SUBJECTS: Electricity price rises; Carbon tax; SA Liberal leadership
Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, South Australians over the last 10 years have been hammered with power price rises, some of them brutal. We now have the highest power prices in Australia. That’s been going on without fail for ten years. I may be wrong, but I cannot recall a single statement from federal Labor MPs complaining about that or saying they’d do something about it. Suddenly the Prime Minister says power prices are too high. What’s taken so long?
Mark Butler: Well, power prices, to use a phrase of Christopher’s former boss John Howard, are real barbeque stoppers. You’re right, across the country they’ve been increasing quite dramatically now for some years. The Prime Minister said yesterday that across the country over the last four years prices are up on average by about 50 per cent. That’s a little less in South Australia, but in New South Wales I think it is about 70 per cent.
Abraham: So, what barbeques has the Prime Minister been at if she hasn’t known that? This is 2012; we’ve been enduring this for 10 years.
Butler: I think what we’ve seen over the last few years is that areas of policy that have been traditionally managed by state governments have been less and less dealt with in terms of their priorities. With disability services which is traditionally a state area, mental health services, a range of other things where state governments simply across the country have not been able to deal with community pressure for change and that’s why our government on hospital pricing, on disability services, on mental health and now on power prices has had to take up the cudgels and deal with an area of reform state government don’t appear willing to deal with.
Abraham: But Mark Butler, these changes in power ownership in the states and power management were driven by federal Labor policy right back in the 90s started by the Keating Government with the Hillmer report. So, you initiated all of this and you’ve got a federal regulator that’s meant to be overseeing it making sure people aren’t going to be ripped off. The source of all this has always ultimately been traced back to the federal government.
Butler: That’s right, but over that time you’ve seen very different models developed in the states. In New South Wales, Queensland and WA you still have state owned regulators. So those states are able to receive very significant dividends from power price rises and there’s been a significant disincentive for them not to deal with some of the gold plated investment that’s happening in the electricity market.
David Bevan: Some people might think the Prime Minister’s intervening in this because now she thinks people might blame her because of the carbon tax.
Butler: Well look, people can take that view and people can make those accusations. At the end of the day I think what people want to know is whether there is a policy problem and a policy challenge here and whether it’s been dealt with and our view and the Prime Minister’s view is state governments simply haven’t been willing to take up the cudgels on this and it needs some national leadership.
Abraham: Chris Pyne, has the Liberal Party in this state been hampered by the fact that the big power prices have flowed from the privitisation of our power networks, so they’ve had to sit on their hands as well?
Christopher Pyne: I don’t think they’ve sat on their hands. I think the Prime Minister wins a gold medal for audacity for introducing a carbon tax, which has pushed up the price of electricity and then turned around yesterday and tried to blame everybody else for that fact. Mark Butler’s right. Electricity prices are a barbeque stopper and the reason the Prime Minister has raised this yesterday is because she knows that the carbon tax is killing her in the electorate. The only reason this is being raised by the Prime Minister is that it is a cynical attempt, a cynical ploy to shift the carbon tax from someone other than herself and I don’t think the Australian public will buy it.
Bevan: We’re now into August, the world hasn’t come to an end, the sky did not fall in when the carbon tax began, aren’t you running out of things to scare people with?
Pyne: Look David nobody expected the world to stop on July 1, that was just Labor trying to shift people’s attention to some furphy. The carbon tax will hurt people over years to come as it continues to rise and rise and rise. It is predicted to rise to $131 of course by 2050. And the carbon tax is hurting people now. As a local Member of Parliament in Sturt I can tell that businesses are complaining, particularly small business people who have to refrigerate their produce, vegetables, fruit, meat and everything else, that need to be transported in transport trucks that are refrigerated and consumers are complaining they know that the carbon tax is pushing up prices and people in my street are stopping me and talking to me about the increase in food and groceries because of the carbon tax.
Abraham: You’ve got people coming up to you saying that my tomatoes are costing more today because of the carbon tax?
Pyne: Absolutely, of course they are. People need to get out there and talk to the public. The public knows - I’ve got 130,000 people that live in my electorate. I can tell you I speak to them a lot of the time; not all 130,000 of them at once of course, but over a period of time and I can tell you they know the prices have been rising for food and groceries for months and months and months in preparation for the carbon tax and since the carbon tax. The ACCC can say whatever it likes, the man and woman on the street know things are costing more because electricity prices are continuing to go up and they hate it.
