8 March 2011




JOURNALIST: Penny Wong joins us.

WONG: Thanks Ian, good to talk to you.

JOURNALIST: She’s been down at the UN Breakfast.

WONG: We have had 2000 women down here – and some men – celebrating International Women’s Day. But you’re right, the big issue of the moment is climate change and that’s because it’s not going away. So we do have to work out as a country how we are going to respond to it. That’s why the Government is putting forward our plan.

JOURNALIST: Why is everyone wanting Tony Abbott to be the next Prime Minister? Let’s hear from Fred from Modbury Heights. Good morning Fred.

CALLER: Good morning. Yes I still do believe in climate change and no Tony Abbott will not be the next Prime Minister of this country. A Newspoll would be a little bit disingenuous. If it were serious, it would have who would best lead the Liberal Party? Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Malcolm Turnbull in fairness.

JOURNALIST: OK that’s an interesting point. Penny Wong, Malcolm Turnbull seems to be more in step with the Labor Party. But he’s not there. We had Tony Abbott on the program yesterday and most of the callers seem to be saying they didn’t like your plan, and they preferred, well, him.

WONG: Well, can I say this. I can understand that people want to have a very good look at what we’re putting forward. We’re going to step out our policy step by step, and explain every step of the way to the Australian people.

But I think Tony Abbott said something yesterday on your program which is the same thing John Howard said, which is this: there isn’t a cost free way to tackle climate change. And instead of a scare campaign and running around saying things which are not true, which is what Mr Abbott is doing, and whipping up people’s concerns, it’s a pity he doesn’t want to deal with this issue.

The difference between him and Malcolm Turnbull and between him and John Howard is even John Howard, as well as Malcolm Turnbull, did come to understand that it was in Australia’s interest to do something about climate change. That’s why John Howard went to the 2007 election with a policy for a price on carbon.

JOURNALIST: It’s interesting isn’t it, that the big issue for Kevin07 and the campaign there was signing Kyoto and everyone clapped and cheered and it seemed like the majority of Australians thought he’d done the right thing. Now it’s almost flipped around the other way.

WONG: It is always easier to oppose change than to make change happen, isn’t it?
JOURNALIST: Maybe it’s because people think it’s going to cost them money. Can you reassure people – how much money will we have to pay?

WONG: What I would say absolutely upfront to people: there isn’t a cost free way to tackle climate change. That is because one of the reasons we have climate change is because we pollute for free. And as long as you keep polluting as being free, we’re not going to reduce it.

What our policy is, is to put a price on pollution. That gives business the incentive to do business cleaner, to use cleaner forms of energy and to produce lower carbon, lower polluting goods and services.

JOURNALIST: But what about Tony Abbott’s view yesterday that he would – I think he sort of said he would put a freeze on appointing public servants. He would save $3 billion by doing that and it wouldn’t cost us any money.

WONG: Well Tony Abbott has a pretty poor record when it comes to doing the numbers on the sums he puts forward through his costings. Remember Treasury and Finance found a $10.5 billion, nearly an $11 billion black hole, in his election costings.

Tony Abbott’s policy costs money. And we’ve calculated – the Department of Climate Change has calculated – that his policy would cost some $30 billion out to 2020. So if there’s any politician who says they want to act on climate change but they are telling the Australian people they can do it for free, they are simply not telling the truth. The only issue is how do we do it. And we think we need to do it in the most efficient way and that’s to put a price on polluters and to make polluters pay for their pollution. And to deal with any cost impacts – that is polluters passing on that cost – through providing families with assistance.

But the primary focus of the policy is to put a price on the pollution that polluters put out into the atmosphere.

JOURNALIST: I’m talking to Penny Wong, Minister for Finance and Deregulation and former Climate Change Minister in the Rudd Government. The calls are coming thick and fast. Alex from Crafers.

