ABC Weekend Breakfast – Nationals Leadership, climate change

Saturday, 08 February 2020

SUBJECTS: National Party Leadership, Labor’s direction for the year ahead, the state of politics and bipartisanship. 

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Now time to catch up on what was a very busy week in Australian Parliament this week with our Saturday pollie panel. We’re joined now by Labor MP Amanda Rishworth and Darren Chester, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, thank you both for joining us this morning. Darren Chester I might start with you there in Sale, you’ve had a very interesting week with your party the Nationals this week. It started off with the reshuffling of course after Bridget McKenzie quit the front bench, then there was a challenge for Michael McCormack’s leadership from Barnaby Joyce, there’s also been revelations that there’s this so-called rebel group within the Nationals willing to block the Coalition’s agenda. The failed leadership challenge it certainly doesn’t spell the end for uncertainty in your party does it?

DARREN CHESTER, MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS: I had a feeling you might start with me, it has been a bit of a frustrating week from the outset. I was pretty disappointed about plans to challenge Michael’s leadership. Keep in mind Michael McCormack was elected our Leader two years ago, elected after the election and then elected again this week. He’s been elected Leader three times by the party room in the last two years, which I suggest will indicate he has strong support in the room, but not withstanding that there are other people in the room who had ambitions for taking on the role, and I’ve got to say they were soundly defeated in the room. So I think we’ve got to unite now behind Michael and get on with the job of representing regional Australians. The people of regional Australia send us there to fight for them, not to fight amongst themselves, and I’m very passionate about making sure we continue to represent regional Australians .

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Amanda we’re going to come to you in just a moment, but Darren we’ll stay with you just for a little bit longer and just talk about the leadership challenge. Barnaby Joyce who basically made that challenge, he’s not on the frontbench at all for the National Party. Is that a safe position? I mean shouldn’t he be in a position where Michael McCormack can keep an eye on him?

CHESTER: People in Parliament all have some level of ambition, I have enormous ambitions, my ambitions are for regional Australians. The ambition I have is to see regional towns grow. I mean look at our cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane they are congested and growing at ridiculous rates, we should take the pressure off growth in those cities and grow regional Australia, put more infrastructure spending, more services in our regions. So ambition is nothing unusual in Parliament, my ambition is to grow my community and when it comes to Barnaby’s aspirations, well there’s no vacancy in that position right now, there’s no vacancy at a leadership level, Michael’s won the leadership, he deserves to lead.

NICHOLSON: There certainly does still seem to be division within your Party, some voices that are and have been very loud in your Party, there still remains that division.

CHESTER: Well as I understand the media coverage was yesterday, that some members indicate as backbenchers – and backbenchers always reserve their right to vote whatever way they like on different bits of policy – they indicate they reserve their right to cross the floor. But you’ve got to have some legislation you don’t agree with to cross the floor in the first place. I mean there’s nothing before the House right now they’d be looking to cross the floor on, you’ve got more support coming through for people who’ve been impacted by bushfires, you’ve got the Royal Commission into Bushfires. I surely don’t think they’re going to cross the floor on those types of things, so I’m not sure exactly what the coverage was about. You know, our focus has to be on regional Australians who are experiencing the drought conditions, recovering from bushfires now, likely to have some flooding events in large parts of New South Wales and Queensland over the weekend. So, our focus has to be on the people who send us there, to Parliament, to fight for them.

IBRAHIM: Alright, Amanda we want to bring you in. We thank you so much for your patience as well. But let’s talk about where Labor is going into this first week of Parliament as well. Last year ended with the Labor Party doing a lot of soul-searching, and they kind of pulled back a little bit here. That was towards the end of last year. But going forward, Anthony Albanese, the head of the Party, has said that there is a policy, a climate policy, but it will be very different to the one that they brought to the election. Where does Labor stand in terms of the climate policies?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Obviously we’ve got two big jobs this year as the Labor Party. One is holding the Government to account, and this week in Parliament we’ve spent a significant amount of time exposing the sports rorts scandal and calling for practical action when it comes to bushfire relief. But in addition to holding the Government to account, we also will be outlining our vision for the country. And Anthony Albanese has outlined a number of vision statements around the economy, and making sure the economy works for ordinary Australians. But also actually talking about climate action being an opportunity for our country – an opportunity in jobs, in R&D, a whole range of things in terms of bringing down electricity prices. So, we’ve announced our broad visions, about where we want the country to go. And over this year we will continue to develop our policies in terms of the detail. But that is not gonna stop us from also holding the Government to account. That’s a big job, because this Government has no plan, it’s obsessed about itself. And so we will be highlighting those issues, as well as giving the Government practical solutions that they could do right now, not wait for an election to implement.

