20 September 2017
Transcript - #2017032, 2017

Interview with Raf Epstein, 774 Pollie Graph

SUBJECTS: Energy; same-sex marriage

RAF EPSTEIN:

Two of the hardest working women in Parliament are here to take your questions and mine. Kelly O’Dwyer is the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. She’s also the Liberal member for the seat of Higgins. Kelly, welcome.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Good afternoon Raf.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Clare O’Neil is the Member for Hotham for the ALP, she is part of Bill Shorten’s team. She’s the Shadow Minister for Justice. Clare O’Neil good afternoon.

CLARE O’NEIL:

Hi Raf, hi Kelly.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Hi Clare.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Both working, both are parents with children. I’ll say it and I’ve said it before – anybody in Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet with young children is crazy.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think our husbands might agree with that.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Christian Porter too and Josh Frydenberg.

KELLY O’DWYER:

That’s true, but as Clare and I would both attest, they’re not breastfeeding.

CLARE O’NEIL:

It’s not for the faint hearted, I’ll tell you that.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I’m not going to disagree in any way. I do want to get on to same-sex marriage. I got my survey form in the post, have you guys received yours?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I haven’t yet but I’m a silently enrolled voter so I’m expecting mine to come any day now.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So you get yours, you don’t have to go and collect?

KELLY O’DWYER:

No, I get it sent to me, I do get it sent to me but I haven’t received it yet.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Clare?

CLARE O’NEIL:

I’m in the same position and I cannot wait to get that envelope, rip it open and tick the yes box.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Me too!

RAF EPSTEIN:

I spend all this time talking, and it’s so different. It’s like when you finally vote, it’s a very different thing. Talking is very different to doing. But let’s start with energy. Kelly O’Dwyer, Alan Finkel’s clean energy target. Why is it that Tony Abbott appears to have the power as a backbencher to kill that off?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well it hasn’t been killed off. In fact the report only was handed to Government earlier this year. You know the reason we actually commissioned the report is because of the blackouts, the unprecedented blackouts, that occurred in South Australia and the energy crisis that it plunged that state into. We certainly don’t want to be seeing repeats of that right throughout the country, particularly in the summer in Victoria…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Sure, that’s the problem but not the solution. No one in Government appears willing to endorse a clean energy target.

KELLY O’DWYER:

So he made a number of recommendations, 50 recommendations, 49 of which were accepted straight away. The 50th related to a clean energy target…

RAF EPSTEIN:

The most important, it is gargantuan compared to the other 49.

KELLY O’DWYER:

…and truthfully, it’s a difficult issue and needs to be worked through very carefully. And that is simply what the Government is doing. It hasn’t been killed off, in fact I know that my colleague Josh Frydenberg, who is the Minister for Energy and the Environment, is carefully working through the recommendations and working out how it could, in fact, be implemented and how it should be implemented.

RAF EPSTEIN:

OK. Can I ask you, to use the same words, the Prime Minister has in the past been very positive about a clean energy target. This is only in July, this is the Prime Minister being very positive about the clean energy target.

PRIME MINISTER:

It would certainly work, there is no question it would work and we’re looking at it, giving it very favourable consideration. It has a number of virtues, very strong virtues so I think it has a lot of merit and so we’ll look at it very favourably.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So Kelly O’Dwyer, would you use those words “it would certainly work” and “it has very strong virtues”?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well nothing’s changed, Raf, since then. We’re still working through it…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Would you use those words though? I couldn’t get, I asked Josh Frydenberg this question last week, couldn’t get him to repeat them.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I use my own words, but nothing’s changed since then.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Clare O’Neil?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well the Government asked the most eminent scientist in the country to tell them what would bring power prices down, bring pollution down, into the medium term and they got their answer. That’s the clean energy target and it absolutely needs to happen. It is a depressing reality of this Government that instead of just getting on with what we know needs to happen, the Government’s mired with this destructive division and it’s just preventing the inevitable from going forward. Now Labor really wants to play a constructive role in this…

RAF EPSTEIN:

I think that’s the problem isn’t it? The Government don’t really want to join up with you on this.

