Date: Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Topic(s): Financial assistance; National Plan; Net Zero emissions

Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for joining AM. You’re winding back payments when 70 and 80 per cent vaccination targets are met. Are you deliberately trying to discourage the states from keeping lockdowns in place beyond those targets now?

Simon Birmingham: Certainly not Sabra. What we’ve seen is that New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT have all outlined transition plans and that is very much welcomed. We’re acting in accordance with the Doherty Institute modelling that we commissioned as a government that shows how at 70 per cent, the nation is able to start managing COVID-19 in different ways and certainly by 80 per cent double vaccination, we’re in territory where you can really look at this as being managed. Not identical to the flu certainly, but analogous at least to it in terms of the types of approaches that can be taken and a different way compared with what we’ve had to do previously.

Sabra Lane: What about direct business support? Some states like Tasmania and Queensland, say that they won’t lift restrictions until 90 per cent of the population is double vaccinated. Hundreds of businesses will struggle, especially here, given that international borders won’t lift for a long time.

Simon Birmingham: We’re seeing vaccination rates that are really very impressive by now global standards in terms of the number of first doses being achieved in some of the leading Australian states. And if you look at that oldest age cohort, the over 70s who have had access for the longest, they’re pushing up around the 94 per cent rate for first doses. So I think we should have high confidence that we’re going to achieve some very high vaccination rates, business support in New South Wales, in Victoria and the ACT, we’re talking with those governments where there have been ongoing measures in place, with other states and territories we’ve done targeted supports to targeted industries and that’s the way that we’ve been able to help them through these times of disruption. But again, we should have confidence that all states can achieve very high rates that should enable them to take the steps towards opening and normalisation.

Sabra Lane: The New South Wales government today has announced its set a climate target of halving emissions by 2030. It had earlier promised 35 per cent. This is a policy from a Coalition Government. It’s got a Deputy Premier who’s a national has gone through cabinet with nationals so they can set an ambitious target. Do you need to ask the Premier what her secret sauce is for getting the Nats on board?

Simon Birmingham: Lowering emissions isn’t achieved by any single entity or any single industry area. This is about ensuring we have right across the Australian economy, actions being undertaken to get lower emissions, and I welcome ambition by other industry groups, by state and territories that contribute towards Australia meeting and exceeding our emissions reductions goals, as we’ve done already, Australia’s reduced…

Sabra Lane: Let’s talk about how they’ve gone about it. You’ve got a Deputy Premier who last year said lowering emissions would mean the end of mining and agriculture, and now he’s on board with this very ambitious target. They’ve managed to get the Nationals on board. Federally, you’ve got a hell of a fist fight happening with this stuff. We’re going to ask them how they’ve done it.

Simon Birmingham: The right questions are being asked and it’s important the right questions are asked: how do we achieve lower emissions whilst protecting Australian jobs, whilst protecting Australian regions? And they’re the questions we have always asked as Liberal and National governments, and we will continue to do so and come up with the answers that deliver on that. It’s why we’re pursuing such significant investment in areas of hydrogen policy to create new industries, to support new regional jobs and to ensure we can transition towards net zero and achieve the targets we want. It’s why we.

Sabra Lane: You’re avoiding, you’re avoiding the…

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m trying to talk to policy rather than the politics Sabra.

Sabra Lane: But the politics is, I mean, the policy you’re trying to push ahead with and you have for a long time, because you’ve been a moderate on this issue and you’ve wanted to see action. You’ve got the Nationals. You’ve got a Cabinet National Minister Bridget McKenzie flaying Josh Frydenberg yesterday saying he’s trying too hard to be cool in the worst kind of vacuous over values on this stuff. That is really damaging coming from a cabinet colleague.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I want to make sure that every single one of us focus on the fact that driving towards net zero is the right thing to do for the environment, for managing climate change as a global policy. Doing so in terms of the economy is the right thing for Australia to be able to pursue those new areas of economic activity, such as hydrogen or indeed greener steel, green aluminium. These are big sectors that need transition and the targets our government, the stretch targets and goals we’ve developed for these types of sectors and are investing in, is how we will guarantee their viability into the future. And it’s also important

Sabra Lane: I know the audience listening to this will say he is avoiding the question here and you are by not even talking about the Nationals, is that the message that you’re sending to the rest of the country? Their noises, their comments, their criticism on this should just be ignored.

Simon Birmingham: Certainly not because, as I said before, the right questions are being asked, those right questions about ensuring the policies we’re pursuing to get to net zero are ones that protect regional jobs. We, as Liberals want that our National Party counterparts want that. Too often you see on the Labor side of politics commitment to targets first and answering questions about jobs after, we are considering these issues in parallel to make sure we can take the strongest possible positions to Glasgow and to those international talks, but also give the strongest possible reassurance to the Australian communities and especially regional communities that we are looking after their interests and their jobs too.

Sabra Lane: If Mr Morrison fails to attend those UN climate talks in Glasgow because he says that he’s got other priorities. Will, that just fuel a perception in the community. Or does it feed this credibility problem with everyday Australians thinking he just doesn’t get it? Doesn’t care?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it shouldn’t, because Australia’s Prime Ministers, be they Labor or Liberal, attending international climate talks like this has been the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, right around the world, there more often than not attended by ministers, not leaders of government, but we’ll make sure we have the strongest possible representation. It’s the Prime Minister’s only just returned from overseas. He’s doing yet another 14 days of isolation.

Sabra Lane: And just on that point, he did a briefing yesterday for backbenchers online, a virtual briefing for them about emissions cuts. Afterwards yesterday, some of those attendees reportedly said that cuts were not only possible, but essential, and that voters might punish governments that don’t get on with this. Is that a sentiment you agree with?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it’s important, again, we tackle this first and foremost for the policy reasons and globally, there’s a very clear argument as to why nations need to drive towards net zero, locally, domestically within Australia, there are very sound economic reasons for us to invest in these areas of transition. It’s also important to our international relations…

Sabra Lane: And if you don’t, the voters punish you?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I think I hear as I move around the community very strong sentiment from people who want to see us continue to pursue the technology, not taxes approach, but do that with the ambition of getting to net zero. And that’s been welcomed in many quarters. And I want to make sure that we continue to do that in the way that protects those regional jobs, but gets the best possible outcomes right across our transition platform.

Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for talking with AM.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Sabra.