Labor remains committed to climate change action - RN Drive interview

October 09, 2019

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: What do you make of what Joel Fitzgibbon is proposing? Is it worth considering?


PAT CONROY, LABOR SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: To be frank, we won’t be doing that. Mark Butler, the senior climate change Shadow, has indicated that the Government’s climate change emissions reduction targets are completely inconsistent with the Paris treaty and as such we won’t be lowering our ambition to such a target.


KARVELAS: So why is Joel Fitzgibbon proposing this?


CONROY: You’ll have to ask Joel that. Obviously as this stage we’re going through a full policy review and people are producing their thoughts about where they think Labor should head. But as Anthony Albanese has indicated we won’t be changing our core values. And one of those is a real genuine commitment to fighting climate change and that means having emissions reductions targets consistent with the Paris treaty. And the Government’s target is inconsistent with the Paris treaty and the Government has no chance of even meeting those woeful targets – we should always remember that in these conversations.


KARVELAS: So he’s suggested that Labor backs this upper range of the Coalition’s target – a 28 per cent reduction. Why would that be a blunder?


CONROY: Because it’s inconsistent with the Paris objective. The Paris treaty committed all nations who signed up to it, including Australia, to playing a role in keeping global warming well below 2 degrees – aiming for 1.5 degrees. And Australia’s current 26-28 per cent is not consistent with that; it is consistent with the world warming by 3 degrees, and as such we won’t be adopting that policy. It’s inadequate; the Government can’t even meet this inadequate target. But even if they could meet the target it is inconsistent with Paris, and it’s not us playing our genuine part in an international solution to climate change.


KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon is a senior Shadow Cabinet member, so how deep is the split within Labor on this?


CONROY: I don’t think there’s a split …


KARVELAS: Hang on a minute. I’ve got to call it out. A split is, Joel Fitzgibbon is a senior Shadow Cabinet Minister making this argument which is a radical departure with your policy, and you’ve come on and others are saying you are never going to adopt this. There is a split.


CONROY: There’s a difference of opinion – let’s call it that. Joel has got a proposal that we adopt the 28 per cent target and Mark Butler as the Shadow Minister responsible for this area has pointed out that it is inconsistent with our broader responsibilities and our objectives and values, and as such we won’t be doing this. So, three or four months after losing an election it is quite reasonable that people put forward some of their own ideas in policy areas, but as I said we won’t be adopting what Joel is proposing. People focus too much on discipline and unity above all else. Think about the opposite, where the media is constantly complaining that every single politician is speaking from the same lines. So a bit of policy discussion isn’t a bad thing. But as Mark has indicated we won’t be adopting this idea.


KARVELAS: How can you be so sure that you are not going to be adopting this idea, though? On what basis? Because as you say there’s a review of this policy; you don’t have a settled policy. How can you be sure you won’t be adopting this policy?


CONROY: I’m very confident that the Labor Party Caucus is committed to strong and genuine action on climate change; is committed to making a meaningful contribution to the Paris treaty. You only have to look at speeches that our new Members gave when they entered Parliament. Every single one of them reaffirmed their pride in Labor’s policy and their commitment to taking action on climate change. So I am confident that the vast majority of my colleagues in Labor’s Caucus very strongly support us adopting targets consistent with the Paris treaty and helping keep global warming well below 2 degrees.


KARVELAS:  … [Joel Fitzgibbon’s] central argument is that your climate change policies scared voters. How much of a role do you think that played into the election defeat?


CONROY: I respectfully disagree with Joel about that. I think that our climate change policy on the whole, if you look at the nation, won us votes. Public polling shows well north of 70% and even 80% of Australians want strong action on climate change and I’m confident that our climate policy won us votes. We did lose votes in central Queensland and some parts of the Hunter, not about our climate policy but because there was a perception that we were ashamed of the coal industry; that we were anti-coal; that we didn’t acknowledge the sacrifices they make every day – coal miners – and the contribution they make to our economy. And that’s undoubtedly why we lost votes, but that has nothing to do with our climate policy.


KARVELAS: Just on that. I don’t mean to be rude and interrupt …


CONROY: That was more about things like Adani; trying to be all things to all people on Adani; things like that.


KARVELAS: But you say, I really want to just nail what you just said down. You’re saying that, rather than putting people off, Labor actually got more votes because of your climate change policies at the election.


CONROY: Absolutely.


KARVELAS: Where’s the evidence for that? Because I’d looked at that election result pretty forensically; where’s the evidence that that happened?


CONROY: You look at public polling about climate …


KARVELAS: No, the polling was the election.


