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What is Labor doing on coal?

Dec 19, 2019 • 13m 34s

Anthony Albanese says ending Australian coal exports won’t halt climate change. He says we need to cut emissions, but Adani should get on with it and start digging in the Galilee Basin.

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What is Labor doing on coal?

146 • Dec 19, 2019

What is Labor doing on coal?

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

Anthony Albanese says ending Australian coal exports won’t halt climate change. He says we need to cut emissions, but Adani should get on with it and start digging in the Galilee Basin. Karen Middleton on how Labor is resetting its coal rhetoric.

[Theme music ends]

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Unidentified male reporter:

‘Anthony Albanese visited Rockhampton today as part of a regions QLD tour reconnecting…’

Archival tape — Unidentified female reporter:

‘Anthony Albanese doubling down on Labor’s effects to woo back regional Queensland…’

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

‘Well the first thing you do is come and talk to people and talk to them straight.’

Archival tape — Unidentified female reporter:

‘The Opposition Leader heading deep into coal country, speaking to locals on a four day tour of central Queensland.’

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

‘What we’re getting back is the feedback that Queenslanders are concerned about jobs. They’re also concerned about job security.’

ELIZABETH:

So, Karen, Anthony Albanese spent most of last week touring Queensland. He was talking about coal, mostly, which has been especially loaded for the Opposition since the election. Tell me about his trip.

KAREN:

Well, yes, he went through central Queensland. He went to places like Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, the town of Dingo, little places through the Queensland Coal Belt there in in the middle of the state.

ELIZABETH:

Karen Middleton is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent. She’s the author of Albanese: Telling it Straight.

[Music ends]

KAREN:

He was trying to win back a few friends that Labor lost in the course of the last elections. That's where their votes slumped the worst and a lot of that was attributed to the issues around their positioning on coal mining. And so he has started the long road back, he hopes, to winning back some support ahead of the next election that's due in a couple of years.

ELIZABETH:

And what was the message that he was sharing around coal and climate change specifically?

KAREN:

Well, it's quite interesting because it's not really a policy change. Somebody put it to me last week, it was more a prevarication change, in other words, they had been flip flopping a little bit on coal mining throughout the election campaign, and they were accused really of having different messages in different places.

So the objective for Labor was to say that they weren't anti-coal mining. They were in favour of the jobs that coal mining creates and the exports that are essential for the state of Queensland. But they don't necessarily favour new coal mines starting up. And they think that coal is as a resource is having to be phased out. But they're going to focus on the transition out of mining, which they say the government hasn't done, and that really Labor didn't do politically in the lead up to the election either.

ELIZABETH:

So, Karen, is it fair to say this is more of a change in rhetoric as opposed to a change in policy, or is that going too far?

KAREN:

I think that's right. Depends who you talk to, really. There are some people in the Labor Party who would advocate a more strenuous acknowledgement of the role of coal and embracing of coal, if you like. And there are others who want a more strenuous distancing. I think the policy probably sits roughly where it was before, although Labor hasn't fixed on its new policy positions yet for the next election, it won't really do that until the end of next year when it holds its national conference. But it's about the messaging, as you say. Albanese's arguing you've just got to phase out the mining gradually so that you don't damage the economy.

ELIZABETH:

And so where do you think this change, this shift is coming from? As you say, there's different voices within the party, but are the other forces that mean this change in rhetoric has come about?

KAREN:

The interesting thing I found out last week was there was a sharp slump in Labor's tracking polling about three weeks out from the election in Queensland at the time that the convoy, led by former Greens leader Bob Brown, was traveling up to the town of Clermont coal mining town in Queensland, advocating against the Adani mine in particular. And this really galvanised people in Queensland. And the analysts in the Labor Party attributed that five percentage point slump in the tracking polling within just a few days to that convoy.

ELIZABETH:

Just to give us some context. How dire is that at the midway point in a campaign?

KAREN:

Well, people who work with tracking polling closely tell me that usually a big shift in the middle of a campaign, so away from the obvious points where you would expect people's focus to sharpen like the beginning of a campaign when it's announced and the end, just before the election. Mid campaign it's unusual to have a sharp rise or fall of more than one or two percentage points. So five percentage points in the space of a few days was massive.

ELIZABETH:

And Karen, let’s go to Adani specifically. What’s Labor’s position on that project now?

KAREN:

Well, it was interesting through the course of last week when that messaging started to emerge, the change in tone. The government was goading Labor, particularly Matt Canavan, the resources minister, was goading Anthony Albanese and saying, I just want to hear him say three words. “I support Adani.” Of course, Albanese is not given to taking dictation from the government, so he wasn't very keen to accede to that. But he was asked the direct question on Rockhampton radio, um wi-- will you say the three words?

Archival tape — Laurie Atlas, Rockhampton radio:

‘Look, I’m not trying to catch you out here, but I got ten back on Facebook in, in an hour and they all just wanted you to say three words: I support Adani. Can you say it?’

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

‘Mate, that’s Matt Canavan under ten dodgy names. Fair dinkum. This bloke every day spent all his time instead of governing and acting like a Minister, ringing journalists trying to get ahh…’

KAREN:

And his response was, look, Adani has been approved. It's an approved mine. We can't change that now...

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

‘Look, Adani has been approved. It’s been approved. It’s been through all the environmental approvals.’

