Skip to Main Navigation Menus Skip to Content
Home
Media Releases
Transcripts
Useful Resources
Contacts
Subscribe/Unsubscribe

Transcript

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 12 October 2017

TITLE: Transcript – Pollie-Graph with Tim Watts MP and Raf Epstein – Radio Melbourne

TOPIC(S): Energy policy, possible contamination from firefighting foam, climate change, Court of Disputed Returns citizenship cases


RAF EPSTEIN:
And joining me in the Melbourne studio is Tim Watts, part of Bill Shorten’s backbench, he is the ALP Member for Gellibrand, welcome.

TIM WATTS:
Great to be with you Raf.

EPSTEIN:
And joining us in Canberra for the first time in a little while, he has been off getting medical treatment, he looks healthy, if not a little thinner, Senator Scott Ryan, he is a Liberal senator here in Victoria, he is also the Special Minister of State, which means he runs things like the same sex marriage postal survey (sic). Scott Ryan, good to have you back.

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:
Thanks Raf, it’s good to be back.

EPSTEIN:
Feeling well.

SENATOR RYAN:
I am actually.

EPSTEIN:
Good, good.

WATTS:
Welcome back Scott.

SENATOR RYAN:
Thanks Tim.

EPSTEIN:
There you go. One thing I will say is it now appears a mandatory requirement, if you’re a Liberal senator from the state of Victoria, you have to have a beard.

SENATOR RYAN:
That’s unfair on Jane Hume and James Paterson, I think there Raf.

EPSTEIN:
James needs to step up there, doesn’t he?

Scott Ryan, let’s talk policy, the clean energy target is dead, isn’t it?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well look, in July, Josh took the Finkel Report with 50 recommendations to the state and Commonwealth ministers council. They adopted 49 instantly. He is getting other reports from the energy market operator, the energy regulator, the technical experts and he said he’d have something more to say on that, along with all the other work he has been doing, by the end of the year. This is a problem that has been a decade in the making at the state and Commonwealth level, you are not going to solve it with one announcement, one press release, or in a matter of weeks. I think, given that Josh and the Prime Minister will have something to say before the end of the year, that will be six months, less than six months, since they first got the Finkel Report.

EPSTEIN:
I want to play to you something – you mentioned July, Scott Ryan, I’ve not been able to get either Josh Frydenberg, the energy minister or Kelly O’Dwyer, the revenue minister, to repeat the Prime Minister’s description of the clean energy target from back in July.

[AUDIO CLIP OF PRIME MINISTER]

Scott Ryan, can you say that it’s got a lot of strong merit and strong virtues? The Prime Minister could then, he can’t now.

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I think it’s one report from multiple experts, technical, as well as economic, that are being looked at and what the Prime Minister indicated in that comment – I’m not sure when that was from?

EPSTEIN:
July.

SENATOR RYAN:
I wasn’t at work for most of July – is that demonstrates the deliberative approach that is being taken, but there is no silver bullet. The Prime Minister and the Energy Minister have made this clear.

People who say bumping up the Renewable Energy Target, like Labor promises, or putting in some batteries like Jay Weatherill pretends, that any single press release or announcement is going to solve a problem that was developed over a decade, is trying to sell people a pup. We saw one announcement today from Josh Frydenberg about demand management trials …

EPSTEIN:
Yeah we did that about half an hour ago actually.

SENATOR RYAN:
And that is a significant factor with how they manage the network in other parts of the world, but he also made it clear that it’s one of a suite of measures.

EPSTEIN:
Tim Watts?

WATTS:
You almost don’t know what to say Raf. This is not just one report, this is a report commissioned by the Turnbull Government to solve the problem created by the Abbott government and that is, the destruction of investment certainty in the Australian energy generation sector.

The Abbott government removed, radically changed, the energy regulation in Australia, destroyed investment certainty. They asked the Chief Scientist to do a report and say ‘how are we going to fix this?’ He came up with a clean energy target that Malcolm Turnbull said would certainly work and that Josh Frydenberg said would lower electricity prices. We said, ‘look, we didn’t break this, but as a responsible opposition we will reach out across the aisle and say if you want to do a clean energy target that’s fair dinkum, that reduces energy prices, that reduces emissions and that improves generation, we’ll be up for it, we will support it through the Parliament, we’ll pass it’.

Unfortunately, it looks like Malcolm Turnbull needed to check it with Tony Abbott before he gave those favourable comments about the clean energy target because the conservatives in Malcolm Turnbull’s Party Room are back at it again, vandalising action.

