Business, unions and civil society back action on climate change - Sky AM Agenda

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TV INTERVIEW

SKY AM AGENDA

MONDAY, 29 JUNE 2015

 

SUBJECT/S: Australian Climate Roundtable; Mafia infiltration of the Liberal Party; Electoral funding

 

KIERAN GILBERT: Gentlemen, thanks for joining me. With me I have the Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Andrew, to you first of all on this climate roundtable involving key business groups, unions, welfare groups, investors, environmental groups, all agreeing to parameters that so far the Federal Parliament and the nation's politicians haven't been able to agree to. Should this provide some impetus, do you think, for some sort of bipartisanship here?

 

SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER ANDREW LEIGH: Kieran, it's a great initiative. I really hope that we're able to kick Australia forwards along a path that so many other countries in the world are travelling down. You know, China's emissions fell last year – possibly just a temporary drop – but people now think they're going to peak around 2025 which is much earlier than previously anticipated. But what we've got in Australia is the Government setting up a Wind Farm Commissioner, we've got them debating motions at Liberal Party Conference denying climate science, we've got the Abbott Government really backing away from where the rest of the world is going. Britain, New Zealand, the United States – all these countries are taking serious action on climate change. Meanwhile Australia is being described by Kofi Annan as a climate villain. We need to step up to the plate on accepting that the science is real and doing something about it.

GILBERT: Andrew, we'll come back to you in a moment. Mitch Fifield what are your thoughts on this group, which involves the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and others? They're all able to agree on broad parameters, and in partnership with environmental groups who are not their normal constituents.

 

ASSISTANT SOCIAL SERVICES MINISTER MITCH FIFIELD: I think it's a good and a positive thing when organisations that represent different parts of the community come together, try and find common ground and in this case, on climate action, try and reach some agreed principles. That's a positive thing. We saw something similar in the lead-up to the debate about the Goods and Services Tax and the New Tax System. That group didn't stay together until the end of that particular project but I think it's a positive thing. We'll be working hard on the policies we'll be taking to Paris over the next few months, but I do have to say that I think statements such as that of Kofi Annan that Australia is a villain on this particular subject matter are really quite frankly laughable. We've taken serious action; we're going to meet and exceed our Kyoto targets and the Coalition has always said that it's important to take action but we want to take it in concert with the rest of the world. We don't want to unnecessarily punish our economy and jobs in the absence of global agreement. We're doing our bit and we'll continue to do our bit.

 

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, the Labor party has been critical of Direct Action but the fact is that it is going to meet those targets. If you talk to those at the senior levels of government, they're confident that this can be ramped up as well.

 

LEIGH: Well Kieran, we'll see whether or not Direct Action actually meets the targets. Certainly paying the polluters is a lot more expensive than a market-based mechanism which used to be supported by the Liberal Party. It's not just the Labor party that is critical of this approach. In these preliminary international talks you've had Brazil, the United States and China questioning why Australia's commitment to tackling climate change is so weak. The Chinese are saying: we're a country much poorer than you, yet you appear to be asking us to do than you're willing to do.

 

GILBERT: But how is it is weak if we're going to meet those targets by 2020 and then set commensurate targets with the United States or Canada or whomever else, comparable developed countries. How is it weak?

 

LEIGH: The early evidence on Direct Action has carbon abatement occurring at $66 a tonne. That's simply not scalable. If you're going to cost the economy so much to break the link between economic growth and carbon emissions, you're not going to be able to keep up with the rest of the world. That's why more than 30 countries around the world and a whole host of US states have adopted emissions trading schemes. China will have emissions trading pilots running across provinces covering hundreds of millions of people. It's a sensible approach, backed by the vast majority of the world's economists, because it gets the greatest amount of emissions reduction at the least cost.

 

GILBERT: Ok, Mitch Fifield?

 

FIFIELD: Look, I've got a two-word response to Andrew Leigh, and that is: carbon tax. Labor still want to introduce a carbon tax. They might call it a different name, they might dress it up, but that's still their policy. 

 

LEIGH: We've very clearly said we won't do that.

 

FIFIELD: I've heard that before. I've heard a Labor Prime Minister say before: there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead. So Andrew, I don't think anyone would –

 

LEIGH: Mitch, you know full well that we would take an emissions trading scheme but not a fixed price. Not a carbon tax.

 

FIFIELD: It doesn't matter what you call it, it doesn't matter how you dress it up. You're going to introduce something that's a carbon tax or very similar to it. The Labor view is that you've got to punish Australia into submission. That's not the approach that we take.

 

LEIGH: It's hardly punishing, Mitch. What this approach does is get the least-cost abatement. It means that we get our maximum contribution for the minimum cost. That’s standing in direct contrast to Direct Action, which is an expensive slush-fund for polluters.

