Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 26 October 2021
Doorstop, Parliament House Canberra, ACT
Topics: Net zero emissions target; Telstra purchase of Digicel; Inland Rail;
Simon Birmingham: The big policy decisions are always most complex, the most challenging, and if you do them properly, they require intensive effort in terms of bringing people together, in terms of undertaking the analysis and the policy planning for the future. Today, I look forward to the fact that Prime Minister will release Australia's commitments to achieve net zero by 2050 and in doing so, he will demonstrate the type of plan and effort and policy work that our government has put in to be able to achieve net zero by 2050, whilst ensuring that the jobs, livelihoods and communities of regional Australia are also protected.
It's crucial that we take all Australians on this journey towards net zero and that we give them the confidence and they should have the confidence and trust that only the Coalition will really be able to back them in terms of achieving net zero in a way and a manner that protects their jobs, their livelihoods, their communities. That invests in ways that achieve growth in new energy sectors, in new resources sectors, in new parts of the economy that can support them into the future.
It's crucial that we do this in a way that gives Australia the maximum opportunity to be able to achieve net zero, but also to keep the prosperity of our nation by opening up new export markets and new opportunities as we see the export, the investment environment around the world change. It will be crucial as well that we make it clear the success Australia has had to date in emissions reductions. Our nation has seen emissions reduced by more than 20 per cent since 2005. That's more than New Zealand, it's more than Canada, it's more than the United States, it's more than many other nations in the world.
Our emissions are still tracking down, even while global reports suggest emissions may be tracking up. Our emissions are tracking down in excess of our 2030 targets, demonstrating very clearly that Australia once again doesn't just meet the commitments we make. We beat the commitments we make and that's the approach will continue to take as a nation [inaudible].
Journalist: Minister, if we are doing so well in the 2030 targets, why not commit to them?
Simon Birmingham: Because it's what you do that matters even more than what you say. And Australia's track record is one of meeting and beating the commitments we make, and we'll be very pleased to show to the countries of the world that once again they can trust Australia to not just meet its commitments, but to overachieve and to beat them.
Journalist: But the international community wants to see progress, and they want to know exactly what Australia is doing. Why wouldn't you say this is the point that we will be at instead of having a smaller goal and then overachieving it. Why wouldn't you just tell the international community now that we're going to exceed those targets?
Simon Birmingham: Because actually showing the international community how well we are going, how much we are on track and the projections of how we are going over achieving on those targets is giving far greater certainty than hollow promises. We're actually going to show how we are on track to achieve even more than the promised.
Journalist: Are you concerned Mr Joyce won't be able to credibly sell this emissions target to voters, considering he doesn't support it himself?
Simon Birmingham: I'm confident the government will clearly explain right across the nation how we are committed to achieving net zero by 2050 whilst protecting regional communities that our plans are all about achieving the outcomes in terms of net zero and protecting the planet, to addressing climate change and playing our role as a nation, whilst also protecting regional Australians and those who may be impacted by changed decisions of investment markets, of commodity purchases and other export markets that we have.
Journalist: Minister, just on the government's decision to inject $1.8 billion for [inaudible] help Telstra buy Digicel settle in PNG. As finance minister, what safeguards have you put in place to protect taxpayers money there?
Simon Birmingham: So there are a number of different financial instruments that underpin the arrangement with Telstra. This is first and foremost a commercial decision by Telstra in terms of the opportunities that it sees and is able to pursue. We have long had, the nation has long had, the vehicle of Export Finance Australia to be able to support Australian companies operating overseas to pursue either export strategies, growth investments, new services and investment opportunities. And Export Finance Australia has worked closely on aspects of this deal, including the repayment terms and the trigger points at which those repayments will be made by Telstra in the years to come. We're confident this is a proposal that is one that is in Australia's best interests. In terms of seeing, a well-known very important large Australian company expand its footprint into our region and pursue new opportunities as an Australian company, but also provide important services in very valued regional partners.
Journalist: In this deal with the Nationals how much extra money is going towards the Inland Rail between Melbourne and Brisbane?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the Inland Rail project is already costed, funded and being built between Melbourne and Brisbane. In the recent budget, we announced proposals in relation to initial funding for a new intermodal terminal in Melbourne and we'll continue to work to deliver that Inland Rail project. It is crucially, one of those long talked about pieces of critical infrastructure for Australia that our government's delivering, just as the one we are delivering in Western Sydney Airport.
Journalist: Is there more money in this deal being announced?
Simon Birmingham: No, the Inland Rail project is already funded, being delivered and well underway in terms of its construction between that line between Melbourne and Brisbane.
Journalist: Matt Canavan has said that he will campaign against the net zero policy. Is that sort of fracture difficult in the lead up to an election in selling this to voters?
Simon Birmingham: A couple of points there, the Liberal and National parties always respect the rights of an individual MPs to sometimes hold a different point of view. Unlike the Labor Party, we don't toss people out and expel them for holding a different point of view. Our parties have always respected the fact that we are at our strongest when we have different points of view at the table that enable us to test issues out and to address the different problems or challenges that arise, and to then put in place policies and measures to mitigate any of those issues or challenges. And that's precisely what this process is hoped to do in terms of ensuring that we have a plan to achieve net zero by 2050 that truly considers the concerns and issues of people right across Australia to make sure that we're addressing those concerns and issues.
Now, in relation to the next election there will no doubt be those, possibly the Labor Party, certainly the Greens on one side of the equation, who will be arguing for deeper and steeper action without any credible plan, supports or protections in place for Australia. There will be others on the other side of the political spectrum who'll be arguing for no action or a lack action in relation to climate change. What Australians will be able to trust when it comes to Liberal and National parties and Scott Morrison is that we're committed to continuing to achieve emissions reductions and to get to net zero, but we're equally committed to protect the communities and jobs of Australians, especially those in regional Australia.