PAUL TURTON, PRESENTER: Labor’s Pat Conroy is the Federal Member for Shortland and Shadow Minister Assisting for Climate Change. He’s been good enough to come on and share his thoughts on this situation.
G’day Pat, how are you going?
PAT CONROY: MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good, and you?
TURTON: Yeah excellent thank you. Now there’s been talk indeed from Mr Fitzgibbon himself that there was likely or could possibly be a split in the Labor Party, is that what’s happening?
CONROY: No not at all, and let’s be very clear about Joel’s announcement. Joel made it very clear that he decided in 2019 only to serve 18 months on the frontbench, and it’s widely known that he struck a deal with Ed Husic when Ed missed out on a frontbench spot to Kristina Keneally that Ed would take Joel’s spot 18 months in. So I’m not pretending there aren’t significant differences on climate policy, but this was a resignation long in the coming that had been arranged around May/June 2019, and that’s important context for this discussion.
TURTON: So let’s just extend that a little bit further – there’s no questions then over the leadership of Anthony Albanese?
CONROY: Absolutely not. It’s a ridiculous question. Joel has differences on climate policy absolutely, but this was a resignation long in the coming based on the internal factional deals of the New South Wales Right, and we should see it as that.
TURTON: I should just describe your answer as a ridiculous answer then just to get square.
CONROY: Well sorry, I apologise Paul. It wasn’t a ridiculous question, but it is a ridiculous notion that Anthony’s leadership would be in question.
TURTON: Alright. Have blue collar workers been left behind?
CONROY: Absolutely not, and this is the problem with what Joel is arguing for. What Joel is arguing for is effectively consigning Labor to opposition forever. Labor wins Government when we unite our two great bases which is the traditional working people of this country and university educated people who are progressive in nature – think the Whitlam generation. We’re at our best when we unite those two groups of people and we can unite those groups of people on climate change, and we can do that when we talk about the jobs that will be created in new industries such as battery manufacturing and renewable energy while protecting the existing jobs in things like coal mining. We can do both. Joel has set up a false dichotomy that doesn’t exist.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, could I just ask you then, is the Labor Party unelectable? Does the climate policy take you away from voters?
CONROY: Absolutely not, and if you look at independent studies of what occurred at the last election, the Australian Electoral Study which is conducted by the ANU where it surveys 40,000 voters after the election, it found that the second most common reason people chose to vote for Labor after cost of living pressures was because of our climate policy. Three different studies found that overall our climate policy won Labor votes at the last election. I don’t pretend we don’t have issues where some workers don’t feel like we aren’t representing them as well as we can, but this is a furphy to think that our climate policy lost us votes overall at the last election.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, are we asking too much of our major political parties for them to represent such a diverse array of Australians? And effectively is the Hunter electorate so different from other electorates that its needs can’t be serviced by the Labor Party at all?
CONROY: No not at all, and I always start these conversations by saying that I’m proud to represent a mining electorate. I’m proud of the coal miners that live in Shortland and I’m really appreciative of the sacrifice they make and the enormous wealth they’ve brought to this region. And not a single thing in our climate policy in the last election would have impacted on coal mines, particularly coal mines focused on the export market. And that’s the truth of all of this heat and light hullabaloo in Canberra is that the future of our coal mines will be determined by decisions made in boardrooms in South Korea, Japan, India, and China. Our climate policy was focused on reducing emissions in this country, and it would not have impacted the viability of our coal mines.
TURTON: Doesn’t Mr Fitzgibbon have a point though – get elected and then propose the changes? Why is that not an adequate political strategy?
CONROY: Because what Mr Fitzgibbon proposes means we won’t get elected. If we hug the Government on climate change, we will lose a big chunk of our base – people who want action on climate change. In all of the surveys out there, climate policy is still something that people overwhelmingly support us taking action on, and that’s the important thing. So even if we didn’t worry about the moral dimension, even if we didn’t worry about the economic dimension – the fact that we will be missing out on opportunities for hundreds of thousands of jobs in clean energy that are on offer – it is politically very, very silly to adopt what Joel is proposing because we would lose a stack of seats. We just would.