EPSTEIN:
We’ll get onto Tony Abbott in a moment, but can I just ask something of you Tim Watts, one of the key things we need now is gas. Labor stuffed it up, didn’t they? You weren’t in Parliament, but when you were in government there was a huge expansion of gas in Queensland, you believed industry when they said ‘don’t keep some of the stuff for Australian use’, that was a big mistake made in government, wasn’t it?

WATTS:
Look, I’d say that this crisis has emerged over the last four years during the term of the Abbott and Turnbull governments and there are direct things the Turnbull Government could be doing to address this crisis now.

EPSTEIN:
For a moment, let’s talk about the people who, let’s say you win the next election, you’ll be in cabinet, sorry, you’ll be in a caucus …

WATTS:
You’re better informed than me Raf.

EPSTEIN:
You’ll be in a caucus with people who made a mistake, and I’m not saying others wouldn’t have made the same mistake and I’m not saying the Coalition wouldn’t have made the same mistake, but it was a bit mistake to not have a reservation policy in government, yes or no?

WATTS:
I think it would be a stretch for anyone to say they are without sin in the Australian energy policy debate over the last five years, but I don’t recall the Liberal Party calling for gas reservations during the previous Labor government.

EPSTEIN:
1300 222 774 is the phone number, we’ll get onto Tony Abbott, we will get onto the High Court case as well, the magnificent seven in court, how will they go? Some of them are from the Government, the crucial one, of course, is Barnaby Joyce. Crucial because he is the Deputy Prime Minister, also he is the only one in the lower house where the Turnbull Government has a slim majority.

Scott Ryan, I can’t resist asking you about Tony Abbott. When he said that climate science is about as effective as slaughtering a goat to stop the eruption of a volcano, is he right?

SENATOR RYAN:
I was asked this yesterday and I said in my nearly 10 years here, I haven’t seen any goats around Parliament.

EPSTEIN:
No virgin chickens being sacrificed?

SENATOR RYAN:
No sacrifices I’m aware of at all. Look I’ve been in Parliament for nine and a half years, I first ran for election in 2007. Every one of those days I’ve been in Parliament – we’ve had some internal discussions and debates, as has the Labor Party – but the Coalition’s policy has always been to reduce emissions.

When the 2015 commitment to the Paris target was announced by Tony Abbott as prime minister, he described them as ‘economically responsible’.

EPSTEIN:
[Laughter] He is dragging you away from a clean energy target though isn’t he? He gives strength to people in your party room who aren’t interested in a clean energy target.

SENATOR RYAN:
Anyone who says you’ve got a problem that’s developed over 10 years, driven intentionally by state governments – and for Tim Watts to say the lights going off in South Australia isn’t purely the product of 16 years of a Labor Government in South Australia is a bigger stretch than anything I’ve heard – we’ve said, and as the Prime Minister made clear when he spoke in February this year at the press club, this is a serious problem. It is not subject to bumper sticker solutions, to silver bullet solutions.

Labor increased the Renewable Energy Target massively but no one gave any thought to its intermittency, to the fact that it doesn’t always work. The Prime Minister and Josh have said we are going to look at how we can solve this problem, but it’s not going to be solved immediately, it’s not going to be solved in one month, and we have to take advice from technical experts, from economic experts, from people who know the energy market as it was set up to deal with brown coal, black coal and gas generators in the days when Jeff Kennett privatised it. But nearly half of the increase in power bills in 2008 was driven by network costs, the poles and the wires, and $11 billion of those costs are for less than a week a year of electricity use. So doing little things like demand management, encouraging people and firms to turn off things like electricity, or turn them down on a hot day, Tim and Bill Shorten want you to think there is an easy solution here, but there isn’t. That’s why we are not coming out with instant responses to complex reports, but we’ve said we’ll have an answer by the end of the year.

EPSTEIN:
I’ll get more from Tim Watts on that in a moment, but first, Chris has called from Rosanna and wants to raise a different topic entirely. Chris, what is it?

CALLER:
G’day look, I’m just talking about the Four Corners report on the water contamination at Katherine because of the firefighting foam used at Tindal, also at Richmond Air Force Base, also in Oakey in Queensland. This was clearly identified back in the 80s and successive governments have done nothing about it and now we’re faced with, so we’re told, millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up. I am absolutely livid that that money for the clean-up has to come out of our taxes and not taken out of the Defence Force budget.

EPSTEIN:
It’s similar to the CFA issues we’ve had in Victoria.

CALLER:
My point is Raf that this is being buried because obviously governments don’t want to be embarrassed.

EPSTEIN:
Can I just cut to chase there – you want the Defence department to pay for it rather than taxpayers?

CALLER:
Certainly, so that they have to be accountable for the mistakes they make.

