Royal Commissions and renewable energy - Lateline, 31 October

At the end of a very busy two weeks of Parliamentary sittings, I joined Emma Alberici on Lateline to look at where we're up to on the national security and renewable energy legislation, as well as point out what's wrong with the government's anti-red tape crusade. Here's the transcript:





SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into unions; national security; red tape; Renewable Energy Target

EMMA ALBERICI: The week began with Tony Abbott calling for a mature and sensible debate about the GST, but that's almost where that conversation ended. It was drowned out by the fuel tax, climate policy and national security. Joining me to discuss a busy week in federal politics from Melbourne, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, and in Canberra we have the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh.Gentlemen, welcome to what I'm confident will be a very mature debate.



ALBERICI: So, Julia Gillard has been cleared of all wrongdoing. Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission says she has committed no crime. Josh Frydenberg, what's your reaction?

FRYDENBERG: Well this is a preliminary submission from Counsel Assisting, so I don't want to get into a running commentary, Emma, on individual cases other than to say that what the commission has found so far is there are examples of thuggery, intimidation, physical violence, threats, secondary boycotts...

ALBERICI: But specifically, when we're talking about the former Prime Minister, it should end there?

FRYDENBERG: Well I've never thought that this Royal Commission has been about Julia Gillard. It's a much more systemic problem within the union movement and in particular some of those construction unions and that is why the Prime Minister has announced today with Denis Napthine this combined Federal Police-Victorian Police taskforce because there are very serious issues. And it has to be pointed out that the Commissioner, Justice Heydon, wrote to the Prime Minister very recently and indicated that there were serious problems and that they needed to be dealt with and that there were powers that the police had that the Royal Commission didn't have and that's why the Prime Minister has acted now when he has.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh?

LEIGH: Emma, I think it's good that we've finally got tonight the bottom of Julia Gillard's renovations last century, and not surprisingly, the Royal Commission's found that Julia Gillard didn't commit any criminal acts and wasn't aware of any criminal acts. And in those circumstances, I think it might be appropriate for someone like Julie Bishop, who had accused Julia Gillard of criminality, now to issue a formal apology.

ALBERICI: What do you think about that, Josh Frydenberg?

FRYDENBERG: Well like I said, it's a preliminary report. This issue, for me, this whole Royal Commission has not been about Julia Gillard. You said in the opening of your report that they did find questionable behaviour on Julia Gillard's part...

ALBERICI: But not criminal behaviour. And it's quite a steep jump to get from questionable to criminal.

FRYDENBERG: It sure is, but this is a preliminary report. Let's not delve too much into individual cases other than to look at the real systemic abuses we're seeing and the problems that we are trying to deal with by virtue of this police taskforce we've announced today.

ALBERICI: Josh Frydenberg, Counsel Assisting has recommended police charge whistle-blower Kathy Jackson over a false claim. This is the woman the Prime Minister called a heroic, brave, decent woman. In hindsight, was it a little premature for the Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne, also to call Kathy Jackson a revolutionary who'd be remembered as a lion of the union movement?

FRYDENBERG: Well, Emma, my comments about Julia Gillard also apply here to the case of Kathy Jackson. I'm just not going to get into the individual detail. We have a preliminary report from Counsel Assisting. This commission has a long way to run, another year, as a result of the request from the commissioner, so let's just see where that plays out.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, you did talk about the fact that these renovations, as you have just categorised them, were in last century. They were 20 years ago, admittedly. When this was first mooted, this Royal commission, you has said the Government was more interested in bashing hardworking unionists than dealing with corruption. But here we have found two people being referred to police and prosecutors for charges. So even though these issues are not contemporaneous, it clearly shows that police didn't do the job perhaps you thought they could have done.

LEIGH: Emma, Labor's view has always been if there's wrongdoing, we ought to crack down on it immediately. That's why nine months ago Bill Shorten called for a joint police taskforce in almost identical terms to what the Prime Minister's announced today. We thought it was appropriate to have a joint police taskforce that would look into wrongdoing in the building and construction industry and by employers and by unions. And it does seem as though, from the fact that the Herald Sun knew more about it than some of the police involved, that the timing of this joint police taskforce has more to do with politics than really getting to the bottom of wrongdoing.

ALBERICI: Let's move on to national security matters. Josh Frydenberg, did the Government deliberately rush through the new laws in the hope that there wouldn't be time for proper debate and discussion that might cause some in the Parliament to rethink their support?

FRYDENBERG: Absolutely not. We have received bipartisan support from the Labor Party when it comes to national security and that is a reflection of the serious threat that we face in this country. I mean, Emma, we've had the threat levels increased as a result of the expert advice of our intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies. Over 70 people have had their passports cancelled. More than 70 Australians are over in Syria and Iraq participating in terrorist activities and another 100 are actually giving them support, whether it's over there or over here. We've even seen the death of a young 18-year-old in Melbourne after the knifing of a Federal Police person as well as a Victorian Police person. These are really serious issues. Our first obligation as a government is to protect the Australian public. That's why we've taken the necessary measures and it has only been after the expert advice of those in the know.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, it has received bipartisan support, but one of your senior colleagues, Anthony Albanese, has - since passing those laws as a party, he has expressed a little bit of concern over specifically the issue of journalists potentially facing 10 years in jail for revealing so-called special intelligence operations. Shouldn't the public interest play a role? Shouldn't that be a defence?

