12 August 2015
Transcript - #2015096, 2015

Interview with Rafael Epstein and the Hon. Mark Dreyfus MP, Fight Club, ABC 774 Drive, Melbourne

SUBJECTS: Same sex marriage, tackling climate change

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

It is gentlemen, no women today. Bruce Billson joins us in our Canberra studio, he is Small Business Minister, part of Tony Abbott’s Federal Cabinet. Bruce, good afternoon.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Hi Raf, good to be with you and the listeners.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

And Mark Dreyfus joins us as well. He is the Shadow Attorney General, part of Bill Shorten’s Opposition. Mark, good afternoon.

MARK DREYFUS:

Good afternoon Raf. Good to be with you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Raf, can I thank you and Mark for bringing forward today’s fight club and apologise to the listeners. We have got a Small Business Tax Bill I have to navigate through. Very kind.

MARK DREYFUS:

Always happy to accommodate.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Did you hear that Bruce? He is always happy to accommodate. So Bruce Billson.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes Raf?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

It looks like the Prime Minister is prepared to change his mind to do anything to stop gay marriage. A few months ago, it was all about parliament, no referendum. Now it is a popular vote.

A few weeks ago, it was, the Liberal Party is the party of the free vote. Now, people in your party room feel like it is more like a Labor caucus with the enforcement of the majority on the minority.

Is he just changing his mind? Doing anything to stop it happening?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Raf, what an extraordinary framing of events that have happened.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I thought I would give it a try. What do you think?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah, it is okay, I respect it is your show and you are entitled to be dead wrong. So let me run through what has actually happened. In the lead up to the last election, we took a policy position.

I know in my own electorate, at a number of community forums I was asked about this issue. I outlined the position that I would be upholding during this term of office.

That was consistent with the position of the party as well as the Prime Minister’s assurance that should a private members bill be introduced into the parliament, which is an option available to all private members; it would be discussed in the party room.

That is exactly what happened. That was a really worthwhile, very frank, open and quite an engaging six hours of discussion that underlines the central point of how deeply held people of good will, on both sides of the argument, are attached to their position and are strongly advocating for it.

And that also, this needs to be handled in a way that is a significant issue for our society and the Prime Minister heard some presentations from his colleagues, listened patiently and…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

… all of that is true, Bruce Billson, but none of it addresses my question.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It does address precisely your question. You are alluding to some unpleasant inference that there was some gaming going on by the Prime Minister which is spectacularly wrong. The private members motion…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

…questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth. That is, not for referendums, is the clear inference. He said that in May. It is August now and he wants a plebiscite.

MINISTER BILLSON:

And he has listened carefully Raf. It is quite amazing really, isn’t it? If the Prime Minister had of gone against the undertakings he gave for the electorate, you would be all over us like a cheap suit on a bad birthday party.

You would be carrying on saying this is outrageous. How dare the Prime Minister change his position. The very same people that love to run that critique of the government are now saying, change your position, change your position.

I am not going to do that. Because that is not the undertaking I gave to my electorate at public forums. And what the Prime Minister has done though, is listen to the deeply and sincerely held views across, not only the nation but the parliament, and has reflected on those and thought about what is the best way of dealing with an issue which has such strong feelings.

I know in my electorate, two to one is the number that want the definition left the way it is. But I do not think that should be enough of a reason to ignore the heartfelt views of same sex couples that want to have their relationships formally recognised.

These are challenging questions with diametrically opposed views and that was what was the focus of the discussion in the party room yesterday.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, you had numbers in previous years in both houses of parliament. You could have passed it when you were in government and you did not.

MARK DREYFUS:

And I am sorry we did not get there then, but this is a, we have got a Prime Minister, and you are absolutely right in your introduction there, Raf. This is a Prime Minister that would try any diversion, any tricky process to avoid parliament dealing with this matter.

You are quite right to remind listeners that on the 22nd of May, following the referendum, the successful referendum in Ireland, Tony Abbott said, questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament.

Now he has adopted a diametrically opposed position. Last night saying it should be based on a people’s vote, not a parliament’s vote. And it is not actually even a fully formed proposal. It is as Malcolm Turnbull has this afternoon described it, it is a policy as yet unformed.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

However, it was a fairly honest debate in that party room, wasn’t it? I mean, that was the very thing you wanted the Coalition to do, to have a debate on whether or not to have a free vote. So they have gone through that important step.

