ABC News Interview: Afternoon Briefing: Nationals Infighting, Climate Change, Bushfires, US Election



SUBJECTS: Nationals Infighting, Climate Change, Bushfires, US Election

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel, Dave Sharma and Peter Khalil. Welcome. Hi Dave, you’re a Liberal, not a National, but are you embarrassed about how the first sitting fortnight of the year has played out with the Nationals’ infighting in neon lights? 

DAVE SHARMA, MP: No. I’m not embarrassed but I do think that has been unfortunate and a distraction from the whole lot of serious issues the Parliament and the Government has been addressing. We had the historic visit by the Indonesian President and addressed a joint sitting of the Parliament and that’s an incredibly important relation. We have bushfire things recovery, the macro economy and things like that. It’s a shame some of those issues are having the oxygen sucked away from them by this. 

KARVELAS: At the heart of it is some policy fights, ideological fights. One thing I know is close to your heart or policy mind and that’s on coal-fired power. The Nationals, particularly the rebel Nationals, are pushing very hard for more coal-fired power. What’s your response to that? 

SHARMA: Well, I’m not sure that is the case. I don’t know if I case. accept that.Of course it’s the case. I don’t necessarily accept that’s what’s behind their intentions. I’m not a member of that party and don\’t sit in the party room. I wouldn’t ascribe it to a single cause. We as a Coalition have to represent our different parts of Australia and different constituencies. We have different views that reflect the views of our constituents. The party room is the right place to address them and the party room is the right place to integrate them. I’ll represent the views and voices of my constituents but I respect others.  

KARVELAS I appreciate you respect the views and all of that but specifically on new coal-fired power stations, do you support it?  

SHARMA: My view is I support the Government’s feasibility study into potential heli-coal fire stations. We should be exploring all options. I don’t think the Government should be funding new power stations, be it coal, nuclear or gas. That’s the role of the private sector.  

KARVELAS: OK. Pete, I want to bring you all in because part of this is Michael McCormack’s, some of these leaks, including slugging potentially taxpayers for flights and accommodation in Melbourne for the National Centenary celebrations by scheduling a party room meeting in the city. It is within the rules. A lot of parties have done it, haven’t they, including the Labor Party?  

PETER KHALIL, MP:  Well, I think the Parliamentary Expenses Authority will need to investigate that. That’s what they’re there for. More than unfortunate what David said, they’re a self-described rabble. Their leadership tensions, the spill that occurred overshadowed a day that was meant to be a focus on bushfire and the victims, as well as the people still fighting the fires across Australia. They overshadowed the visit of the Indonesian President. This is much more serious than Dave is making it out to be. This government is tearing itself apart. It’s tearing itself apart before our very, very eyes. And if they’re doing that, they’re not focusing on governing.  

KARVELAS Dave Sharma, you said, you corrected me and I\’d love to hear what you do think is responsible? You don\’t think this policy debate on coal is at the heart of this. Then what is it about then? 

SHARMA: I’m sorry to disappoint but I won’t offer commentary. It’s not my role. I think it’s probably a lot more than but it’s not helpful for me to offer commentary on it and I don’t know enough about the issues to offer any sort of informed view. I’ll leave that to others, I think.  

KARVELAS: They’re a little cousin, so you have to work together. Or a little brother. You form government together and it is very relevant.  

SHARMA: We do work together. We in the Liberal Party respect the National Party party room, internal processes and internal discussions and respect, whatever decisions they reach just as we expect and receive the same from them in return. 


KHALIL:  Sorry, I think that’s a copout, Dave. You’re part of a government. A government that’s throwing $4 million into a feasibility study for a new coal-fired power plant. We know they’re not feasible. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. And you’ve got Keith Pitt, the new Tats Minister, talk about more coal-fired power. It’s madness. We need to actually transition to renewable energy and this Government is looking at investing in new coal-fired power plants. If that was to go ahead in Collinsville, we’re talking about billions of dollars of federal money that would have to go into it, according to the Australian Industry Group. You can’t say it’s the Nats and nothing to do with me. They’re part of the Coalition, the Government, and they need to be held to account.  