CONROY: Well, the polling showed our national result, and we lost votes for a variety of reasons. But I am convinced that we, on the whole, won votes because of our climate policy. You look at where we received swings; they were in areas where there was a very high interest in climate policy. Unfortunately, those swings were not enough to get us across the line in those seats. But I am resolutely convinced that we won votes because of our climate policy. We lost votes in areas such as mine, and in central Queensland, because of perceptions about our attitude to the coal industry – false perceptions – and ultimately those perceptions had nothing to do with our climate policy, which wouldn’t have impacted to any great degree on export coal mining.


KARVELAS: Some of your colleagues have told me today that this would look like Labor was selling out. Do you think adopting the Coalition’s climate change target would hurt your credibility?


CONROY: I think it’s inconsistent with Australia playing its part in meeting the Paris treaty.


KARVELAS: Would it damage your brand if you were to adopt this 28 per cent target?


CONROY: I would say, if you accept my thesis, which I admit is contested, that our climate policy won us votes, that the Australian public wants strong action on climate change, if we are seen to be taking a backward step and adopting the Government’s climate policies, which are inadequate, then obviously that would lead us to losing votes. That is the logical extension of my argument.

KARVELAS: OK, so if I’m looking at your argument, looking at seats, you’re saying there was a swing to you, isn’t the point of a general election winning enough seats to actually form government? Getting more votes to you in seats that you are already holding is not particularly useful, is it, when you’re losing many seats in Queensland and you can’t form government.


CONROY: I think the swings towards us on climate were in seats the Coalition ultimately retained. But our climate policy isn’t about winning votes, although it obviously did play a role. It’s about doing the right thing. My broader point is, we lost the election for a variety of reasons which the review is looking at now. But ultimately, I don’t think it had much, if anything, to do with our climate policy. The people who were pulling me up and saying they weren’t going to vote Labor weren’t saying it because of our climate policy, they were saying it because of perceptions about some of our economic policies – some based on lies such as death taxes, others with genuine concerns around franking credits and other policies like that. I’m honestly saying that I don’t think the climate policy was a vote loser and I don’t think us backsliding and supporting the Government’s inadequate policies will win us votes. And even if it did, which I don’t think it does, it is the wrong call because it is inconsistent with our values and it is inconsistent with us taking genuine action on climate change.


KARVELAS: So, do you still support this 45 per cent reduction?


CONROY: Well, what we’ve signalled publicly is that our overarching goal is net zero emissions by 2050 – that is the basis for genuine action under the Paris treaty, and that we will adopt a trajectory that is consistent with achieving net zero emissions by 2050. We’ve made a broader point that, when we arrived at the 45 per cent figure that was in 2015 on the basis of winning the 2016 election. If we win the next election in 2022, we will have something like six years to turn around rising emissions which are occurring under this Government, to achieve a 2030 target. So we’ve been very open that we are re-examining our medium-term target, but whatever target we adopt will be consistent with net zero emissions by 2050. And Mark Butler has said today and I’m saying it again now that a 26 or 28 per cent target, the Government’s target, is inconsistent with net zero emissions by 2050 and inconsistent with Paris.


KARVELAS: Would you like the Labor Party to maintain a very ambitious target?


CONROY: I’d like us to maintain a target that is consistent with net zero emissions by 2050 and the Paris treaty. What that target ultimately will be will be developed in the next couple of years. We’re a long way off the next election. But the core thing, if we go back to basics, is that it’s consistent with our Labor values, that it’s consistent with Paris, it’s consistent with Paris playing its part in taking genuine action on climate change. And the important point is, that’s not occurring right now in Australia. Emissions are rising; they have risen every year since 2014; they’ll continue to rise every year under this Government because they don’t have any policies, and that’s the real challenge we’re facing. I find this entire discussion a bit frustrating. I can understand why the media is interested in it, because it lets the Government off the hook.


KARVELAS: That’s not why the media’s interested in it. One of your senior frontbenchers is giving a speech tonight. It’s not just to let the Government off the hook.


CONROY: I’m not criticising the media for taking an interest in this. This is obviously very interesting. I find it frustrating because it distracts from the fact that emissions have risen every year under this Government since 2014 and they have no hope of meeting their manifestly inadequate 2030 target.


KARVELAS: That’s Joel Fitzgibbon that has done that, isn’t it?


CONROY: I don’t think this debate is particularly helpful, to be honest. But that’s where we are and that’s the nature of the policy debate at the moment.


KARVELAS: Just finally, former Labor Secretary Jamie Clements has revealed that Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo gave him $35,000 in cash to help him with legal fees relating to what I think were sexual harassment accusations. Were you shocked by today’s ICAC revelation?


CONROY: I haven’t seen that specific report; I’ve been on the road up in Cairns. But what I can say about what ICAC has uncovered so far is that it is a complete disgrace. We need to urgently and drastically change the culture of Sussex Street. It is unacceptable. It is a culture that has gone on for too long. And it must drastically change. It is very corrosive. And it is unacceptable in a modern political party for these sorts of activities to go on.

You can listen to the interview here