KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles and the Shadow Minister for Disability, Senator Mitch Fifield. Gentlemen, good to see you both.
I want to ask you Senator Fifield first of all about the Cate Blanchett advertisement criticised by Barnaby Joyce, one of your Coalition colleagues and others, why shouldn't she have her say, what can't she front this advertisement?
MITCH FIFIELD: Look she’s got every right to front this advertisement but one of the surprising things for me is, not only did Julia Gillard abrogate responsibility to the Australian people by lying about not introducing a carbon tax, she’s abrogated responsibility for her ability to explain what she’s doing. She’s got everyone out there trying to explain this tax other than her own ministers. So you've got Ross Garnaut who’s doing public meetings, you've got the Climate Change Commission undertaking public meetings and now you've got actors out there.
And I know from the Republican campaign and I'm a Republican that often it’s the kiss of death for a campaign when the actors are deployed. But Julia Gillard should be out there. I think the person who’s most of all missing in action is Wayne Swan, he’s the Treasurer. This is supposedly a major economic reform. This is a big new tax and the Treasurer is completely missing in action.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you're talking about the actors and I did ask you about the actors so yeah that’s fair enough, I won't be critical of that, but what about the others who signed on, a couple of Liberal figures there, Malcolm Fraser, John Hewson?
MITCH FIFIELD: I'm less concerned what former prime ministers think about the carbon tax than I am about the behaviour of the current prime minister who told a bold-faced lie to the Australia people. She said there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead. There is going to be a carbon tax if she has her way.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is the Government abrogating responsibility Richard Marles, and offloading it to Michael Caton and Rebecca Gibney? I saw that she signed that open letter today as well.
RICHARD MARLES: Well Mitch is being gracious about Cate Blanchett’s right to have her say. Of course all the people that you mention have a right to voice their opinion and actually I didn't see any of the Liberals out there as Barnaby Joyce was in relation to Cate Blanchett when Gina Rinehart and Twiggy Forest were campaigning to keep the profits with the mining companies. I mean what we've seen from Barnaby Joyce really shows the glass jaw of conservative politics here.
Look the Government has been out there. Greg Combet’s in the paper today, Wayne Swan is in the paper today in relation to the climate change debate. And of course Julia Gillard’s been on the front foot as well. She’s making sure that all the ministers are out there campaigning on this issue as they should be because this is one of the great issues facing our country today.
KIERAN GILBERT: How important is the next week Richard Marles with the Garnaut Report out tomorrow apparently going to look at complementary measures of renewable energy fund which sounds like it’s going to be a key point to get the Greens over the line. And also the Productivity Commission Report which is going to analyse what the rest of the world is doing. Now if this comes in light on and it shows that China isn't doing as much as we're being told and other countries are not doing as much, you might not get Tony Windsor on board for this. He said this morning that we'll be lemmings off a cliff if other countries aren't doing stuff.
RICHARD MARLES: Other countries are acting on climate change and we're going to see that in the coming days with the reports you've mentioned coming out. These are very important pieces in the jigsaw puzzle and I think you're really seeing momentum going forward on what is a really crucial debate for this country. The voice that is missing here is the voice of the opposition. I mean all we hear is this constant negativity…
KIERAN GILBERT: But you're confident that the Productivity Commission will show that there’s enough happening to ensure Tony Windsor’s on board because he said this morning on the doors of parliament; if the world was serious on carbon tax, I'm serious, if the world’s not moving, we're lemmings off a cliff.
RICHARD MARLES: Well that comment gives me confidence about where Tony Windsor will end up because the world is serious in relation to action on climate change. We must make sure that we are not left behind. That’s the real issue here. If we are left behind and our economy gets left behind then that is going to be an ultimate job destroyer for Australian industry and for the Australian people. That’s why we need to move on this now.
KIERAN GILBERT: This is a very important report, this Productivity Commission report in conjunction with Professor Garnaut’s report out tomorrow because it’s going to set the context globally on what’s happening. Now if it does say, I know we're hypothesising at the moment but it’s only a couple of day, probably tomorrow that we see the detail. If it does show that the rest of the world is acting, you've got a bit of a fight on your hands as well to explain to people why we should not be mobilising on this.
MITCH FIFIELD: I can tell you now, the rest of the world is not introducing a carbon tax. The rest of the world is not in isolation penalising their own industries. That’s what this government wants to do, and business understand that clearly. We've had the AI Group come out and say that they think that there should only be a $10 per tonne price on carbon. That’s effectively them saying there shouldn't be a carbon tax…
RICHARD MARLES: They're saying there should be action. The BCA’s saying there should be action.
MITCH FIFIELD: ACCI have said there should be no action…
RICHARD MARLES: Fifteen energy companies are saying there should be action.
MITCH FIFIELD: …and these other business organisations are saying there should be an extremely low carbon tax. That’s their way of saying…
KIERAN GILBERT: Fifteen energy companies though today backing it?
