Transcript - Television Interview - Sky PM Agenda - Wednesday 14 June 2017

SUBJECTS: Liberal Party Room ; Finkel Review; coal-fired power stations; Clean Energy Target; foreign donations.


DAVID SPEERS:  Let’s get to our panel now, two frontbenchers this afternoon, Joel Fitzgibbon, the Government’s Craig Laundy.  A very good afternoon to both of you.


SPEERS:  I was going to say – I wasn’t sure if you were going to bring boxing gloves.

CRAIG LAUNDY:  Joel, for goodness sake.

FITZGIBBON:  I did think about it but my staff advised me against props.

SPEERS:  Did they?  A lot of reports filtering in Craig Laundy that you and Tony Abbott had quite a set-to in the Coalition Party Room meeting last night.  What can you tell us?

LAUNDY:  Nothing.

SPEERS:  I was worried you would say that.

LAUNDY:  David, look obviously the Party Room is a place where differences of opinion are raised, people are passionate no doubt.  Joel you know that as well as I do.  You have been through far more than I have.  But ultimately, it is a place where you do so in anonymity and without fear of repercussion but you ultimately end up leaving the Party Room respecting each other.  It is the place where if you have a passionate belief about something, you raise it.  There were many passionate beliefs raised last night.

FITZGIBBON:  I can honestly say I have never been close to a blue.  I have never been close to the push and shove in the Party Room.

LAUNDY:  And so can I. 

FITZGIBBON:  No push and shove?

LAUNDY:  No.  I can say that.

FITZGIBBON:  Or were you already outside the Party Room?

LAUNDY:  You can try and drill down -

SPEERS:  I will let you do the work –

LAUNDY:  Yeah, he’s the investigative journalist here -

FITZGIBBON:  - Because he was already outside the Party Room –

LAUNDY:  I obviously haven’t been inside the Labor Party meeting but I would imagine that through your long and illustrious career you have been through many where there have been heated disagreements and passionate presentations of their thoughts and beliefs but at the end of the day you leave there and realise you are all on the same side and the Party Room is the place to do that.

SPEERS:  Before we leave this, obviously you did have a fairly robust exchange with Tony Abbott, but you left on good terms, patched things up as you left?

LAUNDY:  Yes.  Tony and I agree on some things.  We disagree on others.  As I say, the Party Room is the place where you can have a robust discussion and it is meant to be.  Sadly some colleagues take it upon themselves to background journalists which isn’t what should happen.  But I have definitely been for four years someone who, I don’t talk about Party Room.  There have been situations - I have been asked about it ad infinitum but I don’t talk about it.  I respect the sanctity of it.

SPEERS:  Let’s leave Party Room to one side.  What is absolutely on the record, George Christianson sitting here in this chair, a little earlier, saying the way ahead on this thing is for the Government to build coal-fired power stations, taxpayer funded.  What do you think about that Craig Laundy?

LAUNDY:  I disagree.  And for a few reasons.  The problem is here and now.  And business as usual.  It doesn’t matter how we got to here, here is where we are at.  It is about us charting a course forward.  Now if building coal-fired power stations was a solution in reality, it would have needed to have started between five and eight years ago.   

SPEERS:  That’s an important fact, the time factor.  How long does it take to build a coal-fired power station?

LAUNDY:  My advice is between five and eight years, and this was asked and answered last night. 

SPEERS:  Presumably -

LAUNDY:  In discussions – I have been talking to colleagues all over the place about this in the last 24 hours.

SPEERS:  Joel, is this what you understand as well?  You have a lot of coal in your electorate, Joel Fitzgibbon.  The approvals process you would have to go through before you actually start laying the concrete and so on. 

FITZGIBBON:  Huge, huge timeframe on the approvals.  Huge timeframes on the build.  Then you need to operate the generator for at least forty years to get a decent return.

SPEERS:  So even if magically you guys all agree and you have a plan and it is going to see people investing in coal-fired power, people need to be aware we are talking up to four to eight years before anything is going to come on line?

LAUNDY:  This is the problem, the States ultimately are the approval process for those, they have the planning and regulatory powers.  So four to eight, best case scenario even if States would approve it.

SPEERS:  That’s another element.  Would States approve coal-fired power -

FITZGIBBON:  I think that’s so hypothetical that it doesn’t matter.

