Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Emissions targets, electric vehicles, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, COP26, US-China climate agreement, coal protests, Bert Newton

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  And here they are, our Friday regulars. Angus Taylor, the Minister for Industry, Energy, and Emissions Reduction and Joel Fitzgibbon is the Member for Hunter. Good to have you both back. Angus, you're back from Scotland and the global climate conference. How's the big wide world?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's good to be back, Deb. Every time I go overseas, it always reminds me that Australia is the greatest country in the world. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it's good to have you back, and it's been a big week. We've had some big shifts in policy from the Government, committing to net zero by 2050 of course, and backing electric vehicles, even though, Angus, this is what the PM had to say at the last election. 

 [Excerpt] SCOTT MORRISON: It's not going to tow your trailer. It's not going to tow your boat. It's not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family. Bill Shorten wants to end the weekend when it comes to his policy on electric vehicles.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  End the weekend. It's quite the turnaround. Do you reckon, Angus, that voters will really believe you're now backing electric vehicles, considering they were completely bagged by the PM just two years ago?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're backing Australians, Deb. We're backing technology, not taxes, and choices, not mandates and that's backing Australians to choose what vehicles they want to drive, whether it's a hybrid, or an electric vehicle, or a traditional vehicle. Look, let's be clear about what the policy was that we were opposed to at the last election. It was to force 50 per-cent of people into electric vehicles through a fuel standard of 105 grams per kilometre. And that would raise the price of a typical car by up to $5000 for a standard family car. Now, that's taxes, not technology and that's telling people what kind of car to drive and making them drive a car not suited to them. So that's what we oppose. The principles behind our policies are choice and backing Australians to choose the vehicles they want. Technology's changing fast. I mean, Toyota now, over 40 per-cent of their vehicles are hybrids, and we're seeing that very, very rapid shift. That's a good thing. And we're backing it in with sensible policies around making sure the charging infrastructure is in place and the electricity grid can cope with it, and so on.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And Joel, do you expect that there might be some other Bill Shorten policies from the Government being trotted out before the election, or will it be Bill delivering them himself, because Anthony Albanese hasn't exactly been kicking goals? 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, Deb, I've given up trying to work out what to expect from this Government. I mean, it wasn't just electric vehicles effectively shutting down the weekend as we know it. Our commitment to net-zero emissions was going to destroy the economy and jobs, remember? And yet, just in one month, they've back-flipped on both of those policies but look, I welcome all of this. We all know that we are international laggards on electric vehicles and we need to do better and we all know that we need to have a zero net emissions goal for 2050. The sooner this climate change policy area becomes a matter of bipartisanship, which increasingly it seems to be the case, then we will all be better off because the international community is watching us. They are expecting us to do our bit. Both Angus and I see economic opportunity in some of the modern renewable forms of energy, including hydrogen. So let's get on with it. I say I welcome the backflips. We should put it behind us and get on with the main job, Deb. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, you might welcome it Joel, but the electric vehicle industry has got real issues. They're saying there's no subsidies or tax incentives, and all part of the technology, not taxes, slogan but Angus, major car companies want regulation as well. They're saying, more than 80 per-cent of the world's car market, including the US, require new cars to meet minimum emissions standards but why not here in Australia? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, frankly, we're not going to be lectured to by car companies that want to raise their profits, Deb. And look, the loudest voice in this is VW. They have a very short memory, because their former CEO sits in prison for cheating motorists on emissions.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But won't we become the dumping ground for dirty, old technology if we don't?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, you know, I was with Toyota the other day. They are putting their top hybrid vehicles into Australia now, which are reducing emissions. This about a range of technologies, not just electric vehicles and many of your listeners will have hybrids, and more will have in the coming years. So you know, this is right. VW in particular is the noisiest one amongst them, and they have not a leg to stand on. Ultimately, our focus is in what's in the interest of the Australian consumers, and allowing them to choose, Deb. It's their choice, not ours, not the Government. You know, this is not about, don't do Government. This is about making sure Australians can act to choose the vehicle that suits them, whether it's a hydrogen vehicle, or electric vehicle, a hybrid vehicle or a traditional vehicle. That mix would change, but it will change with Australians choices, not the choices of car companies or governments. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And just on technology. Joel, the PM wants to overhaul the Clean Energy Finance Corporation so it can invest in carbon capture and storage and other emerging technologies, too but Labor's critical of it. Why not support something that could actually help achieve what both parties want, lower emissions? You say you want to get beyond the bickering. Surely, this is one area where it could be achieved. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And just back on electric vehicles very quickly, Deb. What we're proposing to do is we move taxes on electric vehicles so that they can be more relatively competitive. I don't understand why Angus doesn't support that but you know, look Labor should be backing any technology that reduces emissions, including technologies like carbon capture and storage. And I've said this this many times, we shouldn't care which vehicle the Government uses to deliver that money, as long as it's additional money and it's not displacing investments in renewable energy.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, is Chris Bowen wrong on this? 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I've said many times publicly, Deb, that the Government's putting additional money into entities like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to invest in clean, low emissions technologies, then we should support it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  And just on the electric vehicles, Angus. I know you wanted to reply to Joel's comment there - but it's true that a lot of people are not going to be able to afford the, the stump up costs of electric vehicles, they're just too expensive.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the cost will come down, as always happens with new technologies. That's why people are buying hybrids now, because the cost is coming to the line with traditional vehicles - that's how technology works. I mean, the cost of solar, for instance, has come down 12 per cent a year. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But it's had Government subsidies to help bring it down too.