KARVELAS: Dave Sharma, let me ask you a specific question and you can make your comments. In relation on how to take on some of these people with these views and rebels, there has been reports senior Liberals have told moderate MPs or Liberals to kind of pull their heads in and not have a fight with the Nationals in public about this.  

KARVELAS: What\’s your view on that? Should you be outspoken on issues around emissions reduction and climate change? 

SHARMA: We all have a role to represent the views of our communities and constituents and electorates and sometimes we’ll do that in things we say publicly and sometimes privately in the party room. Each of us always has to make a decision about what are the most way to represent the views of our constituents is. Sometimes it’s by speaking publicly and sometimes speaking more quietly.  

KARVELAS: On this issue in the wick of the bushfire emergency, what’s your view on how to talk about these issues? Do you think that people who share your view, where climate change is a huge issue in your electorate, should be more outspoken, making the case for lower emissions? 

SHARMA: I’m comfortable with how the Government has handled this and the PM has handled this. He’s acknowledged the role of climate change and hotter, drier summers, both through adaptation resilience but also through mitigation. He’s talked a lot and I support this on all we\’re investing in renewable energy, projects like Snowy 2.0, and policies to support more renewable energy in the grid will be announced. An electric vehicle strategy. A technology roadmap coming out as well. This is all, Peter made the point about the transition, this is all about managing the transition to a lower carbon future. It doesn’t mean coal will not continue to play an important role in this country’s energy mix and it will continue to play an important role in our trading relationships with the rest of the world. In terms of our own energy fix, renewables, more renewables is the way it’s going.  

KARVELAS: Peter, do you support zero net emissions by 2050? Is that a policy you support?  

KHALIL:  We need to get to net zero emissions and have a massive investment in renewable energy to actually replace coal-fired power. We need to actually have an investment in a just transition for workers so they get real jobs in the clean energy market, in the clean energy future. Only then can we have the moral standing to stand on the international stage and work with other countries to ensure there’s a global reduction in emissions by some of the other big emitters. We can’t lecture them now because this Government is doing nothing. They’re going backwards. We’re not even going to meet the 5% Kyoto commitment by 2020. We’re not going to meet the Paris commitments. They’re so far behind by their own accounting and analysis. And they’re using the carry over credits of Kyoto for their already meagre targets. I’m shocked that Dave is talking about this in the withat he has because there are people in his Liberal Party room like himself and others who know we need to take action on climate change and they’re having an ideological battle. It’s not just the Nats. It is going on in your own party room, the debate about when to essentially decarbonise and the pace of decarbonisation.  

KARVELAS: Do you believe in using carry over credits?  

SHARMA: Look, I think we have set ourselves a Paris target – 26% to 28% of reductions and we’re already down 12% on our 2005 levels of that. I would like to see us, as the PM says, not only beat those targets. If we don’t need to use the credits, let’s do so. I’m always a big believer in underpromising and overdelivering. I would rather make sure we can meet our commitments.We can. This is the thing. International as the countries promise the moon and the world and deliver very little.It’s not just about promising, it’s having a roadmap to get there. Exactly We have a roadmap to get there. You can determine it. Why not commit to not using the carry over credits because on principle you don’t think it’s the right thing to do? We-a roadmap to get to 26%, 28% emissions reduction by 2030. I’d like to be confident enough we’ll meet those targets and see what we’re going to beat them by before we consider any other steps there. That’s a responsible thing to do. The thing the Labor Party likes doing is pulling figures out of thin air and saying that’s our target and not supporting them. They’ve abandoned their target from the last election and refusing to set another one. They pull numbers out of the air and say this is our goal. There’s no strategy. It’s meaningless.  

KHALIL: When we were last in power we reduced emissions. Probably one of the top countries within the OECD in reduction in emissions. Since you’ve been in power the last years we’ve gone backwards. You’re not even getting close to meeting the Paris targets you’re talking about. I don’t accept that.You’re investing $300 million in the Liddell coal-fired power plant when it’s spluttering forward. It’s madness in the Nats party room and the Liberal party room. You’re trying to appease climate change deniers in your country by continuing with $4 million for a feasibility study for another coal-fired power plant. We need to look after jobs, industries and the economy. The contrast is with your approach that seeks a target and disregards the consequences of delivering on that target.  

