Sky News Interview: AM Agenda: Llew O’Brien, Coal-Fired Power Stations, Emissions Targets, Visit from Joko Widodo



SUBJECTS: Llew O’Brien, Coal-Fired Power Stations, Emissions Targets, Visit from Joko Widodo 

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Well, we have a Monday morning pollie panel joining us live is Trent Zimmerman and Peter Khalil. Trent and Peter, thank you for your time. Now, big discussion has been all about the Nats and a lot of dramas there. We’ve got Llew O’Brien today saying he’s not going to sit in the National’s party room, that he’s going to sit in the joint party room, but sit the Nationals out. What do you think that means for support of the government?  
TRENT ZIMMERMAN MP: Well, I think he’s making it quite clear that his support for the government remains steadfast and he will be sitting in the joint party room. Uh, it’s not a unique situation. We had a similar thing in the last Parliament where Kevin Hogan, uh, after, um, uh, um, some leadership rumbles on our side of politics actually did the same thing. But his support for the government was absolute.  
NIELSEN: Do you think that stacks up Peter? 
PETER KHALIL MP: Well, I mean, just like the leadership stoush last week, a chaos within the coalition and really at a time when they should be focusing their attention on, uh, bushfire recovery and support for people. It’s all about them. It’s all about them and they’re self-centred and they’re having their little political wars internally and it’s just not good enough.  
TOM CONNELL, HOST: I always enjoy your interpretation of things, Trent Zimmerman. What do you think this means? “Sorry Scott, but Michael picking only those who voted for him is foolish as it leaves little room for ownership to the team and as such makes things precarious”. That’s from Barnaby Joyce. 
ZIMMERMAN:  I know it’s from Barnaby Joyce. Um, I think that uh, um, Barnaby obviously had a bruising week last week, but the point though is, uh, that the support for the Government and the Parliament remains strong amongst all of our Liberal and National party members and we are focused on the challenges that the country faces, be it coronavirus, bushfires. Uh, today you’re obviously seeing us working very hard on the relationship with Indonesia. Uh, so that is the absolute focus of the government. 
KHALIL: How could you be focused when you’re actually having a leadership battle? One guy drops out of the Nats. I mean, clearly they’re spending a fair bit of time on themselves. Uh, and then also the Liberal party room, you’re obviously fighting each other. 
ZIMMERMAN: Well, actions speak louder than words and you have seen a phenomenal response to the bushfires. I don’t think you can fault the Government’s performance in relation to the coronavirus. And I’d be surprised if you were doing that, Peter. Uh, and obviously this week we have a big focus on our, our nearest neighbour, which is, uh, an increasingly important to Australia’s economic prospects.  
NIELSEN: But surely the word ‘precarious’, that couldn’t mean anything other than a lack of support. 
ZIMMERMAN: Um, well Barnaby likes to use colourful language at times, but, uh, I think that all the messages we’ve heard from the National Party members across the board is that they will continue to support the government. We heard that from George Christensen just in the last 24 hours. Uh, Llew O’Brien made very clear that he’s going to continue to sit in the joint party room and be very much part of the Government benches. So, uh, I think that you can get over excited about these issues, which do tend to excite us down here in Canberra. But the main game is what’s happening out there with um, with things like coronavirus and the bushfires. 
CONNELL: The other development of the weekend, $4 million confirmed for a feasibility study, uh, for a coal fired power station in North Queensland. Are you comfortable with that?  
ZIMMERMAN: Well, we went to the last election promising $2 million to look at energy supplies for North Queensland. This is part of the mix. So in addition to this, we’re also doing a feasibility study into more pumped hydro opportunities. Um, from my perspective, it’s not the business of the Commonwealth government to be building or funding coal-fired power station. 
CONNELL: So that’s your red line? Any sort of subsidy for this would be a red line for you. 
ZIMMERMAN: I don’t think we should be funding coal fired power stations. It’s not the job of the Commonwealth government. Um, it’s up to the private sector. It’s up to the Queensland government who has responsibility for doing the type of planning that we expect across the grid. 
