Failure on climate change undermines Pacific step-up

June 19, 2019




SUBJECTS:  Pacific Step Up; climate change

HOST: Well, the new Shadow Minister for International Development says the Coalition's climate change policies are undermining Australia's Pacific diplomacy. Labor MP Pat Conroy says the government's current targets to cut emissions are woefully inadequate and damage Australia's reputation in the region. But he says Labor will continue to throw its support behind the government's so-called Pacific step up.
Mr Conroy is speaking to our Foreign Affairs Reporter Stephen Dziedzic.


JOURNALIST: Well, Pat Conroy, thanks very much for joining the ABC. We appreciate you giving us your time.


CONROY: My pleasure.

JOURNALIST: Now, let's talk about the Pacific step up. This is a flagship
government foreign policy; it's one that Labor has largely backed; it's really quite bipartisan. What do you think is driving the Pacific step up?

CONROY: Well, I should start by saying that we in fact flagged a Pacific step up from opposition some years ago so we've welcomed the government's commitment to it and it's incredibly important. I think it recognises and reflects the fact that certainly post-2013 there was a perception that Australia had withdrawn somewhat from the Pacific. These nations are incredibly important; they are our brothers and sisters and they're vital from our strategic interests. So I think the key driver the Pacific step up is a recognition that we need to re-engage with our brothers and sisters in the Pacific; we need to deepen those relationships that have existed already and it should be on a bipartisan basis.

JOURNALIST: Now, some security agencies in Canberra, people in Defence, they've been casting a very close eye about on China basically in the region, keeping a very close eye on what Beijing has been doing. Do you think the fact that we have seen this
real incursion if you like into the region from Beijing over the last 10 years in particular; do you think that should be a cause of concern to Australia?

CONROY: Well, I'm yet to receive the security briefings that are typically offered to opposition front benchers so I have to be very careful about what I discuss. But I think I make the point that countries around the world will legitimately pursue their diplomatic interests in the Pacific and we need to respect that and to some extent other countries are filling a vacuum created by Australia's perceived withdrawal from the region. So
I think the step up is a reflection of that. Obviously China is pursuing their national interests and it's not just in the Pacific. You look at the issue around recognition of Taiwan that some Pacific nations obviously support. So there's a whole lot of complex strategic factors that are driving that particular intervention.

JOURNALIST: What do you think Australia could do perhaps with China in the Pacific? There have been a few tentative attempts to try and do some joint aid projects together though our development projects have been historically very different in in style and character. Do you think there's room for greater collaboration there between Australia and China in the Pacific?

CONROY: Well, international development assistance can either be
bilateral or multilateral and I think certain projects make sense to be multilateral. We have to start from the basis the fact that around 27 percent of people in the Pacific are in extreme poverty; they're surviving on less than one dollar a day so there's an urgent need for international development to assist in the economic development of these nations not just from Australia but around the world. And it will make sense in some instances to work with other nations and other instances it's better to go our own, to use own deep relationships with Pacific nations. So, I'm not in a position to say yea or nay to that; I'm in the opposition obviously. But I think we should start with an open mind and not fall into a trap of thinking international aid is purely there to advance the strategic interests of the nations using it.

JOURNALIST: Alright let's talk about climate change. You've already criticised the government's climate change policies and you say that it's undermining their approach towards the Pacific and as it is there have been a number of Pacific leaders who have
criticised the government's policies. What do you think the Coalition should do on this front?

CONROY: Well they should do two things. It should commit to a responsible target for emissions reduction in this country and that should be 45% by 2030 and net
zero emissions by 2050. That is what the best advice from the Climate Change Authority and other international agencies propose as a responsible and appropriate contribution to the Paris Treaty by Australia. So first is to ramp up the targets to something appropriate and responsible. And secondly is to actually implement domestic mechanisms to deliver those emissions reductions because at the moment the government has a woefully inadequate target and they have no way of achieving even that inadequate target. Emissions have risen every year for the last four years and this government has no hope of restraining them.

JOURNALIST: Isn't it inevitable though that there's always going to be a gap between the ambition that Pacific leaders would like Australia to show on climate change and what Australian political parties at least in the mainstream are willing to contemplate.

CONROY: Well there's no doubt that the Pacific nations would want us to be much more ambitious but as a minimum I say we should actually do our part in the Paris Treaty which we've signed up to. Prime Minister Abbott at the time signed up to the Paris Treaty. It is incumbent upon us to actually make emissions reduction consistent with that treaty, which is 45% on 2000 levels by 2030, and have the mechanism to achieve that. And that's incredibly important from our own national interests and the
transition occurring in our economy. It also undermines our relationship with
the Pacific. The Boe Declaration is the most important statement recently about
the collective interest of the Pacific and it identifies climate change as the number one security issue in the Pacific. If we as their international partner don't take climate change seriously it undermines our entire approach to the region.

JOURNALIST: Well, some Pacific leaders have in fact said that Australia should phase out coal production entirely and one Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, who is the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said that the Adani coal mine should not go ahead; he said it was his prayer that it wouldn't go ahead; and Labor's just welcomed with the jobs out of that. Are you showing enough ambition?

CONROY: Absolutely, the important thing is under the UNFCCC treaty
arrangements we're responsible for emissions released domestically in
Australia. That's where we have strong policies to reduce our emissions by 45% and net zero by 2050.

JOURNALIST: But,  the Pacific are now saying no more coal; Labor's not saying no more coal; you're saying coal will continue to be part of the mix.

CONROY: Well, I'm an economist by training and our policy set a hard cap on emissions and let the market decide how we will achieve those emissions reductions and that's the most important thing because that means that the emissions reductions can be achieved at the least cost. Quite frankly I don't care where the emissions reductions occur as long as they occur. And the important thing is in Australian domestic energy production our policies around transitioning to renewable energy foreshadowing what the market was supporting already would have achieved a significant transformation in the domestic power in this country. What occurs in other countries, as long as it's consistent with the Paris Treaty, is a matter for them. And the important thing is we can control two things in Australia. We can control our targets and we can control the domestic policy to achieve those targets. And that's what Labor has strong policies about.


Watch the interview here