Thursday, May 19, 2011

Turnbull describes his party's climate change policy

Lateline, last night:

TONY JONES: OK. Let's move on to another subject. It was reported today that the main coal-fired power generators in Australia expect to continue their operations well into the 2030s, so another 20 years or more.

Do you believe that coal-fired power needs to be phased out in Australia in order to reduce emissions?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well there is no way that you can reduce your emissions from energy generation without a fuel switch from brown coal to black coal to gas and, you know, a combination of those.

There are other ways of cutting emissions; obviously people can use energy more efficiently so less energy has to be generated in the first place and you can also buy carbon offsets.

TONY JONES: Alright. But can I just stick with that point, though, because I think you basically are saying that you have to phase out or change the energy source or main energy source?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: You've got to fuel switch, yeah. Well, Tony, Tony, Tony ...

TONY JONES: So how would a Coalition government do that when there's no disincentive to continuing the high levels of greenhouse emissions built into your policy?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, the Coalition, as you know, no longer supports an emissions trading scheme or a - what you would call a market-based mechanism for putting a price on carbon.

The Coalition's policy, as laid out by Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt, involves spending taxpayers' money, taking out of the budget, so many billions of dollars, to pay farmer in particular ...

TONY JONES: Do you know how many billions of dollars, by the way. Is that clear at this point?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well there's a budget set out for that and I'll leave Greg Hunt to identify it, but it is certainly a multi-billion-dollar exercise.

But the way it works is that the taxpayer - the taxpayers' money would be used to buy carbon offsets from farmers, so that as industry pollutes, the Government would then spend taxpayers' dollars to buy carbon offsets to offset that pollution.

At the same time - so that's one part of it. So the taxpayer would fund offsetting ...

TONY JONES: Well can I just stick with that part of it. That's the principal part. Can I stick with that for a moment.


TONY JONES: Is that direct action policy, that aspect of it, is that a market-based mechanism?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, you know, you could say it is in the sense that they would - there would be competition for farmers and landowners to provide the cheapest abatement, but, no, it's not a market-based mechanism in the way that an emissions trading scheme is, which is ...

TONY JONES: Because much of your speech - if I can just take you back to 8th February last year, much of your speech was devoted to the argument that it's not a market-based mechanism - you've just repeated that - but rather a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale.

If it was fiscally reckless back at the beginning of last year, is it still fiscally reckless?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Ah, well, look, I won't repeat the speech I gave. That was a very - that was a tough moment, when I crossed the floor. In the Liberal Party we respect the right of members to cross the floor, but it's not a right that I'd ever exercised before and I don't anticipate exercising it again.

But I have to say to you Tony that that was very difficult, but you've got to remember this: ...

TONY JONES: Well, no, but can I just ask you to remember what you said, since you said this ... ?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: No, I remember very ...

TONY JONES: You can't rewrite history, you can't un-say what you said.


TONY JONES: "I've always believed the Liberals reject the idea that governments know best. Schemes where bureaucrats and politicians pick technologies and winners. Doling out billions of taxpayers' money is neither economically efficient, nor will it be environmentally effective."

That was your assessment of the - as I understand it, of the Liberals' direct action policy back then. Is it still your assessment?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, Tony, honestly, I don't want to comment on my - on the direct action policy. I'm happy to describe it to you. If you want a commentary run on it, you should ask Tony Abbott or Greg Hunt about it.

It is what it is. It is a policy where, yes, the Government does pick winners, there's no doubt about that, where the Government does spend taxpayers' money to pay for investments to offset the emissions by industry.

That's the - and the virtue of that - I think there are two virtues of that from the point of view of Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt.

One is that it can be easily terminated. If in fact climate change is proved to be not real, which some people obviously believe - I don't. If you believe climate change is going to be proved to be unreal, then a scheme like that can be brought to an end.

And also, on the other hand, if you believe that the world is going ...

TONY JONES: So this is a scheme which actually is built effectively to cater for sceptics?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I think it - let me just go on.

