SUBJECTS: Climate change; Scott Morrison’s visit to the United States; ACT cannabis legislation; Jock Palfreenan.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. Overnight we’ve seen, yet again, the hubris of Scott Morrison. Who has been on a victory tour ever since May 18 and his election victory. His speech in New York in which he argued that Australia was performing well when it comes to action on climate change simply doesn’t match up with the facts. The fact is that Australia’s emissions have been rising since 2014. The Government’s own projections from the Department of the Environment say that our emissions will continue to rise every year up until 2030, and therefore we simply won’t meet the targets that the Government itself has signed up to. The fact is that investment in renewables has halved this year. It is correct to say that there had been considerable investment in renewables as a result of the target of 20 per cent by 2020. That was established by Labor and opposed by the Coalition. The Coalition, indeed, tried to get rid of the mandatory Renewable Energy Target. The fact is that Scott Morrison and the Coalition need to acknowledge that all of the figures show that emissions are rising in Australia; not going down. And having a minister with the title ‘Minister for Emissions Reduction’ doesn’t change those facts, that come from the government itself. What we’ve seen from the Prime Minister is downplaying the seriousness of climate change. What we’ve also seen is him dismissing the concerns which young people have about climate change. What we’ve also seen is him blaming the media for reporting the facts; and there’s a pattern here developing whereby Scott Morrison is loose with the truth. We saw that when he dismissed the fact that he has said at least 17 times – about Sam Dastyari – characterised him as ‘Shanghai Sam’. He said that that never happened. We’ve seen that with regard to his dismissal of legitimate questions about whether he tried to organise for Mr Houston to get an invite to the state dinner which was rejected by the United States administration due to concerns that arose from the inquiry into child abuse that occurred here in Australia. You can’t just dismiss questions from the media. We have a Prime Minister who is doing that, and is now trying to say that any questioning of the Government’s record on climate change and the need to reduce emissions is a product of the media. Rather than accepting responsibility as the Prime Minister of Australia; which we’re reminded again by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, released overnight, into oceans; how much Australia has to lose if the world does not take action on climate change. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: So the Prime Minister’s argument that critics are overlooking or ignoring Australia’s achievements on climate change; being loose with the truth there?
ALBANESE: There are a range of achievements that Australia had. All of them due to the actions of the former Labor Government. The 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target was implemented by the Labor Government. The Howard Government’s target, by the way, was two per cent; when it was in office. The fact is that that proposal, as well, was resisted by the Coalition. It has been what has driven that change. But renewable investment, now that that target has been reached, is dropping off – a 50 per cent reduction this year is what Bloomberg have found has occurred. The Government needs to acknowledge that, they also need to stop pretending that black is white when it comes to our emissions. The fact is Australia’s emissions are rising and the Government has no plan to deal with it.
JOURNALIST: So, the Government is not doing enough to tackle this?
ALBANESE: The Government is not doing enough to tackle climate change. They dismiss people who are concerned about climate change, including young people. They dismiss the facts on what is happening with regard to our renewables, they dismiss the concerns that the business community have when they say they are crying out for a framework which would give them the certainty to invest in the future.
JOURNALIST: What about the Prime Minister’s focus on plastic pollution in the ocean, surely that’s a worthwhile cause?
ALBANESE: That is absolutely a worthwhile cause and Labor supports any action with regard to the pollution that occurs around our oceans, it’s a scourge and it’s one that has been growing over a long period of time. And we support action to reduce plastics in our oceans and indeed plastics in our community and other issues as well, it is an important challenge for us to address. There are a range of environmental challenges that need addressing. But at the top of that list is climate change. If we don’t address climate change, then there will be real consequences. And we’re already seeing that in Australia. Whilst you can’t point to any single weather event, what you can say is that the trend is there. The report overnight says that once in a century catastrophic events involving our oceans could be occurring at once a year up to 2050. This a real concern for an island continent just as Australia is. Just like the consequences of the drought, the consequences of extreme weather events are issues that need addressing.
JOURNALIST: What do you think the Prime Minister achieved while he was visiting the United States?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m sure that he will be ready to say that he has achieved a lot. But he had a number of key performance indicators in my view. The first was; was he making a contribution to reducing the trade conflict between China and the United States? Australia could potentially play a real role. We are strong allies of the United States. The United States alliance is our most important strategic relationship. But we also have a relationship with China, an economic partnership. And that relationship is important because they’re our largest trading partner. I think in his speech that he gave, the Prime Minister has to argue how that advanced the settlement of that conflict. It seems to have made it worse. And in the Prime Minister’s statement with regard to China’s status, it seems to me that for a Prime Minister that has been prepared to take credit and say that the China FTA undertaken between Australia and China, under the existing world trading arrangements, is undermined if he says that China’s status somehow isn’t appropriate at that time. There’s a contradiction there. So, I think in terms of advancing the resolution of that conflict, it’s hard to see how the Prime Minister has advanced that. And secondly, the fact that he was in New York whilst the Climate Summit was being undertaken at the United Nations but chose not to speak or visit that summit, I think, will look very poor in terms of Australia’s capacity to argue in the world for action on climate change, given that world leaders including Johnson, Macron, Merkel, Ardern and indeed Trump all visited that climate summit.
JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison said that the global critics of climate change willingly overlook or ignore Australia’s achievements as a fact that they simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about Australia’s contribution.
ALBANESE: Well, the facts are Australia’s emissions are rising, not decreasing.
JOURNALIST: Turning to the ACT yesterday legalising the cultivation and possession of small amounts of cannabis, what do you make of it? And will you consider it at a federal level?
ALBANESE: No, these are matters for state and territory jurisdictions. They are a matter for state and territory jurisdictions. The ACT has made a decision, but of course the federal law can also still apply in the ACT.
JOURNALIST: Onto Jock Palfreeman, DFAT says Mr Palfreeman has all the documents he now needs to travel to Australia but his release is now political in Bulgaria. Do you think the Government is doing enough to ensure his return?
ALBANESE: Well, I certainly don’t want to politicise these issues. What happens is that our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials in the relevant embassies do a terrific job, quietly behind the scenes, to ensure that they do what they can to assist Australians. Thank you.