ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 9 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Net zero emissions; Land development and infrastructure; Political donations; News Corp petition.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Today I speak with Labor's Jim Chalmers, the federal Labor Member for Rankin. I speak with him on a day when the independent Member of Parliament Zali Steggall has said she will be introducing a climate change bill in an effort to find political consensus on the issue. Jim Chalmers, is Labor going to support Zali Steggall's private member's bill on climate change?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: G'day Steve. As I understand it we're still talking with Zali but our position is that we'll work with anyone who wants to see genuine action on climate change, getting cheaper and cleaner energy into the system, getting to net zero emissions by 2050 which is the position that the incoming American administration holds and more than 70 countries around the world hold including our major trading partners, the BCA, the Farmers, most of the big businesses, BHP and the like.
AUSTIN: Zali Steggall's bill would set a net zero emissions target by 2050, so would Labor support it?
CHALMERS: That's our policy. We want to work with her. I think there are discussions ongoing about what that looks like as far as I know. At the very least, the Government should let the Parliament debate it. Sometimes they prevent members of the crossbench from debating these kinds of bills. We think it should be debated. On the substantive issue, the really important issue of net zero emissions by 2050, that's our announced policy and it's consistent with more than 70 countries around the world, the business organisations, and the major employers here in Australia. I can't quite understand why the Government doesn't want to go down that path.
AUSTIN: We'll see how it unfolds. Let me move on to something else altogether. Today, more than half a million Australians' signatures were on a petition that was tabled in federal Parliament by Kevin Rudd, supported by a former Prime Minister from the other side of the bench, Malcolm Turnbull, calling for an inquiry, or a commission of inquiry, or a royal commission - I haven't read the exact wording - into the Murdoch media empire. Does the Labor Party support this?
CHALMERS: It's not the position of our Shadow Cabinet. We do have a position that there's a problem with the concentration of media ownership. That's a point that we've made for some years now. In about 2017 I think, from memory, the Government had some legislation which further concentrated media in this country and we opposed it and made our views clear then.
AUSTIN: Let me interrupt there, Jim Chalmers. The petition started by a former Labor Prime Minister, a fellow Queenslander, Kevin Rudd is not supported by the federal Labor Party, per se?
CHALMERS: It's not our position to have a royal commission, but certainly if anyone's earned the right to have a view about media concentration, it's those two former Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. We think that's entirely reasonable and obviously more than 500,000 Australians agree with the view that Kevin's put out there. That's fine. A Labor Member tabled it in the parliament today, Andrew Leigh, my colleague from Canberra. You asked me if a royal commission is the formal position of the Labor Party, and no, it isn't.
AUSTIN: Is there a better option as far as Labor is concerned?
CHALMERS: We're working through that. Obviously there's all kinds of ways you can deal with the lack of media diversity. First of all, we've had a lot to say as you would probably know about cutbacks to the ABC which have made that issue worse rather than better. We've had some points to make about that legislation I mentioned before. We do think a lack of diversity is an issue in the media market. We think that it's entirely reasonable for Kevin, Malcolm Turnbull and others to put this view along with half a million Australians, but we haven't taken a decision as a Shadow Cabinet that that's Labor's policy that we'll take to an election.
AUSTIN: 4:40. News at 5. Labor's Jim Chalmers is my guest. Jim Chalmers is the federal Labor Member for Rankin, a federal electorate based on the south side of Brisbane. An obscure question from left-field just on housing developments and the like. We've been talking about opening up new land here in southeast Queensland and what it means for house prices, Jim Chalmers. What do you notice in your electorate in terms of new land? I'm not sure if Yarrabilba and Flagstone are actually in your federal electorate? Do you know? Is it by any chance?
CHALMERS: It's just outside.
