Anika Wells MP on ABC Weekend Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Cop26 and net zero target.                                                  

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: The Australian Government has set its net zero by 2050 target after Mr Morrison received support from the Nationals. Let’s get more now from our political panel. And we’re now joined by Liberal MP Dr Katie Allen. We’re also joined by Labor MP Anika Wells. Thank you to you both for joining us today.

IBRAHIM: Now Cop26, it’s you know from everything that we’ve read and from all the experts that we’ve spoken to it’s no longer about 2050. That target really is all about 2030 more than anything else. Cop26 will be talking about targets that can be reached in nine years’ time. Australia though, still focusing on targets to be reached in 29 years’ time. Katie Allen if I could start with you. You were part of a group of Liberal members pushing for a definitive emissions target. Why didn’t you push harder for a 2030 target?
ALLEN: Well Fauziah, we took 2030 to the last election and we said that we would reduce them by 26 to 28 per cent. But what we’re actually doing is not only are we committed to that, but then we’re going to beat it. And the projections now say that it’s up to 35 per cent of emissions will be reduced.
IBRAHIM: You’re not actually going to beat it though are you? It’s not the federal government that’s actually going to beat it. It’s the action of the state governments, it’s the action of business sectors, the action of local community and the federal government is taking credit for it.
ALLEN: Oh I think that’s contested actually. The emissions reduction fund which has had two and half billion dollars invested into it, which includes Snowy hydro but also investment in emissions reductions in agriculture sectors, reforestation. So there’s a lot of funding that’s gone into vegetation and that’s what captures the carbon.
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Anika Wells, of course Labor is not in government at the moment. But opposition is an important role, especially since we are heading into a federal election before too long. Is Labor holding off to see sort of the temperature, the vibe that comes out of Glasgow before they release more details on their plan? And what can we expect from Labor’s plan?
WELLS: Well firstly, brutal opening Jo to remind me that we are in opposition and that we don’t have our hands on the levers for such an important policy that’s going to affect Australia’s economy for generations to come. You’re right, we do want to see what comes out of Glasgow. Because the role of opposition is to scrutinise government policy and try and improve it. And we, like the rest of the country, were given the government’s net zero plan when the Prime Minister tabled it in Question Time on Wednesday. And he flew out to Glasgow on Thursday. So really skidding into deadline on Australia’s worst group assignment. But flippancy aside, my constituents and I’m sure Katie’s constituents are really worried about this. And don’t want us to now jump to some fake political deadline given by the Prime Minister about a target. Less than 72 hours after he’s submitted his homework, after three years of knowing this Glasgow deadline was coming. Australians have had 10 years of climate wars. They want to know if the Morrison government’s now going to do the absolute bare minimum, that we will have done everything in our power to give them the best possible alternate solution.
IBRAHIM: You know Katie Allen, Australia will be in the same group as China, India and Russia in resisting calls to set a deadline to end coal production. When you met the Prime Minister and you told him climate change is the top priority for your electorate, I wonder now whether you’re comfortable with Australia being lumped within this group of China, India and Russia?
ALLEN: What we’re looking at is, the big producers of fossil fuels. And there’s no denying Australia has been a big producer of fossil fuels. That’s how we’ve had so much prosperity quite frankly. And what we need to do now is transition off that. So I’m a big supporter of making sure we transition off fossil fuels and build a big renewable future. Now that’s going to take time and we need to do it in the economically responsible way. So I’ve always been very clear. We can’t make false promises, we need to deliver outcomes. And that’s why we’ve invested in committing $20 billion to unleash $80 billion from the free market. What we see is a different approach to what Labor does, which is offer targets without committing plans and providing principles. So our principles is about technology not taxes. It’s about choice, consumer choice, not mandates. And you can see the way different governments are dealing with covid. You can see the difference between Victoria and NSW. So the philosophical, fundamental approach of having the free markets, the consumer. And allowing governments to enable the free market to get us to that clean, green future. With incentives of kickstarting technology like hydrogen, like green aluminium, green steel, green cement. About carbon capture utilisation and storage and clean soils and battery storage investments. Those are all the meat and potatoes of what we’re going to invest in. We have been very clear about our principles and our processes.
