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The cliff and the climate

Sep 18, 2020 • 15m 19s

The federal Opposition is seeking to capitalise on the current economic downturn by arguing that the government’s policies are making things worse. Meanwhile, the prime minister is pinning his hopes on a gas-led recovery. Today, Paul Bongiorno on how Labor fired up, and the political battle over energy policy.

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The cliff and the climate

312 • Sep 18, 2020

The cliff and the climate

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

The federal Labor opposition is seeking to capitalise on the current economic downturn by arguing the government’s policies are making things worse.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister is pinning his hopes on a gas-led recovery.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on how Anthony Albanese found his voice, and the political battle over energy policy.


RUBY:

Paul, over the last few weeks, we've seen the federal Labour Party shift tack from the early stages of pandemic bipartisanship and adopt a more aggressive position in Parliament. When did that change really become clear to you?

PAUL:

Yeah, well, Ruby, it was two weeks ago during the last sitting of the Federal Parliament - that is until it resumes for the budget early next month - that Albanese decided it was time to take the fight up to the government on the economy.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese

“The fact is that this is a government without vision. We know that from last year, the economy hasn't headed south just because of Covid. Its starting position was so weak…”

PAUL:

In the question times during that fortnight of sittings, and in the last speech that Albanese gave in the matter of public interest debate, the Opposition leader told Parliament that the economic crisis was, in fact, Morrison's recession.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese

“This Morrisson recession is the first in 30 years for many Australians. It will be an experience that they have never had before and that indeed no one ever wants to have”

PAUL:

The Labour leader sensed that the Prime Minister and his treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, were embarking on a course of action that would guarantee that jobs and economic management wouldn't be their strong point, but rather a weakness by the time of the next election.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese

“Deeper and longer will be the Morrisson recession because of the Prime Minister's arrogance.”

PAUL:

Albanese's conviction was strengthened by what the Parliament had just done at the government's insistence, and that was to extend but scaled down two of the critical programmes that had shielded the nation from an even deeper recession. That was the wage subsidy, JobKeeper payments and the beefed up JobSeeker unemployment benefits. Well, they were given a six month reprieve, but a fairly substantial haircut.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese

“Because there's no responsibility. There's no accountability. It's all politics. All announcement, no delivery.”

RUBY:

Historically, Labour has not had much success in outflanking the Coalition as the superior economic manager. So why does Anthony Albanese think that things are going to be different this time?

PAUL:

Well, look, you're dead right about that and there's any number of polls and research that back up your observation. The usual wisdom is Labour can't win on the economy. It goes like this: even if things go bad on the Liberals’ watch, they'll argue it would have been even worse under Labour. But this time, Albanese says, the Liberals themselves have made things worse on their watch. And the projected 1.4 million people out of work by Christmas will be the painful result.

Now, if Morrison cops most, if not all, the blame for this, you'd have to think that it would smell electoral disaster for him. Well, Albanese is arguing the Liberals are being rash by withdrawing stimulus or worse by directing spending to top-end tax cuts that won't deliver the desired results. And I've got to say, he has a lot of support for this.

Archival Tape -- Nicki Hutley

“What we're seeing at the moment, obviously, as it is a dreadful recession and we need stimulus that goes through to the economy…”

PAUL:

Nicki Hutley from Deloitte Access Economics says bringing forward the next two stages of the legislated tax cuts as the Treasurer has all but confirmed he’ll do in early October, well, it won't provide the stimulus needed.

Archival Tape -- Nicki Hutley

“A low income person basically has no choice but to spend the extra money. They're using it for the bare essentials in life, whereas high income earners, who will be the ones that benefit most from the planned tax cuts as they are at the moment, they are much more able to save for a rainy day…”

PAUL:

Hutley says those on the highest incomes are going to benefit and they tend to save their money.

RUBY:

Paul, do you think that this change in strategy could work? Will Labour be able to use the crisis to undermine the Coalition's narrative as the better economic managers?

PAUL:

Well, I do think that it's worth a shot politically because for it to work, it has to be valid. It has to be based on a reality. And we've seen this week the Reserve Bank board's minutes - they were released on Tuesday - and they make it clear that the economy needs more support and not less. And then on Thursday, in the latest, OECD report, the economy is much weaker than had been forecast, and the recession, therefore, will last longer.

The problem for Morrison is that it's a golden rule of politics that there's always a price to pay for taking something off people. And in this case, Morrison can't hide behind the Premiers will get far by blaming Victoria because the fact is the National economy and social security - family payments and the like - are squarely in his court.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, the Federal government is winding back its stimulus measures and action, which risks exacerbating the economic crisis. So what's it doing to try and keep the economy going?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, on Tuesday, the Prime Minister went to the Hunter Valley with scarcely a journalist in tow to unveil a gas-led recovery. After the announcement, which he made in a long speech, there was no news conference. And, you know, this is pretty strange after what he was touting as a major pillar in his Jobmaker plan.