CONNELL: I’m going to quote another Nats colleague of yours – Liberal-National government. “The Liberal-National Government supports the development of a coal-fired power station at Collinsville in North Queensland”. Is that true? 
ZIMMERMAN: We are doing a feasibility study. We’ve made no commitment –  
CONNELL: – So he’s, he’s gone over the top? 
ZIMMERMAN: We have made no commitment to fund a coal-fired power station and I don’t think we should. 
NIELSEN: Are there other industries where you fund feasibility studies so that that’s not on the private company to do it themselves. 
ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I think we do feasibility studies on, on issues all the time, and uh, you have a project like snowy hydro, which is a mix, but it’s going to be largely driven by private sector investment. And obviously we’ve been involved in doing feasibility studies for that. 
CONNELL: Is this a good idea, a feasibility study? If it’s relatively low emissions and stable power up there? 
KHALIL: No, it’s not a good idea, Tom and look, Trent’s in a difficult position because, I mean he’s in a position that he doesn’t support a new coal-fired power plant or any Commonwealth subsidies for it. But unfortunately there are many in his party room, both in the Liberal party room and in the Nats who don’t see it that way and they want to put tax-payer dollars to the feasibility study. But even beyond that, possibly to build a new coal-fired power plant, it’s just madness. And they’re having an internal war over this in their party room and can’t get it right. Let’s just be very clear about this, I know there’s been media around our front benches and so on, but even Joel Fitzgibbon who is a friend of coal miners in his electorate, said this morning on Sky, very clearly, “we will not support a coal-fired, a new coal-fired power plant”. You’ve got to be categorical about that. 
CONNELL: Well, he said if it was Government money. If it was Government money. 
KHALIL: Well there should be no government money towards it. 
CONNELL: I understand that. Does that include a feasibility study? 
KHALIL: I would say so, yes, absolutely. Why would you put money into a feasibility study if you’re not – if the Commonwealth is not going to invest or subsidise a coal-fired power plant, the market’s not going to touch it, insurers won’t insure it. Uh, and so why would you even go there? The only reason is political and as a sop to the right wing and the Liberal Party party room and in the Nats.  
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I have to say, I think the only thing that is unclear is the Labor opposition’s position on emissions. And since the election, um, we don’t have a settled policy from the alternate government in Australia. We’ve got very mixed messages. You’ve had Anthony Albanese’s ‘I secretly love coal’ tour of North Queensland. I’m yet to see the ‘I love coal’ market at the stall at the Marrickville markets in his own electorate. Uh, but it’s um, uh, the Labor party is in a world of pain on, on many of the policy areas. 
If it’s feasible, if this study finds it’s feasible or not, there’s no real difference between the fact that it was privately or publicly funded up until that point, especially when it comes to the emissions that might come out of it. So what’s the problem? 
KHALIL: The problem is, uh, you are looking at trying to reduce emissions globally – domestically and globally. Coal-fired power plants are not going to do that. You’ve got to invest massively in renewable energy. You’ve got to look at a just transition for workers over a period of time, obviously to help them settle into new jobs in the clean energy sector and throwing money at new coal fired power plants is madness, given the market is not going anywhere near coal fired power plants. Insurers won’t insure it. It’s just not feasible. And you’re throwing $4 million of taxpayer money towards a feasibility study for something that not feasible. 
CONNELL: Just on the other article today, 2050 vision is what it’s described as. Would you welcome a 2050 target, perhaps one of net-zero emissions for the Morrison government? 
ZIMMERMAN: I certainly think it’s something that we’re going to look at seriously. We have our targets in place for 2030 and uh, the world will be coming together at the end of the year for the next COP meeting in Glasgow. And I think that is an opportunity for us to outline our strategies and our targets beyond 2030. 
CONNELL:  So, uh, is zero the way to go? 
