KIM LANDERS:

The bitter internal fight in the Coalition over energy policy is intensifying with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott being accused of damaging Australia’s reputation overseas and his own political credibility.  The criticism comes from International Development Minister and former Abbott ally, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who has just returned from a UN sponsored conference on the World’s Oceans.  She spoke with Tom Iggulden.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

We live in one of the most disaster prone areas of the world.  Seven out of the ten most disaster prone countries are actually in our region and so climate and climate events are very important to our Pacific neighbours and of course from Australia’s perspective, we are committed to the Paris Agreement.  We are on track to meet our commitments.

TOM IGGULDEN:

You say we’re on track to meet those targets, but I suppose a spanner was thrown in the works last week by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  He said that our targets in this area were aspirational.  He of course was the Prime Minister that devised them.  How do you think that is likely to go down with our neighbours that you have so much contact with?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, the Paris targets were an iron clad commitment and …

TOM IGGULDEN:

You disagree with former Prime Minister Abbott then?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I think you just have to look at what was happening and what was said at the time and I think at the time Prime Minister Abbott, when the target was set at 26 to 28 per cent it was very categoric in the media releases that went out: “Australia will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions so they are 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.”

And as the then Prime Minister Abbott said, at the time: “There is a definite commitment to 26 per cent but we believe” that under our policies “the circumstances that we think will apply, that can go to 28 per cent.”

And again in September 2015, he said: “… we have pledged a 26 to 28 per cent cut by 2030” and most importantly “Unlike some other countries which make these pledges and don’t deliver, Australia does deliver when we make a pledge.”

TOM IGGULDEN:

So that seems cut and dry doesn’t it?  This is a definitive commitment in your mind?  He’s saying we’ve made a pledge and we’re going to stick to it?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well that is what he said, so to say that it’s aspirational and not binding now is in direct contradiction, I think, to what Prime Minister Abbott, then Prime Minister Abbott said.

TOM IGGULDEN:

Mr Abbott would no doubt argue, and in fact has argued, that power prices and their escalation trump all of the arguments here, including our commitments to the UN that we should be focussing on that, that the Coalition is the party of lower power prices and that ground shouldn’t be ceded to Labor.  Does he have a point there as a Prime Minister who has won an election on these issues?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, I think in the end what’s very important in this discussion, particularly as we are having now on electricity, is that electricity has to be affordable, it has to be reliable and it also has to meet international commitments that we have given and we gave these commitments and they were agreed to by Prime Minister Abbott when he was Prime Minister.

Now, I respect Tony’s views as a former Prime Minister and now a backbencher to express his views, and I respect that, but this is a total about-face and that we’ve gone from iron clad guarantees which have been promulgated internationally, not just to our international commitments and to our international partners, but also most importantly, to those people who are now making investment and need certainty of policy framework to make those investments and so therefore I think it’s, it is an issue now for Tony.  I mean he’s done an about-face on this.  

TOM IGGULDEN:

Is his credibility damaged in the party room do you think, with these constant outbursts on this subject?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I think credibility is a very important commodity in politics and I think that any Prime Minister will be judged - any former Prime Minister will be judged - and I have said this before, will be judged on what they’ve actually done when they were in Government, not on what they say they should have done or could have done subsequently.

Now, if Tony didn’t think that commitment to the Paris Agreement was such a good thing, well 2015 was the time to have that discussion.  2015 was the time to say that, rather than give the sort of iron clad commitments that he gave on behalf of Australia in an international environment and now we are in this situation.

TOM IGGULDEN:

You’d have once been seen as a factional ally if you like of Tony Abbott, someone from the right of the Liberal Party and someone who may have needed a little more persuading than others about some of the climate change issues.  People might be surprised to hear you talking about this way, about these issues.  What would you say to those people?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

I do take Tony on face-value when he says that he does not want to see Bill Shorten become Prime Minister.  But now we need to work as a team.  I mean under the Labor Party …

TOM IGGULDEN:

You think he’s not working as part of a team at the moment?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well we need to work better as a team.  I don’t want to see another six years of fiscal vandalism under Shorten, Bowen and Chalmers.  When we came into power, we had to clean up the mess and now we are faced with those circumstances.  So, it’s vitally important …

TOM IGGULDEN:

Is there a risk that if Tony Abbott keeps up these kind of outbursts, that Bill Shorten could be delivered into power?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I’m just saying that we need to work as a team. 

KIM LANDERS:

International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells speaking with Tom Iggulden.

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