ABC NEWS WEEKEND BREAKFAST WITH ANDREW GEOGHEGAN AND JOHANNA NICOLSON
SATURDAY, 18 AUGUST 2018
SUBJECT: Energy policy including NEG, Fraser Anning’s maiden speech.
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, PRESENTER: The political conversation this week has largely been dominated by the maiden speech of Fraser Anning and the contentious National Energy Guarantee. And in the latest development, the Prime Minister has seemingly changed his position by signalling the emissions targets may be regulated rather than legislated.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN, PRESENTER: To discuss this and other topics making news this week, we're talking with Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Labor MP Pat Conroy in Newcastle. Welcome to both of you.
CRAIG KELLY: Great to be with you on this Saturday morning.
GEOGHEGAN: So Craig, this drop last night, the Prime Minister now, as far as the energy is concerned, and those emissions targets, rather than legislate it, regulate it. Does it have your support?
KELLY: Well, as always, I reserve my right till I see the final details of the policy. One thing when it comes to regulation or legislation - I know that the Labor State Governments were demanding that we actually had this by regulation. The difference is, if you have it in the targets in legislation, for a future Government to change those targets, it would have to pass both Houses of Parliament. That is how democracy should work. If you want to make such a substantial change to that, to our economy, I believe you should have to get it through the parliament. If you do it by regulation, you are setting up a mechanism where the minister at the stroke of a pen can change the targets. I know that was a line in the sand for many of us and I know many of the Labor states have been arguing they want it in regulation so I'm waiting to see what the default detail of this is.
NICHOLSON: So it sounds like you don't support this change then?
KELLY: If it's to change it, if it is to put being able to change the target in a regulation, this would take it further away than what I could support.
GEOGHEGAN: So why did he do it?
KELLY: We have to - that is not a question for me to ask, or me to answer.
GEOGHEGAN: But you will be asking the Prime Minister, obviously?
KELLY: There will obviously be further debate on this in the coalition party room come Tuesday.
GEOGHEGAN: Pat Conroy, is this in your interest? We were asking your colleague Ed Husic, a little earlier, as to whether this plays in Labor's favour because obviously a future Labor Government, it would make it easier for you to increase those targets?
PAT CONROY: Well, we'll examine the detail when we get to see the revised draft legislation because the legislation that we'd received is already out-of-date because of this policy fiasco. But what is clear is that Malcolm Turnbull has surrendered yet again to the conservative wing of the Liberal Party. His leadership is now totally an abject failure. He is clearly a puppet. He couldn't even get the party room to support the inadequate 26% emissions reduction target, so he's having to put it in regulations because he was going to have well over a dozen Liberal MPs cross the floor and not vote for it. This again is just demonstrating that Malcolm Turnbull is a puppet of the hard right of the Liberal Party and again we have got a fiasco of energy policy. We won't have certainty because who knows what they will change next when the hard-right say to Malcolm Turnbull that is not enough, we need something else. This is shambolic policy making on top of shambolic policy making.
NICHOLSON: Craig, for the Prime Minister, does this solve the problem of potentially that group of coalition MPs crossing the floor?
KELLY: As I said, me and many of my other colleagues that actually supported the NEG previously. If they now find that this is actually going to be able to be the targets increased by regulation, some of them may actually reconsider their position.
GEOGHEGAN: When you say "some of them" - you included?
KELLY: Well this is the concern I had. This has been an additional concern that I had. Pat goes on, we have debates on our side of politics, we are not the Labor Party, we all frogmarch in and stand there nod your head and say yes. We have real debates in the party room. And we should never shy away from that. I think this is our weakness. We should look at this as a strength of the coalition, to have vigorous debates about - that is the way we get the best policy. We don't get the best policy where everyone is nodding their head and going yes, yes, yes I agree. It is vigorous debates, it's the only way, especially in this area of policy when there's been so many mistakes made before, which has pushed electricity prices higher than anywhere else in the world, that's why we have to have vigorous debates on it. I don't refrain from that at all.
NICHOLSON: But Craig, Isn't that part of the problem with energy policy over the past 10 years, that there has just been debate from two extremes rather than people trying to find a compromise?
KELLY: We've had compromise. We've had the Renewable Energy Target which this year, that was a compromise policy, the target was initiated under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. It was then by consent, the target was reduced because it was deemed as too high. That this year, will add $3.6 billion on to the cost of people's electricity bills. That's been the problem in the past. Now, let's have this debate, let's have this as vigorous as we can because we have to get this right. Electricity prices in this nation are completely unacceptable.
GEOGHEGAN: Pat, you wanted to jump in?
CONROY: Craig, that's... I need to respond to a number of factual inaccuracies there by Craig. First, the Government's own review found that Renewable Energy Target reduces power prices...
KELLY: That's worked well Pat, that's gone really well. Oh they've come down Pat, yes.
CONROY: ...In fact the Government's own - Craig, I let you have a go.
KELLY: That's why they got it wrong. is why it was wrong in the past.
CONROY: ...the Government's modelling - Craig, the Government's own modelling around the NEG found $400 of the purported $550 of savings comes from the massive renewable investment as occurring at the tail end of the Renewable Energy Target put in place by Labor. That is my first point. Investment in renewable energy leads to lower power prices and cleans up our emissions.
KELLY: Where in the world has that happened?
CONROY: The Labor Party is being attacked by both the Liberal Party and the Greens. We are taking a moderate position on this. If Malcolm Turnbull can't even get support for his inadequate 26% emissions reduction target through his own party room, why does he even bother getting up in the morning? He can't even get a commitment to the Government's own target, a target they entered into in 2015 as part of the Paris accord through his own party room. This is what this backdown is all about.
