Topics: Net zero emissions target


07:35AM AEST


Fran Kelly:  Simon Birmingham is the Finance Minister and Government Leader in the Senate. He joins us in our Parliament House studios. Minister, welcome back to breakfast.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Fran. Great to be with you again.


Fran Kelly: You control the purse strings. How much will this deal with the nationals cost taxpayers?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Fran, this deal involves a couple of components. One is our ongoing investment in relation to achieving net zero by 2050, as we now will strive to do as a nation. And that’s going to see some $80 billion between now and 2030 of combined public and private sector investment necessary across Australia. Wherever possible, we seek to try to drive that investment into some of the areas of the economy. Some of the regional areas that we know will face some of those transition difficulties if other parts of the world change their energy use and their consumption of Australia’s resources. And that’s, for example, why our $1.2 billion hydrogen strategy focuses on the creation of hydrogen hubs and that we anticipate that will support hubs in regions like Gladstone in central Queensland or the Hunter Valley, or the Pilbara regions that have immense potential to benefit from new industries. And that’s where we want to make sure that we target that type of investment and support.


Fran Kelly: Okay. Well, what about the deal with the Nationals? How much is that going to cost? The Nationals, for instance want, we understand a regional infrastructure future fund? Is that the centrepiece of the deal? What will it? What funding stream will it have?


Simon Birmingham: No, Fran. I mean, that type of investment is the type of thing that a coalition government with Liberal and National Party members across the country who represent rural and regional Australia are always looking to pursue investments in. It’s our government that’s delivering the Inland Rail project-.


Fran Kelly: I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen. I’m saying, how much will it cost?


Simon Birmingham:  This is about continued investment really in rural and regional Australia and the infrastructure needs of rural and regional Australia, as we do indeed in our city areas too. You know, we’re the government that is delivering the inland rail, long talked about, but our government’s delivering it. We’re the one delivering the Western Sydney airport, long talked about, but our government is building it and delivering it. We’ll continue to pursue those sorts of infrastructure investments where there for the good of the nation.


Fran Kelly: Minister, I’ve got a lot of people writing in asking about this because the government’s catch cry is technology, not taxes. But we do understand the major elements of the National Party package and some of them have a price tag attached. One is a regional future fund. One is provide future payments and other incentives for not clearing land and protecting species. Another is develop infrastructure transport package, including rail, and provide financial rewards for farmers for previous actions, for instance, such as not clearing land so Australia could meet its Kyoto targets. What is the price tag? There must be dollar amounts against this package.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Fran, there are dollar amounts in terms of areas of investment we’re undertaking to achieve net zero, and there are different projects that we are undertaking in relation to infrastructure investments around the country.


Fran Kelly: This is a new set of demands you’ve got from the Nats. So what’s it going to cost?


Simon Birmingham: These are not static things either, though, Fran. And that’s the point that I’m making. That regional infrastructure investment out to 2050 is not something that is a static figure of today. It’s going to be something that certainly Australians should trust a Liberal and National government to continue to invest in, as we have done already. And what will pursue here is ensuring that that investment wherever possible, as I said, be it in those areas of hydrogen I talked about, or indeed you mentioned farmers in agriculture and the important opportunities for increased use of soil carbon measurement that can create win-win outcomes, making farmers more productive and giving them an opportunity to play a role significantly in achieving net zero. That’s where we want to make sure we harness those investment opportunities so that we can achieve the goals of net zero as well as strong, prosperous regional communities.


Fran Kelly: Okay, the regional infrastructure future fund seems to be one of the centrepieces of this package. You haven’t told us what the funding stream will be or how much is in it, but regardless of that. How will you make sure it doesn’t become an expensive National Party slush fund paid for by the taxpayer?


Simon Birmingham: Because Fran, what we will always do with investment, particularly in infrastructure, but indeed in other programs that we are manufacturing investment strategy, be it our Agriculture 2030 strategy, is seek to ensure we have the rules that guide that funding towards the maximum benefit when it comes to job creation, when it comes to community benefit. All of this is about ensuring that we achieve net zero by 2050 in ways that maximise the job opportunities for Australians that deliver the type of support for regional communities to be able to adjust that if countries like Japan and Korea, some of our major export markets change their consumption patterns in terms of the resources and energy that they buy from Australia. We want to make sure that we’ve replaced that where possible. So we have new export industries into those markets, new resources, new energy sources and also that where possible, they are supporting and underpinning jobs in communities that may have been impacted by that transition. That I think is a is an entirely sensible way to go about things and it’s a contrast, I guess, in the sense that the debate we have been having and we’ve been working through these plans not just over days or weeks, but many of them over years in terms of how the plans are developed and particularly the stretch goals to achieve lower emissions. We’ve been having the right debates as a coalition about how you achieve net zero whilst protecting regional communities and jobs, not just the Labor approach of signing up to a target without those sorts of protections or plans.


Fran Kelly: The Nats came up with this idea of the productivity commission to review the economic impact of the net zero pledge on rural and regional communities every five years, which I guess is measuring what you’ve just described there. The success of it about helping these communities adjust, about trying to introduce new industries to take up the slack when other things drop off as global demand drops off. What happens if the review finds jobs are lost, livelihoods curtailed? It’s not been taken up by something then, what happens then will that trigger compensation? Is that written into this deal?


