Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Afternoon Agenda, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
10 November 2021

Kieran Gilbert: Joining me now is Minister for the Pacific and International Development, Senator Zed Seselja. Thanks so much for your time. I know there’s an interesting story for many people who love to visit Fiji coming up. We’ll get to that in a moment because travel with Fiji set to be reopened soon. But let’s start with an issue of great importance to Fiji and other Pacific Island nations – and that is emissions reduction. How has the government’s approach to Glasgow and the climate talks been received by your counterparts who you deal with on a daily basis in the Pacific, those small island states?

Zed Seselja: Well, I think obviously our Pacific neighbours and friends, family, have had a longstanding interest and a very serious interest in addressing climate change, and we’ve been working with them on that. And I think they’ve been very pleased with our announcements re additional climate financing for the Pacific. I think that is a very important contribution, and I know that when I’ve spoken – when I met even some months ago with Prime Minister Marape in PNG he talked about the importance of things like investing in offsets in the region.

And we’ve announced some partnerships there because we need to do our bit, and we are doing our bit, as the Prime Minister pointed out, in your intro that we are doing more when it comes to reducing emissions than most OECD countries. We’re also investing directly in our region in terms of resilience, in terms of renewable energy and in terms of offsets, which I think will present great economic opportunities for the Pacific. And so on my visit to Fiji that will, of course, be one of the important discussions.

Kieran Gilbert: Has there been disappointment, though? They obviously want us to do more, though, don’t they? They want us to do more. Has there been disappointment in relation to, for example, the lack of a 2030 increase on target there? Have they expressed disappointment to you?

Zed Seselja: Well, they haven’t expressed that to me. But obviously when we look at our – and this is one of the points of discussion we often have. You know, we talk about 2020 targets which we’re meeting and beating. We talk about our 28 per cent 2030 targets, which we’re on track to beat by a significant amount. And one of the points I make in discussions is that that is more than 50 per cent per capita. So by 2030 Australia will have cut its emissions in half when it comes to a per-person basis.

And so that is world leading. Many countries have made high commitments but very few countries have been meeting those. And so it is important that we have strong targets, which we do -- over 50 per cent per capita. It’s important that we have strong long-term targets, which we do, for 2050. It’s important that we’re meeting our targets at the moment. And it is important that we’re investing on the ground. And that is one of the important points of discussion both in recent days and on my coming visit.

Kieran Gilbert: Have you seen that report by the German advocacy group? Climate Watch, I think it’s called, had our policy stone motherless last. They didn’t even get a point in terms of its ranking. What do you make of that?

Zed Seselja: I mean, Kieran, I mean, come on. I mean, you’ve got to – and I do have to call this out. How could you possibly take a report seriously that said that when we are doing better than the average of all developed countries? I mean, how could you possibly take that seriously when we have some countries on that list who are continuing to increase their emissions at a time when we’ve reduced ours by 20 per cent? I mean, frankly, sometimes we get reports that are clearly politically motivated, and that has to be one. And to be able to take that seriously you have to ignore all of the evidence in front of you – the fact that we’re going much faster than the average of developed nations. So I think Australians would take that with an absolute grain of salt.

Kieran Gilbert: Matt Kean, the New South Wales Treasurer and Environment and Energy Minister, I spoke to him earlier. He has said the New South Wales Government – he, in fact, signed a COP26 declaration to transition faster to zero emissions vehicles by 2040. I guess that’s not entirely controversial given where the federal government’s headed, but it’s much more ambitious. He says the federal government should be doing more particularly in terms of emissions vehicle – vehicle emissions standards. Why doesn’t the government look at that sort of thing?

Zed Seselja: Well, because we don’t want to be putting taxes on vehicles. I mean, when people talk about these kind of policies, what they are effectively saying is that you will charge Australians more for the vehicles that they’re buying at the moment. You will put some form of charge or tax. That’s the only way you enforce those kind of emission standards. So Matt Kean is free to put forward those kind of policies, but the Australian Government’s made it very clear that when it comes to things like take-up of EV, we’re going to be led – we’re going to of course be providing infrastructure and providing support so that that industry can thrive, but what we won’t be doing is disadvantaging Australians. We’re going to be supporting their choices. And many Australians will be making those choices, and that’s fantastic.

Kieran Gilbert: He argues that without that, those standards, the concern is – he argued with me today on the show that without those standards we become a dumping ground for the polluting vehicles that other countries don’t want.

Zed Seselja: Well, look, I don’t accept that, and I don’t accept the policy that you would actually effectively be taxing Australians as they’re buying their ute or buying their family vehicle. For, you know – many Australians will be making those choices, and as those cars become more affordable of course more Australians will make those choices. But we’re not going to force Australians into more expensive vehicles than they can afford. We’re going to do it the Australian way, as we’ve said, whether that’s on EV, whether that’s in investment in renewable energy. We’re not going to be doing it through new taxes, whether you call them new taxes or whether you call them something else.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, I mentioned this at the start – I want to conclude on this: the issue of the Pacific, particularly Fiji. Absolutely decimated by Covid-19 in terms of the tourism or lack of tourism impact for their economy. They haven’t been hit by Covid, thankfully, to that same extent. I know their vaccination rate is very high in Fiji. When will we be able to travel back to Fiji and other countries, particularly Fiji, as part of what one of the ministers described to me as a Bula Bubble?

Zed Seselja: Yeah, look, well, very soon. So I’m actually going to be travelling to Fiji tomorrow on behalf of the Australian Government and having a number of important meetings in Fiji to talk about that recovery. The Australian contribution, whether it’s through doses, has assisted, and we’ve worked very closely with Fiji with the million doses that we’ve delivered, which is enabling them to open up.

So as of tomorrow we’ll see commercial flights going and we’ll see Fijians being able to return and other people who are able to get an exemption. But I believe from the 1st of December Australians will be able to travel to Fiji. And I know there is a lot of demand. Of course we want to see Australians be able to travel here, but we know Australians love the Pacific, they love getting out there. And there’ll be a lot of Australians who want to do it. And we know it’s very important to the recovery for the Fijian economy, which saw very significant decreases during Covid, being a tourism-dependent economy.

So this is a great way that Australians can, of course, enjoy a beautiful part of the world in our own neighbourhood but also, of course, help out a friend and a partner in their very important economic recovery. We want to see Fiji thrive, and Australians travelling there in the coming months will be a big part of that.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister for the Pacific and International Development Zed Seselja, thanks. Talk to you soon.

Zed Seselja: Thanks very much, Kieran.

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