25 February 2020




SUBJECTS: ASIO; Labor’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050; Scott Morrison’s hysteria.

LAURA JAYES, HOST:  Let’s return to Canberra now. It’s a busy sitting week, many things are focused including this foreign interference threat that was highlighted last night by the ASIO Chief, Mike Burgess. Let’s go live back to Canberra. The Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland joins us now, thanks for much for your time. Foreign interference is worse now than during the Cold War. Does that mean that we have been underestimating the threat from China?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: It is deeply disturbing as you say. I think the comments by the ASIO Chief here reflect two things. Firstly, the utilisation of technology has fundamentally changed the way in which these individuals and groups operate. And secondly, I think it does show that we are very much, as the security agencies would say, Australia is very much alive to it. Our agencies, and I think the public at large, would know now that Australia produced the Christchurch terrorist. That was a wake-up call for many people. I think ultimately it comes down to understanding and properly resourcing our agencies. It is strangely comforting though Laura that the very measured comments by the ASIO Chief here demonstrate, as I said, they’re alive to it.

Whilst this is deeply disturbing, I should reiterate that this is an area of bipartisanship. The number one priority of Parliaments is to keep their citizens safe. So we have bipartisanship on that. It is a global issue as well. Part of his speech highlighted how some individuals are being involved in what are global groups, and extremism is extremism in any form.

JAYES: Foreign interference, the rise of white supremacy, the rise of terrorism, not to be confused with the plateauing threat diminishing at all. Yes, there is a strong area of bipartisanship here Michelle Rowland, but the government has and does want to go further, particularly when it comes to perhaps looking at some encrypted messages. Does Labor support that move?

ROWLAND: Well, we acted in the national interest last time when this encryption legislation was put forward and that was the right call. It was the right call in the national interest despite the fact that we were criticised by many sectors. It was also the right process undertaken by the intelligence and security committee, which again is a bipartisan committee which comprises individuals who I think are respected across the Parliament and widely across the sector.

The balancing between the need for enforcement powers and citizens’ rights is one that's been there for time immemorial, but I do think that this is a wake-up call. You also talked about the issue of political interference. Some of the examples that were given in that speech were deeply disturbing and I mean as a local Member of Parliament, what was described there in a case in which there was an individual who had ingratiated himself with the community, had become in effect a community leader. It does bring home that these are people who are very sophisticated. These are people who are very smart and its one area that we are going to clearly have to continue focusing on. But we live in a democracy and it's pleasing to see that the head of our spy agency has responded and has delivered this address with such candour, but also clearly with a mind to understanding this thread isn't going away and not downplaying the risk.

JAYES: I just want to move on to another policy area: 2050 emissions reduction target of net zero emissions. That is in 30 years’ time. This was a big problem for you at the last election. What has changed in the messaging?

ROWLAND: Well, the issue here is that this is the policy that we have had, supporting the Paris Agreement, is the policy that the Liberal Party has had. I don't think it's so much a question of the messaging here, Laura. I think it is a question of the policy being right. I fully appreciate and it was even there in black and white in our review about the issue of costings and the way in which the government was able to whip up a scare campaign. This is –

JAYES: What did the review say though? The review talked about costing didn’t it and Labor was unable to answer those questions really hurting you particularly in Queensland?

ROWLAND: There wasn’t only I think, there is that aspect of course, but it was also the way in which the government acted at the time as well. I think that this is a bold policy, but it's certainly not a radical one. It's one –

JAYES: You can’t just bank on the Government not running a scare campaign next time can you?

ROWLAND: Oh, I fully anticipate the scare campaign, Laura. I’ve seen this movie. I've been in it for ten years so fully expect that that will happen. But I will tell you this Laura, the organisations in our society who create jobs, the business community, those peak bodies who represent those communities, some of Australia's largest companies, they all support this target. They are all looking for investor certainty. Gladys Berejiklian is no radical. She’s a business [woman] – she’s the Premier of New South Wales – but at heart, she’s also a business woman. She understands that this is important.

JAYES: You’ve got problems though when you’ve got people like Tony Maher from the Farmers’ Federation who, in their own stated policy in 2018 have trending, they want to trend towards carbon neutral in 2030, and they’re still not backing your policy. I mean, you’re copping it from all fronts here. What’s your plan?

ROWLAND: Well Laura, we understand that Australians want action on climate change and we understand that there is uncertainty about how we go about that. What we need right now is some leadership. We need some consensus to bring together those various parties. And as I said the business community are calling for it, members of Scott Morrison’s own government are calling for it, conservative leaders are calling for it – not only in Australia, but in the UK for example – so Scott Morrison is out on a limb here.

And his hysterical performance yesterday – that is a sign of what is to come. I take the view, and one of the lessons I learned from Bob Hawke, it’s arm yourself with the facts, arm yourself with the science. What is the cost of inaction here? And we have the research that's been done by the CSIRO, by the University of Melbourne that shows what the cost of inaction is. It's a 20:1 benefit from acting. 

So, we can either go down the path of having a hit to the economy that's greater than what the Great Depression was, or we can bring these groups together, show some leadership as has been done in other jurisdictions. Clearly Scott Morrison's not up for that. But I tell you what Laura, I’ve been around here for 10 years and the climate wars were going on before that. People wonder why there is distrust in the political process.

JAYES: Feels like it’s going to go on for another ten years too, I’ve got to say. Michelle Rowland, thanks so much for your time.

ROWLAND: Well, I hope not Laura, but thank you.

JAYES: So do we.