Bill's Transcripts

Sky News - G20; Climate Change; Renewable Energy Target;






SUBJECT/S: G20; Climate Change; Renewable Energy Target; Tony Abbott’s whinge to global leaders; Abbott Government’s unfair Budget; Immigration; Abbott Government’s unfair cuts to higher education and $100,000 degrees.


PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well probably to continue this discussion on climate change as a starting point we’re joined now live from the G20 up in Brisbane by the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, thanks very much for being there.




VAN ONSELEN: Can I start by asking you about the issue of climate change. Is it your view that Barack Obama’s position on this coupled perhaps with the agreement for targets that have been struck between China and the United Sates from APEC is a game changer domestically in terms of the politics of this issue in Australia?


SHORTEN: Yes I do. As Paul was just saying when you’ve got the two largest economies in the world making significant new commitments to tackle climate change, I think it would be remarkably backward of Australia to think we can sit this one out and say it’s not our issue. I think, you know, there’s, taking a little bit of licence, there was a lot of talk about shirtfronting coming up to this G20. It would appear that in the nicest and most articulate way Barack Obama has shirtfronted Tony Abbott and said come on Australia lift your game. Because clearly Tony hasn’t wanted to speak about climate change at this summit, the G20, but as I’ve been meeting with world leaders they all believe that we should be talking about climate change.


PAUL KELLY: Given what you’ve just said Opposition Leader, does this mean given that America and China are more ambitious with their targets that Australia should also be more ambitious with its targets and look beyond that 5 per cent reduction by 2020?


SHORTEN: Well we need to see what happens at the Paris conference, but Labor has had a view that it all depends about the degree of international buy-in that would influence the target levels that we could aspire to. But you’re quite right, something you said earlier, the Direct Action plan of the Government which I would say was always just a bit of a camouflage to disguise the Governments climate change scepticism, spending billions of dollars, all the experts say won’t get us anywhere near the 5 per cent emissions reduction targets that even the Government has signed up to. So there’s a real challenge here, do we spend billions and billions of dollars more, giving them to large polluting companies or do we look at a market based system which I think is a more value for money and a more sustainable proposition.


KELLY: But if we just focus on the question of our targets which is the real test here of commitment. The United States has outlined a higher target, that’s what President Obama’s done. Is it your view as Labor leader that Australia should at least match the American target or investigate the possibility of matching the American target?


SHORTEN: My view is that we need to consider our targets in the context of the amount of international buy-in we get. There can be no doubt thought, as you and Peter were just observing, that China and the United States proposing strong new measures means that there’s been a game changer in terms of the importance of climate change for Australia’s policy response. So we will need to see, I firmly believe, that Australia shouldn’t be following the world but we will definitely need to see the extent of international buy-in, in order to satisfactorily in the future answer your question about higher targets.


KELLY: But isn’t the reality that we’re getting the international buy-in, we’ve got the commitment from the Europeans, now we’ve got, we’ve now got this new position from the United States which you’ve called a game changer. If it’s a game changer surely that means we’ve got the buy-in, what the hell is Australia doing?


SHORTEN: Well, I think you’ve put it pretty plainly there, what on earth is Australia doing?


KELLY: But I’d like to hear you put it.


SHORTEN: Well, when it comes to the target we believe that if there is demonstrable buy-in from around world as we approach the Paris Conference next year, then the question of higher targets is entirely legitimate, but we will need to see some more of the detail. But Labor is open to that question but we do need to make sure that we are in step with the rest of the world.


KELLY: Okay, well I welcome that comment; you’re saying that higher targets would be entirely legitimate. Just building on that –


SHORTEN: Paul what I’m saying is one thing which Labor has learned I think from our time in Government is that we shouldn’t be following the rest of the world, we need to be working in conjunction with the rest of the world. You can’t deal with climate change one nation out but I also believe that the Paris Conference, which Tony Abbott wasn’t even going to attend, you know, I’m saying here on your show it will be derelict and negligent of Tony Abbott now does not commit to attending the Paris conference and further more if we’re attending the Paris conference which we should, we’re going to need to see the Government totally revisit its settings on climate change.