LEIGH: Emma, I certainly agree that there is a need for bipartisan support here, but that doesn't mean that we sign up to every idea George Brandis puts on the table. Labor scrutinised the pieces of legislation the Government put forward and there was a joint parliamentary committee came up with 36 amendments to those bills. And that's reflecting things like the fact that we need proper sun-setting provisions, not the 10 years that the Government wanted, but two years after the next election. And also that on the issue of the public interest defence, we took the view that there ought to be a requirement for the prosecutor to take into account the public interest. We've just had Peter Greste jailed for nothing more than doing his job, and that, I'm sure to many journalists, brings home the importance of making sure that journalists aren't locked up for doing the right thing.

ALBERICI: But the public interest defence isn't included in this new law, as I understand it?

LEIGH: Look, I understand entirely, Emma, that people have different views as to whether that ought to be included as a defence or whether the public interest ought to be a consideration taken into account by the prosecution. One way of tackling that too, I think, would be if the Government were to restore the position of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. That then allows you to have somebody, previously Bret Walker, but the position's now been unfilled, making sure that we have appropriate oversight. Josh Frydenberg, as part of his war on red tape, originally argued that we ought to get rid of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. That would have been a mistake, and again, would have risked leaving those who are just doing their job unprotected.

ALBERICI: Josh Frydenberg - and we will talk a little bit about red tape in a moment - you promised to be a government that would defend free speech and now you're gagging reporting on the country's most powerful organisation, and that is our intelligence organisation, ASIO.

FRYDENBERG: There's a few points to make here, Emma. Firstly, the Labor Party signed onto this in the Parliament four weeks ago, so it's a bit of politicking that's going on on their behalf right now. The second point is this is not just about journalists, this is about everyone. The amendments to Section 35P of the ASIO Act apply to everyone and they apply to covert operations and we don't want to put people's lives in danger. It's also giving ASIO the same protections that the Federal Police currently have under the Crimes Act when they're in controlled operations. So, this is something that's not, it applies already to the Federal Police, it's now going to apply to ASIO, it's not just about journalists, it's about the broader Australian community, and as George Brandis has recently said, Emma, he's put in an additional safeguard by saying that the DPP needs to consult with the Attorney-General before proceeding with any prosecution.

ALBERICI: Josh Frydenberg, your efforts to cut red tape are being a little undermined, aren't they, by the new data retention laws, which will involve quite a bit more paperwork and compliance by those companies collecting that data, won't it?

FRYDENBERG: Well that's a good point that you raise because we're not against every piece of regulation. There are going to be cases, and certainly in this metadata laws change, there is going to be an additional layer of compliance, but that's because the national interest requires it, Emma. Our point about red tape and repeal days is there's just too much regulation out there, too much duplication between federal and state governments, too many obligations, particularly on small businesses and the not-for-profit sectors. We're succeeding where Labor failed. They gave us 21,000 additional regulations. We promise to cut a billion dollars a year in red tape. We've cut $2.1 billion a year. Labor goes on about how the fact is we're changing punctuation marks, full stops and commas and then on the other hand they're saying we're taking away important protections and consumer protections and the like. They can't have it both ways. We are genuine about generating a cultural change in the bureaucracy when it comes to red tape. We want the default position of government to be less regulation, not more.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, red tape? I mean, there is a lot of silly red tape around, isn't there? We found out this week when the Treasurer tried to order a pizza and sit outside and couldn't do so.

LEIGH: Emma, I'm frankly a little puzzled when Josh says we can't have it both ways, because as soon as you look at these so-called red tape repeals, it's very clear they fall into two categories. There's the trivial stuff -changing ‘electronic mail’ to ‘email’ 39 times and fixing punctuation, which of course all sensible governments do, it's just that they don't pat themselves on the back for it. It's a bit like having a ‘national showing up for work and having a cup of tea day’. That's really all that bit of red tape repeal is. But then there's the other part, the stripping away of consumer protections, the financial advice protections that Labor put in place after Storm and Trio, the removal of which was opposed by Choice and National Seniors. And attempting to abolish the charities commission, which is supported by four in five charities. And what Josh probably won't mention to you is at the same time he's introducing new regulations at the rate of three a day. So there's a flow of new regulations onto the statute books, which really does cause you to scratch your head and ask what this whole charade is about apart from trying to grab a cheap headline and take away protections such as the financial advice protections.

ALBERICI: Let's move on to climate change. Josh Frydenberg, can you please explain for our viewers exactly how the Government's Direct Action policy works?

