Radio interview - ABC Melbourne Drive with Rafael Epstein

20 Jun 2022
Prime Minister
Energy; climate change; Julian Assange; economy; cost of living; global warming; Parliament; high school trends

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Welcome to the studio. I deliberately didn’t call him the Prime Minister just then, only because it is four weeks to the day since he was sworn in as Prime Minister. When you were first called Prime Minister, was that a bit weird? What did you think when someone used those words?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm getting used to it. It is sometimes strange when people who know me, who have worked for me for a long time, address me in that formal way if we're in meetings. But it's been a busy four weeks, I've got to say. It feels as though it's about three months. We had a chat on the night before the election, as you will recall, here in the studio. And that seems like many months ago. But I was determined, I said on that first day that I didn't want to waste a day. And I don't think anyone can argue that we have. They might not agree with everything we've done. But we've worked very hard. And we've put in place a new government, I think, quicker than any of the other transitions we've seen, really. We had the swearing in 9am on the Monday morning. That, of course, is very unusual. By Monday night I was in Tokyo and by Tuesday morning I was meeting with President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida and Prime Minister Modi. And we were outlining the Australian Government's new plan to deal with climate change and other issues.

EPSTEIN: I do want to come to climate change. I want to ask you about Julian Assange. And this refers directly to something you said when you were Opposition Leader. Is there any justification right now for the Americans pursuing him?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I stand by the comments that I made last year. These issues are sometimes, of course, best dealt with diplomatically and I intend to do that. I don't intend to make any further comments. The Attorney-General and Foreign Minister put out a very clear statement consistent with what I said last year in the last few days.

EPSTEIN: I'm just going to play you a little bit of Andrew Wilkie, so he's one of the independent MPs who was returned. You're clearly treading quietly, he doesn't want you to, let's just have a listen to him.

ANDREW WILKIE, RECORDING: I think I speak for, I know I speak for a lot of people when I say Anthony Albanese, you've got a good relationship with Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, please pick up the phone and demand that this madness aims. This is about right and wrong. This isn't about doing deals.

EPSTEIN: Have you picked up the phone? Have you spoken to the Americans?

PRIME MINISTER: I have no intention of conducting the international relations I hold as Prime Minister according to Andrew Wilkie’s tweets or comments. I intend to represent the nation in a way that the nation I think overwhelmingly would expect and, certainly, world leaders do. We did have a Prime Minister not so long ago who revealed text messages with President Macron. That didn't work out so well. If you actually want to deal with someone on a real basis and achieve outcomes in the national interest, rather than make a declaration. It's fine, I've got no problem with Andrew Wilkie saying whatever he wants to say as a crossbench, independent Member of Parliament. That's up to him. But I have a different responsibility and I intend to conduct myself in an appropriate way.

EPSTEIN: On the energy crisis, are we past the risk of blackouts?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I certainly hope so. And certainly the situation is looking better today than it was five days ago. We did have emergency measures really taken by the AEMO to suspend the national market and that was necessary.

EPSTEIN: The fact the market’s been suspended, the Premier Dan Andrews told us on Friday the rules need to change. Do the rules need to change to the point where you can see more of what the generators are doing? So if someone withdraws supply, you might have better line of sight to see if they're gouging on it. Do the rules need to change in that sense?

PRIME MINISTER: Transparency is always a good idea. But we'll have a look at what has occurred in in recent times, have a look at any improvements that might need to be made and be fully prepared to make them.

EPSTEIN: So if the people who run it tell you the rules need to change so they can see what the generators are doing, you'll change those rules?

PRIME MINISTER: At the moment, what we're trying to do is just get through the circumstances in which we're in. We have got them through without blackouts, without shedding. And that's been a great outcome, frankly. And Chris Bowen and indeed the state ministers as well and AEMO, the regulator, deserve a great deal of congratulations for that. These have been difficult times. But we will examine in an orderly way if there needs to be any policy changes.

