Date: Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Topic(s): Financial Assistance; National Plan; Net Zero emissions

Michael Rowland: Simon Birmingham, good morning to you. Firstly, why now?

Simon Birmingham: Morning Michael? Sorry Michael, what was the question there?

Michael Rowland: Why have you decided to start tapering off the payments when 70 and 80 per cent thresholds are reached?

Simon Birmingham: Well, because it’s consistent with the scientific research of the Doherty Institute and modelling, because indeed it’s consistent as well with the fact that New South Wales, Victoria, ACT have all started to outline their different roadmaps and importantly, the support for individuals under the COVID disaster payment, which is running at around $1 billion a week in costs, will continue through between 70 per cent and 80 per cent. Individuals will only need to move to a process of reapplying each week for that assistance, but then at 80 per cent, it tapers off over a period of a few weeks and we then still have the normal social safety net payments that are in place for individuals in addition to ongoing measures such as our loss carry back arrangements for businesses or some of the targeted measures that have been implemented, such as for the aviation industry.

Michael Rowland: Now we have some pushback already this morning, the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is pointing out that a long lockdown the effects of lockdown will linger for many workers who may be thrown into the brink after two weeks of after 80 per cent has reached. Where do those people get the ongoing help?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we have all of the usual social safety net arrangements in Australia, but we also have the lived experience of previous COVID outbreaks and the cessation of the JobKeeper programmes previously where before we had these COVID outbreaks, the Delta strains in Victoria and New South Wales, and we actually had an economy that was running with higher levels of employment than had been the case pre-COVID, with record levels of participation across the workforce. And with record lows being driven in terms of unemployment rates. So the fundamentals of our economy are clearly very strong and the labor market demand we’ve seen coming out of lockdown circumstances and restrictions before has equally been very, very strong.

Michael Rowland: Now looking at the national road map, as you know, the Doherty modelling does forecast the potential of it. Hopefully, it’s just the potential of localised lockdowns. Even after 80 per cent, what happens to areas hit by localised lockdowns, potentially in the future, in terms of workers being thrown out of jobs?

Simon Birmingham: So, yes, there is that that forecasting of potentially very localised, very targeted arrangements now we have in place ongoing support that will be there in relation to those who need to isolate. And so we’re leaving that in place all the way through until July next year as a certainty measure there of ongoing assistance in those particular cases of isolation requirements. Then there are those standard measures of support across the Australian economy of the social safety net, as well as the ability clearly of states and territories, if there are particularly targeted and localised actions for them to target localised responses in relation to that which, when they are so tightly targeted, are most effectively and appropriately done at that state and territory level.

Michael Rowland: Okay. Ah, moving to climate change, causing a fair bit of tension between the Libs and the Nats federally. And we’re joined very shortly by the New South Wales Energy Minister Matt Kean to talk about the New South Wales government upping its ambitions. It’s now pledging to halve its emissions by 2030. It rather dwarfs the Federal Government’s 2030 target, doesn’t it? Are you embarrassed by that?

Simon Birmingham: Not at all, Michael. You know, we believe that Australia is on track to meet its 2030 targets and indeed to exceed those 2030 targets, which is welcome, and that’s not done because of the action of any one entity. Business, industry or state or territory or federal government. It is the cumulative efforts right across the country that have driven our emissions 20 per cent lower since 2005 and will keep driving them down. And we welcome ambition, particularly ambition accompanied by plans. And those plans need to always support not just lower emissions, but also the transition of jobs and the support of regional areas of Australia.

Michael Rowland: Where’s the Federal Government’s ambition? Why won’t you up your 2030 target?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, we said our 2030 target a number of years ago as part of our commitment under the Paris Agreement.

Michael Rowland: New South Wales governments set their target some time ago, but they have shown you can be agile, you can change your target.

Simon Birmingham: Michael, our targets were put in place as part of the Paris Agreement, Our ambition is to exceed those targets as we’ve been very clear, so the targets are certainly not a ceiling. They are a floor in terms of what Australia seeks to do. And unlike many other countries of the world, we’ve got a track record in that regard for our Kyoto one targets and our Kyoto two targets, we met and exceeded both of them. Our ambition is to exceed the Paris targets and commitments like those that New South Wales are making will help Australia to over achieve in that regard. And that then drives us closer and further towards those net zero ambitions that we wish to see realised as well. But again, there realised not just by promises, they’re realised by actions in terms of our investment in hydrogen, our investment in clean soils and carbon soils. Our investment in areas that actually achieve the transition to lower emissions. And it’s crucial that those investments in sectors like that are geared towards achieving jobs growth and jobs certainty across areas of regional Australia, which is really where our focus is lying and getting net zero, but also job protection.

Michael Rowland: Do you support net zero by 2050?

Simon Birmingham: Michael, yes, I want to see that achieved, I want to make sure we achieve it… [interrupted]…

Michael Rowland: … so you back the government setting a target?

Simon Birmingham: …and the Prime Minister has been very clear he wants to see net zero achieved, preferably by 2050.

Michael Rowland: Preferably, but he hasn’t set a target. You back the Prime Minister coming out and saying potentially before Glasgow, if he goes, the federal government will commit to net zero by 2050.

Simon Birmingham: Michael, I’ll keep my personal views there for the cabinet discussions we will have, which will take, I am confident, a very strong position to Glasgow that highlights not only Australia’s achievement to date, but our record levels of investment in the new technologies that will get us to net zero. And I want to see Australia achieve that by 2050 and do so by continuing to invest in technology, not taxes. And we’re having the right debate and discussion at present, which is not just one about targets, but also crucially about those policies that support jobs and regional communities so that we can set those targets and give confidence to jobs and employment, at the same time…

Michael Rowland: You don’t have a view.

Simon Birmingham: Michael, I have very strong views.

Michael Rowland: Susan Ley, your cabinet colleague, was on the show this time yesterday, she came out point blank and said, yes, she supports 2050. Why can’t you say yes or no?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, as I said, I want to see us achieve net zero. I want to see us make commitments to get there. I also want to make sure that I bring all of my colleagues so far as possible with us on that journey. And by bringing them with us, it’s because we’re bringing the community with us, because we’re implementing policies not just in areas of hydrogen or soils, but also in terms of clean green steel manufacturing, green aluminium manufacturing. These are the type of stretch goals and targets we have set as a government already. Knowing that you don’t achieve net zero just through a commitment or a promise to net zero, you achieve it through new technology, investment in those technologies that transform those industries. We’re doing that at record levels now. That’s driving our emissions down already, and we need to get those breakthroughs in those new areas to drive the emissions down to reach net zero, which is the right thing for us to do globally as part of a commitment to addressing climate change. And it’s the right thing for us to do economically as a nation, as part of the transition of jobs from industries that will be affected by actions right around the world who need to see growth in those new economy sectors that are going to get us to net zero.

Michael Rowland: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Michael, my pleasure.