LAUNDY:  In the current environment no.  No one would even go and ask the States.  That’s the part that has been missed by a lot of people, George included.  It is not that you build brand-new coal-fired power, the Finkel Report says that coal will be the basis of our power generation until 2050 basically, and it’s about providing an environment in which there is certainty for investment should technological breakthroughs occur on for example, clean coal or carbon capture storage to reinvest in existing coal-fired power.  This Report is technology neutral.  Agnostic.  You have heard the term.  All those are out there saying “Greenie Greenie”.  I absolutely agree that coal is the underpinning of the future, however if there is no certainty you won’t get capital investment in it and you will have them coming off line well ahead of where we need them to to supply our base load.

SPEERS:  So what is your preferred approach for your part Craig Laundy, is it to have this Clean Energy Target with a benchmark that allows for that investment in clean coal technology?

LAUNDY:  I think also too don’t underestimate the role the Prime Minister and Minister Frydenberg need to play with gas here.  In Josh’s presentation in the last 24 hours, he has explained the functioning of the energy market.  There are a lot of myths and rumours out there for us and you have got the situation now where the Premier of Victoria is seriously contemplating spending $300 million building an off-shore LNG port facility that would accept gas from offshore and liquefy it and use that.  And at the same time David, there is a moratorium on onshore conventional gas exploration.

SPEERS:  And that is a fair point. 

LAUNDY:  It’s crazy.  It is not a fair point it is bloody lunacy.

SPEERS:  Your Government is responsible for – have a Clean Energy Target with a benchmark of point seven five tonnes that would allow, in theory at least, for people to invest in clean coal.   

LAUNDY:  Where the mark is that is subject of discussion.  Where the policy – and this is a process.  And we are starting, well the Finkel Report released last Friday.  Our first day back in Parliament yesterday, you have seen where it has got to in the first 24 hours.  It may well be a rocky ride.  However that doesn’t change the fact -

SPEERS:  It’s not dead yet you don’t think?

LAUNDY:  It doesn’t change the fact David that business as usual is not an option. 

SPEERS:  Ok well Joel Fitzgibbon what about Labor?  Labor is saying we want to be bipartisan but- you have got a pretty hard line - that no Clean Energy Target can include any sort of coal – clean or otherwise.

FITZGIBBON: Kevin Rudd budgeted $1.7 billion under a flagship program to get R and D and innovation in carbon captured storage.

SPEERS: That was money well spent.

FITZGIBBON: And guess what? No one was that interested. The world has moved on substantially since Kevin first dedicated that fund. This is all so hypothetical, clean coal in or not clean coal, the energy companies have made it quite clear - I see AGL advertising on your channel that they have moved on.  AGL owns two big generators in the Upper Hunter in my electorate.

SPEERS: Two coal generators.

FITZGIBBON: They are done, have no intention - they are shutting them down. Liddell, at just over 2000 megawatt hours will go in less than five years and Bayswater next door -

SPEERS: And that’s without a carbon tax.

FITZGIBBON: That is without a carbon tax, the generators are coming to the end of their commercial lives and it doesn’t matter what Government does, they won’t be building any more coal-fired generators.

LAUNDY: This is why we need some bipartisanship.

FITZGIBBON: I think we are moving towards it.

SPEERS: Are we though? Labor has taken this pretty hard line to be fair saying that no clean energy target even in theory would allow coal to be built.

FITZGIBBON: I think the bigger barrier to a bipartisan -

SPEERS: Is that your position Joel Fitzgibbon seriously?

FITZGIBBON: I will answer it. I think the biggest barrier to a bipartisan position is what happened in Craig’s party room last night. The Abbott forces are on the march.

SPEERS: Fair point but what about your own Labor Party position here? Don’t you think you should be willing to come into the middle?

FITZGIBBON: I think there is room for an energy target to accommodate a coal-fired generator if it can get under what Finkel sets as the benchmark.

SPEERS: Under point six?

FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I would support that, but it’s just not going to happen David. It’s such a hypothetical.

SPEERS: Coal wouldn’t get under point six, coal needs point seven five. You wouldn’t go there?

FITZGIBBON: No I wouldn’t go below Finkel’s recommendation. No look we have had the chief scientist deliver the report for COAG. The best chance of getting bipartisanship is to stick like glue to his recommendations and that’s what we should be doing. Craig has his problems in the party room, but if they can get that sorted out- no one would be happier than me David as a representative of the Hunter Valley, a big power generation, big coal mining area and energy intensive is if we came to an end of the climate wars. People are sick of it and I’m sick of it.