KARVELAS: Dave Sharma, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has warned ecoterrorism is behind the summer bushfires. What do you think of that? 

SHARMA: I’m not aware of the comments she made there.  I presume she was referring to the works of arsonists which were in significant part responsible for starting bushfires.  

KARVELAS: I need to question the word you used significant. Of course there’s some arson but would you say that was the significant reason behind our bushfire emergency? 

SHARMA: Well, I think the people who start the fires, yeah, that’s a big cause of our bushfire emergency. That’s self-evident. What’s responsible for the bushfire emergency we’ve just seen, according to you? The people that started the fires and the hotter and drier summers and a prolonged drought. All those things together have caused the summer that we’ve had. OK. Would those fires… You’re asking me to separate causes and say there’s a single cause only. Like most things and most tragedies, there’s multiple factors at work, just as in any event like this. It’s foolish and simplistic to say one thing is responsible. 

KARVELAS: So the responsible part is why would you exaggerate or why would anyone exaggerate arson as being behind it when actually the experts, as you know, the people who actually fight the fires, say that wasn\’t the main reason we saw this disaster? 

SHARMA: Look, I’m not exaggerating and I haven’t seen the full text of the comments. You have taken one word she’s used and said that’s her analytical conclusion. You need to see everything she said. I have read everything she said. Fair enough. 

KARVELAS I’ll give you a right of reply on that, Peter. In terms of the bushfire emergency we’ve seen, Labor was certainly pivoting on this issue of climate change, coal. After the election, has there been a rethink given the emergency we saw?  

KHALIL: On the point about the bushfires, all the science and scientists have told us and warned us for a very long time now the evidence is there that climate change has an impact on the bushfire season. It lengthens it and makes it more intense. Dave mentioned that. I know Dave is not the problem in the Liberal Party room. He believes climate change is an existential threat. The problem is there are a number of hard right wingers both in the Liberal Party room and the Nats who have hijacked any sensible climate change policy by this Government for the last seven years. Every time we’ve approached potential bipartisanship on taking action, they’ve blown it up and thrown grenades into their party rooms and blown it up. We have not moved forward as a nation on this and we need to do this, we need to invest in renewable energy and have a transition. We need not to put taxpayer dollars into coal-fired power plants which this government is effectively doing and I’m a bit surprised Dave supports $4 million for a feasibility study for another coal-fired power plant. We want bipartisanship. We want to take action on climate change but this government keeps dodging that and actually appeasing their hard right in their party rooms. 

KARVELAS: Dave Sharma, I know as a former diplomat and keep watcher of foreign affairs, you’ve been looking at what’s happening in the US. Just heading to the US before we finish, Bernie Sanders has claimed victory in the New Hampshire primary. What do you make of that outcome? 

SHARMA: I think he was polling quite well and of course he won New Hampshire against Hillary Clinton four years ago. He does poll strongly there. But Pete Buttigieg finished a strong second as well, whilst Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden seem to be significantly down the field. This is a really complicated Democratic primary race and campaign. I think it’s going to be some time until a clear leader emerges and it might not even be until the convention this is decided.  

KARVELAS It’s one of the more fields we’ve seen in some years — complicated fields we’ve sign in some years. Do you think any of those people can beat Donald Trump?  

SHARMA: Potentially. I will not comment too much on US domestic politics I certainly think the pres den race will be compet and like it usually does will come down to a handful of states, just like the last election did. It’s hard to play it out until they settle on a candidate.  

KARVELAS: Lessons last time, Bernie Sanders being the front-runner in New Hampshire, has he got the goods to beat Donald Trump?  

KHALIL: I think he’s claimed victory, last I heard. He’s looking very, very strong. What’s been surprising is the drop right-off from Biden and his campaign. It’s a real struggle for him going forward unless he has a great result in South Carolina. Bernie and Buttigieg are the two front-runners going forward. Can he beat Trump? Who knows. Are you going to have two older men going at it? Who can last the distance? Who knows. If the Democrats do win in the US, there’s going to be a huge shift in foreign policy, in their domestic policy and also climate change policy which would bow a good thing.  

KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you. It’s been a great chat