CLARE O’NEIL:

That does seem to be the case but that’s pretty churlish don’t you think Raf? We’ve been having 10 years of going back and forth about what our climate policy should be in this country and what we’re experiencing now are the inevitable consequences of that, and that is the fact we have no certainty for investors. People don’t know what our energy future looks like and without that, we’re not going to get the necessary support that we need to make sure that prices come down.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Let’s bring a caller in, I will ask about Labor and coal fire power stations, whether or not they are for them or against them, that’s the question I don’t seem to be able to get a solid answer from Labor. But Les is in Yarraville, I think he has a question for you Kelly. Go for it Les.

CALLER:

I do actually. Last year during the election campaign, Kelly, the Prime Minister spent two months running around the countryside talking about science and innovation. Now, 12 months later, he wants to keep open a 50 year old clacked out power generating system that nobody wants to keep open. Everybody said it’s beyond its time…

RAF EPSTEIN:

So you’re talking about Liddell in the Hunter Valley?

CALLER:

Of course. This is just another example of how this Prime Minister has contradicted himself on just about everything he’s said…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Have you got a question there Les?

CALLER:

What’s happened to the Prime Minister? What’s happened to science and innovation Kelly?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I’ve got to say to you, Les, we’re absolutely committed to our science and innovation agenda and only last week I actually had passed through the Senate some innovative legislation that actually fixes some of the insolvency problems that we face to enable businesses to continue to grow and employ more people. That’s part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, so we’re absolutely committed to that, so…

RAF EPSTEIN:

He’s asking about energy though.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well he first asked about what’s happened to this agenda and I’m just telling him we’re still actually implementing this agenda. But on the issue of energy, we think it is critical that we have reliable and affordable energy and the Government has said we are totally agnostic as to how that’s best delivered and we are happy…

RAF EPSTEIN:

OK let me ask one more specific question – is coal the most expensive thing to invest in? I mean Alan Finkel’s review says it’s like going and getting a mortgage at 10 per cent instead of five per cent.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I don’t profess to be an expert on that but what I would say to you is we believe…

RAF EPSTEIN:

But that’s what everybody in the field says, coal is the most expensive, is that right or wrong?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Les has asked me a question, you’re now asking me a question, I’m happy to answer both, which is we believe it’s important to have an approach that is agnostic but will actually deliver the baseload power that is required to keep the lights on to make sure that our hospitals can do the things that they need to do, our manufacturers can do the things they need to do. Now if it means that we need to deliver baseload power by extending the life of some of these power stations, then we need to very seriously look at that. Already in Victoria we have seen Hazelwood be shut down…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I interrupt please, Kelly O’Dwyer, because that’s an explanation of the problem. I can’t find an expert that doesn’t think coal is the most expensive option. From APRA, the banking regulator, through to actually the chief scientist of the Department of Science and Industry inside government. Alan Finkel’s report, I’d take you to page 91 but you probably don’t remember reading the review, I’m sure you’ve read it because you’re a Cabinet member. Coal is the most expensive way to get new energy, is that right or wrong?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think he’s talking about, and again, I don’t actually have it in front of me…

RAF EPSTEIN:

New and old, new and old coal fire power stations, new and old…

KELLY O’DWYER:

He’s talking about new investment in building new coal fire power stations right?

RAF EPSTEIN:

But something like Liddell, but it’s also including something like Liddell.

KELLY O’DWYER:

But no, what we are talking about here is extending the life of a power station that has already been built.

