Politics with Michelle Grattan
Acting PM Michael McCormack on net zero 2050 and prospects for a new coal-fired power station

Acting PM Michael McCormack on net zero 2050 and prospects for a new coal-fired power station

June 16, 2021

With Scott Morrison overseas, Nationals leader Michael McCormack has been Acting Prime Minister this week. In this podcast, he speaks about the free trade agreement with the UK, climate change, coal, the Nationals, and China.

With speculation about whether Morrison will embrace a 2050 net zero target before the Glasgow climate conference, the attitude of the Nationals is critical and McCormack is under pressure from a vocal group in his party that is strongly against the target.

McCormack says the National party will not supporting signing up to the target this year.

When it is put to him, “we can be sure that the Nats would not embrace that target?” his reply is definite. “Correct”.

On coal, unlike many in the government, McCormack believes the controversial proposal for a coal-fired power station at Collinsville in Queensland can be a goer. A feasibility study is being conducted for the project. (It is understood a draft report has been produced already.)

McCormack says the study is “very much on its way”. Shire Energy CEO Ashley Dodd “texts me every day of every week and highlights the progress. And last week there were some really, really positive news.”

Asked whether he thinks the government will be able to support the project, McCormack says, “provided every box [including environmental ones] is ticked, yes”.

“If the proponents come forward with everything that they’re required to do, then I can see no reason why it wouldn’t be supported. And of course, it’s not just the federal government. It’s other entities, too, which need to come on board.”

 

Word from The Hill: the Biloela Tamil family, G7 and the upcoming parliamentary fortnight

Word from The Hill: the Biloela Tamil family, G7 and the upcoming parliamentary fortnight

June 15, 2021

As well as Michelle Grattan’s usual interviews with experts and politicians about the news of the day, Politics with Michelle Grattan now includes “Word from The Hill”, where all things political will be discussed with members of The Conversations’s politics team.

In this episode, politics + society editor Amanda Dunn and Michelle dive into Tuesday's announcement that the Bioela Tamil family will now live in Perth while their court proceedings are underway, after being incarcerated on Christmas Island since 2019. They also discuss Scott Morrison's meeting with US President Joe Biden, and Michael McCormack's sitting in the PM's parliamentary chair this week.

Rex Patrick on Freedom of Information and Australia’s submarines

Rex Patrick on Freedom of Information and Australia’s submarines

June 10, 2021

Senator Rex Patrick is currently challenging the secrecy around Scott Morrison's national cabinet. He's brought legal action – the outcome is pending – to attempt to have the minutes of this body, which includes federal, state and territory leaders, made public. The government claims the documents are protected by an exemption for cabinet documents in the freedom of information act, while Patrick claims national cabinet lacks some of the essential features that would afford it that cover.

 

Patrick's also pressing for improvements in the freedom information law, which has become increasingly obstacle-ridden, to allow applicants more rights. It's perhaps no wonder former senator Nick Xenophon, for whom Patrick once worked, labelled him "Inspector Rex".

 

On a very different front, as a former submariner Patrick has been highly critical of the government's Future Submarine Program, which has contracted a French company to build 12 submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. Patrick says the company is taking too long, and charging too much, to make submarines which may fail to achieve the necessary sovereign capability.

 

In this podcast, Patrick says Scott Morrison should take the opportunity during his coming meeting with French President Macron to issue an ultimatum that changes must be made.

 

"You know, despite the good relationship we may have with France, this is a matter of national security, and it's also a matter of a huge amount of public expenditure. And the prime minister must put the Australian public before that relationship. And I think it would be wise for him to be just very frank and honest with the French president."

 

Word from The Hill

Word from The Hill

June 8, 2021

As well as Michelle Grattan's usual interviews with experts and politicians about the news of the day, Politics with Michelle Grattan now includes "Word from The Hill", where all things political will be discussed with members of The Conversations's politics team.

In this week's episode, politics + society editor Amanda Dunn discusses with Michelle current issues and what's coming up. 

The pair dive into Speaker of The House Tony Smith's efforts to reform Question Time, Scott Morrison's agenda for the G7 Summit - taking place this weekend in the United Kingdom, and Victoria's slow emergence out of lockdown.

Mark Butler on the vaccine rollout and democracy in the Labor Party

Mark Butler on the vaccine rollout and democracy in the Labor Party

June 2, 2021

Despite this week's strong economic figures, the pandemic is not as distant in the rearview mirror as many had hoped it would be by now. 