ZIMMERMAN:  I think it’s something that we need to seriously consider and we need to do the due diligence, uh, and we need to work out how we’d get there. I think it’s very easy to say, yes, let’s do it without actually doing the, the program that gets you there. And we need to do both. But I think having that commitment to reach the Paris commitments we’ve already made to see the world reach a net-zero carbon emissions status in the next half of this century. Um, it is something that we need to consider as part of that.  
NIELSEN: We’ve already had senior Government officials telling us it’s not a target, it’s a strategy. Very different. Does this show that there’s already a lot of division within the coalition ranks? 
ZIMMERMAN: No, no, no, no, no. It’s not inconsistent at all. I mean, essentially what the government’s saying is that we’re going to have a strategy for both the next couple of years, for 2030, for 2050, uh, particularly in relation to our investment in new technology, in our support for new technology. Uh, and that has to be the starting point for, for looking at where you would expect Australia to be in 2050.  
KHALIL: Wow, very admirable. They’re slick answers there Trent, but I’ve got tell you mate, we’ve got to get to zero emissions. I think we’re in agreement upon that. And the problem that you guys face is that even if you announce something like this further COP26 in Glasgow and Morrison’s there backslapping with Boris Johnson about a target in 2050, the reality on the ground is by your own government data, by all of the independent analysis, you’re not even meeting the Paris targets that you’ve set for yourself. You’re using Kyoto credits as carry-overs. You’re not even going to get there on your meagre targets as they are now. And this is a real problem for the government. So we want to see real evidence of this. Great, if you are, we welcome you saying, well we’ll take that targeted to Glasgow, but actually you’ve got to do it. You can’t just say it. 
ZIMMERMAN: Well we are meeting our 2030 targets and we’ve outlined the plan to get there. And uh, things like the Emission Reduction Fund and our investment in renewables is going to be crucial to that. And we are seeing a turnaround, which is quite dramatic. If you just look at the most recent projections from the Department of Environment and Emissions, you’ve seen in the energy sector alone, for example, by 2030, the current prediction has been 50% from renewable sources. Uh, and that is quite a transformation which is only going to continue.  
NIELSEN: And just finally, we’ve got Indonesian president Joko Widodo in Parliament House today. Really momentous. Is it disappointing though that we couldn’t get this deal done sooner? We know it was delayed by the Indonesian government taking issue with the Israeli embassy decision. We could have had all these benefits coming through much sooner.  
ZIMMERMAN: Well, it’s taken a long time to negotiate this, but uh, the important thing is it’s done. It will be operational in a couple of months’ time. And, uh, Indonesia is a trillion dollar economy on our doorstep. So the potential there for Australia and for Indonesia is just so considerable. And the President’s visit today, I think, is an important signal to Australians, particularly those that are looking at their investment strategies that the door with this free trade agreement is now wide open for increased economic activity with Indonesia. 
NIELSEN: Some credit here for the government. It’s a, it’s a hard market to get access to it. It’s traditionally a bit of a closed country and it’s important not just about trade, but its strategic element. A hedge from China, from such financial dependence. 
KHALIL: There’s two points there around the free trade agreement and the strategic relationship. I mean, many of us on both sides of politics have been pushing for this to happen way earlier. I mean, the Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, way back in ’94 said there’s no more important country than Indonesia to Australia. So we welcome the FTA and the benefits there. I mean, we’re talking about our Northern neighbour of 260 million people with only 2% of our exports. I mean, that’s crazy. Um, a lot of people saw the big bucks and hopped over to China. So this is important. Um, and it’s got to have protection for Australian workers, which we as Labor MP’s on the, on the committee pushed for as well. On the strategic point, uh, it’s absolutely necessary for us to have a very good security and strategic relationship with Indonesia, Japan, India, uh, to make sure that we have security and prosperity in our region and I hope that this, uh, progresses with the Prime Minister and the President today. 
CONNELL: All right. Peter Khalil, Trent Zimmerman, thank you. Cheers.