RAF EPSTEIN:

But isn’t that a misdirection, a precise question…

KELLY O’DWYER:

No, your precise question was is it more expensive to build coal fire power stations and I can’t give you an answer to that. But what I can say to you is we’re not talking like with like when we’re talking about extending the life of Liddell because we’re simply saying it is important…

RAF EPSTEIN:

We are talking like with like, that’s exactly what Alan Finkel asked hundreds of people about.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well the Government though…

RAF EPSTEIN:

There’s no distinction in his report between old and new.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Yes but he’s talking about new power stations.

RAF EPSTEIN:

No, there’s no distinction in his report between old and new.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I will happily look at it again, but I’ve got to say to you, my understanding of this report is that it was about new investment in building new coal fire power stations, whether they be on the old technology or the new.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Clare O’Neil, I do want to know if Labor actually wants to keep coal fire power stations open or not. I’ve asked Mark Butler that question, he’s your spokesman on these issues, actually twice I think, and couldn’t get a yes or no. There was a Labor supported motion in October last year to encourage the retirement of coal fire power stations and then there was a Labor supported motion in the Senate to not force the early retirement of coal fired power stations. So do you want them to close or do you want them to stay open?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well Raf, we don’t think governments should decide what the mix of power looks like, that’s just not appropriate…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Your party supported options for both.

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well what we support, Raf, is a sustainable policy that makes investors certain about what our future looks like for energy policy in this country. And it’s not, by the way, going to involve Government throwing billions of dollars into coal fired electricity. What we need to do is set a landscape that’s going to help us bring power prices down, increase reliability, and reduce our carbon pollution, three things which, by the way, are going in the wrong direction in the fifth year of the life of the Abbott Turnbull government. Now it’s not appropriate for governments to decide what exactly the mix of power looks like. We need to set the landscape and set the policy goals, and then the people who decide where investment goes get to make those decisions.

RAF EPSTEIN:

None of that sounds like, that might be an entirely rational argument. But Sam Dastyari sponsored a motion in the Senate in October last year “to encourage the retirement of coal fire power stations”. There was a Senate motion in August this year, the vote was put to the upper house, Labor supported “that we should not force the early retirement of coal fired power stations”.

CLARE O’NEIL:

I mean, Raf, I’m sure there are plenty of things that are discussed and said in the Senate, but there is absolutely no lack of clarity about this. We want to see a clean energy target. We probably are not going to get the ideal thing that we want out of the Government, but we’re saying to the Government that something has to change here…

KELLY O’DWYER:

But what’s your view on coal though, Clare? Do you think we should be prematurely shutting down some of these coal fire power stations, which will throw thousands of workers out of jobs and then we don’t have the right baseload power that we require to keep the lights on?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Firstly, in the time that you’ve been in office, several, I think it’s seven, coal fired power plants have shut down. What has the Government done to stop that happening and do you think the Government should have done something to stop that happening?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well no, no, I mean, you can answer my question with a question which means that you don’t want to answer my question, but I think it’s pretty simple, the Labor party is talking with a real forked tongue on this particular issue. The Government has been delivering a renewable energy target, we legislated that only two years ago. We’re delivering on that and that means security of investment for renewable energy, we believe in that. We have announced an amazing scheme that will deliver, fantastic new energy through, the Snowy Hydro 2 which will mean that we have 500,000 households who get that…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Powered by the snow.

KELLY O’DWYER:

…additional power – that’s right, additional power from that particular scheme and…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Just, if I can Kelly, just a quick response from Clare because I do want to move on to same-sex marriage.

CLARE O’NEIL:

Yep, OK, I just want to say one thing. The Government’s been in office for five years. In that time power prices have gone through the roof, reliability has gone down and our carbon emissions are going up. Something has to change. Now we are offering the Government a bipartisan pathway through this. All we need is for Malcolm Turnbull to stand up to Tony Abbott and the recalcitrants on the backbench and come with us.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Everyone’s been asking questions. I’ve been asking questions, Clare O’Neil’s been asking questions, Kelly O’Dwyer has as well. Let’s give Jason in I think is it Mooroolbark Jason?