CALLER: Good morning. I’d like to start off by saying that it’s not universal truth or justice of the day, but the most effective lobby. Right, Kevin Rudd sat there and he got Professor Garnaut to act as his chief adviser for climate change. The report came down. He turned around and refuted a big section of what Garnaut said. Kevin Rudd told us that the science is settled, quote. Then when asked by a reporter on camera why he wasn’t accepting Garnaut’s main recommendations he turned around and said, I’ve come to learn that not all scientists agree. Now the duplicity and the arrogance of people like Wong, Rudd, Gillard, and the change by the climate change group from global warming, which was their big push. And once they got caught with their pants down with the CRU, fiddling their data in England, the climate research unit, fiddling their data, then this whole group changed their name from global warmists to climate change. A little more generic, a little more soft, a little more easy to sort of have a bit more wiggle room for when things don’t quite go your way. This is why people like myself and many others have got no time anymore for the duplicitous conduct of people like Wong, Rudd –

JOURNALIST: I think we’ve got the message there Alex. Penny Wong?

WONG: I’m not sure what – I understand Alex has a particular point of view. I’m not sure, when he says duplicitous, what he means. If he’s talking about the science then I’m afraid I just don’t agree with him. I know there are people who don’t accept the science. I think the consensus is pretty overwhelming and the evidence is in fact tending more to a worse scenario than we previously thought. We know that the rate of warming of the planet has increased since mid-century. We know that last year we saw the end of the hottest decade since records began.

JOURNALIST: Penny Wong, I’ll just stop you there. Sorry, because we’ve just seen the bushfires, we’ve seen these floods, we’ve seen, for example, just overnight, Adelaide’s average rainfall for March being knocked out in seven hours. We’ve seen all these events and yet we’ve seen people moving away from the Labor Party’s policy to take action on climate change. So it’s, you know –

WONG: You have no doubt this is a really tough reform. It’s a hard argument isn’t it because –

JOURNALIST: Alright, let’s take some more callers. Colin from Evanston.

CALLER: Good morning. Now firstly, I think the Liberal Party made a huge bad call by removing Malcolm Turnbull who’s a realist and a forward thinker and heaven hell pass if Tony Abbott ever gets in Parliament because if he’s Prime Minister nothing will be done. We’ll be like sinking in quicksand. That’s not to say that Julia Gillard hasn’t solved this. Again, climate change and the carbon tax, shockingly and her advisers are shockingly, they’re terrible sales people. They need to stamp on all this rubbish about the sceptics and also the shockers out there. Tony Abbott, saying your electricity prices are going to go up. Because we’ve known for 20 years, and I’ve got bills to prove it. I’ve got bills going back to 1985, my electricity bills decreased, were a lot less then to what they are now. Electricity prices ladies and gentlemen have been going up for 20 years. Look at your bills.

JOURNALIST: Well thank you Colin. A text saying, ‘I hate Tony Abbott but Labor leaves me no choice. Electricity bills have skyrocketed since privatisation. We are being ripped off.’ Penny Wong?

WONG: It is true that many families and Australians are finding it very hard to meet cost of living pressures. And electricity is one of the things that people have found hardest. But I do want to make this point that the price increases today have nothing to do with any price on carbon because there isn’t a price on carbon. They’re about the costs of investing in the network. And I also would make the point that the Energy Association themselves have said that the current uncertainty around a carbon price is preventing investment. People are not wanting to invest in these long-term projects in energy generation because there isn’t the certainty and this comes back to why we need that certainty for business.

If we want the economy in 10 or 20 years time that is frozen in time, then we should do what Tony Abbott does. But we know, history has told us, that when we have done that we have not done well. If we want an economy in 10 or 20 years time that is where the rest of the world is at, that has moved to cleaner energy, cleaner ways of doing business, has less pollution, and is able to compete in that world, then we need to start to give business the certainty and the investment signal that you have to have to make that change. That is a price on carbon. That is a price on pollution.

JOURNALIST: It is 9:25am. We’ve got time for some more calls. You’re listening to 891 Mornings with me, Ian Henschke, and I’m talking to Penny Wong, Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Claire from Stirling.

