Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Sunday, 17 October 2021
Kieran Gilbert: Joining me is the minister for Finance, Simon Birmingham, joining me from Adelaide. Minister, thanks for your time, Andrew. Just reporting that the prime minister took polling to cabinet last week showing 80 per cent support for net zero by 2050. But when people’s consideration of their costs are factored in, that support reduces. What does it say about the politics around securing that net zero target for the Morrison government?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Kieran, it’s good to be with you. You know, what we’re working through is well and truly the policies associated with climate change and the impacts of those policies from right around the world on Australia and how we best position Australia for that future. We’re seeing impacts in terms of the environmental effects of climate change, but also impacts in terms of the economic effects of climate change that as increasingly investors around the world are making decisions to put greater focus on a nation and in industries climate change policies. They’re making those investment decisions that could place threats to Australia in the future in terms of the availability of investment and capital.
Equally, you’re seeing some of our major trading partners now, such as Japan or Korea, who have made their own net zero commitments and want to see a transformation in their energy markets. And so the discussions we’re having, the policies we’re looking to set are all about ensuring that we transition in a world where achieving net zero is important from a climate change perspective environmentally, but also positioning Australia to take advantage of the opportunities of net zero and also positioning our industries who will face changes as a result of those global economic trends for the future [indistinct] consideration.
Kieran Gilbert: When it comes to the target though, if you’ve got a net zero by 2050, don’t you need a mid-term target to say that’s where you’re heading as well?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the Paris Agreement is quite clear in terms of setting out different juncture points where nations will make and update different commitments, and so we’ll continue to work through that. The obvious debate that is being had in relation to this conference of the parties under the Paris Agreement is about those long term 2050 net zero targets and Australia is working through that in relation to our 2030 target. We set that some time ago in accordance with the Paris Agreement. And Australia, like we did under the Kyoto agreement in its first iteration and its second iteration, will no doubt meet and exceed those commitments that we’ve made-
Kieran Gilbert: Many are upping that mid-term target. Our understanding is that you’re not. Is that really going to set the trajectory for where you need to head if you’re going to get to that 2050 goal?
Simon Birmingham: So Australia has achieved some emissions reduction in the order of 20 per cent since 2005, and we’ve done so at a rate greater than many other nations. Many who are often cited positively in the media. And yet in the Australian context, we’ve actually exceeded those sorts of reductions. When you look at it in a per capita basis, we are indeed world leading in terms of comparisons, often for achieving emissions reduction. Now, as I said before, the Paris Agreement itself sets out different points for further target upgrades to be made. We work through that in terms of those five yearly iterations post 2030. But what we are looking at very clearly right now are the types of commitments and plans and policies the prime minister will take to Glasgow as part of those discussions and especially in light of the 2050 net zero debate, that is happening.
Kieran Gilbert: Is a target crucial for 2050. Or would you be happy with just a plan to get to that? Can you just give me, you know, yes or no? Is a target crucial for 2050?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Kiran, both are important, both having target and a plan are important. Our political opponents in the Labor Party have committed to a target with no plan on how to get there. The discussions we’re having internally are about making sure that we have detailed plans for how we seize the opportunities that exist in relation to changes in global energy markets, how we transition Australian communities who will feel difficulty potentially or pain, potentially because of decisions being made in other countries. Decisions being made by those who have traditionally invested in Australia or traditionally purchased our export goods and products-
Kieran Gilbert: How are things we need to make sure that we support? Those things change so dramatically, though, because a couple of years ago, the coalition was arguing people were going to lose their weekends and you know, it was economy wrecking. Now you’re on board with it. What’s changed?
Simon Birmingham: Like Kieran, firstly, let’s be clear, we had always made commitments as under the Paris Agreement, and we did that a number of years ago, and we’ve been implementing the policies to get to that point. But we have seen in the last couple of years heightened activity in the investor markets. As I said in the first answer, as well as in terms of some of our key trading partners, countries like Japan and South Korea making their own net zero commitments. And what that means is that in terms of some energy sector and the resources sector industries, we have to make sure that we seize the opportunity to work with those partner nations to be part of the transition in their energy markets by seeking to supply those energy markets in the future in a changing environment. That’s why we’ve outlined the policies in recent years, such as the hydrogen hubs that we want to see developed across the country. It’s why we’ve outlined our stretch goals in terms of what you need to achieve to implement a net zero commitment. They type of affordability not just about hydrogen, but around steel, aluminium, etc.