MARK DREYFUS:

Yes, but it has been a debate which has led to the parliament not deciding on this matter. That is what we have parliament for and it is deeply disappointing…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

It is not the parliament not deciding. If the bill goes up, the Coalition will vote. It is not taking the issue away from parliament. If someone wants to put up a bill they can.

MARK DREYFUS:

…and will be bound. This used to be, a once great party – the Liberal Party – that cared about individuals. Matthew Guy, the Leader of the Opposition in Victoria, I could hear the bitter disappointment in his voice on the news saying that this was once a Liberal Party that respected individual consciences.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I want to go to a few calls. And Bruce Billson, I am sure you want to respond. But Bruce…

MINISTER BILLSON:

I have just about fallen off my chair there Raf. The Labor Party…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Bruce, Bruce, gentlemen…

MARK DREYFUS:

It is because he feels it so bitterly himself.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Gentlemen…

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes Raf?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I am going to play a little bit of Matthew Guy and then Bruce you can respond to Mark and tell me what you make of Matthew Guy. The Liberal Coalition, Opposition Leader here in Victoria, what he has to say. Clearly disappointed. Have a listen…

Matthew Guy MLA:

I think Australians are just utterly sick of Federal politics and I am not surprised why and they are poisoning the well of good will for all other elected politicians in the country. Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party on a very, very core premise, which was, those people who believe deeply in conscience issues could and should be able to vote accordingly. That is something that sets us apart from the Labor Party.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Bruce Billson?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Oh, Matthew is a good guy. But he is misreading what the outcome was of the meeting last night. I must say, Mark Dreyfus and the Labor Party, what a spectacular chameleon episode that is.

If you are a member of the Labor Party and you dare deviate from their stated platform, you are punted. You are kicked out of the party. That is not the rules in the Coalition. That is not the rules in the Liberal Party.

In the Liberal Party, as Matthew Guy has articulated, and remains the option available to all Liberal Party members, if they feel they need to vote against a policy position for whatever reason, so long as they canvass those reasons with their colleagues, they are able to do so.

Nothing has changed there.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Little embarrassing though, isn’t it Bruce Billson? Because there has been a few conscience votes on the location of the new Parliament House in Canberra. There was a conscience vote on marriage under Menzies.

Yet, for some reason, you cannot have a conscience vote on same sex marriage under your government. That is bizarre isn’t it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, you are getting a few things confused here. What…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I do not think I have anything confused at all…

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think you are and I think you are framing this in a most biased perspective, Raf, to be absolutely frank. You would be complaining and squealing from the rooftop if the Coalition moved away from a policy position.

You would say, oh it is terrible- you go to the election with a certain policy position and now you are moving away from it. That would be inappropriate, that would be wrong to the people that have cast their votes for the Coalition understanding clearly the position that is there.

Having said that, and made that point again, which seems to be at odds with your characterisation of what has actually happened, factually, the membership of the Liberal Party is free to exercise its conscience.

What the discussion about yesterday was whether now was the time to offer a free vote, that is to step away from the policy position we took to the last election and people rightly pointed out that that would diminish people’s confidence in the political process.

Where you go to the electorate saying you asked me this question, and I might have been the only candidate, Raf, turning up at the community meetings in the electorate of Dunkley, I do not know whether that is a tactic of the other political parties so they have got maximum wiggle room.

But I am expressly asked this question. I give a clear answer and it is on that basis that I enter into the parliamentary term. What the Prime Minister has said, is what about the next parliamentary term, let us have a look at these issues; but we should honour our undertakings for this parliamentary term.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Let’s get a few calls. Danny has called from Sunshine. Danny, what did you want to say?

Danny, are you there? Last chance, hello?

Danny? Okay, let’s try Steve in Frankston. Steve, go for it.

CALLER:

Hi guys, I am familiar to both Mark and Bruce. Good afternoon everybody. My question is this. I would like to challenge Minister Billson to check some of his facts on whether the percentage of people in the electorate of Dunkley is exactly two to one against marriage equality.

I challenge Mr Billson to present those facts, also do what some of his other colleagues have done in their electorate and done independent polling of their electorates on the issue of marriage equality.

Because, last night, we saw a Prime Minister that not only went back on his word, several times again. He offended people right across the nation and belittled so many people’s relationships and their identities by some of the words that he used.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Okay Steve, I just want to, you raise a good point because Bruce Billson mentioned the two to one. Where is that from Bruce? Is that emails to your office or what?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah, emails, correspondence and calls to my office from my electorate. Steve from…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Which is not the same as a poll.

