22 June 2021

FRAN KELLY, HOST: Chris Bowen is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. He joins us in our Parliament House studios. Chris Bowen, welcome to Breakfast.


KELLY: I'll come to the Nationals in a moment, but can I just stay with the Great Barrier Reef? We were speaking to Professor Terry Hughes there. The Government has says it will strongly oppose the draft decision by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to list the Great Barrier Reef as in danger arguing Australia has the best managed reef in the world. What's your reaction to this alert that the reef could be listed as in danger? 

BOWEN: Well, the Government says they're surprised but they shouldn't be surprised about the fact that the reef has encountered three bleaching events in the last five years and they're complete responses been to gift almost half a billion dollars to an unaccountable charity. I mean, that's been their response. Now, I'm not aware of how this decision came about or what motivated it. Of course, it should only be motivated by environmental concerns about the reef but the fact of the matter is, the Government pays lip service to climate change and its impact on the reef. It hasn’t got a policy to deal with either climate change or its impact on the reef or the 64,000 Queensland jobs, which rely on a robust and strong tourism attraction to the Great Barrier Reef, which is of course one of Australia's great natural wonders.

KELLY: So when you say it should only be, an endangered listing, it should only be influenced about environmental concerns about the reef. Does that include, in your view, Australia's climate change policy? 

BOWEN: Of course, absolutely Australia's climate change policy and climate change has a big impact on the reef. We've always recognised that I heard Susan Ley quite reluctantly and grudgingly acknowledge that this morning in her interview on the ABC. But it shouldn't be reluctantly and grudgingly acknowledged it should be fully acknowledged. It's a statement of scientific fact. It's been known for many years and the Government has been asleep at the wheel and on their stewardship, Australia's greatest natural asset has been in decline. 

KELLY: So there is broad recognition from the Government and certainly from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority, that climate change is the greatest threat to the reef but you know, climate change is a global issue –

BOWEN: Of course –

KELLY: It won't be fixed by Australia signing on to net-zero by 2050 –

BOWEN: Fran, Fran, that’s the tired, old trope we get from people who don't believe in strong action on climate change from Australia – the world's largest emitter per capita – that somehow every other country has an obligation here, but not us. But it’s not just about obligation. It's also about the fact that the world’s climate emergency is Australia's jobs opportunity. And under eight years of Liberal National Party Government, we have not been embracing that opportunity and that is about to get a lot worse with the change that was made yesterday. 

KELLY: So do you see this is a shift in the focus and emphasis of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee?

BOWEN: Look, I don't think UNESCO World Heritage Committee has ever made a secret of the fact that they believe that climate change policies of government and environmental policies are closely entwined. 

KELLY: The Environment Minister, Susan Lee, said this morning that this has been based on a desktop review which is an unusual process. She said the government was blindsided that they hadn't been consulted. China chairs this World Heritage Committee. Terry Hughes told us a little earlier that it is a political committee often. Do you think this is another example of China trying to retaliate against Australia? 

BOWEN: Look, Fran, I do not know how this decision came about. I do not know. We're not aware, and obviously more transparency about that would be welcome. But the fact of the matter is on the fundamentals, the Reef is under great threat. That is a statement of scientific fact. It remains somewhere that Australians should visit, of course, to support those Queensland jobs and see the Reef, but the fact of the matter is this Government has been very slow to acknowledge that the Reef is under threat. They gifted almost half a billion dollars to a charity with no accountability, no oversight. That has been their response and of course they should expect, that the world – the world's environmental bodies will have a view about this stewardship of the Reef.

KELLY: And should the global bodies have a view about China's destruction of recent South China Sea –

BOWEN: Of course –

KELLY: Some of its critics have pointed – 

BOWEN: Of course, everybody is equally accountable, Fran. Everybody is equally accountable, including China. Absolutely.

KELLY: Let's move on now to Australia's new Deputy Prime Minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been nudging the Coalition towards committing to net-zero by mid-century he said that's preferable. Do you think that mission has been derailed with Barnaby Joyce's return as Nationals leader? 

