Interview with Matthew Doran, ABC Afternoon Briefing

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Bali bombing memorial service, global methane pledge, New Zealand’s 'burp tax’

Matthew Doran, Host: Tim Ayres, I want to start with you on one of the issues that is prompting a lot of discussion today and that is this video that was aired at a memorial service in Bali, some pretty graphic vision included in that, which has upset many of the people who were at that vigil. How concerned are you that this popped up at a time when so many people are still clearly grieving and reliving that fateful day 20 years ago?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: Well, it's obviously deeply hurtful for the people who were there and deeply distressing for Australians who are hearing about it. I can say that I was in Bali to represent Australia at the G20 just a few weeks ago. I, as the last Minister there, before the 20th anniversary of this terrible event, the Bali bombings, I laid a wreath on behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people at the Bali Memorial. And I met with Australians and with local Balinese people who were there during the tragedy, there during that brutal event. And I can tell that you the scars run very deep, of course, here in Australia; but they also, for local Balinese people who were engaged in the work of working with victims of the bombing in its immediate aftermath, the scars and the trauma are very deep. Eighty-eight Australians killed in this bombing; 38 Indonesians. The scars of this run very deep. It's obviously deeply regrettable that this happened. The Australian Government's made its position clear.

The Australian Government held an event on the morning of the 20th anniversary within the Australian Consulate where families of victim and survivors were invited to attend and there were, as got extensive coverage, properly, on the day, ceremonies round around Australia.

Doran: Matt Canavan, do you have any opinions on how this could have actually occurred?

Matt Canavan, Seantor for QLD: Look, I really don't know enough about it, except to echo Tim's comments there – obviously deeply regrettable. However, I also think the last few days here in Australia have been a good time to reflect on what happened. There's been a lot of coverage of that, and it's right and proper that we never forget the unspeakable evil that was inflicted on innocent Australians 20 years ago. And notwithstanding what seems to be here an inappropriate reflection, the great positivity over the last 20 years has been we've defeated those evil forces, because their objectives were completely not achieved by ourselves and Indonesia becoming stronger partners in this shared grief.

These terrorists were clearly trying to put a schism between our countries, our two cultures, but in some respects now Australia and Indonesia, and Bali in particular, will forever be closer because of that shared grief and we should always remember on these anniversaries, it's been appropriate to do that in this 20th year anniversary.

Doran: Let's turn to one of the issues that has been picked up on today, and this is reaction, Tim Ayres, to the news out of New Zealand that the country there is considering, it's been colloquially termed a burp tax, a tax on methane emissions in the agricultural sector. Your colleague Murray Watt was very clear today that Labor in Australia is not considering anything like that but is considering joining up to this global methane pledge to cut emissions in that sector. Do you understand why some members of the agricultural sector would be worried about what this actually means for their lives and livelihoods?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, the Government's going to consult very broadly with the agriculture sector on this question. As Murray Watt pointed out – Murray Watt the Agriculture Minister pointed out – this morning, this is an aspirational framework. It's supported by 120 countries around the world to date, including major beef exporters Argentina, the United States and others. But we'll work closely with the red meat exporters. What we won't take, though, is advice from this – from the opposition. Remember just a few weeks ago when the Government was dealing with foot‑and‑mouth crisis on our doorstep. The people in the National Party were out there trying to drive a wedge and politicise this issue, not representing the interests of farmers or the cattle industry or the lamb industry, trying to politicise this issue. The industry doesn't need that kind of division. What we need is a careful consideration of these issues, proper engagement with the sector, which Murray Watt has been doing ably and we'll work towards a decision from Government on this question.

Doran: Matt Canavan, keen for your views on the methane issue, but a direct response to that on the foot‑and‑mouth?

Canavan: Well, Tim's a very professional politician there, isn't he? He was quick to distract completely from the question you asked on to a totally unrelated issue and I think that's because the Labor Party has something to hide here. It was just five months ago that we were at an election and the methane pledge, the methane agreement was a live topic of discussion at the Glasgow conference last year, so if the Labor Party wanted to sign up to this pledge, they should have been upfront and honest with the Australian people just five months ago before the election, but it looks like they hoodwinked and tricked us again. There's a pattern of behaviour now. Because also before the election, the Labor Party promised us a $270 reduction in electricity prices. They've already dumped that. So, any commitment the Labor Party now makes to the agriculture sector about not putting a tax in place or not putting regulations to achieve this methane pledge cannot be trusted, because they couldn't be trusted to deliver the electricity price reductions in their election promise just a few months ago.

