SKY AM Agenda - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

Release Date: 
28 July 2015

KIERAN GILBERT: Matt, is this what you get when you don’t release all the detail when you announce a policy?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Well Kieran, the Prime Minister has made this figure up. How can you trust a bloke who lied to the Australian public when he said there would be no cuts to health and education, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and SBS. That’s the first point – he’s made this figure up. But what Labor’s done is consistent with having a target. It’s consistent with what other developed nations are doing. The United States, China and Europe have all got ambitious targets for the uptake of renewable energy within their economies. What we do know is the more renewable energy you deploy into your system, the price of electricity comes down over time because the fuel – sunlight and wind – is free. So once the technology is established, the cost of electricity will come down over time. That is confirmed in the government’s Warburton Review, it’s been confirmed by Malcolm Turnbull yesterday. That’s why we know Labor’s plan will work.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to play you the comments of the individual and the organisation that came up with the numbers that the Prime Minister was referring to. He was on the PM Agenda program yesterday. [plays excerpt] There you heard the analysis from the group that did the modelling. Alan Tudge, you’re reaction to that?

ALAN TUDGE: You heard from the man himself. That was an estimate from a respected consulting firm who said that the cost of Labor’s scheme would be in the vicinity of $60 billion. When they introduce this scheme, someone would have to pay for it and that would be the consumer in the end. What it will end up being is higher electricity prices. Labor now has a commitment for higher electricity prices through a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 -- no underlying costs, no analysis having gone into that -- as well as their reintroduction of a carbon tax. So it’s a double whammy for consumers coming should Labor be elected again. That means at the next election there will be a very clear cut decision for people to make. Do you want higher electricity prices under Labor, or do you want to continue under the Coalition in trying to reduce electricity prices?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Kieran, can I just respond to that?

KIERAN GILBERT: Yes you can in a second Matt, just one tick Alan Tudge, the ACIL Allen chief who did the modelling in the first place said it was on the back of an envelope and based on Labor committing to a 50 per cent renewable energy target which is not what they’re doing, it’s not going to be mandated This is an ambition.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s different to even some of the social media posts which some of the Labor candidates are putting out. I was just looking at one last night which said that ‘Labor will commit to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Share the good news’ it says. That’s what the social media posts say by Labor candidates. Labor should be fair dinkum. They should be transparent and they should tell the Australian public what this commitment will do to their electricity bills. Because unlike what Matt Thistlethwaite says, this isn’t going to be free. This will be in the vicinity of a $60 billion hit to Australian taxpayers, to Australian electricity consumers. The Australian Labor Party should at least be transparent and upfront about how much higher electricity prices will be under this policy

KIERAN GILBERT: Matt Thistlethwaite, you’re response to all of that and I guess the other question is, is the target simply a pie in the sky target if you’re not going to bind it or have it mandated like the renewable energy target which both sides have agreed on?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: The target is consistent with what other nations are doing in setting an ambition for the amount of renewable energy they want in their economies over time. But the earlier guest that you showed, the $60 billion figure he admitted is a back of the envelope calculation and it makes a very basic assumption that the cost of renewables technology will remain the same over time. That won’t be the case. It’s like the cost of cars They’ve come down over time as technology has developed. The same will be the case for renewable energy.

ALAN TUDGE: What will the figure be, Matt?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Once that’s been established, you actually reduce prices because the fuel is free. You can’t say that with coal fired power. You’ve got the cost of coal as a fuel to fire up a turbine and produce electricity. But with solar panels and wind turbines, over time the cost is reduced because the fuel is free. The other point that I wish to comment on is Alan’s comment that this is a carbon tax. It is not a carbon tax. An ETS is not a carbon tax and we will never accept that. There is a clear difference. An ETS sets a cap on emissions and those with a liability, those big companies predominately coal fired power generators, have a choice. They can install new technology to reduce their emissions or they can buy a permit. That is not a tax.

KIERAN GILBERT: Alan Tudge, the Communications Minister yesterday said, and you know Malcolm Turnbull’s knowledge of this area, he says that if the emissions trading scheme and the renewable energy plan is a tax, so too is the renewable energy target. Therefore, the Coalition government has already got a tax of its own according to Mr Turnbull.

