ABC Weekend Breakfast – reopening plans, climate, French relations

Saturday, 06 November 2021

HOST: Let’s bring in our Saturday panel. We’re joined by Nationals MP Darren Chester and Labor MP Amanda Rishworth, who is the Shadow Minister for Youth and Early Childhood. Thank you to you both for coming in and for speaking with us on Weekend Breakfast. We’ve had a review of the Doherty modelling, the only State deciding to go their own way is WA, that have decided that they will reopen their borders once the State hits 90 per cent. That may be in January or February. Amanda Rishworth, if I could start with you, is this Labor Premier Mark McGowan locking up his state? Or is this a concerted effort to try to get more WestERN Australians vaccinated?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Look, I’m not going to pretend to speak on behalf of Western Australians. Of course, Premier McGowan is making decisions which he believes are in the best interests of his state. I would note that Tasmania is not fully opening its borders either until they reach 90 per cent vaccination. So each State and Territory has had to look at their own circumstances and what they feel is best. I mean, one of my concerns has been is our hospital system ready to withstand opening up? And that’s a question, I think that we need to see. There is some modelling done by the Federal Government and we need to see that. Obviously, State Premiers have to work in the interests of their States and work out what’s best for them.

HOST: There are strict rules in place for Tasmania as well, although they have named a date in December. Darren Chester, looking at WA’s approach and other States as well, but in particular WA’s because that was released yesterday, do you think there’s an issue with not providing a specific date? And rather just saying that they’ll get to that 90 per cent vaccination rate?

DARREN CHESTER, MEMBER FOR GIPPSLAND: Good morning, team. Good morning, Amanda. I largely agree with Amanda. Each State will make their own decisions, but it clearly is in the national interest to get these State borders open as quickly as we possibly can. I say that, one, obviously for the economic value of that. We’ll see economic bounceback as people start to move around and have the opportunity to take a break in different parts of the country, but it’s also so important for people’s mental health as well. There are families now separated, kids want to go home to see their parents for Christmas, that type of thing. Australians are spread right across this beautiful country we’re lucky to call home, but they want to get back with each other over the Christmas period. I would hope that WA could have a rethink on this one. A lot of people want to go to the West. A lot of people want to get down to Tassie. I know Victoria and New South Wales have opened their borders and I think they’ll see a real benefit from that in the coming weeks and months as people seek to take a break in regional Australia.

HOST: I do wonder though major industries have warned of critical workforce shortages. As you say, Darren Chester, families could remain divided over Christmas because of WA’s decision not to open until next year or so. Is this a loss to the country? Or is this a loss for WA?

CHESTER: Well, I think the West itself will experience a loss from this because people will make decisions about their careers, and where they might relocate for work. It is going to be a very competitive market going forward for a workforce. We have a skilled workforce shortage because we’ve had such a reduction in migration across the last couple of years. That’s very obvious right across the country. We’re finding in regional Victoria in hospitality it’s very hard to get people like chefs or front-of-house staff in the hospitality sector. Those people are going to move to communities that are open and the West may miss out. My expectation is as we open up, there’s a fair bit of latent demand in the real economy. I’ve got mates in the retail sector who say people are coming in ready to buy their Christmas presents already. They have money to spend because they’ve had a job all the way through the 20-month period of COVID shutdowns in Victoria, so they’ve been saving money and they are going to spend a fair bit in the lead-up to Christmas and I think West Australia might miss out.

HOST: Amanda, there were supply issues and issues with the vaccination rollout to begin with. There’s now no supply issues and people have had a chance to get vaccinated. In WA, do you think the people who have gone out and got vaccinated are paying the price for people who still haven’t got vaccinated?

RISHWORTH: I think that issue is right around the country, of those that have got vaccinated and those that haven’t, and the divisions there. I think unfortunately when it comes to the issue around vaccination, it’s about the whole community and protection for the whole community. I know I went and got vaccinated because I wanted to protect the broader community. So there are patches right around Australia where vaccination rates are not where they should be, and we need a concerted effort in all of those places to get those vaccination rates up. Here in South Australia, the northern suburbs in particular has been an area that’s been lagging behind. That means the whole community is at risk in those places. So we need a concerted effort from government, from community leaders, to actually get those vaccination rates up.

HOST: We want to turn our attention now to the climate summit that’s happening in Glasgow at the moment. Darren Chester, you know, you celebrated the National Party’s decision to back the target of net zero emissions by 2050. But Australia’s performance on the global stage at the summit was poorly received, didn’t receive a standing ovation at all. In fact, the targets were not deemed to be ambitious enough, especially when compared to other countries’ targets. Is Australia failing as a global citizen?

CHESTER: Well, I don’t think so. Australia has made a reputation in signing up for international agreements and then actually meeting its commitments. So what we’re doing in terms of the Kyoto targets and now Paris targets, we’re actually meeting them. So the Australian public I think on this issue are somewhere around the sensible centre. They want to see action to do our share to reduce emissions, but they also want to make sure that we’ve got reliable, affordable energy, a transport sector that works, agriculture sector and that there’s opportunities in the resource sector. So Australia expects the Prime Minister and Cabinet to make decisions in the interests of Australians, but also mindful of where the world is heading in terms of global agreements. We’re going to meet our commitment for 2030, and the Prime Minister announced in Glasgow that he expects us to exceed that target, so looking at 30 per cent to 35 per cent reduction from our 2005 emissions. Australians can be proud of the fact that they’ve invested with their own money in household solar and there’s been large-scale increases in renewables, but at the same time, we’ve kept our economy functioning and kept communities in regional areas, which are most impacted by challenges, kept them operating and jobs for people to support their families. So I think we need to keep the balance right. I’m very pleased that the National Party got to a position where we support net zero by 2050 and I think it was a move towards the sensible centre where most Australians are.

