SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; recovery process for the bushfires; Calls for a Royal Commission into bushfires; the Government’s inaction on climate change; Government’s lack of climate change and energy policies; Labor’s principles on climate change.
SARAH GILLMAN, HOST: Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, says there needs to be a Royal Commission into the bushfires and the response to natural disasters, generally. Which could consider the division of powers between the Commonwealth and the states, which could allow a quicker deployment at the Defence Force. And it could also consider ways to adapt to Australia’s changing climate. I’d love to know what you think. Do we need a Royal Commission into natural disasters and how we deal with them? Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader. He’s currently in Tasmania and joins us now. Good morning. Thanks for coming in.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Sarah. Good to be here.
GILLMAN: What would another inquiry achieve?
ALBANESE: Well, that is one of my concerns. Take for example, the issue you just raised of quicker deployment of the Defence Force. After the Victorian bushfires, the Defence Force were there the next day, assisting. It doesn’t take a long time. And the truth is that the way that some of the issues were handled during this bushfire crisis were characterised by a complacency, really. The comments were kept being made about, ‘Well, we’ve had natural disasters before and there’s nothing unusual about this’. Well, it was never going to be business-as-usual. COAG still hasn’t met at all during this period. And I called for COAG to meet in November in order to get that national coordination. So, there are lessons to be learned. I like the comment of your texter before about what matters is the implementation. And I think that’s precisely right. There’s been a report sitting with the Government since July 2018. The National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework Report. It recommended an implementation plan in 2019 be developed and released. That hasn’t happened. So, I’m not opposed to a Royal Commission. I think inevitably we will have some form of national inquiry such as that. We will have, of course, coronial inquiries because of the deaths that have occurred. And over the weekend Bill Slade, the latest firefighter to make the ultimate sacrifice defending his local communities. And that will occur. But we need to actually respond to both the immediate needs, but also to look at the long-term implications of climate change, what it means having a drying climate.
GILLMAN: We will come to that. But on the basis of your support of a Royal Commission, would one of your conditions be that whatever comes out has to be implemented?
ALBANESE: Well, it certainly should be. But I don’t know how you enforce that.
GILLMAN: So, what’s the point of one?
ALBANESE: To hold the Government to account. Well, it will provide a framework in terms of any recommendations to go back. We still haven’t had the implementation of the recommendations from the Banking Royal Commission. That’s been something that we have raised repeatedly in the national Parliament. So, I think there were many lessons that have been learned from the Black Saturday fires and others when inquiries have happened. And certainly, the way that, for example, Victoria is dealing with anyone who is in difficulty who needs support in terms of financial support, having a case manager, having someone who they can go to who is the go to person and say, ‘Look, I need assistance with housing or income support. I need to deal with health issues, mental health, physical health’. That’s one of the lessons that’s been learned. And that the Victorian Government is certainly very much on top of.
GILLMAN: The Prime Minister says that a lot of response to natural disasters rightly fall to the states and territory governments. Could a recommendation for the Royal Commission be that that changes?
ALBANESE: Well, the truth is that, yes, states are responsible, and we have a federated system here. But when you have a national crisis that required a national response, it was a political decision by the Prime Minister to not have a national response. He chose to not have COAG. He chose to say repeatedly, when asked about issues like the Defence Force involvement, or about the compensation for volunteer firefighters, he kept saying day after day, ‘It’s up to the states. The states are responsible’. And that was a political decision by the Prime Minister. In my view, this was a national crisis, and has been such for a very long period of time and required a national response going back at least as far as November when it was clear.
GILLMAN: Scott Morrison on television yesterday, ABC Insiders, admitted that things could have been handled differently, particularly by him, and he wants to move forward. He also said that he acknowledged that climate change and adaptation to the changing climate, he said would need to be considered. Is that good enough?
ALBANESE: Well, adaptation is one issue that needs to be dealt with. But the issue that wasn’t really confronted is what is Australia’s role in reducing emissions? And to do that, we need to have an actual plan to deal with climate change and to reduce our emissions here domestically, not just using accounting tricks. The Government has no energy policy or climate change policy to drive that change through the economy at the moment. And we need to use that to give us credibility to then argue for a better position globally. And while these bushfires have been occurring, and this tragedy unfolding, Australia was there at the international conference in Madrid, arguing for less action, not more. Being one of the recalcitrant countries along with Saudi Arabia and a couple of others that really set back those climate talks. Australia has an interest in global action, and we can see how vulnerable our continent is in particular.
