ABC NEWS AFTERNOON LIVE
MONDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2020
SUBJECTS: Coalition disunity; climate change.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’m joined now by my panel. Let’s see how much time I have with them, this show has been disrupted by parliamentary shenanigans. Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Liberal Senator James Paterson, welcome.
STEPHEN JONES: Good to be with you Patricia.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, this looked like a tactical win by Labor, but does it have any practical consequences, this is just another Government MP who become Deputy Speaker today, isn’t it?
STEPHEN JONES: What we saw in the Parliament today was more of the disunity that's going on within the National Party, which is obviously spilling over into the Government's ability to make even the most fundamental decisions. 75 members of the House, including a good number of Government MPs voted for the person who was not the Government’s choice to be Deputy Speaker. Many people at home might be going “Well, this is all just internal stuff. Why does it matter?”. I think Ken O'Dowd has just set out to you in his explanation for why he voted why does matter he sent a pretty clear message that he's dissatisfied with the Deputy Prime Minister, and with David Littleproud, for that matter saying that Queensland wasn't being properly represented in Michael McCormack and Scott Morrison's government. What's clear is the disruption that we saw last week hasn't gone away. Barnaby Joyce is still there in the background creating and doing his mischief wherever he can, we're going to see this disunity. It's clearly spilling over from you know, who feels what spot and over into policy as we're seeing with the internal debates around coal, around energy, and around climate change inside the party room. We've got anything but stable and certain government at the moment.
KARVELAS: James, I'll need to bring you in here too. Because the point being made there, Well, it does make sense. I mean, this is not who the Government wanted to be Deputy Speaker. We have Nationals, one just came on the on the show and said that they didn't like what Michael McCormack did so they decided to vote for LLew O'Brien. It does look chaotic.
SENATOR JAMES PATERSON: Perhaps some context might be useful for your viewers, Patricia, because before this afternoon, it's possible that none of them have even known that we had a Deputy Speaker or what the role of the Deputy Speaker is. The primary responsibility of the Deputy Speaker is to chair the Federation Chamber, which is like the overfull overflow room of the House of Representatives where members go to speak when there's not enough time to speak in the House of Representatives. The great weight of the nation will not fall upon who is the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. It won't make any difference to anyone's job security. It won't make a difference to anyone’s price of energy. It won't make any difference to Road Safety. It is not a fundamental issue, which is going to affect Australians.
JONES: Great. Can I just say I agree?
KARVELAS No, I want to ask the question because you say no no-one even knows who this is. I'm going to call it for what it is: spin. It's the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. This is our national Parliament. It is not an insignificant position. And in fact, it's quite well paid, James. Senator, you know you can spend your way out of it, but let's call a spade a spade. This is not the nominee of the Government and in fact Nationals cross the floor to vote for this guy. He was not the nominee of the Government, that is significant.
PATERSON: Patricia, I acknowledge it is of great interest to people in this building and maybe in the building that you're in Melbourne, but when I'm out in the community talking to the Australian people they do not stop me in the street and say hang on who is the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and were they the Government's nominee? It really is in the scheme of things maybe yes a bit untidy. I'll acknowledge that. But is it going to change the course of our nation's history? I don't think so.
KARVELAS: I will bring you back in, Stephen Jones. Will it change the course of the nation's history? It's true, not many people probably know the Deputy Speaker. So what's Labor trying to achieve here?
JONES: The point I want to make is that in one sense James is right, a majority of Australians don't know who the Deputy Speaker is. But the real issue here is this if you cannot even agree amongst yourselves who the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament is going to be, how are you going to agree amongst yourselves how to put in place an economic plan that is absolutely critical to the future of our economy and to the livelihoods of Australians? How you going to put in place a plan which deals with climate change, energy generation and ensures that we don't have the devastation of the black summer of fires that we've just been through. These are the real issues and as Ken O’Dowd has said, they see Michael McCormack as some sort of temporary hiccup. I think they were Ken’s words. If you can't agree on the basics, how are you going to agree on the big issues?
KARVELAS: James, I've got a really specific question for you. Do you think that taxpayer funding should underwrite a coal-fired power station?
PATERSON: Starting from a bright basis of first principles, Patricia, I hope the end point that we get to in the future is that no energy source needs to rely on any taxpayer funds. My view is government shouldn't be in the long term business of picking winners. What we're doing at the moment is trying to get through a difficult transition period between the take-up of renewables and the and the phasing down of traditional sources of energy and that has been messy and it does require some government intervention along the way. So yes, there is generous support for renewables. And yes, we're doing a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station right now in Queensland.
KARVELAS: If the outcome of that feasibility study is that it's feasible that the Commonwealth should inject money, you’d be comfortable with that?
PATERSON: Let's wait and see exactly what the feasibility study says.
KARVELAS: I’m asking you just like you said, first principles, philosophically. Are you philosophically comfortable with that?
PATERSON: Well, as I said Patricia, I think the end point that we need to get to in this country is for all energy generating technologies to stand on their own feet, to live or die and succeed or fail on the basis of their intrinsic qualities, how much energy they produce and how efficiently they do. The gradual widening out of government subsidies, I think is the right thing that we should be aiming for.
KARVELAS: So you'd be uncomfortable with government money going towards a new coal-fired power station?
PATERSON: Well, I recognise the fact that a lot of government money, a lot of tax payers money, has gone to supporting renewable energy in recent years.
KARVELAS: Sure, but I asked about this project specifically.
PATERSON: Yeah. And what I'm trying to point out there is that the Government is not in a pure economic class room here. We are in the messy business of executing a transition here and we haven't we have done things which might not be completely consistent with my first principles, but I'm telling you at the end point where I think we should get.
KARVELAS: Stephen, I know Labor say it doesn't believe in tax payer funding going towards this project or projects. But how about if it can get up on its own two feet, if there's a strong business case for it and it can do it. Would you be comfortable with the new coal-fired power station opening?
JONES: There's a reason why taxpayers shouldn't subsidise it and that is it's not necessary. What Australians want is reliable affordable sustainable energy. James talks about the transition, I agree, It's actually happening just like climate change is no longer something in the future tense. It's actually happening now. In the time it would take to build a new coal-fired power station you could probably build up to 50 solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of renewable energies backed up, firmed up by gas backup plants. So it's not necessary. I think we should just get over this silly debate which is driven by politics, not by economics, not by energy security, get over that debate and ensure that we can lock down an energy policy and energy security at affordable prices.
KARVELAS: Okay, so that is the broad debate, but on specifically new coal-fired power stations. Do you think if business can do it, they should be like to open?
JONES: If business could do it, they would have, and they haven't.
KARVELAS: I'm asking an academic question. You answer it straight with me. Should they be opening if they can do it, if they can stand up on their own two feet?
JONES: No, I don't think they should and here's the reason why, it doesn't make economic sense. It doesn't make sense from providing affordable, reliable electricity and what it actually means, and this is the crux of the point, we will be asking taxpayers for the next 50 years to be subsidising the generation of an energy source that we don't need because there are so many other alternatives to it that are available now. You want a straight answer, there's the straight answer. The reason that I don't support it is that I don't want taxpayers to be paying more for their electricity than they absolutely need to. And this proposition that's been put around by Matt Canavan is exactly that. Taxpayers are going to have to pay more for electricity because of his ideological fixation on building another power station that neither the finance industry won't back and the country doesn't need.
KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you. It's a shorter panel than usual. But what an afternoon. Thank you for coming on.