As we enter the first Parliamentary sitting week of the Spring Session, the Abbott Government's first budget remains unresolved and there is significant division within the Coalition over key environmental policies like the Direct Action Plan. I joined Sky AM Agenda to discuss why the best thing the government could do is go back to the drawing board on all fronts. Here's the transcript:
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 25 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s Unfair Budget; Coalition’s flawed Direct Action plan
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now on the program this Monday morning, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh and also the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, Paul Fletcher. Paul Fletcher, first you've heard what Senator Xenophon had to say in his proposal. What is the government's position on this?
PAUL FLETCHER, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning Kieran. The government's position in relation to the emissions reduction fund has consistently been than it is in relation to domestic expenditure. So that point was made very clear when the white paper was issued earlier this year. Now I think we heard Senator Xenophon say that he's put forward a proposal, he's been in discussions with the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, as you'd expect. Environment Minister Greg Hunt is in discussions with a range of independent senators, as you'd expect when we have a policy and a legislation you want to get through the senate which is directed towards achieving that 5% reduction target. Achieving a reduction by 2020 on the 2000 levels of emissions in Australia and our policy instrument to achieve that is the Direct Action Policy. We've consistently advocated and pursued that policy for several years, two elections. We are now obviously working to get the legislation through the senate.
GILBERT: Do you think that it makes sense to have this as a complimentary measure to the Direct Action Plan, to have this prospect of having carbon permits bought internationally, legitimate ones? Might that be a good way to compliment the efforts to meet that target?
FLETCHER: Well look, it's not in our policy. Minister Greg Hunt is dealing with them in a courteous and professional fashion, as he always does I might add; with Senator Xenophon and all of the independent Senators and crossbenchers in relation to getting our legislation through for the emission reduction fund, implementing the Direct Action policy through the Senate. We'll continue to have those discussions and those negotiations with the view to getting our legislation through the Senate so that we can achieve that very important reduction in emissions that is our policy. We can achieve that through the implementation of our Direct Action Plan.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, what's Labor's view on this? I recall that the idea of international permits was part of the emissions trading scheme proposal, is that correct? And what's your view on this suggestion by Senator Xenophon?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: That's right Kieran. Just to respond to Paul, the Labor policy was very clearly going to be to use the most efficient, most effective way of reducing carbon emissions and that's a carbon price. Now we've got 30 countries around the world going down that route for the simple reason that when you put a price on carbon pollution, you can get more abatement. Direct Action is a misnomer because it is not direct nor does it take action. There's no credible economist in Australia that thinks that Direct Action alone can meet those emissions reduction targets that are vital to Australia doing our part to combat dangerous climate change. We know very well that we've had temperature records broken, record hot temperature last year, record hot winters, record hot summers. And as a result we've just got the Coalition now saying that they're going to put in place a fig leaf – as Malcolm Turnbull very correctly noted – from a government that really doesn't deep down believe in climate change.
GILBERT: What, specifically, about the permits do you support, just to be clear on that? Buying international permits that might be cheaper?
LEIGH: Labor supports engaging with the world on this. As we move to a floating carbon price we would have engaged with the European emissions trading scheme and that makes plenty of sense. Wherever we get the abatement around the world, it doesn't matter so long as we're reducing total carbon pollution.
GILBERT: So you'd be open to purchasing cheap permits from China, from elsewhere where they might be available – that would help Australia meet its target wouldn't it?
LEIGH: Let's not pretend that wherever the government ends up on this it will actually take serious action on climate change. Having gotten rid of a cap on carbon pollution, the government is in a position where it is not going to be able to reduce Australia's carbon emissions. It is just kicking the can down the road regardless of what it does on an international permits.
GILBERT: You're talking about Europe; Paul Fletcher, I'll come back to you in a moment but I just want to clarify Labor's view on it because you said you've engaged with Europe, what about other countries like China? Those big emitters where we might be able purchase permits, would Labor be open to doing that?
LEIGH: This is really putting lipstick on a pig. Let's be honest, the government's Direct Action Plan is one of the worst ways you might try and reduce Australia's carbon emissions. What Australia needs is a cap on carbon pollution and it is the most effective and efficient way of dealing with it.
GILBERT: But if this element of it did go down this line that Xenophon is talking about, it would be similar to what Labor was proposing anyway?
LEIGH: What Labor was proposing was to have an overall cap on carbon pollution and an effective and efficient way to reduce Australia's carbon emissions.
GILBERT: But at least in this area of linking in with the international community, as you said yourself, it doesn't matter if it is reduction here or internationally but it is the overall reduction we're talking about.
LEIGH: But Direct Action can't fundamentally be linked in with the international system. Direct Action is an approach which is not going to meet our carbon abatement targets and is incredibly expensive to the budget. We've gone from the system which is putting a price on big polluters and providing assistance to households, to a system which is subsidising big polluters and we're now seeing tax rises on households.