In Victoria, cluster outbreaks have forced the state into a new lockdown. With cases amongst aged care workers and residents, the state waits nervously as health authorities battle to contain the situation.

As Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, Mark Butler is focused on scrutinising the federal government's handling of pandemic and the aged care sector, and what more should be done. 

"The problem is distribution[...] We need to ramp up the aged care vaccination and disability care vaccination. And that just means the Commonwealth needing to engage more teams to do the job.

"They're doing that in Melbourne right now. But still, we have hundreds and hundreds of aged care facilities that haven't yet received their second dose. And 98% of residents in disability care haven't received their second dose. These are priority groups. So that is what the Commonwealth should be doing as a matter of urgency."

Butler is a former national president of the Labor party and sits on its national executive. This week, rebel backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon called for Labor to scrap the rank and file component in selecting its leader. Currently the Labor leader is elected on a 50-50 basis between the caucus and party membership. Butler firmly rejects the Fitzgibbon call for change. 

Indeed, he says he's held a "strong view" for "many, many years" that there should be more rank and file decision making in the party - not less. But the complication is that with party membership decreasing, membership decisions skew a certain way.

"There is an obligation. You can't rely upon a shrinking group of party members[...]but what I do know is that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we continue to disrespect our members and just expect them to roll up to polling booths every election day and not really do much else."

Katy Gallagher on the battle to hold the government to account

Katy Gallagher on the battle to hold the government to account

May 27, 2021

When Katy Gallagher joined the podcast this week, she was running between sessions of Senate estimates.

Among other issues, she and other Labor senators pressed (with mixed results) for answers about the handling of the Brittany Higgins matter. 

Gallagher has another role in the pursuit of accountability. As Chair of the Senate's Select Committee on COVID-19, she's spearheading the quest for detail on what the government is doing on both the health and economic fronts. 

As shadow minister for finance, she's also been vocal in the opposition's attack on the budget - in particular the government's failure to increase real wages despite considerable spending.

Gallagher speaks about the difficulty in getting substantive information. 

"We have had pretty critical information withheld from the [COVID] committee..."

"All of the modelling and assumptions that went into the economic rescue packages, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars going out the door. All the health advice that's been provided to the government, the decisions that have been taken about border closures, about vaccinations, about why they went with certain companies and not others.

"The government has refused to provide that information. And I think that creates a problem for us in properly scrutinising it."

Richard Colbeck on aged care and the Olympics

Richard Colbeck on aged care and the Olympics

May 19, 2021

In last week's budget, $17.7 billion was allocated to the aged care sector, in response to the damning findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality & Safety. 

The commission's final report painted a grim picture of a sector in need of sweeping overhaul - with people in residential care requiring a more supportive – and in some cases safer - environment, and people at home desperately short of enough care packages. 

The government's response includes an additional 80,000 homecare packages, funding for better staffing (including a mandate of 200 minutes of care for each resident, each day), and a commitment to a new aged care act.

Richard Colbeck, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, as well as Minister for Sport, joins the podcast to discuss aged care policy, and the coming Olympics.

One big question in aged care, which hasn't been tackled, is whether wealthier people should contribute more to funding their costs. Colbeck says "we've had a really close look at that" and "there's probably more work to do in that space".

"But I think there's broad acceptance that where people can afford to make a contribution to support them as they age, they should do so. We'll continue to consider that."

The Tokyo Summer Olympics, originally slated for 2020 but now due to commence in July, have attracted considerable criticism given the state of coronavirus in Japan. Only recently the nation's lockdown was extended, with new cases in the thousands being reported daily, and there are strong calls for the games to be abandoned. 

Colbeck concedes "there will be COVID" at the Olympics. But the International Olympic Committee has "made arrangements" for any athlete or official who contracts the virus. He also described the work of the medical team at the Australian Institute of Sport as "world-leading".

Simon Birmingham and Jim Chalmers on a big spending budget

Simon Birmingham and Jim Chalmers on a big spending budget

May 12, 2021

This year's budget, handed down on Tuesday, boasts plenty of winners and minimal direct losers. Spending is lavish, with the government doing its utmost to avoid offending voters.

The big spending commitments include:

- $17.7 billion for aged care over five years
- $2.3 billion for mental health
- $1.7 billion in changes to childcare
- $1.1 billion for women's safety
- $1.9 billion for the rollout of the COVID vaccine
- $20.7 billion in support for business through tax breaks
- $2.7 billion in new apprenticeships
- $15 billion over a decade for infrastructure
- $1.2 billion for the promotion of a digital economy.