And the irony of going to an area rich in the world's best thermal coal to announce a gas fired power station - that he says taxpayers will build if energy companies won't - well, it wasn't lost on Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. This coal warrior - as Canavan certainly is - reminded the Prime Minister that it was part of the Coalition agreement for the government to keep pushing coal.

RUBY:

Right. So Scott Morrison's solution is more investment in gas. But the Nationals aren't happy with that because they want him to keep pursuing coal.

PAUL:

That's exactly right. Mr Morrison and his Rhodes Scholar Energy Minister Angus Taylor, are sending very confusing messages to industry and to the electorate in this space. They have before the Parliament, a bill to underwrite a feasibility study for a new coal fired power station in Queensland and the study is going to cost several million dollars. The Government here, you know, Ruby, is caught between the Nationals coal-hugging base in central Queensland, and its metropolitan voters around the nation who are demanding climate change action.

And they're the ones, for example, that saw Green-Independent Zali Stegall take Tony Abbott's hitherto rock solid, safe Liberal seat. And I have to tell you that the Liberal minister in New South Wales, Matt Kean, says that these voters are, in fact, the Liberal Party's metropolitan base.

So this divide between the metropolitan Liberals and country Nationals is a real dilemma that Morrison is struggling to deal with. It's a dilemma that the Berejiklian coalition government in New South Wales has taken head on. Matt Kean, the Minister, has launched two renewable energy zones for the state to generate 11,000 megawatts of electricity. And he says major energy companies like Shell or BP, well, they're not diverting away from fossil fuels because they're greenies, but he told me, because they're capitalists.

RUBY:

And so what has the response been to this idea of a gas-led recovery?

PAUL:

Well, I’d have to tell you it was pretty well underwhelming and in some areas, some quarters even hostile. The Australian Energy Council, representing the biggest operators, is unimpressed by what looks like, to them, old fashioned socialism, because the Prime Minister has given an April deadline for the energy companies to build this gas fired power station or he says, the Government will.

But, you know, it risks billions of dollars of taxpayers money on what could become a stranded asset, because that, in fact, is the judgement of the market. Well, according to one State Government source I spoke to, gas is bloody expensive, and for a Federally-funded gas plant to be competitive with the new battery or pumped hydro-firmed power coming online and already there, the taxpayers are going to need even more subsidies in the years ahead.

RUBY:

Paul, for months now, the big issue in domestic politics has been this ongoing brawl over borders. We've talked about it almost every week, I think...so where are things at now?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, in a further sign that the Prime Minister's relations with Queensland's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have hit rock bottom. She's accused him of bullying her in a phone call.

Archival Tape -- Parliamentary Speaker

“The premier has the call.”

Archival Tape -- Annastacia Palaszczuk

“I will not be bullied, nor will I be intimidated…”

Archival Tape -- Parliamentary Speaker

“Order!”

Archival Tape -- Annastacia Palaszczuk

“...by the Prime Minister of this country, who contacted me this morning, and who I made very clear to the fact that it is not my decision…”

PAUL:

Now, her office says Morrison yelled down the line “you will do this” as part of his intervention to try and secure a quarantine exemption for Sarah Caisip, who wanted to attend her father's funeral in Brisbane late last week. Well, that version of events of the phone call is denied by the PM's office, but the Premier suspected that a political setup was in play. And this was after Peter Dutton went on radio earlier that day to criticise Queensland's heartless border rules.
And this very issue was the first opposition question in State Parliament, an hour or so later.

And then an hour after that, Morrison was close to tears when he went on 2GB to plead with Palaszczuk to show some compassion.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Surely in the midst of all of this heartache in Covid and everything that everyone's going through, surely just this once, this can be done.”

PAUL:

Now, Ruby, I've got to say to you the spectacle of Morrison and Dutton criticising anyone for a lack of compassion over borders...well, it's simply gob-smacking.

But the Prime Minister can't keep running for cover and looking for diversions when the stakes for the nation are so high.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

RUBY:

See you next week.

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**

RUBY:

Also in the news today…

Australia's unemployment rate has recorded a surprising fall, with 111,000 jobs created last month despite the ongoing lockdown in Victoria.

Unemployment hit 7.5 per cent in July, but fell to 6.8 per cent in August. Victoria was the only state to report an increase in unemployment last month.

And a Gold Coast man has been charged after allegedly making threats to kill Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young.

Queensland Police said they were concerned for the Chief Health Officer’s safety after the threats were made. The 43 year old man has been charged with one count of using a carriage service to make a threat to kill.

**

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

The federal Opposition is seeking to capitalise on the current economic downturn by arguing that the government’s policies are making things worse. Meanwhile, the prime minister is pinning his hopes on a gas-led recovery. Today, Paul Bongiorno on how Labor fired up, and the political battle over energy policy.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

The case against winding back JobKeeper in The Saturday Paper

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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auspol gas energypolicy labor albanese economy morrison stimulus




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312: The cliff and the climate