Oct 28, 2020









SUBJECTS: Bushfire Royal Commission; action on climate change; Boris Johnson’s phone call to Scott Morrison; emissions targets; Emergency Response Fund.


KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you all for being with us today. And we are out here today because the Bushfire Royal Commission will be handed down today. There are many Royal Commissions that have taken place into natural disasters and bushfires, many recommendations that haven’t been taken up. And this group here want action taken. They want action taken on the Bushfire Royal Commission and they want action taken on climate change. I am joined by the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action. And I want to pay a special mention and tribute to three of them. Jack who lost his home near Batemans Bay in 2020. Fiona who lost her home on the Mid-North coast in 2019. And to Jen who lost her home at Vimy Ridge near Tathra in 2018. Three people, three families, three separate years, three people still waiting for action.


And I’m really pleased today to be joined by my colleagues, the Member for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, the Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman, who is also a bushfire survivor who lost her home in the Blue Mountains in 2013. And I am really pleased that I’m joined by our Leader, Anthony Albanese, today, and our Shadow Ministers, Murray Watt and Mark Butler. I think from where I’ve come from over the last year, where I’ve been the mayor for the last four years in the Bega Valley, we’ve experienced three catastrophic bushfires, three bushfires that have impacted multiple people, multiple families, multiple lives, livelihoods, and the list goes on and on. I think we’re all asking for action. We’re asking for action in mitigation. Because we know that there is funding there for mitigation, which hasn’t been spent yet. We are asking for action to make sure there are land managers managing the land in which we live. We are asking for action on climate change. We are asking for action to make sure that our communities don’t have to go through the same situations, year on year out. Anthony?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Kristy. And thanks for the colleagues for joining us here this morning. But a particular thanks to those people who are victims of bushfires, who travelled long distances to register how important long-term action on climate change is to them. These are people who’ve lost their homes. They care about that. And they’re trying to deal with that and rebuild their lives. But they care about their fellow Australians and they care about the planet. And that’s why they’re calling for action on climate change. And it’s a powerful message to the Government that they need to do far more. The Government will be handed down the Royal Commission report today. My understanding is that they won’t be releasing it today. And I suspect it’ll be released after Question Time tomorrow, which is unfortunate. But we will hold them to account because you would well recall that when bushfires were ravaging South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, having such an extraordinary impact over a bushfire season of which even that term is no longer really relevant. This went for month after month after month. And when people raised the issue of climate change, including the former heads of emergency services, they were told that wasn’t relevant. Those issues were dismissed by the Government, and indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister said that was just a, ‘woke inner-city issue’. Well, the people we have here today are from regional Australia. They have seen firsthand the impact on their communities. And it’s had an impact on their lives. We need to make sure that we do two things. First is that we need to respond to immediate needs. We know that after the bushfires, the emergency response fund was created, $4 billion, $200 million, $150 million for dealing with recovery, $50 million for mitigation measures on an annual basis. And we know that not a dollar of that was spent in the last financial year. We know that not a dollar has been spent up to this point. It’s just extraordinary that you have people living in caravans and living in temporary accommodation on land that has not been cleared, who’ve gone through a winter in those conditions. And the Government has a pot of funds that they haven’t actually spent. Just an extraordinary abrogation of responsibility. And just another example of how this Government is all announcement and no delivery. Scott Morrison was of course there for the photo-op. He regrets that, I think. He is one Australian who’s happy that people can’t shake hands anymore, because he won’t have the rejection that occurred over January. That rejection wasn’t personal. That rejection was one of despair, because people wanted more action and more leadership from their Government.


The other issue, of course, that they are calling for longer-term, is real action on climate change. When I was the Climate Change spokesperson in 2006, when we released our Climate Change Blueprint, we increased the renewable energy target from two up to 20 per cent by 2020. When we did that, they said the economy will be ruined and would have a big impact. Well, guess what? It was achieved in spite of the efforts of this Government. This is a Government that goes to international conferences and argues for Kyoto credits to be counted, rather than by actually lowering its emissions. We need to do better than that. We need credibility on the national stage. And I note that yesterday, Japan joined those nations around the world that are calling for zero net emissions by 2050, something that Labor has committed to as well. That’s just a start. We need a pathway to get there. And we’ll be developing that. In the next period, of course, leading up to the next climate change conference that I expect to be held before the next Federal Election will be a critical period. That will be an opportunity for the Government to actually change tack, to recognise that we need to do better. Maybe Scott Morrison can listen to Boris Johnson saying overnight to him that this Government needs to do better. The Australian Government in international forums is regarded as dragging the chain. And the real tragedy there is that Australia will be particularly impacted by climate change, as we’ve seen from these people, brave people, who are joining us here today.


JOURNALIST: Just on that conversation Scott Morrison had with Boris Johnson, which account of that conversation do you believe?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s always difficult because I wasn’t there. But I’d be surprised if the account that said that the United Kingdom wanted Australia to do more wasn’t correct, because Margaret Thatcher, who I wouldn’t agree with on many issues of her actions of her Prime Ministership, of course, was talking about climate change decades ago, and talking about the need to take action on climate change. I had dinner last night with all of the ambassadors from the European Union. And for those countries, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum, action on climate change isn’t a partisan issue. Action on climate change is something that’s recognised in terms of listening to the science. We’re getting through this pandemic because we’re listening to science. We need to listen to science when it comes to climate change. This Government is not doing that. Their handbrake is attached to Craig Kelly and to some of the people who have these crazy views, not just on climate change, but on the pandemic as well. And the Government really needs to change tack and recognise that it has listened to science when it comes to health issues, it needs to listen to science when it comes to climate change, which is a health issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s an environmental issue. It’s a sustainability issue.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, just on the day that the Bushfire Royal Commission is going to be handed down, are you again calling on the Government to commit to 2050 emissions?


ALBANESE: Well, the Government should commit to zero net emissions by 2050. This is a target that’s consistent with what was agreed to by Paris. The Government should not, the Australian Government, should not be isolated, as increasingly it is, in failing to recognise and join with the international community in supporting that target.


JOURNALIST: Will Labor wait until the Glasgow Conference before it announces its own targets going into the next election?


ALBANESE: Well, we certainly will wait until what happens in Glasgow it’s critical. And you’ve got to know what your starting point is moving forward. And the starting point before the next election will include outcomes at the Glasgow Conference. Of course, other international events, there’s one being held next week, that will have an impact on those issues.


JOURNALIST: Are you saying that the rules should be changed for the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund and a separate $2 billion fund for last summer’s bushfires? What can Labor do other than point out that these aren’t being spent quickly enough?


ALBANESE: I’m saying it’s not a matter of rules, it is a matter of political will. And the fact that ministers preside over a fund that is unspent, it’s not just this one, but this one is the most egregious. I raised it in my Budget Reply because I think it is quite outrageous that you allocate an annual fund, which this is, $200 million a year, where funds were taken from other sources, remember that, to create this fund. This was funding that was taken from an education infrastructure fund that had been established by the former Labor Government when we were in office. The fact that it’s unspent is outrageous. Just a couple more.


JOURNALIST: Isn’t it fair enough that the Government take a day or two to compile some well-considered and thoughtful responses to this inquiry?


ALBANESE: It would be handy if we got to see the report. The idea that the Government hasn’t been following the conduct of the Royal Commission. Australians are entitled to see the report. That’s what happens. This is an independent report. It’s not a Government report. And all Australians are entitled to have a considered response to it. Thanks.