CALLER:

That’s right Rafael, hello Clare and hello Kelly.

RAF EPSTEIN:

You had a query on the same-sex marriage survey?

CALLER:

I will be voting no and I recommend Clare, Kelly and all their colleagues in the Parliament and Raf and all the listeners to ABC radio Melbourne, pick up the phone, [inaudible] and buy copies of her latest CD ‘out of the Dark’ deluxe edition.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Hey Jason give me a quick summary why you’re voting no. Don’t quote someone else at me, just give me the 20 second answer on why you’re voting no.

CALLER:

Because it is biblically wrong and it’s ungodly, unbiblical and wrong.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Ok. You’re both voting yes so I’ll give you, Kelly, a chance to respond.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I obviously disagree with with that assessment. The reason I’m voting yes is because I believe in strong and stable relationships. I believe that they improve the very fabric of our society. Marriage, I think, is a very important social institution and anything that encourages marriage and encourages strong and stable relationships, I think is actually a very good thing for our society and for our nation which is why I’m voting yes.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Clare?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well firstly, there’s a lot of conflict in politics but I think it’s great to be able to say that Kelly and I agree on this really, really important point and that is to implore all of your listeners Raf to please vote yes in the survey. There are people like Jason who are going to be voting no. A yes vote in this survey is not by any means assured and we want you to vote yes because it’s important to all of our LGBTI friends and family members and all of the people in their circles, but also, for the love of God, so we can move on and start talking about some of the big areas of conflict and contested issues in our society…

RAF EPSTEIN:

And return to the other things like energy…

CLARE O’NEIL:

...exactly, let’s debate something that’s, you know, really an area of contest not something we know people already agree with.

RAF EPSTEIN:

OK. A quick assessment from you both. Putting aside, although I can’t believe I am putting aside, the fact that transgender kids, half of them have committed suicide and the mental health of LGBTIQ teenagers is horrific, so I want to put that actually front and centre. There is a narrative running in the media that the ‘yes’ campaign are more bullying, more extreme than the ‘no’ side. Now I’m asking this of two yes advocates, but Kelly O’Dwyer, in fact someone that’s come from, some of the people you share a party room with who I’m sure you’re friends with, is it, I’m not actually sure how you make that assessment but, is the yes case more extreme and more prone to bullying?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Look I’ll be honest and I’ll say to you, I think that there are extremes on both side of this debate, but I think the vast majority of Australians are very respectful and are very clear on wanting to have a very considered and sensible debate about this issue. But there are, without question, there are extreme people on both sides of this debate who send pretty revolting emails to people like Clare and me, and I suspect to people who advocate for the no case as well and frankly I think bullying has no place in this debate. I think we are a mature society, we can have this discussion…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Is there much bullying in this debate?

KELLY O’DWYER

Well look, I’m not affected by it, I mean when people sort of send me ridiculous, you know, pretty nasty emails, for me, it’s like water of a ducks back. I think other people might be affected differently and I’m very mindful of that, but for me, it doesn’t impact me.

RAF EPSTEIN:

What do you make of it, is the yes more bullying than the no?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well, I just say that I don’t think Kelly and I feel that we’re being bullied because it’s not our relationships that are being voted on right now, and it’s not our children that are being told that their families aren’t good enough, so why would we feel bullied, I mean we’ve got every privilege in this conversation, so I think the fact…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Why are there so many people in the media saying I’m going to vote yes, but too many people on the yes side are bullying and bludgeoning others into submission, why is that such a big narrative?

