ABC News – Net Zero & COP26


TUESDAY 28 September 2021

Subjects: Climate change; net zero by 2050; Glasgow Climate Change Conference

MATT WORDSWORTH, HOST: Time now for my political panel, Liberal MP, Dave Sharma, and Peter Khalil from Labor. Thank you for joining us both, but Dave, I want to start with you and on climate policy, because there’s been some shots fired from your Coalition colleague, Bridget McKenzie, who says it’s easy for the Member for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg or the Member for Wentworth, you, to publicly embrace net zero before the government has a position, because there would be next to no real impact on the way of life of their affluent constituents. Dave Sharma, what’s your response to that?

DAVE SHARMA, MEMBER FOR WENTWORTH: Well, Bridget’s entitled perfectly entitled to stick up for her constituents and her supporters and voters and whatnot. And she raises a legitimate concern, which is that the costs of any policy need to be born equally by all Australians and the work that needs to be done. And this is this a significant issue. I mean, there are parts of the Australian economy that are going to be more exposed or more vulnerable in a transition to net zero than others and we need to firstly understand and empathise with those, and secondly put in place measures to make sure that those parts of the economy can adjust. So look, I understand it. I’m obviously going to always stick up for my voters and those in the seat of Wentworth and they’re Australians like anyone else they’re entitled to a view on these things.

One of the things I’d say where this debate has moved on a lot in the last few years though, is it’s increasingly this transition is about the opportunities, economic opportunities, which will be as much in regional Australia as they will be in Australian cities and towns. In fact, more so. Opportunities like soil carbon opportunities, like green steel opportunities, like hydrogen hubs, they’re all going to be in rural and regional areas. And I want to make sure that Australia doesn’t miss out on those opportunities and to me committing to net zero by 2050 is just the way to make sure that’s the case.

WORDSWORTH: But on her argument that it’s easier to make the commitment from a wealthy urban seat and the cost is going to be worn by the regions where incomes generally are lower. Does she have a point there that you don’t have as much skin in the game?

SHARMA: I don’t think that’s true. I mean, this is, if you look at how are we going to make this transition to net zero, now the things are going to need to adjust to our electricity system, our transport sector, stationary energy fugitives, and things like that. And we’re talking about getting here to net zero. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to close industries. It just means that in net term that offsets and our sinks and other things are offset or equivalent to, those sectors that are still generating CO2 emissions. So this isn’t a recipe for the end of certain sectors or industries. It just means that we need to make sure that they’re offsetting them. We need to obviously see all this detailed modeling about how we’re going to get there, and that’s the plan that the Prime Minister is working on and the government is working on, that’ll lay out all these steps. But I think it can be a little simplistic to say, look, it’s only one part of society that’s going to cop it and not another. We need to make this decision as a nation. That means we collectively need to share the responsibility for both committing to it and implementing it.

WORDSWORTH: Peter Khalil, the Prime Minister says that the report is planned, climate change plans, are going to be released before Glasgow. Labor’s quite keen for him to go there. So is it incumbent then for Labor to release a policy on reaching net zero by 2050? And why aren’t we seeing it?

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: We have been committed to this map for over three years now. Our position has been a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. It’s official Labor party policy. And it’s all very well and good on Dave for saying that he would like to see a commitment to net zero emissions, but he’s one MP and the fact is it’s taken him three years to catch up the Labor party position, but his party and their Coalition party, the Nationals, all they’re doing is squabbling, fighting, taking pot shots at each other. They don’t have a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. We’d like to see the Prime Minister make that commitment before COP 26, they haven’t done it. And it doesn’t even look like from some of the reports that Morrison will be attending Glasgow. And in fact, he probably has to stay home and yell at the kids who are fighting in the Liberal party room or the National party room because they can’t come to an agreement.

In fact, they’ve spent eight years never being able to land on an energy policy and a climate change policy. So great that Dave Sharma is committing to net zero emissions, but it’s not an official government position. And the really sad thing here is, and I think the tragedy is, that we should be at cop 26 aligned with our major partners, the US, the UK and other partners, our European partners as well, to push for that greater global ambition to reduce global emissions. And Australia is not there. We’re still, this government is still, fighting itself and tearing itself apart on what it should be a very basic statement, which is a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

WORDSWORTH: And Peter, back to the question though, how long before the election will the electorate get to have a look at Labor’s plan, its path to net zero by 2050?

KHALIL: Yeah, that’s a good question Matt. With all of the policies that we’ve already announced around climate change policy, the commitment to net zero emissions, the investments in renewable energy infrastructure, the $20 billion commitment to rewiring the energy grid for renewables, the commitment to electric vehicles, the commitment to energy apprenticeships and renewable infrastructure. There will be more announcements as we head to the election. We’re doing the work to actually present an alternative to this government, to the Australian people and much of it has already been announced, more will be announced before the election. But the fact is we are not in government. This government is the one that’s supposed to be going to COP 26. They still don’t even have a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, let alone any further detail. So we are pushing them as an Opposition should to do what they should be doing, holding them to account, to actually have a climate change policy, which is completely absent at the moment.

WORDSWORTH: Dave, the Nationals have got a lot of leverage here. The plan is going to get released before Glasgow. There’s a lot of holdouts in the National party room. Have they, they could have a gun to the Liberal party’s head, on this plan. Couldn’t they?

