Labor ready to lead on climate action - Transcript, 2SM with Marcus Paul


SUBJECTS: JobKeeper as BonusKeeper; Cycling crash; China; Climate change.

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Dr Andrew Leigh is with us now on the program. Let's talk about the potential audit of the JobKeeper scheme. Andrew has been fighting hard on this, he's asked the Auditor General to look for companies using it to pay executive bonuses. We've gone through and named and shamed a number of big business corporations. They've done okay, if you like, in the last six to 12 months - so much so they've been able to turn over a profit and they've also paid their executive bonuses and they've ensured that their CEOs are very well rewarded. But the kicker of course is that they've done it, in my opinion, with the help of, in some cases, up to $70 or $80 million worth of Australian taxpayer dollars through the JobKeeper scheme. Or as Andrew has dubbed it, BonusKeeper. Morning, mate. How are you?


PAUL: Alright, where are you on this JobKeeper scheme? Will the Auditor-General look for companies using it to pay executive bonuses?

LEIGH: I certainly hope he will. The Auditor-General said that he was going to do a broad audit into JobKeeper. I wrote to him saying you need to look specifically at the issue of executive bonuses. Firms like Qube, the logistics company which got $14 million of JobKeeper and paid a $1.3 million bonus to its CEO - despite its earnings barely moving. So one of the other questions I've asked the Auditor-General look into is how many companies had a better 2020 than 2019, and yet received JobKeeper. There seem to be a few, like the company that owns Just Jeans and Smiggle, that have had a really strong 2020 in a profit sense but yet received taxpayer subsidies which they've used to pay out to shareholders and CEOs.

PAUL: And that's not what JobKeeper was supposed to be for. It wasn't meant to be for these companies to reward their executives, pay dividends and pay bonuses. It was there to ensure that people get their jobs through the pandemic.

LEIGH: With a million out of work and government debt going towards a trillion dollars, we just can't afford to be subsidising the pay packets of millionaire CEOs and billionaire shareholders. The simple fact is that it's important that every government dollar is carefully accounted for. It's not just me saying that. The Business Council of Australia, the tax office, and former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett have all criticised the practice of firms getting JobKeeper and paying it out as CEO bonuses.

PAUL: Before I get on to the Parliamentary Friends of Running and a little drama you had over the weekend, let’s just talk in general about coal and China. China has formalised import restrictions targeting our $14 billion coal exports. State media, the Global Times, basically said that there will be clearance restrictions for a whole bunch of other importers to China except for Australia. I think, unfortunately, these tariffs are going to hurt our export industry as the chasm continues to deepen between Canberra and Beijing, Andrew.

LEIGH: We're dealing with a much more assertive China than we've had in past decades, Marcus. But the right practice is what anyone would do in dealing with a much more powerful negotiating partner - we need to focus on playing by the rules, and we need to build strong relationships with allies. Small countries simply don't benefit from playing tit for tat. That's always going to advantage the stronger party. We need to be sensible and clear eyed. We need to recognise that China has a very different political system from ours, but that their economic growth is also of significant consequence to Australia. So I was worried about this strange call from Matt Canavan and hopefully it'll be knocked down swiftly by Morrison Government Ministers.

PAUL: Well, that's the issue, isn't it? Maybe they're in tune with Matt Canavan. My concern is that you have people who suggest - and I agree with some of these calls - that maybe Scott Morrison the prime minister was a little hasty and is acting like a pariah, if you like, on the international stage when it comes to China. You know, puffing the chest out and trying to stand up to China. And as you quite clearly pointed out just a few moments ago, we are the underdog in any battle with this major trading partner.

LEIGH: We need to be thoughtful in terms of how we engage. It's called diplomacy for a reason. We need to practice that art. And let's face it, Marcus, it's not as though dealing with non-democracies is a new thing for Australia. Most of our negotiations in our regions are with countries which you wouldn't think of as full democracies. And yet, we've managed to have strong trading relationships, put in place the APEC Leaders Forum, to work with countries on issues like human rights, as well as trade liberalisation and climate change. We can be much more thoughtful and considered, but the hyperventilating rhetoric coming from the backbench of the Liberal Party, I just don't think it's helpful.

PAUL: Alright. I see that Labor would put the country on track for carbon neutrality by 2050 by implementing medium term emission reduction targets, under changes to the party's draft policy platform. The Australian reports that Labor will sign off on a new draft policy platform today, which will see Anthony Albanese introduce the new laws, sorry, new targets in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Well, Albo’s certainly standing up on this.

LEIGH: I'll leave Anthony Albanese to make the specifics of the announcement there, but Labor's always been strongly committed to climate change, Marcus. And we need to make sure that we get to zero net emissions by 2050. There are 70 countries around the world that have signed on to that. Every Australian state and territory, our biggest bank, our biggest airline, our biggest miner. And ultimately now if we don't start to move towards the target of that kind, we could find ourselves subject to so-called carbon tariffs. Even countries in our region like Japan and Korea have moved towards that target. The much more ambitious targets on climate change announced by the Chinese regime are also putting pressure on. The Morrison Government just can't keep putting its head in the sand, with the projections at the moment showing that they will reach only a 22 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, not the 26 per cent reduction that Tony Abbott signed up to.

PAUL: Alright. I got a piece that I'm going to play soon from the Juice Media, which explains exactly why and how our government has been effectively, if you like, cheating on these targets which is interesting. But no doubt, I think next year we will start to see more pressure brought to bear on the federal government. We haven't got a seat at a number of climate summits around the world, and is it any wonder because we keep dragging our feet on this?

LEIGH: Yes, we used to be one of the leaders in the world in terms of acting on climate change. And now we're one of the laggards. One recent index put Australia second from the bottom, the only worse country being Donald Trump's America. It's not where Australia should be, given that we are as much at risk from climate change as any advanced country. You look at what climate change would do in terms of extreme hot weather days, the damage to the Great Barrier Reef. The impact of climate change on Australian agriculture and tourism would be severe. So it’s in our national interest to act on this, Marcus, and in moving with the rest of the world we'd hardly be moving to the front of the pack. We’d simply be joining the rest of the advanced world.

PAUL: Alright, let's move on to what happened on the weekend. Mate, we know you're a runner of note. You've been involved in the Parliamentary Friends of Running. Now you’re apparently cycling and, you know, doing the marathon thing over the weekend and you got into a bit of a bingle.

LEIGH: [laughter] I’ve decided to train for an Ironman, which involves long rides on the weekend. But I managed to hit a bit of a wet patch, go over the handlebars-


LEIGH: One of those moments where you feel quite fortunate for what didn't go wrong. I didn't break anything, didn't strain anything. Just lost a little bit of skin, a couple of stitches on the chin. So life is good. It’s a bit like when you recover from a bad illness - you have that moment of thinking, well, it could have been a lot worse.

PAUL: Very true. Very true. So when's this marathon you're about to embark on?

LEIGH: It’s an Ironman next year. We’re done with marathon season. I’ve done a couple over the last few months. Summer isn't the best season for running marathons.

PAUL: True. So you're going to do an Ironman challenge.

LEIGH: That's the plan. Never done one before, but I’m a couple of years shy of 50. I figured I might as well give it a crack.

PAUL: Oh, you show-off.


PAUL: Alright, mate. Good to chat. We'll catch up with you early next year.

LEIGH: Sounds great, Marcus. Looking forward to it.

PAUL: Have a great Christmas, all the best.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.