Television Interview From Beijing with Jim Middleton for the World ABC TV












SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s US Trip; Climate Change; G20; China.


JIM MIDDLETON: Tanya Plibersek, good to be talking to you. You are in Beijing but Tony Abbott is in Washington. What should he be saying to Barack Obama when he meets him in just a few hours from now?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, it's certainly not my job to script Prime Minister Abbott's conversation with President Obama. What I expect will be discussed is Australia's changing position on climate change which is obviously causing some consternation, not just in Washington but in other parts of the globe as well.

MIDDLETON: You and the Labor Party have said that climate change should be on the agenda for this year's G20 summit in Australia but aren't there more important, more immediate economic questions, to trouble the world's financial leaders, say, for example, the question of global tax avoidance by major multinationals, Google and others, which are costing Governments around the world billions of dollars?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think profit shifting and tax avoidance or evasion are very important issues to discuss. There is a very strong reason to talk about them at the G20. But that doesn't suggest that we shouldn't be talking about another very important economic issue which is climate change. Of course climate change is an environmental issue but it is an economic issue too. The cost of doing nothing is too great for the world to bear. Taking action now makes sense because if we don't, it'll be a costlier exercise in the future.

MIDDLETON: I might come back to China and climate change in a moment but before we do, last weekend you called the Prime Minister's Washington schedule embarrassing, you called him a Nigel-no-friends. As it turns out, his dance card is filling up. For example, he has met IMF chief Christine Lagarde. So, perhaps not quite as embarrassing as you might have made it out to be?

PLIBERSEK: Well, at that time the meeting with the IMF and the World Bank had been cancelled and the meeting with the US Treasury Secretary had also apparently been cancelled. And what a proposition, to go to Washington, to have tentatively scheduled meetings with these phenomenally important people and institutions in a year that Australia is hosting the G20 and not to be meeting with them, it would have been quite extraordinary.

MIDDLETON: One of the big problems in relation to climate change leading up to the Copenhagen summit in 2008, one of the flies in the ointment was China's intransigence. You are in Beijing now. How certain are you, as a consequence of your discussions, that China's attitude has changed, that it will be more sympathetic and be a more useful weapon in the fight against climate change when discussions get serious in Paris next year?

PLIBERSEK: Well obviously Jim I can't speak for the Chinese Government but what did surprise me is that in several of our meetings the issue of climate change was raised with us by our Chinese counterparts, including some very senior people in the Chinese Government. They talked to us about the fact that they’ve got several emissions trading schemes trialling in several large cities around China and there is a sixth one about to start shortly and that they're looking to extend that to a national scheme in coming years. They talked to us about reducing the carbon intensity of their economy, they talked to us about increasing the supply of renewable energy in China. Very strong statements about their future intentions. Of course it's not my responsibility to speak on their behalf or to make suggestions about exactly what they'll do but I've got to say I was very pleasantly surprised.

MIDDLETON: Do you get the impression that attitudes in china are changing because pressure is coming up from the grassroots as it were. That because of the very profound pollution problems that China has, that citizens are no longer prepared to have their officials sit on the sidelines, ignore the problem, think it will go away, that they are demanding action and that is genuinely influencing the views of the leadership?

PLIBERSEK: Look I can't answer that question exactly but what I can say is that coming out of the third plenum at the end of last year President Xi Jinping was talking a lot about the quality of economic development in China. That the rate of economic development is important but that quality of that economic development is important too. And one of the issues he spoke about specifically, and it has been raised with us in almost every meeting that I've been in, is air quality. The air pollution in large Chinese cities is obviously a health problem for Chinese citizens and people working here, it's also a break on economic development for a range of different reasons. So I think that the fact that there are grave concerns about air quality here, you can see it just looking out your window most days, has come together with China's desire to be seen as a responsible global citizen on this issue of climate change. Those two things seem to be working together and leading to what I hope will be a stronger commitment next year.

MIDDLETON: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Jim.


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