RICHARD KING, PRESENTER: Well somebody who’s come out and certainly doesn’t agree with Joel as far as energy policy and climate change goes is Member for Shortland Pat Conroy who’s on the line. Good morning Pat.
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Morning Richard, how are you?
KING: Very well thank you Pat. You believe that Joel’s stance on climate change would, in your words, put Labor “in permanent opposition”. Why do you think that Pat?
CONROY: Well for a couple a reason. Labor can only govern when we unite our two great bases which is the working class of Australia and secondly university educated, progressive people. We’re at our best when we represent both of those groups. By attempting to hug the Government on climate change, by effectively doing nothing on climate change which is what Mr Fitzgibbon is advocating, he is effectively saying ‘don’t worry about one of our two bases’. And the truth is, firstly, that we can have strong climate change policy while looking after current jobs, while pushing to end casualisation and labour hire in the coal mining industry which is the main factor that hurts coal miners, and secondly, it can actually increase our vote.
At the last election, the second greatest reason for why people chose to vote for Labor was our climate policy. There’s this sort of false dichotomy that you either have to win votes in the region or have a good climate policy. There are plenty of people up here who support Labor and one of the key reasons why they support Labor is us having a strong climate policy that grows new jobs while protecting current jobs.
KIM BAUER, PRESENTER: Well Pat, why do you think Joel has gone the other way? I mean we have had people ring us, email us and just say that it’s self-interest. We did put that to Joel and he said no but do you think there is some basis to that?
CONROY: Oh look, I’m not in a position to comment on that, I think that’s a question best for Joel. I don’t have insight into his motivations. I think his analysis is wrong. I admire his passion and commitment to the Labor cause, but I think his stance is incorrect and that’s part of the great traditions of the Labor Party is having a free and frank debate. Joel is a backbencher now and he is entitled to express opinions in this area, but I think he’s wrong both from a factual point of view and political point of view.
I had an analysis done of my electorate after the election to try and work out why people voted against Labor, and the higher the mining employment in a polling booth, the weaker the swing against Labor. Let me repeat that: the areas that swung the hardest against Labor were the areas where the fewest coal miners live. So I don’t think it was coal and climate change that drove the push against Labor. It was some of our more controversial policies.
KING: Right, yeah.
BAUER: Such as?
KING: Yeah, such as?
CONROY: Franking credits was the key one, negative gearing.
KING: Yes, yeah.
CONROY: And look a perception that people didn’t trust us on the economy which is unfortunate and wrong. And the other fact is, quite frankly, that for whatever reason Bill Shorten was unable to connect with people in New South Wales. Maybe that was a Victorian thing, but he just was unable to connect.
The biggest swings in my electorate were in places like Windale which doesn’t have a lot of coal miners living there. So I think that what caused the swing in 2019 was not coal and climate change, and I just think what Joel is promoting would consign us to permanent opposition and that doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.
KING: Right. Now the subject of climate change is and has been a hot topic for a long time. With the election of Joe Biden as the President-elect of the United States, there’s obviously been a move not just here in Australia but a number of countries thinking well the USA will probably change their stance on the Paris Climate Change Agreement and buy back into it. Joe Biden certainly said he would, hence there’s been a push from not just here but around the world obviously to coming up with stricter targets. But Joel and now also South Australian Labor senator Alex Gallacher have called for Mark Butler who has been Labor’s spokesperson on climate change since 2013 and he’s taken policies to a number of elections now - Joel says they’ve been rejected. He’s called for – look he’s saying Mark Butler should be there, but maybe it’s time for a change. Now a couple of, well one other senator has come out. Do you think it’s time for change?
CONROY: No I don’t. That’s two people out of a caucus of 95 to put it into context, and quite frankly anyone in a job can probably find two per cent of people who say that it’s probably time for a change. The fact is that we did not lose votes at the last election because of climate change. Net overall we gained votes because of climate policy. The election of a Biden Government in America means that 70 per cent of our trading is with countries that have net zero emissions as their objective by 2050 or 2060 in the case of China. We will not be allowed to freeride on those countries, they will say it’s time for Australia to step up and do it’s bit, and if we don’t, what countries like America and continents like the European Union have said is we will face carbon border tariffs. That means they will penalise our exports unless we commit to net zero emissions.
