Interview with John Laws, 2SM

John Laws
Emissions targets, COP26

JOHN LAWS: The Morrison Government has unveiled its plans to steer economy towards a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, bringing Australia into line with many other developed nations as we head towards the Glasgow Climate Change Conference next week and it's pretty important that we don't lose sight of that net zero, because it does not mean zero emissions. That would spell the end of agriculture, coal mining, the gas sector, a lot of things. As I explained yesterday, carbon credits are used to help offset companies that are polluters and that's how we reach a position of net zero. The Government's outlined its plan which critics say it largely relies on unproven and underdeveloped technologies like green hydrogen. Well, the Federal Energy and Emissions Reductions Minister, Angus Taylor, is on the line. We are very fortunate to have the Minister there. Good morning, Minister, and thank you for giving us some of your time. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, John. Thanks for having me.

JOHN LAWS: Pleasure. How does bringing Keith Pitt back into the Cabinet help to get any closer to a target of net zero emissions. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Keith has been a fantastic Resources Minister, you know, backing in the mining industry in Australia - one of our great industries, one of the backbones of this great country - and Keith has been a staunch advocate, and it's great to have him back in Cabinet. He's a good colleague who's done a fantastic job. 
More broadly, you got to remember that bringing down emissions, much of the work has to be done in our regional areas. That is both an opportunity, and if it's done the wrong way, a real threat to our regions. Now, the Coalition, Liberal and Nationals, represent most of our regional areas. We understand more about regional economies and regional jobs and industries than anyone else in the Parliament. It's absolutely crucial that our plan focuses on creating jobs, creating opportunities in regional areas, and that's exactly what we're doing. Your point up front, John, I couldn't have put it better myself. Your articulation of what's a centrepiece of our plan, it's not wiping these industries out - it's not wiping out beef and sheep from the map; it's not wiping out our gas industry or our coal industry. Our customers demand will change, the Japanese and Korean customers are going to want a different product over time, there's no doubt about that. And we need to adapt to that.

JOHN LAWS: Okay. But Minister, before we get too far away from Keith Pitt, which you've cleverly done, I mean, that was clearly a concession made by the Prime Minister to Barnaby Joyce choice in return for National Party support. You can't deny that.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I mean, I'm, I'm delighted to have Keith back in Cabinet. He's a great Cabinet Minister, a good friend, and a great advocate for the resources industry that I have worked in before going into politics, and he understands it extremely well. So I think there's only upside in that, John. It means there is an even deeper understanding of these critical industries for Australia around the Cabinet table, and that only be a good thing. 

JOHN LAWS: Okay, but let me go back to it again. As I said, it was obviously a concession made by the Prime Minister to Barnaby Joyce in return for National Party support. What other favours are going to be coming the way of the National Party and Barnaby generally? I mean, Barnaby is telling anybody who'll listen that he doesn't subscribe to this net zero target policy. Is the National Party truly on board with this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the National Party is absolutely on board. I mean, they had a discussion on it on Sunday and they resolved to support it. There's no ambiguity about that, John and that's because they do understand that we need to take sensible measures to bring down our emissions, but strengthen our industries at the same time. You know, there's an enormous opportunity here for Australians. Now, just to take one illustration - we've got 90 million hectares of productive agricultural land in this country. In some areas we've seen the soils being run down, but by regenerating those and getting them back to where they should we know we can store a lot more carbon and produce more from our farms. That's a great thing for farmers. It's a great thing for Australia and we can provide appropriate incentives - no penalties - appropriate incentives, to make sure that happens. 

JOHN LAWS: Okay, but just back to Barnaby, he's not doing you any favours, or doing anybody any favours, by saying that he doesn't subscribe to the net zero target policy. I mean is the National Party truly on board with this or is Barnaby just lip reading others?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The National Party made a decision on Sunday to support it.

JOHN LAWS: But how enthusiastic do you think he really is about it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: He's absolutely enthusiastic about strengthening our regional areas as am I. I'm a regional Liberal, and of course, there's more regional Liberals than Nats. And combined we're a strong force within the Coalition, and we need to be a strong force on making sure we get these policies right, which is exactly what we're doing in this plan. 

