Minister Ley interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National

4 November 2021

PATRICIA KARVELAS: World leaders have left the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow and the conversation has turned to climate financing with the pressure on to make good on a multi-billion-dollar deal to help developing countries manage the impact of climate change. Australia's not part of that deal but it has doubled its contribution to help our neighbouring nations, taking it to $2 billion over five years. At the same time, the fallout from the Australian Government's handling of the $90 billion French submarine contract continues. Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong likened Scott Morrison to Donald Trump.

     [Excerpt]
PENNY WONG: It is vandalism, the way in which this is being dealt with by the Government, is with a wanton disregard for our international reputation.
     [End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS: There's Penny Wong speaking this morning. The Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended the handling of the dispute on Channel 9.

     [Excerpt]
JOSH FRYDENBERG: The claim was pretty extraordinary and it needed to be refuted. 
     [End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sussan Ley is the Federal Environment Minister and our guest. Welcome.

SUSSAN LEY: Good evening, Patricia. Lovely to be on the programme.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just firstly, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer both say French President Emmanuel Macron needed to be refuted. Was the leaking of the private text message appropriate? Hasn't it undermined Australia's international credibility?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, that's some of your own description there, but of course it needed to be refuted. And if you go to the Prime Minister's detailed remarks at Glasgow on 1 November, and anyone who really wants to go over the detail can read his transcript. But I mean, for Labor to make the remarks that they're doing is quite extraordinary. So, what, they don't want our Prime Minister to take decisions in the national interest? So, they want us to sign up to something that doesn't meet our needs in a geo strategic national security sense? They don't want the right decision for Australia? Look, Patricia, of course it's- look, it's never easy to disappoint a good friend and a good partner in France, and we will get through this and we will come out the other side.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister previously defended the French submarine deal. Now he says it was over budget and behind schedule. Who's right?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, he's right in the decision that he made, in fact that we took and that was supported bilaterally by the Labor Party. So, there's no argument that it isn't the right decision. The argument seems to be about nit picking, which Labor is clearly going to do, because that's perhaps their job as an opposition. It's disappointing, though, because there's so much more that they could be contributing to in terms of the national debate rather than, you know, stepping into an area like this and just the who said when, what, where, which is all completely irrelevant to the average Australian that I represent back in my electorate, dealing with COVID, dealing with border closures, wanting the knowledge that their Prime Minister has got their back and is out there on the world stage batting for them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, you say that's not what Australians want, but Australians want their government to not be putting them in a situation that could, you know, put them in harm's way when it comes to national security, right?
 
SUSSAN LEY: Totally. And that's exactly the national interest that I mentioned.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Let's turn to climate. The Prime Minister is back from Glasgow. Bill Shorten says Australia's appearance was like a kid at show and tell with nothing to share. Has Australia gained anything from being there?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, it's really petty coming from Labor. Of course, we have. This was a gathering of world leaders, and it was important to be there. Can you imagine the fuss that the Labor Party would have made had we not gone, that our Prime Minister not gone? Now I know-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I don't think the point they're making is that you shouldn't have gone. It's that you should have gone with more ambitious targets.

