ABC Weekend Breakfast – climate change, bushfires, UK election

Saturday, 14 December 2019

KATHRYN ROBINSON: We’re joined now by Liberal MP Jason Falinski and from Adelaide we have Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Good morning to you both and thanks for joining us. Jason we’ll begin with you, in your opinion is climate change responsible for the fires we’ve seen across the country?

JASON FALINSKI, LIBERAL MEMBER: As Matt and the Prime Minister said it’s a contributing factor to the bushfires we’ve seen in New South Wales and other parts of the country.

ROBINSON: Matt made the direct link though.

FALINSKI: Well I think that’s what the Prime Minister is saying. There’s no doubt there’s a direct link between what is emerging in climate change, which is setting up the circumstances which have made these bushfires both possible and worse than they should’ve been otherwise.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: This week the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index ranked Australia last out of 57 countries for it’s climate policy, it said Australia has gone backwards under the Morrison Government. Seeing as you are making that direct link and we are seeing climate change play out so seriously, why aren’t we doing better on a climate policy?

FALINSKI: We just totally reject that study.

NICHOLSON: Why?

FALINSKI: It has been undertaken by a group or panel of people who clearly injected politics into this debate. And this is the problem with climate change debate, not just here, although I have to say we are better off than most other nations. But there are people who just want to shout and make this part of a political debate they want to have with their opponents, rather than as Matt Kean and the Prime Minister said, we need to listen to the science and act accordingly. That study actually goes to exactly the problem we face in climate science and climate change debate.

NICHOLSON: Do you think the Morrison Government could be doing more though?

FALINSKI: Well look let me tell you what we’ve done. We’ve done Snowy Hydro 2.0, we’ve put in $3.5 billion into the climate solutions package, we put $1 billion into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Australia is the largest investor in renewable energy in the world by a factor of two. That’s why under this Government, under the Liberal Party, our carbon emissions are 50 million tonnes on average less than they were under the Labor Party. That’s how we’ve managed to cut emissions without cutting jobs.

ROBINSON: Before we bring Amanda in if we can just talk about renewable policy at the election. The Liberal Party the Coalition attacked Labor for its emissions targets saying it would cost the economy up to $470 odd billion, up to 330,000 jobs and push electricity prices up. That is a policy the Coalition has now adopted, a 50 per cent renewables target, what’s changed? Why isn’t that going to wreck the economy now?

FALINSKI: Sorry there’s a number of issues that have been conflated there. The Department of Energy came out this week and said on current trajectories 54 per cent of our energy will be produced by renewable energy by 2030. That hasn’t required any general setting by the government that is something that is happening naturally, because renewable energy is becoming the cheapest and still not reliable but becoming more reliable in its capacity to deliver energy to the grid. The second part is it wasn’t the 50 per cent target of Labor’s that we were critical of, although we were critical of it, it was the 45 per cent reduction in emissions that we were critical of. And the official report which went to the cost of that which included reducing people’s wages by $9,000 a year, that was the criticism.

ROBINSON: So have your policies come into line?

FALINSKI: No they haven’t come into line, we’re at 28 per cent. We believe very strongly that we need to adhere to international agreements, that’s why we’re meeting our Paris Agreement targets, we’ve met our Kyoto Agreement targets. As we often say, we need to be practical at home and ambitious abroad or ambitious globally. Because this is an international challenge, not just an Australian challenge.

