SUBJECTS: NEG; Great Barrier Reef Foundation; Universities.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: For Labor's view on this I spoke to the Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek and I asked will they be trying to maximise the Government's political difficulties or acting in the national interest?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, we have said all along that we want to work with the Government to bring down power prices, to bring down pollution, to see investment in renewables, to see growth in jobs, but we are not yet convinced that the Government's new policy will do those things. We said we'd work with them on the Emissions Intensity Scheme, we said we'd work with them on the Clean Energy Target. This national energy guarantee has very low ambition for pollution reduction and we're very concerned about some of the noises coming from the Government that they’ll be using taxpayer funds to subsidise new investment in coal-fired power generation, so we need to see what the final product of the coalition party rooms is. We don't know what the Prime Minister will have to give away to get support from his own people for this policy and then we need to also see what comes out of the discussions with the states and territories. We are willing to work with the Government but not at any cost. We want to see lower power prices, lower pollution, more jobs and more investment in renewables.
GILBERT: When you talk about them subsidising coal fired power, this is has come out of a report by Rod Sims the Chairman of the competition watchdog who says that government underwriting new dispatchable power is something that should be considered, the Government is considering that and fast tracking that why is that not the right approach?
PLIBERSEK: Because Rod Sims has been utterly clear that new coal is not is what he was calling for. Kerry Schott, who's head of the Energy Security Board, says there will be no new investment in coal fired power stations if you leave the market to itself in Australia. So when you've got experts like that saying that coal is uninvestable, unbankable in Australia...
GILBERT: But that's contradicted by the front page of The Australian today, Delta-
PLIBERSEK: No! Don't tell me The Australian's got an agenda that it's running?
GILBERT:  Yeah but it's the chairman of Delta Electricity, Trevor St Baker, who's saying it, I mean they've got direct quotes from him saying he'd back it, he'd invest in it.
PLIBERSEK: And all of the information we have is that renewables are becoming cheaper than coal all the time. Look, coal is going to be part of our immediate energy mix for decades to come, but the decision to spend years building a new coal fire power station that will run for decades after that, that's something that shouldn't be attracting taxpayers’ support.
GILBERT: But this individual from Delta Electricity says that he's already had expressions from Japanese and Chinese potential partners for a high efficiency, low emissions plan, a Healy coal plant. You don't buy that?
PLIBERSEK: Well I don't know what submissions he's had. What I know is that most people who are expert in the energy market say that without government subsidy new coal is unbankable and I mean these plants will take years to build at the same time as renewables are getting cheaper all the time. It makes no sense.
GILBERT: Well let's look at a few other issues, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a fundamental point is the Government stumped up $444 million to the reef. Obviously the process was messy but the outcome, what’s wrong with it?
PLIBERSEK: We don’t know what the outcome is.
GILBERT: -in the sense that this foundation is going to leverage more funds-
GILBERT: - it's working with the CSIRO in what projects it's delivering. I spoke to Anna Marsden she said that's their focus.
PLIBERSEK: Do you know what? We are of course supportive of investments that protect the Great Barrier Reef. It's a very important, globally it's a very important natural asset but it's also a very important economic asset for the state of Queensland, about 60,000 jobs we believe depend on the reef, of course we want to protect the reef. The most important thing we could do to protect the reef by the way is deal with climate change because that's its greatest threat but secondly of course we support taxpayer funds looking after the reef, is this the best use of those funds, half a billion dollars given to an organisation with six staff, all out the door, no plan on how to spend that money. The plan for how to spend the money came after the money was promised to this organisation. That is highly irregular. We don't know if this is the best organisation to receive the money. It would have been great to have an open tender process to see how that money would be best distributed. 
GILBERT: But she tells me, the managing director was on this program earlier in the week says they are working with the CSIRO in choosing what projects to invest in, that there is a former Deputy Head of the CSIRO on their panel, on their expert panel, so how is it, it’s not like they are trying to undermine the health of the reef?
PLIBERSEK: But we don't know whether that money would have been best given directly to the CSIRO, to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. We need a transparent and contestable distribution of taxpayer funds. Yesterday we had, and on the weekend we had, the Minister saying this was a very normal process, that they had done due diligence. We hear from the head of this organisation, that in fact they had never been contacted about a grant of this size, that they feel like they have won the lottery. This is like not just winning the lottery, it’s like winning the lottery when you haven't bought a ticket. It is an extraordinary abuse of process and even the head of the Department of Environment believes that it should be investigated by the Auditor General. 
GILBERT:  Coming up this morning I am going to be talking to the head of the Group of Eight universities, the peak body for the big eight universities in this country. They have just released some analysis by London Economics that suggests that their impact in an economic sense, in one year was more than $60 billion-
GILBERT:  -$60 billion impact for an investment of, I think, it was $12 billion, that's quite an outsized impact. Do you think that that is an accurate assessment?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, I've looked at the report very briefly this morning, I have just received it, and they say for 2016 the Group of Eight cost $12 billion and returned $66 billion to the Australian economy. And that is in line...
GILBERT: How did they work it out?
PLIBERSEK: Well you look at the research, discovery, invention, innovation, the education that goes on at universities, the overseas students that are brought to Australia, the jobs created. I mean it’s a believable figure based on return on investment figures we have seen in the past. That's why it is so tragic that the Education Minister cut another $2.2 billion just before Christmas from Australian universities, without going through the Parliament, without giving us the opportunity to make a case not to make those cuts. Universities are really critical to the future of individual people getting an education, getting the knowledge and skills for the jobs of the future, but they are important for us as a country, it’s where so much of our research, and innovation, discovery happens.