Topics: 2030 climate change targets; Coal mining; Australia – France – USA relationship;
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham joins us now Minister for Finance and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Simon Birmingham, well, we haven’t got a figure from Penny Wong, but she’s promising that we will have one before the next election. Whatever you took, it wasn’t big enough.
Simon Birmingham: Well, David, you know what we are taking to Glasgow and what the Prime Minister has outlined is that Australia is on track to meet and beat our 2030 target, which was set some years ago at trying to achieve between 26 and 28 per cent reduction of emissions by 2030. We are formally updating the projections on that to now be between 30 and 35 per cent reduction. So once again, Australia’s not only meeting the commitments we’ve made to the world, but we’re exceeding them. The Prime Minister’s also outlined the fact that we are signing up to the net zero by 2050 long term commitments and targets, and that’s an important change. He’s doing that underpinned by more than $20 billion worth of investment in specific policies-
David Bevan: But if you’re on your way to 30 to 35 per cent reduction by the year 2030, that’s still eight years away. Why don’t you at least say we’re going to make 35 per cent our target? We know we can achieve that. It’s realistic. What did you at least up your target to 35 per cent? Well, why don’t you be ambitious and say, look, if we’re reaching 35 per cent, we’ve got eight years, why don’t we make it 40 per cent?
Simon Birmingham: David, it’s absolutely our aspiration as it always is to exceed our target, that’s what Australians managed to do each and every time. So the Kyoto commitment period, number one and number two, we beat our targets, the Paris one, we’re on track to beat our target and we will stretch to beat it by as much as we possibly can. That’s Australia’s track record. It’s not one of words, it’s actually one of action of getting it done. And we get it done through investments and out of the $20 billion we’re spending between now and 2030, that’s more than $1.2 billion on hydrogen hubs. It’s around $5 billion on Snowy 2.0. It’s funding for large scale solar, the transformation of heavy industries, steel and aluminium. Of support for infrastructure in E vehicles. These are all specific commitments that are designed to keep driving Australia’s emissions down, but crucially, to do it through technological transformation to achieve low cost ways of doing things in the future with low emissions. Because that’s the only way we’re going to get countries like Indonesia, who have just signed a partnership agreement-
David Bevan: What is it, can you explain to our listeners? And there might be a very good reason for this Simon Birmingham. Can you explain to our listeners why you baulk at having an increased target for 2030 if you’re already ahead of where you wanted to be? What is it about the target that scares the government?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we already set our target as a government, we did that-
David Bevan: Yeah, but you’re beating it, so you might as well and the world’s getting hotter. Why don’t you just up it?
Simon Birmingham: Why don’t we focus on deeds, actions and outcomes, which is what Australia is achieving. We have reduced our emissions in the country by more than 20 per cent already, which is more than New Zealand. It’s more than Canada. It’s more than many other countries who tend to get lauded at times in some of these debates in Australia. We’re on track to beat the commitments that we had already made for 2030 and to achieve, as I say, between 30 and 35 per cent. And our intention is to try to stretch to the highest end of that range as much as we possibly can. That’s going to achieve outcomes here.
David Bevan: Penny Wong.
Penny Wong: Yeah. You asked exactly the right question, which is why-
David Bevan: You liked that question?
Penny Wong: I do. Oh, I didn’t mind your question. You just didn’t like my answer. You know, you asked exactly the right question. If you’re going to achieve 35 per cent, why won’t you adjust the target? Why are you using weasel words like aspiration and projection? You know what, the actual answer is that Simon won’t give. Because Barnaby Joyce, the deputy prime minister and the National Party, won’t sign up to it. It is entirely a political reason. There is no policy reason, there is no economic reason, and that says everything about the lack of genuineness in the government’s plan.
David Bevan: Okay, well. You’ve answered Simon Birmingham’s question. Maybe I can get Simon Birmingham to answer yours. Simon Birmingham.