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, completely independent of that for 50 years, Deb. So that's, that's how it works, and Australians will choose this when it suits them. Look, Labor's policy, which I was going to respond to, you know, to reduce, to eliminate, tariffs - they're already mostly gone through free trade agreements. So this is each-way-Albo saying, look, we're going to first reduce the costs. to the corner. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Not just import duties, no.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  And, and yet, the free trade agreements have already done it across over 70 per cent of, of the vehicles. So you know, this is, this is a policy that's not a policy. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: There are other issues? Fringe benefits tax, for example, in Australia is a very large one and if you remove fringe benefit tax on EV's, that would make them more competitive - that'll be a very good start.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's almost none. You just got to go to the facts here. I mean, this is a policy that will have no impact. It just allows Albo to, to say one thing and do another, which is what he constantly does. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: You're just making it up as you go along now, Angus.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  … I want to ask too about the wash up from Glasgow because we did also see, Angus, the US and China announced this climate agreement, which I thought was quite a surprise - they haven't exactly been in lockstep. Was that a surprise for Australia? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I wouldn't call it a surprise. Look, at the end of the day, China is about a third of the world's emissions now, and rising fast. It's risen 70 per cent in the last 15 years, their emissions. So you, you don't have a solution to this problem without China being part of it, and the US Has been working hard to get China to play a more substantial role. At the end of the day, though, with any of these agreements, Deb, it's when the rubber hits the road that it really counts. You know, what, what actually happens here - that can be a lot of talk, but Australia is well above most countries in the world in terms of outcomes and the real question is whether China, China's emissions profile will actually change. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  We're not above the world, though, when it comes to the ranking of our country. We, we rated last out of 60 countries for climate policies this week.

ANGUS TAYLOR: By a report written by political activists, it's just absolute rot. I mean, in the time when China's emissions have gone up by 70 per cent, ours have come down by 20.8, Deb. Our, our use of renewables eight times the OECD average, we got the highest rate of household solar in the world. This was a report run by, written by political activists, including from the Australia Institute. You know, obviously, you know, there's just, it's not worth the paper it's written on. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  All right. Joel, I wanted to ask you as well about these anti coal protesters from Blockade Australia. They've been causing massive disruptions to coal freight lines in your electorate, in the Hunter. What do locals think about this sort of protest action? Because I know there is a lot of frustration, that people want greater, faster action on cutting back on emissions, but this sort of protest is not on, is it?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: The overwhelming majority of people in my electorate, Deb, here in the Hunter Valley would be appalled by this behaviour. Its, it's not only steeped in arrogance, it's steeped in ignorance. These people do not understand, not only the disruption they're causing, but what it is they are disrupting. I mean, tens of thousands of people in the Hunter Valley have relied on the coal industry for their employment; people have worked hard here to get that coal out of the ground, to ship it to our export markets. But what about the millions, literally, of people in Asia, still going, coming into developed nation status, still living nothing like the lifestyle we live, who are relying on that coal, Deb, to keep their homes warm, to turn the lights on, to keep the, the wheels of Industry turning. These kids just don't seem to have any clue about this. They see something on Facebook or on some other form of social media, and they go out putting their own lives at risk, but also disrupting economies both here and overseas 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, it's downright dangerous. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: And then, Deb, it's not just, it's not just coal. I mean, we're seeing grain exports been cut off by this, so farmers aren't able to get their product to market. I mean, it's disgraceful behaviour.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. Agreed. Now, before we go, we've seen a wonderful farewell today for Bert Newton, legend of the entertainment industry in this country. A lot of memories are flooding back for, for many of us - remembering Bert over the years. I wonder if, if you've got memories you could share with us to do, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. Look, my favourite memory is New Face, which was, was a great program - well ahead of its time in many ways. People like Daryl Somers and Paul Hogan went through that show.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. Keith Urban also, also got a start.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Keith Urban as well, of course. More recently, in the time when Bert was hosting the show, of course, Keith Urban went through it as well. So, you know, it was a showcase of Australian talent - not all of them were as talented…

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  No, that's true.

ANGUS TAYLOR: ... but it was a great show.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  Yeah. Absolutely. It was a real pioneer. And how about you, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No specific memory, Deb. I was watching Channel 9's special program just after, to Bert's terrible passing, and I was reminded of the level of self-deprecation and the way they were able, so often, to laugh at themselves on stage, on camera - I think that was hilarious. And I have to say, it might not be politically correct in itself, but I loved the lack of political correctness in those days.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:  Well that's what humour is. It's meant to be able to poke fun at yourself - politically correct or otherwise.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, we were reminded of that. We were, we were certainly reminded of that during that special recently.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. I really hope that the Gold Logie is renamed in his honour - that would be a fitting tribute. Fellas, always good to talk. Thanks so much for joining us.


ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb and Joel.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Joel Fitzgibbon there, and Angus Taylor for our regular Friday Question Time here on Afternoons with Deborah Knight.