ABC News Breakfast - 21/10/2021

21 October 2021

SUBJECTS: Restrictions easing in Melbourne; Barnaby Joyce holding Scott Morrison to ransom over climate; Government voting to protect Christian Porter from scrutiny.

LISA MILLAR, HOST: There's lots of action in federal politics at the moment with the climate negotiations ongoing, and Federal Labor accusing the Coalition of protecting the former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, from scrutiny. The Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, joins us now from Parliament House to discuss all of this. Senator, good morning and welcome to News Breakfast.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning. Good to be with you, and a shoutout to the people of Melbourne! All very exciting. My dad sent me a photo this morning and said ‘it's the end of lockdown’ – so he's pretty happy.

MILLAR: He’s pretty happy? Has he got something planned?

WONG: No, I think he'll just wander around the park, actually! Go for a walk.

MILLAR: It could be sort of a slow going initially for people as we get used to this freedom. But thanks for the thoughts, Senator. Can I kick off on climate? Depending on what reports you're reading this morning, it would appear that the Government is edging closer to being able to bring together this net zero by 2050 plan. Is that going to be enough for Scott Morrison when he heads to Glasgow?

WONG: Well, we've been all watching Barnaby Joyce's hostage negotiations with Scott Morrison, haven't we, over the last weeks. And they've gone on a long time and the problem will be that the ransom that Australians have to pay to get Barnaby to sign up will be pretty high, and we'll see some of that soon. But look, I think that it is as simple as this. Two people have been standing in the way of action on climate for a decade. Barnaby Joyce and Scott Morrison are not going to come up with a deal that does anything. It will just be spin. It will just be announcement. It will be something Scott Morrison wants to take to Glasgow, but it won't be real.

MILLAR: What about the fact that we're seeing expectations that there will be an announcement that the projections for 2030 will be increased? We've been looking at 26% to 28% cuts and now it's going to be in the mid-30s. It does give a sense that there is movement here, that the Government is hearing the message from the electorate.

WONG: I think that the Government is realising that they're in political trouble on climate. I think that's really happening and I don't think that anybody who has been watching the debate over this last, over these last years or the eight long years they've been in Government, would think that anything is happening other than Scott Morrison realising that he's got a political problem. This is a bloke who said that electric vehicles would end the weekend. This is the bloke who called renewable batteries, I think he called them the big banana wasn’t it? Or the big prawn, something like that. Do you actually believe this bloke is sincere on climate? Of course not.

MILLAR: Climate change is going to be a real issue in quite a few seats.

WONG: Absolutely.

MILLAR: And Labor is going to have to come up with some plans. Why are you waiting until after Glasgow to actually say what you're going to do? And is 45% back on the table for Labor?

WONG: Well, there's about three questions there so I'll try to go through them. We will make sure that we are clear with the electorate about our approach to this before the next election. Secondly, I was Australia's first Climate Minister. We have been fighting for over a decade against some pretty hard fear campaigning for action on climate and I'd say to anyone listening - if you want action on climate, there is only one way to do that, and that is to change the Government.

MILLAR: 45% then, back on the table?

WONG: Well, I remember all of this argument about targets years ago. And in fact, if we'd adopted some of the targets that the Labor governments had, we'd be in a much better position now. Fundamentally we need to change the government. We understand the importance of this issue and we always have. Chris Bowen has said very clearly that the Government should go to Glasgow with a stronger target. And we will make decisions before the next election.

MILLAR: It's interesting, because a lot of the analysis is suggesting that Labor could end up getting wedged here again. That you're forced into over-reaching and find yourself in trouble again going into the next election.

WONG: And I would be saying to people who are demanding detail from an opposition at this point that, I would say to them, again, there is only one way you will get action on climate and that is to change the Government.

MILLAR: Can I move to Christian Porter? Is this the end of it now, that you've failed to have it further investigated?

WONG: This is pretty extraordinary. In the news headlines, it was described as unprecedented, and it is. I think 120 years of precedence, we haven't seen a government do what they did yesterday. You know, Australians deserve a Prime Minister who uses their power for the good of the country. Scott Morrison uses his power to protect his mates. To avoid accountability.

MILLAR: What do you do about it?

WONG: Yesterday, he asked every single one of his Coalition MPs to vote against an inquiry into how Christian Porter could get $1 million donation anonymously. I mean, you just need to say that for how appalling that is to be demonstrated. You just need to say it.

MILLAR: So, what happens? What happens now? What happens going forward?

WONG: We have to change the Government and we need to put in place an Anti-Corruption Commission.

MILLAR: So, just on that...

WONG: Just to take a step back from it if I may, Lisa. I do think that this is a point about democracy. Our democracy does depend on governments, on Ministers, respecting certain conventions. And we're at the point where a Prime Minister says - I'm going to instruct every single one of my MPs to block an inquiry into a $1 million anonymous donation in the House of Representatives, against the advice of the Speaker, or against the view of the Speaker.

MILLAR: So, I just quickly, finally want to ask you, though, with Labor's Integrity Commission, would that look into Christian Porter? Would that be a retrospective body?

WONG: I think that Mark Dreyfus has made clear the approach that we'd take. We'd want an Anti-Corruption Commission with teeth. But can I say on that; you shouldn't need a Commission. And I would hope that any government that had some integrity, you wouldn't need an Anti-Corruption Commission to deal with this. This should have been stopped right at the start when Scott Morrison found out that a Cabinet Minister was going to get $1 million in anonymous donations. It shouldn't even get to a commission point. It should be dealt with as a matter of prime minister and ministerial standards.

MILLAR: Senator Wong, we'll leave it there and we’ll keep an eye out for your dad in the park!

WONG: Cheers, thanks.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.