TRANSCRIPT: ABC RN Breakfast, Wednesday 4 November 2015






SUBJECTS: Climate Change, the Pacific, GST


FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Labor’s leadership team will today wrap up its mini tour of the Pacific. Leader, Bill Shorten and Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek have visited several Pacific Island nations to highlight the catastrophic dangers rising sea levels pose to low-lying communities in Australia’s own neighbourhood. This fact-finding mission comes ahead of the Paris Summit on climate change where world leaders will be under pressure to make moves to limit rising global temperatures to below 2 degrees. Labor Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek spoke earlier this morning with our political editor, Alison Carabine, she’s in Kiribati.

ALISON CARABINE, POLITICAL EDITOR: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


CARABINE: The Tuvalu President, Enele Sopoaga told the UN Climate Summit in Peru that his nation faces the threat of literally disappearing: “it keeps me awake at night: will we survive or will be disappear under the sea?”  From what you’ve seen this week, could that really happen throughout the Pacific, or is it a touch alarmist?

PLIBERSEK: Well yesterday in the Marshall Islands, the Foreign Minister, Tony de Brum, took us out to see, well, where an island used to be, the island of Anebok– an island that had a home on it, a garden, spread fruit trees, palm trees, it’s just literally disappeared into the sea. So, I’m not surprised that Pacific leaders are worried about the future of their nations. We met last night with the President, Anote Tong of Kiribati, who said, “this is all we have: when it’s gone, we are gone with it”, talking about his land. And Ali, the thing that you really notice in both Marshall Islands yesterday and in Kiribati today, was when you fly in you can see these small strips of land, tiny and just barely above sea level, you know you could see how one big wave would wash it away. One you know, very serious storm surge could wash it all away so I’m not surprised that people feel that their future is precarious.

CARABINE: Well yesterday we spoke with the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, Tony de Brum, and he told Fran about how the normal way of life of locals is being compromised. Drought and floods at the same time, salt water creeping into the soil and into fresh water lakes. Once salt enters the lands, crop production is almost impossible. Kiribati has also bought land in Fiji to produce food, so it’s trying to address its food security. But relocating an entire country is probably the last option, but could it really come to that?  

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope not and I think this is the responsibility of the global community to keep, you know, warming to no more then 2 degrees. Even at that level, a lot of these nations face very serious and very expensive challenges of preparing for the effects of climate change. You’ve mentioned food security as one of those challenges. We’re going out today to see causeway damage that’s caused by the obviously changed weather conditions and rising sea levels. It’s expensive to prepare for these challenges, it’s seriously going to affect the way of life that you’re describing – the agricultural production is already affected – people don’t know the season to plant and the season to harvest because the weather is so unpredictable. It is a major challenge to the way of life that people have had for generations.  

CARABINE: Now you did mention the 2 degrees temperature target at next month’s Paris climate change talks. Pacific nations want a much tougher target, they want to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, rather than the 2 degrees preferred by Australia and much of the rest of the world. But will it take the more ambitious target to stop some Pacific islands going under?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important that Australia helps Pacific leaders make their case that even 2 degrees will seriously affect their way of life and the way their people have lived for generations. If we can do better globally, of course that’s better for all of us, not just Pacific nations but for all of us.

CARABINE: So Labor would prefer 1.5 degrees rather than the 2 degrees?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ll continue to argue domestically that our targets need to be in line with the international agreement that has us at no more than 2 degrees. We’ll base our commitments on the science, and make sure that we reduce carbon emissions in the most efficient way. But certainly here, meeting with Pacific leaders, helping them make their case to the global community, I think that’s a very strong responsibility for Australia as well.

CARABINE: The Federal Government in Australia, in this country, has released its post-2020 emissions targets: 26-28 percent by 2030. You have said that that will put Australia at the back of the pack in Paris but how seriously can we take your criticism when we are still to see Labor’s targets?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we’ve announced a great deal of detail about our policies and we’ll announce more. We’ve said very clearly that we’ve got a target of 50 percent renewable energy. We’ve said that we’ll be guided by the international community at the no more than 2 degrees warming. We’ve said that we’ll use the best science to get there. And of course, you know we’re a long way out from an election; we’ll continue to announce policies between now and the election so people can make a choice.  

CARABINE: But Tanya Plibersek, we’re not a long way out from Paris and we are yet to see Labor’s emission reduction targets. What’s the hold up?

PLIBERSEK: We’re consulting with the global community; we’re looking at what the large nations are doing. But Ali, we’re out there with a 50 percent renewable energy target – that is the best down payment we can make to decarbonise the Australian economy and our own nation.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, if I could just take you finallly to the pressing domestic issue at the moment, the GST. The Financial Review is reporting this morning that a future Labor Government would not seek to unwind any changes to the GST, neither any increases nor any broadening of the base. So if the Coalition manages to legislate the changes, Labor wouldn’t subsequently unpick them. Is that the lesson learned from the 2001 election – rollback is unworkable and would be a flop, yet again for Labor?

PLIBERSEK: Well, let’s deal with the issue from the beginning: we don’t see an increase in the GST as either fair or efficient. The Government has been talking a lot about tax reform. This isn’t reform, it’s just a flat out increase. And it’s an increase that affects lower income and middle income families the most. So, we’ll be campaigning against an increase in the GST, and we’re going to focus on that.

CARABINE: But if the increase is legislated, regardless of how unfair or inequitable it is, it would stay under a Labor Government?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what may or may not happen if the Government is foolish enough to pursue this as its centrepiece tax reform.

CARABINE: And if the Coalition wins next year’s election on the back of a GST campaign, would Labor accept that it has a mandate to introduce the changes, regardless of your opposition in the lead up to the election? If it has the mandate, would you not oppose the legislation, the Government legislating the changes in Parliament after the next election?

PLIBERSEK: We’ll do what we’ve said we’ll do. I mean, Look at the things we’ve managed to prevent or mitigate in this term of Government. We’ve managed to prevent pension cuts for full rate pensioners; we’ve managed to prevent $100,000 university degrees. Sadly there are some things we haven’t been able to stop, like the cuts to health and education and the Greens deal with the Government to cut the part pension. But we’ll stand up for our values, and that means, particularly, protecting low and middle income earners from a flat out tax grab.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek thanks for joining RN Breakfast.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Ali.