ABC NewsRadio: Earth Day Summit

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC NEWSRADIO
23 APRIL 2021

Topics: US climate summit; Murdoch Royal Commission

Thomas Oriti
Leaders of more than 40 countries have held a global summit overnight on the world’s response to climate change. They spoke of the urgent need to save the planet from global warming and talked of a jobs boom in the coming years from clean energy technologies. It was hosted by the US President Joe Biden. The US made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by the year 2030. The UK says it will cut emissions by 75% by 2035. But let’s look at the Australian perspective. Before the summit began, Australia announced it would not be changing its commitment to a 26-28% reduction by the turn of the next decade. Now Kevin Rudd is a former Australian Prime Minister and president of the Asia Society in New York who joins us live now. Mr Rudd, good morning.

Kevin Rudd
Good morning.

Thomas Oriti
Thank you for your time. You have attended similar high-level climate summits in the past. What kind of standing does Australia have with no new commitments overnight?

Kevin Rudd
A deeply diminished standing is the honest response to that, and that’s a reflection of the views of governments around the Western world and frankly in the emerging world as well. Australia can and should do more. And it’s not simply a question of political atmospherics here; there’s basic science involved in this. If we could keep temperature increases globally, on average, around 1.5 degrees centigrade increased by the end of this century then what it means is we have to move to carbon neutrality by mid-century. To get to carbon neutrality by mid-century, we’ve got to radically reduce our carbon emissions before 2030 with new targets. Other countries have done that. Australia is not.

Thomas Oriti
But Scott Morrison would argue that he is doing something. I mean, over the last two days, we’ve seen a combined $1 billion investment in clean technology. And he said to the summit that his government’s focus is a technology-driven approach to mitigating emissions, saying reaching net-zero he is based on the how and not the when. I mean, what do you make of that sort of approach, focusing on technology?

Kevin Rudd
Well that’s Mr Morrison catering to his own domestic political constituency rather than act of appropriate international leadership by the Prime Minister of Australia at a major global summit to bring about real carbon reductions. The bottom line is the planet doesn’t wait for Mr Morrison to say ‘well, hydrogen will come on stream in X year and and coal reduction targets will come on-stream in Y year’. The reason why the international community, led by the United States in what has been remarkably successful summit minus Australia, is talking about mid-century carbon neutrality, new nationally determined contributions between now and 2030, is to make the mathematics and the science stack up to keep temperature increases within 1.5 degrees. What we’ve heard from Mr Morrison instead is frankly just a bunch of politically driven posturing which doesn’t add up and I think in the international community is treated with contempt, which is why he was heard make his contribution so far down the batting order.

Thomas Oriti
OK well we look at the international community. American officials are reportedly dissatisfied with Australia’s approach. The Biden administration has said it will try to pressure other countries to do more. I mean, how much of an impact do you think that could have on the Morison government?

Kevin Rudd
Well so far, if Morrison was to work out that the United States as our principal ally, who we need in multiple areas of our international policy interest, is making this demand clear of the Australian Government, he really does need to begin to adjust now – in fact, if not yesterday. But if that persuasion doesn’t work, there’s something else rolling down the railway tracks towards Australia, which is so-called border adjustment tariffs, now being actively debated, deliberated on and decided both in Brussels and considered also in Washington to effectively impose a tax on those countries which refuse to take their share of the global burden in bringing down carbon emissions. So if it’s not going to be, as it were, inducement from the US through our alliance relationship with Washington, then there is the threat of punitive financial action which would affect the entire Australian economy. But you know something? Australia as a responsible middle power in the world, and as the driest continent on Earth, for God’s sake, we should be acting as the global leaders here, not the global wooden-spooners.

Thomas Oriti
You wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian this week, Mr Rudd with another former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and how Australia’s ambition on climate change is held back by what you’re saying is a toxic mix of right-wing politics, media, and vested interests. I want to pick up on that last bit. Who are these vested interests and what’s their role?

Kevin Rudd
Well this has become a matter of political raw red meat for the Liberal Party and the National Party to go and chant the coal mantra. That’s one element of it, it’s part of the internal dynamics of the Liberal and National parties. Secondly, I didn’t say the media, I said the Murdoch media, and the Murdoch media has run — and Malcolm Turnbull agrees with — me a vicious campaign against effective climate change action in this country for more than a decade now. And because of their power in the print media in this country, where they have 70% of the print ownership, they have shaped and influenced significantly the terms of our national debate. And the third element in all this, of course, they’re our own big hydrocarbon companies, led by companies like BHP, which have been dragging the chain on this for a very long time. Put those three together, and they can’t hydrocarbon lobby’s trade union, which is the Minerals Council of Australia, this represents a very powerful potent force in Australian politics, which I’ve had to contend with as prime minister and they ultimately prevailed against me; which Malcolm Turnbull had to work against when he was Prime Minister, they prevailed against him; frankly, what is being lost as a consequence of this is effective, clear Australian international leadership on something which matters for our environment, and economy for the future.

Thomas Oriti
Just pick up on something you said a moment ago about the Murdoch media, Mr Rudd, the former US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has backed to your call for a royal commission into Rupert Murdoch’s media empire here in Australia. What do you may give that support and where are you at with your petition at the moment?

Kevin Rudd
Well, the result of our petition which attracted more than half a million signatures within 28 days across Australia — because the system collapsed, we suspect hundreds of thousands of petitioners in addition to that — the Senate decided to commission its own investigation into the future of media diversity. It continues to take evidence from myself, Malcolm Turnbull and others, including the media proprietors, on what we do on the future of this extraordinary monopoly which the Murdoch media has in Australia. It is the highest concentration of print media ownership anywhere in the Western world. Now, when Jim Clapper intervenes as the former director of national intelligence in the United States, what Clapper is saying is the impact of Murdoch there in America, where he is not a majority player, but he’s an aggressive player through Fox News, is that untrammelled this Fox media beast has significantly derailed the potentially for consensus in American politics, not just on climate change, but across a whole range of pressing challenges facing the United States. So he’s sending a clarion clear message, that if we’re going to have Fox News exercise that sort of influence in Australia, through Sky News, which is now having a huge impact across social media platforms and YouTube, then our country prospectively becomes ungovernable like the United States has become in large part in recent years.

Thomas Oriti
Kevin Rudd, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you.

Thomas Oriti
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is the president of the Asia Society in New York.