Simon Birmingham: Well, what it will do is certainly focussed the minds of the government of the day very clearly on where additional investment and support may be necessary to help ensure the transition is more successful than the type of scenario you’ve painted. And so again, it’s a very prudent and wise step to make sure that you have that embedded analysis that I trust governments of any political persuasion would do. Certainly, our governments committing to do so, and I hope that the Labor Party will see the wisdom in that, that you should actually have that health check if you like on the impacts in different parts of Australia so that governments know if they need to do more, support those communities more, invest in trying to secure the different industry transitions in those sectors, then they’re actually well informed in how they do so.


Fran Kelly: It looks as though the government caved in to the Nats by agreeing to not increase the interim target, but updated projections for 2030 will be released today. They’re expected to show emissions reductions have exceeded the 26 to 28 per cent target and will come in around 35 per cent. If government is so confident about that projection, why not codify it into a firm target?


Simon Birmingham: Well, our country is one of the few in the world who has the track record of going into climate change talks and being able to point to the fact that we have routinely met and exceeded the targets that we’ve made and the commitments that we’ve made and so-


Fran Kelly: When will you have the confidence to sign up to one, if we’re going to do that regularly and we’ll be heading for 35, why not just sign up to it?


Simon Birmingham: Fran, it’s what you do that matters most. And that is certainly Australia’s track record of meeting and beating the commitments we make and what we’ll be outlining in terms of the plan released today and the commitments made in Glasgow is firmly demonstrating how Australia is on track to once again meet and beat those commitments, to exceed the 26 to 28 per cent reduction targets. We’ve already seen emissions reduced by more than 20 per cent since 2005. That’s more than New Zealand. It’s more than Canada. It’s more than the United States. It’s more than many other countries in the world that Australia has already reduced our emissions by. And unlike many others, we will be able to demonstrate that we are on track to exceed those 2030 targets as well.


Fran Kelly: The prime minister will take to Glasgow a firm commitment for net zero by 2050. That’s a formal commitment under the UN protocols, but he won’t legislate it. And he says Labor’s pledge to legislate that commitment had the potential to outlaw industries like coal before the time was up. What does that even mean if both major parties are committed to the same goal? It suggests the government wants to leave itself an out. What does it mean Labor would outlaw coal?


Simon Birmingham: Well Fran, it’s about how you get there, and we’ve been clear that our approach is through investment in the technologies that can ensure Australian industries right now can manage to reduce their emissions footprint wherever possible that new industries can emerge through the investments. And that’s why the technology roadmap that we’ve released quite some time ago sets out the different stretch goals for the future in terms of the type of price you need to be able to achieve clean hydrogen, or energy storage, or low emissions steel, or low emissions aluminium, or soil carbon measurement or carbon capture and storage. All important ways to actually try to drive efficiencies in terms of cleaner low emissions, zero emissions, ways of going about achieving things. And now Labor have simply announced a target. They haven’t detailed how they expect to get there, and they certainly haven’t, as the Prime Minister has, ruled out the potential of closing down certain parts of Australia’s industries to meet that target. What we’re seeking to do-.


Fran Kelly: Well, they haven’t ruled it out but they haven’t said they’re going to either. I mean, we haven’t seen your plan either.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’re going to see quite a detailed plan, but this is a plan that builds-.


Fran Kelly: When will we see that?


Simon Birmingham: People will be seeing those updates to our technology investment roadmap today when the prime minister releases those details-


Fran Kelly: And that’s that plan is it? All those things together makes up the plan?


Simon Birmingham: This is the work that we have been doing, not for days or weeks, but for years. Building upon the work, be it the fact that as a country, we’re investing in the largest, the largest energy storage project in the southern hemisphere, which is Snowy 2.0, that we’re upgrading our energy grid through the battery of the nation project connecting Tasmania’s clean hydro power to the nation-


Fran Kelly: I’m sorry to interrupt Minister, but I don’t have time to go through all those. I just want to ask you one final political question, because we now have three national cabinet ministers, including the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, who personally opposed the government’s policy on net zero. They do not support it. We’ve also got Queensland Senator Matt Canavan, who told us earlier he will campaign against net zero. So too will the LNP candidate in the mining seat of Flynn, Colin Boyce, who says the anger and fear on the ground are palpable. Is that acceptable to you in this election to have coalition members campaigning against a key policy or is that a strategy, do you think is the only way to try and counter the likes of Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Fran, I expect the members of the cabinet and the government to support the government’s policy. But unlike the Labor Party, the Liberal and National parties don’t expel individual MPs who hold a different point of view who might disagree with one particular policy area. Indeed, it’s these types of debates that enable us to effectively address all of the issues that we need to face and front up to in relation to these difficult policy decisions. There’s no point pretending these are easy policy decisions where you can just commit to net zero and it magically happens without impact anywhere. And that’s why working carefully with rural and regional, Liberal and National MPs and indeed those right across the country who’ve wanted to see a net zero achieved, it’s been a very important part of this journey.


Fran Kelly: Senator Birmingham, thank you very much.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Fran. My pleasure.