Subjects: Bushfire Royal Commission
TOM CONNELL: I'm joined live by Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud. As Trudy mentioned, the recommendation here is adopt everything in one go, don't cherry pick.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Well look, you've got to understand that there are multiple jurisdictions that are involved with this. There's 80 recommendations, 14 pertain to the Commonwealth, 23 pertain to state, and 41 where they are joint. Obviously, the Federal Government is more than keen to sign up to these recommendations, particularly where they're joint, but we need to make sure that the states are prepared to work with us and respect the sovereignty of each other's state. It's important we do that in a collaborative way, otherwise it won't be as effective as what we've like.
TOM CONNELL: So, sovereignty, I mean, already reaction of Daniel Andrews around this, possible to declare a state of emergency, which could include things such as sending in the army without a state or territory request.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: You've got to appreciate that's not us taking over the fighting of the fire or the running- operation management of an emergency and natural disaster. That's about the Federal Government using its agencies, particularly in the very few hours after the event goes through where we can come in and support state agencies, where the gravity and severity of events may need extra resources of the Federal Government ...
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] But that is by definition, when you could send in the army to help. I'm not saying it's a hostile takeover of Victoria. But if they don't want it or haven't requested it, and say we don't think the army is a good message to send out right now, where we don't think it it's as bad as when you're sending them in, that sovereignty question just raised is a real one.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we saw that in this year's bushfires. We took the unprecedented step of asking the Governor-General to compulsory call up reservists, army reservists. That's never been done in our nation's history, but we saw the severity of this event ...
TOM CONNELL: But that wasn't against the state's wish.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we weren't exactly being asked by all of the states to come and help. And that's usually what happens is that we, as the convention is, the Federal Government waits for the states to ask us. But when we saw that there was considerable challenges that the states were going to face in the very days after these bushfires while they were also fighting them in other parts of their own states, we saw the need to pre-emptively act. And I think the Prime Minister showed leadership by calling in the army reservists. And that's what the Royal Commission has said, is that is there a through the point that we should define and define clearly, where by the federal agencies come in and support.
TOM CONNELL: And perhaps limit what they could do? That would make it more palatable for the states, that there is a clear definition of what they can and can't do without a request.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And I think that's where the definition will come from. We'll work through with the states with respect to that. But we've already done some work about what that might look like from the learnings of this black summer.
TOM CONNELL: So, the national aerial firefighting capability you've spoken about, the Federal Government defended its spending on this. This seems the highlight, leaving it up to the states with some contribution, and the one that was set by the Commonwealth is not enough, particularly for small jurisdictions. Might be okay for New South Wales, but it's hard for others.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, with respect, it's a nationally coordinated approach. So, what we do is we get all the fire commissioners from around the country to come together and plan about what suite of aircraft they need. And that ranges from very large aerial tankers through to small helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts. They decide so that they know that there's bushfires in different parts at different parts of the year in these jurisdictions. And so that's coordinated and those assets are coordinated ...
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] But how does that speak to what has been there given this recommendation?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, what's been there previously is that effectively, it's been more cost-effective for the states to say that they should lease a lot of these aircraft ...
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] And as the season overlapping, it's becoming ...
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. As we got the overhang between the northern and southern hemisphere, they're now saying that it would make more sense for us to ...
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] It's been happening for a few years, this overlap.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I think the severity has been seen probably this year more than even before. And in fact, in November, I wrote to the peak body AFAC to ask and to ensure that they had the appropriate resources. They said they did, then as things escalated – and they escalated very quickly – to their credit, they wrote back within a matter of weeks and said they thought that we needed further aircraft, which we were able to source with the states to make sure that we have those larger aerial tankers on the ground. One of which is here in Canberra.
TOM CONNELL: Clarity and effectiveness of vegetation, this is to do with more fuel management, not the immediate- not backburning but the fuel management of things. It seems to fall a long way short of saying that's what this is all about, which was the commentary among some people that, well, this whole thing could have been avoided if we just went back to our old practices, didn't worry about the environment. That doesn't seem to be the message here.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It's a contributing factor, but it's not the whole picture. I think that's important, but we need to understand that what they're asking for us is transparency. States have had targets and haven't necessarily dubbed them. In fact, I wrote to the states before this year's bush summer fire season, asked them what were their targets, how much did they achieve. Only one state wrote back and gave me their numbers.
