Subjects; Energy, renewables, marriage equality
MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: It’s been a week of highs and lows for the Federal Government, starting with the ongoing stoush over Australia’s energy future.
Malcolm Turnbull’s quest to convince AGL chief, Andy Vesey, to keep the Liddell power station open beyond 2022 has yet to yield a positive result, but the Government did have one significant win – after two years of wrangling, the Coalition’s media reforms passed the Senate, but not without compromise.
In exchange for the support of Nick Xenophon and One Nation’s support, the Government has agreed to a series of concessions, including a one-off $60 million fund to support small publishers and journalism cadetships.
To discuss the week in politics I was joined earlier by Industry Minister, Arthur Sinodinos and Shadow Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese for our late debate. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.
Minister, if I could start with you. Firstly reports today that you’ve cut jobs at the CSIRO including in the lab that helped invent wi-fi. Why?
ARTHUR SINODINOS, INDUSTRY MINISTER: Let’s be very clear here. I haven’t cut any jobs. CSIRO are reducing positions in some areas and increasing positions in others. So, over the next couple of years they’ll be increasing positions by about 240 or so. So some, yes, there are re-allocations that go on over time. And this happens in any organisation.
WORDSWORTH: So when you say reallocations, are you saying an overall loss of positions?
SINODINOS: No, no.
WORDSWORTH: Because the staff association says one in five jobs have been cut at the CSIRO since the Coalition took power in 2013.
SINODINOS: Since the last budget, the forward estimates show an increase in the budget for CSIRO which will translate to an increase in employment.
What’s happened here is CSIRO are cutting jobs in some areas and increasing jobs in others. So your attention’s been drawn to some cuts in a number of areas. Those people will also be given the opportunity through the process to be redeployed but also we are increasing jobs in other parts of CSIRO.
This is something that happens over time. This is very much a management decision and a board decision. We don’t run CSIRO on a day-to-day basis and the reason for that is, we’re not scientists, we are not people who are versed in the working out the trade-offs between the various disciplines within the CSIRO. That’s their job and I stand behind their decisions.
WORDSWORTH: Anthony Albanese, yes, I’ll bring you in here because what the staff association, the staff will want to hear is Labor will restore all the positions that the Coalition has cut since 2013.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW INFRASTRUCTURE MINISTER: Well, the only innovation that’s occurred under this so-called Innovation Prime Minister is euphemisms for job cuts.
Today we’ve heard redeployment, reallocation. This is a Government that doesn’t respect science. They’ve attacked science when it comes to climate change because of the conflict that there’s there between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott and it really is cutting off your nose to spite your face.
To cut jobs at the CSIRO and in general in the science sector when that’s so important for Australia’s future economic development.
WORDSWORTH: But do you have a policy to restore any of these lost jobs at the CSIRO?
ALBANESE: We’ll announce our policies at appropriate times, not on the Lateline on the basis of a question and our Shadow Minister does that. But what Labor will do is consistent with what we did in Government, which is to respect science, which is to respect and support the CSIRO.
SINODINOS: Matt, we are investing in science in a very big way – Square Kilometre Array, the Australian Synchrotron, we’ve put half a billion into that.
I announced in the budget a $120 million commitment to the European Southern Observatory. There’s all these big science that we are actually funding over time.
ALBANESE: But you’ve gutted the CSIRO since 2013.
SINODINOS: And over the next four years CSIRO is going to be bigger and stronger.
WORDSWORTH: It’s a landmark institution though, Minister, to lose jobs. Does that worry you, taking away overall.
SINODINOS: Jobs will increase over time, over the next two years.
WORDSWORTH: Will they be what they were when you started in 2013?
SINODINOS: Well, I can’t go back to 2013. I go back to the National Innovation and Science Agenda, 2015. We put an extra $1.1 billion into national innovation and science and we will continue, where possible, to keep injecting into big science in particular more money, which provides a basis for global collaboration.
ALBANESE: What this Government consistently does is have a strategy of taking $100 away, giving $50 of it back and saying, “Please say thank you for this contribution.”
This is a Government that has cut the CSIRO, that has cut a number of vital institutions when it comes to future governance and we as a nation, if in the Asian century we’re going to compete, we need to compete on the basis of how smart we are and how innovative we are and we’re not seeing that this from this Government.
This is a Government that believes that NBN technology should be copper-based rather than fibre-based. It’s a Government that hasn’t taken serious action on climate change and it’s a Government that’s lost its way.
WORDSWORTH: Can I just move only to the Clean Energy Target. It has taken up a lot of conversation this week. Tony Abbott said on radio yesterday, he welcomes signs that we’re moving away from a clean energy target to a reliable energy target.
Arthur Sinodinos, what does that mean? What shift are we seeing within the Government?