CALLER: Hi, I’d just like to say I’ve been living in London for nine years. I’m really dismayed to come back to Australia and listen to such debate still about climate warming. I don’t think there is really a debate that the climate is not warming, it’s just about what’s causing it. In relation to one of your callers talking about why does Australia have to be a leader in this? It’s not about ego, I think it’ actually because Australia is one of the greatest polluters in the world per head of population, which is quite a shocking statistic. So why not lead if we’re causing the most damage? I’d really like people not to get caught up in this broken promise issue with the Labor Government and look at the fact that I think the Liberals actually said that they would put in a carbon tax, so isn’t that a break in their promise? Look, I’ve come back and I’m actually feeling quite dismayed.

JOURNALIST: Thanks Claire; thanks for your call, Claire. Stuart from Dernancourt.

CALLER: Yes good morning Ian and Penny. I think we’ve had similar problems like this in the past. For example, one time we used to pump raw sewerage into rivers and we used to throw rubbish into the street. But now we’re happy to pay to have these things treated. And I don’t see why there’s such a big issue about paying for reducing the carbon dioxide we produce when we generate energy. A tax on carbon or an emissions trading scheme seems to be a fair way of paying for the future problems we have with the environment if we keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I think the science for climate change is very solid at the moment. And it’s ironic actually that recently we’ve had problems with toxic waste for example at the Hills site and we thought that’s a cheap way to get rid of toxic waste, but subsequently finding it wasn’t such a good idea. And I think in the future we’ll find a similar thing with carbon if we don’t take action now.

JOURNALIST: Thanks for your call, Stuart. Matthew from Flagstaff Hill.

CALLER: Morning Ian. Morning Minister. Just a quick one for Claire from Stirling. I believe Australia puts out about 1.5 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions.

JOURNALIST: I think she’s referring to the fact that we’re 20 times the average Indian. The average Australian pollutes –

CALLER: It’s a bigger country, but I guess at the end of the day, if we turned around and lived in caves we’re going to reduce the world output by 1.5 per cent. But that wasn’t my question. My question to the Minister was – it’s a very quick one – if this is such a great policy, why didn’t they go to the election with it. Why has the Prime Minister turned around and broken a promise. And it’s the Government that claims they have the mandate of the people. But it’s the Government that was actually put in by four independents. If they believe they have the mandate, why wouldn’t they turn around and go to an election on such a big issue for the country?

JOURNALIST: Alright, Penny Wong?

WONG: A few responses to that. First, I don’t think anybody is suggesting that we want you to live in caves, Matthew. What we are saying is that the world is moving to lower carbon goods and services. That’s what people are increasingly paying a premium for. To pick up on Claire’s comments, we are the highest per person emitter on the planet, and we really need to do something to reform our economy. Just as we needed to reform our economy when we reduce tariffs, and when we opened up our economy and floated the dollar. We’re seeing the benefits to that economic reform today.

JOURNALIST: What about going to an election on it?

WONG: In terms of the election, I don’t think anybody in this country who’s been around, would not recognise that the Labor Party said we wanted to put a price on carbon. I spent three years trying to get through the Senate, but blocked by Mr Abbott, a price on carbon. We said we wanted a price on carbon.

It is true that we have opted for a mechanism that has a fixed price period. As the Prime Minister says, that operates a bit like a tax on polluters for that fixed price period before we move to what we call an emissions trading scheme. And the reason we’ve had to do that is because that is the only we can to negotiate this important reform through the Australian Parliament that people voted for.

It is a tough reform. I know it is. I know there’s going to be a period where Mr Abbott will run this sort of scare campaign, will tell people all sorts of things about electricity prices and so forth. So it comes back to this. Do we really think that in 5 or 10 or 20 years time that we can afford not to have done this? And I think that if people look at that reasonably, then really the question becomes well how do we do it, and how do we do it best.

JOURNALIST: Well thanks very much for your time this morning Penny Wong, Minister for Finance.

WONG: Good to speak with you.