Direct Action and budget mess - AM Agenda





SUBJECT/S: Emissions reductions targets; Budget; Moss Review; Pyne the ‘fixer’

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks very much for your company. With me now, the Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert and the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Good morning gentlemen. First on the carbon emissions target, is the nation on track to meet the 5 per cent reduction by 2020 despite all the warnings of the Labor Party and other critics that direct action would not be enough?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well Kieran, from all the data I've seen, emissions have been increasing not decreasing under this Government, you look at the official emissions data and they fell under the period of the carbon price, reductions around the order of around 1 per cent a year clearly on target, since then emissions have been tracking back upwards. If the Government's getting any future reduction emissions it's probably through their goading the car industry to leave and overseeing the death of manufacturing in Australian rather than because they actually have good policies. We're still yet to find a credible economist who thinks that paying polluters is a better way of reducing emissions than a market based approach.

GILBERT: Maybe the economists are wrong?

LEIGH: I don't think so in this case, Kieran. And that's why...

GILBERT: How are they not? The targets are going to be met anyway and without the carbon tax?

LEIGH: That's Government hyperbole, what I'm putting against you is the real data which is showing emissions is going up and the views of economists around the world which have underpinned the market based emissions trading schemes now being used by hundreds of millions of people around the world: Europe, the United States, a range of provinces in China, the South Korean emission trading system, New Zealand has an emissions trading scheme. You don't have to be on the left of politics to like emissions trading, it's just a pragmatic and effective way of reducing emissions. 

GILBERT: Now, Minister, Government hyperbole is the way the Shadow Assistant Treasurer described the suggestion that these targets will be met, what is your reaction to that?

STUART ROBERT, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Labor is addicted to a carbon tax, Kieran, they had a carbon tax when they were in Government last, they'll have a carbon tax again if the Australian people reward them for their folly, they want a carbon tax to come back again. The data is quite clear, we don't need a carbon tax, we don't need those type of mechanisms to inflict pain upon Australian households and their electricity prices, the current direct action approach will work. it will work exceptionally well. The Environment Minister will make it very clear this week how it's going to work and the difference it will make. Unfortunately, Labor is stuck in their desire and love for a carbon tax.

GILBERT: And the Government's apparently going to be committing in the mid-year to the post 2020 target and Julie Bishop saying that they will be making that commitment prior to the Paris Summit. So despite Labor suggesting that the Government's policies aren't there and they're not committed, the Government reiterates that it is and there will be post 2020 targets in place by mid year. 

LEIGH: But here's the thing about a Direct Action Scheme, Kieran. Not only does paying polluters not work in the short term, but there's no credible evidence this is a scalable strategy. This is the sort of long term emission reductions that you'd see through a market based approach. It's sort of ironic that you've got Stuart here on the nominally right wing party arguing against a market based approach and a nominally centrist party arguing for a market based approach. But, it worked in the United States in dealing with acid rain, it's reducing emissions in nominally communist China and yet you've got the nominally capitalist, Liberal and National Parties arguing instead for an ineffective, expensive command and control system. The time when they're worried about the budget blowing out, they're giving billions of dollars to polluters. 

GILBERT: Again, I guess we've had this debate many times about direct action, the Labor Party not accepting the figures, that the Minister is going to be providing this week on the Government's trajectory when it comes to emission reductions. What's it going to take to convince your critics on this, that you are committed?

ROBERT: I'm still trying to work out how many times Andrew can use the word nominally in a sentence, and if the Labor Party is nominally a centrist party, I'll eat my hat. The Labor Party is well and truly on the left, they want to bring back a carbon tax, we've shown decisively that we can lower emissions responsibly without resorting to that. And whilst Labor will try and tell us that the whole world is moving in this approach and we'll try and quote a few nominal provinces in that nominal Communist country called China, China is not moving wholesale towards a carbon tax, nor is the United States, nor is Canada, nor are many of our competitors in the OECD. The approach we're taking, direct action, will work. It's been shown to work, it has been proved to work and that's the direction the Government will take.

GILBERT: The former Immigration Minister now Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, says he won't be apologising to Save our Children, the group that was investigated as part of the broader Nauru report, the Moss review which was released late on Friday. What do you say to Mr Morrison's critics and the Government's critics that they should apologise for comments made in that regard.

ROBERT: And nor should Minister Morrison apologise at all. He was the one that got the Moss Review started, he was the one that moved very quickly to get an independent report up and running which is now of course responded. He was very measured in his language at the time so he has nothing to apologise for. In fact, the country should be saying thank you for his great efforts in stopping the deaths at sea, in stopping the illegal boat entrance into Australia.

GILBERT: Mr Leigh?

LEIGH: Labor put in place an offshore processing system but I don't think any Parliamentarian should think it's alright if there is abuse happening in Australian detention centres.

GILBERT: No one has said that it is alright.

LEIGH: The Prime Minister's response on Friday was "things happen". That's completely unbefitting for a national leader when dealing with what appear to be substantiated allegation of this scale. We ought to be able to manage offshore processing in a way which Stuart said, prevents those deaths at sea but which also provides humane conditions for asylum seekers. the Moss Review raises very serious allegations and the Government can't just bat them away.