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t think he quite said that, Kieran. I think Matt Thistlethwaite should listen to Joel Fitzgibbon who effectively belled the cat on this, and said a floating price, an ETS, is a carbon tax. That’s what he said. Can I also pick up Matt Thistlethwaite on one other point that he made. He suggests that renewable energies are free, that there’s no ongoing cost. If that was the case then we wouldn’t need to be providing subsidies to renewable energies today. We wouldn’t need to mandate a target because the market would take care of it. The fact of the matter is renewable energy is still far more expensive than other forms of energy which is why we do have to have these mandated renewable energy targets to provide effectively subsidies for it. What Labor is trying to do is set this very ambitious target by 2030 which will massively put up the cost of electricity on top of their proposed carbon tax bill.

KIERAN GILBERT: Alan Tudge, you were questioning the Turnbull comment. I just want to put it exactly to you. This is a direct quote. “Whether it’s a regulation, whether it’s an RET, an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax fixed price, all of these can be seen as a cost on the business of generating energy and therefore a cost on households purchasing energy, and therefore in that sense, a tax.” So he’s included in that the renewable energy target of which the government has bipartisan support. So you’re already supporting a carbon tax according to this senior Liberal frontbencher.

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t think the renewable energy target is a tax. In essence what it does is it requires all of us to consume a certain proportion of our electricity in the form of renewables. At the moment, that is now set at 23.5 per cent by 2020. That’s what our policy is. A tax is when you’ve got a charge for consumption and that’s what the carbon tax was under the Labor government, that’s what their ETS would be because it would be a floating charge on consumption. It would be a charge which would start at whatever price, $23 as it was last time, and continue to go up according to Labor’s own modelling when they were in government.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s take a break. Back in just a moment with Matt Thistlethwaite and Alan Tudge. [ad break]

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company, with me, Labor frontbencher, Matt Thistlethwaite, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Alan Tudge. Alan Tudge, what do you think of Mike Baird’s idea for uniform national laws and regulation on political donations? He’s worried that if you have tough laws, for example, as they do in New South Wales, following their ICAC problems in the lead up to the last election that you might have great and tough disclosure laws in one jurisdiction, but if you don’t in all jurisdictions, these sorts of donations can happen, but go through other party infrastructure. That makes sense doesn’t it?

ALAN TUDGE: As you know Kieran most of the donation laws are governed by state legislation. So you do have different laws state by state. To date I don’t believe there’s been a proposal put to COAG seeking to make those laws uniform, but should it be done so, then COAG would consider that, and I think all governments have an interest in trying to constantly improve our donation laws to make them more transparent, while giving people the opportunity to rightly provide donations to political parties or individual candidates campaign funds should they choose to do so.

KIERAN GILBERT: Because Alan Tudge, the underlying principle here is the parties aren’t publicly funded, that they are privately funded entities- they receive some public funding- but overall they need quite a lot of private funding in terms of their operation.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s exactly right. There is some public funding already for political parties based on how many votes you receive in the previous election. By and large most political campaigns are funded by private funds. One of the alternatives which some people propose is that they should be completely publicly funded. Now I’m not completely convinced that the Australian public would necessarily support that because I’m not sure if they want to be providing the public funds to political parties to run political ads, and to put mail in their letterboxes. Personally I actually think that it is part of the political expression if you like, that is the ability for individuals to be able to contribute some of their funds towards political parties.

KIERAN GILBERT: That’s the balancing act here isn’t it Matt Thistlethwaite, between the regulation but also still allowing the flow of private funds to organisations like the Liberal Party and the ALP.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: That’s right Kieran, you can’t completely have a publicly funded system because there is an implied freedom of political communication in our constitution, that’s been confirmed in the High Court. You do need to allow some form of individuals and corporations showing their support for political parties through donations, but it’s about getting the balance right and I think at the federal level at the moment the disclosure threshold of $13,000 is way too high. So someone can donate $12,999 to a candidate or a political party and not have to disclose that, and the politician no longer has to disclose that either. That’s way too high, that should be reduced to around $1,000. You get greater transparency, accountability and you reduce the opportunity for corruption in our political system, and I just don’t think you’re going to get that political will from Tony Abbott.