ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
SUBJECTS: Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Wage Theft, Labor’s Vision for Jobs in a Renewable Energy Future
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel today. It’s Labor’s Peter Khalil and Liberal MP Dave Sharma. Welcome to both of you. I’ll start with you Dave. An extra $1 billion is being handed to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in these projects essentially dealing with reliability in the electricity supply. How far will that actually go towards keeping the grid stable and while it’s been welcomed, where is the long-term vision?
DAVE SHARMA, MP: This is part of a series of measures we’ve taken. There’s this new $1 billion for the grid reliability fund, there’s the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme which again is about improving the storage capacity for renewables, and then there’s the battery and the interconnector with Tasmania and even the one that was announced just last week between New South Wales and Queensland. So this is really about supporting more renewable energy in the grid. Because with more renewables comes more intermittency, because of the vagaries of the weather and what-not. So having a better-connected grid and having more storage capacity for renewables allows us to put more renewables into the grid but also to keep prices low and keep reliability high. And that’s what this is about today.
KARVELAS: Have you been reading Malcolm Turnbull’s tweets?
SHARMA: I did see his tweet pop up this morning and I was glad he welcomed the announcement. I welcome the announcement too.
KARVELAS: Do you agree though with his other critique, that Tony Abbott worked towards abolishing this?
SHARMA: He was making what he thought was a statement of fact. I’m not going to buy into that – I wasn’t in the parliament at the time. Scott Morrison’s decision today was a good one. It’s certainly welcome to me and welcome to many in my electorate.
KARVELAS: The old “Wasn’t in the parliament during that time,”.
SHARMA: I’ve used that for a while Patricia.
KARVELAS: I used to say “I wasn’t born yet”, but that runs out eventually. Peter Khalil, this money can’t be used for new or upgraded coal projects. We know that Resources Minister Matt Canavan has long been lobbying for a coal-fired power plant in Queensland. This looks like that must be off the table. Is that how you read it?
KHALIL: You’re right, I think Matt Canavan and many others in the Liberal and National parties want to put taxpayer dollars to coal-fired power plants. The point is that they’ve added $1 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and it is a mimic of Labor policy. We set the CEFC up. Tony Abbott wanted to scrap is as you’ve just mentioned. We committed $10 billion to the CEFC at the last election. If we’d won there would have been $10 billion going into renewable energy projects and an additional $5 billion that we committed to get reliability in the grid, so this is a pretty miniscule mimic, if you like, by the Government. And I don’t know how long it’s going to last, because we’ve had 17 different energy policies. The climate change deniers in the Liberal party room and the National party room, are they going to knock this one off as well? Because they were successful in knocking off the other 17 energy policies.
KARVELAS: I want to put that to you Dave Sharma. We know some of your colleagues have been wanting coal to be bankrolled here. Is that now dead and dusted? Is it over?
SHARMA: If I can just respond to Peter’s comments first as you’d expect I might-
KARVELAS: No. No. The other bit please. The thing I asked.
SHARMA: Labor doesn’t have a policy here. But I’ll say that I don’t think taxpayer money should be going to coal-fired power stations. The truth is that new coal-fired power generation does not stack up, commercially on current returns and generation costs. Existing ones do, and I think there can be a role for the prolongation of existing coal-fired power plants as we transition to more renewables into the grid. But I don’t think there’s any appetite, my sense is, within my party or the Government, to put taxpayer money behind a new coal-fired power station.
KHALIL: Well that’s good news.
KARVELAS: Alright, Peter Khalil, Labor has been accused of sucking up to the coal lobby – mines hosted by the Minerals Council actually. There’s some MPs hanging out, looking at mines, being very excited about mining. Is that what Labor is doing now? Sucking up to the coal lobby?
KHALIL: No, I wouldn’t characterise it like that, obviously Patricia. It’s pretty clear-cut. You’ve got to make the distinction obviously between coking coal and thermal coal. If we are going to be very direct about the impacts on the climate. Thermal coal has an impact, because the emissions are very high once they’re exported and burned in countries around the world. But coking coal is about 60 percent of our exports, maybe 70 percent. It’s actually very important because it actually produces steel, and you need steel to build wind turbines and other renewable energy infrastructure, so there is a distinction that has to be made and people tend to conflate coal and lump it all together. I’m glad to hear that Dave is saying, announcing policy, that they won’t be finding new coal-fired power plants, but those older coal-fired power plants are also coming to the end of their shelf life and this government is not moving fast enough to provide renewable energy infrastructure that can start to replace coal. That’s why you get people like Matt Canavan running around saying you should build more and replace the old ones. It’s not good enough to just put a billion dollars into the CEFC and not do anything about renewable energy. Not really invest renewable energy. We welcome the $1 billion, we welcome the fact that they’re not going to scrap the CEFC, but they’ve got to do more. They’re really sitting on their hands on this. They’re in denial about the need for renewable energy?
SHARMA: Patricia can I just respond to that?
KARVELAS: I know you can’t help yourself.
SHARMA: We’re deploying renewable energy in Australia here – solar and wind – at 10 times the world average. An ANU report made that quite clear last week. That isn’t the government’s line, this is an independent body. We’ve now got in terms of renewable energy per capita we are one of the three countries-
KARVELAS: Where are you on the list though? Where did you say you were on the list?
SHARMA: We’re deploying renewable energy at 10 times the world average. We are one of only three countries – Germany and Denmark are the only countries that have more renewable energy than we do.
KARVELAS: They do have more so it was actually wrong, wasn’t it, for the Prime Minister to say we were the leader. We are up there, but we aren’t the leader aren’t we?
