Interview on ABC 891, Breakfast with David Bevan
Malcolm Turnbull; Energy policy; Gareth Evans comments on the US and China




David Bevan:               Well it’s Wednesday which means it’s time for super Wednesday when we gather Federal MP’s from South Australia. Movers and shakers Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, joins us, good morning Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham:     Good morning David Bevan.

David Bevan:               Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston, and expecting, I expect, to be part of a Shorten Government after May, good morning Amanda Rishworth.

Amanda Rishworth:     Good morning David, great to be with you.

David Bevan:               You refuse to count those chickens before they hatch, don’t you?

Amanda Rishworth:     We always refuse to count the chickens. Elections and politics as you’ve seen is fast moving.

David Bevan:               Cory Bernardi, Australian Conservatives and Senator from South Australia, good morning to you.

Cory Bernardi:             Hi David, how are you?

David Bevan:               Let’s start with Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham is Malcolm Turnbull a hypocrite?

Simon Birmingham:     I’m not going to label names on anybody, Malcolm Turnbull is a friend, former Prime Minister, former leader, now he’s out of the parliament now, I’m still here, I’m a Cabinet Minister and I’m focussed on things like the energy security policy announcements that we made yesterday to hold the energy companies to account and to put consumer interests first and to make sure that small businesses and families can get lower power prices.

David Bevan:               Well Evan Mulholland who writes in the Sydney Morning Herald today who was a candidate in the Victorian state election, said that by publically calling on Prime Minister Morrison to bring forward the federal election and intervening in Liberal Party factional matters, Turnbull is allowing his legacy to become entangled in the same personal bitterness and vitriol he so despised as Prime Minister.  It is an act of woeful hypocrisy.

Simon Birmingham:     And look people can write whatever the hell they want in newspapers, it’s a free world. In the end I’m not going to get drawn into commentary on these things because that only feeds it endlessly and the public are sick to death of it.  They are sick to death of commentary on these sorts of matters. They want to know their politicians, their members of Parliament, particularly their Ministers are focussed on the job at hand.  As Trade and Tourism Minister, I’ve got plenty to do in my portfolio, as a Cabinet Minister I’m focussed on the types of policies the Government’s progressed this week with some of the most far reaching and substantial legislation to tackle dysfunction in our energy markets that the country’s seen – that’s the priority of the day – that’s where we are going to keep our focus and energy.

David Bevan:   Well you mention energy.  Didn’t Turnbull dump the NEG just before he was dumped as leader and now he’s arguing for the government to adopt it?

Simon Birmingham:     I think that’s an accurate assessment of the history of decisions there, of course the actions that we are taking with the new legislation that provides a big stick approach to tackling energy companies, our policy decisions that were started under Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet, they’ve been continued now under Scott Morrison’s Cabinet and what we are doing is putting in place new provisions as penalties for energy companies, requirements that for example the big gentailers those who are generators and retailers who dominate the market in SA can’t then manipulate the market by withholding supply or contracts to other retailers who should be able to come in and compete by drawing on their generation sources.

David Bevan:               Ok, but I got the history right didn’t I?  Turnbull dumped the NEG just before he was dumped as leader?

Simon Birmingham:     You’ve asked the question and I gave you a very straight answer David.

David Bevan:   Yeah ok, well it’s just that I’ve got to ask it again because, I find this, it’s breathtaking, and it’s why people according to the polls are abandoning your Coalition Government in droves, but just, just to pause and get our heads around that. He thought it was a good idea, he dumped it then he was dumped as leader and now he’s, from his home, he’s shouting from the sidelines; get back into the NEG. Is it any wonder the Coalition has got a credibility problem on energy?

Simon Birmingham:     Well plenty of constituents across the country shout their views from their homes. That’s the entitlement of every single Australian, is to be able to have their views, what I encourage them to have their views on at present is the policy, is the legislation that the Government is bringing to the Parliament, that we’ve been working on for months that is now going to see big energy companies held to account.  We are not going to stand by and allow hundreds of thousands of Australians to continue to be ripped off, that’s why we’ve worked hard to come up with new provisions that will hold them to account, new penalties, that will be staged and staggered penalties, starting with financial penalties, then orders to comply, ultimately the threat that big energy companies could be broken up if they conducted themselves in such an appalling way as to warrant that. These are significant policy reforms coming to the parliament. And the remarkable thing is that the Labor party sounds like they are going to oppose those reforms. They are going to stand alongside the big energy companies in opposing significant new reforms to make sure they can be held to account rather than backing small business and Australian families to get a fairer deal on their electricity bills.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well I think I’m happy to respond Simon, because of course what you’ve announced yesterday was a backflip.  A backflip after people in your own partyroom again got up and criticised your energy policy and that’s what happened yesterday and so a big stick turned into a small toothpick as of yesterday but of course what you are doing by abandoning the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee, which you proudly defended on many occasions as did the whole of the government is by abandoning that which you said would push down power prices, we’ve heard evidence today that your proposals will push up power prices.  When it came to the NEG every one was on board, everyone was on board, from business to energy to everyone because it would increase supply into the market and you abandoned that because you capitulated to a small group of climate change deniers, as Malcolm Turnbull described them, in the partyrooms, so ah quite frankly this is probably your tenth policy when it comes to energy, and it’s even being disagreed with by members in your own party room.

David Bevan:               Cory Bernardi, do you think Malcolm Turnbull is a hypocrite?