GILBERT: Specifically talking about the permit though, the issue Paul Fletcher – you were about to interrupt there sorry?
FLETCHER: I wanted to make the point that there is legislation before the parliament designed to achieve the policy objective of a 5 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. Now, the question for Labor is, will they support it or not? There is a policy measure there that will give effect to the objective that they say they support. If they're not going to support it, Andrew Leigh needs to explain to you and your viewers why not? Because there is a policy measure there that they could support. Now, he asserts that it’s not going to work. I'll remind you that the Labor party also said that turning back the boats wasn't going to work. So why doesn't Labor get behind the Coalition's plan designed to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions by 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. Then we can all work forward towards this policy objective which is shared by the major parties, of getting that reduction and emissions.
GILBERT: We've got to go to a break, we'll be back in just a moment with Paul Fletcher and Andrew Leigh.
GILBERT: This is AM Agenda thanks very much for your company with me this morning Andrew Leigh and Paul Fletcher. Paul, I want to get your thoughts on this report – Greg Sheridan on the front of The Australian newspaper this morning is talking about an expanded military role for Australia in Iraq, what do you know about this report? Is this where the Prime Minister and the government is heading?
FLETCHER: Well clearly there's a very unstable and troubling situation in Iraq and in Syria. The government has already announced a package of measures directed at domestic security for example, measures that reduce the onus of proof if people are travelling into parts of the world where the Foreign Minister has declared that there is terrorist activity going on. Of course that is designed to deal with the risk that we face when people have become hardened and radicalised. Australian citizens who are fighting in Iraq or Syria return may wish to carry out terrorist activities here in Australia, threatening our domestic security. Now, what the Prime Minster has said for example in speeches last week, has been very, very, carefully framed and I do emphasise of course it is the Australian government's position that we do not lightly take military action. What the Prime Minister has said is that we're working carefully and methodically with our allies and I do want to emphasise that nobody is talking about combat on the ground.
GILBERT: Is it a possibility that an expanded role might be there with our Allies, the United States? It certainly seems to be what the Prime Minister was suggesting in that University of Adelaide speech, and as I say, Greg Sheridan extrapolating on that with his exclusive report in the paper today.
FLETCHER: Well again, perhaps if I could just direct you to what the Prime Minister himself said in his remarks last week, he said we are talking to our partners about how we might contribute to the international efforts to protect people against the advances of the ISIS terrorists. Of course, that encompasses the humanitarian work that the Royal Australian Air Force has been involved in, food drops into Northern Iraq and that's clearly been an important element of our activities. Beyond that I'd simply say we certainly don't likely take action and absolutely nobody is talking about combat on the ground.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, what's Labor's position on this and the prospect of an even greater role there? There's no mention of combat troops on the ground, but there is talk possibly of air strikes?
LEIGH: Kieran, we support the government's humanitarian use of the RAAF but we haven't been briefed on any combat role and so we'd want to see details of what the government is proposing on that. The situation on the ground is clearly horrendous, but Labor wants to see details before stating a position on that.
GILBERT: Fair enough, let's look finally to the budget issue. Just quickly, Paul Fletcher, the government's going to have to compromise and probably come to some significant compromises to get a chunk of its savings and revenue measures through. The $47 billion dollars’ worth which remain blocked by the Senate, do you feel optimistic about any progress on that in the next week or two?
FLETCHER: Well the first thing to say is that we've obviously already got significant measure through. Some $15 billion dollars of savings have already gone through the parliament. The next thing is: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann made the point over the weekend that we've got a series of structural measures that we're seeking to achieve, for example the $7 co-payment in relation to a visit to the doctor. Now, many of these measures would not be, in the ordinary course in any event, taking effect until next year. Clearly the work needs to be going on to seek support to be able to get these measures through the Senate so that's a focus for the government. We have a plan here to get debt and deficit under control, it is the only plan around, Labor doesn't seem to have a plan. Andrew Leigh needs to explain whether Labor actually cares about debt and deficit and whether they're going to do anything about it.
GILBERT: Ok, we've only got about 40 seconds left Andrew, but just quickly, your response?
LEIGH: Kieran, the Government's approach to Budget negotiations at the moment seems to be to crack its knuckles and say ‘nice economy here, shame if something happened to it’. You've got ministers unable to agree on whether there's a budget emergency or whether everything is hunky-dory. You've had Christopher Pyne a couple of months ago say there's going to be an increase in medical research, and now yesterday saying that the government will be cutting medical research if it didn't get its way. Fundamentally, this is a bad budget and the Government needs to take measures like cuts to support for young people back to the drawing board. Labor is not going to do what the Liberals did in 1975, but we are going to apply the fairness test to a Budget which not only breaks promises but hits the fundamental Aussie 'fair go' at the same time as it is doing give aways to the very top of the distribution like paid parental leave.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Paul Fletcher, thank you both for your time this morning, I appreciate it.
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