Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

Deb Knight
COP26, emissions targets, Privileges Committee, Parliamentary Speaker, political donations, international travel.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, and absolutely no inference or comparison when I introduce the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, and the Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. They join us every Friday for Friday Question Time. Fellas, welcome.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now I want to start with the big news, obviously in your portfolio, Angus. We've had the Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, hand this list of demands to the PM to secure a deal on net zero by 2050. What are they after?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as the PM said earlier today, Deb, we expect to see further information on that today but we've been having conversations with our party room colleagues and other National Party colleagues. They represent an important part of regional Australia, as do regional Libs like myself and it's right and proper that they are wanting to make sure that every aspect of the plan is right for regional Australia. Look, regional Australia has the most to gain and the most to lose if we get this plan wrong. Now, I'm very confident this plan is right for regional Australia, but it's right and proper we have discussions with people like this, the people who represent regional Australia.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: At the end of the day, though, and the PM's made this clear, that the climate target's going to be decided by Cabinet without legislation and Barnaby Joyce has acknowledged that the PM didn't technically need the National support to go ahead with the policy. So why do we even need to have the theatre of all this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, because their views matter. I mean, the views of regional Libs, Nats, and, by the way, one of our very few regional Labor members, Joel, and Joel and I have spoken about this in the past, those views really matter, Deb, because these are the people representing the areas, as I say, that have the most to gain, or the most to lose if the wrong policies were put in place.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well we certainly got the deadline of the Prime Minister leaving for the Glasgow climate talks for next month. Joel, the Nationals party room. They had this marathon four-hour meeting on Sunday about the issue, with no resolution but why do you think it's taking them so long to come to an agreement?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: It's called political posturing, Deb. They have to make a lot of noise to send the signal to their base that, you know, they are doing their very best to make sure no harm comes to the regions from this commitment to net zero emissions but there's a, somewhat of an irony in all of this, because so many of us, including me, say that this can be done without doing any harm to, for example, the mining industry, the gas industry, and the manufacturers which rely upon it. So why, therefore, do we need compensations for the regions? It's not compensation we need. We need policy guidance which ensures that those industries stay strong, but at the same time, there's a pathway to investing in new industries as well, not only protecting existing jobs, but creating more jobs. However they get there, Deb, I just hope we can deescalate this climate change policy war. I mean, we've spent years arguing about it. We need some enduring outcomes and the only way we will secure that is if we can get more bipartisanship into the debate.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And why is there a need to have some sort of compensation, Angus, as Joel- that's a fair argument?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as I said, I haven't seen what the Nats have put forward, and looking forward to seeing it, I would actually agree with Joel on this is - we need an aligned view. I think the aligned view is one where we use technology to satisfy our customers as their demands are changing. The Japanese, the Koreans, what they're looking for is changing. We’ve got to support that, in doing that and using clean energy technology, we can bring down emissions. Now we want the Labor Party to align behind that approach, because that's the approach that will strengthen our regional areas, strengthen our traditional industries like mining and agriculture and heavy manufacturing and it's an approach that most Australians can get behind, and I'd very much like to see Labor aligned with that and I think Joel would too.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now I am of the view that the Prime Minister should be going in person and I'm glad that he's agreed to go, but we know now that Russia's Vladimir Putin won't be attending, China's Xi Jinping won't be attending. The leader of India won't be attending either. Joel, have you got concerns about how effective these climate talks will be when you've got these world leaders not there in person.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, you want your most senior player on the field don't you, Deb, at something like this and that's why Scott Morrison should go, not only to advocate for net zero emissions, but to advocate for a framework, which is overall beneficial to Australia, does us no harm. Now I said having Glasgow without China would be a bit like having the Bretton Woods conference at the end of the Second World War without the United States but it doesn't mean that Russia and China won't be there. If they choose not to send their most senior player, well, that's a matter for them, and potentially to their disadvantage but even though we only make just more than one per cent of the global contribution, or maybe because we only make one per cent of the contribution, we really need our Prime Minister there arguing our case.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And do you think, Angus, that it does make a difference having the leader of the country there in person? Because you didn't seem to think it was a problem when the Prime Minister hadn't committed to going.