ABC Radio Adelaide Mornings with David Bevan - 02/11/2021

02 November 2021

SUBJECTS: COP26; medium-term targets; Scott Morrison accused of lying to French President; leaks of classified documents and private text messages.

DAVID BEVAN, HOST: Now we're just waiting for Simon Birmingham to join us - Minister for Finance and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. But Penny Wong Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs joins us now. Good morning, Penny Wong.


BEVAN: Good. Penny Wong, when you see what's taking place in Glasgow, did you sort of suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress remembering what you and Kevin Rudd went through back in Copenhagen all those years ago?

WONG: None of the international climate change negotiations are easy, are they? And I think we've seen that. But I think if we were in government, we would be going there meaning what we say, which would be a big difference between the current Prime Minister and a Prime Minister Albanese.

BEVAN: But looking at what China, Russia, Brazil and India are doing. I mean, China, Russia, and Brazil, their leaders haven't even bothered to turn up. India is ruling out net zero by 2050. Is Glasgow looking like another missed opportunity?

WONG: I hope it isn't because our children and our grandchildren will think pretty poorly of this generation of political leaders if we keep failing to live up to leadership. And look, I think, for me, that's one of the problems with Mr Morrison. I just don't think on this issue he's demonstrated leadership. He's cobbled together a political deal with Barnaby Joyce, who as you know, has a long history of both denying there's anything like climate change and opposing bitterly anything to deal with it. So, any deal Barnaby signed up for, I think Australians know, it's not the real deal. But look, the international conference and the G20 before it have been marked by the behaviour of our Prime Minister. And it's quite unprecedented what's occurring in terms of the conflict between him and President Macron of France, and also the way in which he's implicitly criticised or the Government is pushing back on President Biden. I've never seen anything like this.

BEVAN: We'll explore that in just a moment. I promise you we will return to Macron, Biden and Morrison. But can you explain to us what is Labor's commitment regarding 2030 targets?

WONG: We have not yet set a 2030 target. And we've been clear for some time now that first, that the Government should have gone with a higher or bigger 2030 target. For all of Mr Morrison's spin, he's going with Tony Abbott's target. Let's be really clear about that. It's the 2015 Tony Abbott target. So people can make a judgement about how responsible that target actually is - completely irresponsible in the circumstances economically and in terms of the climate. We've been clear, the Government should have gone with a 2030 target which is bigger and we will assess the outcome of Glasgow and we will make sure the Australian people know what our position is well before the election.

BEVAN: It should have been a bigger target? What target? What target do you say?

WONG: No, no David. I’m not doing that. I'm not doing that.

BEVAN: Is that an unreasonable question?

WONG: No, no. It's not an unreasonable question and it's not an unreasonable answer.

BEVAN: You think, 'Oh I'm not going to answer', you don't think that's unreasonable?

WONG: No, no. I'm saying your question is not unreasonable, and neither is my answer.

BEVAN: I think your answer leaves a lot to be desired, Penny Wong. You just said, 'well I'm not going to tell you.'

WONG: Well, David, that's because we've made clear that our 2030 target, or our interim targets, our medium-term target and our plan to deal with climate change, in a way that is genuine, which puts us in a very different place to the Government, will be announced well before the election. People will know. And I'll be very happy to come on to your show after that is done. My one message to people and I know there are an enormous number of South Australians who care about climate change, is this; if you want action on climate change, you have to change the government. That is the only way. This government will never do what people want.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham joins us now. Shadow Minister for Finance and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Simon Birmingham, we haven't got a figure from Penny Wong, but she's promising that we will have one before the next election. Whatever you took, it wasn't big enough.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, FINANCE MINISTER: David, what we are taking to Glasgow and what the Prime Minister has outlined is that Australia is on track to meet and beat our 2030 targets, which was set some years ago, at trying to achieve between 26 and 28% reduction in emissions by 2030. We are formally updating the projections on that to now being between 30 and 35% reduction. So once again, Australia is not only meeting the commitments we've made to the world, but we're exceeding them. The Prime Minister has also outlined the fact that we're signing up to the net zero by 2050 long term commitments and targets and that's an important change. He's doing that underpinned by more than $20 billion worth of investment in...

BEVAN: But if you're on your way to 30 to 35% reduction but by the year 2030 - that's still eight years away - why don't you at least say we're going to make 35% our target. We know we can achieve that. It's realistic. Why don't you at least up your target to 35%? Or why don't you be ambitious and say we're reaching 35%, we've got eight years, why don't we make it 40%?