Simon Birmingham, finance minister, and Jim Chalmers, shadow treasurer, are our post-budget guests on the podcast.

This is Birmingham's first budget as finance minister. Usually, it's the finance minister's unpopular task to find spending cuts – but this time, these are minimal.  
Birmingham's message to critics on the right of politics, who are claiming the government has given up the debt fight, is:

"You don't manage to achieve budget sustainability and ultimately balanced budgets some time down the track without actually maintaining and having a strong economy that has strong jobs growth. And so this time, where we have an uncertain international environment [and] fragility in terms of confidence, because of those global uncertainties, we need to make sure we maintain the COVID recovery." 

And he notes, "debt is actually forecast to be lower over over each of the next 10 years than was the case in last year's budget."

The budget includes assumptions that the international border will open around mid 2022, and that the Australian population would be fully vaccinated by the end of this year. Asked how "solid" these assumptions are, Birmingham says:

"We have used best assumptions that we think are cautious assumptions and realistic ones. But we equally acknowledge with honesty that these are challenging times, uncertain times.

"And so they are just that - assumptions."

On the issue of debt, Chalmers says it's not just the level of the debt that matters, "it's the quality of the spending".

He says the budget is "riddled with rorts" and "weighed down with waste".

"There are new slush funds in last night's budget, and that means we're not getting the bang for buck that we need to be getting in terms of jobs and other other important objectives."

Labor has homed in on flat wages, arguing working Australia's are "copping a cut in their real wages".

Ultimately, the budget has failed working people, says Chalmers.

"If the government is prepared to intervene in the economy as they have been and spray around what is an extraordinary amount of money, then you'd think that working people would actually get a slice of the recovery."

"It's a pretty extraordinary admission of failure."

what should the budget do for women? Jennifer Westacott (BCA) and Michele O’Neil (ACTU)

what should the budget do for women? Jennifer Westacott (BCA) and Michele O’Neil (ACTU)

May 5, 2021
What do business and union leaders believe should be in a budget that is designed in part to pitch to women?
 
Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, says as well as spending on childcare – which we already know about – the budget should improve women’s access to superannuation.
 
“Women have been very, very disadvantaged in that superannuation system - they are retiring with very small savings.”
 
“The superannuation and the childcare go hand in hand because we know that the reason many women don’t have adequate super is because they’ve taken big stints out of work and they haven’t built that savings nest egg. So those two things should be seen in tandem.”
 
Michele O'Neil, president of the ACTU, says for women the budget “needs to include commitments to addressing insecure work and low wages [and] to make sure that the support for early childhood education and care delivers free and universal childcare. Because this is what will matter in terms of women’s participation at work. We have a relatively low rate of women’s participation.”
 
“If we just increased women to the same level of participation for those key years of 25-45 as men, we’d see a $70 billion increase in GDP and a $30 billion increase in household incomes.”
former ASIO head David Irvine on the cyber threats Australia faces

former ASIO head David Irvine on the cyber threats Australia faces

April 28, 2021

"The warfare of the 21st century" is going to be "fought in cyberspace before kinetic shots are fired" says leading national security expert David Irvine. 

And perhaps the fight has already begun, with Australia's institutions, businesses, and citizens subject to a near constant barrage of cyber attacks.

Previously chair and now a board member of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, Irvine has a deep knowledge of the cyber risks posed to Australia and Australians by both nation states and criminals. 

His career has included heading both ASIS, which manages Australia's overseas spying activities, and ASIO, responsible for domestic protection.

Irvine describes cybercrime as a "massive issue", and say that compared to countries like "China, Russia,[...]Iran, and North Korea" the West is lagging behind in its defensive cyber capability. 

"I think almost every Western country is probably behind the game in its defences."

Part of this is the  nature of cyber incursions. "One of the rules in cybercrime is that the criminal is always half a step ahead of the protector."

What can be done? Last year the government committed $1.67 billion over 10 years to combating cybercrime, but Irvine calls in particular for a "public awareness campaign" to get the message through strongly.

"I think back to the old days of HIV and the Grim Reaper, and my sense is that we actually need a very hard hitting campaign that brings home to individuals and businesses[...] the threat that they are under and the sort of resilience that they need to develop as individuals, as companies, and as a nation."

Irvine is also chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board, and is a former ambassador to China. He says of the current tensions with China, and warnings about "the drums of war":

"Ultimately, I think we depend on China and the United States to develop a modus vivendi which concedes some interests but protects others. Because the alternative is really too horrendous to contemplate."

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