MINISTER BILLSON:

.. I know and I never suggested it was. This is quite funny Raf. You like to debate with me about things that I have not actually said. I have been very clear and precise in my language…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Bruce, I reckon saying two to one sounds very much like a poll. But either way, that is okay, now we know where you are coming from.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Alright, if you are unhappy with those words, let me frame it differently. Of all of the people that have contacted my office by various modes of communication, that has been the outcome.

I know there are some in my electorate, particularly active in the Labor Party campaign, and an individual named Steve, running around saying I have got it all wrong and I have insulted people.

Well, I do not seek to insult anybody. I have always said find love where you find it.

But if there is a group in our community that is feeling disenfranchised and that their relationships are not being characterised and described in the manner that they want, I find it an odd solution that you would simply go and offend or disenfranchise another group who might like the way their relationship is characterised but will not if there is a change.

We need to find a way forward that is respectful and gives the dignified recognition to adult relationships however people find love and affection and that does not mean ostracising one side of the argument or the other and that is why the Prime Minister thought engaging people in this matter of significant social importance was a reasonable way to go.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, you did gloss over the fact that you could have changed this in government. But I want to ask you to address whether or not that is a significant failing. Secondly, at conference, you do kind of have this expiry date on your conscience.

I know it is a little bit of a glib line from the Prime Minister, however it is true. It is kind of being half pregnant isn’t it? You have got a conscience vote until you do not. It just leaves yourself wide open to attack.

MARK DREYFUS:

Yeah, two terms away and by that time this will have happened, I am very confident that this will have happened. Notwithstanding the manoeuvring and tricky processes that Tony Abbott is using here.

He is denying his MPs a free vote and Bruce cannot wriggle his way away from that and by denying his MPs a free vote, he is denying millions of Australians a fundamental right. This is a matter for parliament.

That is why we have parliaments. Bruce should be prepared to go onto the floor of the parliament and vote and not wriggle around saying, we might perhaps have a plebiscite; perhaps in the next term, which Malcolm Turnbull has said is not even formed policy yet.

It is really quite disgraceful. We have invested  a tremendous amount in a cross party effort in removing and not having, no ostracising of anyone, in removing the rancour from the debate in order to get this to the floor of the parliament and Tony Abbott has absolutely disrupted that process.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Okay…

MARK DREYFUS:

…so that his own MPs are being made to fall into line behind his own personal views. Australians in their millions woke up this morning very disappointed by what has happened here.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I will return with Bruce Billson and Mark Dreyfus. We have got them for a few more minutes.

***

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Plenty of time to get your calls after 4:30, I will see can weave in a few questions as well. Bruce Billson is with us, the Small Business Minister, Mark Dreyfus from the ALP, the Shadow Attorney General.

I suspect all I need to say to both of you is climate change, discuss. However, Bruce Billson, are you actually doing enough with those targets?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, we are doing plenty. We are doing more than any other country, developed economy, sophisticated participant in the global economy and responsible member of the nation and of the globe. We come from a base of being very high per capita emitters…

MARK DREYFUS:

The highest.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you, Mark. That is a useful contribution. The highest per capita emitters, we have been blessed with abundant energy which has been reflected in a let us say an energy and possessiveness in many areas of our economy.

I know when I was the Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Cities, we were consuming the same amount of energy to produce half the wealth and for half the population as the State of California.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I get that the steps are not clear to get to your target, Bruce Billson, are they? There is a lot of undeveloped policy…

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, that is not right either. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Environment Minister mapped out the various components of achieving a very respectable and realistic target that puts effort in terms of Australian systems.

We will be halving our emissions per head of population, two thirds of the emissions per unit of wealth, that is an extraordinary challenge and we will be making a very important, significant and credible contribution to an international effort to deal with excessive emissions.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, I am not sure the policy framework is that clear to 2030, but your Renewable Energy Target is an aspiration as well, what is the difference?

MARK DREYFUS:

Our Renewable Energy Target is a target and we have some policies already made clear and between now and 2030 we will need to have further policies to make sure we meet that Renewable Energy Target.

But it is an appropriate target, unlike the target that has just been set by the Abbott Government for emissions reductions in Australia which puts us at the back of the pack and people need to ignore the misrepresentations that Tony Abbott is now making.

We are used to him making misrepresentations on the topic of climate change, he has been doing it since he became Leader of the Opposition back in 2009, I expect nothing more from him.

He is holding back our country and the first demand we make, Mark Butler and Bill Shorten have made it very clear, we want to see the modelling on which this particular target has been set, we want to see the modelling because it will explain how much this is going to cost….

