Laurie Oakes

Sunday November 22, 2009
Laurie (google)

LAURIE OAKES AND PENNY WONG, CLIMATE CHANGE MINISTER

CW: Good morning, Laurie.

LO: Morning, Cam. Senator, welcome to the program.

PW: Thanks. Good to be here.

LO: How close do you believe you are to reaching a deal with the Opposition?

PW: Well, it's a tough negotiation. We're making progress. There's obviously some who don't want us to make progress, but we certainly are inching forward and we anticipate that we'll be in a position to put a very clear offer to the Opposition on Tuesday morning, having gone through our Cabinet and Caucus.

LO: Are you meeting Ian Macfarlane again today?

PW: Yes, later today I'm meeting Ian again and I suspect we'll be meeting again tomorrow as well.

LO: So... the Coalition won't have a final offer from you in time for Shadow Cabinet tomorrow?

PW: Well, I obviously - I think the Coalition knows broadly - or certainly their negotiators know broadly, where we're likely to land. But we will be putting a formal offer, as we discussed with them - to them on Tuesday morning.

LO: So, is that a Cabinet meeting tomorrow, tomorrow night? What's the timing there?

PW: Oh look I suspect we'll work that out, we're probably likely to have a Cabinet and Caucus before that offer is put.

LO: So, Special Caucus meeting tomorrow night or normal Caucus on Tuesday?

PW: As I said, Tuesday morning we'll be putting it to the them. We'll work out the details of how the Government will handle our side of these issues and, hopefully Mr Turnbull and his party will as well.

LO: Isn't that a bit late, I mean, Malcolm Turnbull's got to put this to his party, presumably on Tuesday, don't you think it would be decent to give him time to talk properly to his Shadow Cabinet first?

PW: Well, we will ensure that they have the opportunity in their shadow cabinet and their party room before to discuss this before we announce this offer. We think that's appropriate, given the negotiations, and as we have always said, Laurie, if Mr Turnbull and his troops need more time, we're prepared to extend the sitting days as well as the sitting hours to give them that time.

LO: So, you won't announce your offer until after it's gone to the Coalition party meeting?

PW: Correct.

LO: Why is that?

PW: Well we think it's appropriate that we give them some time to discuss this before we make public whatever the offer is.

LO: And how are the deep Coalition divisions on this affecting the negotiations?

PW: Well I think it's probably an issue more for Mr Turnbull than for the Government. It is quite clear that there are those in his party room who've never wanted action on climate change, who think that acting on client change is an abomination, to quote, or to paraphrase, Nick Minchin. Those divisions are there. Those views are there. And they'll get louder and more aggressive between now and when the vote is taken.

LO: Do you have any sympathy for Malcolm Turnbull for the bind he's in?

PW: Oh, look, you know, a lot of jobs in politics are difficult, and I think everybody knows, being Leader of the Opposition is a difficult job. Being Prime Minister is a difficult job. I think that the concern I have is what this means for the national interest. We have a rump - a group in the Liberal Party, and the National Party, who will do and say anything to avoid taking action on climate change and unfortunately, that comes down to leadership - leadership from Mr Turnbull, just as the Prime Minister has shown leadership on this issue.

LO: I'm wondering though whether you're prepared to give him credit. I mean, he's put his leadership on the line over this, he's shown he clearly believes in an emissions-trading system. He's taken a big political risk. The Government doesn't seem to give him any credit at all.

PW: Oh look we are recognising this by the virtue of being in good-faith negotiations. I mean, I have conducted, over quite a number of weeks now, negotiations with Mr Macfarlane, as well as, occasionally with Mr Turnbull, and we know that they've come to the table, and we have recognised that. Just as we are prepared to come to the table with them.

LO: It's being said today that Mr Turnbull's best chance now of avoiding a disastrous split in the Coalition and protecting his leadership is to tell you "No deal." Do you think that's where it will end up?

PW: Well, that'll be his decision but if that happens, everyone will know that will be Nick Minchin and the people in the party room - the Liberal Party room - who don't want action on climate change, having won. That's really would be the reason, the only reason, why Mr Turnbull could walk away at this point and that is to concede to Senator Minchin and others in the party.

LO: Well, let's assume he doesn't walk away, let's assume he takes on Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott, and the rest, and forces this through the party room. There'll be defections - Coalition defections - in the Senate. People will cross the floor. Will you cut Malcolm Turnbull in any slack there, or will you capitalise on that for all you're worth?

PW: Well, Laurie, there's a lot of speculation on that. I don't know who will or won't cross the floor, although some of them have made threats to that end. We want to vote, we want to vote this year because it's in the national interest and if we are critical of people in the Senate who have refused to take action on climate change, it is because they are acting contrary to the national interest. I think it is very clear that taking action on climate change is in Australia's national interest.

LO: But while you've been negotiating with Ian Macfarlane, apparently in quite a friendly manner, Kevin Rudd's been out there bagging Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party every day. I mean, it seems to me that you want it both ways - you want your legislation through the Senate, and you want Malcolm Turnbull's head on a platter.

PW: We want to act in the national interest. We want legislation through, Laurie, because it's the right thing to do, because we know that, as Peter Shergold told John Howard, the best thing to do is go soon. We've had this legislation out there since March, consistent with our election commitment. We've been public and up-front about this process. It's been delayed and delayed and delayed because there are some in the Liberal Party who simply do not want to take action on climate change.

LO: If you really want the legislation, why not lay off the politics and help Mr Turnbull rather than trying to capitalise on his problems?

PW: If we really want the legislation, then we should do what we're doing, which is to be in good-faith negotiations, which we have done, with Ian Macfarlane and those who are negotiating - and those who are negotiation on behalf of the Opposition, that's what we're doing.. we're trying to get it through the Senate.