 

GILBERT: But you're seeing that in isolation, aren't you? In terms of Direct Action, you're seeing that in isolation and not along with the other components of environmental policy that includes the Renewable Energy Target – which has bipartisan support at 33,000 gigawatt hours. Isn't it wrong to be looking at this one element in isolation without seeing these other components?

 

LEIGH: Kieran, you're quite right that the Renewable Energy Target does work – it would have done more work had the Government kept its pledge to keep it at 41,000 gigawatt hours. It will have some impact at 33,000 gigawatt hours. But the Wind Farm Commissioner is clearly an anti-climate change measure, put in place by a Government that has climate sceptics at its heart and where the Prime Minister's leadership – as the Cory Bernardi profile on the weekend revealed – does crucially hinge on the support of climate sceptics within the Liberal Party.

 

GILBERT: Mitch Fifield, finally to you on this issue before we go to other matters. In terms of Greg Hunt's challenge here to bring the whole party with him, it does include the likes of Bernardi and others who don't want anything which would be seen as credible in international terms on the climate change response.

 

FIFIELD: Look, I think the party room is united on the need to take action. But we want to take action that is rational, that is proportional, that is sensible and that is justifiable. That's what we've done as a government and that's what we'll continue to do.

 

GILBERT: Ok let's move on to other issues. There's a report today that the Mafia has infiltrated state and federal politics at certain levels. Mitch Fifield, a number of Liberal ministers referred to here, including access to former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. What do you make of this story this morning? 

 

FIFIELD: Kieran, the Australian Federal Police have previously investigated the matters that were canvassed in the papers today. They didn't take any action. I think we can be very confident that we have a very clean parliament, that federal politics is played pretty straight, and that we don't have infiltration of senior figures in the Parliament. As I say, the Federal Politics looked at these matters and no further action was taken.

 

GILBERT: Is this a case, Senator Fifield, where in some instances senior figures will attend functions and fundraisers and so on, and not be fully across every individual that's there? Further to that question is the issue of Amanda Vanstone granting a visa to the brother of one of these alleged Mafia godfathers. That looks like the only substantial accusation in terms of the outcome of this consultation or infiltration as it's termed by Fairfax.

 

FIFIELD: Look, I don't know the particulars of that matter. All I know is that the Federal Police haven't taken any action in relation to the matters canvassed in the papers. But you're right, Kieran. Members of Parliament attend functions every day, every week, every month and meet hundreds of people in the course of a week. Thousands of people in the course of a year at a range of functions. And obviously members of Parliament don't necessarily know every individual or their background at the functions they attend.

 

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, are you worried about this report this morning and what it contains?

 

LEIGH: Yes Kieran, I'm not as sanguine as Mitch is about the news that the Mafia engaged in a fairly sophisticated operation to try and ingratiate themselves with various Liberal Party members. I think that's of deep concern. Mitch is absolutely right when he says that our politics is fundamentally clean in Australia, but that doesn't mean we don't have to be vigilant for these kinds of operations.

 

GILBERT: So you're saying you're confident it's only the Liberal Party concerned here, in terms of the access?

 

LEIGH: That's certainly what has been reported today. But one of the ways in which you make sure you've got a clean politics, Kieran, is through disclosure laws. Labor has consistently argued that the current disclosure threshold – which is about to go to $13,000 – is too high and that we ought to bring it down to $1,500, around one-tenth of the current level. This would bring transparency to the system. We've also been concerned about the use of vehicles such as the Millennium Forum as a means to channel donations through in a way that the public can't see. The great thing about transparency is, as Justice Louis Brandeis once said, that it's a great disinfectant. It's the best way of getting these ugly deals out of the system because people have to report even a $2,000 donation under the system that Labor favours.

 

GILBERT: Senator Fifield, your reaction to that this morning?

 

FIFIELD: Well it's an ongoing project to continually look at electoral law and look at electoral funding. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has that as a standing brief. So if there are ways that electoral laws can be improved, then we should always be prepared to look at that.

 

LEIGH: Well there are ways, Mitch. You can bring down the disclosure threshold, but your party has always fought against it. In Queensland they've just brought the disclosure threshold down to, I think, $1,000 and nationally the Labor party reports donations over $1,000. But the Liberal Party only reports donations over $13,000. It's a big difference and you could do something about it today if you wanted to.

 

FIFIELD: I think the most corrupting influence there is in politics is the donations from the Australian union movement to the Australian Labor Party. It's a massive, massive conflict of interest.

 

LEIGH: Are you calling unions corrupt?

 

FIFIELD: I'm saying that it can be a corrupting influence in a policy sense in that the Australian Labor Party is beholden to the trade union movement and when they're in office seeks not to govern on behalf of the national interest, but on behalf of the very specific sectoral interests.

 

GILBERT: Ok, we're out of time gents. Senator Fifield, Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time.

 

ENDS   

 

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