Cory Bernardi:             Oh Malcolm Turnbull is just continuing his campaign to undermine and destroy the Liberal party which he set out like he undermined and destroyed leader after leader after leader, policy after policy, he’s Kevin Rudd with a kayak and a better hair cut –that’s about it.  I mean the Australian people don’t really want to focus on Malcolm Turnbull, they want to focus on the issues and let’s go back to energy for a second – the last ten years in energy policy from the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of politics have resulted in a basket case energy system in Australia and they continue to tinker say we’ve got the solutions, trust us it will be better in the future – and it’s not.  There’s been a huge disservice done to the Australian people by the last decade of politics and both Labor and Liberal are responsible for it. 

David Bevan:               Did you come up with that line by yourself?

Cory Bernardi:             Which one?  About the kayak and the haircut?

David Bevan:                Yes.

Cory Bernardi:             Well you know I’m sitting here listening to Simon drone on and Amanda trying to jump in to defend Labor’s legacy and I’m thinking you know this is a crazy world. Why don’t we talk about the things that are important?  Malcolm Turnbull, went out of his way to damage the Liberal Party.  He undermined every leader – he’s aided and abetted by the very people now who say there’s nothing to see here, let’s move along. Politics has become a circus.

David Bevan:                Ok.

Amanda Rishworth:     Cory, energy has become quite important – energy prices and what Australians are looking for is a long term plan and that’s what Labor’s put forward, not six, seven, eight different policies

Simon Birmingham:     Can we get a straight answer from you, is the Labor party going to oppose or support the government’s legislation we are bringing forward today?

Amanda Rishworth:     We have said – what we have asked you is, let’s get on with the real issue and that is the NEG, let’s get on an actually have a long term plan….

Cory Bernardi:             But you hated the NEG six weeks ago.

Amanda Rishworth:  Long term plan, in which, we need bipartisanship in this country.

David Bevan:               Amanda…

Amanda Rishworth:     We need bipartisanship…

Cory Bernardi:             You capitulated…

David Bevan:               Amanda Rishworth, if I can ask you this?  Amanda Rishworth, you are now embracing the National Energy Guarantee.  Labor was very coy about the NEG just a few weeks ago and you were doing that quite deliberately because you could see that Malcolm Turnbull while he was Prime Minister he was being torn apart on the issue of energy, so rather than give him your full support, yeah, there were a whole lot of caveats, now, now it’s a wonderful Christmas gift that every South Australian must open. 

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, well what we’ve said is we need a bipartisan solution.  Businesses had signed up to the NEG, energy companies had signed up to the NEG, modelling had been done, that had shown it would reduce power prices, so we said yes, it was not the perfect model, but if we were able to get a situation where we could manage emissions reductions, meet our targets and also provide security and downward pressure then we would we would absolutely support it, there were some problems with the design but why won’t Simon Birmingham say look let’s get on with this. Australians do want a long term solution when it comes to energy… he was talking about how good the NEG was so let’s just get on and do….get the bipartisan position.

Cory Bernardi:             David, for the benefit of listeners, bipartisan solution means capitulate to the left – they said that about the emissions trading scheme, the carbon tax, and they keep going on and on and on, it is Labor’s policy or it’s not bipartisan, it’s non-sensical.

David Bevan:               Moving on to another issue, Amanda Rishworth, Gareth Evans, former foreign affairs Labor Minister has urged Bill Shorten to distance Australia from the United States if he becomes Prime Minister and sign up to China’s controversial global infrastructure spending spree.  Do you think that’s a good idea?

Amanda Rishworth:     Well look, our job is, as a government and as an opposition is to make sure we are putting our national interest first.  Of course…

David Bevan:               Well we take that as a given.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, the American alliance has been a long standing alliance that we had both in defence and other cooperative areas in terms of our cooperation on people to people on a whole range of things, at the same time we have been building our relationship with China both economically but also…

David Bevan:               So you agree with Scott Morrison, you can do both?

Amanda Rishworth:     You can absolutely, keep a relationship, a positive relationship with China both economically and diplomatically, but also maintain a strong, historic and long standing relationship with the United States.

David Bevan:               Simon Birmingham, you’re Trade Minister, what do you think of Gareth Evans idea urging Bill Shorten to distance Australia from the United States and sign up to China’s global infrastructure spending?

Simon Birmingham:     Well Australia shouldn’t seek to actively distance itself from any nation unless that nation is guilty of horrible crimes or the like.  We should, with the United States, who is our largest investment partner, continue to have a strong relationship as well as being a key security and defence ally, we should with China who is our largest trading partner ensure we continue to have sound engagement and work to strengthen what is a very good relationship between our two countries and we should keep doing that with every other nation.  We should determine our foreign policy based indeed on what is going to work best for Australia in the future.  We should do it completely independently of anybody else and we certainly shouldn’t be going out there and saying we want to actively distance ourselves from somebody else least of all the country that is the largest flow of investment to, with our nation.

David Bevan:               Just before you leave us, is this the last week of Federal Parliament come Thursday, Friday morning – you’ll be heading home?

Cory Bernardi:             I’m certainly hoping so.

Amanda Rishworth:     Yes, I think Friday, it is although Simon would know better than us.

David Bevan:               And you’ll be glad to see the back of the place? Canberra that is?

Corey Bernardi:           Well, well I think the Australian people will be glad to see us back in our electorates because they are sick of the circus that’s going on up here.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well I’m certainly looking forward to going to a lot of school graduations and Christmas carols but of course for the Australian Labor Party we have a national conference in Adelaide which I’m also very much looking forward to which will build a platform for the election year.

David Bevan:               Cory Bernardi, thank you for…

Simon Birmingham:     And I’m sure I’ll be back in Canberra for Cabinet meetings and the like, and so Canberra won’t be leaving me behind.

David Bevan:                Minister for Trade, Senator Simon Birmingham, Merry Christmas to you and Amanda Rishworth from the Labor Party and Senator Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives, it’s almost six minutes to nine.