EPSTEIN: The capacity mechanism you're talking about, which is effectively a way to in the future have spare capacity, you have to pay the generators to put that spare stuff aside. How does it help to get more renewables into the system if, with the capacity mechanism, you're paying for more coal and gas?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you're not necessarily doing it. That's the point. It's mode neutral.

EPSTEIN: It’s possible, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: What it's like as an insurance scheme, so that you joined RAVC or what have you in case your car breaks down, you pay a fee, and if it does, then you can always just pick up the phone and you get that assistance.

EPSTEIN: So it doesn't stop or it doesn't hinder the move to renewables?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn't. And if you look at what the Energy Security Board have said, they've made that very clear. What we need to do is to have the transition. But what we haven't done, I remember talking about this the night before the election, we haven't fixed transmission in this country. The Australian Energy Market Operator have had the integrated systems plan in place for years.

EPSTEIN: You took it off the shelf from the public servants, I appreciate that.

PRIME MINISTER: I took it out three years ago, in my first Budget Reply, said this is what we need to do, it’s all there.

EPSTEIN: But you're not rewarding bad behaviour. If you give more money to those coal and gas generators, there's some people who might have been gaming the system.

PRIME MINISTER: No we’re not. What we're what we are doing is making sure that the lights stay on. And that's pretty important. And part of winning support for the transition as we move to more renewables, and we'll be 82 per cent of the national energy market will be renewables by 2030 under our plan, part of what you have to do to secure that is to ensure that people are confident that when they turn on the light switch at home the lights will go on, but importantly, as well, that businesses can be confident that they'll continue to be able to operate, which means jobs in manufacturing and other sectors will continue to be able to be provided.

EPSTEIN: I'll come onto jobs in the economy in a moment. Anthony Albanese is with you, who is, of course, the Prime Minister of Australia. It's four weeks to the day since he was sworn in. I'll get to your texts and calls afterwards, don't worry, we'll put in the request, we'll get him to take calls one day.

PRIME MINISTER: I hadn’t thought that it was four days by the way.

EPSTEIN: Four weeks four weeks.

PRIME MINISTER: I hadn’t thought about that.

EPSTEIN: Sometimes it moves super-fast. Similar environmental issue for you. You know what the Greens’ stance is, you need their votes in the Senate. They don't want any more new coal and gas fired plants or any coal gas projects approved. Right now, if someone wants to get a new gas plant up, got to get the environmental approvals through, there's no emissions component to those environmental approvals. The greens and the independents want you to change that. Are you going to change that with the environmental approvals have an emissions element?

PRIME MINISTER: We're going to do what we said we were doing. Those environmental approvals, by and large, by the way, are state should not federal.

EPSTEIN: There’s sometimes a federal role.

PRIME MINISTER: By and large they’re state approvals. What the Federal Government can do, though, is to put in place, as we have, an overall policy. Powering Australia will result in 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. But some of this debate, I've got to say, take coal fired power stations, there is nothing to have stopped a coal fired power station being built over the last decade or more, it has been, except for reality, except for the market.

EPSTEIN: You aren't going to do anything to stop a new gas field, are you?

PRIME MINISTER: The market is determining the direction. And the direction of new energy policy in Australia is that. It overwhelmingly is going to renewables because that is the difference it's making. It's the cheapest form. I was in Gladstone last week. Rio Tinto, which have three big, an aluminium refinery and three big operations there. They employ 4500 people directly. The largest energy user in the country and moving to renewables. They are going to power that plant with new wind and new solar. They'll use gas for firming capacity in the short-term. But what they're also looking at is green hydrogen that simply isn't up to the commercial capacity at the moment. But that's where they want to go. And what that's about, they recognise that they're going to make about $15 billion, or there about, in investment in the capacity of their plant in order to have that 20-year future. Because they know once they make the capital investment, then that's paid back in a relatively short period of time. And then they're better off year after year after year. More competitive, able to compete not just domestically, but importantly, internationally as well.

