2 June 2017




FRAN KELLY: Penny Wong is Labor’s Leader in the Senate. She’s Shadow Foreign Minister and she was also Climate Change Minister in Copenhagen in 2009 for the UN Climate Conference when the world failed to get agreement on climate action. Penny Wong, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.


KELLY: That reference to Copenhagen is a reminder, I suppose, that you have been here before in a sense. You were so frustrated and disappointed after the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 when America and China effectively derailed the agreement. Are we at a similar point here again with this announcement from Donald Trump?

WONG: Well we’re certainly at a very disappointing point. It is a deep disappointment to all of us that the US has made this decision. That it has failed to uphold what is such a critical international agreement.

Let’s remember the signing of the Paris Accords by 195 countries was the most significant global step we have seen towards the action on climate change the world needs and that we need. It’s in Australia’s national interest for the world, including Australia, to deal with climate change. So this is a very, very disappointing decision by the US.

KELLY: What about China? How does it figure here now? Would you expect China to step up into this breach to assume the leadership on global climate action or to take the opportunity ease up a bit now that the US has withdrawn, weakening this agreement?

WONG: China overnight has continued to express its support for the Paris Agreement and for its commitment under that agreement. But in terms of global leadership I would make this point: any agreement needs the United States as it needs China. Effective action on climate change needs the major emitters.

Whatever the US does matters. The US is a global leader. Whatever it does matters and it is disappointing that on this occasion its leadership on climate change is taking action in the wrong direction.

KELLY: The Australian Government and its ministers have been lobbying their counterparts in advance of this decision, trying to keep America inside this agreement. Obviously they have failed. Should our government protest this move now with, for instance, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he arrives next week? Or should Malcolm Turnbull pick up the phone to Donald Trump?

WONG: The Prime Minister should be absolutely clear with the US Administration about Australia’s views. He should continue to press them to reconsider this decision. He should continue to press them for constructive US leadership on this point.

I have to say it is very disappointing to see, notwithstanding the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister articulating what is the right position and what is the position that is in Australia’s national interest, to see members of the Coalition publicly advocating for Australia to get out of the Paris Agreement. It just continues the division inside the Coalition that has been so apparent over so many years.

KELLY: It’s no surprise though really? As you say, it’s been a fraught, divided debate in this country since just before 2009, and you’ve been caught right in the middle of that at points. It’s no surprise that there’s some within the Coalition, maybe even Labor’s supporter base, that doesn’t support climate action?

WONG: Climate change isn’t going away in fact it’s getting worse. It will affect, and is affecting, our lives and the lives of our children. Secondly, those countries that are at the forefront, that are part of the shift to a clean energy economy, will be the ones that reap the economic benefits and it is very disappointing that we still have members of the Coalition publicly advocating to go backwards.

KELLY: Yes, they’re publicly advocating, but the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister are not. So you don’t want to be too alarmist here about this. The leadership of the Government of Australia is saying it’s committed to the Paris Accord no matter what America has done.

WONG: At a leadership level I acknowledge there is still bipartisanship on the Paris Agreement. Of course there is not bipartisanship on how we actually meet our targets and the reality is for all of Malcolm Turnbull’s fine words he doesn’t actually have the policy mechanism to make sure we reach our emissions reductions targets.

KELLY: Let’s just go to that now because the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg this morning said the Government believes Australia is doing enough. Let’s listen.

FRYDENBERG: Our target is a lot more achievable and reasonable than our political opponents’ and that is a real question for Australian voters. Who do you trust to meet their targets, but to do so in a way that is economically responsible and puts a premium on job creation and the affordability of electricity?

KELLY: So, who do you trust? We’re at that point again. There is a clear difference in elements of the climate policies of the two major parties.

WONG: We have more substantial targets for 2030 but I think the more important question immediately is this: we’ve seen wholesale electricity price spike, we’ve seen almost a doubling. We’ve seen problems with the stability of the system and in great part that is a result of a failure by this government to articulate a clear and certain plan for the energy sector.

And if they can’t manage it now why on Earth does anybody think that they actually have a clear mechanism to meet the targets that they have articulated? If he wants to talk about trust, let’s have a look at the state of the energy markets now where we have the instability and price rises that are a direct consequence of the vacuum of leadership from this government.

KELLY: Just on that, yes Australia remains committed to its targets, but the question remains in many people’s minds are those targets ambitious enough? We have had plenty of people on the text line today. I will just read you one. “Australia proves it’s possible to be in the Paris Agreement and do nothing. Emissions are going up, there’s no more money for tree planting. The RET only goes to 2020. ” That’s Harry from Port Macquarie. And indeed we got figures yesterday showing greenhouse gas emissions continue to go up. Is Australia’s commitment ambitious enough?

WONG: We don’t think so, but more importantly we also don’t believe that the Government can meet the targets it has already articulated.

Regrettably – you refer back to 2009 – and in many ways Malcolm Turnbull is in a very similar position he was in when he negotiated with me for a bipartisan agreement when it came to climate.

He probably wants to do the right thing, but he is unable to implement the policy mechanisms to deliver the outcomes, that’s what’s happening. He’s ruled out an emission intensity scheme. He’s ruled out meaningful policies to actually make sure we not only reduce our emissions, but drive that investment into clean energy, clean energy generation, clean energy technology, which would be good for jobs and good for our economy.

KELLY: Can I just ask you as Australia’s Shadow Foreign Minister, do you think the US should be forced by the globe to pay a price for this decision, should there be some kind of tariff applied to countries that don’t sign on to this accord?

WONG: I think the more important thing is to continue to work with the US to encourage them to reconsider this decision, but more importantly in many ways in how it operates to show the leadership that people do look to America for.

Whatever the decision on the legal framework that’s been made overnight, what you do see in the United States is businesses, states, cities, which are still committed to action on climate change, and who are still implementing policies to ensure we both drive investment into clean energy and reduce our emissions. So there’s a lot that’s happening in the US domestically. It’s very, very disappointing that that leadership is not being reflected in the decision that’s been made in relation to Paris.

KELLY: Penny Wong thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.