GILLMAN: This is the Federal Labor Leader and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, currently in Tasmania. What about your own credibility. Because if we go on social media sites now and articles about climate change, there are a lot of unhappy Labor supporters who take you to task on your recent commitment to the coal industry and an ongoing policy supporting the coal industry. Where do you stand in terms of your own credibility when it comes to emissions and credits and so on?
ALBANESE: Well, look, you can look at what Labor did when we were in Government last time. We ratified the Kyoto Protocol. We introduced the Renewable Energy Target. We had a mechanism to drive change through the economy. We established the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We established ARENA. We took action. And a future Labor Government would take action again. Some of the stuff, frankly, on social media is just wrong. It’s just not true. And you would think if you look at some of social media that Queensland was just a mine, it’s not. It has a range of industries.
GILLMAN: Do you admit that to some Labor Party members, that you’ve let them down because of your policy on coal?
ALBANESE: No. Well, our policy is for no new coal-fired power stations. We say that won’t happen. It’s for a transition to a clean energy economy. All I’ve said is the fact that tomorrow you can’t switch immediately. It’s as simple as that. And that’s just telling people the truth. And what occurs is that some people, the Greens have an interest in trying to distort Labor’s policy. They don’t have an interest in solutions, which is why they voted against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme 10 years ago, that set back this debate and led to the 10 years of conflict that have occurred, rather than actually moving forward. And we need a transition. That needs to occur domestically. Labor put in place those policies. And globally, we need to do that as well. But we need to have credibility to be arguing for a transition. Labor’s policy is very clear about that. Labor when we’re in Government, were a positive force on the international stage. At the moment we are a negative force. And at the moment, the truth is the Government doesn’t have policy to drive down emissions. It wants to have little accounting tricks and rely upon what Labor did in Government to take credit for its lack of action at the moment.
GILLMAN: There has been some talk that the Federal Government won’t rely on those Kyoto credits when it comes to its target. If Australia meets its target by 2023 or 2024, as opposed to 2030, what should happen then?
ALBANESE: Well, there’s no indication that it’s going to. All of the actual figures about what’s happening in our economy, we’re seeing a lack of investment, a real drop off in investment in renewable energy as a direct result of the uncertainty that’s there, because there’s no framework to drive that change and that investment through the economy.
GILLMAN: You said over the weekend that Tasmania as a state didn’t receive enough help after the bushfires last year. Whose fault was that?
ALBANESE: Well, the Commonwealth Government didn’t pitch in for things like the Tahune Airwalk that will reopen on the first of February. It’s an important piece of infrastructure for tourism here in Tasmania, and they received no support. We went to the election arguing that there should be more support given and we made that commitment. We weren’t successful. But I think there was real scope for the Government to provide great support. They’re now saying, I note today, that if the state government down the track requests further support. Well, it’s a long way down the track. The truth is that one of the lessons that we need to learn from any of these natural disasters is that if you come in and you have the reconstruction as soon as possible, it actually costs less. And it has less economic, social, and environmental impact if you do that.
GILLMAN: Just back to the Royal Commission. Should it look at the whole structure of that response? Currently, Australia is in a unique position where we rely a lot on volunteers, either at the first instance or in the recovery mode. Does that need to change particularly when even yesterday down in Cygnet there were volunteer firefighters tin-rattling to get equipment?
ALBANESE: Look, we’re going to have to have a look at it. I’ve been to so many RFS and Country Fire Services, it is called different things in different states. And the talk of the equipment that they need, volunteer firefighters, I think, they’re very committed. And it’s one thing to spend days or even a week. These people have spent many months. They spend their own money driving their cars to put petrol in them. Many of them were saying to me the reason why they needed some economic compensation was because they still needed to put food on the table for their families, they still need to pay their rent or their mortgages. And if it is the case that the disasters are going to go for longer periods of time, then we do need to look at how sustainable it is. And that’s why some form of Federal assistance was required. And it’s good that it was given. But we also need, I think, some of the nature of that, we will keep an eye on and scrutinise as well. Because people are now being told, for example, if they worked an 11pm to 7am shift, then that doesn’t count. It’s only the time of the normal hours of work. And so, there’s some real concern because these volunteer firefighters have been quite extraordinary. They have put in for Australia, we need to put back into them.
GILLMAN: We’ll leave it there. Thanks so much for coming in.
ALBANESE: Thanks Sarah
GILLMAN: Thank you, Anthony Albanese, Federal Labor Leader, Opposition Leader currently in Tasmania.