SINODINOS: Well, what’s happening within the Government is a lot more work by both the Prime Minister and Josh Frydenberg on a plan for transitioning the economy as we go through this need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving the security and reliability of the system.
Malcolm Turnbull’s the first Prime Minister to commit to a plan and after he got the report from the Energy Market Operator around dispatchability of power, the power that has to be available 24/7, just very recently, he’s now putting together a plan which ensures we have base load to go through while we transition to more renewables on the system but with this caveat, that those renewables have to have backup and storage.
Look, we’re not going to put Australia’s security and reliability at risk by just having a headline policy of 50 per cent RET and whatever else happens, happens.
WORDSWORTH: Well, I guess the take out message here is the Paris Agreement target.
WORDSWORTH: 26 to 28 per cent reduction of our 2005 emissions by 2030.
WORDSWORTH: So can you guarantee that whatever form the Clean Energy Target takes, that it honours that Target?
SINODINOS: I can guarantee that whatever we do in this area will be consistent with our obligations because we’re not walking away from Paris. We made those agreements in good faith.
We’re not walking away from it but Australians are saying they want security and reliability. They want downward pressure on affordability. In other words, affordability to be improved by prices being lower where possible. We have to meet that trifecta.
WORDSWORTH: Anthony Albanese, I want to ask you this because when this new modelled Clean Energy Target or Reliable Energy Target comes out, it looks like it’s going to include some form of coal. Would Labor accept a Clean Energy Target if it included coal, if it helps us meet that Paris Agreement target?
ALBANESE: Well, this is now two years since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister to the day and what we have seen is that Malcolm Turnbull has increasingly become Tony Abbott when it comes to policy on climate change. We’ve seen a retreat.
Now, Labor supported an Emissions Intensity Scheme as the best way going forward. But in order to get certainty, the key thing that we need here is certainty, in order to get that, we were prepared to cop the Clean Energy Target and to be cooperative when Professor Finkel brought down his review.
WORDSWORTH: The purpose of that Clean Energy Target was to hit that Paris Agreement target. That was the mechanism to get there. So if this mechanism does the same thing will you support it?
ALBANESE: What’s the basis for this mechanism? Is it Mr Finkel, the Chief Scientist or is it Tony Abbott? That’s the problem here is that no longer are we trying to appease the science and, therefore, protect the planet and the national economic interest. What we’re doing is just appeasing Tony Abbott.
So we’ll have a look at anything that comes out at the time but the truth is that the Finkel Review had 40 recommendations. The key one has just sat there for month after month, not being adopted and it should have been. That should have been the time in which we moved forward in a bipartisan way.
Labor did our bit by compromising, by saying we’d be prepared to support that rather than the Emissions Intensity Scheme, which everyone knows is actually much more preferable in terms of lowering prices of, and ensuring certainty and reliability. But what we have now is the compromised position being moved away from by the Government itself.
WORDSWORTH: Well, just on that point, Arthur Sinodinos, there’s been reports that there is a revolt going on in the backbench by pro-coal MPs, six to 10 willing to cross the floor. Are you hearing this? Is this happening?
SINODINOS: Well, I see it in the papers. I don’t have colleagues ringing me up and saying “look, we’re about to revolt on this” but people are making their views very clear. If we can’t take the community with us on system reliability and affordability of power, we won’t be able to keep them on greenhouse gas emissions being reduced.
This is the point and what’s happened is with the clean energy target, that posited gas as the transition fuel. Now gas has been constrained by what’s happened with gas exports, increasingly diverting from the domestic market and also state governments like Victoria in particular, moratoria on exploration development.
If we want gas to be the peaking fuel, if we want gas to be the transition fuel, then we would be seriously considering taking all those controls off and doing what we’re doing now on top of that, which is the gas security mechanism and other things.
But we have to be able to assure Australians that emissions intensive trade exposed sectors, the ones my portfolio represents, the cement people, the steel makers, the aluminium smelters, that they have some sort of future as we transition because the whole import of what Labor and the Greens say is often to indicate that somehow this can be a costless transition and all these industry effects can somehow be just papered over or glossed over. They’re real and we’re working on a plan to keep things going while we take people with us.
ALBANESE: But Matt, just a few weeks ago I visited north-west Queensland, Hughenden and Kidston, it was covered by Lateline, with Bob Katter. And what we saw there in those two projects, Kidston taking an old gold mine, putting at the moment stage 1 of the solar project there. It’s 537,000 solar panels connected up, providing base load by using hydro storage through the old gold mine effectively at Kennedy.
Wind, solar as well there, together that project, a million homes will be powered through renewable energy in north-west Queensland. It’s like the Government’s just left behind all of this. The one thing that the people investing, private sector capital in that project, say, is they want certainty and this Government’s just incapable, it seems, of providing it.
