Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 21 February 2020
LAURA JAYES: The Prime Minister is set to reveal a $1.1 billion boost for the RAAF base in the Top End. The funds will go towards runway extensions, fuel stockpiles and engineering to support air-to-air refuellers and large aircraft including US bombers. The investment significantly steps up Australia’s Air Force capabilities in the Indo-Pacific and signals a more assertive Australia-US posture in the wake of China’s expansion. The Government says the decision to radically upsize Tindal base will deliver a potential air combat capability for the Northern Territory. Let’s go live now to Perth. The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins us live now. Mathias Cormann good to see you. Thanks again for your time. This billion dollar investment in the Top End is this to further inoculate Australia against China’s rise?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a key project which is part of our Defence White Paper, which was released some four years ago. It is another $1.1 billion investment on top of a previous commitment of $500 million at RAAF base Tindal. It does expand our Air Force capability consistent with our strategic priorities. It is a central component of our work as part of our alliance with the United States. It has been part of our longer term plan for some time.
LAURA JAYES: What has changed here, because Trump did indicate a couple of years ago when he became President that he would be taking a more parochial approach. This is a distinctive shift for the US isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Australia and the US have a long standing, very close, strategic alliance. This is part of our long term planning. This is not something that just came out of nowhere recently. This is implementing a key project out of our fully funded 2016 Defence White Paper. The relationship between the US and Australia through governments of both persuasions on both sides is a very strong one. It is an extremely important one to our national security. This is just one key component of that.
LAURA JAYES: Labor now committed to zero net emissions by 2050. Are you surprised?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Anthony Albanese is just showing that he has not learned from Bill Shorten’s mistakes at the last election. In the end, these sorts of pronouncements are completely meaningless unless you look the Australian people in the eye and tell them how many of their jobs you are sending overseas, what the emissions will be overseas after you have shifted economic activity from Australia to other parts of the world, by how much is he prepared to push power prices up. We know that Joel Fitzgibbon and Don Farrell are leading a growing rebellion inside the Labor party against these sorts of extremist pronouncements without economic responsibility around it. Let’s see how that plays out inside the Labor party.
LAURA JAYES: So you think net zero emissions by 2050 is extremist?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying is making commitments, meaningless commitments without actually properly assessing what the economic cost is, the impact on jobs, the impact on power prices and the impact on emissions is extremist and irresponsible. We are focused on meeting our 2030 emissions reduction target as agreed to in Paris. We will be identifying our longer term emissions reduction targets in time for COP26 in Glasgow later this year. But we will do it on the basis of putting in place an agenda that is both environmentally effective and economically responsible. To pursue just a headline like this, without telling people what the impact will be on jobs, on electricity prices and on emissions is irresponsible. In the end, what Labor and the Greens together have done in the past would have shifted jobs and emissions to other parts of the world, where for the same level of economic output emissions would have been higher. So the world environment would have been worse off. To ask Australians to make a sacrifice in terms of their living standards and their job security for making things worse for the global environment is reckless and irresponsible extremism. It is good to see that inside the Labor party there is a growing rebellion led by Joel Fitzgibbon and Don Farrell against that sort of approach.
LAURA JAYES: Eighty-one other countries have signed up to this net zero emissions by 2050 target. We also have a number of States within Australia as well. South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland all have the same target. You are the outlier here. Who is extreme?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think what you need to do here is look at the fine print when you talk about these sorts of targets. For example, New Zealand has provided substantial exemptions in relation to a large part of their economy and their emissions, the same in Europe. You have to look at the fine print. The key here is, Australia, we are a net exporter of energy. We can actually help the world reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by generating emissions domestically, producing energy, which helps to displace more polluting energy sources in other parts of the world. If we make it harder for ourselves to generate more electricity or energy supplies here in Australia which we can export into India and Japan and China and so on, displacing what otherwise would be more polluting energy sources, we would actually harm the global environment at the same time as harming our economy. So it is very important that we do not have a blanket one size fits all approach to these things and seriously consider how different countries, based on their natural attributes, are best able to contribute to the overall global objective. We have a massive land mass with a comparatively small population and an abundance of energy sources which we are able to export for the benefit of the world, including the environmental benefit of the world, as long as we are able to competitively produce that energy here in Australia.
LAURA JAYES: Minister Cormann, I wonder if your Government read the fine print before signing up to Paris because in that Paris agreement there is a commitment to a longer term strategy, a longer term emissions reduction by 2050. Are you saying you’re not going to put a 2050 target in or you’re going to try and avoid that with the technology target?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think you have not listened to my answers in this interview. I have told you that we will be finalising a longer term target in time for COP26 … interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Okay, so you’ll have a 2050 target but it won’t be net zero emissions?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may, if I may.
LAURA JAYES: Okay.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be finalising our longer term emissions reduction target in time for COP26 in Glasgow later this year. What we will do as part of our process is to ensure the agenda that we determine to achieve any such target is environmentally effective and economically responsible. We will ensure that we can look the Australian people in the eye and say this is what we are aiming to achieve and this is what it will mean for electricity prices, this is what it will mean for jobs and this is why what we are proposing here is a responsible thing to do. Anthony Albanese is not doing any of this. Bill Shorten was not able to answer these key questions in the campaign. That was a significant reason why people decided not to entrust him with the leadership of our country. Anthony Albanese is making the same mistake again.
LAURA JAYES: I’m listening very closely. So just to be absolutely clear, you’re not saying you won’t have a net zero emissions target of 2050. You’re just saying that your Government will have more detail in how to get there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying is that we will be determining our longer term emissions reduction target in time for COP26 in Glasgow later this year. I am not determining a target here on your show today, because there is a body of work to be done to ensure that we can look the Australian people in the eye and explain to them that what we are proposing to do is both environmentally effective and economically responsible. That it will not inappropriately push up the cost of electricity, shift jobs and economic activity overseas for the same level of economic output emissions would actually be higher and put the global environment in a worse position. That is not something we would do. We want to ensure that we actually help to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in a way that helps strengthen our economy, create more jobs and ensure that we do not push up cost of living expenses inappropriately for the Australian people.
LAURA JAYES: So it is achievable, you just haven’t quite figured out how?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are making assertions in relation to something where there is still a body of work to be done. I will be part of the process to consider what can be done, what is responsible, what is environmentally effective and economically responsible. As soon as those processes have come to a conclusion, then we will make relevant announcements at that time.
LAURA JAYES: Look forward to those. Mathias Cormann, thanks so much for your time, live there from Perth this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.