SUBJECTS: Vehicle emissions standards; Liberal Party division; Schools funding.

ALICIA LOXLEY, PRESENTER: Today joining us, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is in our Brisbane studio. Hello, thanks for joining us.


LOXLEY: Yes, Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek is in Sydney. Hello.


LOXLEY: Hello. And I am of course in Melbourne. This is Pollie Graph. Now if you have a question for either Josh Frydenberg, of course Minister for the Environment and Energy, or Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Education Minister, now is your chance - 1300 222 774 or send me a text 0437 774 774. A busy week as always in politics. Josh Frydenberg, let's start with you. A carbon tax on cars - so there was a plan and now there's no plan?

FRYDENBERG: Well there certainly wasn't a plan to introduce a carbon tax on the family car, I've said that it’s about as likely as Elvis making a comeback. The reality is that Australia doesn't have any vehicle emissions standards, whereas 80 per cent of the world passenger vehicle fleet does, including countries like the United States, the UK, Canada, Japan, and Korea. We've been consulting since October 2015 with industry on this efficient- on these type of changes, as well as a whole series of changes, but certainly the Government hasn’t made any decisions.

LOXLEY: Okay so if not a carbon tax then, what is the plan? If you've been in consultation since 2015, what's it looking like?

FRYDENBERG: Well, what was released last December was a draft regulatory impact statement, which had three proposals in it. One of them was to reduce the amount of CO2 per kilometre travelled for new passenger vehicles to 105. Another was to reduce it to 119, and I think the third was 135 grams. Now currently, the new passenger vehicles in Australia have an average of around 160 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled, so it would be a significant change to adopt any of those proposals, but what we were interested in doing is getting the feedback from industry and other key stakeholders, bearing in mind that fuel efficiency and vehicle efficiency standards can substantially reduce the cost to consumers of their car fuel bill.

LOXLEY: Well that's the question isn't it, Tanya Plibersek? Is it such a bad idea if motorists are going to be able to save money on their fuel?

PLIBERSEK: No it's a great idea. I don't know what's taking the Government so long. In fact, more than three years ago they were handed a blueprint that would help them implement exactly what Josh is talking about, that 80 per cent of the world has, these lower vehicle emissions standards, and they've been dragging their feet. Our estimate, sorry not Labor's estimate, but the estimate is that over the life of a vehicle you'd save about $7 000 in fuel costs as well. So lower pollution, lower fuel costs over time. I mean, it makes no sense at all that a Toyota Yaris sold in Australia is three times dirtier than a Toyota Yaris sold in the UK. Why is that? How can we allow that to continue?

LOXLEY: Tanya Plibersek, is it worthwhile adding though that upfront cost of $5 000? And we know the connotations that come with the term 'carbon tax'?

PLIBERSEK: Well hang on a minute, there's one estimate of a $5 000 upfront cost, I've seen another one from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries that says that adopting the Euro Six rules, which Josh will be able to explain to you in much more detail than I can, would add about $500 to $1 800 per car. So there are different estimates around. This technology, of course, is becoming cheaper all the time. The fact that most other jurisdictions are requiring these lower emissions vehicles means that Australia's getting basically the remainder-bin cars of the world, and we don't deserve that, we actually deserve to have better vehicle emissions standards in Australia, save fuel costs over time and I'm sure as technology becomes cheaper, the price difference upfront is going to continue to reduce.

LOXLEY: Josh Frydenberg, your response?

FRYDENBERG: Well Tanya and I can start by agreeing on something, which is we don’t want to be - 

LOXLEY: That's nice. That's a good way to start.

FRYDENBERG: That's right, let's capture that one and book that win. But look, we - 

PLIBERSEK: Or you could just always agree with me Josh, because you know really, in your heart of hearts, you want to.

LOXLEY: That wouldn't be any fun though.

FRYDENBERG: I'm a closet left-wing Labor person, that's right. 

PLIBERSEK: That's what all your friends say, Josh.

FRYDENBERG: That's right, yeah. Well they're not friends are they? But look, the reality is that we don't want to be the dumping ground for less efficient fuel vehicle cars and we have seen, in the built environment, we have seen in appliances that we're able to get energy savings and savings to the consumer by becoming more efficient. So there's no reason why we can't do the same in vehicles. But there are a lot of delicate issues here, there are transition timetables. Australia is different to a number of those European nations in terms of the length of distance travelled and the size of the continent, and we just have to bear that in mind when we make these type of policy choices.

LOXLEY: Is the term 'carbon tax' part of what's delicate here?