BIRMINGHAM: David it is absolutely our aspiration, as it always is, to exceed our targets. That's what Australia has managed to do each and every time. So, the Kyoto commitment periods number one and number two, we beat our targets. The Paris one, we're on track to beat our target and we will stretch to beat it by as much as we possibly can. That's Australia's track record. It's not one of words. It's actually one of action, of getting it done. And we get it done through investments and out of the $20 billion we're spending between now and 2030 - that's more than $1.2 billion on hydrogen hubs. It's around $5 billion on Snowy 2.0. It's funding for large scale solar. The transformation or heavy industries, steel and aluminium. Of support for infrastructure in e-vehicles. These are all specific commitments that are designed to keep driving Australia's emissions down. But crucially to do it through technological transformation, to achieve low-cost ways of doing things in the future with low emissions, because that's the only way we're going to get countries like Indonesia...

BEVAN: What is it... Can you explain to our listeners - and there may be a very good reason for this Simon Birmingham - can you explain to our listeners why you balk at having an increased target for 2030 if you're already ahead of where you wanted to be? What is it about the target that that scares the Government?

BIRMINGHAM: We already set our target as a government. We did that...

BEVAN: Yeah, but you're beating it, so you might as well - and the world's getting hotter - why don't you just up it?

BIRMINGHAM: Why don't we focus on these actions and outcomes, which is what Australia is achieving. And we have reduced our emissions in the country by more than 20% already, which is more than New Zealand. It's more than Canada. It's more than many other countries who tend to get lauded at times, in some of these debates in Australia. And we're on track to beat the commitments that we had already made for 2030 and to achieve, as I say, between 30 and 35%. And our intention is to try to stretch to the highest end of that range as much as we possibly can. That's going to achieve outcomes here.

BEVAN: Penny Wong?

WONG: David, you asked exactly the right question, which is why...

BEVAN: You liked that question!

WONG: I do. I didn't mind your question - you just did like my answer. You asked exactly the right question; if you're going to achieve 35%, why won't you adjust the target? Why are you using weasel words like 'aspiration' and 'projection'? You know what the actual answer is that Simon won't give?

Because Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister and the National Party won't sign up to it. It is entirely a political reason. There is no policy reason, there is no economic reason. And that says everything about the lack of genuineness in the Government's plan.

BEVAN: Ok, well, you've answered Simon Birmingham's question. Maybe I can get Simon Birmingham to answer yours.

WONG: Are you going to give him a Dixer, so he can have a go?

BEVAN: Well, hang on, you've just answered his question. You say the reason he won't increase his target is because he can't get Barnaby on side. Simon Birmingham, why do you think Penny Wong won't announce a 2030 target?

BIRMINGHAM: Frankly, David it is for Penny Wong, if she thinks we should be saying it's at least 35% then I would have thought that would be the baseline that Labor would set. But that is a matter for the Labor Party. From the Government's perspective, we're focused on action and investment and making sure that we're actually getting outcomes. And Australia has a good story to tell in terms of outcomes. Ours is a difficult path. There's absolutely no doubt, that as a country, we face bigger challenges than many others around the world. But if we can meet the challenges of changing technology in Australia, then that can provide solutions that will help countries like India, or Indonesia, or China, or Russia to make changes themselves, sooner than they're currently projecting to. If we don't get them on board by acting sooner, which will require those technological changes, then we're not going to get the outcomes for the globe that we all want.

BEVAN: Now we're going to quickly run that time. And we do need to ask you about the Macron, Biden, Morrison bromance, which is falling apart. But David's got a quick question for both of you. Hello, David.

DAVID, CALLER: Morning, David. Both speakers seem to have numberaphobia. So, I've got a question for Senator Wong, as the alternative government. Give us a date at which the last piece of coal gets exported, from Australia. And don't worry there are no working-class Queensland voters listening. We're in a safe space here. Penny Wong?

WONG: Well, there is no fixed date. But the reality is - as much as the Coalition will run a scare campaign - the reason even Scott Morrison with Barnaby Joyce as Deputy has had to move on climate is because as major economies around the world, as the global economy moves to a more carbon constrained world, that is going to have an effect on many Australian exports. And we have to prepare for that. So, it's not a question of either political demands or scare campaigns. It's a question of making sure we recognise that there will be a direct effect on the Australian economy and Australian jobs of a world that is making changes. And we saw what the G20 commitment was in relation to fossil fuels and coal-fired power. That means we've got to make sure we transition our economy. I mean, it's the economic imperative that has meant a Government like Scott Morrison's, with people like Barnaby Joyce in it, have finally at least moved to pretend they want to do something about climate.