NICHOLSON: But Amanda, is there unity in your party on climate policy? Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, the MP for the Hunter region, he’s been very outspoken in supporting coal and the coal industry. How will Labor balance action on climate change and supporting the coal industry?

RISHWORTH: We need a national approach to climate change, that actually meets our Paris Agreement. At the moment, the Government is nowhere near on track to actually meet its climate objectives that it signed up to in the Paris Accord. So Labor will be working towards actually taking action on climate change. There’s only one party that’s been serious about taking action on climate change, and that is the Labor Party. We need a national approach – we don’t have that from the Government. We have a Government that is shirking its responsibilities. And the details of that, we will move forward on as a party. But we are united, we don’t have the climate deniers in our party like the Liberal Party have. We are over the debate of whether climate change is real or not, whether humans have an impact – of course humans have an impact. That’s what the science says.

NICHOLSON: But, Amanda, my question was about how the coal industry fits into that plan.

RISHWORTH: Well we’ll be working on a national plan. But in terms of coal exports, coal exports still have a role to play in our economy. That doesn’t stop you from having a national plan that actually will meet your Paris Agreement targets. So, we will be working towards that. But we’re committed to doing that, unlike the Government, who doesn’t want to touch climate change, doesn’t want to acknowledge it, half of the party doesn’t even acknowledge it exists. So that is a very, very bad starting point, whereas we want to have a proper conversation, and we will have a policy going into the next election.

IBRAHIM: This is a question to both of you, and really I realise it’s a very broad question. And Darren, perhaps you could start with your answer. My question really is is Australia being let down by the internal conflicts within the Liberal Party, within the National Party? And, Amanda, I want to get to you as well – the fact that Labor has really swivelled away from their own plans from last year’s elections, and now have come up with some sort of soft plan for climate change, but nothing really concrete. Darren if I could start with you, is Australia being let down by their political leaders?

CHESTER: Well I don’t think so. I think we do, on occasions, let the Australian people down when we fight amongst ourselves. Labor and Liberals have experienced it in recent times sadly, and this week was the National Party’s turn. I think we do let them down on those occasions. But more broadly there is a lot of consensus in the Federal Parliament on a range of political issues and legislative issues, and bills often pass with support of both sides of the House. I think a lot of people go to Parliament with absolutely the best intentions to try and make a difference in their communities. And in terms of the broader climate debate we’re having right now, we’ve got to try and achieve our international targets, be good international citizens, reduce our emissions in accordance with those international agreements, but not mug the economy in the process. So, we’ve got to have jobs in our traditional industries, in the mining sector, the timber industry, in my case here in Gippsland, make sure we’ve got jobs in traditional industries that are sustainable and long-term jobs, but at the same time make our contribution to reducing emissions, and practical initiatives like hazard reduction burning and clearing around towns to make them safer when bushfires eventuate. There’s a lot of work for governments to do, we need to keep working constructively to achieve it.

IBRAHIM: Amanda you know it does seem – and you’ve just spent the last three minutes or so attacking the Government – do you think that just seems to be a culture of Australian politics, this whole very divisive, partisan politics and partisan conflict? Is that taking away from real leadership in Australia?

RISHWORTH:  I think when it comes to politics it is a contest of ideas. You don’t get elected to Parliament not believing in something and not wanting to make a difference. In saying that,  there are times when we can be constructive, and I think of a number of times where political parties have got together and actually come up with a compromise. And we were close to that on climate change both under Labor and under the Coalition. But, unfortunately, there were a number of people that decided to hold the then Turnbull Government to ransom. So, it is a challenge, it is always a challenge. But I think if you don’t have strong views and strong beliefs about why you got into politics, then you’re not really going to put your hand up, and of course, that does lead to a partisan debate. But we can always do better at working together on things, and there’s many examples where politicians do. But in things that you hold very dearly, and when you don’t see the Government taking the action you’d like, you’re going to be critical. And that is the job of a member of Parliament and an Opposition.

NICHOLSON: Amanda Rishworth and Darren Chester, we really appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

RISHWORTH: Thank you.

ENDS

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