Kieran Gilbert: Is the National Party deciding the government’s climate change policy?
Simon Birmingham: Certainly not, Kieran. The government is deciding the government’s climate change policy. The government comprises all of our members, Liberal members, National Party members, LNP, CLP, etc.. So we bring together people right across the country to be able to effectively consider all of the implications and issues. There’s no point pretending that there aren’t some parts of the Australian community who are concerned about the implications of these decisions. But an important message to them and to those who represent them is to understand that other nations are already making these commitments. Other nations are already making decisions that will have impacts on Australia, and that’s why we need to invest and position ourselves to make sure we can take advantage of opportunities and make the transition successfully, to protect jobs, to protect regions. That’s where our government is focussed and why we’re not just making a blanket commitment without those sort of supportive policy positions in place.
Kieran Gilbert: Was the federal government blindsided by Dominic Perrottet borders announcement? He’s shaking things up a bit.
Simon Birmingham: Not, Kieran, I mean, look, we will make the decisions in relation to Australia’s borders and movements overall. And the Prime Minister was quite clear on Friday that the first step in that regard is for fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and family members to be able to come in. But we want to make sure that once that’s a success, we can move into other categories of individuals, particularly international students and highly skilled workers.
Kieran Gilbert: So you welcome his decisive approach?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we welcome the fact that in New South Wales, we have a partner who is working closely with the national plan, who has taken the evidence on board in relation to the benefits of achieving those high levels of fully vaccinated Australians and then starting to open up. And that is precisely what the evidence has shown, what the prime minister took to national cabinet and I want to see other states do. And I hope that Victoria, for example, sees in New South Wales a willing, positive example in relation to those steps of opening up and the benefits that can come in so economically and indeed school children, families and others-
Kieran Gilbert: You’d like Victoria to do the same. They should do the same as New South Wales? As the Treasurer says, hit 70 per cent and start reopening.
Simon Birmingham: It is important that a state that has seen such an extended period of time in lockdown provides its citizens the dividends of vaccination, the opportunities to be able to get back to work, back to school, back to seeing and engaging with their loved ones. These are things that historically we have all taken for granted. But if you’ve been living in Victoria over the last year, you have faced extraordinary circumstances in not being able to go to work in not being able to go to school, in not being able to see your loved ones. And it’s quite right that Victorians, like those in New South Wales, should be able to get the dividend of high vaccination rates and the evidence, again I point out is very clear in terms of the modelling.
Kieran Gilbert: Sure, the dividend in terms of tourism. Dan Tehan says we’ll have tourists back by Christmas. Is that still on track?
Simon Birmingham: Well, as I said before, we have the first step is in relation to fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and their family members. We have to get through the first step successfully before we move into the second step of international students, skilled workers and then eventually other broader categories, like students. So we’ll be taking the approach through those steps of moving as quickly but also carefully.
Kieran Gilbert: But no guarantee by Christmas?
Simon Birmingham: No, we have to work through, as I say, the first step comes first. And that is about about making sure that we can run the systems for those fully vaccinated categories of Australian citizens and others. And in running those systems effectively make sure that Australians see that the plan continues to work, that it continues to protect them whilst also enabling us to open up.
Kieran Gilbert: Minister, we’re almost out of time. Just a quick answer, if I can. The jobs numbers had a big dip in participation rate. They edged up slightly. But will the jobs market and economy bounce back like it did last year? Will we see a V-shaped recovery?
Simon Birmingham: Well, don’t just take my word for the reason why people should have confidence. Look at what our international ratings agencies are saying, such as Fitch this week following some of the positive assessments of [inaudible] previously in terms of reaffirming our AAA credit rating. But in doing so, expressing significant levels of confidence in terms of the Australian economy and Australian jobs market, coming back strongly from the lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria, that’s also the view of the Reserve Bank. It’s the view of other economists and commentators and that is partly a function of the fact that we have had such successful economic supports in place right throughout the pandemic. From nationwide approaches like JobKeeper in the early days to the more targeted approaches that we’ve been able to deliver for these statewide lockdowns in recent times, all of that has helped to get individuals, households, families, businesses through the lockdown and in doing so position them to come strongly out the other side.
Kieran Gilbert: Finance Minister, a big week ahead. I very much appreciate your time this Sunday morning. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran. My pleasure.