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Source: Australian Treasurer

Chris Kenny:

Thanks for joining us Treasurer, appreciate your time. First up…

Josh Frydenberg:

Good to be with you Chris.

Chris Kenny:

Treasurer, do you know who Matt Kean is and have your Federal Cabinet colleagues come to you urging deeper carbon emissions cut from the Federal Government?

Josh Frydenberg:

Look I haven’t spoken to Matt Kean and those reports are false. What I am focused on, what the Prime Minister is focused on is meeting and beating our 2030 targets as we have been meeting and beating our earlier emissions reduction targets but to do so in a way that’s economically responsible, that doesn’t sacrifice jobs and that sees Australia do its part, as part of a global agreement.

Chris Kenny:

Well it’s not a matter of reports being wrong it’s a matter of whether Matt Kean is correct or not and you’re saying you haven’t spoken to him. Does that mean you’ve never spoken to Matt Kean or just you have not spoken to him recently about climate policies?

Josh Frydenberg:

No I’ve met Matt Kean before but I haven’t spoken to him about these issues and the reports saying that cabinet ministers have been lobbying me for a change of policy is false.

Chris Kenny:

So none of your cabinet or indeed backbench colleagues have come to you and urged you to push for deeper carbon emissions cuts?

Josh Frydenberg:

What my colleagues have been focused on is ensuring that Australia meets and beats our emissions reduction targets and they have been saying what the Prime Minister has been saying which is we’ll do so in a responsible way that we accept the climate science and that we’ve got a good story to tell and we will adopt new technologies as we are doing, without adopting taxes which is the Labor Party’s policy when it comes to emissions reductions. So let’s be very clear…

Chris Kenny:

Hang on a second though…

Josh Frydenberg:

That’s what our focus is on.

Chris Kenny:

Have any of your colleagues come to you and said you need to ramp up your climate policies?

Josh Frydenberg:

The colleagues are not calling for, and they haven’t done so to me, an increase in our targets, what they’ve said to me is that we have a very good story to tell, that we are focused on reducing our emissions as part of an international agreement and that’s what we need to continue to do so in a responsible, economic way.

Chris Kenny:

So Matt Kean is the Energy and Environment Minister in New South Wales, he’s been slapped down not only by the Prime Minister, but also by the Deputy Premier, his own Deputy Premier, John Barilaro. Has he just reopened old Coalition and old Coalition schism over climate policy?

Josh Frydenberg:

Look, I’m not going to add to all this debate because I actually think it’s a side issue Chris, the real issue is about the Coalition delivering on its international commitments and the policies that it took to the last election which is to be responsible economic managers and responsible stewards of the environment. That’s what we are doing and as Treasurer I’m very focused in this context of having hotter, dryer, longer summers, that we have in place the policies and the technologies to save property and life and to ensure that we are and our communities are as resilient as possible in the face of these very dangerous fires that we’ve seen.

Chris Kenny: 

Just two quick questions on that though before we move on to the economy. One is there have been a lot of people in politics and the media saying these fires this summer were unprecedented. Now, no one would talk them down, too many people have died, too many peoples’ lives have been changed forever. It’s been a terrible fire season, but why are people saying things are unprecedented when we’ve had far worse tragedies only 10 years ago, back in Ash Wednesday in 1983, back into the early part of last century, back even in the 19th century. Why this desire to portray these fires as unprecedented?

Josh Frydenberg:

Well we’ve had significant natural disasters before, whether it’s bushfires, floods, cyclones, which have led to the loss of life and property. In this case as you know, millions of hectares have been burnt and a significant number of lives have been lost. I think what is particular about these fires is that they have occurred simultaneously across many states and they’ve been devastating in New South Wales, as they have been in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and indeed Tasmania and Western Australia as well we’re seeing impacts of this. So we are seeing major fire dangers across multiple states at a simultaneous time and that’s why it’s been very difficult for our brave volunteer firefighters and emergency service personnel to deal with.

