Radio Interview ABC Melbourne – Mornings with Virginia Trioli

05 Aug 2022
Prime Minister
Renewable energy, Coal mine approvals, Question Time, Taiwan, Inflation, Medicare, Holiday, Music

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Anthony Albanese Prime Minister of Australia joins us now. Good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Virginia. Thanks for having me on the program.

TRIOLI: So now the hard part. How do you do it? How do you get Australia's biggest emitters that the engine rooms of our economy really to get 5 million tonnes of emissions out of the air by 2050?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you do it first by having a structure and that structure is the safeguards mechanism that was actually put in place by the Abbott government but never effectively used. And that applies to the big companies that emit more than 100,000 tonnes or the big projects - specific projects just over 200. You also have to have a comprehensive plan. So we need a plan for transport. Part of our legislation that's also passed the House of Representatives is our cut to taxation when it comes to electric vehicles, but we'll develop a national electric vehicle strategy. You also need to fix transmission in the grid. You need to bring it into the 21st century. And our plan, based upon the Integrated Systems Plan of the Australian Energy Market Operator, will do that so that renewables can be plugged into the grid, so that we can take energy from where it's produced into where it's consumed in a seamless way. You have to have an economy-wide transition here. It will take effort. It's not easy, but we can do it. And while doing it, we can create economic activity - create jobs, particularly in our regions.

TRIOLI: Will the economy shrink during this process? I mean, having to do this. Now that legislation is passed it's been described as a self-imposed constraint on the economy by people like Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute who, let's be clear, is a very big fan of governments doing exactly what you're doing. But he's being honest about it. It's a self-imposed constraint on the economy. Will the economy shrink during the process?

PRIME MINISTER: The good news is that the economy will grow during the process because –

TRIOLI: So no going backwards?

PRIME MINISTER: No going backwards. What we'll have is existing industries transform. For example, when I was in Gladstone meeting with Rio Tinto, what they will do with their alumina refinery and their other high value manufacturing processes there; they have three facilities, they will be powering those facilities in the future by wind and solar. They will have gas as a backup to ensure stability. And long term, or medium term really, they're looking at clean hydrogen also playing an important role. What they know, like other businesses, is that unless this transition occurs, then in Europe and other countries that buy our products, there's likely to be tariffs imposed through the European Union or some form of constraint as the world moves. Unless we do this transition, then Australia will actually suffer and will shrink. So we also had the possibility of cleaner, cheaper energy creating new industries. We produce everything that goes into a battery: copper, lithium, nickel. Why aren't we making batteries which will continue to be more important as time goes on, not just for electric vehicles, but for ensuring that solar power can be stored and for a range of issues across the sector? We can make more things here. This can be a key to a high value, high growth, high wage economy, which is what we're interested in creating.

TRIOLI: Tanya Plibersek is denying approval for Clive Palmer's Queensland coal mine that's just ten kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef. Are you starting down the Green’s called for path to have no new coal or gas projects? Or is this just particular to Clive Palmer because he's an antagonist of Labor?

PRIME MINISTER: No, the Environment Minister has a responsibility in law to make decisions based upon the merits of projects. That's her responsibility under the Act. What Tanya has done is to make a preliminary indication so that people have ten days to comment on that. And it's important that projects be analysed based upon their merits. In this case, this is a proposed coal mine that is just ten kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef –

TRIOLI: Sorry to jump in there, Prime Minister, and I apologise for that. But if it was further than ten k: twenty, thirty, fifty - is that the kind of project that, notwithstanding your commitment to getting emissions out of the air, that Tanya Plibersek might then approve?

PRIME MINISTER: It's the kind of project that Tanya Plibersek will make decisions about under law. And if I comment in any inappropriate way it could be justiciable and create issues. So I have no intention of doing so, nor does the minister.

TRIOLI: I guess I'm asking you about the principle here, which the Greens have been clear about, which is that you won't be able to get to the target you want if you continue to approve any new coal or gas projects.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Greens have a different position from Labor on these issues

TRIOLI: But you both have the same aim.

PRIME MINISTER: We do have the same aim in some areas. But the difference between us and the Greens party is we have a path to get there. You can't just transition an economy through rhetoric. You need to do it with coherent plans that make sure that you transition and grow the economy while you're doing it because that is the way that you can bring the Australian people and communities with you as well.

