10 June 2024

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Our panel today consists of Labor frontbencher Tim Ayres, Tim is in Currarong, and Coalition frontbencher Michael McCormack. Michael we find in Melbourne today. Welcome to both a long way from Canberra. But this is the King's Birthday public holiday after all, might come back to that in a moment. Why don't we start out on energy policy? It's been quite a journey for the Coalition these last few days as to whether 43% in 2030 is achievable or not. Tim, we're not going to be kicked out of the UN Climate Agreement, are we? Whether the Albanese Government makes it to 43% or not? 


I'll just interrupt you there for a moment. Tim, we might be muted probably. 


SENATOR TIM AYRES: Probably in the time-honoured zooms thing, its "turn your mute off Ayres" is the problem there. You say that we've gone through quite a journey. I mean, the Coalition haven't got very far, have they? They're still the same climate deniers of the Morrison-Abbott-Barnaby Joyce period. I mean, nothing has changed now. Now there's just this nuclear hoax sitting on top of their position. And just say this about the what the Coalition have said over the course of the last week. Of course it's a bad thing to breach our international agreements, Australia relies upon the rule of international law and upon other countries sticking to their agreements. That's in our interest, but bigger than that, what Peter Dutton is proposing is economy wrecking. It is the biggest sovereign risk to the Australian economy and investment in the Australian economy, manufacturing capability, our energy system, is Peter Dutton and the Liberals and the Nationals. I mean, this is Banana Republic territory, the idea that we walk away from international obligations, investment just floods away, and we end up back to where we were 11 or 12 years ago. When you end up in it four gigawatts go out of the energy system. Only one gigawatt comes back in, that's disinvestment. That's what's going on there. 


GREG JENNETT:  All right, Banana Republic says Tim Ayres. Michael, I wonder about the politics of it from a Coalition point of view, are you bidding farewell for good to those city-based teal seats, in heading down this path? 


MICHAEL MCCORMACK MP: We never give up on any seats, what we're doing is we're offering a credible alternative to each and every seat. I will say something about those teal seats, though, they're not going to have the solar farms, they're not going to have the wind factories, they're not going to have the 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines going through any of those teal seats. And they're all well and good to be holy and pure about all things energy, but when it comes to the infrastructure, which is going to be required to make sure that we meet our energy needs, to power the factories and the manufacturing plants, the teal seats aren't going to be providing too much of that. So, it's all well and good for all those teals to say whatever they like, and quite frankly, Tim knows that a Future Made in Australia is going to be reliant on manufacturing having affordable, reliable, and available energy, and under the Albanese Labor Government, we've not seen any real credibility when it comes to both meeting and beating our emissions targets, but also making sure we can keep the lights on.  


GREG JENNETT:  Alright, to pick up on that point then, Tim, I see you shaking your head there.  


SENATOR AYRES: This is the problem, isn't it? It's the National Party saying no to investment in jobs and manufacturing in regional towns. It's the National Party saying let's have the most expensive, improbable form of energy for the Australian system. This is a sort of "not in my backyard" approach. Now, of course, there are issues that the Government is going to have to continue to work through with parts of regional Australia where energy infrastructure will go through, that's absolutely the case. But the idea that the regions, that the bush says no to jobs, the bush says no to good, blue-collar jobs in factories, in power generation... I mean, that is just walking regional Australia into a cul-de-sac that will mean disinvestment, low quality jobs instead of good quality jobs, and a poorer future for the families that grow up in country towns. It's an economic disaster for regional Australia if Peter Dutton ever gets his hands on the levers of power. 


GREG JENNETT:  No to jobs in the regions. Michael, I think that invites rebuttal from you. 


MICHAEL MCCORMACK:  Well, it's regional Australia that has carried this country through COVID, through mining, which Labor's trying to shut down, through agriculture, which Labor put $170 million into the budget to stop our live sheep exports. I mean, Labor's the one saying no to jobs, Labor's the one saying no to blue collar jobs. Labor is the one which hasn't explained how regional Australia is white hot with anger about the transmission lines, which I appreciate, we have to have the national energy grid, we have to have transmission lines, but Labor is just cutting us way through those regional electorates and not getting any options in your alternatives, for regional people. 


GREG JENNETT:  Alright, look, there is a related question I'd like to put to both of you. Because in Michael’s case, it's his shadow area of responsibility. And in Tim's, you are part of the DFAT family, and that is Australia's standing in the eyes of our Pacific neighbours. Michael, to you first, you know full well, they will look askance, won't they? At Australia backsliding on the commitments made to them and to the international community? 


MICHAEL MCCORMACK:  We're not backsliding any commitments, what we're doing is we're making sure that we reach net zero by 2050 in a credible way, such that we're not shutting down all our manufacturing, so that we're not stopping farmers from having cattle that might happen to produce methane. What we're doing is we're going to do it in a sensible, practical, rational way. And that's why we need to have a national rational discussion about nuclear, about making sure that we have that in the energy mix, and I think that's perfectly reasonable, and certainly what we've done in the Pacific space, both as a Coalition Government, and indeed, in the last couple of years, I've been very supportive of to make sure that our Pacific friends know that we're very much looking to their interests, as much as ours. We all need to take on this journey together and what we're doing in the Pacific space is making sure that they've got the right infrastructure in the right places, and let me tell you, whenever there's a natural disaster, we're first on their shores, in their ports, to support them, and we'll continue to do that. It's a good and credible policy position.  