TOM CONNELL: How many of those targets couldn't be achieved because you need the conditions, including it needs to be cool enough to conduct these?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And that's taken into account, but that's- and that's why the states we've asked simply to be transparent around that so that the community has an understanding. And they have an understanding that when circumstances, environmentally aren't necessary [indistinct].
TOM CONNELL: So, you think they didn't meet it, all those states, except one? Even factoring in?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] No, no. Sorry, that's wrong. I'm not saying they didn't meet them, we asked to get an understanding and for there to be transparency. Only one was prepared to tell the Commonwealth what their target was and what they achieved. This is the challenge we've got, and this is where the Royal Commission's recommendation goes to greater transparency and accountability. We understand if you can't achieve it every year; there are circumstances outside your control. But I think the community on this particular issue wants some comfort, and I think the other key piece of that is our First Australians. There's a lot to be learned from our First Australians.
TOM CONNELL: Some of these really ancient processes, they've known the land, they've got to observe it over hundreds of years.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And this is the recommendation that I'm particularly happy with. I've been talking about this since the bushfire season started, that we should use modern day science with the science of thousands of years of our First Australians. They will keep us safe and be able to do this. And in fact, be able to achieve better cool burning in areas because of their knowledge, their heritage.
TOM CONNELL: All right. Interesting to see that folded in. I want to talk to you about this ANZ decision, which you seem to take umbrage to. A hundred- one of the hundred largest carbon polluting customers of ANZ will be asked to establish or strengthen low carbon transition plants. What's wrong with that?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, let me say that it's not for Australian banks to become the moral compass and arbiters of our society. Australian people decide that. They decide that through elections. The reality is we have a clear pathway to achieve that. We've signed up to that transparently in a national way. We don't need financial institutions using levers of capital to hang over corporate Australia and business in imposing their philosophical will that's derived by well-heeled board members and CEO's living in metropolitan Australia that don't understand the economic impact they have. They have one job. They have one job, that is to provide capital, and they provide that so long as it will be repaid. [Indistinct]-
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] But that is not a single-minded job. When you say moral compass, they are aware of high-emitting industries because of raising global capital, because of pressure on the [indistinct] international markets, because of a warning even from the RBA around factoring in emissions of carbon. This is not just being a moral compass; this is a market decision [indistinct].
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] But that is a blunt instrument that goes to the very core of our economy. Now, in attracting capital, the banks in fact raise a significant amount. Some from 30 up to over 50 per cent of their capital just from Australian deposit holders. The rest- the capital markets across the world are not entirely factoring all this in. The capital markets are quite liquid. So, this is just a philosophical-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] What do you mean they're not entirely factoring this in?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, in terms of direct investments, in terms of-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] [Indistinct]…
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no. In terms of direct investments into specific [indistinct] classes, they are, but in terms of capital for lending into mainstream economy, this is not something- this is something that's been created by financial institutions to appease the minorities that are telling them this is what should happen.
TOM CONNELL: What do you make of warnings from the RBA, for example, that companies and banks need to look at their lending in terms of emissions?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, you've got to understand, what they're talking about is the risk that come with a changing climate, as we saw in this black summer. And that's why we, as a government, have a trajectory and a pathway to achieve that through technology.
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] But they've also spoken about not leaving themselves exposed to risk. It's not just what happens in the climate or a bushfire or a [indistinct].
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] The risk is the impact in the business that a disaster would actually [audio skip] provide to their customers.
TOM CONNELL: But it's also long-term viability in stranded assets. That's also something they've spoken about.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But again, that is if there is damage to that asset. That is not about them taking and becoming the arbiter of policy settings in this country. That is up to the Australian Government. We have been clear about our policy settings about what we will do and how we achieve it. We are a good global system. We need the rest of the world [indistinct].
TOM CONNELL: So, the National Farmers Federation, net zero by 2050 target. Grain growers is working on a 2030 target. Meat and Livestock Australia, not mung beans eaters by any definition, net zero by 2030. This won't seem radical to any of them, nor the members of their groups.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think if you talk to their actual members, they're not exactly excited about some of the leadership that's been shown because someone's got to-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] Were they wrong to have those targets?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, it's up to them. I respect they can have their own targets. But when I get around and talk to actual farmers in sheds, in machinery sheds, what they're worried about is, yes, they want to see action, but they wonder who's going to pay for it. You got to understand, agriculture [indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] [Indistinct]… good technology that can transform these types of [indistinct].