BEVAN: Do you agree with the targets set by Boris Johnson for closing down coal mining?

WONG: Is that a question to me or the Government?

BEVAN: No, no, to you Penny Wong?

WONG: Look, I think the reality is that Australia signed up to the G20 communique, which speaks both about coal and fossil fuels more broadly. I think we have to recognise that the global markets are moving. So, this is an issue of us preparing for that and that's why renewables are so important. We know there are enormous job opportunities in the regions and enormous export opportunities from renewables. And we need to do more to harness that. When we were in government, I quadrupled the renewable energy target and that's one of the reasons we're in the position we are today in terms of renewable energy in Australia. We outperformed the best expectations.

BEVAN: Moving on to Macron and Joe Biden. Simon Birmingham, Joe Biden, he's not good at actually showing himself as much of a 'pal', is he? I think that's how he described Scott Morrison when he couldn't remember his name. He called him my 'pal'. He has trouble remembering the PM's name and after being a willing participant in the submarine deal, which stiffed the French, he throws us under a bus by saying 'oh, it was handled so clumsily'.

BIRMINGHAM: Well David, look, I'm not going to run commentary in terms of what the US President says. We value the relationship with the US, and the AUKUS partnership that we entered into with the US and the UK is not just about getting the technology and the build happening in Adelaide of nuclear-powered submarines, but it's also about a range of other technology platforms that we'll be able to share greater knowledge of over the years ahead in terms of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, a range of different things that we will pursue together. And that's why it was such an important partnership to strike and will provide decades of benefits long after the type of couple of days debate we're having at present have subsided. And that's really what the strategic interests for Australia are; having two trusted, valued partners who are willing to share some of their deepest technological secrets and knowledge with us, and to help ensure that our Defence Forces can do the best possible job for the future.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, Joe Biden did throw Scott Morrison under the bus, didn't he? I mean, he said he handled it so clumsily. I mean, Joe Biden, surely he knew what the deal was that he was signing up for?

WONG: Well, I think what we are seeing is Mr Morrison's dishonesty catching up with him. But much more importantly, it's hurting the country. We know Mr Morrison's character. We know he's loose with the truth. We know he stubbornly denies mistakes and that his reflex is to furiously attack rather than to accept responsibility. But getting into a dispute with the US President in the way that he has is extraordinarily risky for Australia and it is damaging to a relationship that has been strong through both parties of government.

The most concerning thing about the papers today is that one journalist has been shown a national security document, that sets out a timeline, in order to try and undermine the US President's public comments. Now, it's probably illegal, it's certainly improper. But most importantly, on what possible planet is that a good idea? First, they are our most important strategic ally. Second, we are wanting to work with them to get access to highly classified nuclear technology. So why the Prime Minister, his office or someone in the Government thought it was a good idea to give a journalist a national security document in order to try make a political point is beyond me and I think beyond most Australians. You know, we've seen somebody - a leader - in recent times who was prepared to trash alliances and partnerships for personal political interest and his name was Donald Trump. This is now the behaviour, regrettably, we appear to be seeing from Mr Morrison.

BEVAN: You're referring to the article that's on the front page of The Australian today: 'How Biden knew plan all along'.

WONG: Correct.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, how do you respond to that?

BIRMINGHAM: Well David, it's not clear to me from that story that any document has been shared or the like and I can't speak to the source of what the journalist has...

WONG: Oh, come on. It says “the document, negotiated in secret between the NSC and Australian officials”. Simon, how can you defend the indefensible? How can you defend the indefensible?

BIRMINGHAM: It's a US-based journalist who's written that story.

WONG: Alright, now you're going to blame the Americans, that’s a good idea!.


WONG: This is extraordinary.

BIRMINGHAM: If you're ever going to let me finish a sentence, Penny.

It's a US-based journalist. All I can say, as the Prime Minister has, which is that the US Administration was kept up to date with our conversations and discussions with different partners as we went through that process. But we're not interested in a war of words in relation to any of these things. What we believe we've done is pursue the nation's long-term interests in terms of a policy position here that will better secure the technology, the capability for our Defence Forces for decades to come, the sharing of information that's necessary and that, as I say, is the decades-long benefit that we seek to achieve rather than the war of words of today. But I can understand why oppositions want to pursue that war of words and extend them out, but that's not where our focuses lie.

