ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 1 APRIL, 2019
SUBJECTS: Climate Change Policy; electric cars, Greens as climate vandals.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Only three to four pages of on announcement for what is really a massive economic change in policy. Where is the detail? When will it be released?
PAT CONROY: There is actually a lot more detail online already and we have put out the most detailed climate change policy an opposition party has put out. I do reject the argument there is not a lot of detail out there. The media releases associated ran to well over 10 pages let alone the underlying documents that provide more detail. This is the most detailed climate change policy an opposition party has put out in the country.
KARVELAS: But you haven't told us how much it will cost the taxpayer? That's a pretty key detail, isn't it?
CONROY: No, on the taxpayers’ costs we've been very clear about where it will require expenditure of Commonwealth resources. For example, the $100 million associated with the EV charging infrastructure was detailed today. All the outlays from the Federal Budget have been put out to see.
KARVELAS: OK, but how about the cost to the economy? That is the Government's chief argument against this. You haven't costed the impact on the economy and they plan to clearly run a campaign scaring people that it's going to lead to significant costs on the economy and business.
CONROY: The Government is clearly intent on running a scare campaign.
KARVELAS: You are giving them ammunition, with respect, because you can't tell me how much it will cost the economy.
CONROY: We can point to public modelling as we already have done which sets out our target versus their target. The McKibbin modelling undertaken for the Abbott Government found that our 45% emissions reduction target with access to international permits has the same economic cost as the Government's 26% target without international permits. So, there is public modelling already available on our 45% emissions reduction target across the economy. On the electricity sector, for example RepuTex have found that our commitment to 50% renewable energy will result in wholesale energy prices being 25% lower compared to what they would be under this Government. There is plenty of public modelling out there on what the impact of our policy is. It is very important to also focus on the counter-factual. Last year alone, the natural disasters related to climate change cost the economy $18 billion. That is only going to get worse. The Great Barrier Reef employs 64,000 people and associated tourism industries. Unless we get serious about acting on climate change, the economic cost will be far higher through inaction.
KARVELAS: How can you realistically ring-fence the agricultural sector?
CONROY: We are providing economic incentives for the agricultural sector to reduce their emissions through the Carbon Farming Initiative.
KARVELAS: But you have ring-fenced the sector, which industry will make up the shortfall?
CONROY: We have taken a sectoral approach where we've targeted policies for each sector of the economy. So, the agricultural sector will have policies that allow them to reduce their emissions through carbon farming, which has been very successful when it was first introduced by Labor. So, there will be offsets demanded by the industrial sector that the agricultural sector will be able to provide through reducing their emissions and there will also be probably demand overseas for abatement out of Australia's agriculture sector because there's great opportunities through things like savannah burning, changing practices to sequester more carbon in the land and tree planting. So, the agriculture sector has a great opportunity to reduce its emissions and we have got positive policies to drive those incentives.
KARVELAS: But which industry will make up the shortfall of the ring-fencing of the agricultural sector?
CONROY: We don't expect there to be a shortfall. We expect for the agricultural sector to play its part in reducing emissions through positive policies like carbon farming. So there'll be a 45% emissions reduction task in the industrial sector and the electricity sector, we'll have our transport emissions being targeted through commitment to emissions standards and electric vehicles, and the agricultural sector will have an opportunity to reduce its emissions through carbon farming. We are confident the agricultural sector can play its role. For example, Meat and Livestock Australia which covers the meat industry, which is the largest contributor to agricultural emissions, has a goal of being carbon neutral - net zero emissions - by 2030. So there are some very strong agricultural partners who want to join us in cutting their emissions. We don't have to approach every sector through the same method. Industry have said to us they prefer more targeted means to achieving these abatement goals.
KARVELAS: The cost of an electric car is expected to drop in the coming years but it is currently much higher than a standard petrol car. How much are you prepared to subsidise that to encourage uptake?
CONROY: We are interested in growing demand. So, we will grow demand through requiring government fleets to have 50% electric vehicles by 2025. Our Australian Investment Guarantee means significant tax breaks for private fleet users to embrace electric vehicles. And I think the key thing is, once we grow demand, we'll get a greater range of electric vehicles in Australia. For example, there are only four electric vehicles in Australia under $50,000. But in the UK for example there is something like 23. They are not coming here because there isn't a demand and there isn't a partnership with government. If we can grow demand through what we're talking about we will expect to see those cheaper vehicles entering the market that will be more accessible.