CHALMERS: I get it raised with me a lot because what Yarrabilba and Flagstone tell us - and Logan City council recognises this, the council has some terrific councillors on there - is people are very welcoming of big land releases where we can get some affordable housing particularly for young families who are prepared to commute, but we've got to get the infrastructure right. I heard you talking before in the traffic report about the Logan Motorway which has been obviously a terrific piece of infrastructure for my community. So long as we can get the infrastructure development keeping up with the pace of growth in that part of the southeast corner, then I think that kind of development is good.
AUSTIN: Okay. I'll come back to federal matters. Now, last week, while we were all focusing on the US presidential election, the Labor Party together with the Liberal Coalition worked together to pass or clarify - whatever you want to call it - laws which would allow for instance property developers to ignore state laws about making political donations. In other words, you clarified electoral laws, but it basically gave the federal law dominance over state law. Tell me why Labor did this?
CHALMERS: I think you're right to say that it was a clarification. I'm not an expert on this field of electoral law, but my understanding was that there were blurred lines between the state regime about developer donations and the federal regime which were creating a lot of confusion. There have been cases which threw up some unintended outcomes. This legislation clears up some of those blurred lines so that if you make a donation for the purposes of a federal campaign it can be spent on a federal campaign but not a state campaign - which seems to us to be a reasonable outcome. The most important thing here Steve is that we need more reform of donation laws -
AUSTIN: You had your chance, Jim, and you squibbed it. Academics and cross benchers have warned that these changes, where the Labor Party combined with the Coalition, would actually decrease scrutiny because all someone has to say is, I'm going to donate money to the federal Labor Party for federal purposes, and then you can do what you want with it and pass it on to the state counterparts if you so choose.
CHALMERS: But what that entirely ignores, Steve, with the greatest respect, is that we actually have legislation from our side of the parliament in the parliament right now which brings more scrutiny to donations so that you have to declare it when it's much smaller than the current threshold; and so that there's real time disclosure so you don't have to wait months to find out who donated to a political party during an election campaign. We've actually got a range of proposals in the parliament right now, that the Government doesn't support, to make this more transparent. We've recognised for some time now that there is an appetite to have more transparency in donations. I support those calls that you get from the academic community in particular. We are trying to make the system better than it is now. If you look at this one issue in isolation, which is a clarification between state and federal laws, you draw a set of conclusions; but you need to have a look at everything we are trying to do in a system to make sure that there's more transparency and people know what's going on.
AUSTIN: In this case, though, you actually worked with the Coalition to bring this change about. A number of academics are reporting that this basically means donations made without a stipulation on how they could be spent would therefore be governed by federal laws, even if they were spent on state elections. That's a way of circumventing Annastacia Palaszczuk's very good, clear, transparent real time donation laws here.
CHALMERS: That's not the intention, as I understand it, Steve. The intention is that when there's uncertainty around which regime governs the donation, it's not unusual not just in this part of the law but in all kinds of laws where there are state versions and federal versions that you need to clarify the difference. This is how it's been done. It's also not unusual for all parties at times to work together to clarify the arrangement. This is one part of what's changed in recent times. We think more can be done to make the system more transparent and that's what we're trying to do.
AUSTIN: So you'd like to see at a federal level real time donation declarations similar to what Queensland has, is that right?
CHALMERS: We want to see three things. Our bills in the parliament do this. We want to see real time disclosure so that you get seven days not months to disclose; we want to see the threshold come down from $14,000 before you have to declare a donation, to $1,000 -
CHALMERS: That's in the bill that we've got before the Parliament; and the third thing is that obviously we want to see a proper national integrity commission to oversee all of this sort of stuff. We think there's an appetite in the academic community and broader community for some of those changes, and we'll keep fighting for them.
AUSTIN: Do you know when your bill is due for debate in federal parliament?
CHALMERS: I'm not sure. I think it's sitting there for consideration. I'd have to check and come back to you on when it's going to be debated but we've actually been pushing for it for some time. Those two initiatives that I mentioned in our draft legislation, we've been fighting for those for some time. The Government doesn't want to come at that but we will be hoping to change their mind.
AUSTIN: Thanks for your time.
CHALMERS: Thank you Steve.