SENATOR RYAN:
It’s the same bucket Raf. We can’t pretend that money that comes out of the Defence department isn’t funded by taxpayers. This is a complex matter. I am aware of it. The potential impact of these compounds is contested. I don’t want to go into too much detail and work is going on between the Department of Defence, Environment and Energy …

EPSTEIN:
So you don’t really mind where the money is coming from because taxpayers will have to pay it anyway?

SENATOR RYAN:
No, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, I’m just saying I don’t think we can pretend that taxpayers don’t pay for the Department of Defence. It is not one of the things that government can cost recover or charge for, for example, it is one of the core functions of government and always has been.

EPSTEIN:
Tim Watts?

WATTS:
Scott makes a good point that it’s all coming out of the back pocket of taxpayers one way or another, but one thing we could ask for is better communication from the Government on this. This is an issue that’s been evolving over a couple of years …

EPSTEIN:
A couple of decades actually, decades.

WATTS:
Well particularly evolving over the last couple of years. Indeed in May this year, Senator McGrath said the Government was working on a solution. We haven’t heard anything from them until these revelations on Four Corners.

EPSTEIN:
Labor hasn’t covered itself in glory with the use of firefighting chemicals.

WATTS:
Well we’re not in government just at the moment Raf, so our ability to manage this over the last couple of years has been limited. Communication is always the least you can ask from government on issues like this.

EPSTEIN:
Look Chris, thank you for raising this. We will get onto the prospects of MPs and Senators in front of the High Court in a moment. 1300 222 774 is the number, some traffic with Chris Miller.

[TRAFFIC REPORT]

OK it’s prediction time with the Special Minister of State Scott Ryan and Tim Watts, the ALP member for the seat of Gellibrand. I know there is a lot of politics involved, Scott Ryan, with the seven MPs and Senators, who is going to survive with the High Court, do you think?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well there is not really a lot of politics in it Raf, one of the great things about our democracy is we’ve got an independent court that is going to do it. It is not up to parliaments to decide who to kick out, as it is in some other countries.

Look the Government’s confident in the advice it’s received in the case being put forward by the Solicitor-General Stephen O’Donohue, but it’s now in the hands of an independent court and that’s why we have them.

EPSTEIN:
Maybe I can get a prediction out of you this way, how many – I won’t ask for names – how many out of the seven do you think will be ruled safe?

SENATOR RYAN:
I actually haven’t thought of it that way at all Raf. Look, I don’t think it helps for me to be making predictions while there is a hearing before the court.

EPSTEIN:
Tim Watts, have you got a prediction?

WATTS:
Look I’ve got a comment before I make a prediction. I’m very disappointed that Scott’s not backing in his Prime Minister. While Scott was on leave, I sat in the Parliament, in Question Time, in the House of Representatives and heard the Prime Minister say that the High Court will find that all of these individuals are eligible to remain in the Parliament. He was definitive.

EPSTEIN:
Wasn’t he definitive about Barnaby Joyce? Was he definitive about them all? I think it was just Barnaby Joyce.

WATTS:
He was definitive about the Coalition members. He was very, very confident of the advice and went beyond confidence and said that the High Court … which I might add, given this is a matter of the Government’s majority in the Parliament, for the Prime Minister to stand up and make a definitive statement like that does raise issues if this does not come off.

EPSTEIN:
See Scott Ryan, I told you there was politics in this.

SENATOR RYAN:
Not from my end.

EPSTEIN:
A prediction?

 
WATTS:
Here is a prediction for you Raf. I can predict that zero out of seven would have passed the vetting procedures of the Australian Labor Party because we know what the requirements are from the existing case law and they are very clear about renunciation and taking reasonable steps to deal with this. Now the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t doing his paperwork, well, that’s something that the High Court is now looking at, but it wouldn’t have happened in the Labor Party.

SENATOR RYAN:
Let’s correct what Tim said there Raf. The case Tim refers to there is a case from 1992 called Sykes v Cleary. It did not present these facts. The matter was uncontested, in full knowledge dual citizenship. And in fact, there is a fantastic story, a news story, of MPs marching from Parliament down to, I think it was the British High Commission, where a senior Labor figure renounced and then the 1996 election happened so there were no series of court cases. But these facts, in all of these seven cases, have never before been considered by the court, and that’s why Parliament refers them in an uncontested way – it’s not Labor referring Liberal and vice versa – they’re referred, all of them, uncontested because we are effectively – as we did when I initiated the case against Bob Day – discovering what the Constitution means for a set of facts that have not previously been considered.

EPSTEIN:
And can I just say, thank whatever deity, be it a goat or a God, that we don’t have the politicisation of High Court appointments that they have to the Supreme Court in the United States.