LO: Some Liberals, Tony Abbott, for example, are saying unless they get close to 100% of what they've asked in their amendments, then there should be no deal. Can you give them anything like 100%? Can you go close to that?

PW: I don't think anybody walks into a negotiation if they're serious and expects 100%. So in terms of the negotiations, Laurie, what I'd say to you is this: The Opposition has focused very considerably on increasing assistance and concessions to industry. So obviously that's been one of the aspects of the negotiation. From the Government's perspective, we also want to ensure this deal, delivers for the environment, so we are going to ensure that whatever is put to the Senate also includes measures to support the environment better. This is not a one-way street. These negotiations are not a one-way street. The Government's going to ensure we deliver both for the environment as well as focussing on the issues that the Opposition has put to us.

LO: Well, if Mr Turnbull say no deal, or if he's rolled in the Party room and the Party - and the Liberal Party says no deal, what then?

PW: Well, this is a deal for this week. We're focused on getting this legislation through this week. This is what we've been saying for a long time. We want a vote this week. We're very pleased that - I understand Ms Bishop has said that they're prepared to have a vote this week. That's what we want. We're prepared to extent sitting hours and sitting days to get that vote.

LO: Why is it so important to get this through before Copenhagen when President Obama won't have his legislation through his senate in time for the summit in Copenhagen?

PW: A couple of things on that, the first is, the one I referenced earlier Laurie, and that is, even Peter Shergold told John Howard "Go soon." We know we have to do this; we the longer we delay, the higher the cost. We've already delayed for some time and let's remember this has been out for a long time. We put this legislation out in March. It's been in the Parliament since budget week. It was supposed to be voted on in the middle of the year. It was not because the Liberals in the Senate - the Coalition in the Senate delayed and played procedural games before they voted it down. So that's the context. But the other point I'd make is this - do you really think that Senator Minchin and those behind him would change their minds if this was brought back in February? Senator Minchin says climate change is some form of conspiracy, left-wing conspiracy. Do you really think he's going to change his view on that if we bring this legislation back in February? I mean, these are just excuses for further delay from people who don't want to act.

LO: So, is the double-disillusion threat still current?

PW: We want a vote this year, we want a vote this week. That's what I'm focused on, Laurie - I'm focussed on getting the legislation through the Parliament.

LO: I mean at the moment, we're facing heatwave conditions over a large part of Australia, we've got bushfires in NSW, in November, it's fairly unprecedented. In the UK, we've had what's been called a once-in-a-thousand-year flood. How strongly do you believe that this is all connected with climate change?

PW: I think what we have to look at is the trend and some of the instances you have or the examples you've given, are consistent with a trend. What's more important is the observable trend around the world about the pattern of warming, where we've seen double the rate of warming since the 1950s as we saw between 1900 and 1950. We've seen 13 of the 14 hottest years in history in the last 14 or 15 years. We've seen increased numbers of storms, we've seen much less rain, particularly in south-eastern Australia we've seen hotter and drier temperatures and conditions. All of these are consistent with the trends that climate scientists are talking to us about and just underlined to us why Australia is so vulnerable to climate change.

LO: And how confident are you that voters see it that way and don't agree with Senator Minchin?

PW: Look, there are some people - and Senator Minchin and others amongst them, who will never change their minds. It doesn't matter what you say or what facts are put forward...

LO: That fruit-loop description of Senator Minchin, used by one of his colleagues, do you endorse that?

PW: Well, I think some views put are pretty extreme. The way I described it that he and others are very ideological about these issue and very rigid.. and I think they represent a way of thinking about this that really is impervious to facts. They're not going to change their mind because they simply don't accept it. LO: Victorian Premier John Brumby has written to the Federal Government about concern that your Emissionsm Trading Scheme will render several Victorian coal-fired power stations unfinancial. Send them into receivership. How seriously do you take those concerns? How are you going to help him?

PW: Well, what I would say, Laurie, is that there's been many people, and many lobby groups and many stakeholders in this debate holding their hands out for more money. This is not a new thing. This has been occurring for about 18 months now since we first put our propositions out last year....

LO: But this is a Premier who's worried about the state being blacked out if -- if these places stop producing.

PW: From the white paper, we have made clear that energy security is a key priority, obviously. That is something the Federal Government will ensure. But ultimately, what is being put by a number of stakeholders is not about that issue, it's about additional financial assistance to particular groups.

LO: Now, we read today that the Greens have legal advice about the situation if the Government decides it needs to strengthen the emissions targets after this scheme is in operation. And that legal advice is that emissions trading permits will be regarded as private property, so you would have to then compensate polluters for reducing the number of permits. Do you agree with that and are the Greenpeace right in saying this will cost billions to the taxpayer?

PW: Well, I think anything the Greens say needs to be taken on the basis...

LO: They're quoting reputable lawyers.....

PW: well, well, but they don't want any assistance to industry, so that's the position of the Greens Party, they don't want any transitional assistance to any part of Australian business, so that's their perspective, they're entitled to that, we disagree. So that's the context of this discussion. I find it difficult to see how there's any basis in fact for that assertion. Everyone in business, when these permits are either allocated or auctioned, knows that this scheme is about reducing emissions, it is about a target range that is public, that it actually has bipartisan support, and in any event as you reduce your emissions target as you go down the track, you'd anticipate that the carbon price and therefore the permanent price would in fact increase, so we find it hard to see how this is an assertion that holds water.

LO: A quick final issue - as a senior figure in the South Australian Labor Party, how concerned are you by the matter of the Premier and the barmaid.?

PW: Well, Mike Rann is a first-class Premier who stands up for South Australia nationally, and is doing a first class job in our state. As to issues in his personal life, I think they are personal and I certainly don't intend to comment.

LO: Minister, thank you.

PW: Good to speak with you.

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