Transcript: ABC Capital Hill 24/2/20

10.20am | February 25, 2020




SUBJECTS: Climate change, Labor’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, Intelligence oversight.
JANE NORMAN, HOST: Joining me in the studio now is Liberal Senator, Amanda Stoker and Labor's Jenny McAllister, thank you both for joining me.
NORMAN: If we just start with Labor, given its your policy that you've outlined. Has Labor left itself exposed here by agreeing to a target without outlining how you are going to get there? I know that this was a big issue during last year's election campaign when it all came down to the costings.
MCALLISTER: Look, the Australian people are ready, more than ready, for the Parliament to deal with this. So anyone who goes and questions the Australian people through a survey or any other kind of engagement, knows that people want action on climate. Australians are a lot more sensible than the exchange we just saw there. They know that if we're going to keep the climate in a safe mode and we all have a stake in doing that, we have to reduce emissions. We've been waiting more than six years for this government to come up with a plan. We're not going to shy away from our commitment. The science says that we need to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, to keep the world at a safe temperature. That is the long-term goal and the challenge is setting out short terms steps that can get us on that path.
NORMAN: What was behind the timing of this announcement? We've heard a lot from Labor Leader Anthony Albanese talking about how he wants to hasten slowly when it comes to, I'm re-thinking Labor's platform, but you know, nine months after the election and you've effectively re-committed to a very similar climate change policy. Why now?
MCALLISTER: We've said from the beginning, that we're clear about our values but the specific policy is to be laid out closer to the election. This is a clear statement of values. We think there are opportunities for Australia by changing our economy to decarbonise it. We think there is an imperative to do what the scientists ask us to keep the global temperature at a safe level and we think that it's irresponsible not to make that basic commitment to the Australian people. That's a commitment that the Coalition is totally unable to make because what we've seen in the last few weeks are just the warring parties of the Liberal Party and the National Party fighting amongst one another about whether climate change is real, about whether it's possible to reduce emissions and about whether they want to. And for some parts of the Coalition unfortunately, this has become just an electoral opportunity. It's just part of the culture wars and I don't think it is good enough. That's not what leadership looks like.
NORMAN: Amanda Stoker, where do you stand on this when the Government is basically a process in place now before it heads to the Glasgow conference to work out where to from here, do you think that Australia should be signing up to a 2050 net zero emissions target?
STOKER: Well, what we've already got from the Government is a specific, measurable target for 2030 that is being measured, it is being met and it has been beaten. The alternative that is being offered by those in the Labor Party is a much further away target, without a plan to get there. With no accounting for the impact that it's going to have on the transport industry, on the agriculture industry, on the mining industry. It's linked to the suggestion that this is happening in other places. The world's biggest emitters like China, the USA, India, don't have anything like this in place.
NORMAN: So, one of our biggest allies, the UK's Boris Johnson, the Conservative Leader there is very much pushing ahead with a carbon neutral policy by the middle of the century. He'll be basically chairing this Glasgow conference at the UN, so you know, we have like minded countries who are moving in the same direction.
STOKER: Well, let's take some good examples of like-minded areas. New Zealand has a target like this, and it has carved out the agricultural industry which accounts for half their emissions. It's just pretending that that doesn't count. The EU has a target a bit like this, but it has carved out and excluded entirely those countries that have a coal mining industry. They now import energy from places that are not included in the target. They're counting as renewables, things like burning fire, sorry, burning wood fires which, we all know is far dirtier than coal ever could be. I mean there's a lot of fudging the books here. One thing that the Coalition isn't doing is fudging it and we're not making promises on the never never to reduce emissions to a net zero level in circumstances where, at this point in time, no-ones got the data to be able to look Australians in the eye and say how much it costs. It would be irresponsible to do that without it.
NORMAN: We had Dave Sharma your Liberal colleague there, saying that he believes that the globe needs to be moving towards net zero emissions in the second half of the century. As a principle, is this a principle that you support?
STOKER: Look, I support a principle of us always moving in a direction that is cleaner, in a direction that is more responsible, and we've got to do that in the balanced way we promised we would to the Australian people at the election. We've just come through the climate election, you know, those who talk about the need for immediate climate action called this the climate election. And the Australian people being the sensible people that my colleague, Senator McAllister, has identified voted for balance. They voted for rural and regional jobs and they voted for lower energy prices and they voted for action on a cleaner environment and a cleaner climate, but, it's not a zero sum game. It's not an ideological war in which only one side can win. We've got to find ways to get balance and that's what the Coalition's policy does.