BOWEN: Well Fran, we should expect Barnaby Joyce to engage in the same destructive, negative, identity politics that he has specialised in all his career and that includes resisting net-zero by 2050, which I say to you very clearly Fran, is a betrayal of regional communities and rural communities in Australia. Net-zero by 2050 with really an investment framework to encourage investment in renewables, in transmission lines, in storage. Now the world's climate emergency is regional Australia's jobs opportunity and Barnaby Joyce and his ilk are betraying those opportunities because the areas which have powered Australia for so long with cheap and reliable energy are exactly the same areas that can power Australia in a more renewable economy. Exactly the same areas that can store that renewable energy and create jobs and investment as they do so. We know that the economic cost of not engaging in net-zero by 2050 is enormous and is particularly strong in regional Australia and in Queensland, and we should expect Barnaby Joyce to engage in the same style of destruction and negative politics as he has. But you should expect, Fran, the Labor Party with me as the Shadow Minister and with Anthony as the Leader, to engage you very strongly in that debate in rural and regional Australia, to engage in that debate and to win that debate for jobs for investment in renewable energy to create jobs in regional Australia. 

KELLY: Given what you just said about the benefits of climate action for rural and regional Australia, Barnaby Joyce in one of his first comments publicly as Leader again is that “it's not Barnaby’s policy, it'll be Nationals policy” and we know there are Nationals including David Littleproud and Darren Chester who see the opportunities for farmers in taking climate action. Do you think they're likely in the end to begin to temper Barnaby Joyce’s opposition to net-zero?

BOWEN: Well this change didn’t happen for no reason, Fran. He’s now the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. From everything we know about this it was largely driven by a desperate attempt to stop further action on climate change. And they are completely out of touch with rural Australia, I mean yesterday Fran I got a letter from the Mayor of Wagga Wagga, Cr. Conkey, committing Wagga Wagga to net-zero by 2050 and calling on the federal government to invest more in renewable energy and social housing. I mean, this is Wagga. I mean Barnaby's own Council. Armidale Regional Council adopted a climate change emergency resolution in October 2019 and resolved to lobby state and federal governments for urgent action to reduce greenhouse emissions as –

KELLY: So given already being taken in rural communities and taken by businesses around the country, do you think ultimately the Government's going to – Australia is going to reach net-zero anyway? The states have adopted that target. Investment in renewables is at record levels. There's new clean technologies, including green hybrid hydrogen emerging, do you think the Government's going to get there despite the Nats?

BOWEN: No Fran, we need a national framework. This is the point. The Federal Government in Australia is the only government of a developed country not committed to net-zero by 2050. The only one. Now you're right to point out that every state and territory – Labor and Liberal – is, that local government is. You’re right to point out that we – that Australia's peak business groups, the BCA, the National Farmers Federation, APPEA – the peak oil and gas lobby group – are all committed to net-zero by 2050. But if the Federal Government isn't, they are really sending a signal to the world not to invest in renewables. They're sending a signal to investors in Australia not to invest in renewables and transmission. You need a national framework. And you get a hodgepodge of arrangements with the states trying to fill the vacuum, which is better than nothing, but unless and until the Federal Government is committed to net-zero by 2050 then we are missing out on the jobs opportunity and regional Australia is missing out on jobs opportunity. And Barnaby Joyce, Fran, is betraying regional Australia with that destructive approach.

KELLY: Can I just ask you briefly – we’re out of time – but the international pressure on the Prime Minister to commit to zero emissions by 2050 will only grow ahead of the Glasgow summit in November. There is a Coalition agreement that gets signed between Scott Morrison and Joyce do you think it's likely that that could include something like more coal-fired power stations which we know the Nats have been arguing for, if they come with carbon capture and storage and would you accept that?

BOWEN: Well who would know, Fran, because we won't see the agreement. We should see the agreement. You should see the agreement. Every Australian citizen should see the agreement. We won't know what's in the agreement because they’re secretive about it. But let's be very clear. Barnaby Joyce has again engaged – and his ilk – have been engaged in a destructive approach in encouraging new coal firepower stations, which will not be built, Fran, they engaged in a fraud on the Australian people with the Collinsville proposal before the last election. They've wasted $3 million on a feasibility study which was a fraud of a study. I mean, they've engaged in this constant, dishonest attempt to convince regional Australians that somehow there's a secret of getting a coalfired power station in Australia. The market and the economy has determined that that will not be the case. They would be better off embracing as Australia is – when I met with the Mayors of Central Queensland Fran, they wanted to talk to me about the jobs opportunities from investment in renewable investment, renewable energy, in transmission, regional Australia is way ahead of the National Party on this issue.

KELLY: Thank you very much for joining us.