SUBJECTS: Climate change; PM’s US Visit; Labor’s policy agenda; nuclear power; dams; Keech Manufacturing; Haven Home Safe.
FIONA PARK, HOST: Let’s start with climate change, which we’ve just been talking about on the program. What do you think of Greta Thunberg and her impassioned speech to the UN basically condemning world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I think it’s understandable that young people feel so strongly about climate change. This is an intergenerational issue. It’s a bit like when I was younger, people used to quite commonly throw things out of cars. They’d leave it for someone else to pick up. And if you pollute today, someone’s going to clean it up tomorrow. And what’s occurring, of course, is that our emissions here in Australia, for example, have risen since 2014 consistently. The latest figures, the year to March, show yet another increase in our emissions. And I think there’s a great deal of frustration there that the world isn’t acting soon enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
PARK: Is it the role of someone like her to be campaigning on this though?
ALBANESE: Well, she’s a global citizen and this is an issue that will impact by definition younger people more so than older people. So, it’s a good thing just like those many young people we saw literally tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands who marched last Friday as part of action on climate change, calling upon leaders to lead. And I think that people should listen. That’s not to say I agree with every word that’s said, but I think it’s a good idea that young people care about their society and care about the planet.
PARK: Even though he’s in the US, Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to show up to that climate action summit in New York and take to the stage like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, though she was invited and Scott Morrison wasn’t invited due to Australia’s current, some say lack of, action on climate change. What message do you think it sends though that Scott Morrison didn’t appear there?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s the wrong message. Australia is invited of course, we’re a participant in the UN.
PARK: We’re invited to go but not invited to speak at that particular summit.
ALBANESE: Well, that’s perhaps because the Prime Minister and his Government are wrought with internal conflict. They can’t decide whether the science is settled on climate change and we know in fact that it is. We know that the sooner we act, the cheaper it will be. And Scott Morrison, given he’s in New York while this is occurring, I mean even Donald Trump dropped by the summit, so I see no reason why Scott Morrison shouldn’t be participating in the summit. Australia does have a seat at the table. I attended as a Shadow Climate Change and Environment spokesperson to two of the UNFCCC conferences in Nairobi and in Montreal. They’re important world gatherings of world leaders and it seems to me there’s a great contradiction too. Scott Morrison justifies Australia’s inaction by saying, “Well, we’re only less than 1 per cent of the world’s emissions, the whole world has to act”. Well the world’s leaders are there. It’s an opportunity for Australia to participate and encourage that global action as well as to take domestic action and he’s not taking up that opportunity.
PARK: In the lead up to the last election though, the Labor pledge on emissions was to slash emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 based on 2005 levels. What’s your policy now?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll be settling that before 2022, well before the election. We had that commitment made in 2015. So as a 15-year commitment. By definition, that commitment will change because times change.
PARK: Will the 45 per cent target be dumped?
ALBANESE: No, what we’ll do is, we’ll examine what the timeframe is, how we can reduce emissions while maintaining a strong economy and employment and we’ll make an announcement based upon the baseload of where we’re at prior to 2022. So you’ve got to realise your starting point is the first point that you need to analyse before you know what your target is going to be. And obviously we haven’t been elected in 2015. It will be seven years after that or half of the time frame. So we have to take that into account.
PARK: So the target will be less?
ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see. We certainly will have an ambitious target. I can say that. We certainly will be stronger than the Coalition and we want for emissions to be reduced as much as possible whilst being realistic about it. It is no good just setting up a figure and saying, ‘oh well we didn’t meet it’. And that’s what’s happening at the moment. We want a target and we want a mechanism to drive that target.
PARK: Anthony Albanese, the Federal Opposition Leader is in the studio here at ABC Central Victoria, this morning. Speaking of targets and this whole debate around Australia’s action, or inaction, on climate change, you’ve already mentioned the big climate strikes last Friday and now some big businesses are telling the Government to deepen cuts to greenhouse gas emissions even as the Government’s warned them off what the Prime Minister calls ‘corporate activism’ in demanding more action on climate change. How do you feel about all that is that the role of big business to tell the Government what to do here?
ALBANESE: Well, businesses don’t exist in isolation from their customers, from their shareholders and from their employees, and they’re a part of civil society. And it is appropriate that business has a say on issues like climate change because it will it will impact on the people.
PARK: So you are quite happy for them to be involved in this debate?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. They should be. And what’s more, is that businesses need the investment certainty that they’re not getting from this Government. They’re crying out for a climate change and energy policy and what they’ve got from the Government, the latest of which is this thought bubble about nuclear power, we have the targets not being met. We have emissions rising. And when Angus Taylor was asked on ABC Insiders on Sunday, I mean it was another train wreck interview from Mr Taylor, saying essentially that yes we will meet our emissions targets if you don’t take into account a whole range of things that are actually part of our emissions domestically. It was a rather bizarre logic that he had.