WATTS:
Hear, hear.

EPSTEIN:
Helen is in Westmeadows, what did you want to raise Helen?

CALLER:
Hi Raf and good afternoon to your guest speakers, I was just following on from the issue raised by Chris in relation to the RAAF foam and its use back in the 1980s and onwards for 30 years and the fact that government and the RAAF knew about the contamination and safety issues and line that up with the concerns that many of us have regarding the Adani Carmichael Mine and the supposed stringent environmental protection that is supposed to have been put in place by the Government should this go ahead. We are being asked to trust the Government when they couldn’t do the right thing for the last 30 years, and that’s just one example, and now we’re expected to trust them that they’ve got everything in hand with the Adani and its potential environmental problems?

EPSTEIN:
Look I’ll confine it – not that coal isn’t part of the question – but because you raised the RAAF let’s see if we can confine the issue, for both of our guests, to the issue of environmental assurances. Scott Ryan, I’ll start with you, why should you be trusted on the environment?

SENATOR RYAN:
Because we trust experts appointed by the Government on every medicine that we take. Things that are intimate and of daily import to people. We trust the Government to register doctors. But no one is perfect, humanity can’t be perfect.

To be honest, to try and link what’s happening with PFAS –where, as I said, the impacts of the compounds are contested, there is a great deal of communication going on in the affected communities – to try and link that to a highly contested issue, at least with the Greens because Labor seems to have multiple positions on the coal mine, is quite frankly, a bit ridiculous, when the Therapeutic Goods Administration licenses medicines that people use every day.

EPSTEIN:
Tim Watts?

WATTS:
On this issue, I’m with Scott. I’m a big believer in backing in the experts on scientific advice and that applies in environmental approvals, it applies in the regulation of radiation from mobile phone towers, it applies for issues like this PFAS issue that we are encountering today. But I don’t have a science degree and my comments aren’t subject to peer review so when I deal with these issues, I act on the basis of scientific advice.

EPSTEIN:
Frank is in Kilmore on the High Court issue, what did you want to say Frank?

CALLER:
I’ve been to court a couple of times Raf for speeding tickets, whatever. I’ll never forget, the judge told me once, ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’. So wouldn’t you reckon these politicians would be up ‘ship creek’ the moment?

EPSTEIN:
Ship creek? Ok. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. That is the argument being put forward by the Solicitor General on behalf of some Government MPs, but also on behalf of the Greens’ Larissa Waters. Scott Ryan?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well the law on this won’t be determined until the court makes a ruling. We are not looking at a situation, like a speeding fine, where I didn’t know what a speeding zone was, but it was pretty clear to everyone around me and there might have been a sign I missed or a sign that went missing. Constitutional law about eligibility to Parliament, we’re in new territory, as we were with Bob Day. We weren’t really with West Australian One Nation then, temporarily senator Rod Culleton, so that is why the Parliament, with the agreement of all members, referred these cases to the High Court so that when we know what the law is, it can then be applied in that case and in all future cases.

EPSTEIN:
Tim Watts?

WATTS:
Well Raf, I suppose you could say we are in unchartered territory if you ignore 20 years of practice by the Labor Party.

EPSTEIN:
Scott Ryan, these sorts of facts haven’t been tested by the High Court. It’s an assumption made from a case that was related to but doesn’t …

SENATOR RYAN:
Commentary, an assumption made from the commentary in Sykes v Cleary in the case following the Wills by-election [inaudible]

EPSTEIN:
Go for it Tim.

WATTS:
If you bowled up as justification for your position in Parliament, for your job, a dissenting judgement of a High Court judge  - and that’s the argument being run by the Solicitor General at the moment, that Justice Deane’s dissenting judgement in the previous case is the law of the land – you wouldn’t get through first year law school. And I certainly wouldn’t put my job on it and I certainly wouldn’t risk a Labor government on it, which is what these members are doing.

SENATOR RYAN:
No it’s not. That’s not the case at all Tim. Stephen O’Donohue, the Solicitor General, is outlining that we need to apply the principles, which in Sykes v Cleary were about John Delacretaz and the Labor candidate, having uncontested, in full knowledge, dual citizenship. Whereas in the Larissa Waters case, I think, the law was changed either a week before or a week after she was born. And in other cases, people are outlining how they took steps and made inquiries and were given incorrect advice. So these facts haven’t been tested. It’s why we have an independent court, Parliament did the right thing in referring it. And look, I understand your need to play politics with everything, but that’s why we need to wait on the court to make a decision and I’ve been careful in what I say.

[Farewell greetings omitted]

[ENDS]

Back to top