August 11, 2021

TRACY MAC, PRESENTER: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned in its landmark report that was released on Monday that only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent widespread devastation and extreme weather. Within the next two decades, temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels which could be catastrophic for Pacific island nations, and could lead to the entire loss of countries due to sea level rise.

A gentleman who is across what’s happening in the Pacific, he’s the Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy and the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Good morning and thanks for joining me Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy.


MAC: I’m good thank you. This report would have been no surprise to you.

CONROY: No, unfortunately it continues a run of very strong, sobering, and quite frankly scary scientific reports. What’s new in this report is that it confirms for the first time that we’re likely to hit 1.5 degrees warming by 2035 or 2030 which is a lot earlier than people hoped that we would get there. And obviously that’s leading to things like greater bushfires, large cyclones, glaciers melting, which is all very scary and very worrying.

The good news in this report is that it does say that if humans, if humankind takes an urgent and direct action, we can still avoid the worst of climate change. And that’s the important message I want to leave with your listeners is that it’s not too late. We’ve still got a chance, but the repercussions if we fail in that challenge are very dire.

MAC: We are really five seconds to midnight now aren’t we?

CONROY: Yes absolutely, and you look back at the wasted decades of climate wars in this country where, for example, if we’d started earlier, the challenge would have been easier. But quite frankly, much of the last 15 years have been a complete waste other than the Labor years when the Emissions Trading Scheme was in, and the climate wars, the political fight in Canberra has been a national disgrace.

MAC: It really has, and it has to stop doesn’t it? We’ve got to all get ourselves on the same page and we really, this has got to be a bipartisan thing going forward and I saw the Prime Minister held a media conference yesterday and, you know, ‘yes we see this’ and ‘yes we understand, but hey, oh we’ve done this and we’ve done this’. Well hang on a second Prime Minister, that’s not enough now.

CONROY: It isn’t. He won’t even commit to net zero emissions by 2050. His target for 2030 is inadequate. He won’t even meet that inadequate target. And they brag about how they’ve cut emissions by 20 per cent since 2005. Well 14 percentage points of that 20 was under the last Labor Government, and of the remaining six per cent, 5.7 percentage points was because of Labor’s Renewable Energy Target which they tried to abolish multiple times. And the final bit of emissions reductions was because we had the COVID recession last year. They have literally done nothing, but they just keep using this as a political tool to attack Labor, and it’s our environment that’s suffering and also huge economic opportunities we are missing out on.

MAC: And the thing I am getting sick of hearing is that, you know, and there’s a couple from your side as well that are saying this as well, is, you know ‘we are such a small country, we can’t do a great deal’. We can. Whatever we reduce helps the rest of the world. We’ve got to start looking at ourselves as a global citizen, not just as our own little country.

CONROY: Absolutely, and there’s about 15 countries who are in that range of one to two per cent of global emissions. Well we add up to over 20 per cent of total global emissions, so if we all say ‘no, we are tiny, we aren’t going to do anything’, that’s a huge dent on our emissions.

We have to take action and be part of the global effort. It’s happening around the world. Whether it’s Biden in the United States or conservative governments in Germany or the United Kingdom, they’re taking some action on climate change. And if we don’t, not only will the environment suffer, there’s huge economic implications. First off, the European Union are saying they will apply carbon tariffs to our exports. That means that it will be much harder for us to sell things into Europe, and I think the United States will follow on. And secondly, we will miss out on the huge economic boom with the job creation opportunities from new industries that the world will be embracing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

So purely from an economic point of view, even if you don’t care about the environment – and I hope people do care about the environment – this is a completely short-sighted and stupid approach that the Government has adopted.

MAC: My favourite comment on Monday was, you know, talking about our coal industry and look, you know, we don’t underestimate what it will do to our coal industry and we know we need to transition, and I don’t think there’s anyone out there who denies we have to transition. But the comment that came from a Federal Minister of ‘oh, we export the coal, it’s not up to us. It’s up to the actual country that it’s going to, they need to look after the emissions’. Well no, it’s both ways.

CONROY: Well we have to be realistic which is if the rest of the world is reducing their emissions, people are going to eventually stop buying our coal. The global markets of thermal coal peaked in 2013. It has declined every year since. Now our exports have increased in that period as people switched over from Indonesian or Vietnamese coal, but you can’t keep increasing your exports into a declining market.

So that’s an important message that I want to leave with your listeners is that we have to change. It doesn’t mean we have to end overnight because we have to be respectful to communities like ours who rely on industries, and we are going to protect the existing jobs for as long as possible, but if the world decarbonises, they are not going to buy our coal for decades and decades and decades.