EPSTEIN: I do want to get onto the economy, because it's clearly important. But just one more on the environment, or really on climate change. Your target of 43 per cent, that keeps us at, if everyone did that, that's two degrees of warming. That's not substantially beneath two degrees of warming. Two degrees of warming is terrible. There are a tonne of groups who say if everyone did what Australia's going to do under you, the world would be in a terrible place.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you look at what Australia is doing, as the economy that we are. I mean, we're an economy that was built in the last century off the success of fossil fuels, iron ore, resources.

EPSTEIN: Are you saying we can’t go faster?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm saying that we need to have a real plan that is actually achievable. We decided a policy framework and then it came out at 43 per cent by 2030.

EPSTEIN: You're not worried about a future of two degrees of warming?

EPSTEIN: You're not worried about a future of two degrees of warming?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not the way that global warming works, Raf.

EPSTEIN: But with climate change, you do it because you go, 'I set myself the goal, and I want the other countries to do that'.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's not right either, Raf. And you know enough about the way that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change operates. And you know that that's not the case. It's not everyone decides on the same figure.

EPSTEIN: But you set the example, right?

PRIME MINISTER: Everyone starts at where they are and does their best possible is what should be the objective. And I want the best outcome possible. I want, if we could, you know, wave a magic wand and have 100 per cent renewables tomorrow, with firming capacity, with battery storage, all of that, then great. But the truth is that's not possible. What you need to do is have a rational transition that is achievable. We will have a safeguards mechanism. We'll use that so that the 215 biggest emitters will have a choice of either reducing their emissions or dealing with it in other ways. So, it is a sensible plan. And when we signed off last week, and I spoke at an international forum, the Major Economies Forum, hosted by President Biden Friday night, you had all of the major economies around the world, we were, after John Kerry, then President Biden, then the UN Secretary General, then the Chair of the Conference of the Parties from Egypt was for the global agreement, we were the first country. Because we were applauded for the change in Australia's position that the change in government has meant. Now, if people want to reject that, they are actually out of touch with what's going on globally and the way that Australia's changed position has been received internationally. It is a significant change. And we are determined to drive that through. And that's why also, when we signed that pledge, it was supported by the Business Council of Australia Australian Industry Group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Clean Energy Council, the National Farmers' Federation. We can continue to have these arguments and nothing happened, which is what happened over 10 years under the former Government, or we can get something done, get progress. And I realise that some people might regard it as not perfect, but I'll tell you what, it is a practical plan that based on economic analysis, as well as been based on the science.

EPSTEIN: On the economy, are we going to head into a recession?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm very confident that the Australian economy can continue to grow. And part of that is the clean energy transition, getting cheaper energy, getting new industries.

EPSTEIN: These inflation numbers, we haven't had inflation numbers like this since the 90s. There's lots of bad indicators. We haven't had an interest rate bump like that since 2000. Are you confident we won't get a recession?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm confident that the economy will continue to grow, which means that we won't be in that circumstance. And part of that is about confidence in the economy. One of the things that's driving higher inflation, of course, is higher demand as well.

EPSTEIN: But it is not great, is it? I mean, I guess the supplementary questions, the whole wages, prices, inflation, a lot of people saying doom and gloom, we're heading back to something like that. Do you think the economy is going there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Reserve Bank have made it clear, as have the Fair Work Commission, that they don't see any evidence of a  wage price spiral developing. What we had last week was a decision by the Fair Work Commission of a 5.2 per cent increase for people on the minimum wage. They essentially said that if you're one of the poorest paid workers in Australia, you shouldn't have a real wage cut. And good on them for doing so.

EPSTEIN: You don't feel like you've come to power on the verge of an economic crisis?

PRIME MINISTER: We have some major challenges ahead of us. But that's because we had a Government stuck in neutral with 22 energy policies, none of them delivered, with no economic plan going forward, no plan for new industries, no plan for manufacturing. They were a Government that occupied the space and had the focus just on the 24-hour media cycle. Can you imagine if they were in charge over the last couple of weeks, Angus Taylor would have had five different announcements, not landed any of them, and it would have been far worse.