Archival tape — Laurie Atlas, Rockhampton radio:

‘It’s all done.’

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

‘The question is, for Adani actually, is why hasn’t it met its own deadlines? It should get on with it. People want to see... ‘

[Music starts]

KAREN:

Let's not focus on just one mine that's become a totemic thing. Let's talk about the whole industry. And we, we want to see jobs grow from that mine and deadlines of getting on with it and creating those jobs. So I guess Albanese’s trying to deflect some of that criticism and turn it back on the company and the government as well. But um...still a complicated political issue for Labor. He doesn't want to say he supports Adani directly, but he also doesn't want to say he doesn't. He's now got these competing constituencies that have been brought into stark relief through the election campaign. And he has to try and knit them back together. And that's the exercise he's engaged in.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Karen, we're talking about Labor and coal. You spoke to Albanese last week. What did he say about his changing rhetoric here and his support for coal exports?

KAREN:

Well what's interesting is he's really adopting a new line on coal exports in particular and saying, look, if we stopped exporting coal tomorrow, we won't have any impact on global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions because other coal producing countries will step into the breach. So all that will happen is we’ll damage our economy and we will not have any noticeable effect on the overall reduction of emissions globally. This is attracting some criticism because, of course, it's the same line that was used by members of the Coalition government, and particularly by Tony Abbott when he was in government, saying our contributions won't make any difference, we should focus on our domestic economy and not worry about the fact that we export coal and out coal is cleaner than other countries coal. That's what Tony Abbott was saying. And that's essentially what Labor is now saying to them.

ELIZABETH:

And what about the actual discussion around climate change with some of the people who might be on that other side, people like miners, farmers? How does Labor see the messaging they're going to need to manage on that side?

KAREN:

When you talk to people inside the Labor Party about climate change, they say the miners and the farmers don't need to be persuaded that action is required on climate change. They already know that. It's the question of how much they are the ones that will have to suffer when others are not suffering in taking that action and what sort of action is taken over what period of time, and how it is managed so that they don't become the sort of sacrificial lambs, if you like.

ELIZABETH:

In other words, we don't wanna be the losers in this transition. We need government support and we need to feel that we're being considered in that transition.

KAREN:

And respected. And I think that Anthony Albanese makes that point very strongly, that people in the coal mining industry have a right to be respected and that they were not treated with adequate respect by Labor or by the government through the course of all of these debates, and that Labor needs to acknowledge it needs to do better.

ELIZABETH:

Hmmm.

KAREN:

Of course, the entire Labor Party is concerned about the way the election went in the end. And there is a group that's pushing to address these issues but ultimately they are looking at the election loss, particularly in Queensland, but also in New South Wales and in other states, and trying to work out how they can change their policies and their messaging to win more votes and more support at the next election. And ultimately that’s their aim. They say that if they don't do that, they can't get into a position of government.

I mean, I had somebody saying to me, you know, we actually have to be in government to bring about change on any issue, including climate change and the transition from fossil fuels.

If we can't win government, we can't do anything. So that ultimately we have to try and get into office. And the question for Labor is going to be how much compromise do they need to make on the way through in order to get there? Is that acceptable compromise to their traditional constituents on the left and the right? And how are they going to find a way of uniting those constituents again and being a party with one single message on some of the most contentious issues that we're dealing with in politics?

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

‘We all know, and the government acknowledges that there is a cost to carbon pollution. It’s a matter of whether you leave it alone and deal with it later on, let the next generation deal with it. Or whether we deal with it ourselves.’

KAREN:

It's been the most troublesome and damaging issue, I think, politically in Australia for the last ten years, we've seen prime minister after prime minister lose their jobs on this issue. Really, in the end, all of the removals of prime minister between elections that we've seen came back in some way or other to the handling of the issue of climate change and fossil fuels. And it remains this intractable issue that we can't seem to find a political agreement on. It became politicised a decade ago and it has remained the most politicised issue, more politicised in this country than it is elsewhere in the world. I think a lot of Australians would just wish that that politicians could sit down and work this out together for the sake of the future of the planet and the generations to come that are going to be left to clean up the mess if we don't do something about it.

ELIZABETH:

Karen, thank you so much. For today and all your contributions this year.

KAREN:

Thanks, Elizabeth.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Preliminary weather data recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology on Tuesday suggests it may have been Australia’s hottest day on record. The claim is based on the maximum temperatures recorded across the country, which reached 40.9 degrees. This overtakes the previous record of 40.3 degrees from 2013. Forecasts for the coming days suggest that this record could be broken later this week.

And in Sydney on Tuesday, famed investor Sir Ron Brierly was charged with six counts of possessing child abuse material. Now aged 82, Brierly was arrested at Sydney International Airport as he waited to board a flight to Fiji. He rose to prominence as a corporate raider in New Zealand, before investing in Australian companies into the 1980s. Brierly been granted strict bail conditions and will remain living at his Point Piper mansion until the matter is heard early next year.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Friday.

[Theme music ends]

Anthony Albanese says ending Australian coal exports won’t halt climate change. He says we need to cut emissions, but Adani should get on with it and start digging in the Galilee Basin. Karen Middleton on how Labor is resetting its coal rhetoric.

Guest: Chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton.

Background reading:

Labor changes message on coal in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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coal climate labor qld albanese auspol




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146: What is Labor doing on coal?