FRYDENBERG: Well it's not a carbon tax that has been talked about in terms of the discussion with the industry and I think that is completely wrong.

LOXLEY: Tanya Plibersek, would your government, if elected, be game enough to implement something that's been dubbed a 'carbon tax for cars'?

PLIBERSEK: Well we actually went to the last election promising to do this, and I don't care what you call it, call it a vegemite sandwich as long as we actually reduce the pollution from the cars.

LOXLEY: 1300 222 774, let me know your thoughts. You're listening to ABC Radio Melbourne, I'm speaking with Josh Frydenberg and Tanya Plibersek for Pollie Graph. Peter has called in from Templestowe. Hi Peter, what did you want to say?

PETER: I was just wondering that given the abject failure of the Coalition to manage greenhouse gases in Australia, will Josh Frydenberg now resign?

LOXLEY: Minister?

PLIBERSEK: That's not my brother alright, I'm just telling you.

FRYDENBERG: I was about to say, you know, these Labor callers who ring in. Look, the reality is that we have been very successful in meeting our emissions reduction targets. We beat our first Kyoto target, we're on track to beat our 2020 target by 224 million tonnes, and through technology and the suite of policies we have in place, whether it's the RET, the Emissions Reduction Fund or the National Energy Productivity Plan, we will beat our 2030 emissions reduction targets. In fact, in the December quarter figures I just put out recently, it did show that in the electricity sector emissions have fallen by 1.3 per cent. Now, in other areas they'd gone up, and the reality for that was because we'd seen more production in iron and steel as well as the LNG facilities in Queensland coming up to full speed, so we are on track to meet our 2030 targets and anyone who tells you differently is just putting a political lie.

PLIBERSEK: Actually, Josh, I cannot believe that you can say, I presume you're saying it with a straight face, it's radio so I can't tell, but your most recent figures showed an annual increase of 1.4 per cent. Nobody believes that pollution's going down, the graph that's in your own quarterly update of Australia's national greenhouse gas inventory shows that pollution continues to increase, it's much higher than when we left office. In fact, just the last figures- the figures that were released just before Christmas, showed projections that carbon pollution in 2020 is projected to be 2 per cent above 2000 levels, which is well short of the 5 per cent reduction that is your target, as well as our target. In fact, under us carbon pollution fell by 10 per cent, under your government it's actually increased by 6 per cent - 

[talking over each other]

- they can look at the graph in your own reports, to show that nobody believes that we are on track to meet our international obligations. And what's particularly insulting about this is there's $2.5 billion worth of Direct Action that has seen pollution go up and electricity prices go up, and employment in the renewables sector plummet. I mean, you couldn't come up with a worse policy.

LOXLEY: Josh Frydenberg, you get the right of reply now. 

FRYDENBERG: This is not the Parliament where she gets three minutes to provide an answer - 

LOXLEY: I just wish you were both in Melbourne, I'd be able to wrangle you maybe a little bit better if you were both here.

FRYDENBERG: Two simple points. The Emissions Reduction Fund has led to 189 million tonnes of abatement, at an average cost of $11.83, a fraction of what the disastrous $15 billion carbon tax from the Labor Party did. Now, there's a simple question for Tanya - is emissions in Australia today, on a per capita and a GDP basis, which is relative to what we are producing, the lowest in 27 years, yes or no?

PLIBERSEK: All I can point to is the graphs in your own reports, Josh, that show that pollution is going up under your policies, with most recently an annual increase of 1.4 per cent. So you can pick and choose any – 

[talking over each other]

FRYDENBERG: You're the one who's picking and choosing. The reality is - 

PLIBERSEK: Page six of the quarterly update of Australia's National Gas Inventory - 

FRYDENBERG: These are inconvenient truths for you Tanya. 

PLIBERSEK: Pollution is going up Josh, and everybody knows it, and it's costing us an awful lot of taxpayers’ dollars to do it, and energy prices are going up at the same time. You could not have designed a worse policy.

FRYDENBERG: They went up more than a hundred per cent under you.

PLIBERSEK: They've doubled under you.

FRYDENBERG: No, they haven't, well, that's actually wrong.

[talking over each other]

LOXLEY: Okay, you're listening to ABC Radio Melbourne, I'm just going to have to talk over you until you both stop talking. My name is Alicia Loxley. 1300 222 774 if you would like to ask either Josh Frydenberg or Tanya Plibersek a question. Let's get a quick traffic check and then we'll be back. 


