Topics: Plan for net zero; Regional Australia investment; Big battery;


09:05AM AEST

Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, a few things to ask you about Barnaby Joyce this morning, first of all, is it right that you wanted methane cuts, the Nationals forced your hand and said no?

Simon Birmingham: Hey Laura, it’s great to be with you. So look, I think it’s really important to understand that in terms of our plan towards net zero, that’s using standard carbon accounting practises. Now they will get a little bit technical, but it means that all of your different carbon gases are accounted for as part of that and methane is one of those. There are accounting principles under the international agreement. There has been this talk about some nations making shorter term pledges in relation to methane. Now, Australia is not pursuing that. Methane is a particular impact in our agriculture sector, and we don’t want to impose that short term burden on our farmers. But the plan released this week makes very clear and references technological opportunities we see to try to reduce methane emissions in the future and potentially to reduce them by up to 80 per cent. It’s there on Page 76* of the plan released this week by the Prime Minister and Angus Taylor. And that’s what we’re going to invest in and continue to work towards.

Laura Jayes: Ok, so Page 76* was that Barnaby Joyce forcing the Liberals hand? Or, you know, was it the preference that the Prime Minister went to Glasgow with a specific target to cut methane gases?

Simon Birmingham: No, Laura, we look at climate change gases as a collective. That’s the way that they are accounted for in the end, it’s about the impact they have in the atmosphere that matters. And so getting towards net zero is about accounting for all of those, be they CO2 methane or otherwise, but doing it according to the technical principles and standards in the Paris Agreement. That’s what we work towards in achieving net zero. And what the plan says is that livestock feed technologies could reduce methane emissions by over 80 per cent. That’s there. It’s an area for us to continue to pursue investment in. It’s an area of technology that we want to pursue, but we’re not going to put in place short term impacts that could have a devastating impact on Australia’s dairy industry, on our cattle farmers. These are sectors that we have particular importance in making sure technology find solutions for, and that’s what the trajectory to 2050 is all about.

Laura Jayes: Ok. He also said that there will be a regional slush fund. How much is it?

Simon Birmingham: Laura, our government already invested significantly in regional Australia, and it’s always our intention to continue to do so. Now we’ve got further policies to announce in relation to investment in regional Australia we’ll announce them in a timely way when they’re all fully costed, when they’ve been through thorough cabinet processes. That’s the way we go about business in getting these things done. But I absolutely give the commitment we will continue to invest in regional Australia. We would always and regional Australia would expect us to have new announcements in the run up to an election about what those investments will look like because across the Liberal Party and the National Party, we represent the bulk of regional Australia and they want to hear about where those investment priorities lie. That’s what we’ll detail in outline in the run up to the election. But many of these policies that are designed to help us achieve net zero, such as the $1.2 billion investment in hydrogen hubs, are going to help key areas of regional Australia that face transition challenges like Gladstone, like the Hunter Valley, like the Pilbara, and that’s certainly what we’re going to keep our focus on investments in.

Laura Jayes: But is there a special fund as part of this deal and how much is it?

Simon Birmingham: Laura, as I said, where we have new investment policies to make, we will make those announcements once they’ve been through all the regular cabinet processes, all the normal costings processes, and they’ll be there as part of the normal budget arrangements.

Laura Jayes: Minister, you can understand that the PM is just about to fly out to Glasgow. The Nationals are saying that they’ve extracted a price for allowing the Prime Minister with their blessings to go to Glasgow with this net zero target by 2050. So the deal is done. Shouldn’t we know the details of it now?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Prime Minister is going to Glasgow with the commitment and the plan to achieve net zero by 2050. That’s what the talks in Glasgow are designed to be about and that’s what he has worked and shown incredible leadership in delivering that support across the Liberal and National parties for a net zero commitment. And with that, the trajectories that show we’re on track for Australia’s emissions by 2030 to reduce by between 30 and 35 per cent and demonstrate the many billions of dollars of investment, be it in achieving stretch goals for ultra low cost solar energy across the country, for affordable hydrogen, for transformation in achieving green steel, green aluminium production. These are all the details in the plan that relate to achieving net zero. Now, in terms of investment in regional Australia? Absolutely. There’s a commitment between the Liberal Party and the National Party, regional Liberal MPs, regional Nationals MPs and the government that there will be ongoing continued investment in regional Australia. That should be of no surprise to anyone and of course, everyone would expect in regional Australia, particularly that we’d have more to say about that between now and an election to outline our plans for the future, for regional Australia and to keep investing in them.

Laura Jayes: Sure but you can understand that the soon to be acting prime minister Barnaby Joyce is coming out today saying This is what he’s got you, the Liberals, to be able to do in exchange for their commitment. Are we going to see all of these details? Do you make a pledge not to hide behind cabinet in confidence?

Simon Birmingham: I understand that the media always want to know government decisions and determinations before the government’s made them or before the government announces them-

Laura Jayes: But we should, shouldn’t we? The Prime Minister is going to Glasgow with a target, we should know what deal’s been done to get there.

Simon Birmingham: Let me give you this commitment, Laura. Everything is laid transparent and bare when it comes to all of the budget updates we have. Ultimately, one of the laws in Australia is that there is a budget update independently given by the Treasury and the finance departments during the election campaign so that there are no secrets about decisions that government have made. So we will absolutely make sure that where we have policy commitments in relation to investment in regional Australia, we make those clear pre-election. Where the government is getting on and delivering the Inland Rail that has been talked about for decades and it’s now under construction being built, part of a key investment in regional Australia. We have seen significant investment in growth in terms of a number of regional ports and centres around the country. And of course, we want to make sure that our manufacturing strategy, our Ag 2030 strategy, our digital economy strategy all reach into regional Australia. And it should be of no surprise to anyone that there’s broad agreement across the Liberal and National parties for continued investment and support for regional Australia.

Laura Jayes: Okay, just finally, you’re from the home of the big battery there in South Australia. Now you’re in Canberra today, but you are from the home of the big battery. Have you told the Prime Minister that it’s not really like the big banana?

Simon Birmingham: Look, the big battery’s important and that sort of technology is going to be crucial in terms of investment in new critical minerals opportunities. That’s one of the key areas that we want to pursue further investment in the resources, the minerals that are necessary for energy storage and that sort of technology. But the bigger battery our government is investing in and building is Snowy 2.0. That’s the largest energy storage project in the southern hemisphere, and that’s what we’re investing in and delivering right now alongside all of those other areas of potential energy storage.

Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, always good to have you on. Thanks so much.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.

* Correction: Page 74