SHARMA: I don’t agree. I mean, this is how democracy works and this is how a parliamentary democracy works. Every person has a view. Every person has a voice. Everyone has a constituency that they’re representing, a state that they’re representing as a Senator. It’s quite right and healthy that we have these conversations and discussions and that we have them openly. My party, the Liberal party, doesn’t run as a Stalinist party where you have to clear all the comments through the Leader and you can’t write an op-ed before it goes through —

KHALIL: Actually, the Prime Minister’s office is not allowing you to do op-eds Dave, what are you talking about?

SHARMA: — actually have these views articulate because Australians want to know the answers to these questions and Australians have these concerns. So let’s have this discussion, I believe because it is a significant policy we’re talking about and it is going to be a significant decision for Australia, whichever way we come down and all Australians need to come with us on this. So I’m quite accepting of the fact that there’s a diversity of views within my own party room and within the Liberal-National party room. And then the government will be representing all of those views when it comes to its decision. I think that’s healthy.

WORDSWORTH: So if I could just switch to COVID now because Peter, New South Wales recorded 863 cases, Victoria, 867. When should Victoria’s border restrictions with New South Wales be dropped?

KHALIL: Well, Matt, that’s a good question. I think as a Federation, I’ve said this publicly before, the differences between our states and territories and I understand state premiers and chief ministers have to have to make decisions based on the health advice provided to them in the interest of the people that live in their state and territories, but we are one country and the national leadership has been really lacking here with respect to a standard approach. And that I put squarely on the shoulders of Scott Morrison, basically outsourcing decisions to state and territory leaders because he didn’t want to take the responsibility, the national responsibility, that needed to be undertaken to actually make decisions. Things like federal quarantine, obviously the slowness of the vaccine rollout, which has got us in this position, and he’s basically outsourced and mitigated the risk by allowing the state premiers to take all of the responsibility on their shoulders.

And that’s why we’re seeing this fracturing of our Federation in some respects. What I want to see is more of a national approach and national leadership that’s necessary to work with all the state and territories. We started with the National Cabinet last year, didn’t really meet many times after that and it kind of fell away and that’s a real problem for Australia. I think what we’re going to see though, is things will start to coalesce towards more of a standard national approach as we meet those targets around the national plan, and states and territories will start to kind of come closer together on their restrictions. But I want to see some of these restrictions removed between states and territories. Absolutely.

WORDSWORTH: And Dave Sharma, obviously you might want to respond to some of those claims about a lack of national leadership and your view of course, on whether the Victorian government should drop the border restrictions.

SHARMA: I’m happy just to answer your question rather than deliver you a whole lot of talking points. I think the border restrictions between New South Wales and Victoria should be lifted. I also think they should be lifted with the ACT. I mean, the truth is that we’re at similar vaccination rates, we’re at similar levels of community transmission and movement. And it may be that it’s fully vaccinated travelers that are free to move across the borders freely. But I think we need to get back to one nation. Ultimately under our constitutional arrangements, Peter would know this, there are decisions which are the province of state premiers, and you can yell and scream about that as much as you like as the Prime Minister, but the truth is the constitutional power under our arrangements resides with the state premiers.

WORDSWORTH: So let’s talk about federal responsibilities and I’m going to be speaking to Flight Centre’s Graham Turner next, but I want to put this to you first. Australians stranded in New Zealand are chartering private jets to get home, jumping through hurdles to get home. It isn’t exclusive to New Zealand. How is this still happening, Dave Sharma?

SHARMA: Well, it’s still happening because our states have said that they only want to accommodate some of many people from overseas at any one time. Now, you know, I agree that there’s cost to this policy, but there’s also benefits to it because all of the vectors of introduction, including the Delta variant of course have come in from overseas and a good reason that Australia has come through this crisis so much better off than any other country with deaths orders of magnitude smaller than any nations have comparable sizes because we been able to control our borders and control those entering the country. Now, I don’t pretend that that policy has been cost-free or comes without difficulties, but that’s been part of the debate offices involved and they’ve been difficult decisions. I accept that.

WORDSWORTH: Peter, would you like to respond?

KHALIL: I’m a bit confused Matt because I’m not sure what Dave’s saying. Is it the fault of the states, that he’s saying? Or is it the fact that he just admitted that the Prime Minister had to close the borders because of the danger of the virus? Which one is it? The fact, what he left out, he didn’t mention the fact that this Prime Minister promised last year that the 30,000 or more Australians overseas would be home by Christmas. He failed, he failed completely and abysmally to fulfill that promise. And in fact, he failed because he refused to take responsibility over what is in the constitution his responsibility, federal quarantine. He didn’t beef it up. He didn’t increase the capacity. And now we’re hearing Dave say, oh but it’s the state’s fault because they didn’t have enough capacity. Actually, Prime Minister Morrison had a chance to expand on Howard Springs, to expand on some of the federal quarantine sites to have more people come through more Australians be returned and he didn’t do it. So, it’s no good blaming again the states and territories. It’s his responsibility. He’s the Prime Minister. It’s a national responsibility.

WORDSWORTH: Okay. I’m going to have to leave it there. I’m sure this is a disagreement that we can have at another time as well, but thank you very much for your time today, Dave Sharma and Peter Khalil.