NICHOLSON: But Katie Allen the government’s plan still does lack a lot of detail. And in part is relying on technological advances that haven’t happened yet. So given what’s at stake and what we’re being told by the science. Why is the government relying on something that they hope will happen, rather than guaranteed outcomes?
ALLEN:  Well let’s just look back to the start of Covid. There was a lot of hope that there would be a vaccine. And I have to say as a medical researcher, I was rather cynical that we would be able to develop one in a timely manner that was safe and effective. And in fact we’ve had more than one. We’ve had many. And in fact mRNA vaccines had never been successful ever, before covid came along. And no one could have predicted that mRNA vaccines would be so successful. And so the same is true for energy. We know the ones that work. We know for instance hydrogen is going to be a centre plank for Australia. We have lots of wind and sun. We need to bottle that sunshine and that wind into something like hydrogen. And I went out to a hydrogen hub in the ACT. And it used recycling, used renewable energy from the grid. They had a hydrogen electrolizer where they cracked open water. They made it they made it into a pump. And we actually filled up an electric vehicle with hydrogen and drove around the block. Now that’s the future right here, right now. That’s a demonstration project that Woodside is developing. But the interesting thing is it’s very expensive at the moment. So what we need to do is focus on making hydrogen under $2 a kilogram so it can be commercially competitive and that is our future, those sorts of projects. But at the moment we don’t know which of the projects. Whether it’s batteries or whether it’s sorry, whether it’s batteries or whether it’s hydrogen or whether it’s big hydro. What is going to be the firming power of the future? That’s the critical question at the moment. We’ve got a diversified portfolio. That is about how does technology get Australia to this new opportunity that the markets here and in Asia Pacific and around the world and going to offer us. And I really think it’s a very big moment for Australia. That we’re moving past the climate wars to an agreed position. That Australia is going to lean into the opportunities the world needs to have solved.
IBRAHIM: I think you’re not the only person who wants people to move away from the climate wars as well. Anika I’ll get to you in just a moment. You know but a lot of political watchers and the Australian electorate are seeing this climate debate in Australia for what it actually is. It’s a debate about electoral seats rather than the actual technology, the actual path to actually get there. Anika, this is where I want to bring you in. You’re the member for Lilley in Queensland. And Queensland has been a big hold back when it comes to climate change debate. It’s a seat that you narrowly won in the last election. Labor’s margin in that seat has narrowed from 5.7 per cent to now 1 per cent.
WELLS: 0.65 actually, you doubled my margin.
IBRAHIM: Alright. Are you concerned that your push for stronger climate change action may actually mean that Labor will lose that seat?
WELLS: Not at all. And if I go down it will be on the strength of my convictions. But I don’t think that that’s the case. Because I’ve doorknocked more than 20,000 homes now across the campaign and this term. And climate action is a really important issue for people in Lilley. Because they understand and see through just this absolute desperate nonsense coming from the government. I mean I’m desperate to pick up some of the points there. That the thing about vaccines was a technology that we got, we didn’t know was coming thanks to covid. Oxford University worked on that for 15 years because of things like SARS in order to be ready when the moment came to produce a vaccine. The Morrison government has not been working on climate solutions for 15 years. The Morrison government’s been actively stopping them for 15 years. And the idea that this has to be a net zero plan that isn’t about mandates, this government isn’t about mandates. This government relentlessly pursued vulnerable Australians over Robodebt for years. So for them now to try and use that as a fig leave to cover their own desperate actions is pretty insulting. So no I don’t think constituents are going pin me for fighting for climate action. I think constituents want an end to the climate wars and some bipartisanship. We’ve held back on our plan on finalising those details because there was a chance that the Morrison government would come to the table with the kinds of things that people like President Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asking them to do. They haven’t done that. That’s really disappointing. So now we will have to improve it.
