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Transcript of interview with Ashleigh Gillon: Sky News: 11 August 2009: CPRS legislation; Malcolm Turnbull and Frontier Economics report.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News

11 August 2009


SUBJECTS: CPRS legislation; Malcolm Turnbull and Frontier Economics report

ASHLEIGH GILLON: The Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke - good morning to you - and the Shadow Health Minister, Peter Dutton, good morning.

PETER DUTTON: Good morning, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Peter, let’s start with you. It has been a tough winter break for the Coalition, do you expect some fireworks when the party room meets this morning?

PETER DUTTON: Well actually I think people express their views, I think what’s most important about the party room process is that people can view their grievances. If they support a particular position, or they’re opposed to it - that’s the democratic process. What I don’t support is people out in the press criticising the leader. I support their right to go out and talk about issues, to express their point of view but criticisms and views that we should take a particular direction or other should be reserved for the party room.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: What do you make of the modelling released by Mr Turnbull yesterday, do you agree that that should form the basis of a new policy for the Coalition?

PETER DUTTON: Actually what I think that demonstrated was that within half an hour Greg Combet and Penny Wong were out there calling this a dog and a mongrel, these sorts of things. I suppose what that really demonstrated was that this issue is all about politics. It’s just like the Prime Minister’s own promises. I say to the Australian people look at issues like hospitals, where the Prime Minister promised to fix hospitals. That’s a broken promise. He hasn’t delivered on it. If you look at issues like broadband, it’s the same deal. I think this is more about politics for the Labor Party than it is about the environment. I think yesterday their bluff was called.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tony Burke, yesterday both Greg Combet and Penny Wong did seem very dismissive of this idea before they would have had the chance to go through any of the details of the modelling. Penny Wong said this scheme isn’t a hybrid, it’s a mongrel. Why won’t it work?

TONY BURKE: Well yesterday’s report wasn’t the first time that this concept has been floated and in designing the Green Paper and then the White Paper the Government was able to look at the different options that have been considered and dismissed around the world.

This is one of the ones that has been considered and dismissed around the world. It’s got an essential problem and that is that there’s no cap. If the objective of what we’re trying to do is to reduce carbon pollution then the first principle has to be that there be a limit on carbon pollution. Under this scheme there’s no limit. Added to that is that it’s horrendously complex. Added to that, the whole world is moving to cap and trade and we want our system to work in with that so that we’re part of that global market.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well some of the changes proposed by Frontier Economics greatly affect your portfolio. It proposes that agricultural emissions be permanently excluded from the scheme. But that farmers should be able to reap benefits from emissions reductions, things like biochar and reforestation. Why didn’t the Government go down that path?

TONY BURKE: Well the first thing with some of those proposals is that they’re outside the Kyoto accounting system. So in terms of meeting our international targets some of those rules don’t meet the current international modelling. You’re simply not able to trade that internationally.

The second concept though is the science of measurement is not where we need it to be yet. Now the Government, rather than dismissing it, has therefore investment in the science of management and to find as many options as we can in these sorts of areas. But to say that the science is where we need it already to include biochar in a sensible framework is simply untrue.

We have a massive range of soils in Australia and much of it is desert. Our capacity to sequester is quite different to some other countries of the world. Even if the international accounting system was there, which it’s not.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Peter Dutton, Tony Burke raises a few areas of concerns there with the modelling released yesterday.

PETER DUTTON: Yeah well Ashleigh a lot of Australians get lost in this debate. I mean all of the stuff Tony talked about I don’t agree with all of what he just said. I think some of it in fact is wrong. Most people don’t get this debate. People are concerned about the environment, we’re concerned about the environment. People are also concerned about their household budgets and I think this is where the debate starts to unfold. People realise that what’s being proposed by Kevin Rudd - in an environment where unemployment is going to go up, interest rates will go up because inflation is on its way up - if they’re going to be whacked with an extra $240 or $280 a year in their electricity bill. If they know, for argument’s sake, just consider this - for people who are buying milk for their family or yoghurt or whatever products originate from dairy. Those farmers are going to be whacked with, under the Rudd scheme, an $8-$10,000 a year impost. Now that cost is going to be passed on to families and I know that Tony is the Minister for Agriculture but why don’t you provide support to the Australian farmers when President Obama provides support to the American farmers, Tony? I mean why wouldn’t you provide support to our Australian farmers because all of those costs are ultimately going to be passed on to consumers. If people see a spike in their electricity bill, in the price of meat when they go to the butcher, if their milk is going up by x cents per litre. Why are you leaving out farmers?