I hope they do get their act together and Labor is prepared to be constructive but for goodness sake, they keep changing their mind every week.
WORDS WORTH: Well, yes industry is craving certainty, you’re right on that point. Can I just switch to the same-sex postal survey. John Howard says we should be talking about…
ALBANESE: You should be allowed to say marriage equality, Matt. It’s okay.
WORDSWORTH: Well, it’s a postal survey, same-sex marriage, you know. Religious protections are what John Howard, the former prime minister, is quite exercised about and he says, “Before we vote we should be hearing what religious protections would be in place.”
And this is how Malcolm Turnbull responded when he was asked about it this morning.
MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: I can say to Mr Howard and to all Australians that if there is a majority yes vote in the postal survey, and I encourage Australians to vote yes, Lucy and I will be voting yes, if there is a majority yes vote, religious freedoms will be protected. There is consensus across the Parliament to do that.
WORDSWORTH: Arthur Sinodinos, what are these protections?
SINODINOS: Well, the protections would be these and George Brandis put together a bill, an exposure draft of a bill, some time back to give people bit of a feel for what this would be and it would essentially protect the capacity of religious institutions to continue to behave according to their own values and beliefs.
WORDSWORTH: So the whole baker thing, that’s not included – doesn’t want to sell the cake to a gay couple.
SINODINOS: There was some recognition of situations like that, but look, the whole point is that these would be further teased out.
If for example we have a yes vote in the postal survey, there would be a capacity to have a private members’ bill which would tease these out, the Parliament would have a capacity to debate these and all parts of the Parliament, the crossbench, the Labor Party, whatever, would have the opportunity to contribute to that.
WORDSWORTH: So John Howard shouldn’t be worried?
SINODINOS: Well, look, I think John Howard is raising a valid point, which is there are these sorts of concerns in the minds of some people who want to vote no.
Now I’m not sure whether even if you fully satisfied those concerns, some people would just continue to vote no anyway. My point is there’ll be ample time afterwards to look at this, after we’ve had this particular vote. This is not the way we started out. We wanted to have a proper plebiscite. Ideally it would have been good to have had a situation where people had had a bill before them that they were voting on at a plebiscite, even better.
But we didn’t have the chance to put that to the Australian people. So we’re doing this in the best way we can, consistent with our election commitment and then we can follow this issue up afterwards.
WORDSWORTH: Anthony Albanese, just on that comment from Malcolm Turnbull, he said there was consensus across the Parliament. So is that right, you’re on board?
ALBANESE: There is. I’m a strong supporter of religious liberty but I also want to say that the proponents of the no case need to actually argue it if they have one and there is a case that they can make, one that I respect in terms of their religious views.
If marriage really has nothing to do with the state, if it’s a sacred institution from God, then I respect that some people have that view and they should argue that.
What they shouldn’t do is argue things that have nothing to do with this voluntary postal survey. This is about one thing and one thing only – whether people who happen to be of the same sex, who are in love with someone and want to commit to that person for life in front of their friends and family have the opportunity to so just like I did and just like Arthur did with our respective wives.
And what, what we’re seeing here, I think, is a whole lot of issues that have nothing to do with this survey, brought into it. The truth is that issues like cakes or what have you, that’s covered by anti-discrimination right now. Families are diverse right now.
What this is about is simply whether marriage equality exists or not and I believe a whole lot of Australians will be filling in their ballot papers as we speak. They would have got them in the post today or Monday early next week. I encourage people to vote and I’m very hopeful and indeed confident that they will vote yes.
WORDSWORTH: Arthur Sinodinos, have you got your ballot in the mail yet?
SINODINOS: Um, I …
WORDSWORTH: Haven’t been home yet, I suppose, maybe.
SINODINOS: I’ll check tonight. The only other point I’d make about this whole debate is there have been some debates around political correctness and all the rest of it but this really is about the particular question and then we can answer and deal with the other issues.
The only other point I make is, this is a complex society. Of course we have to balance all sorts of rights. No-one is saying that one right has to completely overtake another but, you know, ultimately this is about treating others as you would have them treat you.
WORDSWORTH: Just on that point of the religious protections, do you know or fear that any MPs might use the lack of a debate about religious protections now after the fact to delay or frustrate the result of the postal survey?
SINODINOS: I think someone who is determined for whatever reason to be against same-sex marriage will do whatever they believe is right to advance their objective and behave accordingly.
WORDSWORTH: Would Tony Abbott honour the…
SINODINOS: Look, I have no doubt that Tony on his word, as indicated, he would honour the outcome of this because he’s one of the originators of the plebiscite concept and he made it clear that we honour the people’s choice.
WORDSWORTH: Alright, well, Arthur Sinodinos and Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.
SINODINOS: Thank you.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.