NICHOLSON: I want to bring in Amana Rishworth now, Labor hasn’t escaped scrutiny on this. Anthony Albanese this week scheduled a tour of Queensland’s mining communities and he defended Australia’s coal industry. Did that seem like odd timing given we’re seeing the drought and the severe bushfires and so many people calling for more action on climate change? Did that seem like an odd time to do that, to come out in defence of Australia’s coal communities?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Firstly I’d say that I agree with Jason that we do need to listen to the scientific evidence, but I’ve sat in the Parliament and watched people on the Coalition’s side deny that climate change is even happening. But in terms of coal exports, it’s inevitable that coal exports are going to be part of the world’s mix of energy going forward. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a national climate policy in place here in Australia to make sure we are on task to meet our Paris commitments. We are not on task to meet our Paris commitments, we know that the most recent reports have shown emissions are going up, not down in this country. And so we need a national platform to actually make sure we can meet our Paris commitments. This is something we need to be directed on by the science not on politics, I agree with that but at the moment I’m just seeing a whole lot of politics play out in the Parliament, particularly from many on the Coalition’s side who are refusing to actually acknowledge that climate change is happening. We not only need to be doing our bit to reduce emissions, but we need to seriously look at how we adapt in the face of a changing climate.

ROBINSON: When you look at leadership Amanda from both party’s leaders in respect to climate change, what could both be doing better?

RISHWORTH: First we need to acknowledge the scientific reality of climate change and the impact it’s having and I think the Labor Party has done that. We don’t have a debate within our party about whether climate change is real, in fact I learnt about the science at school it’s been around that long. So I think we do need to just get on with the job and actually stop this being an ideological issue and instead one directed by the science. If we are directed by the science and we want to limit our warming climate within the two degree band, then we need to take action and get on with the job of how do we actually make sure we are doing something and playing our role in terms of meeting our targets, which we’re not doing now. And indeed adapting to a changing climate and what that means in reality for our communities.

NICHOLSON: Jason, Amanda mentioned the Paris 2030 target, it seems we are on track to meet that if we use carry over credits and without them we wouldn’t meet that target it seems. The government wants to use these credits which are essentially emissions we didn’t use in the past that we want to cash in for the future. Angus Taylor said this week that that was a legitimate strategy, but over 100 countries want the use of carry over credits banned and many countries who are entitled to use them have decided not to use them. So do you think just because we can use them we should use them?

FALINSKI: I guess there are two points I’d make. Firstly can I say I agree with Amanda we should stop talking about whether climate change is happening or not, it is happening. The next discussion needs to occur in the Parliament which is what are we doing about it. I’ve got to say the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann, Minister after Minister has stood up and said that. So I think the Government and the Liberal Party accepts that climate change is happening and has done so for quite some time. The second part is what we do internationally needs to be part of an international and global framework. At the moment carry overs are allowed. We can’t unilaterally do something because this – well we can – but this is a global challenge and we need to be part of global institutions taking steps to reduce this as much as possible because that is the only way we are going to get a solution to this challenge.

NICHOLSON: But rather than cash in ways that mean we do less essentially, why take that option?

FALINSKI: Well the second point I was going to make was when we looked at Kyoto, people said the only way we can meet our Kyoto targets was using carry over credits. We haven’t used any of our carry over credits to meet Kyoto. They’re saying that now about Paris, I think by the time we get to 2030 we’ll find we haven’t had to use any. But look if it’s a view globally that we shouldn’t be using carry over targets, then that’s something the Australian government is very happy and eager to sit down in international forums and talk about.

ROBINSON: Jason and Amanda I’ll put this to both of you. You both seem to be on a unity ticket that something does need to be done about the climate. The Prime Minister has expressed unity regarding the fires this week, but has ruled out a National Summit on climate or a COAG meeting. Jason you first, should there be one?

FALINSKI: I think the meeting he ruled out was COAG on the bushfires, there was one in November.

ROBINSON: Which would result in a discussion on climate would it not?

FALINSKI: Perhaps but I think what he was talking about was the COAG meeting on bushfires, there was one in November, he questioned the utility of having yet another one in December rather than us getting on with the job of putting the bushfires out, which is what we are doing.

ROBINSON: Amanda would a COAG meeting on bushfires be useful to address the climate issue?