SHARMA: No but I can’t abide Peter saying we are doing nothing. This announcement today is exactly what we are doing.
KHALIL: Would you agree Dave that when we set up the CEFC with $10 billion initially, it’s now invested around $6.7 billion because of our policies into renewable energy projects, moving many projects away from coal and into renewables. That’s a Labor policy. That’s a Labor policy that you wanted to kill.
SHARMA: You set up the CEFC one year before you lost government. For six years we’ve been in government and we’ve been supporting the CEFC. You set it up one year before you lost government.
KHALIL: Your former Prime Minister was not. He wanted to kill it.
SHARMA: It hasn’t been killed – it’s still alive. It’s invested $7 billion, we’ve just given it an extra billion.
KARVELAS: Alright it’s not dead. I want to move on to an issue today that I think politicians should be very engaged in, and that’s this issue of wage theft. This Woolworths story that has broken today. $300 million in underpayments over a decade for Woolworths employees. Dave Sharma, what’s the government doing about this kind of what looks systemic really. We have story after story. Today’s is incredible. $300 million.
SHARMA: It’s shocking and there have been a number of stories, including even at the ABC I might hasten to add, of systemic underpayment of casual labourers as well. The Fair Work Ombudsman I’ve seen today is investigating this and it’s proper that they do investigate this. And I saw the Fair Work Ombudsman Commissioner say that an apology doesn’t amount to atonement. If this needs to be investigated it will. I’m glad that Woolworths has come clean but it’s unacceptable to deny workers their entitlements and underpay them in this sort of systemic and long-lasting fashion.
KARVELAS: The Government did say it would take action on this and has promised to draft legislation in relation to all of this. Isn’t there some urgency around all of this?
SHARMA: I think it should be a priority. I’d like to see what the Fair Work Ombudsman is proposing to do. They’ve got powers in this area. This is properly part of their jurisdiction. If they think they need more legislative power or more authorities here I’d certainly be open to the arguments.
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil?
KHALIL: This is one of the most basic rights people have at work is to get paid for the work that they do. And frankly this Government does not take wage compliance, wage theft seriously at all. Otherwise it would have moved to legislate on this. To actually create laws and put in place a system that actually addresses these issues very quickly and make sure that people are repaid. We had policies that we took to the last election around wage theft. More specifically around putting a system in place with jurisdiction alongside the Fair Work Commission to be able to mediate these claims, allowing single employees to make claims against employers – a whole range of policies that we had there to address wage theft and wage compliance which this Government has completely ignored. And now they say things like “well yeah, no, it’s something we should look at” like Dave is saying. It’s just not good enough. We are talking about the most basic right Australians have and that’s to get paid for their work. I’ve got mates at Woolworths and I hope he gets backpay because he’s going to have a lot coming into his account. It’s just not good enough and we need to see some real action on this and the Government’s not providing it.
KARVELAS: I just want to talk about a big speech that Anthony Albanese delivered yesterday – his first “headland” speech. I love the fancy name. But there will be a series of them where he will be outlining his vision for Labor and for re-casting Labor. Dave Sharma, at the centre of his argument was that the economy is de-carbonising and that there are opportunities for workers and that it’s all about jobs. That’s something you agree with isn’t it?
SHARMA: I certainly agree that we are transitioning to a lower-carbon future. You can call that de-carbonising if you want. We are focused as government on the new opportunities that come from that. Today’s announcement is part of that. The national hydrogen strategy that’s due to be released at the end of this year that we’ve commissioned from the Chief Scientist is part of that as well, our record deployment of renewable energy is part of that as well. I welcome this statement from the Opposition Leader. I still don’t know what his emissions targets are and I still don’t know what his plans are to reach those emissions targets. He didn’t address any of that in his speech, but that’s a matter for Peter.
KARVELAS: Well we know what your targets are, and we know that emissions are rising, so really you are in government, and under your watch emissions are rising.
SHARMA: Yeah, look, I think, y’know… We’ve got until 2030 to meet our Paris emissions reduction targets. I think we are on track to meet those. I think our announcements today will help because it will allow more renewable energy to be deployed into the grid. And I think the emissions from our electricity sector are reducing. Yes our growth in LNG exports is contributing to a rise in emissions, but if you look at a global picture here which is what you should be doing the fact that more countries are burning LNG rather than coal is a good thing for the globe.
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil, other than the sort of rhetorical shift, what’s the shift in Labor’s policy on coal, on climate change, on jobs.
KHALIL: I think this is more about Anthony Albanese’s vision for the future of the country. He talked obviously about the opportunities that open up with the de-carbonised economy for jobs. He talked a lot about skills and training. This is really important because obviously we had a very good set of climate change policies in the last election. I mentioned the $15 billion investment in renewable energy, but we also had a just transition policy which was about training. But it’s got to be more than that. It’s got to be about creating the jobs in the new economy and the renewable energy economy and he talked a lot about the importance of mining lithium – rare earth minerals to fill some of the needs we will have in this de-carbonised economy. He talked about the opportunity for jobs particularly in the hydrogen sector which Dave just mentioned. He’s really outlining his vision and our party’s vision for how we can shape the future. The fact is you’ve got actually invest into that future. You can’t just keep saying “Oh yeah, we will rely on an old policy by Labor for six years and claim credit for it when it actually invests 6.7 billion then tack on just one billion.” You’ve got to invest in that renewable energy future to de-carbonise the economy and create those job opportunities and that’s what Albo was talking about.
KARVELAS: That’s all we have time for but I’d like to thank you both. A spirited conversation and thank you for coming in.