JOHN LAWS: Okay. But you're telling the country that a series of policies you have recently implemented is going to help steer us back to net zero without a sudden end to the resource sector. I mean, if that is the case, why has it been so hard to get the Nationals to agree to it? 

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Because they rightly want to get across the details and make sure there's no Trojan horse here. Look, you know, we've sent from the Labor Party, time and time again, Trojan horses in this area of policy. They talk and talk and talk, and then in the end, what you end up with is a tax. We saw it the last election. They wanted to increase the cost of traditional vehicles - your Hilux, your Ranger - they wanted the cost to go up, which is a carbon tax. Let's make no mistake about it. If you're going to raise the cost of traditional fuel sources and traditional activities, that's a carbon tax. We've seen this time and time again. They wanted to make sure that we weren't going to impose any of those costs on our traditional industries, on our regional sectors, and they were right to want to interrogate that very, very closely. Now, as a regional Member, and a strong advocate for those industries in Australia - in agriculture, heavy manufacturing, and resources - I firmly believe the right path forward here is to use technologies that allow us to better serve our customers, and to do it in a way that creates jobs, creates opportunities, and puts downward pressure on electricity and energy prices. 

JOHN LAWS: Okay. Have you spoken to Mr Joyce about this and about his attitude generally?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I've spoken to Mr Joyce a lot of times.

JOHN LAWS: No, no, no. You're not answering the question. Have you spoken to him in relation to this, and to these comments that he's making?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I have spoken to him about policy in this area many, many times - I think that's what you're referring to. 

JOHN LAWS: Well, I'll tell you what I'm referring to. It's pretty clear. Barnaby Joyce is telling anybody who'll listen that he does not subscribe to this net zero target policy. So I'm asking the question is the National Party truly on side? Can they really be on side if he isn't?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, John, they voted for it on the weekend. So, you know, I think that's pretty clear.

JOHN LAWS: Okay, we accept that.

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'll tell you what I know Barnaby is absolutely supportive of, is the sorts of policies we've been announcing in recent months that invest in those technologies, in the production of ammonia and hydrogen, which we've done for a long time in our regions, which our customers want. And those investments which support the adaptation of our great industries in regional Australia. He is absolutely supportive of that, as is the National party room. And of course, they voted in favour of this plan on the weekend.

JOHN LAWS: Yeah, you won't be in office by 2050 anyway to know if we meet the target or not. So why wouldn't you legislate to help provide more certainty to business? Surely, business needs to be protected.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Most people who are arguing these sorts of things really just want a carbon tax. Let's be clear. There's lots of people at the top end of business and the top end of academia and elsewhere who really just want a carbon tax. That's been their position for a long, long time. They should be a little bit more upfront about that, but that's what they want, just like the Labor party and legislation is their way to get to that outcome. Look, we've met and beaten our 2020 targets, our Kyoto targets, by a long way without legislation. Beat our 2030 targets by- again, by a long way. We laid that out yesterday.

JOHN LAWS: Okay, but the reality is, the government doesn't want to legislate because you can't guarantee the Nationals will for it. Isn't that the truth?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, we haven't legislated in the past, so why would we now? And we've achieved the outcomes. You know, the trouble with legislation is it becomes a blank cheque for those who want money for what their pet project is. We're not going to do that. It becomes a pathway for activists to shut things down. We're not going to support that. It becomes a means for the Labor Party to put in place a carbon tax, and we're not going to support that. So, let's be clear here, we have achieved these outcomes, and Australians can be very proud of the outcomes we've achieved. We're already 20.8 per cent down on our 2005 levels.

JOHN LAWS:  Yeah, I agree with you that we should be proud of what's been achieved, definitely. At the last election, Scott Morrison was deriding this push towards net zero as economy wrecking, I think, was how he described it. Now, we're meant to accept that it can create all of these jobs. Can we really believe the Prime Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let's be clear about what the debate on this was.