Bevan: Well maybe the state Liberals would find it easier to get their messages across if they weren’t tearing themselves apart over the leadership issue. Do you think that somebody should call on a spill? Isobel Redmond yesterday said, look if you’re out there and you think you have the numbers, bring it on. Do you think that someone should bring it on and clear the air?
Pyne: Well David I’ve been in Parliament for 19 years and I’ve made a habit, following the good advice of my colleague Nick Minchin, my former colleague Nick Minchin, to stay out of state politics, particularly state Liberal Party politics.
Abraham: Really? You’re both in it up to your armpits.
Pyne: Not at all…
Abraham: Chris Pyne, a bird does not chirp in the South Australian Liberal Party without your permission.
Pyne: A sparrow doesn’t fall, is the saying from the Bible, without God knowing.
Abraham: A sparrow doesn’t fall without Chris Pyne knowing.
Pyne: Without God knowing…
Bevan: And you know how many hairs are on their head, so if I could ask you again, do you think someone should bring on a spill?
Pyne: You ascribe far too much influence and interest to me I can tell you…
Abraham: Seriously though, let’s look at this. The South Australian Liberals yesterday actually came out with something to do, it wasn’t much, they say they are going to have a paper that goes to their Liberal Party room, to maybe have a look at maybe removing exit fees for customers. At least it was something on power prices, at least it was something. On the same day, Isobel Redmond at a press conference says I urge my challengers to bring it on, which would have blown that story away. Chris Pyne, when a leader does that tactically, do you think, look, maybe she should clear the air; she does have the numbers, clear the air and then she can have a clear run at taking on Jay Weatherill?
Pyne: Well I do agree that they had a very good policy released yesterday on power prices and I hope that is getting a good run in the media and the public are picking up on it. As for their internal dynamics and arrangements, that really is a matter for the state parliamentary team and if I give them advice, I can tell you, they will not thank me for that, and quite rightly. I’m a federal member of Parliament they are state members of Parliament, we have both got to paddle our own canoes.
Abraham: Mark Butler. Why are you laughing Mark Butler?
Butler: Firstly I didn’t think I would ever hear Christopher take Nick Minchin as his mentor in these areas. Christopher and Nick Minchin have always played in state politics, a bit like the old proxy wars you used to see in the cold war days between the Soviet Union and the United States. Chris doesn’t give advice on these matters in state politics he gives directions to the state caucus.
Pyne: What rubbish.
Butler: I mean he might not be faceless, he is a face full man, but I think everyone understands that he is involved in this. But, what the state Liberal Party does in their leadership is a matter for the Liberal Party. We are very happy with the decision we took to bring Jay Weatherill into the premiership and what the Opposition does is a matter for them really.
Bevan: Mark Butler, do you think Alexander Downer would make a good Liberal Leader at a state level?
Butler: Well again I take John Howard’s advice for the second time. It’s not really for us to express views. I did note he was leading the Adelaide Now poll this morning. Christopher is running at 4 per cent on preferred premier.
Pyne: Oh no…
Abraham: Are you disappointed Chris Pyne that you only polled 4 per cent?
Pyne: That’s just because I haven’t got my staff sitting there pressing refresh over and over again.
Butler: Don’t worry I voted for you.
Bevan: Mark Butler you voted for Chris Pyne?
Butler: I voted for him.
Bevan: Well that accounts for some of the 4 per cent.
Pyne: That’s probably the only vote for me; there is probably only 40 votes in the whole thing.
Abraham: Chris Pyne, can’t you get your kids to vote?
Pyne: How humiliating. I’m probably running somewhere behind Voldemort in the poll.
Bevan: Chris Pyne do you think Alexander Downer, at some time, would make a good state opposition leader?
Pyne: I think Alexander Downer is a terrific person, I think he would be a great member of Parliament, I wish he had stayed in Parliament federally, he would obviously be a big part of our team. But he has retired and I think he is perfectly happy. But if he decides to change his retirement plans from politics, that’s a matter for him. I’m sure he is doing great things for the Liberal party as the chairman of one of our committees, and quite frankly what he decides is his business… I’m just off to visit this poll and try and push the numbers up…
Butler: I think we should all watch out for Christopher at lunch with Alexander at a restaurant in Adelaide then we will know something is up.
Abraham: A late burst by Chris Pyne in the Adelaide Now poll on who should lead the Liberal Party. Chris Pyne thank you.
Abraham: And Mark Butler
Butler: Thanks so much.