Topics: Quarantine requirements; Alex Antic; Emissions reductions targets; Pandemic response;
David Bevan: A big ABC Radio Adelaide welcome to Senator Penny Wong.
Penny Wong: Good morning, David. Good to be with you.
David Bevan: And a big ABC Radio Adelaide welcome to Senator Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David. Good morning, Penny. And good morning all of your ABC Radio Adelaide listeners.
David Bevan: Are you two both in isolation after your week in Canberra?
Penny Wong: No, we got – we had to have a test within 72 hours of departure, so we didn’t have to isolate.
Simon Birmingham: No.
David Bevan: Okay and the same for you, Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Yep, that’s right. The rules as they stood at the time of our return last Thursday night were if you’re fully double vaccinated, we need to have a pre-departure test and for that to be negative and otherwise good to go.
David Bevan: Right and poor old Senator Antic is stuck in a medi hotel?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that appears to be the case, David. All I can say is that I filled out all of my paperwork, provided my vaccine certificate, did all of that in accordance with SA Health requirements and got my tick off to be able to re-enter unimpeded.
David Bevan: But he rightly points out that he’s never had to isolate in the medi hotel before. Is that fair, Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Look, SA Health, obviously, at this point of reopening have recast the rules. Yes, we have previous times in terms of MPs coming to and from Canberra, been able to isolate at home under certain strict rules and criteria about how you do that. But clearly, the rules have changed that means for those who are vaccinated, we’re able to have some greater liberties or freedoms but for those not, there’s a tighter process in place while we undertake this transition.
David Bevan: So, he’s only got himself the blame?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, each of us can make our own decisions. The Government, federally, has always been clear that we, aside from circumstances for the most vulnerable aged care workers, disability workers, health care workers, don’t wish to see mandatory vaccination; that our approach is a voluntary vaccination one, which is driving huge results across the country, but there are consequences that we all have from our choices.
David Bevan: This has evolved though into a question about the Prime Minister’s honesty hasn’t it? Because Senator Antic says he did not mislead the Prime Minister and Scott Morrison says, well he’s effectively said he was misled. So, it’s become a problem for the Prime Minister?
Simon Birmingham: David, look, I can distinctly recall during the sitting fortnight just concluded being in the PM’s office at some point where the PM in conversation about some of the Senate challenges we were facing said well, my understanding is that Gerard, meaning Gerard Rennick from Queensland is not vaccinated, but that Alex is. It was a genuinely held belief of the PM’s based on what he’d been told from conversations his office and others had had. Obviously, it was a misunderstanding in that sense or would appear to be so at least from the fact that Alex is in quarantine. Although, I note he didn’t completely clear that up when you asked him on Friday either.
David Bevan: Penny Wong, it’s just a misunderstanding.
Penny Wong: Well, Mr Morrison told Ali on this station a couple of weeks ago that Senator Alex Antic was double dose vaccinated. He was absolutely clear from what we’ve heard from both Mr Morrison and Senator Antic they can’t both be telling the truth. Alex Antic said on Friday that he had, and I quote, never said anything that I believe would mislead the Prime Minister on any issue. Now, Mr Morrison has claimed he has been misled. So, there’s really two questions; one is who is telling the truth? And secondly, if Mr Morrison says he’s telling the truth, is he going to show some leadership about one of his own people misleading him? I mean, are there consequences for misleading the leader of your party.
David Bevan: What could there be? I mean, seriously, it’s not like he holds a portfolio.
Penny Wong: I think that people here in South Australia would expect that the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, their Prime Minister will tell them the truth and they would expect that if he hadn’t told him the truth, because someone had misled him that he would demonstrate some leadership in relation to the person who had misled him. But at this stage, what we’re left with is the Prime Minister saying one thing, Mr Morrison saying one thing, Senator Antic saying another. They both can’t be telling the truth and I think South Australians are entitled to know who is telling the truth.
David Bevan: Senator Birmingham will there be any consequences for Alex Antic because Penny Wong has presented it in the way that they both can’t be right. One, you either misled or you didn’t mislead. And if you did mislead, well, I don’t know, what would be the consequences? He’s a backbencher. Take him off the Senate ticket?
Simon Birmingham: Well, he’s not due for re-election at the next election either, David. So that’s not a consequence as such that is available either.
David Bevan: Would you like to see him on the Senate ticket?
Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Well, that’s a few years down the track. So we’ll see but-
David Bevan: It’s not a ringing endorsement.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I want people on the Senate ticket who are going to support the Government and vote overwhelmingly with the Government. Ultimately, in the Liberal Party, we grant our Members and Senators the right to cross the floor. That’s a cherished right. It’s one that should be used sparingly and only cautiously where it is really necessary to reflect your values, or the views of your constituents in your electorate. Alex has that right but this approach of simply not turning up to any votes and withholding your vote on everything, regardless of its relevance or of its importance, I think is a concerning one and I think Liberal Party members, Liberal Party supporters, Liberal Party voters do, when they send Liberal Party Members and Senators to Canberra, expect that they will turn up and vote with the team, as much as they possibly can.
David Bevan: So, you’d like to… but if you kick him off now all you’re going to end up with is an independent in the Senate, he’ll be even more out of your control.
Simon Birmingham: As I said, he’s not up for re-election at the next election. So, I hope that he will find a pathway to be able to work with the team, and be a good team player for the rest of his term.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham-
Penny Wong: I think what that shows, if I may, David, is just the deep division inside the Government and the dysfunction of the Government where they’re not even telling each other the truth let alone the Australian people.
David Bevan: Let’s talk about emissions. Simon Birmingham, do you think a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 will damage Australia’s economy?
Simon Birmingham: It’s about the particularly individual businesses targeted – more than 200 businesses on Labor’s list who will be forced to make changes and the extent to which that threatens their business operations, jobs in those businesses, and the risk to that. Emissions in Australia are down more than 20 per cent already. They are tracking to be down by between 30 and 35 per cent which is ahead of the targets the Government had set, and we’re investing heavily to get them to that point. But Labor’s policy appears to take it another step, another leap, which is to force 200-odd of the largest employers in the country to take steps that if they are being forced to take actions that are potentially un-economic or hurt their competitiveness could hurt the jobs of those people, and therefore the economies of those regions.
David Bevan: So, is that a yes?
Simon Birmingham: It’s a genuine risk.
David Bevan: So, the question, do you think a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 will damage Australia’s economy. The answer is yes, from Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Yes, I think that that risk is a real one in relation to those businesses who are going to be forced to take actions that are ahead of what are already strong projections for emissions reductions. Australia’s emissions have been reducing faster than Canada or New Zealand or the United States or Japan. We’ve got a strong track record here. But we’ve been able to do it to date without seeing job losses or threatening the viability of businesses and the plan we’ve outlined as a government to get to net zero by 2050 continues that path of backing technological change and businesses to make those adaptations without forcing them, in the way that Labor appears to be targeting 200 plus of the nation’s biggest employers.
David Bevan: Penny Wong, your party thinks 43 per cent is the sweet spot – but this isn’t about saving the planet, is it? It’s about winning the right number of seats?
Penny Wong: It’s about doing the right thing and making sure we have, as the Business Council have described our plan, a sensible and workable plan to get to net zero by 2050, which is also the Government’s target. The difference is we have a sensible and workable plan and they don’t. I mean, our powering Australia plan, which is the plan that Anthony released with Chris Bowen on Friday, is about creating jobs. It is about cutting your power bills and it is about boosting renewable energy, which will reduce Australia’s emissions. And what the modelling that we have released, the independent modelling shows, is that it will unlock investments, it will create 604,000 new jobs and it will cut annual power bills by around $275 for households, by 2025. And what we have done is sensibly look at where the Government’s projections are and then we have put in place policies which add to that reduction, increasing renewable energy and the reduction in emissions by 2030 and 2050. It’s a plan that’s been backed by the Business Council and the Australian Industry Group. So, what is happening and what we will see happen is Mr Morrison and all of his colleagues will reach for a scare campaign because they really have nothing left. I mean, this is a government after eight years, they’re asking for second decade in power and the only thing they have left is really yet another scare campaign. Well, I don’t think Australians need any more scare campaigns. They need a government which will practically and sensibly work out how it is we change our economy and provide the certainty to business that business is calling for. I mean, at the moment Simon is trying to drum up a scare campaign in his answers to you which is not backed by the very businesses that he says will be affected.
David Bevan: But you look within your own union movement and there are people who are seriously questioning your figures. Jennie George, former ACTU boss, on the front page of The Australian today saying these promises of more than 600,000 jobs are unbelievable. 540,000 of those jobs are indirect. Is that correct? More than half a million of your promised jobs, under the plan to slash emissions, more than half a million are indirect jobs.
Penny Wong: And why is that?
David Bevan: Well, you tell me. It’s your policy.