SUSSAN LEY: We outlined the target that we announced just before going, and there is considerable ambition in net zero by 2050, and there is considerable technology, considerable investment and a lot of opportunities for the rest of the world to say, okay, Australia is on board with net zero, now let's develop the partnership. In fact, Korea was announced, I think on the day the Prime Minister went overseas. Other partnerships are following with Singapore and Japan, and there's real interest, particularly from the US, in how we might partner with the region and hydrogen, of course, often mentioned as the energy of the future, Australia ideally positioned and so on. So, look it was really important to continue that conversation with our national leaders. But I also want to note Patricia, that COP is well, I think it goes for a fortnight, finishes on 12 November. Lots of things are happening, including in my own space of adaptation where you know, the work we've done in plastics, we're signatories to a global treaty on marine plastics. In fact, we're co-chairing that. We have a plastics plan that's totally domestically focussed in terms of what consumers do, but also internationally focussed because we don't want that plastic to end up in the ocean. And the prime Minister is a signatory of the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, not many world leaders are. Over in COP, he also joined with India and the UK, launching the infrastructure for resilient island states. You know about the low emissions technology statement. He signed the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests, and I could go on. I'm trying to give you the sense that there's an awful lot going on apart from what comes back in the top line headlines.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. Why didn't you attend as Environment Minister?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I'm there virtually. I'll be opening Nature Day at the Australian Pavilion. I'll be talking about blue carbon. This was an emissions-based COP and, you know, countries were asked to limit their delegations. I wouldn't be just going over there for the sake of it to be seen there, Patricia, I continue to do- well, I want to add the most value wherever I am. So, I was very happy that the Prime Minister is our leader and Angus Taylor is responsible for emissions were there. I'm already looking forward to next year's COP, should I be fortunate enough to attend. It's going to be led by Egypt or the UK. And it focuses on advancing adaptation action. So, we've already launched a communication on adaptation at this COP. We're getting into COP 27, we're a member of a dedicated adaptation action coalition, and what all that means - because I'm conscious your listeners are thinking, you know, there's a lot of acronyms and jargon going on - it's about accepting that Australia and our landscape have been at the forefront of learning to adapt to climate change for many years. Our farmers are working out how their marginal country can still be productive, if not, can perhaps be returned to native vegetation for offsets. Our coastlines are being restored with oyster reefs, mangroves, sea grasses, our $100 million ocean leadership package absolutely energises every single coastal community, and we're working with the Pacific as well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization says a global pledge to reduce methane emissions by 2030 is an important step in the fight against climate change. Was Australia's decision not to back this part of the deal to secure National Party support?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we aren't picking out a single greenhouse gas, and I do acknowledge that methane is a particularly nasty greenhouse gas [indistinct]…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yes, and why didn't we sign up to reducing it, then?

SUSSAN LEY: Because our commitment is across all emissions by 2050. I understand that some people have concerns about the emissions from livestock, and I represent a lot of livestock producers. So, it's interesting, because when I talk to them, they always ask that question: you know, what will this mean for our livestock production? And one of the key principles of our plan is that there isn't going to be a restriction. [Indistinct]… choices, not mandates, and we're going to do this with people and harnessing technology. The other thing I want to say about methane is the CSIRO's doing some really good work at removing the methane from ventilated coal seam gas emissions. So, as you may know, you know, coal seam gas can power electricity, and then the rest of the methane often makes its way into the atmosphere. But the CSIRO - I'm not going to call it a gadget, because- but something like that is working out how to extract those fugitive emissions of methane. And critically, you know, that will allow much cleaner, lower emissions technologies. It's not all about livestock. But it is about the country as a whole doing this together and recognising our target is net zero by 2050. We're not going to pick out individual sectors or individual gases; we're just going to get there.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: It's been reported that at least 19 countries plan to commit to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year. What's Australia's view?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, again, our view is not that we're going to sign on to something that cuts off an industry or a sector or doesn't recognise, most importantly, the transition that is underway from a fossil fuel economy, both locally and internationally, to a renewable based one. Now, for sure, the 2010s have been the decade of renewable energy, and there is huge renewable roll out. But half of the world's total demand for coal comes from China. And when you consider that and the fact that India now burns more coal than Europe and the US combined, and that there is rising demand over the next decade from Vietnam, Bangladesh and India- Indonesia for coal, you realise that, you know, of course, we're stepping up to play our part. But there is a lot of actions if you like - and I'm not here to tell any country what they should do - but only note that not all of these countries turned up to Glasgow and made commitments. And some people reflected on, you know, those commitments weren't as ambitious as they could have been. But there's some heavy lifting that needs to happen. We're certainly playing our part, and the transition is the critical thing here. You cannot switch it all off overnight.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So private financial institutions have pledged trillions of dollars to reach net zero emissions. Are we placing too much reliance on these companies and, in Australia's case, our states to make the decisive action?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I'm glad they have, and I'm glad that when I meet resource companies, they talk to me about depleting their investments in coal. They talk to me about carbon capture and storage. I mentioned, you know, capturing methane out of fugitive emissions. They talk to me about transiting to renewable energies for their investors and for- you know, that common goal. but they also recognise, and the world economy knows, that it isn't something that can happen immediately. But where individual companies step up or where groups do that, that's a really good thing. And we're ready to leverage that investment. We've already put $20 billion on the table under Angus Taylor's [indistinct] technology roadmap. That's going to be leveraged with $80 billion as well. So, you know, when we provide- when we combine the public and the private and the Australian landscape and the Australian innovative capacity that we know is out there, we're going to be on the leading edge of this, and we're going to help the other countries along the way.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: We've run out of time. Sussan Ley, thank you.

SUSSAN LEY: Always a pleasure.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley there.