HOST: Amanda, Labor said it would release its plan to tackle climate change after Glasgow. When can we expect to see that? And what can we expect to see from that?

RISHWORTH: I’m not going to announce Labor’s policy here. That will be something for Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen. Of course, Glasgow is still continuing, despite the Prime Minister having left. I think a lot of people would have had, though, a sense of disappointment that in Glasgow, I think the world saw through the glossy brochure that the Prime Minister kept holding up. Because what we need in addition to a policy around net zero, is actually a path way to get there. And unfortunately when the Prime Minister announced this agreement from within the party room, there was no modelling, there was no economic modelling. There was no new initiatives about how we might get there and that’s a real challenge. We need to have a plan about how we get there. Labor has already announced a number of policies, including our rewiring the nation policy, which is about getting renewables into the grid. We’ve said we’ll have more to say, but what we really need is a plan that actually puts the steps in place to achieve net zero by 2050.

HOST: Darren Chester, last election the Government attacked Labor heavily on lack of costings and a plan around its climate change commitments. Why is it different now for the Government? Shouldn’t you be releasing more details and costings and modelling so we can see exactly what the plan is and details around it?

CHESTER: Well, both the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor have indicated they’ll release more details and modelling in the coming weeks. He said that in Parliament I think just a few days ago. What the Minister has already clearly highlighted in recent years is the technology-not-taxes approach is more than a slogan. It’s a major investment in new technology. We’ll see about $20 billion of Federal Government investment out to 2030 in new technology. I’m seeing it already in Gippsland with investment in the hydrogen supply chain project, a joint venture between the Federal Government, State Government, Japanese government and business partners. Those sorts of projects are already happening right across Australia. That $20 billion of Federal Government investment is expected to leverage about $80 billion in total expenditure to 2030. When Amanda says there’s no plan, there’s actual work happening right now right across Australia, particularly in regional communities, you’re seeing large-scale investments in renewable technologies. There’s legislation before the Parliament last week on offshore wind farms and how we regulate those to allow them to occur in Australia. There’s a lot happening in this space and I don’t think it’s fair to the Australian people to suggest there’s nothing happening when there’s a lot of work going on at a household and a broader industry level.

HOST: Another story that overshadowed Australia’s performance at COP26 and the G20 summit in Rome was the tension between France and Australia, and how there’s a tit-for-tat between the two leaders at the moment. Of course, this is over the submarine deal that was scrapped by Australia in favour of the AUKUS deal. Darren Chester, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said Mr Morrison was damaging Australia’s reputation abroad and she even likened his actions to that of former US president Donald Trump. I want to get your opinion on whether Scott Morrison has shamed Australia on the global stage.

CHESTER: Well, I know it’s the spring racing carnival and Labor wants an each-way bet on everything, but the Labor Party has supported the AUKUS deal. The Labor Party has spoken in very positive terms –

HOST: We’re not talking about the AUKUS deal. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about how the Prime Minister has handled this tension with the President of France, Emmanuel Macron.

CHESTER: To be fair, to be fair, I don’t think we can talk about one without talking about the other. It’s a historic deal in Australia’s national security interest and there’s no question that the French President and others have been upset by that. I can understand that. They had an agreement in place and we’ve had to change our position in the national interest of Australians and the National Security Committee of Cabinet made that decision. It wasn’t made on a whim by a Prime Minister in isolation. The National Security Committee of Cabinet has the Chiefs of our Defence Force, our Foreign Minister, our Trade Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister himself, making decisions that will last generations into the future. So I can understand that the French Government is not happy about losing the deal, but the Prime Minister had to make the decision that would suit our long-term strategic interests and we had to act in a way that protects future generations. So I’d call on the Labor Party to stop having an each-way bet on this one. Do you support the AUKUS deal or not?

HOST: Amanda Rishworth, can you have one without the other? Is this talking about the deal itself or how the shift has played out?

RISHWORTH: Look, there is no doubt the Labor Party has been very bipartisan on the AUKUS deal. But to say the Prime Minister has handled this anything but appallingly would be an understatement. There’s no doubt the French were upset, but even President Biden admitted that perhaps this whole thing was handled clumsily. And rather than the Prime Minister work on his diplomatic relationships there, what he’s done is he’s doubled down and allegedly his office has leaked private text messages. And then we’ve had Government Ministers criticising the press for asking questions. This really goes to the character of our Prime Minister and he won’t take responsibility for anything, and he won’t work to repair relationships. So there’s no doubt that you can have a situation where the French were, of course, going to be disappointed as we moved away from this deal. But, in my view, it could have been handled a whole lot better. The Prime Minister said he wanted to move on, but the only person I can see pushing this issue along and causing more problems is actually the Prime Minister himself.

HOST: Darren Chester, would you have done anything different in the handling of this? Would you have done exactly what the Prime Minister has done?

CHESTER: Well, I’m not in the National Security Committee of Cabinet and I wasn’t in charge of negotiations of a historic nature. So the Prime Minister had to maintain secrecy to secure the nuclear-powered submarine deal which is in our long-term strategic interests. In terms of the broader question about the current relationship between the current office-holders of Prime Minister and President, they’re roles that these gentlemen will hold for 5 or 10 years maybe if they’re going well. The relationship between Australia and France goes back decades. Our relationship as two countries is not in any jeopardy at all as a result of this current disagreement. When you think about how deep and ever-lasting that relationship has been right back to World War I, we have a very solid foundation for a mutual trust and respect between our two great countries and that will continue into the future, long after the current Prime Minister and President are in their jobs.

HOST: We have to leave it there. Thanks for your time this morning.


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