AM Agenda – energy, hotel quarantine

Monday, 23 November 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me now is my political panel Amanda Rishworth from the Labor Party, Julian Simmons from the Liberal Party. Thanks both for your time. Interesting speech today by Murray Watt Labor Senator in Queensland, of course, looking to set the tone of the party again it seems on coal and gas. “Treasure every mining job created” is what he’s going to say. Do you fully support that message Amanda Rishworth?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well of course the Labor Party supports mining jobs, of course we believe that a strong resource sector has driven a lot of Australia’s prosperity and will continue to do so into the future. So I don’t think this is particularly a controversial issue. At the same time, Labor has been very clear, we can’t be left behind when it comes to renewable energy. We have the opportunity to grow jobs in renewable energy as well and actually become a renewable energy superpower. But the government is completely dragging its feet on this. I say more jobs across the board.

CONNELL: It’s just interesting, though, isn’t it? So Labor is fully backing now the exporting of coal, but not building more coal fired power in Australia. It all ends up in the same atmosphere. Why the different attitude?

RISHWORTH: What we’ve been really clear is, firstly, it doesn’t stack up financially. I mean without massive government incentives coal fired power does not make economic sense. There’s no companies saying yes, we‘re here, we want to build a new coal fired power station. If you want to look at how we can generate renewable energy, which is cheap energy, then that is the way our country must go. We must transition, we must deliver cheap energy and renewable energy. And, indeed, clean energy is part of that mix. So I don’t think it’s contradictory, I think what we’re saying is we want to transition. But it doesn’t make economic sense if the private sector was to build a coal fired power station, the cost of that capital would drive up power prices.

CONNELL: Just on this situation to you, Julian, I mean the government and Labor actually ended up on a pretty similar page on coal and gas, on coal in particular. Export, fine, but there’s not going to be any new coal fired power plants under the Coalition either, is there?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: Well, we’re not on a similar page in that we support a transition fuel in gas, the Labor Party don’t. They have an environmental action group within their own party, which wants to see Australians stop using gas to even cook on or heat their hot water such is their ideological hatred of gas. So you know, I never thought I’d say that I am concerned for Murray Watt but honestly, he has the toughest job in Australian politics today trying to convince people that the Labor Party care about coal and gas jobs, because they simply don’t. The only thing that they’re willing to commit to is a 2050 target, which they can’t possibly be held to account to. Because I mean, I know I want to be here representing my community in 2030, but I don’t think Amanda and I will be here in 2050 when their targets are meant to come to fruition. We have a 2030 target we’re going to meet and beat.

CONNELL: So what does that mean? Every other country that’s committed to 2050 is doing something they can’t commit to either? The UK, conservative government, South Korea, Japan, are they making mistakes like Labor as well?

SIMMONDS: No what it means is that Australia’s taking climate action in a way that’s uniquely Australian that we should be proud of. We’ve got a $3.5 billion climate action fund, we’ve got $1.9 billion technology transition fund, and this is helping us to reduce emissions –

CONNELL:  You mentioned 2050 saying you won’t make a promise on something when you won’t be there in Parliament. This is the Paris commitment isn’t it? It’s about 2050, you’ve got to look forward a long way beyond when you’ll be an MP.

SIMMONDS: What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to look to our target for 2030. And this is what we’ve always said to the Australian people, Tom, is that we will set a target that we know how to meet and beat that we can say to Australia, this is what it’s going to cost, this is it’s going to mean in terms of jobs and industry and keeping affordable and reliable power. That’s what we’ll be held to account to. The Labor Party are only interested in virtue signalling and setting targets that they can’t possibly ever be held to account because they don’t want to stand on their record in terms of taking climate action. We’re very happy to stand on what is an important record that Australians should be proud of in terms of reducing emissions and taking climate action, and keeping fuel and keeping power affordable and reliable.

CONNELL: I wanted to ask you about this bubbling issue of hotel quarantine. The New South Wales Premier, Amanda Rishworth, is talking about being able to use this scheme for university students, foreign students, international students from next year. Is that fair enough? New South Wales has brought in a lot of people compared to other states, if they want to sort of switch and bring in a vital industry to the country?

RISHWORTH: Firstly, the Federal Government’s done nothing really to support the tens of thousands of people trying to get home. So on the first instance, my question would be what is the Federal Government doing to support those Australians that want to get home? But secondly, coming from South Australia, obviously we’ve had a breach of our hotel quarantine system. And I think what needs to happen there is to make sure that we get the answers, to make sure hotel quarantine is safe. And so there’s some steps that need to be taken to reassure and look at what went wrong here in South Australia, and what can we do better. So I think that work needs to happen. But ultimately, and when we look at the many citizens overseas, I think many people would want to know that we’re doing everything we can to get them home. And I don’t think the Federal Government has really put its shoulder to the wheel to do that.