So we need new industries while coal mining continues. Whether it’s battery manufacturing, processing lithium, making green steel out of hydrogen, there are some huge opportunities to create thousands of well paying, secure manufacturing and mining jobs if we actually have a Government with a plan. But this Government just refuses to engage in it.

MAC: And even the windfarms off the eastern seaboard, you know, the possibility for them and the new industries there, you know, they could take so many jobs. We need skilled workers out there on those windfarms. There’s so much that can be done to diversify that coal industry.

CONROY: Absolutely. So we can keep coal because it’s not going to end overnight, but we can start growing new industries at the same time, and that gives people an actual real, tangible pathway. And that’s - when I talk to coal miners, the two things they say to me is one, we want to be treated with respect and acknowledged for the sacrifices and risks they make every day building wealth in our region, because people die in that industry every year so it is always important to be respectful. And secondly, they want to understand what are the new jobs that their kids or younger miners can actually grab hold of, and to do that you need to show them new industries. Industries that pay well and use similar skills. And we’ve got a great opportunity in offshore wind, in green steel manufacturing, in hydrogen, but you need real policies to back it up.

That’s why, for example, Labor has announced a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to bring that sort of manufacturing to our country. We’ve announced a $20 billion Rewiring the Nation fund to rebuild our electricity network so that we can get these new, high paying, secure jobs into regions like ours.

MAC: And it really is just a plan isn’t it? We want to see a plan going forward - what’s the plan for the next 10, 20, 30 years? What do we look like? No one can tell us what we look like.

CONROY: Absolutely, and individuals and businesses are getting on with it. So 10 years ago when Labor had our Emissions Trading Scheme in, sort of the majority of the business peak groups who were attacking us were quite frankly obstacles to making change. But I think the business community as a whole has responded to the Paris conference, responded to the threats of carbon tariffs, and they’re trying to say to governments ‘get on board with this’.

And it really is a failure in Canberra – like even State Governments of all political persuasions, Matt Kean, the NSW Energy Minister was out yesterday kicking the bejesus out of Scott Morrison on this issue, and he’s a Liberal from NSW.

MAC: Absolutely.

CONROY: It’s really - it’s not Labor versus Liberal. There is a disease in Canberra that stops us taking action on climate change. And for example, Margaret Thatcher was the first world leader to draw attention to climate change. Angela Merkel, who is a very conservative political leader, has championed action on climate change. They do this because it’s the right thing to do from a scientific and environmental point of view, but secondly they understand the job opportunities that comes from it.

MAC: Absolutely. Now, the other subject that is making news around the country is the COVID lockdowns. Now, where you in Parliament yesterday when the lovely MP George Christensen decided to do his little barrage on COVID and how we should just open up and forget everything?

CONROY: I was just coming into the chamber when he said it and it’s a disgrace. It’s an absolute disgrace. And it’s not just him, there’s Craig Kelly, there’s a couple of Liberal and National Party senators in Senator Rennick from Queensland and Matt Canavan. And Matt Canavan has doubled down today in saying that George Christensen is right.

MAC: I know, I saw that.

CONROY: And so we tried to call them out. We moved a motion in Parliament condemning then and for once the Government let us debate it, but Mr Morrison spent 10 minutes talking about how wonderful our emergency service workers are – and they are wonderful – but he didn’t mention George Christensen once. If you’re not prepared to call out this behaviour, you are endorsing it.

MAC: Absolutely.

CONROY: As a former Army General said, the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you endorse.

MAC: Exactly.

CONROY: And unless he’s going to call out Christensen and the rest because they are making it much harder for us to solve this crisis, they are undermining confidence in the vaccine, they are undermining confidence in the lockdowns, and they’re the only ways to get out of this. We’ve got to fix the vaccine supply which has been bungled by Mr Morrison, but once we’ve got that supply, we’ve got to give people confidence that they should be taking it.

MAC: Absolutely without doubt. Now did you see the 11am press conference from our NSW Premier?

CONROY: Yes I did see it, and I think it’s an absolute disgrace. It seems like the Hunter is an afterthought. They talk about a certain number of cases, and then the fact that she couldn’t give a definitive answer on whether the lockdown will continue. Like, this is a Government that failed to crackdown and lockdown the wealthy Eastern Suburbs of Sydney when we had an opportunity to stomp on this, aided and abetted by Morrison, and now we are suffering. And they’ve stolen our vaccines to add insult to injury. It’s really hard not to feel like the, sort of, poorer cousins of Sydney at this moment.

MAC: Well it really is disgraceful. When you think about the size of Newcastle and the Hunter, you think about our contribution to the state economy but also the national economy, to be told that ‘we’re not sure and we are going to come back to you later’, there are so many businesses out there who are dying to open up again who need to order food, who need to let their staff know. At the moment, we still don’t know what’s happening on Friday morning. We still have no idea, and it’s just not good enough.