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I think that is a fair request but we do not have your modelling on the renewable energy target, it is a bit rich to ask…

MARK DREYFUS:

We are not in government, the Australian Industry Group came out and said this morning that their estimate is that it will cost between $100 billion and $250 billion with the current government policy settings, which I will remind listeners, involve paying billions of dollars to polluting companies to probably stop the emissions they were going to stop anyway.

There is no cap on emissions, it is not a position that the government has policies that could possibly allow us even to reach the modest target that they have set. Nobody should think that anything that Tony Abbott has said about this is correct, he has been trying to say, incorrectly and untruthfully, that it is like the United States.

The United States’ target is for 41 per cent reductions by 2030, not the 26 to 28 per cent that the Abbott Government has announced. It is desperately, desperately sad that we have got a government that is dragging us back into the past, that is dragging us away from the global effort that needs to be made on climate change, that dismantled the comprehensive scheme that the Labor Government put in place, a scheme that was working, a scheme that did not have any of the dire effect that Tony Abbott threatened would occur when he was Leader of the Opposition.

He came to office with one intent in mind which was to dismantle as much of the Labor Government’s climate, sorry, the Labor Government’s climate change policies that he could.

Happily, the Senate has blocked him from dismantling absolutely every single thing, which is what is about to do when he came to office in 2013. We still have a Climate Change Authority - that is a good thing. We still have a Clean Energy Finance Corporation, that’s a good thing. And we still have a renewable energy target, which is a good thing too. But we don’t have, currently, from the government, any policies that could possibly allow us as a nation to even reach the modest target that they have set.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Bruce Billson, can I…

MARK DREYFUS:

… and I can give you the outline is that would help…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Yeah, no, I appreciate that, but can I just, I wanted to emphasise something that Mark Dreyfus said, and if, I don’t know if you are able to address it specifically or not.

The Australian Industry Group and the energy suppliers that you are talking about, people who provide a lot of coal-based emissions, they say we are looking at costs 50 to 100 times what you are talking about. Are they right? I mean they are hardly

MINISTER BILLSON:

I can have a look at that, I have not seen those reports. What I have seen so is the analysis that suggests the target that we have that will the outgrowth trimmed, that is right, our growth will be trimmed by 0.2 per cent to about 0.3 per cent, so that does represent a loss of economic opportunity and we have been upfront about that.

We have said, though, with The Renewable Energy Target at 23.5 per cent, with the work that we are doing with the Emissions Reduction Fund and, let me remind you, Raf, that has seen verified reductions at $14 per tonne.

A fraction, an absolute fraction of the cost of Labor’s reductions. There are also some measures around…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

But the majority of your target comes from policies that are not direct action, from unspecified policies

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, that is not correct either, there is some carryovers from earlier periods where we not only met, we exceeded our target and under the Kyoto accounting framework you can carry those into the next period.

There is some measures around transport efficiency that have been identified, there is also some changes in refrigerant gases and the like that we will actively support and that will bring about outcomes as well.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Those energy plans, vehicle emissions, refrigerants, all of those, those things in the grass, in your own document, they are bigger than your existing direct action policy and even if you include direct action to 2030, I think just over half of meeting your target come from policies that we really know very, very little about.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, they come from policies that complement the Emissions Reduction Fund, they represent action to take account of the very point I made at the beginning.. comparison between…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

…but that national energy plan hasn’t been spelled-out…

MINISTER BILLSON:

…no, but the contribution it can make, based on all reliable advice is involved in these forward projections. Compare that with Labor’s…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

…but if you have not figured out the policy, how do we know that we can get the reductions we want?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, Raf, we have got those plans and we will achieve those targets and they are credible and they represent a big effort from our individual citizens to halve their emissions and from the creation of wealth in our economy, where we will reduce emissions by two thirds.

Contrast that with Labor’s thought bubble where under Labor’s own analysis it anticipates a $600 billion plus hit to the economy. Now, that we know, that is from their own modelling

That is their own modelling that Labor produced when it was in office and now it is walking away from its own modelling so it is an interesting debate to have. Labor has got an aspiration, Mark is mildly correct on one point.

Yes, the United States does have a target, but that is to 2025, they have got no target to 2030. They talk about ambition and aspiration, so, we have put our plan out there. We have put our commitments out there, but I think Australians can feel very positive about the effort it will require to achieve it.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Gentlemen, I need to leave it there. I will continue these points with the Environment Minister after five, but thanks to both of you, we need to move on.

MARK DREYFUS:

Good to be with you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you, Raf.