RISHWORTH: Anthony Albanese has called for a COAG Summit to really look at what we can do around climate change, but importantly as I said how do we adapt. When we’ve had firefighters in the field since August really fighting fires, they’ve had significant time off work, they haven’t been paid. There’s also questions around whether or not we have enough aerial water bombers available to us. I think we do need to have a national plan and a national meeting about what bushfires look like in a changing climate. Are we prepared enough? Are we coordinated enough? Do we have enough resources? And what is this going to look like going forward? Because it is different than in previous decades, and I think we need to do this to make sure we’re prepared for what is inevitably going to be longer and more difficult bushfire seasons, along with other natural disasters.

NICHOLSON: We also wanted to touch on the UK election result, we saw Boris Johnson win that decisively, more decisively than many people expected. Amanda many people are drawing parallels with the election in May where Labor lost. Do you see those parallels between Australian Labor and Labour in the UK in terms of the message being seen as somewhat confusing, and also them having an unpopular leader?

RISHWORTH: Look I haven’t been on the ground in the UK so it’s hard for me to comment, I don’t like to comment on things without having spoken to voters. I guess looking from afar it did seem that one of the predominant issues was Brexit and that’s an issue that galvanised people into two different camps. So it’s hard for me to comment on what was motivating voters, but it definitely seemed from afar that Brexit was a significant issue and that this is a country that has been divided for some time. Since the referendum on Brexit really you’ve had a divided country that wasn’t sure where it was going, so in that sense it seemed to be the predominant issue. But of course we’ve been through our own reflections after the election campaign. We’ve had a review come down and that I think should really guide us in where we should go next as the Labor Party. And I guess British Labour will be having reflections as well in their loss.

ROBINSON: Just before we move on from that, how is that reflection process from the review going? What practical steps is Labor taking? Because obviously you’ve mentioned there Labour in the UK will be undergoing a similar review you would imagine, there’s been labels that Labour is moving too far to the left and having not listened to their base.

RISHWORTH: In terms of Labor’s review there were different criticisms about how we could’ve done things better, and we are certainly reflecting on that and taking stock of that. Obviously our election is not scheduled until 2022, but certainly I know that Labor Party has taken on and looked at those recommendations. What our review did was really talk about some of the mechanics and some of the issues, our strategy, and we’ll incorporate those going forward. In terms of a divisive issue like Brexit, we didn’t face one of those issues in Australia, and one of the things I’ve been pleased to hear is the Prime Minister in the UK has talked about uniting the country.Because certainly from the other side of the world it has seemed the country has been divided over the past couple of years, so hopefully this puts them on a path to healing some of those divisions.

NICHOLSON: Jason on Twitter Scott Morrison congratulated Boris Johnson and he said say g’day to the quiet Britons for us, so that seems to suggest he is drawing a parallel given he referred to the quiet Australians when we won government. And what way will Scott Morrison be dealing with the new Boris Johnson Prime Minister?

FALINSKI: Probably the same way he was dealing with the old Boris Johnson, which is as constructively as he can. There’s no doubt this opens massive opportunities for Australia and Britain once they leave the EU in terms of trade and other important investment opportunities. We talk about trade a lot these days, but investment opportunities are actually the really big thing because when people invest in your country, whether it’s us investing in the UK or vice versa or the US, we often bring intellectual property with that as well, which is in the knowledge based economies we have today that’s really critical and really important. So this is potentially quite good for Australia and very good for the UK.

NICHOLSON: And do you think he was drawing parallels with say g’day to the quiet Britons?

FALINSKI: I think the parallel is that ideas still matter in elections. We tend to focus a lot on personalities or people, but voters still care about ideas. And the idea we saw playing out here was not the Brexit idea, because that was all very confused, but was really whether you believe in equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Boris Johnson was very much speaking to people’s hopes and aspirations of equality and opportunity, Jeremy Corbyn was saying I’m going to create equality of outcome. And the result of that I think was the British people spoke pretty loudly overnight.

ROBINSON: We are out of time but Jason and Amanda thank you both very much for joining us today.

ENDS

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