TopicsLabor’s political stunt in the House; Labor Government behind the Eightball to fix the energy crisis; Ongoing protests in China;

10:20AM AEDT
1 December 2022

Laura Jayes: Let’s bring in now the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time. In the other place in oppose to the Senate, The House yesterday moved to censure the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. He gave a pretty vigorous defence. What did you think of his defence and do you think it was important to have this censure motion but now move on?

Simon Birmingham: I can’t say that I sat there watching the debate in the House. We were pretty busy in the Senate yesterday trying to deal with the potentially job crippling and strike driving industrial relations reforms of the government. But is it important to move on? Not quite. It’s important that the government act on the recommendations of Virginia Bell and of the Solicitor General, these recommendations they’ve had for months and months and months. So, we should fix the problems that were identified as a result of Scott Morrison’s appointment to administer different departments, make sure that transparency is guaranteed in the future. The Government’s had the recommendations for months to do that rather than continuing the political games. They should just get on with the legislative fix.

Laura Jayes: Okay. How do you fix this issue apparently with Stuart Robert? Do you think there’s more to see here? Is he your side of politics biggest liability at the moment?

Simon Birmingham: Stuart, I understand, has denied any wrongdoing. It’s for him to address any questions or issues there. But he’s I understand, made statements in that regard.

Laura Jayes: Okay. But you don’t have any concerns about it?

Simon Birmingham: As I say, he needs to address any questions that are there. But my understanding is he’s done that.

Laura Jayes: Okay. We’ll see if we can get some questions to him then. Senator, let’s talk about energy now. The government has been promising to solve this energy price problem for quite some time. You know how complicated it is when you talk about price caps? Well, you can do that on gas, but you really need to do it on the coal. Would you support a scenario where the federal government imposed price caps on coal in order to bring down electricity prices, but then compensated the states for doing so?

Simon Birmingham: LJ, we’ve got a government scrambling here who had a budget some weeks ago, and if they had an energy policy, they should have sought to release it in their budget. But it seems instead that they’ve been internally divided, tearing themselves apart about whether they’re going to have new taxes and whether they’re going to make new payments, whether they’re going to have huge regulatory intervention or the like. All of these things would, if enacted, create real challenges in terms of the future supply of energy in Australia, particularly the future production of gas, because they would act as a disincentive to investment and to growth. The critical part that has to be done here is cooperation with the companies to make sure that immediate supply in the domestic market is sufficiently available to drive down those spot prices. And I believe there’s been some improvement in that in recent weeks while the Government’s been dithering and divided, but also then critically, to ensure we don’t face these problems again, they should reinstate the measures that were in the budget and to help to drive supply into the future so that Australia can have the guaranteed supply where we aren’t having debates about whether we choose between meeting our export markets or delivering into the domestic market. We are an energy rich country who should be able to do both to get the export wealth that helps to fund so many of our social services and to deliver energy in sufficient volume in the domestic market to keep prices competitive in this country.

Laura Jayes: What about this report that we got yesterday? It’s been leaked. It was commissioned. The date stamp is October 2022. We don’t know who’s got it within government, but essentially is looking at the cost of closing down coal for the Hunter Valley. It’s going to cost 500 direct jobs, 268 indirect jobs, $33 million out of that region. Now, this is not a surprise, but it does tell us that the government’s own figures by the government’s own figures, there is a cost of transition. Do you know where this report is? Have you asked for it? Do you think we need to see it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, LJ, aside from the leaked elements. No, I don’t know about the report. It’s a report to the Albanese Labor Government. We did ask in the Senate yesterday when it would be released, for it to be released and the government simply ducked and dodged those questions. So, transparency and certainty is critical in this regard. If the government is sitting on secret information about job losses, then they should come clean and they should particularly come clean in the interests of the communities across the Hunter and all of those who face the risk of job losses. We also, though, need to make sure there is complete honesty and realism in the debate about transition to a net zero future. I am somebody who wants to see us make that transition. We also have to be honest and not pretend, as the government did pre-election, that there would be quick and easy reductions in electricity prices. The $275 household reduction promise they made, which they’ve now walked away from, pretend that somehow there’s this nirvana of instant new jobs everywhere. That’s not the case. These are difficult, hard transitions for economies around the world, including for Australia. Let’s speak about it maturely, but let’s also make sure we’re open that when government has information, it doesn’t seek to hide it from those who are affected.

Laura Jayes: Yep, it’s all about that transparency, which has been a theme of the week, by the way. Let’s quickly ask you about China, which is something in your portfolio area. We’ve seen these unprecedented protests. How are you watching this? What do you think it means?

Simon Birmingham: LJ, I’ve been watching for a while and wondering how it is that the China is going to manage its way out of the COVID zero policies that have been in place. Now, we respect their right to apply domestic policies on issues such as COVID. But if we look at our own lived experience in Australia and that around the rest of the world, we can see as COVID has become so much more highly transmissible that the challenge in terms of suppressing that transmission gets harder and harder and harder. And that is obviously been realised in China in recent times. Protests are something that of course are challenging in a society like China. Australia’s values are ones we need to continue to clearly express, and that is respect for the right to peacefully protest, respect for the right of people to peacefully gather and to express their opinions. And we should make sure that we are clear and consistent in our messaging there, whether it is in China or in any other nation around the world.

Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, always great to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.