KELLY: And can I just clarify, when you say reset the settings on climate change, you’re talking about the 2020 target as well as what happens beyond 2020?


SHORTEN: Well let’s talk about what I think are two of the most disastrous issues unfolding domestically in climate change. One is the vandalism which is occurring to the Renewable Energy Target. I think that this Government, now in the light of everything that’s happened, now needs to provide certainty to the renewable energy industry, that’s billions of dollars of investment, that’s tens of thousands of jobs. I think the Government needs to stop talking about cutting it by 40 per cent, the Renewable Energy Target, and the other thing which they need to do is they do need to revisit their Direct Action plans. We can’t, I mean, today we may well see the prospect that many nations of the world are going to donate hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, to a global climate fund. It may well be the situation that Tony Abbott, not to be embarrassed by Australia appearing to be miserly on the international stage, could be providing almost as much money to a global climate fund that he’s willing to undertake in his own country. So these are two policies, Direct Action and their trashing of the Renewable Energy Target, they need to take away the uncertainly, they need to stop ignoring the science and the economists and they need to join the mainstream of national and international thinking on climate change.


KELLY: Okay, I appreciate those points but one final question on the target. As you would be aware the formal position of the former Labor Government was that it would go to a minus 15 per cent target if there was a buy-in from the rest of the world.




KELLY: So I’d ask you again –


SHORTEN: Well our position is exactly that. If there is buy-in from the rest of the world, and we will see that more and more as we approach Paris, then we look at higher targets and if there isn’t buy-in from the rest of the world then 5 per cent is our target. But let me also add Paul we know, you know every observer of climate change policy and what works knows, that the Government under its current settings they’re not even going to get to 5 per cent.


KELLY: Sure. But if we just focus on Labor, I think what you’ve just told me is that Labor if there’s buy-in will look at 15 per cent?


SHORTEN: Paul that is our policy, that hasn’t changed.


KELLY: Thank you, good.


VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you Bill Shorten about Tony Abbott’s speech when he was addressing world leaders at the G20. You’ve described it, I think I’m being accurate here, as weird and graceless. Whilst I agree with the sentiment should you really be saying that as the alternative Prime Minister?


SHORTEN: What do you want me to do? Just pretend everything was fine? You and I know that it was a speech which was parochial; it was almost stubbornly isolationist speech. If you don’t like the words weird and graceless I can say it was a missed opportunity, I could say that it wasn’t Australia’s finest moment. Indeed a lot of your media colleagues I think have been equally straight in terms of analysing what happened. We had Barack Obama give a speech which generations of Australians who attended that speech are going to remember the rest of their lives, and what are we going to remember about Tony Abbott’s contribution on the world stage? He said that he was complaining about the Parliament not endorsing his new GP Tax or his changes which will create university degrees which will be double and triple in cost. The G20 is not a domestic whinge-fest and, I think this is a show case for Brisbane and the nation. The world’s leaders are here, I just wish the person who is the Prime Minister of Australia could measure up to the event in which we’re all participating in.


VAN ONSELEN: Well you’re not all participating because Tanya Plibersek was denied access. The Labor Party asked for her to be included and that application was rejected. Is that something that you intend to, sort of, fight further on or is it just one of those things that you shake your head and move on from?


SHORTEN: Well I did approach the Government several times and the Government say, oh well when they were in Opposition they received petty indignities. I just say to this current Government lets, you know, govern for all Australians. There’s thousands of people here, there are thousands people here but somehow this Government with its ability to micromanage issues determined that Tanya Plibersek shouldn’t be here when there’s thousands of people here. It’s not the biggest issue, Tanya Plibersek’s made of stronger stuff then worrying about a particular forum and it’s not the biggest issue, I grant that, but, you know, this Government loves to talk about bipartisanship but they obviously they only ever like to have one of us here at a time.