JOHN LAWS: No, could you answer that question? Can we believe the Prime Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm answering the question. I was right in the middle of it. John, as you know. I was the Energy Minister. Lots of people were saying we should get out of the Paris Agreement before the last election. We said no, we're going to stick with it, but we're going to stick with the 26 per cent target. We can achieve that. Labor wanted a 45 per cent target, much higher. We said, that's crazy, it's too much. It's going to cost Australian jobs, it's going to raise the price of electricity and energy in this country and so we opposed it, straight out, and we still do. We're sticking with our target. We're going to beat it, which is great, but we're going to beat it in a way that's sensible, not the way Labor was proposing. You know, they wanted to raise the price of vehicles. They wanted to impose a carbon tax on Australians, and we're just not going to go down that path. That's what the debate was about. If they want to have that same debate at the next election, we'll have it again. Net zero, the way we're describing, respects the choices of Australians, trusts Australians, doesn't impose costs on them, doesn't destroy jobs in the regions, certainly doesn't impose an electricity tax.

JOHN LAWS: Look, but let me say this, I know you're in a bit of a hurry, but surely if this target merely amounted to doing business as usual, we wouldn't have seen it end the careers of a string of Prime Ministers and opposition leaders, would we?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think in the past there hasn't been enough trust of the Australian people. And let me give you an example of this. 

JOHN LAWS: I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need to ask the question. When you say there's not sufficient trust in the Australian people, do you mean they didn't trust the Prime Ministers, the various Prime Ministers and other ministers who made these promises?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, no, I mean the people who were making these decisions, like imposing a carbon tax, didn't trust the Australian people. I'm going to give you an example, John. It's a very important example. We've seen the cost of solar continually come down in this country. When the cost of a new technology, a low emissions technology comes down and it's working well, Australians use it. You can trust them. They'll do it. They'll get out there and do it. 1 in 4 Australians have solar on their roof, the highest level in the world. When technologies work, Australians adopt them, and they adopt them really fast. That's how we are. We've always done that. That's exactly what we'll see with these low emissions technologies like solar, which is one of our priority technologies. We'll see that happening, and it'll be done through choice, through trusting the Australian people. The alternative policy pathway, which lots of people want, is to tell Australians what to do, what kind of car to drive, what kind of food to eat, what kind of electricity to buy. You don't need to do that. You need to give them those low emissions technologies, make sure those costs are coming down. Give them the choice. They'll make the choice, and they'll bring our emissions down in the process. That's how we're doing it, and that's how we're going to keep doing it.

JOHN LAWS:  Okay, back to the final question. I know you're busy, mate, and so am I. So we need to sort it out. At the last selection, Scott Morrison was deriding this push towards net zero as economy wrecking - his words, not mine and now we're meant to accept that it can create all of these jobs. You know, can we really believe the Prime Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: He was talking about the 45 per cent emissions reduction target of Labor. Let's be clear. That's what he was talking about, as was I. We opposed that at the last election. There's been no debate about 2050 targets at the last election, it was about 2030 targets. And we continue to oppose Labor's position on it because it will require a carbon tax, and we will not put a carbon tax in place.

JOHN LAWS: Hydrogen technology is still very much in its infancy. People like Andrew Forrest are seeking millions in government subsidies to get those technologies developed, which I think is admirable. But what if they don't work? Where does that leave the net zero target then?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  This is one of the great misconceptions. Hydrogen technology is not new. It's a hundred years old. We're producing hydrogen in large quantities in Australia now, for example, at Newcastle. And we use it to- particularly, to produce fertiliser for farmers. That's how we produce nitrogen fertiliser that puts the food on the table every day for all Australians. So it's not a new technology. What is changing is the application of it. So we are using it now in the mining industry. We're using it now in agriculture and for fertilisers but we can use it in the future for transport, in our electricity generators. So, it's broadening that out and reducing the emissions around it. It's a great opportunity for Australia. We can become one of the great hydrogen producers of the world. We are already a significant producer.

JOHN LAWS:  Yes, we sure are.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We can go a lot further. And that's a great opportunity for Australia and for our resource regions, places like the Hunter Valley, places like Gladstone. It's a fantastic opportunity.

JOHN LAWS: Yeah, Gladstone's good. Okay, it's been very good to talk to you, Angus Taylor, and I appreciate your time. You are the Federal Energy and Emission Reduction Minister, so you're a pretty important man in our community. And I appreciate your time very much. I hope we get to talk again.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Good on you, John. Thanks for having me.

JOHN LAWS: Okay Angus, bye. Thank you.