Or if you believe that there is not going to be any global action and that the rest of the world will just say, "It's all too hard and we'll just let the planet get hotter and hotter," and, you know, heaven help our future generations - if you take that rather grim, fatalistic view of the future and you want to abandon all activity, a scheme like that is easier to stop.

Now I think those are arguments that some of the supporters of the scheme take, but it obviously - if you want to have a long-term solution to abating carbon emissions and to achieve - if you want to have a long-term technique of cutting carbon emissions, you know, in a very substantial way to the levels that the scientists are telling us we need to do by mid-century to avoid dangerous climate change, then a direct action policy where the Government - where industry was able to freely pollute, if you like, and the Government was just spending more and more taxpayers' money to offset it, that would become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead.

TONY JONES: Are you then envious of your conservative colleagues in the British government who yesterday signed up to a carbon emissions reduction target of 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2027? 50 per cent - 10 times what you and the Government have signed up to.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it is - the British Conservative Party has got a very different approach to climate change to the Liberal Party of Australia, which of course is its counterpart.

TONY JONES: But how do you account for that basic philosophical difference with two conservative parties?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it's an interesting one, but David Cameron took the view, as did his - you know, obviously his colleagues, that the Conservative Party had to be seen to take climate change seriously, that they had to be pro-active, that they had to be environmentally responsible.

And indeed, one of David Cameron's campaign slogans was "Vote blue, go green", or "Go green, vote blue". And he in fact was, if anything, greener than the Labor Party in the UK political context.

And the conservatives and David Cameron in particular take the view that there is an enormous opportunity to get onto the front foot and get into a leadership role in terms of clean technology, low-emission technology, that this is a coming technological revolution, it's going to be - just like the information revolution or the industrial revolution, the green tech or clean tech revolution will be as significant as that as we hopefully move to de-carbonise the world's economy.

Now, that is a very important technological shift. Britain has a prime minister with vision who wants to be part of that change.

TONY JONES: The obvious takeaway, political takeaway in Australia, is that you don't believe your leader, Tony Abbott, your party, your conservative party, has vision.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Oh, no, I think there is a lot of vision. It's just a question of whether you agree with it, or whether you find it appealing. And that's something that, you know, obviously people will decide at the next election.

At the moment, it's difficult to identify any vision or any real idea of what Australia should look like in the future coming from the Labor Party. They seem to be lacking both competence and conviction.

TONY JONES: The 50 per cent target in Britain will be enshrined in law and conservatives have negotiated to give tax breaks to energy-intensive industries like steel manufacturers to compensate them for higher electricity prices.

How is it possible to do this in Britain, but evidently, according to your party, not possible to do it in Australia?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, you really should talk to - you really should talk to Mr Hunt about that. I'm sure he's right across the detail of the comparative economics between Australia and Britain.

TONY JONES: What's your view, though? I mean, do you believe that ...

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well I'm not ...

TONY JONES: You already struck a deal once where manufacturers in Australia were going to be compensated to have an emissions trading scheme, you struck a deal with the then Labor Government.


TONY JONES: So you must think it's actually possible to do it.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I - look, I certainly, I certainly did. There's no doubt it was possible, because the deal was struck and if you go back to the end of 2009, the business community was perhaps not unanimously, but the vast majority were very supportive of the arrangements that I struck with - or that we struck with the Labor government led by Kevin Rudd.

And this really is the point, Tony. I mean, you were quoting to me back a speech I gave when I crossed the floor to vote for that legislation. For me, it went beyond an environmental policy issue. For me it was a matter of integrity and principle, because I had reached an agreement in good faith with the Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, to support an emissions trading scheme, which was not a Labor Party policy in the sense of being a Labor Party idea; it was in fact a policy that John Howard had taken to the 2007 election, an election in which I was his Environment minister and responsible for the emissions trading scheme policy.

So for me it was very much a matter of personal integrity and principle, and that was why I took that very, very painful, anguished step of crossing the floor and voting against my own party.

TONY JONES: Malcolm Turnbull, so much to talk about, so little time. We thank you very much for coming to join us on Lateline tonight.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Great to be with you.

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