NORMAN: It has been several months since the election. We've just had what the Prime Minister calls the black summer, where we've had unprecedented bushfires across the country. We are still in the grips of a drought. Now I know that bushfires and droughts are nothing new to Australia, but it does appear that they are becoming more extreme. What do you make of the argument that the cost of not acting on climate change is going to have a repeat of what we've just seen, what we've just endured this summer?
STOKER: Look, I think we have some good processes in place to get some data on measuring the costs either way. We are going to have information by April about the things that can be done in the technology space and the things that need to be done to make for instance, the network more able to cope with the surge in renewables that we've had. We've got a Royal Commission that's looking into the causes and the impacts of the bushfires and the costs associated with that. When we've got all that information we can make a call. It would be a mistake I think to make decisions with an enormous economic impact on every Australian, including our least well-off Australians in circumstances where we are going on emotion rather than the evidence.
NORMAN: So, you're saying that at the moment, the Government has a process in place. If that process, if a report, you know, is put before a Government MPs saying that actually this is the direction we should be taking, noting that all the States and Territories already have, you'd be ok with the 2050 target if the evidence says that's the way to go?
STOKER: If the evidence says it's the way to go and it's something that we can look Australians in the eye and honestly say to them that it is in both their environmental and economic interests, then sure. But that's punching at shadows at this point in time. Let's get the evidence in front of us.
NORMAN: Alright, Jenny McAllister, as Amanda Stoker mentioned there. One of the lines of attack has been that agriculture, transport - they are big emitters in our previous emissions reduction targets, it's really been isolated to the energy sector. Would Labor look at either quarantining these emitters like agriculture and transport? Would you look at helping them offset their emissions? What's the plan?
MCALLISTER: Well, can I just make this point first? Amanda says that the Coalition is waiting for the evidence. It is incredible that in their seventh year of government, the Coalition are waiting for evidence before they formulate an energy policy...
STOKER: We've got a great energy policy.
MCALLISTER: You actually don't have a policy.
STOKER: I can take you through it. I can take you through it.
MCALLISTER: Well, I think you'll find that that's not what the industry is saying...
STOKER: You just might not like it.
MCALLISTER: … the industry is on strike and not investing because nobody knows what the Government policy is. But on the question that you asked me Jane, the target expressed at Paris and that's true for all the nations, actually is economy wide. It doesn't apply that every sector of the economy does exactly the same share of that target. We don't have a firm view at this point about the division of labour I guess within the different sectors of the economy, but this is sensible policy work that we're going to step through. As I said earlier though, net zero by 2050 is a statement of values. It's a yes/no proposition about whether you agree with the science that underpins the Paris Agreement, that to keep the global temperature at a safe level, we need to reduce our emissions by 2050 to meet zero. You either accept that or you don't.
NORMAN: We've sadly running out of time. There are two quick issues that I wanted to run through. Jenny McAllister, the ABC recently revealed plans to allow cyber spooks to help the Federal Police here to track down paedophiles, terrorists, other serious criminals online. This would be a big change in the Australian Signal Directorate’s mandate or remitted is currently limited to overseas operations. Does Labor have a view on this? You've introduced a Bill today in the national security space.
MCALLISTER: Hmm, that's right. We're waiting to see what the Government specific proposal is. There's been no legislation developed or even any outline of what's really being proposed. We'll examine that on its merits when it’s brought forward. The Bill I'm bringing forward today goes to broad oversight of the intelligence community. Three years ago, the Government's own hand-picked investigators produced a report saying that we needed to change the way that the Parliament oversights the intelligence community. The Government hasn't acted on those recommendations and my Bill really seeks to implement the advice they received years ago and have been sitting on.
NORMAN: Now Amanda Stoker, you haven't obviously seen this Bill yet, but on the general issue of oversight of national security, we know it's been an issue that has really been at the forefront of debates since the raids on media, on the ABC and on the house of Newscorp journalist, Annika Smethurst. Are you satisfied with the level of oversight? Is this a Bill that we should be looking at in a bi-partisan way?
STOKER: Look, everything that goes through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is looked at, I think in the spirit of bi-partisanship and I can only commend the sincerity of the work that Senator McAllister does as a part of that Committee, which I'm also a part. We will look at Bill quite seriously. I’m sure she's bought it forth in the spirit in which it's intended and if there are constructive ways that we can improve oversight, well so much the better. But the changes that are proposed for the remit of the Australian Signals Directorate reflect the change in the way that we look at some of the most serious, transnational, particularly digital crimes now and to have a remit that means that some of our most skilled people in this space can only look external to Australia in circumstances where borders can be crossed so easily in the digital space is really a matter of making sure that agency's role is fit for the purpose that it needs to meet these days.
NORMAN: Alright, Amanda Stoker, Jenny McAllister thank you both for joining us today. Unfortunately, we've run out of time, but Question Time is approaching soon.