abbott has said 'no, no, no, no, and no'. And what we're trying to do is explain this to the public. And you never know your luck in the big city: one day Mr Abbott might change his mind on something and support a policy in the national interest. That's why I do tend to talk about Mr Abbott. If we could get our legislative program, we'd be sailing on through to getting it into place in the national interest. But often we're thwarted in doing that by Mr Abbott's destructive negativity.
PARTON: Isn't that just the burden you carry, though, if you're able to cobble together, by the barest of possible margins, a sort of working government? That whoever was in the position to do it — whether it was you guys or them; in this instance it was you — you'd always have to sort of look over to the other side and say 'well, you should have let us do that, and you should have let us do that'.
EMERSON: True, Parto, and it's a fair point. But on some of the big calls in Opposition — when we were in Opposition — such as on national security legislation, indeed on asylum-seekers, we said that the national interest was more important than our political interest and we actually voted for strengthened national security legislation, anxious that it would have an impact on civil rights. And, similarly, even on asylum seekers: the setting up of offshore processing couldn't have been done without the votes of Labor in Opposition. And this is the point I'm making: sure, opposition is there; if they don't agree with policies they should oppose them. But what Mr Abbott seems to be doing is opposing for the sake of opposing, and that's the problem. It's this destructive negativity that is having an impact on the nation's future — and that's why I'm a critic of his.
PARTON: I think it's because he can smell blood and all of a sudden that's all he can see.
EMERSON: Yeah, well, that's fine but he should be putting, at least on occasions, the national interest ahead of his political interests.
PARTON: If it's okay with you, I've got Jenny standing by with a brief question so I'll just do that and that. So Jenny, you're with us on the line now?
CALLER: Yes, I am. I'd like to ask Mr Emerson: why is it that he blames Tony Abbott even if we lose a gold medal? I mean, what I'm saying is he's blaming Tony Abbott for everything — why doesn't he blame The Greens? The Greens are stopping everything that they want, not Tony Abbott. If Tony Abbott said that the boat people couldn't come in — sorry, could come in here — who would stop him then? The Greens! Why does he keep blaming Tony Abbott? And another thing: as far as electricity, pensioners are getting $250 a year to help with their electricity bills, but their bills will go up by $1,000 a year. What is he going to do about that?
PARTON: All right, Jenny. I'll let the Minister answer that.
EMERSON: All right. First point: I hope the first comment was made tongue-in-cheek, because I haven't criticised Tony Abbott over any gold medals won or not won. Secondly, we just had the discussion about Mr Abbott and the national interest. In relation to asylum-seekers, the High Court actually changed the situation. It effectively banned offshore processing. Now, The Greens have always been against offshore processing. This is the system they want; it's not the system we want. It's actually not the system Tony Abbott wants, and if he became Prime Minister he, too, would need legislative change and he would be calling on Labor to support that legislative change. What we're saying is 'let's save lives at sea'. It's not about Mr Abbott's ego or my ego; it's about saving lives at sea. And finally, in relation to the electricity prices, this is the very point that we're making: and that is that most of the electricity price increases are unrelated to the carbon price — there's no compensation. And Mr Abbott has said yesterday, contradicting his own ministers, that this whole issue of rising electricity prices is a furphy. Now, even the state governments recognise there's a problem here. Mr Abbott says it's a furphy and he will oppose reforms to give relief to electricity consumers.
PARTON: Craig Emerson is with me. Help me, please, Craig. The Federal Government, I'm told, is considering scrapping the $15 minimum price on carbon after 2015 and restricting access to much cheaper international carbon credits. Explain that to me in simple terms.
EMERSON: Sure. The mechanism that's been put in place is that the price is fixed for three years and after that the market determines the price. It's a floating price or an emissions trading scheme. We have implemented a floor price of $15 to provide incentives if the world price did go below the previous fixed price …
PARTON: Which it is now, isn't it?
EMERSON: Yeah, it is now … to provide incentives still for a switch in the energy mix. Because if the price is too low you won't get what we're trying to do out of this, Parto, which is actually get more renewable energies and other clean energy sources. So there are discussions going on about this. No final decisions have been made. We'll have to have a good look at it, but that …
PARTON: It looks like a sensible direction to move. As you well know, I'm not a big fan of the carbon price, and I …
EMERSON: I'm aware of that.
PARTON: But I think that there's a bit of sense attached to scrapping this $15 floor price after 2015.
EMERSON: Well, that's the nature of the discussions. But as I was saying, no final decisions have been made. We do, nevertheless, want to ensure that what we're doing does have a positive effect on decisions; to move to what's called a clean energy future by picking up more of those renewable and other low-emissions technologies.
PARTON: Well I know it'll be a discussion that we'll continue to have. And can I say genuinely that I really applaud the fact that you do come on to face the music and have a yack about it here. It's a worthwhile thing certainly for us, and I hope it is for you.
EMERSON: I'm always keen and I enjoy it a lot.
PARTON: Good on you, mate.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555