I'd also make the point, that in New Zealand, where they're now putting on this burp tax, just a few years ago the Ardern Government said agriculture would be exempted from their net zero plans and, wouldn't you know it, within a few years, what starts as an aspiration, becomes a commitment, becomes a tax, becomes a higher price for everybody in the community to have to pay for it.

Doran: Murray Watt was quite keen to say today that this global methane pledge, as an aside from the burp tax – I'm glad that's catching on, the burp tax there – he says the global methane pledge, it's not a binding situation on a Government; it's an aspirational situation, keen to stress that from his perspective the agriculture sector farms shouldn't worried about quotas being put on livestock numbers or anything like that.

Canavan: Well, we've heard this before. It's what we were told about Paris and what we were told about net zero emissions. It was an aspiration and there wouldn't be a tax and, before you know it, we learn this week that Australians are going to have to pay an extra thousand dollars a year in their electricity bills because of this mad obsession to rush to renewable energy. We're up $300 this year and the Alinta CEO said a 35 per cent increase is coming next year, so it'll add up to a thousand bucks. And, so, this has been done time and time again. If the Labor Party wants to sign up to this pledge, it's about time we dropped the “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to these major issues, because tell us exactly how much this is going to cost?

I mean, methane is not just involved in the production of your red meat. It's involved in gas, involved in petrochemical products, involved in all hardware products, use petrochemicals – medical PPE. All this sort of stuff. Do a proper assessment of how much this is going to cost because this has not been done in past and that's why in the end households end up having to pay the bill after they're promised some kind of fantasy before the commitment is made.

Doran: A right of reply to you, Tim Ayres?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, Matt's just sort of made my point really.

Canavan: What's it gonna cost? Tell me how much it's gonna cost?

Assistant Minister for Trade: We're going to see more of this behaviour, really – alarmism, false claims, we're –

Canavan: Point out what I said was false [Laughs]?

Assistant Minister for Trade: We're in the $100 lamb roast territory already with Matt.

Canavan: I didn't say that, so tell me what I said was false, Tim?

Assistant Minister for Trade: We're only in October 2022. This is silly stuff that's designed to whip up a fear campaign. It won't work. It didn't work on foot‑and‑mouth disease where the Government worked through a sober and careful response with the meat industry. We'll do the same with the agriculture sector on this aspirational – this aspirational pledge over the coming weeks and months. We will make sure that this works. You know, our relationship with the agriculture sector gets stronger and deeper every day. The work that Murray Watt is doing with the sector, whether it's on foot‑and‑mouth or the other challenges that confront the sector, is top‑shelf work. You know the challenge we have got in beef in particular is to grow the size of the national herd, to build access to global markets, to provide access to new export markets for Australian beef, to work with our farmers and support them, not to engage in the sort of low‑rent politics that seems to obsess members of the coalition backbench these days.

Doran: Very briefly, Tim Ayres, how do you convince the public that this is a good idea when it is aspirational and not binding because there would be a significant cohort wondering what the point is if a country like Australia isn't going to be held to its commitments there?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, there's work to do with the agriculture sector on this. But the ag sector knows that it's got work to do. They are very forward leaning. Whether it's the National Farmers Federation, or the red meat sector, they have, against Matt's strident opposition and opposition from other people within the Parliament, they have endorsed net zero by 2050. In fact, the red meat sector has got an even more ambitious target than that. They are absolutely engaged with these issues. They understand the importance and the commerciality of these issues. They understand how important it is to us establishing future export markets. They are engaged with the Government on these questions. That's where the serious work's being done – not the cheap politics, the serious work – and we look forward as a Government to continue to engage with them in the interests of Australian agriculture and in the national interests.

Matt Doran: We are out of time. Tim Ayres, Matt Canavan, thank you for joining us today.

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