Penny Wong: You’re going to give him a dixer so he can have a go? [Laughs]
David Bevan: Well, hang on, you just answered his question. You say the reason he won’t increase his target because you can’t get Barnaby onside. Simon Birmingham, why do you think Penny Wong won’t announce a 2030 target?
Simon Birmingham: Look, frankly, David, it is for Penny Wong. If she if she thinks we should be saying it’s at least 35 per cent, then I would have thought that would be the baseline that Labor would set. But that is a matter for the Labor Party. From the government’s perspective we’re focussed on action and investment and making sure that we’re actually getting outcomes and Australia has a good story to tell in terms of outcomes. Ours is a difficult part. There’s absolutely no doubt that as a country, we face bigger challenges than many others around the world. But if we can meet the challenges of changing technology in Australia, then that can provide solutions that will help countries like India or Indonesia or China or Russia to make changes themselves sooner than they’re currently projecting to. If we don’t get them on board by acting sooner, which will require those technological changes, then we’re not going to get the outcomes of the globe that we all want.
David Bevan: Now, we’re going to quickly run out of time. Well we do need to ask you about the Macron, Biden, Morrison bromance, which is falling apart. But David’s got a quick question for both of you. Hello, David.
Caller David: Good morning, David. Look, both speakers seem to have a number phobia, so I’ve got a question for Senator Wong as the alternative government. Give us a date at which the last piece of coal gets exported from Australia. And don’t worry, there are no working class Queensland voters listening in. We’re in a safe space here.
David Bevan: Penny Wong.
Penny Wong: Well, there is no fixed date. And but the reality is as much as you know, the coalition will run a scare campaign. The reason even Scott Morrison with Barnaby Joyce, his deputy, has had to move on climate is because as major economies around the world, as the global economy moves to a more carbon constrained world, that is going to have an effect on many Australian exports. And we have to prepare for that. So it’s not a question of other political demands or scare campaigns. It’s a question of making sure we recognise that there will be a direct effect on the Australian economy and Australian jobs of a world that is making changes. And we saw what the G20 commitment was in relation to fossil fuels and coal fired power. That means we’ve got to make sure we transition our economy. I mean, it’s the economic imperative that has meant a government like Scott Morrison’s, you know, with people like Barnaby Joyce in it have finally at least moved to pretend they want to do something about climate.
David Bevan: Do you agree with the target set by Boris Johnson for closing down coal mining?
Penny Wong: Is that a question to me?
David Bevan: No, no. To you, Penny Wong? I mean-
Penny Wong: No, look, I mean, I think the reality is Australia signed up to the G20 communique, which speaks both about coal and fossil fuels more broadly. I think we have to recognise that the global markets are moving. So this is an issue of us preparing for that. And that’s why renewables are so important and we know there are enormous job opportunities in the regions. Enormous export opportunities from renewables, and we need to do more to harness that. When we were in government, I quadrupled the renewable energy target, and that’s one of the reasons we’re in the position we are today in terms of renewable energy in Australia, and we outperformed the best expectations.
David Bevan: Moving on to Macron and Joe Biden. Simon Birmingham. Joe Biden. He’s not exactly showing himself as much of a pal, is he? I think that’s how he described Scott Morrison when he couldn’t remember his name, he called him my pal. He has trouble remembering the PM’s name and after being a willing participant in the submarine deal which stiffed the French, he throws us under a bus by saying, oh, it was handled so clumsily.
Simon Birmingham: Well David, look I’m not going to run commentary in terms of what the US President says. We value the relationship with the US and the AUKUS partnership that we entered into with the US and the UK is not just about getting the technology and the build happening in Adelaide as nuclear-powered submarines, but it’s also about a range of other technology platforms that will be able to share greater knowledge of over the years ahead in terms of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, a range of different things that we will pursue together. And that’s why it was such an important partnership to strike and will provide decades of benefits. Long after the type of couple of days of debate we’re having at present have subsided. And that’s really what the strategic interest for Australia are. Having two trusted, valued partners who are willing to share some of their deepest technological secrets and knowledge with us, and to help ensure that our Defence Forces can do the best possible job for the future.