GREG JENNETT:  All right, Tim. Pacific perceptions that we'll be watching, I imagine at a reenergized climate debate in this country, but they'll be able to interpret it for what it is won't they? Just part of... 


SENATOR AYRES: They'll see exactly what it is. They'll see it for what it should be seen as, and only five years ago, Mr Dutton and these characters were joking about sea level rises in the Pacific, thought it was hilarious, when they thought that the cameras and microphones weren't on. It is well understood, not just in the Pacific, but around the globe, what an outlier Australia was under the previous government, under the Morison Government in particular, going backwards on climate change and sending a big message to boardrooms and investment around the world. Don't bother knocking was the message that they sent, and disinvestment hand over foot, leaving the economy, factories that weren't built, energy projects that were abandoned under their watch, and of course, in the Pacific, they understand exactly what this is about. It's about crass base politics, the Liberal Party and the National Party, who can't see beyond their own internal politics. That's why we've ended up with this too silly for words nuclear proposition, or let's say, it's an economic cul-de-sac for Australia. Bad idea. Experimental nuclear reactors that no economy around the world is using. These propositions, not projects, not measured in millions of dollars of cost, but tens of billions of dollars’ worth of cost projects that spin out not for a few years, but for decades. Sure, I mean this is nonsense. They know it, and they'll be judged for what is a not serious energy policy.  


GREG JENNETT:  Alright, a couple of other matters I want to try and cover off today. I might split the list and give one to you, Michael, and then the other to Tim. Peter Costello ...  


SENATOR AYRES: Give him the hard one, Greg. Give him the hard one. 


GREG JENNETT:  It's one where he might have some personal observations. Maybe it is difficult, but Michael McCormack you were, back in the day, a media executive and editor. I'm about to ask you a question, of course, about Peter Costello. Has he paid a price simply for a tussle with a journalist at Canberra Airport or for deeper behavioural issues at Nine media? 


MICHAEL MCCORMACK:  Oh, look, he's done the right thing. He's stepped aside. Journos are going to always ask the tough questions. Look, I've been on both sides of the coin. I've asked the tough questions, I've been indeed thrown out physically from a meeting room, and I've also been asked the tough questions, but you have to treat journalists with respect. It's their workplace, public places are their workplaces, you have to treat people with respect. I wish Catherine West all the very best in her role. She's got a big job to do and look, Channel Nine has been producing news. They’ve got a lot of good journalists, they’ve had that for decades and they’ll recover from this.  


GREG JENNETT:  Alright Tim Ayres, I see you nodding there. I won't ask you a Peter Costello question because I do just want to cover off this final matter, it being the King's Birthday and all, it reminds us once again, how quickly Labor's zeal for constitutional change vanished after last October. Now, even if you don't return to a plebiscite promise and a referendum question after that, where is the advocacy and the discussion of republicanism in the ALP, once such a central tenet to its values? 


SENATOR AYRES: Well, our position on the Republic question remains the same. But there's only ever been one constitutional referendum on the Albanese government's radar, and that was the one that happened last year. We respect the result of the referendum. Advocates for a Republic, for those reforms, are going to be making their case in the community and I expect that debate to continue. I expect that to continue to advance over time. But this government had just one constitutional referendum in mind, and that was the one that ran last year. Having said that, I have to say on the King's Birthday holiday weekend it was good to read the lists of people who were honoured today. Hundreds of people who are making a fantastic contribution in suburbs and country towns all over Australia. It was terrific to see. 


GREG JENNETT:  Fine Australians all. Michael, I'll just record your affirmation there. No quibbling by you, you know, some people are arguing about Labor premiers and the like, but you're giving it the tick, are you? The honours list? 


MICHAEL MCCORMACK:  Well, I’m giving Simon Crean a great tick because he was a great Australian, and he provided me with so much help. He was also, fun fact, head of the live export association. Unfortunately, I think he'd probably be very sorry to see where that argument has gone. But Daniel Andrews, my goodness, he also got it for infrastructure development. Stop the East West link stop the Melbourne Airport railway. 


SENATOR AYRES: Wow. I just say on this, Greg, of course those two premiers are excellent candidates for these awards. Simon Crean was a friend of many of us, and it was very touching I'm sure for him and for his family. It’s just a bitter thing to see that award awarded posthumously. He made a great contribution, and a great Labor contribution, to regional Australia and to the trade portfolio that I'm very proud to play a junior role in today. 


GREG JENNETT:  Yeah, well said, and I hope that brought some comfort to the family grieving still, I'm sure. Michael McCormack, Tim Ayres, appreciate it. Thank you both for joining us. Once again on this public holiday, no less. We'll talk soon.