Chris Kenny:

And just finally on this issue, we have to have an injection of reality into this, no matter the arguments for Australia playing its role in global climate action, we have to be able to tell everybody, voters in this country the facts and they are that no matter what Australia does or doesn’t do on climate policy it is not going to change of its self, the climate season in Australia and in fact historically of course, naturally we’ll always have a devastating fire threat in the Australian summer.

Josh Frydenberg:

But that’s why we’re part of a global agreement because we recognise that 1.3 per cent of the world’s emissions, we’re not the world’s biggest emitter, that’s obvious, but we do need to do our part and if you look at our performance since 2005 emissions are down around 12 per cent. In that same time, emissions have gone up in New Zealand, emissions are up by 67 per cent in China and 77 per cent in India, so Australia has performed relatively well compared to a number of other countries in reducing our carbon footprint. One in five Australian homes have solar panels on their roofs, we’ve been investing in Snowy 2.0, the Battery of the Nation with pumped hydro and wind opportunities in Tasmania and a second interconnector. We’ve adopted the reliability aspect of the National Energy Guarantee which is going to ensure that as more intermittent sources of power generation come into the market, into the grid, that we actually have the back-up power to support it when the wind’s not blowing when the sun is not shining. These are all the things that we are doing as a responsible economic actor and as part of reducing our carbon footprint which is what we should be doing.

Chris Kenny:

But the suggestion that this diminishes our bushfire threat in this country, the suggestion that if we’d left the Carbon Tax in place somehow our bushfire season wouldn’t have been as bad this year is absolute bunkum!

Josh Frydenberg:

Well it is bunkum to say that a tax would’ve solved the bushfires or prevented them because it’s just not true. What we do know is that the climate is changing, man is making a contribution to that. The climate is getting hotter and dryer and we’re seeing obviously a very severe drought at the moment as well which is contributed in part to the conditions where these bushfires have been absolutely devastating. But we need to be responsible, we need a balanced approach and that’s what the Prime Minister’s outlined to the Australian people ahead of the last election and that’s what we’re committed to implementing.

Chris Kenny:

I’ve got to get to your Budget and the economy. You’ve outlined today more of your bushfire response package, that will be welcomed, but it’s another hit on the Budget. Deloitte Access Economics today, Chris Richardson, his annual report, very gloomy about the prospects for economic growth this year. What’s your outlook for the economy and importantly, will you guarantee that this financial year will deliver the budget surplus you promised?

Josh Frydenberg:

Well as you know in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook that the Finance Minister and I handed down just before Christmas it was forecast of a $5 billion surplus in the 19-20 year and that was before the spending that we had announced for the bushfire response and we’ve made it very clear, our first priority is delivering the economic resources to the people who need it, whose properties have been damaged, the small businesses that have been damaged, the primary producers that have lost their stock, the mental health challenges that have arisen as a result of…

Chris Kenny:

Yeah, we…

Josh Frydenberg:

Investments that we are making….

Chris Kenny:

We understand the priority and need for that but your promise of a surplus is now finished, you’re not promising or guaranteeing a surplus.

Josh Frydenberg:

Well Chris you’ll have to tune in like every other Australian on Budget Night in May to see those numbers reconcile but what I can tell you is that the economic impact is still to play out from the bushfires, but we have been very responsible economic managers and the benefit of that to the Australian people is that we now have the fiscal flexibility to respond to economic shocks and crises such as these bushfires. That’s why we are committed to living within our means and that’s what Australia is doing.

Chris Kenny:

Fifty per cent chance of a surplus or better?

Josh Frydenberg:

I’ll leave that to the commentators. What I will say is that the Australian economy is very resilient. We got through some pretty difficult times, trade tensions, Brexit, the ongoing drought and we’re still leaving within our means. We’ve announced an unprecedented $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund, we’ve already made significant commitments under that and we’ll continue to make more but our focus is on delivering the economic resources to the people who are affected by the fires and the Australian people know that is why you have responsible economic management, so that you’re in a position to do what we are doing right now.

Chris Kenny:

Josh Frydenberg thanks so much for joining us.

Josh Frydenberg:

Good to be with you.

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