Sky News NewsDay

November 24, 2020





SUBJECT/S: Queensland borders opening; untapped cheap, clean energy in northern Australia; future of resources; climate action creates jobs

TOM CONNELL, HOST: A couple of Queenslanders on a day where there's a lot of news around Queensland, from the Labor Party Murray Watt, from the Liberal Party Gerard Rennick. Gentlemen, thanks both for your time. The borders are open, good news I know, Gerard. So what have you made of this? When we look back over the past few months, Queensland Labor kept the borders up when others said they shouldn't. That seemed to help with Victoria, perhaps it was a bit delayed in opening them up, but are they going to get a tick overall from voters, do you think?

GERARD RENNICK, QUEENSLAND LIBERAL SENATOR: Yeah, look, I think it's great that the borders are opened up. I mean, I feel like it's a bit like Groundhog Day where here we are in late-November and we're still talking about border closures. I've always been of the view that we need to deal with a low number of COVID cases through the health system, through a good contact tracing and testing system. So it's great that the borders are being opened and let's get on with it and get on with life.

CONNELL: So we always heard the very - it seemed very cautious - number given was 28 days without any mystery cases. Murray, we're going to get Victoria and New South Wales well beyond that, sort of 35 before we actually get borders open on December 1. The goalposts have shifted here?

MURRAY WATT, QUEENSLAND LABOR SENATOR: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think it's great news, obviously, for the tourism industry in Queensland, but for all of you down south who are desperate to get up to Queensland! All the Premier has done is stick to her plan that she's had all along, which is to keep the situation under review, act on health advice. We've now reached the point where we've got 28 days free of community transmission in Sydney and hopefully we'll get there in Victoria over the course of the week as well. So I just think it's fabulous news and it's not really worth us nit-picking about what may or may not have happened in the past.

CONNELL: Well, what about for the future, though? That's important. If we see a handful of cases in Melbourne, we hope the borders don't just go straight up, right? They need to have assurances things can be handled. We're not eradication, as far as I know, there's no official eradication policy.

WATT: Well, I hope that Annastacia Palaszczuk does what she has done the whole way through, which is to act on the health advice. As we all know, Scott Morrison, the LNP, every senator and Member of Parliament in Canberra was hacking on Annastacia Palaszczuk for months, demanding that the borders be open, despite the fact that she had health advice to the contrary. She's always acted on that health advice. It's kept Queenslanders safe. It's kept our economy going better than a lot of other places. And Queensland voters endorsed that plan. So I hope that she just continues to do exactly what she's done throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

CONNELL: The frustration from the LNP, Gerard, has been them, during the campaign, seemingly unable to get sort of a full briefing on the health advice. What do you make of that?

RENNICK: That's right. And we still haven' understanding is David Crisafulli still hasn't got a full briefing on health advice, and can I say that Anna Palaszczuk, the Premier, did open up the borders back in July or maybe late-June it was, sorry, and she closed down again when there was a blow up in Victoria. And I, at the time on this program, said I'll support the New South Wales Government shutting the border with Victoria, but to say that, when Senator Watt says that Anna Palaszczuk has always followed the health advice. Well, I'd's easy to say that, but we don't know what the health advice was. And it certainly contradicts what the federal health advice was, which was that borders don't need to be shut, that we need to improve our quarantine system - at least in Victoria had to - and to use a good contact tracing and testing system, which New South Wales has done, and they've done that fairly well.

CONNELL: All right, well, there's one thing this pandemic's taught us so far, it's seemingly the health advice marries up with the leaders federally and state, but you can take that as just my view. Murray you gave a speech this week, got a lot of interest, talking about Labor treasuring every resources job. Do you feel like you need to say this as a Queensland Labor senator?

WATT: No but the conference that I'm still at, and speaking to you from the Rockhampton Showgrounds right now, is the Developing Northern Australia conference. So I think it's pretty normal if you're speaking as the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia to talk about the whole range of industries that exist now and will continue to exist in the future in northern Australia.

I know there's been a bit of kerfuffle about this speech, which I'm a little bit confused by, because really what I've done in that speech is reinforce the points that Anthony Albanese has been making as leader ever since his first vision statement in Perth. In that very first speech that he gave - major speech as Labor leader - he made it clear that under his leadership, we thought that tackling climate change could create jobs. But he's also on the record countless times having said that some of our traditional industries, like mining, like gas, like agriculture, we should continue exporting those products and look after the jobs that they involve. So I'm pretty happy to back in those statements. I think that's the right position for Labor. And it was a well-received speech and I think it's in tune with what people in the north want as well.