SPEERS: But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

LAUNDY: Hang on Joel, you played investigative journalist at the start, my turn to turn the tables. You say you would be happy with it, as long as we stick to it. How does Mark Butler come out and make a statement like - we’ll agree to it now and just ratchet it up over time because

FITZGIBBON: He didn’t say that Craig (inaudible).

LAUNDY: He did say that and that doesn’t provide again, the uncertainty. That goes to the uncertainty of capital market.

SPEERS: If a deal was done on point six as Finkel has recommended, you wouldn’t change that over time?

FITZGIBBON: Look I’m seriously not avoiding the question. I don’t want to make the bipartisan settlement less likely by entering into this debate. We have said we will look at his recommendations, they look pretty good. We will produce a policy in good time. The principle what Finkel is doing is the correct approach and we want bipartisanship, we want to move forward. The Government is saying itself business as usual is not an option. The reason we have higher electricity prices now is because Tony Abbott unravelled the energy plan that was in place and we have had four years now with no investment certainty and of course therefore nothing coming online. It has to be fixed and it needs to be fixed yesterday.

SPEERS: Look let’s move on from all of that. Your dishonourable mention in Question Time this afternoon came from Julie Bishop. She was pointing to, this an old story about Helen Liu, a donor to your campaign way back, but it has now come to light that she might be linked to Chinese intelligence.

FITZGIBBON:  Might be – I thought Julie Bishop was better than that. She has made an allegation about an allegation and my involvement goes back almost 10 years and Fairfax needs to be very, very careful. Their journalists wrote stories based on fraudulent documents delivered to them, so they didn’t do their homework. In doing so, they defamed me. I have settled with them to my satisfaction and they have obligations to me and they need to be very careful and so does Julie Bishop. This is an allegation about an allegation I mean who knows? What I’m expected to know everyone Helen Liu knows? I suspect those allegations are false anyway. It was very reckless of Julie Bishop today.

SPEERS: She was in the Parliament where there is privilege and so on to get around any defamation

FITZGIBBON:  Of course.

SPEERS: Just in general, let’s just get into this issue about Chinese influence in politics generally because it was the pretty ugly theme of Question Time this afternoon. Craig Laundy, in your experience, do you believe Chinese figures - born here or from China - have tried to influence anyone in the Australian Parliament?

LAUNDY: Look, not that I have first-hand knowledge of however what I will say is that I think, and I agree with the Prime Minister who got the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the relevant donations to do an inquiry who have handed an interim report down. There is a process in place because ultimately the decisions we make here are subject to High Court challenges where it has gone to in the past so you need to be careful with the legislation you come up with. We are working on it because I agree with the Prime Minister and I agree with my electorate more broadly, I don’t know what influence can be gained? However it is definitely not a good look and I think it should be outlawed.

SPEERS: The foreign donations?


SPEERS: And Labor obviously agrees with that? 

FITZGIBBON: We all agree with that. 

SPEERS: You have to get it absolutely right.

LAUNDY: You have to get the law right otherwise you are ultimately subject to a High Court challenge which has happened in the past and laws have been beaten through that so it does take some time and we are working on it.

SPEERS: Then there is the question what about foreign donations to the unions, to GetUp, to all of these organisations. Do you ban those as well?

FITZGIBBON: We have been talking about this for a long time now David. Bill Shorten has had a Private Members Bill on the notice paper for a long time.

SPEERS: But does his ban donations to Unions?

FITZGIBBON: Let’s just assume Bill Shorten’s is flawed and we need a better approach, which is only for the argument, but how long does it take? Now the Prime Minister is promising to do something in the Spring session.

LAUNDY: Listen be fair, with due respect, Bill’s Bill, not yours has a few holes in it and this is the right process to go through and its interim report being worked on now. There will be legislation presented and then we will move forward.

FITZGIBBON: I think it is all too slow.

SPEERS: Ultimately you’ll end up on the same page we hope on this particular issue, Look we have to go, time has beaten us. We have to get back on an update on what is happening in London. Joel Fitzgibbon and Craig Laundy. I appreciate your time this afternoon. 

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