TONY BURKE: In terms of counting the dairy emissions the US scheme is actually the same as ours, in terms of dairy processing being a point of obligation.

PETER DUTTON: So no impost on our farmers?

TONY BURKE: So you wanted to compare it to the United States and the situation there is the same.

PETER DUTTON: [inaudible].

TONY BURKE: Now the question that you then raise is, what happens to consumer prices? Which is why under the White Paper, and you’ve seen it there, consumers are more than compensated for the increase in household expenses. So what happens is, where you do have pricing [inaudible] put into the market, households are more than compensated. People then, in a situation where they’ve got that compensation brought back to them, can make decisions on the new price signals and actually opt for the cheaper technologies which are the lower emissions paths.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Let’s look at some of the broader implications of the scheme. Yesterday, the Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said that the Government is going to get this through the easy way or the hard way. Was that a threat that the Government is willing to go to a double dissolution early election on this?

TONY BURKE: Our principle is that it’s being voted on this week and we want it to be passed this week and that’s what we’re focusing on.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well it doesn’t look like it will be.

TONY BURKE: Well I don’t know what Malcolm Turnbull believes on this. Yesterday he released a document and wouldn’t tell us whether he agreed with it or not. They keep saying that we need to sit down and negotiate with them and they still haven’t put forward a single amendment. The real test of Malcolm Turnbull in the party room today is: will he emerge with amendments that he then brings to the table.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: That seems pretty unlikely.

PETER DUTTON: This is all political spin. Tony comes from the NSW Government originally and they’re applying this same spin now to the Rudd Government. Malcolm Turnbull stands for a scheme, at the moment, which we’re putting on the table and we’ve outlined principles to the Government.

Ashleigh, the important point to remember in this is we want to assist the environment which is why with Malcolm Turnbull’s scheme we’re saying we can get double the outcome in an environmental sense than what Rudd’s proposing. We’re saying that it can be cheaper, we’re saying it can be smarter. These are the things that Malcolm Turnbull, I think people understand that this is what Malcolm Turnbull stands for. When people look at the detail of this debate, when they cut through all the political spin, I think the Government’s hanging this threat out of a double dissolution. I think they can go down that political path if they want. I think Australians punish Governments that go to early elections for political purposes - this would be one such example.

If you put a scheme on the table and say to them, ‘Look we’ll negotiate with you and you can get better environmental outcomes, you don’t have to lose the jobs that they’re proposing under Rudd’s scheme and it’s going to cost the economy less’ - why would the Rudd Government still go down this political path of trying to create an opportunity for a double dissolution?

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tony Burke, is there a risk that voters might think the Government is being arrogant by dismissing the Coalition and not seeming to want to sit down and even take any of these ideas seriously?

TONY BURKE: We’re very happy to sit down and negotiate over amendments.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: These aren’t amendments though.

TONY BURKE: Well we have a Bill before the Parliament. I mean, we’re not just here to have interesting conversations about principles, we’re here to make laws. The Government has put forward our position on what the laws should be. The Opposition has said, ‘Well we’re not happy about that, but we won’t tell you what we want changed.’

Now I don’t know how you conduct negotiations about high-level principles leading to a vote on Thursday of this week unless Malcolm Turnbull can walk out of the party room today and tell us what he wants changed in that Bill.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: The Government still hasn’t finalised its own compensation package for the coal industry or electricity generators so why is this urgent need to have the vote this Thursday?

TONY BURKE: Well I think in terms of the detail of how the compensation packages will work, the White Paper gives a pretty clear direction on all of that. In terms of the negotiating framework for the legislation which ultimately, whatever you look at in those discussions, if the Senate were to move amendments and we end up with a different situation then that discussion would be more difficult to have. It would have implications for that. The stage that we need to get to is where we have Australian laws in place. We’ve put forward what we believe they should be. The Opposition says they can’t support them unless they’re changed but they won’t tell us those changes should be.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Peter, do you expect that some in your Party will actually cross the floor and vote with the Government on Thursday?

PETER DUTTON: Look, I think Ashleigh what you’ll see on Thursday is the result of the Government not being willing to negotiate an outcome. I mean, the Government has at its disposal the Office of Parliamentary Counsel - teams of lawyers sitting around who, at Ministers’ directions, draft amendments on a daily basis.

If the Government was serious about getting a compromise position, which is what the business community, what the environmental community, what the Australian public wants, if the Government was of that mind then they would have sat down with us, ‘Well OK we can come together and agree on these issues’. Sure, there’s some that we won’t agree on and we can divide and vote on those, that’s fine, that’s what happens in normal Parliamentary debate.