KARVELAS: If that happens and you are successful in your aim, will you consider a future road usage charge if the revenue from fuel excise falls due to more electric cars on the road?
CONROY: Bill Shorten has already signalled that is not on our agenda and Anthony Albanese in the same press conference said the Government has started a process to actually look at these issues but so far they haven't done anything in the last two years. They haven't even appointed the members to the panel.
KARVELAS: Sure, but this is your policy so we can only ask about your policy. Why should people who have electric cars not contribute to this excise and to roads being built, all the stuff that happens as a result of us paying this petrol excise? Shouldn't that ultimately be in your future agenda for how to transform this sector?
CONROY: I'd make two comments. First, it's a fuel excise. If you don't use fuel you don't pay the excise. That's a matter of logic.
KARVELAS: But most people drive cars, right?
CONROY: Secondly, the excise isn't linked purely to maintaining the road infrastructure. Road infrastructure funding comes from a lot of sources. It is not as if every dollar raised as an excise goes to roads infrastructure or vice-versa. So, I think that is a pretty simplistic approach to this issue. We have said we are prepared to engage on the issue of the future of road pricing in the country, and Anthony Albanese had nominated someone for this government panel. So, we've made some steps as the Opposition. But, I think it is a bit rich for people to run around and say we have to find a solution to this straight away when the Government has done nothing over the last six years on it.
KARVELAS: No, but we are interviewing you about your policy and what you do if you win the May election. So, you are saying it is not on the agenda now, but it is something you are prepared to look at in the future?
CONROY: No, what Anthony Albanese has said is the issue of the excise and pricing is something that Australia as a whole has to engage with and that's part of a discussion that we're prepared to be a part of. But Bill Shorten has clearly signalled that in no part of today's announcement or in the future agenda of this government is any change to the excise arrangements.
KARVELAS: Greens MP Adam Bandt has promised his party will toughen up some of the ideas in your policy. Does that mean that you're prepared to horse trade on this policy? So, if there is an election and the Greens want a toughening up of the policy you're prepared to consider it?
CONROY: Well, Adam Bandt doesn't talk for the Labor Party and this is our policy that we are announcing today.
KARVELAS: No, but you will need it to get through the Senate?
CONROY: Well, big chunks of this will not require legislation and who knows what the Senate will look like after an election. I am not prepared to make those sorts of concessions in this sort of interview. I think it is very important to point out that the only reason that we haven't had concrete action for the last 10 years on climate change is because the Greens ganged up with Tony Abbott to vote down the CPRS. They have been climate vandals just like Tony Abbott. Adam Bandt is desperate for attention because he knows whenever climate change is in the headlines around the election the Greens' vote increases. They have zero credibility 'cause they ganged up with Tony Abbott to vote down the CPRS and quite frankly anything he says at this moment has no credibility.
KARVELAS: You say that but it was after that that Julia Gillard did a deal with the Greens to introduce what is now very well known as the carbon tax. So, you did subsequently deal with the Greens. You have gone back into history but have since worked with the Greens?
CONROY: It wasn't a carbon tax, firstly. And secondly, we dealt with a minority government we had after the 2012 election. But I think the important point is Tony Abbott's scare campaign and the 10 years of instability would not have occurred if we got the CPRS through in 2009. And the Greens are responsible for that not occurring. The Greens are responsible along with the dinosaurs in the Liberal Party room for this 10 years of climate policy fighting that is quite frankly a national embarrassment. And Labor has committed to adopting bipartisan frameworks where it makes sense. The National Energy Guarantee, originally an idea of Malcolm Turnbull, we've said that we want to reinvigorate that. We want to reinvigorate the safeguards mechanism that was originally introduced under Tony Abbott and then extended by Malcolm Turnbull. We are interested in a bipartisan approach to reducing emissions as long as the targets are internationally credible and represent Australia playing our fair share in international efforts to combat climate change.
KARVELAS: Pat Conroy, thanks for coming on.
Watch the interview here