CONNELL: The government has said it’s up to the states to get the program going. But it’s trying to also say, Julian, Australians first before university students. Now New South Wales can get all its residents home and then focus on foreign students. Would that be fair enough if it’s doing more of what it calls the heavy lifting?

SIMMONDS: Well look, I think, Tom, you’re quite right. They have done the heavy lifting, and they should be thanked on behalf of all Australians for doing that. This is why the national cabinet process is so important. This is why the Prime Minister put it in place so that him and the Premiers could thrash these kind of issues out for the good of the whole nation. But I have to say, if you’re asking for my gut reaction, I think our strong priority needs to be to get Australians home who want to come home. We need to reunite Australian families, if that’s what they want to occur. Ideally, we need to do it before Christmas. But overall, I think while there’s Australians who still want to come home that should be our priority, but certainly New South Wales should get our thanks for the amount of heavy lifting they have done to bring Australians home. I wish my State of Queensland had done more and it should be doing more frankly.

CONNELL: They seem to want more than thanks. But anyway, we’ll see how that plays out. I should ask as well about that situation in South Australia. Amanda, what have you made of what happened? Did you see this as a blunder from the South Australian government to go so quickly into lockdown?

RISHWORTH: Well I think the information they had in front of them was pretty scary and so they acted with the best knowledge. Obviously, it turned out that one of the people that contracted COVID gave misleading information. So obviously that is a great concern. But ultimately it comes back to hotel quarantine, this did come out of hotel quarantine. The Premier’s answer was “well this is a contagious disease”. I don’t think that quite cuts it for South Australians, I think we need a careful examination. There’s been questions around the regularity of testing, there wasn’t regular testing of the staff in hotel quarantine. So I think we need to do a very careful examination of this and look at how we move forward, and that’s critically important. That learning should not be just for South Australia, but for the whole country.

CONNELL: Well a lot of talk was the lessons out of Victoria. Were you surprised and disappointed, Julian, that we still had this situation where security guards at hotel quarantine could work other jobs? I mean, surely it was within the realms of the South Australian government to make sure they got an equivalent to a full time wage and didn’t work elsewhere at the time. They said “oh we couldn’t stop that happening”. That just seems crazy, doesn’t it?

SIMMONDS: Well, this hotel quarantine, they’re still human systems. And every time something like this happens, there needs to be learnings that all states take from it. But you know what I really liked out of Premier Marshall’s response and that is it was nimble and it reacted to the circumstances that he had in front of him. So when he had circumstances in front of him, he put the State into lockdown, when he had different circumstances and different information out of his contact tracing, well he didn’t want that lockdown to occur for a day longer than was necessary and he changed those requirements. And I just contrast that nimbleness with somewhere like my own State in Queensland with our Premier, where she only looks at the borders once a month, despite there being no federally defined hotspots, despite there being very little community transmission. And there was yet another story this morning of a family who’ve lost a little boy and just want to grieve with their family here in Queensland, and  they can’t get an exemption out of the 14 day quarantine despite the new situation, because our Premier will only look at it once a month. I think it’s monstrous, monstrous of her that we can’t have this kind of common sense, and the heartlessness of it. So I commend Premier Marshall for being as nimble as he has been and not wanting to keep restrictions in place for a moment longer than the health advice requires.

CONNELL: What did you make of that case Amanda Rishworth? The family was getting tested regularly for COVID, we know the lack of COVID in Victoria and Melbourne right now. They couldn’t get back to Queensland, they were going to have restrictive quarantine for some reason.

RISHWORTH: There are a lot of circumstances. I feel very, very sad for the family. But Julian just plays politics with this. I mean, I’m supporting Premiers, whether they’re Liberal or Labor to – I mean you can tell by Julian’s answers it’s so party political –

SIMMONDS: It’s not politics to have a bit of heart in this country. This is not the Australia that I want from my little boy that you cannot have, these are so heartless these decisions.

RISHWORTH: I do not have all the information in front of me. I’m not going to pretend to be a health expert granting these exemptions, and I’m not going to play politics with this. As I’ve said with South Australia, I haven’t played politics with the Premier there. The Premiers have an incredibly hard job to do. Scott Morrison sits by the sidelines and quite contrary to what you said Julian, national cabinet has failed when the Prime Minister shrugs his shoulders all the time and says it’s just up to the states and territories.

SIMMONDS: No, not at all, the Prime Minister has the courage to call these heartless decisions out.

RISHWORTH: I thought he was the leader of the country bringing people together, but he’s a sideline commentator is that what he is? The Premiers are doing their jobs, there might be decisions that you disagree with. Obviously, with this family it’s a very difficult circumstance. But I think Julian playing politics with this is very dangerous.

CONNELL: Alright, we’re going to have to leave it there. Julian Simmons, Amanda Rishworth, thank you.


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