Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 26 October 2021
Lisa Millar: We're going to return to our top story now with Scott Morrison expected to reveal the details of the government's climate policy, we have Senator Simon Birmingham joining us. Senator, good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Lisa. Great to be with you.
Lisa Millar: Ok, so we know from the prime minister himself that there is going to be money spent in the regions. There's going to be some kind of big infrastructure spend. How much?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Lisa are investment in regional Australia is ongoing and crucially, the investment we make in relation to achieving net zero emissions also has areas that really do focus on regional Australia. Take, for example, the $1.2 billion that we're investing in hydrogen hubs, which we expect to see projects coming in areas like Gladstone, the Hunter Valley, the Pilbara. Areas that do face the challenges in relation to what happens as other countries in the world reduce demand for coal and change their outlooks. And that's why we want to build those new industries like hydrogen in those sorts of regional areas. And there'll be many other areas where we're seeking to invest to achieve net zero, but also to align that with creating new jobs in the future.
Lisa Millar: Kevin Rudd says the Nats are a bunch of political opportunists. It does sort of- People are going to ask that, aren't they, because, you know, here you are as the finance minister, having to sort of count the dollars, how much is going into the regions to get their support for a policy that most of the world has already signed up to?
Simon Birmingham: The only thing we're looking at, Lisa, is firstly how we achieve net zero, how we do it with a plan that also protects jobs and communities across Australia. There's no price being paid to simply spend money in regional communities who don't need it. I think most Australians would appreciate that if a transition is occurring because of changing global markets and environments, and that communities are likely to see some parts of their economy possibly decline over a period of time, it's prudent for government to try to find areas to invest in supporting new parts of that economic activity, new job creation, so the type of plan that we are pursuing here is one that is seeking to answer all the questions, not just a target to net zero without the details on how you might get there, but a plan that looks at how you get there and how you support the communities who are affected and impacted along that journey.
Lisa Millar: You've got a deputy prime minister, though, who was personally opposed to it. You've got Matt Canavan, who is going to campaign against it. And on the front page of the papers this morning, you've got another coalition candidate coming out saying he's going to campaign against it as well. That's pretty much an election nightmare for you, isn't it?
Simon Birmingham: Look, not really the fundamental difference, always between the Liberal and National parties and the Labor Party is that unlike Labor, we don't expel members who have a different point of view on issues. Labor says you must conform-
Lisa Millar: But it's Government policy, Senator. You're going to have candidates campaigning against government policy.
Simon Birmingham: It is government policy, that is absolutely the case. The Prime Minister has gone through an extraordinary effort to make sure that he delivers that net zero commitment because we recognise that it's in Australia's best interest to do so. We'll keep explaining that to people right across the country. It is overwhelmingly the policy of the government, the commitment of the government, but is not unusual in the Liberal and National parties that we have people in our ranks who test these propositions. And if that testing that helps make sure we address some of those other concerns and make sure that we are always focussed on not just achieving an outcome like net zero, but on achieving the protection of jobs and communities that needs to go with it. And that's why we will continue to look at how we refine and update plans over the years ahead. This is not something static. It's been years in the making, building the plans built around the stretch goals that our government had already announced in terms of how we achieve hydrogen, clean hydrogen at affordable prices for the world. How we ensure that steel and aluminium can be made at affordable prices to the world. How we ensure that soil carbon can be measured in ways that creates a real incentive and opportunity for farmers in agriculture to be able to increase their soil carbon content, their productivity and also play a role in achieving net zero. These are the types of things we've really got to focus on as a nation and a globe, and that's certainly what Scott Morrison will be expressing in Glasgow, that the investment in those sorts of technologies is what can enable each and every country to get there, including those who may not be as affluent and well off as some others to be able to achieve those changes.
Lisa Millar: You call it testing a proposition. The people involved themselves have said they are going to campaign against this policy. How do you then counter the argument that is clearly going to come from the Clive Palmer's and the Pauline Hanson's of the world? Aren't you just handing them a campaign slogan on a silver platter?
Simon Birmingham: No, I think what Australians will see is that the coalition government led by Scott Morrison sits firmly in a space where we're not like the Labor Party, making commitments without plans on how you get there or plans on how you protect regional jobs. We're not like other parts of the political debate who won't make the commitment on climate change. We are seeking to address all of the fundamental issues that Australia faces.
Lisa Millar: But you're not addressing 2030, which has been something that has been widely criticised of this government.
Simon Birmingham: So when the plan is released, people will be able to see how we are on track to not just meet, but indeed to beat our 2030 target.
Lisa Millar: Well, then why not set a more ambitious target?
Simon Birmingham: Because what you do is more important than what you promise-
Lisa Millar: Isn't Glasgow all about the promises? Doesn't Glasgow-
Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope not, Lisa.
Lisa Millar: Well, they want ambitious targets, Senator.
Simon Birmingham: I hope Glasgow is about what people do. I hope Glasgow is about what people are doing, can do and continue to do. And in Australia's case, our emissions have reduced by more than 20 per cent since 2005. That's actually more than New Zealand. It's more than Canada. It's more than the United States, it's more than Germany. Now, that's because of a range of different policy settings. The investment we're continuing to make in Snowy 2.0, for example, the southern hemisphere's largest energy storage facility. The investment we make in the battery of the nation project to Tasmania. These will all keep our emissions trending down in the energy sector while we invest also in those other areas like hydrogen, clean steel, clean aluminium. As I said before, soil carbon strategies, all crucial parts.
And what we'll be saying in Glasgow is that Australia once again is overachieving and will outline how we are overachieving and from that reduction in our emissions we want to make sure we bring the rest of the world with us and work together with other partners. We've signed clean energy and emissions reduction strategies and agreements with Singapore, with Korea, with Japan, with Germany, crucial partners who we want to ensure we attract their investment to help us get these outcomes towards net zero while protecting the jobs of regional Australia,
Lisa Millar: Well, we'll soon see how the rest of the world views it. Senator Birmingham, thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.