So the reasons we want to support action on climate change isn’t just because it’s good for the environment. If we don’t do it, our exports will be threatened and we will also miss out on hundreds of thousands of jobs that are in the offing if we actually invest in renewable energy and new industries like battery manufacturing.
The truth is Australia’s domestic climate policy won’t determine what happens to coal mining in this country. Our policy for the 2019 election wouldn’t have impacted any coal mine that was primarily digging up coal for export which is 80 per cent of them. The future of coal mines will be determined by decisions made in boardrooms in Japan, South Korea, India, and China, not in Australia. And this is the thing that I find really troubling in this debate. Climate policy doesn’t impact the future of export coal mining, but what it does do is determine whether we can grow clean jobs in things like battery manufacturing, lithium mining, installing wind farms and solar farm. We’re missing out on huge opportunities because of the climate wars that have been going on for the last 15 years.
BAUER: It does make sense that we transition sooner rather than later. So by 2030s, do you reckon net zero emissions?
CONROY: No, 2050 is a reasonable amount of time and that’s consistent with the Paris treaty, but we need to cut our emissions so that we can hit 2050 because the way these treaties work is you just can’t sort of flick a switch in 2049, not emit pollution for a year and hit the target. It’s cumulative, so you’ve got to try and reduce your emissions each year.
And the truth is that under this Government – and this has been missed because unfortunately in Labor we’ve been too busy kicking each other – emissions aren’t falling under this Government. This Government has an inadequate target of reducing emissions by 26 per cent by 2030, and their own documents say they won’t hit the target. At best they’ll only be 16 per cent below 2005 levels, and the only way they get to 26 per cent is by using illegal carryover credits from the Kyoto treaty which aren’t accepted. They’ll be rejected by the rest of the world especially with the election of the Biden Government. So at the moment, we are going to have a much harder job because this Government isn’t taking climate change seriously.
KING: Right. It sounds Pat as if you agree with many people that Joel’s driven here by self-interest not by good policy.
CONROY: Again – and I am probably going to sound like a weaselly-worded politician – I can’t tell what’s happening in Joel’s brain. Honestly I’m not a psychiatrist, I can’t tell his motivations. But what I can say is that from a factual point of view he is wrong about what drove the 2019 swing.
He’s wrong factually about the impact of our climate policy in terms of the future of industries like coal mining, and his prescription is that not only does it mean that Labor would be in permanent opposition if we adopted his strategy, but secondly we would miss out on the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are growing all around the world right now. There are four million clean energy jobs in the United States for example.
We will miss out on our share of that pie if we don’t get our act together. For example, 60 per cent of the world’s solar cells on people’s roofs are based on technology developed at an Australian university, but we got zero jobs out of it because we don’t have a Government committed to taking advantage of the jobs coming out of renewable energy.
So this is the huge issue, and Joel’s motivation I can’t judge. I just think he’s wrong and I disagree with him.
KING: Alright, but then do you think if he continues on this path that perhaps his membership of the Labor Party might come into question?
CONROY: Look he’s chosen to go to the backbench and I should say on his decision to go to the backbench, my understanding from within the right faction is that that deal was done 18 months ago. He had said 18 months ago that he would give way to Ed Husic so he could return to the frontbench, and I think in fact in his press conference he said that he only originally intended on serving for 18 months.
So I don’t think it’s fair to say that he’s resigning because of climate policy but he obviously has differences with where the majority of the party is going. But look he is a backbencher now. Every backbencher is entitled to hold their own opinions on policy matters, but once the Labor Party comes together, decides our position on a policy, the entire party is bound by that policy and that includes Joel. He will be bound once we’ve made that decision, but until we make that, as a backbencher he is free to put forward his opinion on what we should do.
KING: Alright, thank you very much for having a chat with us this morning Pat and have a great weekend.
CONROY: Yeah, you too.
KING: Oh and it is World Kindness Day today Pat as well as being Black Friday, so an interesting start to the weekend.
CONROY: Yes a bit of kindness in politics I think would help everyone.
KING: Yes indeed.
BAUER: Good luck.
KING: Thanks for that, have a great weekend.
CONROY: Have a good day, bye.