CONNELL: So just on what you said there, 'tackling climate change can create jobs', is Labor's toughest task right now convincing people in these industries that we'll still go, still export resources and create jobs, but perhaps they'll be dwindling, is it convincing people transition is OK? That's not a word to be scared of?

WATT: Well, if you spend time in northern Australia, as I regularly do, most people realise that our current industries that we have relied on for decades still have a positive future. But they're also really interested in taking up some of the new opportunities as well. And that was the other point I was trying to make yesterday, is that I think people are sick of this culture war that exists between the left and the right of politics, which says that you can only have the old industries or only have the new. If you speak to people in northern Australia, they know that there's actually opportunity for both. I mean, just yesterday, the Sun Metals zinc refinery in Townsville - which is the second biggest energy user in Queensland - has announced that they intend to be one hundred per cent renewables-powered by 2040, and 80 per cent by 2030. They've already built a big solar farm that supplies a lot of their power needs. They're now building wind. They're also going to be building hydrogen plants. This is already happening and people can see it happening. So what I want to make sure of is that northern Australia gets the support from the Federal Government that has been totally absent to date,  so that these jobs can be in the north. I'm sick of seeing southern states and other countries getting these jobs and being scared off by the policies of this Government. We've got to have them in the north as well.

CONNELL: OK. Gerard, what do you make of some of what Murray's said? But I guess, you know, flipping a lot of what we hear, yes, there can still be jobs in coal and gas for many years to come, but these other opportunities will come up. The transition will also bring opportunities. And we've committed to Paris, there will be a lower carbon future. It's about also making sure you benefit from it, right?

RENNICK: OK, so, Tom, there are no culture wars, what the LNP has always believed in is cheap and reliable energy that provides jobs here in Australia. Now, a lot of the new renewable energy will be providing jobs for people offshore because solar panels and windmills aren't made here in Australia. And that's the problem. And as for Sun Metals saying that they'll go 80 per cent renewable by 2030, are they actually going to go off the grid, and are they going to actually meet these emission reductions by buying carbon credits that are bought from offshore? So I've got my staff to actually ring the company to find out what's going on there. But that needs to be clarified because there's a lot of talk about net zero emissions, but a lot of that's going to come about by buying carbon credits that have been earned offshore. We know that some big Australian companies are currently doing that at the moment. And also what we're seeing out in places like south west Queensland, towns like Charleville, Quilpie, dying because mulga blocks are being basically bought out and locked up, and those towns are dying. So, you know, this isn't about renewables versus coal. This is about cheap, reliable energy that is going to provide jobs downstream. And if that energy isn't cheap, you're going to destroy jobs in manufacturing. You're going to destroy jobs in mining-

CONNELL: -well why don't you create some? What about getting, you know, [inaudible] in the solar panels and why can't we make them in Australia? This is generally pretty high tech stuff.

RENNICK: Well, that's a good question, but it doesn't seem to be a lot of that happening at the moment-

CONNELL: -but isn't it a question the Federal Government can answer, or help enable?

RENNICK: Well, I mean, this comes back to industrial relations, tax rates, monetary policy, and it's something I spoke about last time was our dollar is currently quite high relative to interest rates. And our RBA has let a lot of foreign dollars come into this country and buy our assets. And should I say that when the Queensland Labor Government is subsidising foreign companies to provide wind farms here, that is undermining the Queensland Government-owned or Queensland people-owned coal-fired power stations that can supply 13 gigawatts of power when Queensland only uses between nine and 10. So you've got to ask yourself why we're bringing in all these foreign-owned wind farms and solar farms when we already have a sufficient supply of energy from our own locally-made and produced coal-fired power stations?

WATT: Tom, I'm happy to answer the question about why we aren't making these things here. And that's exactly what Labor's plan is about. If we can actually get more solar, wind, pumped hydro, other renewables in place, particularly in northern Australia, what that will do is massively bring down the cost of electricity. There's nothing cheaper than sunlight and wind, it's free. Once you get the power plants built, they are free - the power source is free. If we can then be supplying that into manufacturing centres right across northern Australia, that means that our manufacturers become competitive with other countries. That means they can be building solar panels here and wind turbines here and get rid of their energy costs. That means thousands of jobs right across regional Queensland. And I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the LNP doesn't want to see that happen.

CONNELL: Right out of time -

RENNICK: -just to clarify that statement, Tom we need to clarify that.

CONNELL: 15 seconds, Gerard.

RENNICK: The cost of construction, transmission, storage, security services, and then the cost of cleaning up all these solar panels are not free.

WATT: It is the cheapest possible source of power going, and your government advisors tell you that.

RENNICK: - all of the transmission lines, all the batteries and all the recycling is not free.

CONNELL: Jumping in gentleman, we'll talk again soon. Gerard, Murray, thank you.