EPSTEIN: Labor's often come to power, I was reading on the weekend, just a few weeks before the 1929 stock market crash, Labor came to power. Labor came to power in 1941 just before World War Two got desperately, desperately serious. Gough Whitlam came to power at a time of real international economic turbulence. Kevin Rudd won a year or so ahead of the Global Financial Crisis. Do you think history is repeating in that sense?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm optimistic about Australia's future. And I'm optimistic as well of the plans that we have.

EPSTEIN: You don't feel jinxed as the Labor Party coming out of opposition?

PRIME MINISTER: I feel incredibly privileged to hold the position that I do. And I feel humbled by it. And I feel determined to do everything I can to realise the vision that I have, for a Government that leads a country, that's making more things here, that's providing opportunities for people to not be left behind, for the disadvantaged, and to look after vulnerable people and bring them along with us. But also, to look after aspiration and opportunity. I think we are positioned, as well, in a number of ways, with incredible opportunity, not the least of which is we're in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. We have an opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower if we get it right, if we seize those opportunities which are there before us right now.

EPSTEIN: I'll get to some traffic in a moment. If you want to let everyone know what you think of what you're hearing from the new Prime Minister, I'll get to those calls on 1300 222 774. Just a few quick ones on the text, if I can ask you. Number one, are you going to review negative gearing?


EPSTEIN: Please ask him why he won't repeal the stage three tax cuts.

PRIME MINISTER: Because they are legislated. And people deserve certainty. We said it. And I intend to do what I said I would do. I intend to be a Prime Minister who keeps the commitments that we made.

EPSTEIN: Can you see a bit of legislation passing with the Greens plus the new United Australia Party Senator? We just got one in Victoria. Is there legislation that might pass with the Greens plus one Palmer Senator?

PRIME MINISTER: Who knows? The Parliament can be a funny place sometimes. And sometimes people will vote in ways that you sort of scratch your head, not least we've been talking a bit about climate change, had the Greens voted for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009, history would have been very different. So, from time to time, you'll get political parties vote in ways that are unexpected. So, I don't know the UAP guy.

EPSTEIN: Couldn't get him on the radio.

PRIME MINISTER: I don't even know his name. There you go.

EPSTEIN: Some real estate agent. We had Craig Kelly on. Okay, promise that this is the final question. We've just been talking about trends and fads when people were at school. I can't actually remember. I think I might have known what decade you were in high school. But what's the trend or fad that comes from to mind from high school? Do you remember what people were doing?


EPSTEIN: Like footy cards?

PRIME MINISTER: Footy cards. And you played footy cards and competed against each other.

EPSTEIN: The one that got closer won the card.

PRIME MINISTER: That, or the multiple one was you had to flick and you had to land on top of another card. So, you might win like 30 cards.

EPSTEIN: So, you would win the other person's cards?

PRIME MINISTER: You win the lot. Whatever was on the floor.


PRIME MINISTER: So, rugby league cards, so that was a big trend.

EPSTEIN: We had that. That was good fun. I can't remember it was called. Thanks for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER: I found my old footy cards. I found a shoebox full of them.

EPSTEIN: Really? Are they worth any money?

PRIME MINISTER: I have no idea. I'm keeping them. I am sentimental like that.

EPSTEIN: Was that part of the move to the Lodge?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven't moved yet. I'm packing up things. There's a bunch of stuff at the Lodge. There's some stuff at Kirribilli. But there's still stuff at Marrickville. So, I've been a bit busy, frankly, to pack. And I think you know about my background too, Raf. My mum died 20 years ago in May. And so, she lived in the one house her whole life.

EPSTEIN: And now, you have got three.

PRIME MINISTER: So, I have stuff from not just my mum, from her parents as well.

EPSTEIN: You've really got stuff from your mum's parents?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, I do. Because they all moved together. So, I will deal with this at some stage.

EPSTEIN: I appreciate you coming in. Thanks a lot.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.

EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese is the new Prime Minister of Australia.