RICHARD MARLES: Well, why are they saying anything at all if this is all rubbish, and if the rest of the world isn't moving, why are they saying anything at all? The fact of the matter is, look, their action here is a really significant change in this debate. It shows that there really is public support for this. We need to see action.
And it isolates the Liberal Party on the extreme edge of this debate - half full of climate deniers coming up with a half-baked idea which is going to cost the Australian public billions of dollars and do nothing but add extra tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, let’s get Senator Fifield’s response, but also in detail on the energy companies who've come out and backed that, backed this today.
MITCH FIFIELD: Look, a lot of business, businesses and business organisations know that they've got to pay lip service to a carbon tax because the Labor Party is very good at punishing organisations that don't say the right things publicly. So when you hear a business lobby say, oh look, we think there should be a carbon tax but it should only be at $10 per tonne, I mean, you've got to get real. That’s them effectively saying no, we don't think that there should be one but we're going to pay lip service because we don't want to be abused, we don't want to be targeted by the Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Richard, what do you say to that?
RICHARD MARLES: When you take that idea that companies feel a need to kowtow to the Government, that’s not what I saw with the mining companies last year. They weren't particularly shy about issuing their opinion about what should happen with our tax system.
The fact of the matter is AIG and BCA have come out saying there should be action. The reason they've come out saying that is because they think there should be action because there needs to be…
KIERAN GILBERT: But not much action - $10 per tonne’s not much to write home about…
RICHARD MARLES: The critical point is they're saying we need to start to move and they're saying that for a reason because they see the rest of the world is moving and they don't want us to be left behind, and we can't be left behind.
KIERAN GILBERT: One of the distractions for you on the Liberal side of politics in the last week or so has been some internal divisions coming to the surface. It’s unusual given you're so far in front in the polls that this sort of stuff would emerge. Why did it?
MITCH FIFIELD: I think if you look at the period since Tony Abbott has become leader, this has been probably the most united opposition that there’s been in recent Australian political history. There will in any opposition be the odd bit of untidiness, and that’s really all that we've seen.
This is an incredibly united team. Our senior leadership group is rock solid and everyone’s behind Tony Abbott because he’s doing a great job prosecuting the case that this government want to increase cost of living pressures.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joe Hockey said yesterday, Senator Fifield, that people need to put the ambition of the nation ahead of their own personal ambition. Who’s he - who is he directing that comment to?
MITCH FIFIELD: I think he’s just reminding colleagues that ultimately, look, it’s not about you, it’s about the constituents that you serve, and I think that’s a good reminder for all politicians. We've got to focus on the people’s business; we've got to focus on the job of being a credible alternative government, and that’s what we're doing.
KIERAN GILBERT: That was something that Tony Abbott said last week, that you're lead could be fleeting, ephemeral. Now tell me, what do you think of that email that was sent by the Chief Opposition Whip? Was that appropriate to name and shame five of your colleagues in front of everyone, including Malcolm Turnbull, saying they showed great disrespect for the party?
MITCH FIFIELD: Sure, absolutely. I mean, the Whip’s business is discipline. They're a little bit like the military police. They cut across the hierarchy, they supersede that. Their job is to make sure that people should do what they're meant to do.
And you know, let’s face it, you know, we're voted in and we're paid to turn up and to vote, and that’s what all colleagues should do.
KIERAN GILBERT: Then the bottom line is, Richard, that the same sorts of things happen on your side of politics, and the Coalition, despite this couple of hiccups, they're still well in front in the opinion polls.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, there’s been a lot of newsprint in the last couple of days for just a little bit of untidiness or a hiccup, as you put it, Kieran.
The fact of the matter is, Tony Abbott doesn't stand for anything. His constant negativity has masked over the fact that he doesn't offer a single solution to any problem being faced by this country today, and a whole lot of Liberals are calling him on it.
We don't know what he stands for on plain packaging on tobacco. We don't know what he stands for in relation to a carbon price. Malcolm Fraser was absolutely right on this one: we don't know what he stands for because he’s already changed his mind. Who knows where he'll end up because who knows where he'll end up on anything.
This is a guy who said you can't believe him unless he puts it in writing. He said that he supports pragmatism over policy, and I can't see how any of that…
KIERAN GILBERT: But he’s well in front, he’s well in front.
RICHARD MARLES: I can't see how any of that is good for the Australian…
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, he’s well in front in the opinion polls, so obviously the public like what they see to a degree.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, if you want to talk about opinion polls, we're doing difficult things. We're facing what is a real problem for this country in terms of our dependency upon carbon and we're trying to do something about it. That’s a hard thing to do. Easy to wreck, hard to build.
KIERAN GILBERT: Richard Marles and Senator Mitch Fifield, great to see you. Thanks for that.
MITCH FIFIELD: Thanks Kieran.
RICHARD MARLES: Thanks Kieran.
KIERAN GILBERT: That’s all for this edition of AM Agenda.
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