15 June 2021

SUBJECTS: The Morrison Government’s isolation on climate change; carbon tariffs, Australia-UK free-trade agreement; alleged sexual assault at BHP mine site; Biloela family.

MONDAY, 15 JUNE 2021

SUBJECTS: The Morrison Government’s isolation on climate change; carbon tariffs, Australia-UK free-trade agreement; alleged sexual assault at BHP mine site; Biloela family.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Australia has inked clean energy agreements with Germany and Japan as the G7 plus summit draws to a close in the British seaside town of Cornwall, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has his first face to face meeting with US President Joe Biden, but had to share the time with UK PM Boris Johnson. Labor says it's disappointing and more evidence that Australia's refusal to adopt a target of zero net carbon emissions by 2050 has left us internationally isolated. Madeleine King is the Shadow Minister for Trade and Resources. Welcome.


KARVELAS: What evidence does Labor have that the trilateral meeting between Scott Morrison and Joe Biden and Boris Johnson was a snub to Australia over climate change?

KING: Well it's a bit unexpected and it's certainly not typical for a planned bilateral to turn suddenly into a trilateral meeting, and everyone I think agrees on that. Nonetheless, I think it just demonstrates where Australia sits in this group. One,  we’re a guest for starters, but also we’re the outlier on our action on climate change by not going for that commitment of net zero emissions by 2050. It looks a bit petulant and a bit childish, and it looks like we've been treated as such. 

KARVELAS: Doesn't the fact that Australia signed clean energy agreements with Germany and Japan undermine that argument that you're making that we're internationally isolated?

KING: Well, we still haven't made the commitment to net zero emissions, Patricia, so those agreements are for support on technology, which is important and technology will no doubt play a part in extractive industries and others reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and therefore Australia itself. But the point is that the government is still unwilling to make a commitment that nearly every other country has, and in fact the G7 itself has, and has put front and centre of the agenda of this meeting. Yet for some reason Scott Morrison and his government just want to keep their head in the sand and not commit to something that everyone else is quite willing to do.

KARVELAS: Is there a danger the EU will hit Australia with carbon tariffs if we're not seen to be reducing carbon emissions fast enough, as Greens later Adam Bandt has suggested?

KING: Well, the European Union and its parliament itself has said that. They have suggested a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, they're working on developing that. We're not entirely sure where they will get to, there's a bit of a road to travel in making sure those kinds of tariffs meet WTO rules. But America already took this kind of legislation through its House of Representatives in 2009, so that's a long time ago. I know it hasn't gone any further than that, but these are carbon tariffs that have been on the radar of our biggest trading and investment partners for many, many years. And because we're not dealing with it as a nation, we are likely to face the consequences. I would add that the industries themselves that export what are basically high-emitting resources are doing their best and have committed to net zero emissions because they can see the writing on the wall, that these tariffs may indeed come in and they want to make sure, in the absence of any government leadership on this, they want to make sure that they are reducing their emissions, so that they can continue to export into the future.

KARVELAS: Are you pleased that G7 nations have backed Australia's call to respond to China's threats on global trade?

KING: I do think it's important that G7 nations and like-minded democracies do work together in relation to many things but in particular an open trading system. It’s vitally important for Australia, we are a small nation that depends on trade, so it always has been and continues to be in our interest to make sure the WTO operates effectively. Now the calls that that Scott Morrison made recently before he went to the G7 were around the Appellate Body which we all know floundered and then eventually fell over under Donald Trump. But in the midst of that debate, which was pretty live at the time, Scott Morrison and his government were nowhere to be seen calling out Donald Trump for making the Appellate Body fail, which is exactly what happened. So I'm glad they've come around and they want to reinvigorate this Appellate Body and therefore the WTO, but they could have done it before. 

KARVELAS: Do you agree with Dan Tehan that Australia should be prepared to walk away from a free trade agreement with the UK if it's not the perfect deal?

KING: I think it's important to get a good deal. I do think this is a government that treats trade deals as little trophies up in the cabinet rather than actually seeking to implement them properly. In any negotiation, no matter what it is, I think you do have to be prepared to walk away. It would be an absolute failure if Australia was not able to negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK. Having said that, I don't think you need to do it by Friday. You don't have to do it on a set timeline, and that's the problem with treating trade agreements like this, like they're just a deal to be done like you might buy a coffee or something, I mean it's ridiculous. These things do take time, and they should be considered, and all up I think there's more benefit in this agreement for Australia than there is for the Brits just because of the different size of our market. So I hope the UK and Australia are able to seal a trade deal, but I really hope it's a good quality one and it's done with the time and respect it deserves.

KARVELAS: Were you surprised by the rape allegation at BHPs fly-in fly-out camp in the Pilbara?

KING: I really was surprised, and disappointed, It's just, just awful. And we've seen those allegations made in respect of my workplace in the Parliament, and we know it happens in workplaces right around the country. And when the focus is on what’s happened in Parliament, we must not forget that these events occur in everyday life to women all around the country, whether it's the mining sector or other sectors. So this is the kind of incident that has to be stamped out. I mean, at its heart, and I said this months ago, basically men have to stop raping women in this country. This is the baseline problem we have, whether it is in Parliament, or a mining FIFO camp. Wherever it is, it just has to stop.

KARVELAS: What does it say about the culture in mining camps that BHP offers a chaperone service for people returning to their dongas from the on-site pub? 

KING: It says a lot, doesn't it. It’s a dreadful shame that this is what's happening, that women don't feel safe and have to have a chaperone. This happens in university campuses too, where they have to have security guards escorting women back to their cars. It happens in so many places, and these FIFO camps are quite a controlled community, they are an intense kind of atmosphere that exists in them because obviously everyone's just going there to work but clearly with the bars that they've set up there's more than just work. So it's a very challenging environment where people are taken out of their ordinary lives and their wider communities and their families, and put into these intensive communities. And I know BHP is doing what it can to address it, and it really has to take this seriously. And I know they do. But it does look like this kind of behaviour has been going on for some time, and it simply has to stop.

KARVELAS: Just finally, what's your reaction to reports that a decision that would allow the Tamil asylum seeker family on Christmas Island to live freely in Australia is imminent?

KING: Well, I'd be very pleased if that was the case. Australians right around the country can hardly believe the efforts, and the expenditure, that has been made to restrain this family in a camp on a remote island. Half of the family is now in Perth, but in hospital. That this country can spend millions of dollars and effectively make a young child very sick, is something that shames us all. I look forward to the decision. I hope it's a decision that the family would like. And I look forward to hearing it and I hope the government makes a compassionate, considered, thoughtful decision on this as soon as possible. No one needs to wait any longer. 

KARVELAS: Thanks for your time Madeleine. 

KING: Thanks Patricia.