GEOGHEGAN: Why not back it then?
CONROY: He is not confident that his party room will support a 26% reduction target legislated so he's having to do it by regulation. This is abject surrender by Malcolm Turnbull yet again.
GEOGHEGAN: Why doesn't the Labor Party back it then? And then, if you have confidence at winning the next election, you can increase it?
CONROY: Well, we've been positive about the NEG. We recognise that we do need a framework that is bipartisan in nature. We can have disagreements about targets. As long as there is a bipartisan agreement about the framework, that will help reduce uncertainty in the energy sector and lead to greater investment that will over the long-term reduce power prices. But this Government keeps moving the goalposts, so it is hard to sign up to a NEG when we don't know exactly what the NEG is going to be. But what is very clear is, if the NEG as constructed gets through parliament with a 26% target, that means zero renewables for the entire decade. Not a single new large-scale renewable energy project will be built, in fact the Government's own modelling found that only four wind turbines will be added in a decade, four wind turbines, not four wind farms. That is less than what we are adding each week now. We can hopefully reach agreement on the framework but we need to be fair dinkum about the target and it's pretty hard when Malcolm Turnbull can't even get his inadequate target through his party room.
NICHOLSON: Craig, is this taking its toll on Malcolm Turnbull's leadership? We've had rumblings about potential pressures on his leadership. Peter Dutton, the immigration Minister has come out this morning on social media saying that just to make very clear the Prime Minister has his full support. Does the Prime Minister have the full support of his Government?
KELLY: Look, I'm sure that he does. I still support the Prime Minister. I'm there and we are debating this. This is what our job is as Members of Parliament. To have these debates, to have these discussions. This is a strength on the coalition side about how we do about policy. Yes, it may look a little bit untidy from the outside. Vigorous debate looks untidy. Pat talks about there will be no new investment in renewables. If these renewables are so much cheaper, why would there be no new investment in them? This is why you don't need an artificial construct, Pat. When you artificially force, when you interfere in the market and you artificially force generation capacity in there, especially intermittent energy, that is what forces prices up. That is the experience, not only all round the world, but here in South Australia. Highest Renewable Energy Target in the country. Guess what? They have the highest electricity prices not only just in the country but by many measures, the highest in the world!
GEOGHEGAN: Alright. Let's move to the other big issue of the week, the maiden speech and very controversial speech by Senator Fraser Anning. I asked your colleague Ed Husic a little earlier, should the Labor Party place the Katter Australia Party last in his preferences. He said yes, I think they should. What is your view?
CONROY: Well, I think quite frankly it's a hard choice which to place last now because we've got extremists in the Katter Party and we've got extremists in One Nation and my view is they should be last and second last depending on what is the order. But I agree with Ed. We cannot tolerate such racist attacks, such bigotry in Australia. It has no place and I applaud the response from both the Labor Party and Liberal politicians on this issue. I do challenge my Liberal colleagues that they need to go a step further and stop their dog whistling. Because while they attacked this overt exercise in bigotry, they still do very many things that give licence to this sort of behaviour by demonising Sudanese Australians amongst others. They should match our actions and put One Nation and Bob Katter last in how to votes because ultimately if you don't do that you are endorsing this attitude.
NICHOLSON: Craig, what do you say to that? Obviously there was bipartisan condemnation of this, this week. But has politics, do you think, created a culture where these kinds of comments can fly?
KELLY: Well I think Fraser Anning has been condemned for his words. They were either very poorly chosen and he should have stood up and apologised for them and if he actually meant what he did with that reference to the final solution, if that was intentionally put in there...
NICHOLSON: Do you think it was intentional?
KELLY: I would hope - I look at the good nature in people first. I find it difficult to accept that anyone knowing how that would be interpreted would deliberately put that in the speech. That would be absolutely disgraceful if they did. I hope that it was just an oversight that he did. But yet again, as I understand, he hasn't actually apologised for it.
GEOGHEGAN: Aside from that phrase that he used, you would have many Muslims in your electorate. How would they be feeling? Are they under assault?
KELLY: Look, I don't - you have these extreme elements that make these comments which I think is disappointing. We have people from all walks of life and all religions in this country that make a wonderful, wonderful contribution. I find generally around the country it doesn't matter what background you come from, or what is your race or your religion, if you get on and you get on with work and get on with living in society, you are accepted by 99.9% of Australians.
NICHOLSON: Pat, what do you make of the attention given to this this week? Obviously we have had a lot of talk about it in politics and in the general public but the very intention of the speech according to reports was to create controversy and to make inflammatory remarks. Do you think we should have potentially ignored it or called it out?
CONROY: Look, it's a very hard decision to make. I think everyone did the right thing by calling it out. Unfortunately that gives him the attention and inflames his support amongst extremists. You cannot stay silent on these issues. It is not just the use of that abhorrent term "final solution" - this is a guy who called for the return of the white Australia policy. This is a man who said that every single terrorist in the world is a Muslim. This is a man who called for prejudice based on people's religious views. That is unacceptable. We need to call it out and I think people did the right thing by doing that, because otherwise, if you don't stand up to this bigotry and extremism, it gets further licence. But we need to go further. As I said before, we need to put One Nation and in my view Bob Katter's Party last and second last in how to votes because otherwise you are endorsing this extremist attitude. John Howard did it, in the late 90's, he stood up to Pauline Hanson. That stands to the credit of the Liberal Party. I think we all need to stand up to One Nation and Bob Katter now rather than getting in to bed with them. Unfortunately that is what we see too often from the coalition and other actions such as demonising Sudanese Australians in Melbourne and other places for example.
GEOGHEGAN: Pat Conroy, Craig Kelly. Thanks for joining us.