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's interesting, isn't it? Deb the PM was being chastised by some in the media for apparent speculation about him not going. He hadn't confirmed that, but they were speculating and now the same people are saying, Glasgow's a waste of time because Xi and Putin won't be there. Look, we will be well represented. The PM will be there, I'll be there. We'll be talking Australia's track record, 20 per cent emissions reduction over the past 15 years, in the same time that China's emissions have increased by over 70 per cent. So look, it's important we put the case forward for Australia. We'll stand up for the Australian way, our approach to reducing emissions, which is a sensible pathway forward that doesn't destroy jobs and industries and I'll enjoy and looking forward to proudly explaining to international colleagues the right way to go about this when you're a country like Australia.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, the other issue dominating Parliament this week has been the former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, and the blind trust that helped fund his defamation case that he's launched against the ABC. These scenes, Angus, this week, when the Government voted against the recommendation of the speaker, Liberal Tony Smith, and voted down a motion to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee, it smacks of a cover-up. Why did you vote this motion down?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, just to be clear here, Deb. The House didn't take a vote on the Speaker's finding. The House voted on Labor's politicised referral and we get these politicised referrals from Labor for all sorts of things all the time. Mark Dreyfus does them on a regular basis. None of them ever get anywhere because they're just political posturing.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But this was unprecedented, to vote against a recommendation from the Speaker, from your own Liberal, from Tony Smith.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as I said, we didn't take a vote on the Speaker's finding, it was on Labor's referral. Now, let's be clear here. Peter Dutton is the head of the government in the House, House Representatives. He's written to the chair of the Privileges Committee and he's asked them to clarify the differing interpretations by members in making these declarations. I point out there have been other examples in the Parliament, like a Greens senator who had a legal action against another person and received 1800 donations. And we know some of those donations, the sources haven't been revealed. So we need clarification on this. Peter Dutton has asked the Privileges Committee to do exactly that, and that's the right way to go about this, not some kind of political hit job, which is what we always see from anything to do with Mark Dreyfus.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  And Joel, are you happy with that, setting a broader inquiry into anonymous feed donor rules? Because the way that the public can get access to this information, it needs to be changed because it's not clear enough.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, I've been in the Parliament for 25 years. I've been a member of the Privileges Committee for more than a decade. I have a deeper interest in these matters than most. I was shocked that the Government didn't accept the motion in the Parliament. It wasn't highly politically charged, it was pretty straight bat, about the fragility of the system and the question mark as to whether Christian Porter's declaration might not have met the standard we would expect and it was extraordinary that they said no to that. Yes, we need a broader inquiry into the architecture, whether the system is sufficiently robust, but without the resolution from the House, the Privileges Committee inquiry won't carry the same weight and will not be as broad as what it could have been without the resolution from the House. So, the Privileges Committee is now restricted in its inquiry in that sense, but we certainly will - I can assure your listeners - we will have a look at the architecture to make sure it is sufficiently robust, that it's keeping pace with technology in particular and I suppose it's pretty hard to do that without testing whether the system let us down with respect to Christian Porter's declaration. I should say this, Deb, I don't have any question that Christian Porter's declaration was within the rules, and that's why we need to look at the rules.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah and I just think the broader issue of we, as voters and taxpayers, not able to get information on donors, you know, sometimes 12, 18 months after the fact. It's not quick enough. The whole system's got to be rethought for clarity and transparency. Look, I want to end on this. Qantas getting ready to fly overseas, bringing forward a lot of the international flights to places like London, Singapore, Fiji, from Sydney, because we're doing so well with the vaccination rates, and the quarantine is being lifted for double vaxxed from 1st November. Tell me, the first overseas destination- I know, Angus, you're heading off to Glasgow, but for fun, where do you want to head when you go overseas? Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I have to say that I'm looking forward to travelling around Australia first, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Your own backyard?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Northern Tassie or the Margaret River or Sunshine Coast. I'm really looking forward to getting around and seeing more of Australia at the moment. Now, you know, it would be fun to go off overseas at some point, but I'm going to choose the Australian destination.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, you can't beat that. I reckon too. Joel, what about you?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That was a politician's answer.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, it was. But I'll pay it. It was good though.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: His vote just went up three percent, that's what he's looking for. I'll go anywhere as quickly as I can. I've done the Australia thing, Deb when we haven't been locked down over the last couple of years, I've done a number of domestic trips. But look, anywhere where I can find a good wine trail and a couple of golf courses in Europe, that would do me just nicely, thanks very much.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. They’ve got very good kids clubs in Fiji. I reckon that'll be brilliant for a family holiday. The kids love it too. Fellows, always good to talk. We'll chat next week.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb and Joel.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks, team.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus Taylor and Joel Fitzgibbon, joining us for Friday Question Time.