SUBJECTS: Climate change; coronavirus; Biloela family; Bridget McKenzie; sports rorts.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Opposition Leader joins us now from Melbourne this morning. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Fran.
KELLY: The Prime Minister says that technology is the key to cutting emissions, not taxes or targets. Is he right?
ALBANESE: He’s wrong. And we have seen the impact of climate change. We have seen it, we have felt it, we have smelt it. And it has had a devastating impact over the summer in the area in which you’re broadcasting from down on the south coast. We will be, my entire Shadow Ministry will be in Batemans Bay next Friday to have a meeting and see first-hand, the whole team, the impact that it has had on the region with Fiona Phillips and Mike Kelly, the local Federal MPs. The fact is that the Government continues to just come up with a whole load of words but no action. Our emissions are not going down. The fact is that we’re not going to meet our Kyoto targets. We are not on track to meet the Paris targets. The Government doesn’t have a climate change policy. It doesn’t have an energy policy. This is a do-nothing Government that has an excuse for everything and a plan for nothing.
KELLY: Well, in terms of no action, I mean, the Prime Minister says that he’s going to act on adaptation. That’s his priority. He says for many people, particularly in the areas that have just suffered bushfires, what needs to be cut is hazard reduction, not emissions as a first priority. What commitments did you want to hear from the Prime Minister? Because, to be frank, we are yet to hear from you what Labor would do when it comes to targets?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that I will listen to Shane Fitzsimmons about issues like hazard reduction, people who are actual experts. And if the Prime Minister spent some time on the ground talking to people like the RFS on the south coast or in the Blue Mountains and other areas, he would have a different position because the experts are certainly telling me something very different. What we’ve had is a real drying of the continent as a result of the drought. That’s been exacerbated by climate change. The Prime Minister was warned that this was coming for a long period of time. He continued to see the whole season as business-as-usual. And he still is complacent and pretending that they’re meeting the targets when they’re not.
ALBANESE: When they don’t have an energy policy.
KELLY: Well, let’s put some numbers on this. Because as you say, these fires are not business-as-usual. You’ve claimed you will adopt a very strong policy, and yet you said that Labor’s 45 per cent reduction target which you took to the last election was a mistake.
ALBANESE: No, I didn’t.
KELLY: Are you going to promise here now that whatever target you come up with will be tougher than the Government’s?
ALBANESE: Let’s be clear about that, Fran. I did not say that. People on Twitter said that I said that. If you look at the interview, what I said was that it’s a mistake for any Opposition which loses three elections in a row to just continue to build on the same policies. That was a mistake. It wasn’t even a reference to climate change, or to any targets. The fact is that we will have a strong position at the election. We don’t want to let the Government off the hook and say, ‘Well, you don’t have to do anything, we’ll talk about what we’ll do in 2022 and assume that absolutely nothing happens in the meantime’. What we need to do is to put in place an energy policy now that actually drives down emissions and increases investment in renewables, because we know that what is happening is that investment is falling off the cliff and what’s more, we need Australia to have some credibility domestically, not as just the end in itself, because the Prime Minister is right that we can’t act alone. But the fact is Australia went to the Madrid conference while these bushfires were burning and argued for less action, not more. We were one of the recalcitrant nations along with countries like Saudi Arabia and argued for an accounting trick.
KELLY: Okay, but now the Prime Minister is starting to signal a developing energy policy. He says gas is a major part of the solution, gas is the answer. And he’s going to put the squeeze on the states to lift their moratorium on gas developments. Do you agree with that gas is the key to transitioning to a cleaner technology, that that’s the technological response that he’s talking about?
ALBANESE: That’s not a policy framework. Of course, gas is cleaner than burning coal, but we need to transition to clean energy. There are new technologies, particularly hydrogen has enormous potential. And I spoke about that in my jobs and the future of work vision statement in Perth, many months ago, the first one that I gave. The fact is that action on climate change can create job, lower emissions and lower prices by increasing supply, but it needs a Government that is prepared to show leadership. The Prime Minister is incapable of doing that because of the internal divisions with the sceptics like Barnaby Joyce and others on his side who are holding back the Government from any serious action.
KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. It is 12 past 8am. Our guest is Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Can I talk about the coronavirus now? The Government’s drawing up plans to evacuate Australian citizens from Hubei province but this morning the Foreign Minister said Beijing is yet to approve that Australian evacuation. Does that surprise you? Are you critical of the time it is taking? Or is this simply because we weren’t in a position to do things any more quickly, we didn’t have a consular office in Wuhan?
ALBANESE: Look, it is difficult, the fact that we don’t have a consular office there. And perhaps that is another argument about our presence overseas and some of the cutbacks in our presence that have occurred. Qantas, as they have done consistently over the lifetime of that airline have been prepared to step in and defend the national interest and have offered support. I know for a fact that is the case. I’ve spoken directly with the Qantas senior executives, including Alan Joyce about that. So, the Government needs to put this in place as a matter of urgency. We do need to get Australians away from what clearly is a danger to them and their families. This is a concerning situation. With regard to other action, my position has been not to politicise this but to say that we need to listen to all of the advice of the medical experts.
KELLY: The decision to, if we can evacuate people, to have that plane land at Christmas Island and put people there in quarantine for 14 days. We heard the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, say that’s the only safe thing to do, you can’t go into a hospital on the mainland to put them there. Is that the right decision? Is that the right measure?
ALBANESE: I think that it is unclear whether that is motivated by a genuine belief that is the only option or whether the embarrassment of the Government opening Christmas Island having a husband, a wife from Biloela and their four-year-old and two-year-old daughters there at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. They need to be seen to be doing something at Christmas Island other than holding a press conference for Scott Morrison.
KELLY: If the plane does land there and those people are quarantined, should the Biloela family be moved?
ALBANESE: Well, the concern I have about our behaviour there is the reports that the four-year-old going off to school wasn’t allowed to have both parents with them. We are a better country than that.
KELLY: Okay. Just finally on the sports rorts scandal. More revelations today. Every day there’s another revelation. Today it’s $500,000 given to a gun club in the Northern Territory, which former Minister Nigel Scullion belonged to. Now, that necessarily of itself is not necessarily corrupt. Local members are allowed to advocate for local gun clubs. But what’s your view? Will Bridget McKenzie still have a job when Parliament returns next week?
ALBANESE: Look, a definition of corrupt is use of public funds, taxpayers’ funds, for a personal or political gain. And what we have here is a program where Sport Australia, under the legislation, were making recommendations and they were being ignored. And you have clubs that have been granted money that have closed. You have announcements being made in the Prime Minister’s own electorate, being told the funding is coming months before it was actually announced. You have Coalition Members being members of clubs where the grants have been given. And during all of this, of course, hardworking volunteers who put in time to try to get some much-needed public funds to these organisations that are struggling missing out. Mosman Rowers gets half a million dollars. They could have just put the hat around on a Sunday afternoon.
KELLY: When Parliament is back, Labor is going to push for senate inquiry. You will have the numbers for that almost certainly. We heard the Prime Minister yesterday say the only input from his office was to pass on requests from Liberal MPs for funding. Do you think that’s going to be the finding when the senate inquiry is held?
ALBANESE: Well, there’s been an inquiry, of course, already by the Audit Office. And it’s a damning inquiry.
KELLY: But it doesn’t point to the Prime Minister’s Office direct involvement.
ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister, quite clearly there is a reason why Bridget McKenzie is still there. And that is because they are worried about other people being drawn into this tawdry saga. And Peter van Onselen, I note the statements that he’s just made on your program. And I await that tonight. Because quite clearly, we know that people have been named from the Prime Minister’s Office who were directly involved in this parallel process. There was a legitimate process. And then there was another dodgy one going side by side. And the dodgy one determined where the money was going.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese. Thanks for joining us on Breakfast.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fran. Welcome back.