Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Climate change; supporting small business in fire-affected regions.
20 January 2020

Laura Jayes: Let’s go live now to Simon Birmingham. He is the Minister for Trade and Tourism. Big announcement yesterday, big announcement today. Let’s quickly get this climate change question out of the way. Is there a push for more to be done?

Simon Birmingham: Well Laura, the Government is getting on with the job of delivering on climate change policies and there are few more important long term issues for us to deliver upon than making sure that we deliver on our commitment to not only meet but also to beat and I hope well and truly exceed the 2030 targets that our government has set. That’s crucial. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in new technologies, to deliver the funds out of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, to lead the world in terms of energy storage through projects like Snowy 2.0 are crucial, and we’ve got to maintain that sort of momentum relentlessly well into the future.

Laura Jayes: Is Matt Kean wrong then? Is there no push at all? Is there any talk among senior members of the Government like yourself about a need for your government to do more on climate change or at least sell your credentials more?

Simon Birmingham: Laura, I’m endlessly thinking about ways that we can continue to support and stimulate investment in relation to a climate change adaptation, mitigation and emissions reduction and we have to make sure, as a government, that we keep a relentless focus in that area and we have to make sure that, as I say, that we deliver upon policies that meet our commitments, not just to meet those 26 per cent reductions by 2030 but deliver on our commitments to exceed those targets because that is what Australia has done time and time again; that is what can give us the credibility to go out globally and locally and talk about the way in which the world is changing and be a player and a partner in terms of helping the world to make those adjustments. [Audio skip] for example, to new hydrogen technologies. We released late last year the hydrogen strategy, a national piece of work done by the states, territories and the Federal Government and we’ve got to get on now in terms of implementing that which can be quite transformative and could be one of those means by which we well and truly exceed those targets that have been set.

Laura Jayes: So when you talk about credible targets and achievements from Australia, do you think Australia would have more credibility if we didn’t use those Kyoto credits?

Simon Birmingham: Well I hope that, just as we’ve seen in the past, where we have taken carryover credits but then we’ve gone on and exceeded in terms of meeting targets and those carryover credits have not been necessary, that the type of surplus we can generate, the type of delivery of emissions reduction and level of emissions reduction we can achieve can well and truly exceed the levels of those carryover credits. That’s got to be the ambition in terms of the way in which we seek, as a government, to be able to reduce our emissions and reduce Australia’s emissions into the future and applying all of those new technologies.

You know, the point that is being made, including by Matt Kean, that this all has to be done in ways that don’t threaten our economy or undermine Australian jobs is a crucial one but that is we’re continuously looking for those new opportunities of new technologies that don’t require new taxes or penalties on Australians but can absolutely put us at the forefront of transformation to be able to achieve even higher levels of emissions reductions than are currently forecast.

Laura Jayes: So you do know who Matt Kean is?

Simon Birmingham: Yes. I do, Laura.

Laura Jayes: And what do you think of his message today – last night, here on Sky News about generally politics – your side of politics needing to do more? I guess I want to put this question to you more broadly. I know that you want to meet and beat the targets that are already set, has this bushfire season changed anything for you and your Government?

Simon Birmingham: Laura, I think this bushfire season has absolutely brought to the fore of public debate, especially issues around adaptation and resilience to climate change. There is a reality that we must all now face that in terms of a heating and drying climate that is already occurring, regardless of what targets may or may not exist in a 2030 horizon, that we have to double down in terms of work and efforts to deal with those resilience and adaptation issues. But in terms of emissions reduction, I think it is clear that we must be very clear as a government in our ambition, but also our policy settings to well and truly exceed those 2030 targets. And that is something, as I say, that I’m very passionate about doing. But I’m passionate also about the role that Australia can play as a leader in our region and the world. An opportunity for…

Laura Jayes: You keep on saying a [indistinct] that means you don’t- does that mean Australia doesn’t want to be a leader in this sense, that would harm our economy?

Simon Birmingham: No. Precisely the opposite, exactly what I was just saying then is the role Australia can play in our region and the world in terms of transition or completely new technologies like hydrogen, that I was talking about before, which can absolutely transform not only our emissions and opportunities for the future, but can also transform the emissions of other countries with Australia seizing opportunities in an alternative fuel of the future like that, to be able to substitute our existing exports as other countries adapt and change themselves in term of the types of energy sources they use. If we can step up to the plate in production in areas like hydrogen, then that gives us a new export opportunity for the future and helps us to help those countries to transition their emissions profiles too.

Laura Jayes: Are you moving fast enough when you’ve got companies like BlackRock which is a huge [indistinct] firm, they hold about $2 trillion worth of capital, who announced just this week, and it seemed, almost in response to the bushfire crisis here in Australia, that it would be looking to detangle itself from coal. When you have such a firm like that making such announcements – how does it change things for you and your Government?

Simon Birmingham: Look, individual companies, individual investment agencies and firms will make their own decisions and they have to do that based on what they see as being appropriate in terms of their market conditions and the markets that they are playing to at any one point in time. Our responsibility as a national government comes back to the fact that we make the commitments around what our national targets are. We, as a Government, have made a very clear public commitment to not only meet those targets but to exceed them as we have done in previous emissions reduction periods under the Kyoto Protocols. So we have to get on now in terms of those Paris targets and well and truly exceed them.

Laura Jayes: In the meantime, relief for business, this has certainly been welcomed by the small business community today. But, I guess, your message will be to all of us to get out, take an esky to places like the South Coast and Kangaroo Island and spend some dollars.

Simon Birmingham: There are some awesome grassroots campaigns we’ve seen such as the Empty Esky movement, some great initiatives now coming out of state and territory governments, the Book Them Out campaign from South Australia, for example, or indeed the Victorian Government today announcing the work they’ve done in attaining corporate support of businesses who will book for conferences and events back in fire affected regions. Everybody can play their role there. Again, as a Government in terms of our policy settings, we’ve stepped up. Of course all of the initial stages were about the human cost of recovery, support for mental health services and the like, dealing with the environmental cost in terms of support for wildlife recovery and support. But now, in terms of dealing with minimising the economic cost, and that’s why yesterday, a tourism package, today, a small business package, building on our support for farmers that had already been announced. They’re a crucial piece of the puzzle to make sure that those fire affected communities can get back on their own two feet as quickly as possible, but that there is the support in the interim to help them do so.

Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, as always, appreciate your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Laura.