David Bevan: Penny Wong. Joe Biden did throw Scott Morrison under the bus, didn’t he? Saying handled so clumsily, I mean, Joe Biden, I mean, surely, he knew what the deal was that he was signing up for?
Penny Wong: Well, I think what we are seeing is Mr Morrison’s dishonesty catching up with him. And much more importantly, it’s hurting the country. We know Mr Morrison’s character. We know he’s loose with the truth. We know he stubbornly denies mistakes and that his reflex is to furiously attack rather than to accept responsibility. But the US President, getting into a dispute with the US president and the way that he has is extraordinarily risky for Australia, and it is damaging to a relationship that has been strong through parties, both parties of government. The most concerning thing about the papers today is that one journalist has been shown a national security document in order, that sets out a timeline, in order to try and undermine the US president’s public comments. Now it’s probably illegal. It’s certainly improper. But most importantly, on what possible planet is that a good idea? First, they are our most important strategic ally. Second, we are wanting to work with them to get access to highly classified nuclear technology. So why the Prime Minister, his office or someone in the government thought it was a good idea to give a journalist a national security document in order to try and make a political point is beyond me and I think beyond most Australians. You know, we’ve seen somebody a leader previous in recent times who was prepared to trash alliances and partnerships for personal political interest, and his name was Donald Trump. This is now the behaviour, regrettably, we appear to be seeing from Mr Morrison.
David Bevan: You’re referring to the article that’s on the front page of the Australian today. How Biden, knew the plan all along.
Penny Wong: Correct.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham. How do you respond to that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, David, it’s not clear to me from that story that any document has been has been shared or the like, and I can’t speak to the source of what the journalism had. It’s a US based journalist-
Penny Wong: Oh, come on. It says a document negotiating the secret between the NSC and Australian officials. Simon, how can you defend the indefensible? How can you defend the indefensible?
Simon Birmingham: It’s a US based journalist that has written that story-
Penny Wong: Alright, now you’re going to blame the Americans that’s [inaudible]-
Simon Birmingham: If you let me finish a sentence, Penny. It’s a US based journalist, all I can say is that, as the Prime Minister has, which is that the US administration was kept up to date with our conversations and discussions with different partners as we went through that process. But we’re not interested in a war of words in relation to any of these things. What we believe we’ve done is pursue the nation’s long term interests in terms of a policy position here that will better secure the technology, the capability for our defence forces for decades to come. The sharing of information that’s necessary and that as I say, is the decades long benefit that we seek to achieve rather than the war of words of today, that I can understand why oppositions want to pursue that war of words and extend them out. But that’s not what we’re after at the end of the line.
David Bevan: Well, hang on Simon Birmingham. You’ve got Joe Biden saying the deal was handled clumsily. Scott Morrison says, I don’t think so. And then a document turns up, which shows and it’s a highly confidential document, 15 pages. It’s on the front page of the Australian, the report, and it shows that indeed, Mr Biden was fully informed of what was going on regarding this deal. So, it’s been leaked to support the Prime Minister’s version of events. Now, some people might say, let’s have more leaked documents, but Penny Wong says we’re going down a dangerous track.
Simon Birmingham: David, as I said, we certainly made sure through the announcement processes between the three partners that there was transparency about who was telling whom, what, when. Because that’s the appropriate way to go through those things. There were lots of different international conversations that had to be had in the day or two leading up to the announcement of AUKUS and in the days following the announcement of AUKUS. And that was appropriate for us to pursue a lot of those international conversations and for our partners. And that would be something that everybody would logically expect to be undertaken and it was in quite a sequential way in terms of reaching out to the different partners across our region and around the world.