This is Pollie Graph with Josh Frydenberg and Tanya Plibersek. Let's take some calls now. Leanne is calling from Dingley. Hi Leanne.

LEANNE: Hi, how're you going?

LOXLEY: Good, what did you want to say?

LEANNE: I just wanted to ask who decided to call it a carbon tax for cars? I mean, was it the media or was it the car industry? Because that really undermines the good work that is actually being done here by the government.

LOXLEY: Okay Leanne, thank you. Graeme in Mornington - Graeme what did you want to say?

GRAEME: Yeah, just a moment ago Josh used the phrase an inconvenient truth. Well the inconvenient truth just happens to be that hybrid cars are no more economical and less polluting than a normal petrol engine car, and secondly, you go to charge up an electric car, you plug it into the wall or whatever or you drive it over an induction pad, and where does the electricity come from? In Victoria you can bet London to a brick it's coming from Yallourn and it's pollution. So, you know, there's a lot of nonsense about this pollution business from motor vehicles, and the benefit of electric cars. The whole thing is just nonsensical and no one will face the fact, and I cannot see why politicians argue over the merits of certain vehicles and the like when nothing has an advantage over the other at the moment.

LOXLEY: Okay Graeme, thank you for your call. Plenty to talk about. Let's move on to the sensible centre. Josh Frydenberg, there are reports that Cabinet was prepared for a backlash on this after Malcolm Turnbull's speech in London, but it never came. Jeff Kennett was just about the only one. Let's have a listen to what he had to say.

KENNETT (recording): It just seems to me to be an appalling lack of political judgement. Why would you do it? Why would you do it from overseas? Why would you throw a can of petrol onto a fire? So if I sound frustrated, I am frustrated, because there's so little a Liberal like myself can actually do, because ultimately those in office just overwhelm. And they're playing out a game which is anti-Australian. And by that I mean it's not in Australia's interest, and I don't know how they're going to resolve it. I just have no idea.

LOXLEY: Josh Frydenberg, the conservatives in the party have been pretty well behaved in the wake of Malcolm Turnbull's comments. 

FRYDENBERG: Well I did notice that Eric Abetz, who is obviously a well-known conservative voice, has said that the headlines were a beat-up on the Prime Minister's speech in London. Having read the speech in its entirety, what the Prime Minister did do is point out that the Liberal Party, from its origins, when Sir Robert Menzies established it in 1944, always straddled those two major traditions - the conservative tradition, represented by Edmund Burke, and the small-l liberalism tradition, of John Stuart Mill. And I think we've done it effectively ever since our formation, and we continue to do so today.

LOXLEY: Is Tony Abbott finally coming into line do you think?

FRYDENBERG: Well Tony Abbott is a member of the Turnbull Government and his interest, as well as my interest, is in seeing the Government returned at the next election. So I think Tony Abbott does understand how important it is that the Coalition continue to govern, and to govern well.

LOXLEY: Do you think this marks though, the end of the sniping? Are you confident of that?

FRYDENBERG: Look I think there'll always be differences between personalities as well as policies, so I would never say that we'll have, to quote Neville Chamberlain, peace in our time. But I think we will, you know, continue to see a focus on good government as well as the alternative government, which is the Labor Party and the problems that they will bring. 

LOXLEY: Tanya Plibersek, where does all this sensible centre talk leave the Labor Party?

PLIBERSEK: Look who cares what the Liberal Party says about itself? I mean, what really matters is what's happening in ordinary people's lives. The fact that we've got below trend growth, that we're now below the G7 and OECD average in terms of economic growth - that means that we're worried about jobs, people haven't seen wage rises, wages are at historic low rates of growth, even going backwards, penalty rates have been cut, we continue to see a tax on Medicare, we've seen the big cuts to schools, universities are next in line. The Liberals can't even agree, they commissioned the Finkel Report to do something pretty mild when it comes to climate change, they can't even agree to do that. They can't even agree to get the vehicle emissions that 80 per cent of the world has. Who cares what they call themselves? The fact is they are failing Australians. The point I'm making is that it doesn't matter what they say about themselves, what matters is what they do for Australians. And at the moment they are letting us down every day. Debt and deficit blown out, I mean, the list is as long as your arm -

FRYDENBERG: People are turning off Tanya.

LOXLEY: Alright, let's go to some calls now. Josh has called in from Kensington. Hi Josh, what did you want to say?

