SKY News AM Agenda (13)

06 November 2014


SUBJECT/S: Asia Infrastructure Bank; Ebola; Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists on Climate Change

DAVID LIPSON: You’re watching AM Agenda. I’m David Lipson. Kieran will be back at the top of the hour but now let’s go to our political panel for today’s news and commentary on it. Of course, Jim Chalmers in Brisbane, Senator Scott Ryan in Melbourne. Thank you very much for your time.

Staying with the Hong Kong theme, perhaps we’ll start with the China Bank. Well the Prime Minister has said that he will not support the China Bank in its current form, although negotiations do remain very much open. Perhaps first to you, Scott Ryan, what is it that the Government needs for this China Bank to get the approval from Australia?

SCOTT RYAN: Well as the Prime Minister has made clear. Discussions are ongoing and no final decision has been taken. The Government is keen to facilitate another multilateral institution along the lines of organisations like the World Bank that can facilitate economic development and multilateral cooperation in Asia. Those discussions are ongoing and the Prime Minister will continue to undertake those.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, the Australian Financial Review editorial suggests that we should join the China Bank and work from inside the tent to work towards transparency issues and to liberalise the finance sector as well. What do you make of that idea?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I do think we should be engaging with China to make sure that the environmental and labour standards and all sorts of other issues are properly considered. We do need more infrastructure investment throughout the region, from multiple sources whether that be the existing Development Bank, from China or from other sources. But there’s a very simple reason why there’s not a final decision out of the Government yet and that’s because they’re hopelessly split on the issue. We know from background briefings out of the National Security Committee of Cabinet that Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop have very different ideas about this particular initiative. We think that the country would be better served if they came to a view and immediately clarified their position.

LIPSON: Okay, I want to look at Ebola and Australia has pledged $20 million for a private contractor to run a 100 bed Ebola treatment clinic in Sierra Leone. It would take up to about fifty Australian volunteers at a time. Scott Ryan, why pay a contractor to do this? Why doesn’t the Government send in its own medical teams?

RYAN: Well, contractors are the ones that have the experts. No-one has questioned Aspen’s ability to actually get on the ground and run this quickly. The reason that the Government has used Aspen and we’ve made the announcement now is that only now have we been able to get a guarantee that any healthcare workers from Australia will get treatment when they need it and in this case they’ve got support from the United Kingdom. This was one of the key issues. We can’t put Australians in harm’s way without guarantees that there will be treatment for them. Because sadly, healthcare workers have been victims of this outbreak of Ebola in Africa and as we have seen on the news in other countries in the World. We need to ensure that Australians will get that treatment. That wasn’t available before the Government struck that recent deal.

LIPSON: A European Union statement though has said that medical evacuations had been in place for all international aid workers in Western Africa since the 20th of  October.

RYAN: Well the reports that I have read about that statement and the way it applied to Australia was that the Foreign Council of the EU outlined that they could fund and coordinate such evacuations. The Australian Government didn’t have a guarantee that Australians would actually get treatment and where that would occur. Now we have that guarantee from the United Kingdom that Australians will be treated as if they were citizens of the UK. And it’s very important that we ensure Australians who do go into harm’s way do have that guarantee of treatment. And putting that priority on that is entirely right for the Australian Government to have done.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, is this most recent arrangement, this commitment that Australia has made satisfactory to Labor?

CHALMERS: We welcome additional support for the important objective of tackling Ebola at its source in West Africa. The problem with yesterday’s announcement is that it does not of itself facilitate Australian involvement. The Prime Minister himself couldn’t guarantee that there would be many, even any, Australians involved in that initiative that he announced yesterday.

We’ve got from the UN, to Medecins Sans Frontieres, to a whole range of groups – Oxfam, the leadership of the United States and United Kingdom – crying out for Australia to get more involved. We’ve got people who are ready, willing and able in Australia – very talented Australians – who want to do us proud by contributing their talents to this important global task. And that announcement that was made yesterday, there was no clarity about the number of Australians that might be involved in this new initiative. We do need that clarified because we want Australians to do what they’re good at which is pitching in on the global stage to tackle this problem in West Africa before it spreads into our own region.

RYAN: There’s a couple of things that Jim said there, that need -

LIPSON: I want to look at climate change just quickly, I do want to just move on to a final topic, Scott Ryan, I’m sorry. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists have issued a report that’s concerned about short-term politicism of policy decisions that are impacting on the environment. It suggests that the Federal Government should eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and provide tax breaks to land-owners who protect threatened species and ecosystems instead. Any merit in that suggestion or report from these scientists, Scott Ryan?

RYAN: Well firstly, the Diesel Fuel Rebate that’s used for mining and agricultural activities is not a fossil fuel subsidy. That’s the rhetoric of the Greens and the left wing of the Labor Party. Let’s get that right. But I think also more generally we’ve got to get past this idea that somehow levying new taxes is a way to improving our environment. That’s Labor’s policy where they treated the carbon tax as a revenue-raising measure. The Government’s policy is as we did under the Howard Government to support programs that actually lead to direct environmental improvements and that’s what the legislation passed last week will do. That’s what programs of the Howard Government did. You can’t tax your way to environmental sustainability. You can’t tax your way to environmental improvements and that’s not a path that the Government’s going to go down.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, should these subsidies for mining companies, fossil fuel companies, be wound back and pumped into other areas?

CHALMERS: That’s not Labor’s policy either. But I do think this really quality team at the Wentworth Group have given us food for thought on some broader issues. They’re right to say that environmental sustainability and economic prosperity are inseparable. They’re right in saying that we should be taking the long-term view. One of the real tragedies of the Abbott Government walking back on emissions trading for example is that we’re one of the only countries going backwards on climate change, if not the only country going backwards, while other countries are going forwards. That’s because they’re in on the secret: that we need to be taking long-term decisions to protect the environment because by doing that, we protect the economy as well.

LIPSON: Gentlemen, we’re out of time. Thanks very much for joining us today. Kieran Gilbert will be back at the top of the hour as AM Agenda continues.