BEVAN: Well, hang on Simon Birmingham. You've got Joe Biden saying the deal was handled clumsily. Scott Morrison says ‘I don't think so’, and then a document turns up which shows – and it's a highly confidential document, 15 pages, it's on the front page of The Australian – the report – and it shows that indeed Mr Biden was fully informed of what was going on regarding this deal. So, it's been leaked to support the Prime Minister's version of events. Now, some people might say let's have more leaked documents, but Penny Wong says we're going down a dangerous track.

BIRMINGHAM: David, as I said, we certainly made sure through the announcement processes between the three partners that there was transparency about who was telling whom, what, when because that's the appropriate way to go through those things. There were lots of different international conversations that had to be had in the day or two leading up to the announcement of AUKUS and in the days following the announcement of AUKUS. And that was appropriate for us to pursue a lot of those international conversations and for our partners. And that would be something that everybody would logically expect to be undertaken and it was in quite a sequential way in terms of reaching out to the different partners across our region and around the world.

BEVAN: But what we've got is that we're finishing 2021 with people that should be allies, fighting amongst themselves. That is, Macron is calling our Prime Minister a liar and the President is saying this was handled clumsily. Australia is, it looks like, leaking documents to show that the President should have known, if he didn't know, he wasn't paying attention. I mean, really, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping must be laughing.

BIRMINGHAM: David, I think everyone will see that the US, the UK, Australia get on with this partnership and the delivery of it quite strongly, quite seamlessly – that yes, France is disappointed at losing a major contract in that regard. There'd been many discussions about the status of that contract – its cost, its timeliness, the nature of Australian industry content – as well as the discussions that the Prime Minister had with President Macron about the changing capability needs, the difficulties that conventional diesel-powered submarines were going to have operating in our region in the future. And ultimately it was that capability requirement that drove the decision to make a change now, to make a change before it was too late to change, before we'd gone too far down the French submarine pathway and to make sure that instead we equip our Navy and our Defence Forces in the decades to come with the best possible capability in terms of those nuclear-powered submarines. And yes, it was a difficult decision. We always knew there were going to be negative reactions from particularly the French in terms of the loss of that contract and that we were going to have to work through those difficulties – and that we will. But in decades to come, it's a decision that will serve Australia better. And whilst it would've been easier, perhaps not to make that decision and to simply go with the status quo, that would've been betraying Australia's interests and nobody elected us to betray Australia's interests. People elected us to do the right thing by Australia and that's fundamentally what we believed we've done.

WONG: Well, how is it in Australia's interests for you to be seeking to undermine the public comments of an American President?

BIRMINGHAM: Penny, that is not what we are doing as a government. Our pursuit with the Americans, with the Brits and indeed with all our other partners is about making sure that we work on these policy issues, these outcomes for our nation that are of most profound importance - not worrying about the war of words of today but the outcomes in decades to come.

WONG: Well, the war of words that you describe is a war of words that Scott Morrison is engaging in. And if anyone who looked at his interviews, his again stubborn, angry denials instead of trying, in Australia's interest, to resolve this - the war of words he is participating in and fuelling. And it is not helped by the way in which we have now, both in this document sought to undermine the public words of the American President – if it has come from Australians – and by the leaking of text messages, or the content of personal text messages between Mr Morrison and President Macron. This is not the way an Australian leader should behave. He should remember this is not about his personal feelings, it is about the country's interests. And our interests are in trying to manage those two relationships. We need more partners, not fewer.

BIRMINGHAM: The country's interests are squarely what drove these decisions. They are not just the country's interests this year, they're the country's interests for a long time to come.

WONG: But not how you've handled them. Not how you've handled them nor how you've handled the diplomatic fallout. What is at the forefront is Mr Morrison's reflexive, furious attacks on anybody who criticises him – and it is a question of his character.

BIRMINGHAM: Which I understand they're the political lines you'll run all the way to the election and that's obviously the approach the Labor Party is going to take in personalising the next election campaign.

WONG: Well, it is on display. Politics aside –you've had to defend the indefensible today. I don't think anybody would think that the behaviour of the leader of the country over these last few days, in how he's dealt with both President Macron and President Biden, is in Australia's interests.

BIRMINGHAM: I don't think any of your comments this morning, Penny, have put politics aside.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham and Senator Penny Wong, this debate might go all the way up to the next election, but we're upon the 10 o'clock news before we got there, so we'll have to call it quits, but thank you for your time.

BIRMINGHAM: Thanks David, thank you Penny.

WONG: Farewell from quarantine, we're both in quarantine. So, it's been an interesting...

BIRMINGHAM: We have all the time in the world!

BEVAN: Penny Wong, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Leader of the Labor Party in the Senate and Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance and Leader of the Government in the Senate – thank you for your time.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.