VAN ONSELEN: One other issue I wanted to ask you about is the economy. Now this is of course what Tony Abbott’s wants to be front and centre at this particular agenda, focusing on global economic growth. Reform is a key component of global economic growth but the Labor Party federally at least seems to be shutting the door on some of the options before exploring them. I’m thinking of the GST but we can talk more widely than that. Is Labor open minded about economic reforms or should it be more open minded about economic reforms rather than closing the doors before the debates have been had?


SHORTEN: We are open minded about how this country reaches for higher ground. We believe fundamentally that having a more educated work force, having better infrastructure, having a strong healthcare system, promoting the equal treatment of women, having a vision of Australia which is more than just our three capital cities. We are up for reform, but let’s not just say that every Government idea, merely because they put the word ‘reform’ in front of it actually is reform. Where is the reform in making it harder for sick people to go to the doctor? Where’s the reform in terms of cutting 20 per cent from our universities? Where’s the reform in making unemployed people wait for six months? That’s not reform, that’s mean. The real challenge, the way you create sustainable growth be it Australia or in the world, is by ensuring that we also have inclusive growth. The challenge for me is when I visit Burnie which is, you know, perhaps could be argued to be the youth unemployment capital of Australia in North West Tasmania. So I want to know what the Federal Government’s doing for those young people. Where are the programs, where are the opportunities to have skills training, I mean, they’re putting pressure on the University of Tasmania who has a campus in Northern Tasmania, when indeed we need to be encouraging people whose first time, may be the first time in their families that they may contemplate going to university. So this Government, it knows the words, it just doesn’t know what they mean.

KELLY: I want to ask you about climate change in the context of reform. We know there was a former Labor leader Kevin Rudd who talked a lot like you’re talking now in terms of the danger of climate change and the need to take action and then walked away from that. So my question to you as Labor leader is given that you’ve now put on the table the prospect of higher targets what that means with an ETS is higher prices under an ETS. Would you have the courage to accept the political reality of that?


SHORTEN: Paul, first of all when you say, you know, in your manner that it’s been put on the table, that’s always been there. In terms of the debates about speaking like a former Labor Prime Minister, I also happen to be speaking like Malcolm Turnbull was about an ETS, like John Howard was when he proposed having something similar in the 2007 election. It’s Tony Abbott who is the outlier here; he is the unusual man in Australian politics who perceived an opportunity to scare people about acting on climate change and he was very successful at it. But I do think that we’ve wasted a number of years once that bipartisan consensus was destroyed when Abbott rolled Turnbull and in fact for four or five years it’s been a very sectarian debate which means that the experts in the world and the scientists in Australia, they’ve been shut out of a debate and yelled down. And I don’t accept the other part of what you’re saying Paul that somehow there’s going to be some massive price. I mean please Paul, let’s treat our political process and debate as not just being a race to the bottom. In terms of acting on climate it’s not me who required the President of China and the President of the United States to act upon it. It’s not, the world and the science surrounding climate change demands answers. We either deal with it now or we deal with it in the future but one way or another we’ll have to deal with it. It’s purely going to be about how long it takes for us to get there.


KELLY: But the question I asked which you didn’t answer was would you have the courage that Kevin Rudd lacked?


SHORTEN: Well I’m not going to start disparaging former Labor leaders; I might leave that to commentators and others. What I will do is I will set the direction of the Labor Party with my colleagues which we have, and I articulated back in July everything that we’re talking about now. There’s nothing new in what we are saying. What we are saying is that we think climate change is real. What we are saying is we’re a Party who is guided by the future, not by just arguing about the past and what I strongly believe, so the answer is yes, is that a Government or an Opposition who go to the next election and don’t have a real policy which is taken seriously by the experts, based upon the evidence, should not be governing in this country.