GILBERT: Stuart Robert?

ROBERT: The Government is not batting anything away and I'll back the Prime Minister 100% on this. It was under the Prime Minister's leadership and stewardship of Minister Morrison that the failures of Labor stopped. 50 000 boats, 1200 dead at sea, budget blowout over $11 billion and that's stopped. This is like a whole bunch of drunk people on a couch complaining about those coming in to try and clean up the mess and that's what we're trying to do with the offshore detention centres. We were left a disaster, we are trying to seamlessly, compassionately, sensible clean it up. there will be challenges, the Moss Review showed that. We're up to the task, we're making a difference.

GILBERT: When you say that the Government is batting it away, the Government has said it is going to adopt all the recommendations, I think it was 18 or 19 recommendations, the Government will adopt all of them.

LEIGH: It's the Prime Minister's cavalier approach to these allegations that disturbs me, Kieran. So often you have a Prime Minister who's first response is unbefitting of the office. Whether it's making comparisons to the Holocaust in Question Time, whether it's his comments about "things happen", whether it's a first run budget which was incredibly harmful to the most vulnerable. When now, they're looking to have another run at it to see if they can get the budget right. We need a Prime Minister who's first instincts are the right ones.

GILBERT: So it's about the instinct of the Prime Minister, was the tone right in the response, Minister?

ROBERT: The tone is fine, the Prime Minister is leading under some challenging circumstances dealing with the legacy of what the Labor Party left us. And you'd think the Labor Party would own up to what they left us, the biggest disgrace in budget deficits, the biggest disgrace in a looming growth of debt. And what do we get from the Opposition Leader 'Invisi-Bill', we get nothing. We get nothing at all. We get 100 less interviews as an Opposition leader than the Prime Minister did in 2011, we get a range of hyperbole, we get a range of comments that we don't like the initial response or his tone when he's leading a Nation through some challenging times. Why doesn't the Opposition stump up with some policy ideas? This is the year of ideas, Andrew, put an idea on the table.

GILBERT: Let's look at the budget situation, it looks like the Government payment's not going to get back to their long term average to 2021. This is according to David Crowe's report in The Australian, so it's not just about money coming in via tax as the iron ore price, it's also money going out. And the spend Government payments are going to continue up above the long term average for another 5 years, that's a lot longer than what the budget had suggested.

ROBERT: It's certainly a challenging time, now we've reduced Government outlays. We're growing at almost 3 per cent per annum down to about 1 per cent per annum to begin the fiscal repair. Of course the Intergenerational report said that if we did nothing by 2050, we'd have this debt to GDP pass 120 per cent, we've reined that in substantially but there's still a long way to go.

GILBERT: One multinational company policy which Labor has announced is not going to cut the mustard in terms of a response here, when will Labor come out with a credible response to these structural problems because you would concede there are some significant ones in terms of transfer payments, wouldn't you?

LEIGH: Well, Kieran, first of all I won't be criticised by a side of politics whose policies were released at a minute to midnight the last election. When we've brought out a policy grounded in OECD research, costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office in the first half of the Parliamentary term. Absolutely, we need careful measures to redress the deficit, when we were in office, we put in place after the GFC a 2 per cent real spending cap and stuck to it. The figures Stuart has quoted include the fiscal stimulus to save jobs. By contrast, we've got a Government who when they were campaigning against debt said that 13 per cent debt to GDP was so outrageous you'd drive a debt truck. Now they reckon 50 to 60 per cent debt to GDP is OK, and frankly I expect that Mr Abbott will have to have a debt aircraft carrier in order to reflect his turn around. Debt has blown out by $80 billion dollars...

GILBERT: That suggestion of about the 60 per cent of GDP being pretty good, the Prime Minister would probably rethink those words wouldn't he if he had another opportunity?

ROBERT: The Prime Minister was making a reflective comparison, Kieran. That the intergenerational report was showing under Labor doing nothing, yet debt to GDP out to Greece levels, what we've done now is half that, that's a pretty good start where we need to get it back is actually where we left it when the Howard Government lost office.

GILBERT: It’s a pretty good start but not a good outcome, is it? 50 per cent or 60 per cent of GDP?

ROBERT: In comparison to where it was going, it was going to over 120 per cent of GDP, it's a good start – a cracker of a start. The Prime Minister should be commended on the start, Labor should be coming out and saying thank you Prime Minister for cleaning up the mess...

GILBERT: Last week there was an interview in this studio which caused a fair bit of reaction. The Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne said he was "the fixer" in response to the higher education reforms, Huw Parkinson has edited this and it was on YouTube.


GILBERT: So George Lucas would probably be proud of that, Stuart Robert? Your reaction to that video this morning?

ROBERT: You see these spoofs every now and again, the Hitler bunker scene is another one that gets used for spoofs quite often. It just goes to show how creative people are.

GILBERT: And your thoughts on Christopher Pyne starring alongside Darth Vader?

LEIGH: Well I think Laura Tingle put it best: being governed by clowns just isn't as funny as you'd imagine it would be.

GILBERT: OK, I thought the original interview was pretty funny. Andrew Leigh, Stuart Robert, thanks for your time today.


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