Interview – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday, 22 December 2018

SUBJECTS: Liberal Party division over energy, 2019 Federal Election
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: To discuss this and more we’re talking with Paul Fletcher Minister for Families and Social Services, and Jason Clare Shadow Minister for Resources, Trade and Investment. Welcome to both of you. Paul we start with you. No deal reached there. We’re seeing not only is there this division between Labor and the Coalition in regards to energy policy, within the Liberals own ranks the NSW Government cannot agree with your federal counterparts. Why is that?
PAUL FLETCHER: Well let’s be clear, at the COAG Energy Ministers meeting this week there was a very important agreement in relation to the reliability framework. So it’s so important that we keep the lights on. That’s something we’ve always taken for granted in Australia, but as we saw in South Australia a few years ago you can’t take it for granted anymore. That’s why we’re focused on reliability, so there’s agreement on the reliability framework. We also focused on getting prices down and we’re going to see significant price reductions up to 15 percent from AGL, Origin and other players from 1 January this year. Of course we’re also focused on meeting Paris targets 26 percent reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels and we’re well on track to do that.
GEOGHEGAN: But the NSW Energy Minister seems to disagree with that assessment. He’s saying not enough is being done to reach those Paris targets.
FLETCHER: Well we’re tracking it constantly in fact an important report came out yesterday on greenhouse gas accounting which showed that we’re making solid progress towards our 2030 target and indeed over 160 million tonnes. We have reduced the gap that we have to meet this year compared to last year. So we’re making very solid progress. By the early 2020s the National Electricity Market will have reached that 26 percent reduction and electricity is a very significant proportion of our overall emissions. So we’re making very solid progress but at the same time we’re focused on getting prices down getting major legislative tools in place to be able to do that. So we’ve got a plan across the board for lower electricity prices of course meeting our international targets and securing reliability that’s so important because energy is really at the core of any modern economy.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Just really briefly before we bring in Jason on the ALP’s policy on that, why is Angus Taylor digging his heels in on this? With respect to the emissions obligation why won’t he go there? Because the numbers that are being espoused by the Government about reaching these Paris targets at a canter refer to the electricity sector. It’s not the entire economic sector.
FLETCHER: So a couple of points. The electricity sector is the largest sector in terms of our emissions.
ROBINSON: A little over 50 percent isn’t it?
FLETCHER: It’s in the 30s. But then if you look at other sectors like land use, land use clearing and forestry we’re making very good progress there and we have plans across a range of other areas as well. So we need to have plans across all of them to meet that 2030 target. But we do have plans and as I say the figures that came out yesterday show we’re making very solid progress towards that. At the same time it’s so important that we get energy prices down because energy is so key to our economy. Labor by contrast is recklessly committing to a 45 percent reduction and a 50 percent renewable energy target then the likely consequences of that as we saw in South Australia just a few years ago is the energy system becoming less reliable and prices jumping. Energy in South Australia consumer prices are higher than anywhere else.
GEOGHEGAN: Jason what are you saying to State and Territory Labor Governments? Are you saying just hold on for a moment, tread water until the next election where the assumption is from your point of view that you would likely win – if the polls are right – that you should wait until that moment and then we’ll have some clarity on energy policy?
JASON CLARE: Well I think all of the states are looking for a Federal Government to provide some leadership here and that’s what they were calling on this week. You can see when even the NSW Liberal Government is attacking the Federal Liberal Government, saying they’re out of touch and that their policies are increasing prices then you know that there’s a problem here.
Paul mentioned this report that came out this week. What it shows is that the Government is not on track to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2030. They’ve been in Government now for almost six years and prices have just gone up and up. It was the Liberals that privatised the electricity network, and ever since we’ve seen prices go up.
One of the most disappointing parts of this year was there was a chance to fix this once and for all. Paul and I’ve been in Parliament now for a bit over a decade. Our two parties have been fighting about this for all of those 10 years. The NEG –while it wasn’t perfect – it was a good opportunity. It was a chance to try and settle this, provide some certainty for industry to invest in the type of generation that we need. Unfortunately it was scuttled. Malcolm Turnbull was kicked out and as a result of that you’ve got the NSW Liberals attacking the Federal Liberals,  Malcolm Turnbull saying you can’t trust the Liberals on energy or climate change policy and even Kerry Schott who was appointed to put in place this policy saying that the Liberals can’t do the job.
ROBINSON: How big a problem is Adani for Bill Shorten for the upcoming election, given that we saw Adani protestors at the beginning of the ALP conference last weekend? When you’ve got 80 percent of Labor voters saying that new coal mines are no longer in the national interest, yet Bill Shorten supports Adani.
CLARE: Well the Adani coal mine’s much smaller now than it was ever intended to be. It was originally going to be a 60 million tonne mine, now it’s going to be something like 10 million tonnes. So it’s smaller than many other mines across the country. So I think people are looking at it again they’re thinking that it’s going to be a different scale. We’ve always said that taxpayers shouldn’t put any money into building the Adani coal mine. The Federal Government wanted to put money in to build the rail line from the mine to the port. We said no, and because of the steps we took they’ve now abandoned that. I think that’s the right approach. Most Australians would say if the mine is going to go ahead then taxpayers shouldn’t fund it.