TRIOLI: Anthony Albanese is with you this morning, Prime Minister of Australia. We've just had an important sitting week of Parliament, Prime Minister, the Opposition is unhappy about a gesture that you made towards Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Sussan Ley, in Question Time yesterday. Here's Paul Fletcher responding to it:

PAUL FLETCHER: The Prime Minister made a dismissive gesture towards the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It was disrespectful to a sitting woman parliamentarian and asked him to withdraw.

TRIOLI: It was that sort of shooing gesture that one can make with hands. It wasn't caught by the cameras but those who were there saw it. Was that dismissive gesture disrespectful to Sussan Ley, and should you have withdrawn it?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, Virginia, people who watch Question Time will know that for over an hour yesterday there were gestures towards me, yelling towards me to sit down – there was disruption in the Parliament. People who ask questions should expect to hear the answer. The Coalition had a bad day yesterday. They continue to be completely disruptive during Question Time. I dismiss the comments as being totally hypocritical given the yelling that occurred every time I was on my feet, including non-stop gestures, yelling for me to sit down. And that's just part of the disruption.

TRIOLI: You’re saying what's good for the goose is good for the gander. You built a platform on wanting to make Parliament more respectful, in particular, to women.

PRIME MINISTER: I have been respectful and I'll continue to be. And we engage respectfully across the Parliament, in order to get the legislation through including with independents and crossbench members. The Opposition have chosen the road of disruption. That is what they're engaged in. And Paul Fletcher was on nought out of about 50 this week in terms of his points of order, trying to score cheap points rather than engage constructively in debate. And the Opposition counted themselves out of the debate on climate change when Peter Dutton, for reasons beyond my comprehension, ignored the mandate and ignored the message that the Australian people gave that they wanted action on climate change.

TRIOLI: Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan – turning to the important issue of China now, Anthony Albanese – it's put Australia in a very difficult position, hasn't it, of being right in the path of China's ire? Do you believe this will blow over now that she's left and she's in Japan? Or is China's anger going to turn into something more?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I want peace and security in the region. And Australia has said that we want no change to the status quo. That's also the position of the United States. I make no comment about the US Speaker’s decision to visit there. That really is a matter for them.

TRIOLI: But the situation that it puts us in – we now have to address this and your own Minister Penny Wong has been warning about this, warning that China's high profile exercises now around Taiwan could lead to accidental conflict. What position does it put us in? And what do we need to change that as a result of that visit?

PRIME MINISTER: We need to stay the course that we're on, which is to seek cooperation and positive relations with China where we can but stand up for Australian values and Australian national interests where we must. That includes the Law of the Sea, allowing for safe navigation and passage including through the South China Sea.

TRIOLI: I also wanted to talk to you about inflation today and about the Reserve Bank's movements right now. How much worse will inflation get? The UK is talking about 13 per cent right now. What are you thinking?

PRIME MINISTER: The Treasury estimates, and it was included in Jim Chalmers statement to the Parliament last week, that inflation will get a little bit worse between now and the end of the year. But once it peaks, it will reduce next year in 2023. So we don't see that it will hit the double figures that are being spoken about in Europe and in other some other destinations.

TRIOLI: I'm old enough to remember people losing their homes during the times of 18 per cent interest rates. Are many Australians going to lose their homes now with these rapid and repeated rate rises? Are you allowing and accounting for that?

PRIME MINISTER: I certainly hope not. Of course, interest rates are done independently, the Reserve Bank is responsible for monetary policy. We have had significant interest rate rises. That began before the election of the new government and were indicated and foreshadowed by the Reserve Bank.

TRIOLI: I just want to take you to my question about people actually not being able to service their mortgages here in Australia, and whether that's a live discussion amongst you and your colleagues now, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: We certainly hope that that is not the case. We want to see people to be able to prosper and to be able to pay their mortgages, but we understand that people are under real pressure. But we do know that it was not realistic to expect that interest rates would remain at almost zero levels, which they were at the beginning of this year.