PARK: You mentioned nuclear power. How’s that a thought bubble when the idea’s been around for so long?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s been rejected every time it’s been looked at as being uneconomic. No one will say where it will go. We know it has to be near water. We know that it takes a long, long time to construct a nuclear power plant. We know the issues of nuclear waste haven’t been resolved and I don’t believe it will happen. Every time it’s looked at, it’s been rejected. And I think that will happen again. But in the meantime it’s a distraction from what industry is saying. And after all just last year, twice, not just once, but twice, the Liberal Party room approved the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee, that would have set an investment framework to reduce our emissions. And today we have no policy. We just have these sorts of ideas thrown up as distractions. What business wants now is investment certainty and a pathway to be developed to reduce our emissions.
PARK: Well, why doesn’t Labor then, quickly come up with your target?
ALBANESE: Because we’re not the Government, Fiona.
PARK: But isn’t that up to you to be the Opposition and put forward your policies? With that strong policy in the lead up to last election.
ALBANESE: It is precisely up to us to be the Opposition. And that’s what we will be. And we’re continuing to, one; hold the Government to account and say it needs to come up with a policy framework and investment certainty. Secondly, also it’s up to us to put forward a real policy and framework; acknowledge that we lost the last election. We’re not going to be in a position until 2022, hopefully, to be able to implement our vision our alternative policy. We will make it clear well before then. But we’ve got to know what the starting point is, hopefully between now and 2022. There will be something happen for this government. After all it’s in its seventh year; it’s in its third term, and third Prime Minister, without a policy. So, we want there to be a policy. In the meantime, if we come up with a policy and then they come up with one as the Government that is implemented, then our starting point will be very different.
PARK: Given though that many of Labor’s policies are up for review are not just carbon emissions but many other ones as well, are you finding it difficult to fight the Government on various issues when you don’t know what your policies are?
ALBANESE: No not at all. Because our specific policies for 2022 obviously have to be reviewed because the timeframe is different. We lost the election, we have to accept that. And when you lose an election, and a government’s elected, the Government will change the starting point over that term of office. And that’s what we’re seeing in a whole range of areas. And we need to respond to that. But whilst we’re reviewing our policies, our vision and our principles haven’t changed – our principles of strong action on climate change, supporting education, supporting health, supporting infrastructure, supporting regional jobs, they are all constant.
PARK: Is the franking credits policy as good as gone?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s one of the things that is being reviewed. But essentially all policies are on the table. We’ll announce what we’re going forward with in 2022. One of the issues that Labor had in 2019, to be frank, and this I’m sure will come out in the review, is that we had two terms of Opposition and we kept the policies as if the 2016 election hadn’t occurred. So we had six years of development of policies. To do three terms would quite frankly be very unwise indeed, to go to a 2022 election saying ‘in 2014 we decided this and it’s still our policy’. So we’ll announce all of the policies that will take forward to the next election.
PARK: Okay. I just wanted to mention one issue that has been creating a bit of a debate in the rural sector, and that is whether we should build more dams. National Party Leader Michael McCormack said recently it’s been too long since we’ve built a major dam in this country. But the Victorian Labor Government has ruled out building any new dams. Federal Labor’s Agriculture spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon did an interview with the Victorian Country Hour last week and sort of said that they should be built, and need to be. And the Victorian Government should look at it, rather than completely ruling it out. What are your thoughts?
ALBANESE: I agree with Joel Fitzgibbon. I think that where appropriate we should be building dams. We shouldn’t be just having a blanket position. We should look at the circumstances which are there. But we need to also recognise that one of the issues about building dams is that you’ve got to have water to go into it. And the real issues that are occurring over a period of time, is whilst you can’t point to any single event and say that is because of climate change, what you can say is that droughts are coming earlier. You can say that extreme weather events are happening more often and are more intense. And that is why we need to respond to, not just mitigation issues of trying to conserve water when it’s there, for when it’s not, but deal with the longer term issue of climate change.
PARK: Sure, but you’re not averse to building more dams?
ALBANESE: No I’m not.
PARK: Would you think we’d need more in Victoria?
ALBANESE: Well look, that’s a matter for local communities to consider.
PARK: So you disagree with the Victorian Government? They’ve said they’re not building any more here.
ALBANESE: I disagree with blanket positions. I think that you need to have a pragmatic approach to it. If there is scope to build an appropriate dam that would make a difference in terms of water supply and water infrastructure, dams are a part of water infrastructure just like pipelines, that have been done very well here in Victoria it’s got to be said.
PARK: Anthony Albanese, we’ve nearly got to wrap it up to get to the nine o’clock news but you are in Bendigo today, what are your plans?
ALBANESE: Look, we’re going to look at the 3D facility here.
PARK: Keech Manufacturing? Yep.
ALBANESE: Yes, Keech. I’m quite looking forward to that. Lisa Chesters has been talking it up big time. It employs over 100 people here and it’s an example of some of the high value manufacturing that we see here in Bendigo along with defence industries and others. So I’m looking forward to that. And then we’re going to look at the Haven Home Safe and there we’ll be having morning tea with residents. It’s an important facility. I’ve done work, when I was the Housing spokesperson a long time ago, here in Bendigo, with that organisation and they invited me to come and to look at what they’re doing for homeless people, what they’re doing in terms of affordable housing. It’s a very good organisation and I look forward to renewing that relationship.
PARK: Anthony Albanese, thank you for stopping by our studio this morning.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.