GEOGHEGAN: Okay. Let’s take a broader picture now. Given the federal election that’s just around the corner both of you will be seeking re-election obviously. Paul let me start with you on a policy front how are you going to win the next election?
FLETCHER: Well there is a very clear contrast at this election between a Labor Party which wants to impose $200 billion of new taxes. For example want to increase capital gains taxes, remove negative gearing for housing. And what we’ve got is a plan to reduce personal income taxes over time through to 2024/25. We’ve already delivered lower taxes for companies. So we’re also about building a strong economy. MYEFO this year – the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook – sorry for the jargon, showed that by 2019/20 we’re on track to get the budget back to surplus. Now why is that important? It’s because a strong economy can fund the social services that Australians depend on, including what I’m responsible for as Minister for Family and Social Services, National Disability Insurance Scheme. We’ll be spending $22 billion a year on that by –
GEOGHEGAN: it’s certainly been fortuitous for you though, hasn’t it because government revenue has increased off the back of those mining royalties?
FLETCHER: It has not been fortuitous. When Labor is in government they are always in deficit. The budget always falls apart. When we are in government we have to do the hard work of repairing Labor’s mess. It happened with the Howard Government and that’s what we’ve been doing since we came in since 2013 and we have worked very, very hard to get spending under control so that we can get to this point in 2019/20 when we can have a surplus. Why does that matter? Not of itself what it matters and why it matters is so that we can fund schools we can fund roads, we can fund hospitals, we can fund social services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. All of that depends upon a strong budget a strong economy. Our side of politics has the track record and delivering that and the point we’ve been making to the Australian people is don’t put that at risk.
ROBINSON: Just before we leave that point Paul, is there a concern though that these messages that the Coalition is trying to get ahead, has been drowned out by these scandals that have engulfed the Party. You started the year with a scandal and unfortunately ended the year with a scandal, while bringing the spotlight back onto women in politics as well.
FLETCHER: I think the Australian people are well able to decide what are the issues that they want to weigh up in choosing who is going to form government, and the assessment is what’s the track record in terms of a stronger economy, strong national security, strong border protection of course. We’ve seen Mr Shorten the last two or three weeks agree to an approach which will greatly weaken offshore processing and greatly weaken border protection. A real risk of the boats starting up again. So the Australian people will decide. I think what the issues are.
ROBINSON: On that border protection. We saw some headlines out today Jason that the Australian people 49 percent of voters are backing Scott Morrison on his border protection and to Paul’s point they’re less backing. Bill Shorten with that medical evacuation component in border protection which some fear could open up the trade for people smugglers again.
CLARE: We were very clear at the Conference that we’ll support turn backs and continue to support offshore processing. We’ve worked cooperatively with the Government on all of the national security legislation that’s been put before the Parliament over the course of the last five or six years. It’s required a lot of amendments because the Government have got it wrong at first start, but with cooperative work by the Parliamentary Committees we’ve been able to fix that legislation.
But your point about the sex scandals that have plagued this Government. We started the year with Barnaby Joyce and his sex scandal, we’ve ended the year with another one with the James Bond – Hong Kong type sex scandal, and in the middle you had the coup which took out Paul’s mate Malcolm Turnbull. These are the things that voters think about when they think about who they’re going to vote for at the next election. They’re thinking about a Government which is divided fighting with themselves. You’ve got effectively a civil war between two groups in the Liberal Party.
With each week it’s falling apart. It’s like they’ve got some form of political leprosy, and there is a lot of people I’m sure at this time of the year that are pretty tired, pretty angry with Australian politics and despairing about the state of this Government.

GEOGHEGAN: Just briefly before we go Paul, can we come back to that point of the economy you going to run on that obviously, ‘with a Coalition Government you’ve got a strong economy’ but do you think that really cuts that these days with people? They assume that’s a given as you’ve got low interest rates. There hasn’t been a recession for at least a generation. Why is that important to people when they see that their wages are not increasing, is that not the point Paul?
FLETCHER: The economy of itself is not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is the social services that Australians depend upon that require a strong economy and strong budget management. Things like putting new drugs on the PBS or the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
GEOGHEGAN: But your line has been jobs and growth, we’re not going to see jobs and growth as a slogan for the next election then?
FLETCHER: we’ve been very clear. It’s about a stronger economy. It’s about keeping Australian safe. It’s about bringing Australians together, rather than trying to divide them and set Australians against each other as unfortunately Mr Shorten seems to want to do.
CLARE: You know the big problem here is that Australians aren’t feeling any better off. Wages have been flat at the same time as electricity prices have been going up, petrol prices have been going up. This week we had private insurance premiums go up by about another three and a half percent. So you would expect a lot of people that are sitting around today as they think about what they’re going to buy in those last minute Christmas presents. There’s less money in their purse or their wallet than they would like to have because we haven’t seen wages go up. And so when the Government talks about how great things are there’s a lot of people I’m sure that’ll be shrugging their shoulders and say ‘not for me’.