ABC AM Program, interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be in Paris for the second half of this conference but this week she is in Canberra dealing with the domestic fallout from the talks.

Malcolm Turnbull's promise of a billion dollars for climate change adaptation is not new money. It comes from the foreign aid budget that Julie Bishop administers. And there is internal tension in the Coalition about whether the Paris talks will mean the Government cuts the diesel fuel rebate and about any potential further increases to emissions cut targets. I spoke to Ms Bishop a short time ago.

Julie Bishop, welcome to the program again.

JULIE BISHOP: Good to be with you.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The diesel fuel rebate has become a contentious issue at the climate conference at least for Australia. Why has Australia not signed that agreement?

JULIE BISHOP: This matter came to me last week and I had concerns about it.

We were already party to a G20 agreement on this and there were some paragraphs in the proposal from New Zealand that caused us some concerns and they couldn't be negotiated in time so we didn't sign up for it but we are already part of a similar agreement with the G20 so I think that we've covered that ground anyway.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay but isn't this part of the problem with the whole climate atmosphere in general is that people, countries, cherry pick little bits off the side and therefore you end up with a much weaker communique, generally?

JULIE BISHOP: It is the case that countries are coming forward with ideas and proposals very much at the last minute.

We are trying to deal with each of them in terms of what will be good for Australia, what's in Australia's national interest, what won't cost jobs, what will allow our economy to keep growing. So we consider them on a case-by-case basis.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: How likely is it then that Australia will announce a more ambitious target in a couple of years' time?

JULIE BISHOP: Well who knows what's going to happen in a couple of years' time? There could be breakthroughs in technology, we could be well ahead of our target, what's important is we have set a target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. That's achievable. It was agreed to by our Party Room. It is the mandate that I have in Paris so we are not looking to renegotiate. There is no room for renegotiation.

But in five years' time we can review where we are up to. If our past history is anything to go by we overachieve, we exceed our targets, so we can consider the position we are in in five years' time. But a 26 to 28 per cent target is achievable, it's appropriate and it's good for the environment and good for our economy.

That's why we take issue with Labor's 45 per cent reduction because they have got no modelling to show what it will mean other than a $200 billion - sorry a $600 billion hit to the economy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well they say that the economic effect is effectively the same because they include allowing international permits.

JULIE BISHOP: Well they haven't made it clear how they are going to meet a 45 per cent reduction. All I know is that there's modelling that shows it will cost the economy $600 billion.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There is an expectation though isn't there now that the Turnbull Government will lift those targets over time if, as you say, situations change and these will be reviewed every five years. It's a fair expectation that certainly hasn't been downplayed by the Prime Minister himself.

JULIE BISHOP: Well I think quite sensibly we are saying that we have gone through public consultation, through a great deal of analysis and modelling, come to a target of 26 to 28 per cent. That's been agreed by the Cabinet, agreed by the Party Room, and we believe it's responsible and achievable.

That's why we've sought review in five years' time of all countries' targets so that we can track whether they are on target and Australia can consider our position. We might have to calibrate down, we might have to consider calibrating up.

The whole point is we have in the past set targets that are achievable and exceeded them, and if that comes to pass in five years' time we will deal with it at that time. The government of the day will consider it. But in the meantime the target of 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 is the Government policy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay but are conservative elements of your own party entirely comfortable with the idea that that could change?

JULIE BISHOP: In five years' time, well, if somebody can predict the technological break throughs in five years' time I'd be very interested to hear.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well I'm sure you're aware of the anonymous quotes today from some conservative MPs saying there would be hell to pay if Mr Turnbull pushes to lift the target, saying that the friendship was already stretched by the 26 to 28 per cent target.

JULIE BISHOP: Well the 26 to 28 per cent target was proposed by the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it was unanimously agreed by the Cabinet and it was endorsed by the Party Room, so I'm not sure where these comments are coming from. The fact that they were anonymous, perhaps that says it all.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It does also suggest that there would be some objections from some elements of the party for that percentage to be raised.

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is a conversation that will go in circles because the 26 to 28 per cent target is what's been agreed. That's the mandate that I have. I have no mandate from the Government to go any further. We are not proposing to, neither is Prime Minister Turnbull. That's our policy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay but it is true that that's the fears that some hold about Malcolm Turnbull and his climate change position, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well people can have fears about all sorts of things. The reality is our target is 26 to 28 per cent. We've said it publically.It's now been announced as our target in Paris. A hundred and eighty other countries have announced their targets.

And the point of the five year review is to ensure that countries are on track. The major economies, the developed countries, the developing countries and particularly our major trading competitors - we want to know they will meet their targets.

You see, Australia announces what it will do and then it achieves it. Other countries announce what they will do and don't achieve it. So this is about accountability and transparency.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, the billion dollar announcement for the region, the Pacific region, that Mr Turnbull has announced overnight - why is that money coming out of the aid budget?

JULIE BISHOP: Because this is what the aid budget is designed to do - to assist in natural disaster relief, to build resilience against natural disasters. Indeed this is what the small island developing nations of the Pacific are asking for.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's not new money though, is it?

JULIE BISHOP: No, it's not new its money out of the aid budget, and this is part of why our focus on the Pacific is invariably on trying to make the Pacific as natural disaster-resilient as it can be.

This is the most natural disaster prone region in the world, if not the most, one of the most natural disaster prone areas. And when I discuss aid issues with the nations, when we discuss the aid budget with nations in the Pacific they invariably talk about the kind of infrastructure that they will require to ensure they can resist the full impact of natural disasters. Vanuatu for example, Solomon Islands, that have been subjected to some pretty savage natural disasters in recent times - this is where they want the aid dollars to be spent.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, just finally, India appears to be playing the role that China played in 2009, arguing that developing countries shouldn't have to carry the historical burden, if you like, of the sort of development that comes with fossil fuel use.

Is it fair to ask India, a country as big as India, struggling to bring itself up to our level, to take that burden?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that India is deeply concerned about the energy poverty in its country, that there are some 400 million people without electricity. Clearly India has a desire to bring those people into the 21st century and give them access to energy. How they do that is a matter for India.

And this is the point about the climate change conference. Each country will nationally determine their targets and how they go about achieving them, and that's also the case in India. So no other country can dictate how a country will meet its targets. The United Nations does not dictate it. Each country determines their own and that's also the case with India.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Could they be a stumbling block to a final outcome?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Michael it's day one of a two week conference and I think there's a lot of water to pass under the bridge before we can make that conclusion.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, Julie Bishop, thanks for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

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