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] And exactly our policy. Exactly our policy is investing in technology rather than blunt instruments of holding back capital that'll hold back the economy. Agriculture's 13 per cent of emissions. They also rely on the energy sector and transport sector. Someone has to pay for this. And what we said as a government, yes, we will go down the technology route because we want to be open and honest with people about how you pay for this. And this is great. All these [indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] When you say someone has to pay, sometimes that can be the case. Sometimes, through different thinking-
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Interrupts] Not sometimes. You always got to pay- nothing's free in life, Tom.
TOM CONNELL: No. What I'm saying is to be lower emissions, it doesn't always cost. If some of these businesses transform over what is a long period of time to increasingly cheaper renewables, it doesn't necessarily cost-
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Interrupts] They'd be doing it already, Tom. I think you'll find that a lot of the transition that can be done has been done. [Indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] When you say blunt instrument, the ANZ, in their words, to establish or strengthen low carbon transition plans. They're not saying next year.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] No, no, Tom. What they're saying is they won't lend them. They are turning off the capital tap. That is not something that they should make a decision about because of a philosophical [indistinct].
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] But it's about lending based on setting out a plan.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, it's based on a philosophical view. It is not based on fact about managing risk. This is a philosophical view that they are taking. [Indistinct]…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] But what I'm saying is they're not saying next year, here's your target or meet this emissions target. They're saying-
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Interrupts] We won't lend to you. We won't lend to you. They are saying they are turning off the capital tap.
TOM CONNELL: Which one of the 100 largest carbon polluting customers do you think won't be able to meet this?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I'm not privy and nor would anyone be about who their customer base is. That's commercial in confidence of any bank, I would hope.
TOM CONNELL: But we're not talking about a farmer with a small plot somewhere, are we?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I've got- not a specific small farmer. But there's significant agricultural industries out there as well, but also the industries that agriculture relies on…
TOM CONNELL: Alright.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: …in transport and in energy. So, let me just say, this is a dangerous precedent, if we start going down turning off capital taps to any part of [indistinct].
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] Okay. Let me ask you, just finally, you've described the Chief Health Officer in Queensland as a political pawn. What's that based on?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, she's been held captive to Annastacia Palaszczuk-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] But why do you say held captive? She doesn't say she…
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Interrupts] Well she's not allowed to provide the actual medical evidence as to why we are closing off entire states. And in fact, particularly when you look at regional Victoria, there's some areas in regional Victoria that haven't had a case.
TOM CONNELL: But the information out there, are you saying there's information she has which says you could open the borders if she can't? She doesn't say that. She goes on camera and says: this is my decision [indistinct]. Is she lying?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] This is a thinking that's- this is where the premiers are over the top of the chief medical officers. If you move away from this arbitrary line on a map that was put there in 120 years ago, we work with one another, the other states, and trust one another's science, you should have a definition of a hotspot so that you don't need to shut down entire states. Forget about thinking that was put on place 120 years ago.
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] [Indistinct]… now. But what I'm saying is she is front of the cameras today. She has said – this is Jeanette Young – this is my advice. I'm concerned about the way this has spread in Sydney. We'll open it all up except greater Sydney. That's her advice. That's what she said on camera. Is she being untruthful?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Talks over] Well, she is. Where's Victoria? There are…
TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] Is she being untruthful?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's a question for her because-
TOM CONNELL: [Interrupts] Are you making that accusation?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I'm asking her to demonstrate it. That's what every public official should do, Tom. Whether I'm saying she's lying or not is something that she has to prove beyond doubt. If you ask me: am I lying on anything? I have to prove it to you. She's a public official. She should be able to demonstrate that quite clearly.
TOM CONNELL: Big election issue. I know you'll be on the panel tomorrow night with the- It's a really interesting cross-section of Queenslanders, so it'll be compulsory viewing.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, always is with Queenslanders.
TOM CONNELL: It is. It is. So, tune in to see more of your views, no doubt, on how it all unfolds. David Littleproud, thanks for your time.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.
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