Penny Wong: I will tell you why it is. Because what is one of the major inputs, cost inputs for businesses in this country? Energy. And we all know energy prices are higher than they need to be because of the uncertainty that has been caused by eight years of dysfunctional Coalition Government and 22 separate energy plans, none of which they have properly implemented.
David Bevan: So, you’re just saying if you lower the cost of power, you’ll get more jobs. So, but how did you pick out the figure of 540,000?
Penny Wong: We didn’t pick it out. Let’s be clear and that’s frankly, not very responsible. We gave one of the country’s most respectable and reputable independent modellers, a set of policies which we worked through with them, and this is their figure. So, I respect Jennie. She’s made a great contribution to the party, but I’m going to back both what the independent modellers say and also what the Business Council say, and the Australian Industry Group, and all of those businesses in this country who are saying, we know we have to reduce emissions. We know we have to boost renewable energy. We know that we can create jobs and grow our economy more if we have clear certainty from the government and that is what a Labor Government will provide.
David Bevan: This will be our last opportunity to talk to you both for 2021 and then next year we’re into election year proper. Can I just put this to you, Penny Wong. Nobody’s going to argue that the Morrison Government is perfect, but Australia has weathered the COVID storm better than most countries. We’ve got one of the lowest death rates, now we’ve got the highest vaccination, one of the highest vaccination rates. We’ve got a very good economic growth, under the circumstances. I mean, where else would you have wanted to have lived in the last two years?
Penny Wong: And where do you want to live in the next few years? I think is also the question. I’d make two points about that. First, we have come through the pandemic well. And that has been because of the magnificent effort of the Australian people. It hasn’t been because of a man who went to Hawaii when Australia was burning. It hasn’t been because of a man who said that vaccinations, we were at the front of the queue, which we know we were not. It hasn’t been because of a man who said it’s not a race, it’s not a competition. And it hasn’t been because of a man who appears to think that he can say anything, at any time, even if it’s not true. This is about the character of the leaders and it is also about the future. And the question Australians will ask themselves is, do I think, you know, the economy is working for me now? Do I think I’m better off if I’m battling high petrol prices, and high energy prices? Or do I think we can do more here in this country? And we’re clear, we’re clear. Our priorities are we want to be renewable energy superpower. We want to make more things here, we want more investment in skills and education, so that Australians can get better jobs, we want more secure work, we want cheaper childcare, we want stronger Medicare and we’ll be campaigning on those and many other issues next year.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, isn’t the challenge for you, that when the Prime Minister gets up and says, ‘people want government to get out of the way’, it’s your lot that’s been in government for the last 10 years. It might seem like a message that will resonate with people, but maybe it’s too tricky by half because when people say yeah, get out of the way, you’re the government.
Simon Birmingham: David, I think it’s pretty clear when he’s talking about that message that he’s acknowledged publicly, that over the last two years there have been lots of things governments have had to do. Us and the states and territories, that ordinarily, we wouldn’t wish to do and we want to make sure that the extraordinary interventions and costs that have been incurred, come to an end, so that we can get back to a greater position of normality. Australia, under our government, with the states and territories and everyone else, particularly Australians and businesses have achieved one of the most exceptional outcomes in the world. We’ve saved some 30,000-plus lives and had one of the lowest fatality rates in developed countries. We’ve now got one of the highest vaccination rates, and one of the most widespread and available booster programs and the early movement to childhood vaccination. We’ve got a top three globally economic performance amongst developed countries, beating many others in terms of the 3.9 per cent growth over the last 12 months. We have seen jobs saved, businesses saved, but it’s still a very uncertain world. The threats within our region, the security threats, the challenges as to where COVID goes in the future, and elsewhere, mean none of that can be taken for granted. And our focus going into the next election isn’t going to be on the type of personal smears that you heard from Penny, as she wants to go after the Prime Minister at a personal level time and time again, as part of Labor’s talking points. We want to focus on keeping Australians safe in their jobs, secure in their lives, and working through the challenges of how we now stabilise the budget, where we can’t afford reckless spending beyond the pressures we already have on delivering for aged care, delivering for disability services and delivering investment in our national security and defence.
David Bevan: It’s going to be a good year, next year. Thanks for your time, Senator Simon Birmingham and Senator Penny Wong.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks David and best wishes to all of you.
Penny Wong: Yeah, Merry Christmas to everybody, happy holidays.
David Bevan: And we’ll see you in the new year. Thanks very much.