David Bevan: But what we’ve got is that we’re finishing 2021 with people that should be allies fighting amongst themselves. That is, Macron is calling our Prime Minister a liar and the President is saying this was handled clumsily. Australia is, it looks like, leaking documents to show that the President should have known if he didn’t know he wasn’t paying attention. I mean, really, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping must be laughing.
Simon Birmingham: David, I think everyone will see that the US, the UK and Australia get on with this partnership and the delivery of it quite strongly, quite seamlessly. That yes, France is disappointed at losing a major contract in that regard. There’d been many discussions about the status of that contract, its cost, its timeliness, the nature of Australian industry content, as well as the discussions that the Prime Minister had with President Macron about the change in capability needs, the difficulties that conventional diesel powered submarines were going to have operating in our region in the future. And ultimately, it was that capability requirement that drove the decision to make a change now to make a change before it was too late to change before we’d gone too far down the French submarine pathway and to make sure that instead we equip our navy and our defence forces in the decades to come with the best possible capability in terms of those nuclear powered submarines. And yes, it was a difficult decision. We always knew there were going to be negative reactions from, particularly the French in terms of the loss of that contract, and that we were going to have to work through those difficulties. And that we will but in decades to come, if the decision that will serve Australia better. And whilst it would have been easier, perhaps not to make that decision and to simply go with the status quo that would have been betraying Australia’s interests and nobody elected us to betray Australia’s interests. People elected us to do the right thing by Australia, and that’s fundamentally what we believe we’ve done.
Penny Wong: Well, how was it in Australia’s interests for you to be seeking to undermine the public comments of an American President?
Simon Birmingham: Penny that is not what we are doing as a government. Our pursuit with the Americans, with the Brits and indeed with all our other partners is about making sure that we work on these policy issues. These outcomes for our nations that are of most profound importance, not worrying about the war of words of today, but the outcomes for decades to come.
Penny Wong: Well, the war of words that you describe is a war of words that Scott Morrison is engaging in. And if anybody who looked at his interviews his, again stubborn, angry, denials. Instead of trying in Australia’s interest to resolve this, the war of words is he is all participating in and fuelling. And it is not helped, by the way, in which we have now. Both in this document sought to undermine the public words of the American President, if it has come from Australians, and by the leaking of texts, text messages or the content of text messages, personal text messages between Mr Morrison and President Macron. This is not the way an Australian leader should behave. He should remember this is not about his personal feelings. It is about the country’s interests and our interests our in trying to manage those two relationships. We need more partners, not fewer.
Simon Birmingham: Countries interests is squarely what drove these decisions and not just the country’s interests this year but interests for a long time to come.
Penny Wong: But not how they are handled, not how you handled them, not now how you’ve handled them, nor how you’ve handled the diplomatic fallout. What is at the forefront, is Mr Morrison’s reflexive, furious attacks on anybody who criticises him and it is a question of his character.
Simon Birmingham: Which I understand is the political lines you will run all the way to the election night. And that’s obviously the approach the Labor Party is going to take in personalising the next election campaign.
Penny Wong: Well, it is on display and, you know, politics aside, and you’ve had to defend the indefensible today. I don’t think anybody would think that the behaviour of the leader of the country over these last few days in how he’s dealt with both President Macron and President Biden is in Australia’s interests.
Simon Birmingham: I don’t think any of your comments this morning, Penny have put politics aside.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham and Senator Penny Wong. This debate might go all the way up to the next election, but we’re upon the 10 o’clock news before we got there, so we’ll have to call it quits. But thank you, thank you for your time.
Penny Wong: [Laughs] Farwell from quarantine, we’re both in quarantine.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks David, thank you, Penny.
Penny Wong: It’s been an interesting-
Simon Birmingham: We have all the time in the world. [Laughs]
David Bevan: Senator Penny Wong, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Leader of the Labor Party in the Senate, and Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Thank you for your time.