VAN ONSELEN: Bill Shorten I want to, before we run out of time, ask you about something that happened on this program a few weeks ago. Your immigration spokesperson Richard Marles seemed to suggest that it may well be the case that turn backs of boats is having an impact on slowing the flow of boats. He appeared to be pretty quickly slapped down by yourself and others within the Labor Party that this was not the case. Was he in a sense just going off the reservation in terms of this issue?


SHORTEN: No, what was happening is that became a speculative debate about had Labor changed its policy and we haven’t.


VAN ONSELEN: So, because he sounded like there was the capacity there for Labor to embrace turn backs. He was cautious in his words in fairness to Richard Marles, he made it quite clear that he would need more details about what actually happens at sea but there appeared to be an open-mindedness to it. Is that something that you share?


SHORTEN: Peter, I’m always an opened minded person but when it comes to I think the substance of what you’re saying Labor hasn’t changed its policies and I think it’s important that the Government become less secretive about how they’re handling turn backs and all the procedures and protocols around that. But in terms of where we’re going, be it the good work that Richard’s doing in immigration or any of my shadows are doing, we understand, and this isn’t strictly on immigration, but I think at this G20 summit it’s remiss of me not to keep making this point. Australia is at its finest when we’re reaching for higher ground, when we’re engaging with the rest of the world. Now that doesn’t mean that we have to recklessly agree with everything that happens but I believe be it climate change, Ebola, standing up against terrorists in Northern Iraq, that Australia reaches its best moments, in the same in trade and engaging with the rest of the world, that what people want from the politics of this nation is a focus on the future. And I think that Tony Abbott needs to perhaps learn from the G20 and understand that there is an appetite, not just internationally, but even more importantly domestically. What they want in our political debate is a view of the future, not just a view of the past.


KELLY: In relation to the university policy, Australian universities have warned that the quality, the performance, the competitiveness and the reputation of higher education in Australia will be doomed to inevitable decline unless this package is negotiated through the Parliament with appropriate amendments. How much damage are you prepared to inflict on Australian universities by not negotiating?


SHORTEN: Paul I don’t accept for one moment the use of the word damage. As the leader of the Labor Party we’re highly committed, most passionately committed to a better higher education outcome for Australians. It was under Labor that the number of students going to university has increased. But in terms of the package, how on earth could Labor, who believes fundamentally in the ability and, you know, that a student’s hard work and merit should determine their educational opportunities, not their wealth. How could we wave through a package which sees a 20 per cent cut in the funding to universities? How do we Paul agree to a doubling in the interest rate of HECS debts which are currently in place? Paul, you and I know this is a Government who is prone to overreach and higher education is a classic example of an Abbott Government being out of touch with how real Australians construct their dreams and their hopes.


VAN ONSELEN: But just finally Bill Shorten on this particular issue, are you just surprised therefore that all the VCs literally, I think all the VCs have lined up and said that this package needs to be passed, what’s going on there?


SHORTEN: Well first of all Paul, sorry and Peter, I’ve spoken to a range of the VCs. This idea that there’s unbridled enthusiasm and fist pumping cheering from the halls of the senior ranks of academia about this Government’s package is a complete spin. Now what I do know is that some of the Vice-Chancellors say we’re getting a 20 per cent cut by the Government so, you know, we’ve got a gun to our head. Let’s be really straight and you gentleman can be very straight in your coverage, I know that, the Government can’t pretend it’s for higher education when it’s taking 20 per cent of the Budget out. You and I both know that taking 20 per cent of the Budget of universities out of the system and a deregulated system will mean that fees will increase further and faster than they otherwise would. That is a real hole below the water line in this Governments unfair Budget and their unfair changes to higher education.


VAN ONSELEN: Alright Bill Shorten, Labor Opposition leader, we appreciate your time on Australian Agenda, thanks very much.


SHORTEN: Lovely to be here in Brisbane, thanks gentleman.