TRIOLI: Of course, but I don't think anyone was recently asserting that might be the case. And of course the Reserve Bank is independent as your ministers keep saying. so nothing we can say here can influence them. So I don't think we need to be nervous about that. But do you believe there's another way for the bank to go now, in this inflationary environment? Do you and your colleagues and your Treasurer have a view that it's not just this approach that the bank is taking, given that, as I said, we can't influence them in any case, no matter what we say?

PRIME MINISTER: We respect the bank's independence. But what we have control over is fiscal policy and that works arm in arm with monetary policy. It's important that there be an analysis that ensures that they're not working against each other. And that is what we are trying to do. One of the things that the government can do is constrain spending through fiscal prudence and one of the reasons why we're bringing down a budget in October, given there was a budget just in March, is to go through line by line and look for savings that can be made, to rip the waste which is there out of the budget. That's part of the context of why we are doing that.

TRIOLI: We're about to speak to the Vice President of the Royal Australian College of GPs, who is warning that bulk billing is on the verge of collapse. Is a further increase in the Medicare rebate on the cards to help GP clinics sustain bulk billing?

PRIME MINISTER: We have a comprehensive plan for GPs including ways to support bulk billing. That's why it was at the centre of our Strengthening Medicare plan that we took to the election. The rebate was frozen when Peter Dutton was the Health Minister so many years ago and has stayed at the same rate. We are having the creation of at least fifty urgent care clinics that will provide bulk billing services. We also are providing for GP practices: grants of $25,000 for small practices, $50,000 for larger practices. But we also have our $750 million Strengthening Medicare plan that's all about GPs and that primary care. We'll be working with the AMA working with the College itself on the priorities for that investment because we understand the pressure that's on. If you don't fix GPs it puts more pressure on emergency departments more pressure on our health system.

TRIOLI: So given that they're warning of this collapse, and you're talking about the program that you took to the election, are you saying that this this warned collapse can be avoided? That it won't be the case?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm saying that our plan will have a real positive difference. We want to sit down and work with the College, work with the AMA, to make sure that that Medicare is strengthened. And the key to that, in terms of primary care, is our GP network. That's why we've made sure that the incentives which were taken away from some of the regional communities, communities such as Ballarat, are put back in. We are also looking at ways in which we attract more doctors to Australia, something that was also foregone in recent years by the former government.

TRIOLI: I understand, Prime Minister, you'll be taking a break next week.

PRIME MINISTER: I will, Virginia. I will be on leave next week, travelling in Australia, having a bit of a break – the first break I've had this year. And Richard Marles will be doing a great job, I'm sure, in my absence as acting Prime Minister.

TRIOLI: I note you're keen to emphasise there, Prime Minister, that you are holidaying in Australia. Have the shenanigans by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his misleading statements about where he was holidaying – has taking a break made this a more complex prospect for a Prime Minister to announce these days?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there are two issues. One is taking a break with security issues as more complex, I have found.

TRIOLI: They have to come with you?

PRIME MINISTER: Indeed. But secondly, I think that the lack of transparency that was there around Mr. Morrison's trip to Hawaii, when people didn't even know whether Michael McCormick was the acting Prime Minister, and at the time wouldn't say where he was – I just think that was a very unwise decision that added to the controversy, which was, in my view, pretty unnecessary had it been handled differently.

TRIOLI: Are you going to finally get time to listen to the records that Jacinda Ardern gave you or have you already done that?

PRIME MINISTER: I have done that. I've set up a vinyl player at the Lodge and that is a good thing. I have one there and it's added to the ambience at the Lodge. And the good news is that you're at a little bit of a distance from neighbours. So when appropriate, you can turn it up loud.

TRIOLI: I guess Paul Keating had Mahler so you're entitled to sit to blast some New Zealand independent music as well. Prime Minister, good to talk to you this morning. And I hope you'll come back more regularly. I just wanted to quickly make the point that one of the most successful Prime Ministers in the history of this country, John Howard, made it a regular thing to come on a program like this and answer calls from listeners and take talkback. That was one of his key strengths. I'm just hoping you might commit to something similar, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly, Virginia, and I do try to come into the studio. I look forward to seeing you in your nice Melbourne studio very soon.

TRIOLI: Excellent. We'll take some calls. Thanks so much for your time, Prime Minister, I appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Virginia.