But the reality is that this is a Government that is not interested in good environmental outcomes, they are interested in good political outcomes. That unfortunately is what Kevin Rudd’s been about - not just in the environment but certainly in the health area as well.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tony Burke, do you agree with that?

TONY BURKE: Well first of all, the Business Council of Australia is opposed to what was released yesterday so to say that the Business Council want some sort of compromise based on the principles that the Coalition is putting forward: simply not true. To find environmental groups pushing that the Coalition’s proposal is better - love you to name them. Because it’s simply not the arguments that are being put out there.

PETER DUTTON: How can they have (inaudible).

TONY BURKE: I’ll respond to each of the principles you’re raising. The final one was a suggestion that you need the Government to write your amendments. Now, if that’s what you’re asking us to do, that’s the first time I’ve heard that request being made. I’ve never heard before an Opposition argue that they needed the Government to write their amendments.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: The Coalition can’t expect the Government to write your own amendments?

PETER DUTTON: All we’re saying is they have the resources of Government, they make Bills everyday. I mean, if they are genuine about sitting down…

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Why would they draft your amendments, if they’re your ideas for change?

PETER DUTTON: If they are genuine about sitting down to arrive at a compromise deal, they would sit down and say, ‘OK, we recognise that you’ve got problems with areas a, b, and c’ - these are areas which we believe that you’ve got a better position than ours, we’ll amend our legislation accordingly. The Government does that on a daily basis. All I’m saying is if they had an interest in an environmental outcome, an outcome that’s in the best interests of the country, as opposed to Kevin Rudd’s political interests, then they would not have taken the approach that Penny Wong took yesterday and Greg Combet took yesterday. I don’t agree with Tony’s analysis about the reaction to Malcolm Turnbull’s plan yesterday. I think if you look at the editorials around the country today, if you look at some of the industry groups that have come out and it would be very hard for the environmental groups to come out and suggest that we’re going to gain a better reduction in CO2 emissions, that our scheme is not superior to that of the Labor Party.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: It’s probably worth pointing out that the Greens think that both of your schemes are completely flawed. But just back on a couple of the other key pieces of legislation we’ll see this week in your portfolio Peter. On the alcopops tax, some of your colleagues are saying that they won’t be supporting the position Malcolm Turnbull now has which is to support that. Do you still think that this tax measure is necessary, considering the budget’s bottom line? You have been a massive critic of this in the past.

PETER DUTTON: Well we have perfectly made our case that this is not policy about health outcomes, is not about reducing binge drinking. It was always a Sunday newspaper headline for the Prime Minister to be seen to be doing something on an issue that people are concerned about. What we’ve seen is we’ve made that argument but there is a serious cost implication, a cost to revenue in relation to this Bill, and because this Government has ranked up so much debt we believe they’ve put forward a revenue measure and we’ve taken a position on that and that’s our stand.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: And the Coalition will be opposing changes to the Private Health Insurance Rebate?

PETER DUTTON: Well this is an amazing story Ashleigh if you look at the Prime Minister’s comments before the election and a rock solid guarantee that everything in private health insurance would be preserved and families wouldn’t be facing higher premiums. And he broke his promise not just in this, but in the last one as well. We’ve made our position perfectly clear in Malcolm Turnbull’s budget reply speech and we’ll stick to that.

TONY BURKE: So you will be voting to increase debt?

PETER DUTTON: Well what we’ll be doing is suggesting to you that if you increase the excise on tobacco you can raise the same money with better health outcomes. You have people with private health, every decision that Kevin Rudd has taken over the last 18 months has put extra pressure on our public hospitals when he promised to fix them - even now he’s walking away from that decision. It’s amazing.

TONY BURKE: What about the 50% increase in the health agreement?

PETER DUTTON: Kevin Rudd has been an absolute disaster on health. I can point you to every health indicator over the last 18 months, which regardless of how much money you pour into your mates in the NSW Government they are getting worse health outcomes. That’s a disaster in health and Kevin Rudd has only made health in this country worse.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tony Burke, a final word and then we do have to go.

TONY BURKE: We’ve got a situation where on the alcopops we’re told they hate it but they’ll vote for it. We’re told that they hate debt but they’re going to vote to increase it. We get told that we’ll find out after the party room what they believe on climate change. We’ve had years of inaction and it’s time to move.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tony Burke, Peter Dutton, thanks for your time this morning.