TURTON: Do you catch up with Joel Fitzgibbon very often?
CONROY: I saw him on Wednesday night at a State of Origin function that Albo had put on. We are pleasant to each other, but I disagree with what he’s proposing because we can protect and support coal miners and seize the economic opportunities that are out there. For example, 60 per cent of the world’s solar cells that are on people’s roofs are based on technology that was developed at Australian universities and we’ve got zero jobs out of it because we’ve had Governments not committed to action on climate change. So I’ve got a fundamental philosophical disagreement with Joel, and that’s fine. That’s life. Having a diversity of opinions in political parties is to be welcomed.
TURTON: Is it too diverse though, the split between the left and the right factions?
CONROY: Well it’s not a factional split, and I’ve got to be very clear on this. There are very significant numbers of right-wing MPs in the Federal caucus who are committed to progressive climate policy. For example, Josh Burns a member from down in Melbourne has been very vocal in both supporting strong action on climate change and reflecting on some of Joel’s rhetoric. Anika Wells who’s a member for a Brisbane seat – not an inner-city Brisbane seat, an outer metropolitan seat – in her first speech nominated climate change as one of the most important issues facing her seat and her focus. So this is not a left/right thing. There is a small number of people in the Labor caucus who support Joel’s approach, but the vast majority, well over 75 per cent of Labor’s caucus is very, very strongly committed to taking action on climate change because of the huge jobs opportunity we can seize through this.
TURTON: This Otis Group reportedly has about 20 Labor MPs and senators, so it’s a substantial group isn’t it?
CONROY: Well I spoke to many of the people who were in the Otis Group and they didn’t even know what it was about. They were invited to a dinner. They turned up and suddenly next day there were all of these stories in the media. If you look at the 20 names in that supposed group, at least eight or 10 of them have been very vocal on the need for strong action on climate change. So this is Joel and a few likeminded people who have an opinion on what our climate policy is, but Labor is committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and seizing the economic opportunities of taking action on climate change.
And we are all also very committed to combating a Government that is risking our economic future. With the election of the Biden Government, we now have 70 per cent of our trade going to countries that are committed to net zero emissions by 2050 or 2060. We will face huge trade ramifications if we don’t get our act together and commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and commit to strong action to achieve that.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, you’d be aware that the CSIRO’s report released today has quantified the warming of the temperatures by a factor of 1.4 degrees since 1910. Does having that sort of number from a reputable scientific body – I know we’ve been talking about the scientists saying this and the scientists saying that for a long time – but having an Australian body, an august organisation quantifying the level of climate change, does that assist the argument?
CONROY: I think it does, and this builds on decades of research in this area and it just demonstrates a fact that CSIRO has found before which is the cost of inaction is much greater than the cost of taking action. So CSIRO conducted a modelling exercise last year that found that achieving net zero emissions by 2050 would actually grow the economy more than if we didn’t take action at all. This is essential because not only will unchecked climate change damage our environment in a way that will affect our life and cause a huge number of premature deaths, it will actually also very significantly impact the economy. Whether it’s agriculture, tourism, wine growing, all of these things which rely on having a decent climate will be destroyed. The cost of taking action is much less than the cost of inaction, and there’s huge economic opportunities from embracing the jobs of the future while protecting current jobs.
So the CSIRO report is remarkable and just re-emphasises what we all thought when we saw those bushfires at the start of the year - that we must fight climate change, we must be part of a global effort. And it’s really changed in the last six months with the announcements from China and Japan and South Korea to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century, the election of the Biden Government. These all signal a huge global momentum to take action on climate change and Australia is left very isolated under this Government that does not commit to climate change and will not achieve its 2030 goals and won’t commit to 2050 goals.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, I appreciate you coming on. Thank you.
CONROY: Not a problem, have a great afternoon.