JOSH: Hi, yes. Being a teacher myself, I've noticed the drastic rate of burnout in teachers, and I was just wondering Tanya, what's being done to address this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Well not nearly enough. And the fact that we're moving away from proper needs-based funding for our schools means that the ability to give kids the one-on-one attention they need, so that kids who are falling behind get help to catch up, so that they're not acting up in class, so the kids who are gifted and talented get the chance to extend themselves, losing those opportunities with the education cuts makes all of that worse. I think you're quite right that teacher burnout and principal burnout as well is a very significant issue, we've got a big cohort of people who'll be retiring in the next few years just because they're getting to that age now and the investment in leadership and bringing on the next generation of principals and highly accomplished teachers, that is something that the Commonwealth Government has to work with the States and Territories on.

LOXLEY: Josh Frydenberg, your response?

FRYDENBERG: Well we've just announced today the Gonski panel, to focus on excellence in our schools. And when it comes to teacher training we've got a great focus on that too, recognising that we need teachers who are top of their class themselves in literacy and numeracy. But unfortunately, we've got through a very significant package of reforms to our education system, and an additional $23.5 billion, without the support of the Opposition. And after years for calling for a needs-based, fair, transparent system, based on the Gonski model, they thumbed their nose at it -

PLIBERSEK: That's because it's not needs-based.

FRYDENBERG: No, no, because of your political position, not because of your policy position.

PLIBERSEK: That's not true.

FRYDENBERG: Well it is, it is. Across your electorate, the schools were going to be better off by an average of $2.5 million.

PLIBERSEK: That's not true. You're actually cutting funding for the Northern Territory and Tasmania-

[talking over each other]

FRYDENBERG: 9 000 plus schools better off.

PLIBERSEK: No they're not. Compared with Tony Abbott's cuts, $30 billion of cuts, they're better off compared with Tony Abbott's $30 billion of cuts which were never legislated through the Parliament. Compared with the Labor's arrangements, this is a cut of $17 billion. And when you look at the Northern Territory public schools getting the lowest rate of indexation in the country that's not needs-based funding. And Tasmanian public schools getting the second lowest rate of indexation, that's not needs-based funding. And Geelong Grammar getting a big fat increase, that's not needs-based funding. This is not needs-based, it's not sector-blind, and as for reform - all of the reforms that Labor insisted on in our education reform agreements have actually been removed from this legislation. There is no ambition in this legislation to see Australia as a top-performing school system. There's no insistence on more school autonomy and better support for teachers - all of that's been removed from the legislation. 

LOXLEY: Tanya Plibersek, I wanted to ask you about what Simon Birmingham, the Education Minister, announced - that panel of experts Josh Frydenberg referred to. That's got to be a good thing, doesn't it? That this panel of experts is going to be looking at what are the best teaching and learning strategies, putting aside the needs-based funding, but isn't it good that we have some experts, finally, some would argue, looking at what is going wrong in Australian schools and why standards have fallen compared internationally?

PLIBERSEK: Well there's a lot of excellent work that's being done on making sure that we continue to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms. So it's not -

LOXLEY: But the results up to this point say that whatever's being done so far is not working.

PLIBERSEK: Well that's because only a fraction of extra funding ever flowed before this government cut funding, that's a big reason for it. But this panel doesn't have any current teachers on it, it doesn't have any representation from Victoria or Tasmania or the ACT or the Northern Territory, probably not a coincidence given that they're some of the systems that'll do worst out of the new arrangements. It is, of course, absolutely vital that every extra dollar we spend is a dollar of improvement in our schools, but I think it is actually wrong to say that we don't know what would make a difference. We already have a lot of the keys to what would make a difference, what we don't have is the money to implement that and now, we don't have a legislative base to implement it either, because the Government's taken all of those reforms out of the Education Act. 

LOXLEY: A very quick response, Josh Frydenberg?

FRYDENBERG: Well I feel sorry for Tanya, because they're playing real catch-up here. She was caught out on a break when David Gonski appeared with the Prime Minister and ticked off on the Government's reforms. We got it through the Parliament despite the Labor Party being missing in action. We've now put together an expert panel with the former heads of the Education Departments in both NSW and SA in Ken Boston, David Gonski, both members of the original panel. We're getting on with the job of improving standards in our schools, giving record funding, making it transparent, making it fair, making it needs-based. Simon Birmingham and Malcolm Turnbull have really done well in what is a very difficult space and they've had not support whatsoever, unfortunately, from the Labor Party.

LOXLEY: I'll have to stop you there we have run out of time with Pollie Graph. Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Environment and Energy, Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Education Minister, thanks as always for joining us.