IBRAHIM: You know Katie Allen just going back to the constituents, the issue of constituents. You’re the Member for Higgins in Melbourne and you told Prime Minister that climate change is a major concern for your electorate. You seem to basically be the representation of the inner-city discussion that’s being held. But many people in the regions and the rural areas are saying well it’s fine for you to be chatting about that in the inner-city areas but what about our lifestyle? What about our livelihoods here in the regions? And you know rural areas as well. How do you bridge that gap, that discussion?
ALLEN: Thanks Fauziah. Look that’s an extremely important point. I come from Albury. I grew up in Albury. I’ve got lots of relatives, my cousins live in Rutherglen, they’re viviculturists, they grow wine. They know the seasons are changing. And my sister and sister-in-law live in Port Lonsdale and Castlemaine and they say they want action on climate. But they want it to be economically sound. And so there is absolutely no doubt that of course, I’m in inner city so I don’t represent the regions. But that’s one of the advantages of having the discussion, the debate out in the open that we’ve had with the Nationals. We’ve heard from those Nationals that represent seats that will see climate in a very different frame. And that’s why sometimes it looks very contentious. But having those debates out in the open and then coming together and making a decision, which we have now done. We have a commitment, we’ve heard, the Nationals are behind the plan. So yes it is a furious debate. But that’s the point of democracy. We are united behind the 2050 target and the 2050 plan.
NICHOLSON: Anika Wells you say that we need a strong plan to tackle climate change. And Labor hasn’t revealed its plan as of yet. But what would you personally like to see in terms of targets and specifics in Labor’s plan?
WELLS: Well we’ve outlined some of the elements of the plan. One thing that I’m really pleased with is that we’ve persisted with our electric vehicle strategy. Because I know a lot of Australians want to do the right thing. They want hybrid vehicles, they want electric vehicles but they’re just too expensive. So we need to cut taxes on them to make them more affordable for people. And that’s Labor’s plan that the government has yet to sign up to. I think if you look at what the US is doing with respect to their 2030 target they’re aiming for 50 per cent. The BCA has said in the past week or two that their aim is now 46 to 50 per cent. New South Wales, the Liberal government has said that they are aiming for 50 per cent. There is a road map there. These things are possible. We can be a lot more courageous and we can be a lot more I guess, positive about these technologies, these targets, than what the government has let us be so far. When they talk about $20 billion of technology getting us there not taxes. Isn’t it our taxpayer money that’s paying for those $20 billion in technology? It’s a question I’d like Katie to answer.
NICHOLSON: But just so, does that mean that we can expect a target, a mid-term target from Labor of around 50 per cent.
WELLS: No. I am not the shadow minister for climate change. Shadow Minister Bowen will, we will be very clear, I suspect within weeks. But we do need to see what happens at Glasgow so that we can finalise our plan and our roadmap towards both 2030 and 2050.
IBRAHIM: Just lastly Katie you know I want you to answer Anika Wells’s question there. About how will all this be paid for if it’s not through taxes?
ALLEN: Well it’s $20 billion to partner and unleash $80 billion. So the difference between us and Labor. And Labor has a mandate, top-down approach. Which is they’re going to invest and control the energy sector. We’re about enabling the commercial-isable outcomes. So we’re about investing in very targeted way. Which is kickstarting innovative programmes and helping new startups to get where they need to get to. So it’s about enabling an outcome, it’s not about mandating an outcome. Now it is interesting that Labor is waiting to hear what the international community is going to say. So that seems a very odd way to lead a country.
IBRAHIM: Alright we’re going to have to leave the discussion there. But we thank you both so much for coming on Weekend Breakfast and chatting with us on this very complex issue. Anika Wells there and Katie Allen, thank you so much.
ALLEN: Thank you so much.
WELLS: Bye bye