Now lockdowns, we should have locked down harder and quicker without doubt. I’m a big believer in that. But give us the answers Pat, that’s the problem at the moment, that there is no leadership for us in this area.

CONROY: We have 750,000 people in this area. We are much larger than the state of Tasmania for example, and we are getting the scraps from Sydney. Like, stealing our vaccines because Morrison couldn’t deliver enough vaccines from Sydney, the testing and tracing system has clearly broken down.

I’ve got people who are waiting three or four days to get a test result back, and that’s if they can get a test. I had a constituent contact me, she had gone to Charlestown Square during the period when it was an exposure site, She had a sore throat and a runny nose, COVID symptoms. She was trying to do the right thing, she got turned away from the Warners Bay testing facility because the police closed it because it was spilling out onto the road. She lined up at Gateshead and she got turned away saying it was well over eight hours for a test. You can’t get a test at Raymond Terrace - sorry Port Stephens on a Sunday.

People want to do the right thing, but how can they do the right thing if there’s no testing system done properly, the tracing system is broken down, all because Morrison and the NSW Government failed in their core tasks, and it’s our region that’s suffering incredibly gravely because of that.

MAC: There was a question asked of Minister Hazzard in the inquiry yesterday saying ‘did you avoid lockdown because you’re known as the state that survives lockdown?’ How much do you think that’s played into it and in particular the right wing media calling for us not to be locked down, that it’s a furphy, it’s this, it’s that. How much do you put the blame there?

CONROY: I think that was a huge factor to be honest. I remember nine days into the Bondi cluster, Mr Morrison answered a question in Question Time where he lauded Gladys and her Government for not locking down saying they’re the standard and you shouldn’t lockdown. Like, this is the Prime Minister egging on the NSW Premier because I think the sort of hard right news media organisations, the media pressure, I think the Treasurer wanted his moment in the sun because the Budget was on that week and I think that became a superspreader event.

This breakout occurred because the national quarantine system broke down, the 27th breakdown in the national quarantine system under Mr Morrison. Then Gladys refused to lockdown the wealthy Eastern Suburbs of Sydney when it had a chance, and then it spread throughout Sydney, up the Central Coast, to the Hunter because we’ve got insufficient vaccines. Everything else around it is bulldust and spin. Those are the reasons we are in this situation: a failure at a state and federal level, and it’s our people whose health and economic wellbeing is been compromised.

I am really, your listeners might be able to hear, I am incredibly furious. I am white hot in the fury I have, because this incompetence has wasted our opportunity. We were leading the world last year. Everyone said we were so lucky to be in this country, so lucky that we closed the borders, so lucky that National Cabinet was working, and they’ve just wasted all of that through their incompetence and laziness and complacency. There are no other words for it.

MAC: The current shutdown – this is the Business Hunter figures – the current shutdown is $21.7 million per week in wages, and $80.6 million average weekly output. That’s what we are suffering from here in the Hunter, but no one can be bothered to talk about us at a media conference.

CONROY: It just, it proves everything that people have been thinking for years about how the NSW Government of both persuasions to be frank have been so Sydney-centric. We are the second biggest city in the state, and as I said, 750,000 people make a huge contribution to the economy. They’re happy to sell off our assets to privatise and to pump the money into Sydney, but they treat us as second-class citizens.

MAC: And look, I think up until now, I thought Gladys had done a really good job, I thought the NSW Government had done a really good job. But man, this Delta strain, they have dropped the ball badly, very, very badly.

CONROY: She just can’t handle the pressure. You look at how she operates in press conferences. Daniel Andrews did something like 100 days of press conferences in a row handling their second lockdown. She has every Saturday off, and Andrews would stand there until the journalists had run out of questions. Gladys and Hazzard just run off after 20 or 30 minutes and then they have the temerity to attack journalists who are asking questions that everyone is thinking.

I just, I agree with you. I think people were very, sort of, respectful and grateful for the way Gladys operated last year, but she has destroyed all of that goodwill with her behaviour and performance over the last month.

MAC: Absolutely. Well listen, thanks so much for your time Pat. I know that you are in Canberra and that you will no doubt be away from home for a little while yet so stay safe down there. And will you keep keeping those idiots under control? The ones that are going off with those conspiracy theories, just shut them down.

CONROY: We’ll certainly be doing our best to call them out because that’s what you’ve got to do. You can’t stay silent. You have to call them out.

MAC: No, that’s your job, absolutely. Thank you my friend. I appreciate your time.

CONROY: Take care, have a great morning.