SUBJECTS: Bushfires, climate change.
INTERVIEWER: Right now we’re joined on the line by Anthony Albanese, AKA Albo, Leader of the Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition. Good morning Albo!
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day guys, how are you?
INTERVIEWER: Good, good, good, glad to have you on the line.
ALBANESE: Great to be in Central Queensland.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, well you are in the region at the moment doing a driving tour. What brings you this way?
ALBANESE: Well I’m just connecting with people, talking to them about the issues they’re concerned about, about jobs, about whether their wages are keeping up with the cost of living, about the whole range of issues that people raise. Education, health, climate change, the impact of the bushfires.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, fantastic. And I know for me personally and a lot of young people one of the biggest issues at the moment is climate change and of course New South Wales and Queensland are experiencing some massive fires. I mean Sydney at the moment, covered in a smoke haze. People are wearing gas masks just to get to work. Conditions are apocalyptic right now and it’s only going to get worse. What are Labor doing to sort of fight against climate change?
ALBANESE: Well we need to do two things. One, we need to have strong domestic emissions policies. At the moment there’s no renewable energy target from this Government beyond 2020 and that, of course, was put in by Labor when we were in government and opposed by the Coalition at that time. We need to recognise that climate change is a real challenge but it’s also an opportunity to grow jobs through new industries like hydrogen out of Gladstone, it has an enormous opportunity to create jobs, to create activity. I want to see a country where we’re not just installing solar panels but we’re manufacturing them here. We’re manufacturing wind turbines. We’re moving towards that transition. And globally Australia is now an embarrassment. The truth is that our emissions are rising. We do need to engage with the global community because it’s about international emissions. And at the moment there’s a report out overnight that shows Australia rating zero – zero – for one of the reports. We’re actually rated last in the world. And that’s a tragedy. We could do so much better.
INTERVIEWER: Now Albo, you are pretty firmly pro-coal. You said recently we should keep exporting coal from Australia. Keeping up with the fight against climate change, coal obviously being a massive carbon emitter, a lot of people would say it’s a bit of an oxymoron to be pro-coal and also talking about needing to reduce emissions. So how do you justify being pro-coal and anti-climate change?
ALBANESE: Well what I’ve said is that domestically the fact is there won’t be a coal fired power station built in Australia because it doesn’t stack up. In terms of renewables, they’re much cheaper. So that’s domestic. And over a period of time there’ll be a transition and that’s happening. We can see that happening. The Liddell Power Station will close in the next few years and that’s a process of moving towards a clean energy economy domestically. Internationally what we need to look at is our coal exports. Now a majority of Queensland’s coal exports are metallurgical coal to make steel. That’s not about to end and indeed steel is a product that you need to build wind turbines, and steel goes into a whole lot of products including solar panels et cetera. So with regard to the export of other coal, you can’t just end that tomorrow. We still do rely upon coal for a lot of our power in Australia but that will change. And globally it will be impacted by two things. One is renewables becoming cheaper, so therefore there will be that shift and that’s one thing that is happening here. But secondly as well, those strong international targets. So by exporting coal we’re not creating demand for coal. That’s there, and if Australia stopped exporting tomorrow it would just be replaced by coal from other countries. We do need to reduce fossil fuel use. That will happen over a period of time. But all I’ve said is the idea you can just stop using coal tomorrow is just not realistic and we need to put forward practical plans that deal with climate change whilst not disadvantaging Australia in terms of our economy and jobs just for a gesture.
INTERVIEWER: Now Albo, just touching again on the New South Wales fires and the Queensland fires, and Sydney being covered in a smoke haze because of these fires. Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been very quiet about the whole thing and he doesn’t really seem to be doing anything.
ALBANESE: He’s not, that’s the problem. I wrote to him a few weeks ago and proposed that COAG, the basic meeting of Commonwealth, State, and Local Government take place. It was due to take place in the second half of this year. He chose to cancel the meeting that should normally have happened. And there should be a concentration on the response here. Are we doing enough in terms of mitigation and adaptation? Are we doing enough in terms of things like aerial support? Do we need more aerial water bombers? Do we need to have a national approach towards that? I was very disturbed to see his comments about the volunteer firefighters. One of the issues that we proposed is do we need to look at leave for volunteer firefighters and how that could be built into their jobs. Some of these men and women haven’t been fighting fires for weeks, they’ve been fighting them for months.
INTERVIEWER: We spoke to someone over the weekend who said they’d been doing 17 hour long days. They were doing 12 hours on duty but it was a few hours away so he was driving, doing 12 hours, then sleeping and going back out there the next day. They’re doing some pretty intense work.
ALBANESE: These are brave, they’re courageous, they’re diligent, they care about their community. They’re amazing people. And I’ve spoken to them face to face, when I visited Northern New South Wales for the fires around Casino and Lismore. And some of those people have been fighting fires literally since March. There were fires in that region around (inaudible). It’s a real issue and how do they survive economically if they’re not being paid for their job and they’re putting in here? So they’re the sort of issues that we should be discussing and coming up with solutions for. Scott Morrison’s response to the volunteer firefighters, I read this morning, was to say that ‘Oh well, they want to be there’. Well they don’t actually, they’d much rather be not traveling.
INTERVIEWER: Nobody wants to be fighting fires.
ALBANESE: They’re not doing it for fun, they’re doing it for commitment.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, they need to!
ALBANESE: But they need to pay their rent, or pay their mortgage, buy food, do all that as well.
INTERVIEWER: Feed their kids.
ALBANESE: Pay for petrol for their cars to travel to these areas, many of them. And they’re deserving of our support because one of the things we do know is that climate change means that the bushfire season is longer. We’re only ten days into Summer and it’s been going for months.
INTERVIEWER: Well Albo, that’s about all we have time for but thank you very much for joining us this morning.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program.