FRYDENBERG: Well we've assigned over $2.5 billion over the forward estimates to find the lowest cost of abatement and that may be capturing gas out of coal-fired coal mines, that might be getting more efficiencies in buildings, that might be planting more trees. We are looking at cleaning up electricity power stations. These are all particular measures which we'll be able to apply to the Government, Emma, to try to get some of that money out of the $2.55 billion that we've assigned. Now we are dead serious about meeting our target of a five per cent reduction on the year 2000 emissions by 2020. The Direct Action plan we took to two elections. It was endorsed by the Australian people. Labor never took their carbon tax to one election; we took Direct Action to two elections and now Greg Hunt has done really well in getting this through the Senate with the support of the Palmer United Party.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, what counts in the end is not the method that's used, but whether the actual five per cent reduction is achieved.

LEIGH: That's absolutely right, Emma. And you look at a modelling firm like RepuTex which has said that $2 billion spent on Direct Action will achieve only about a fifth of the total abatement that Australia needs to meet its international targets. Ken Henry has said that you'd need $4 or $5 billion, twice the amount the Government has allocated in order to meet Australia's emissions reductions targets. The real shame here, Emma, is that we had a system in place, a market-based mechanism which ought to be beloved of free marketeers like Josh, which put a price on carbon pollution and got lowest-cost abatement. And we've just seen in January of this year the biggest fall in Australian emissions in 24 years. The carbon price was working and the carbon price is working internationally in the nearly 40 countries and dozens of states and provinces that have carbon prices in place. It's a bit ironic, Emma, that we have supposedly Communist China piloting emissions trading schemes for hundreds of millions of people while the supposedly free marketeers in the Liberal and National parties want command and control, which won't do the job. And Australia is going to go to these international meetings now with a scheme which is going to be ineffective. And you've got The New Republic magazine recently running a cover story on Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper as two of the world's greatest climate villains. You've got international climate change surveys noting the fact that on leadership we've fallen to the bottom of the pack. As a destination for investment, we used to be in the world's top four for renewables investment. We've now quickly fallen down to 10th as a result of the Government's setting up a Renewable Energy Target review headed by a climate sceptic. Deeply disappointing for Australia's role in this important issue and it means that we're going to have to do the abatement in subsequent years at a much higher cost. It's just kicking the can down the road and making the job harder for the next generation of policy makers.

FRYDENBERG: Emma, can I just say that Andrew Leigh knows as well as I do that when Labor struck this deal on the carbon tax, they provided $5.5 billion to coal-fired power stations without any requirement to reduce emissions. They know that the carbon tax was a $550 slug to every Australian family every year. We have just seen electricity prices have their greatest fall on record as a result of the abolition of the carbon tax. We have no regrets whatsoever about abolishing the carbon tax. We now have our Direct Action plan through the Senate. We are very comfortable where we're at and Labor, I must say, have a lot of problems.

ALBERICI: Just very quickly, Josh Frydenberg - as part of the deal with Clive Palmer, the Government's agreed to hold an inquiry into emissions trading. What exactly are you asking for from the Climate Change Authority as far as this investigation goes?

FRYDENBERG: Well over the next 18 months they're going to look internationally at how the ETS operates. Our point is that our position has never changed. We're never going to stand by and see a carbon tax come back into this country...

ALBERICI: So why do an inquiry about it then?

FRYDENBERG: Well this was an act of good faith. This was part of the deal, but we do not support an ETS and we will not allow an ETS or a carbon tax to come back into this country.

ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, a final word from you?

LEIGH: Well it seems pretty concerning to me, Emma, that we now have not only a billionaire running the Northern Australia policy for the Government, a billionaire running the Indigenous policy for the Government, but now a billionaire running the environment policy for the Government. And that's deeply concerning to me because those who'll be hardest hit by dangerous climate change are the poorest in Australia, who can't afford insurance, who can't afford air conditioners for those increased hot days, who are more vulnerable to extreme weather events. Australia has the highest emissions per head of any developed country. And the notion that we can somehow avoid the issue of tackling climate change through the most effective and efficient way is hugely damaging to future generations. Joe Hockey talks about burdens on future generations. What greater burden could we impose on future generations of Australians than saying to them, "Well the Barrier Reef was irreparably damaged because we couldn't bother doing anything about it." Our Emissions Trading Scheme had assistance to households and, yes, Josh is right, we had assistance to trade-exposed and emissions-intensive businesses. That's textbook economics and it's the way in which other countries are implementing their emissions trading schemes around the world as we speak – as we go back to the dark ages with a pay-the-polluter scheme that won't meet the international benchmarks.

ALBERICI: We are well and truly out of time, gentlemen. I thank you both very much, Josh Frydenberg, Andrew Leigh.

FRYDENBERG: Thanks, Emma. Thanks, Andrew.

LEIGH: Thanks, Emma. Thanks, Josh.



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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.