August 23, 2018






SUBJECT: Liberals leadership and NEG



PAUL BEVAN: Pat Conroy, Thanks for joining us.

PAT CONROY: Afternoon Paul.

BEVAN: I can just hear you over the sounds in the background (plays recording of cork popping and celebrations). The party's underway?

CONROY: No, sadly it isn't. It's just a gross embarrassment for the nation and the scenes today in Parliament when the Liberals adjourned the House early and we forced a vote on it... the Parliament had so much to do. Just to give people an example of what we were supposed to be debating but we didn't: There was a bill about the modern slavery act to make sure Australians don't have slaves in their supply chain and there was a really important bill around people fleeing domestic violence. Both those bills won't be debated now because the Government, unfortunately, couldn't get their act together.

BEVAN: The difficulty for you guys on the Labor side is that any mud you try to sling at the Government as they are going through these throes of tearing themselves apart can easily be thrown straight back at you because you did exactly the same stuff. You got exactly the same results from the population going all we want you to do is what we pay you for. Stick with one leader. Stop thinking about yourselves. Can you really mount these arguments against the Government at the moment?

CONROY: Look I totally acknowledge that we were guilty of exactly the same infighting while we were in Government. Totally guilty of that and the Australian public justifiably punished us in the 2013 election and said if you don't have us as your primary concern then you don't deserve to be in Government. But I have to say there is a key difference in that we have learned from that. We learned in a couple of ways. First, we've been an incredibly united opposition in the past five years. I think we are the most united opposition in the modern era, and second, we actually changed the rules of the party which means this can't be repeated the next time we are in Government. To change Prime Minister in the Labor rules you need 75% of the party room to support such a move. There would be only one leadership change since World War 2 that would have had 75% party support.

So, we have learned from it because we know that if it's so close, you cannot change the Prime Minister. Australian people want stability and they want the same Prime Minister that was elected on election day to take them to the next election.

BEVAN: It's interesting also you don't only need the 75% of the party room to bring on a spill but then it becomes a little more democratic. You then go to a vote of the party membership and the party membership voted for Albo last time around and we still got Bill Shorten as the opposition leader.

CONROY: Well it's 50% party members and 50% MPs and you combine the two and that's the outcome but obviously if there's more than one candidate in such a scenario it would be 50% each way, but I think we really should focus on what's occurred because we shouldn't lose sight of what occurred in the last week and in particular today. We had something 13 or 14 Ministers resign their positions. We had a Prime Minister dare his party room to bring him down and we had Parliament adjourning and closing down and sending MPs home because the Government couldn't do it's job. 

BEVAN: A number of texters have said the last 10 years which includes your period of Government, have been in this situation of almost constant chaos and at least one texter has attributed all of this back to one person, being Tony Abbott. Is that fair enough?

CONROY: Well I don't think you can blame everything to him but he is the great wrecker. He wrecked the consensus on climate change in 2009 that prevented us getting an emissions trading scheme through in 2009. That obviously led to disastrous mistakes by the Labor party in terms of over throwing Mr Rudd and obviously he has played a massively corrosive role in Federal politics but I think we all need to take responsibility for this instability. That's why our rule change was so important and the culture has changed as well but the rule change really places a real buffer on this and makes sure it can't happen under Labor and we've learned our lesson. We have absolutely learned our lesson. It's just a bit sad that the other side hasn't to be honest.

BEVAN: It's very interesting to be talking to you. I mean obviously you are a local Member but you are also involved with the Climate Change and Energy portfolio. Climate change and energy seems to be... it's not really the poisoned chalice but it's the hot potato. It's climate change that brought down Kevin Rudd the first time around. It's climate change that brought down Malcolm Turnbull when he was opposition leader and it looks like it's climate change... well, do you agree that it's climate change that's potentially bringing down Malcolm Turnbull this time?

CONROY: Well I think it's more a symbol or an excuse. I don't think it was the main driver. I think the main driver, quite frankly, is his overthrow of Mr Abbott in 2015 and then their appalling performance in the 2016 election where they only had a one seat majority and then the mismanagement of the House even though they had the majority but the energy debate does symbolise the deep divisions within the Liberal Party, and you are absolutely right. There's a great tragedy here in that last time I was speaking to you I was talking about the National Energy Guarantee and while there were issues in it that we said we wanted fixed up, we definitely left the door open to agreeing to it and the NEG as announced  by Mr Turnbull last week that went through his party room, we were trying to negotiate on that and I think there's a fair chance it might have got through our Parliament but before we even got a chance to look at the legislation this has all cropped up.

BEVAN: So where does... I mean, the NEG... it appears to be gone, so who knows... it's very difficult to predict what is going to happen in the near future but in the more distant future it's slightly easier to predict that Labor will be able to form a Government when we come to the next Federal election. The Liberals, if you just look at history, the Coalition is tearing itself apart and it will not be appreciated by the electorate so let’s assume you guys are there at the next election or after the next election. As you're the Assistant Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister, where are you going here?

CONROY: Well first I think we need to acknowledge that's a pretty significant assumption. I mean, not taking anything for granted. We have to convince the Australian people to give us a mandate but that said, we are working on our policy now. Obviously we put that in abeyance a bit to see if we could negotiate something with the Government. It's clear that that is completely off the agenda no matter who wins the Liberal leadership.

BEVAN: So NEG's gone?

CONROY: Oh, I can't see the NEG coming back.

BEVAN: And without them proposing it to you, you would never go "this seems like a thing we would do"?

CONROY: Never say never. I think it is something we would consider but we are working on what our policy is to take to the next election. The broad stroke of the policy has already been established. We are committed to a 45% emissions reduction target as playing our fair share in the global effort and we are committed to 50% renewable energy because not only does that clean up the environment, but because renewable energy is the cheapest form of new power it will also reduce power prices.

BEVAN: So a great big new tax?

CONROY: There was never a carbon tax; one of Tony Abbott's great contributions; but leaving that aside, we'll look through what are the appropriate mechanisms. In 2016 we took forward an emissions intensity scheme and in fact it's something the Government had a policy for, for about 12 hours before their back bench rolled them so we're working on that right now but it will be responsible. It will be reasonable and the Australian people will see it. Before the next election we will make a decision on it and then if we are privileged enough to be elected we are going to have a really hard task of negotiating it through a senate that's very divided

BEVAN: Anthony Green says the next election will probably not see as chaotic a senate as we are currently dealing with because of varying ways that the senate is selected so that may not be as big a problem as you have just described there but who knows. Who knows what is happening from one minute to the next at the moment? Very interesting to catch you. Thank you, very much for giving us some of your time. 

CONROY: My pleasure. Have a great afternoon.