Meet the Press – Interview with Hugh Riminton

Subjects: Barnaby Joyce withdrawal; coal; carbon pricing.

Transcript, E&OE

17 June 2012

HUGH RIMINTON: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. Two weeks now to the carbon price. Our guest this week – as last week – was going to be Barnaby Joyce. But for the second week, the Coalition has dragged him away. We're told this program is deemed "too dangerous" and that is a quote. We blush in the face of such praise. But it is a shame because Senator Joyce deserves a considerable place in our political history. Three years ago, when there was broad consensus between Kevin Rudd's Government and Malcolm Turnbull's Opposition on the need for an Emissions Trading Scheme, Barnaby Joyce was then the prophet in the wilderness.

BARNABY JOYCE: [excerpt from interview] The ETS is just another mechanism, so it's just a new tax. The Labor Party is great at these moralising new taxes.

RIMINTON: It was Barnaby Joyce who coined the killer line, "A Great Big New Tax on Everything", at a time when Tony Abbott was still happy to wave the legislation through.

TONY ABBOTT: [excerpt from interview] Given the Rudd Government's mandate, if you like, I think we're perfectly entitled to say, look, if this is what you want to do, do it.

RIMINTON: Senator Joyce inspired the dissenters in the Coalition, and the dissenters ultimately toppled Malcolm Turnbull – with Tony Abbott the chief beneficiary and convert.

ABBOTT: [excerpt from interview] Barnaby is probably Australia's most accomplished retail politician.

RIMINTON: He took on the Barnaby method, based on catastrophic warnings of what carbon pricing will do.

JOYCE: [excerpt from interview]That's the end of our beef industry, Michelle. Then it'll be our sheep industry. I don't think your working mothers going to be very happy when they're paying over $100 for a roast.

RIMINTON: And so it began.

ABBOTT: [excerpt from interview] Whyalla will be wiped off the map by Julia Gillard's carbon tax.

RIMINTON: The tactic lives on: Tony Abbott on the carbon tax just this week.

ABBOTT: [excerpt from interview] It spells the annihilation of the domestic coal industry.

RIMINTON: With coal our biggest export commodity, Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson knows a bit about it, and he is our guest today.

[break to news]

RIMINTON: And now welcome back to the program. Craig Emerson, good morning Minister.

CRAIG EMERSON: Good morning, Hugh. Good to be on a program that the Coalition considers to be too dangerous.

RIMINTON: You are a brave man, I think, Dr Emerson. Let's go through some of this stuff that we're hearing, that we're continuing to hear this last week. Tony Abbott there in Adelaide, saying that domestic coal faces annihilation. He says that's not a scare campaign, it's a fact campaign. What's your response?

EMERSON: I think it's important not so much what they say, but what they do, and Coalition MPs have been buying up shares in the mining industry like they are going out of fashion. This is just part of the ongoing scare campaign. It was going to be a cobra strike and now it's a python squeeze. Next thing you know, it will be your grandmother squeezing you on the wrist. I mean, Mr Abbott will have a lot of explaining to do after the first of July, because he will have to explain that when, if he ever became Prime Minister, he yanks out the carbon price that he would reduce and actually cut age pensions; increase taxes, take the tax-free threshold back from $18,200 to $6,000; put 800,000 people back into the tax system. These are the questions Mr Abbott will have to answer after the first of July. I've been checking every second day, Hugh, just checking the sky. It seems to be at about the same height as it was, and I think that's going to be the case after July 1. The chooks will get up, they'll lay eggs. Kids will go to school and people will get on with their lives, but the onus will be on Mr Abbott to explain why he's going to increase taxes and cut pensions.

RIMINTON: Your point is well made. One of the reasons that coal is unlikely to face annihilation and why there's so much investment in it is that we're exporting it in increasing amounts. But isn't that, in fact, part of the problem? That there are other countries using our coal, burning our coal, putting those emissions into the air and the reality is that the world hasn't got the message. It's still burning fossil fuels, no matter what we might do with the carbon tax.

EMERSON: We are making the transition to a low-carbon future. No one ever said it would be a situation where on one day, the use of fossil fuels would stop. What we want to do, is through carbon capture and storage research, see if there are ways of reducing the CO2 emissions of coal burning. But of course, what we want to do is make a transition that is manageable in terms of people's living standards, and so that's why there will continue to the exports of coal.

RIMINTON: Okay, you mentioned carbon capture and storage: that's a dud, isn't it? There's hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into this thing and not a single sign that anything's actually coming out of it other than a few dinners in Paris.

EMERSON: The whole idea of research and development is to do the research and development and get the results. I saw Greg Hunt on another program this morning, revealing that not a tonne of carbon has been saved from this research. Well, it's like any other research and development project. You have to put your work in at the outset and seek to get results at the other end. That's the idea of research; that's the idea of investment, not even Mr Hunt can get his mind around that. But this is a global effort.

RIMINTON: So you still have faith in carbon capture and storage? So you still have faith in it?

EMERSON: What I have faith in is to ensure that all of the possible research and development is done. This is not Australia going alone: we are doing it in collaboration with countries all around the world, and it's just yet again people saying, 'we shouldn't be doing that.' Of course we should. We should look at ways of reducing emissions from fossil fuels. We've got large quantities of liquefied natural gas, which is regarded as a transition fuel to a low-carbon future, to a clean energy future. So Australia's well-placed to contribute. But also through wind power and solar power, wave power, we're doing the lot. Because we are making a contribution and as Climate Minister Greg Combet pointed out the other day, there's now 50 jurisdictions who are acting to put a price on carbon, or in other ways to reduce emissions, and we think that we can join a global effort to price carbon, to have a market-based mechanism, which is the most effective in the end.

RIMINTON: So, with carbon capture and storage, is it still a central plank – the effective development of this technology – to the whole Government's plan for reducing carbon emissions?

EMERSON: We haven't factored in the results of research and development in our plans to 2020. What we've said is that we have a commitment to 2020 to reduce carbon emissions by five per cent. That is supposed to be a bipartisan commitment. We are implementing that commitment through putting a price on carbon and associated measures. If carbon capture and storage produces results that are commercially viable to further reduce emissions beyond then, then that's a great thing. But there is supposed to be bipartisan commitment. All of these things do involve some cost. So don't believe the Coalition where it says it can do this for virtually nothing. The cost of the Coalition's direct action plan, if they did stick to that five per cent target, would be $1300 per household. Now, that's much greater than the more efficient process which we have embarked upon, which is putting a price on carbon and moving to a full carbon floating price mechanism and emissions trading scheme.

RIMINTON: Okay, Dr Emerson. We'll take a break and come back with the panel.

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