CLARE O’NEIL:

I don’t know. I haven’t seen any good data on the idea that yes campaigners are bullying anyone. But I’ll just say that this whole conversation was a completely an outcome of this voting process that we knew was going to happen and we’re going to see more and more of it, we’re going to see more issues with the ballot, we’re going to see more opportunities for Tony Abbott and others to come out and contest a yes result if that is what we get and that is why Labor never wanted this to happen. But I say to people we have to move on from that now and we want people to vote yes so we can, move forward.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Although, Clare, I think in fairness, I think you have to say you had, what, five years in Government, had the capacity to actually vote on this in Parliament, chose not to. We then took a position to the election which said we want a compulsory plebiscite on this we have to honour that, we are honouring that, even though Labor and the Greens denied us the ability to put that in place.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Again, very briefly, I don’t want to get into the history of the plebiscite otherwise I’ll start bringing up Tony Abbott disagreeing with the plebiscite two weeks before he announced it.

KELLY O’DWYER

Sure, but anyway, the point I make is, look, we are having this discussion now, there is a real opportunity for this to be delivered this side of Christmas and I’m certainly looking forward to that.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Interesting text – every time someone says they will vote no you humiliate them by asking them why. Actually I ask everybody why, but still, Clare, just a brief response on the process the history.

CLARE O’NEIL:

I think if people are if people are ringing and telling you they’re voting no surely they want to tell you why. Look when Labor was in Government we did allow the Parliament to vote on this and the vote was not successful. Politicians need to do their jobs, we’re all going to have to go back to Canberra and vote on this anyway but I don’t want us to get bogged down in issues around the survey. It’s happening, please vote yes so we can move on.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Let’s get some traffic.

[TRAFFIC REPORT]

RAF EPSTEIN:

Clare O’Neil is with us, Shadow Justice Minister. Kelly O’Dwyer is the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. Just some of your texts: the yes side are being accused of bullying because the no side can’t accept…ohh damn I lost the text, forgive me. I’ll tell you what I’ll get some calls because there are so many texts coming through so fast. Tracey is in Rowville, what did you want to say Tracey?

CALLER:

I think the best way which would have got around this whole thing is – you take the word marriage out. Everyone has to have a union, then that way if you chose to have it blessed by the church that would save all the problems because it seems to be the word marriage that has all the Catholics up in arms.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So what you take marriage out of any civil government recognised form of union?

CALLER:

Yes, make everyone have a civil union, then if you choose to have it blessed by your church, your religion or whatever then that way do it that way so that everyone is on equal ground.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Look, I understand the appeal, I can’t see it happening but I understand the appeal of the idea. Ian in Chelsea, go for it Ian.

CALLER:

Good afternoon all, look I was just wondering if anyone thought that any public proclamations or any town hall gatherings actually changed anyone’s mind. I was listening to Cory Bernardi posing the no case to a lot of people who would never in a million years vote yes and it’s like preaching to the converted. It’s just politicians trying to sure up their voter base.

RAF EPSTEIN:

OK, now you are raising something very interesting, actually I will start with you Clare because Bill Shorten has made a deliberate decision to do tonnes and tonnes of town halls. You’re both professional politicians, you’re talking to the centre because people are forced to vote, which I personally think is a wonderful thing. What changes people’s minds, what do you think encourages or how do you entice people over the line?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Are you talking about it in the context of marriage equality or just generally?

RAF EPSTEIN:

Well no, let’s actually remove that issue because I think that’s hard but you’re a politician…

KELLY O’DWYER:

I was going to say that I think a lot of people on this issue have a view already.

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well I think that I have been to a couple of Bill’s town halls and they are magnificent events and it’s actually not because so much what Bill says but because as politicians, we don’t listen to people nearly as much as we ought to do, we do way too much talking ourselves and I just think it’s fantastic that Bill is going out there and talking to ordinary people.

RAF EPSTEIN:

That’s a wonderful lording of your leader. I am curious though and that’s OK you are allow to do that.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think that’s a big tick to you, you’re going to be promoted Clare.

CLARE O’NEIL:

I was actually being genuine but anyway…

RAF EPSTEIN:

In my defence what I actually love about this job the most is that you just get an unfiltered view from people but in America I know the research suggests that political parties register either getting people over the line or changing their mind when they hear a personal story from someone advocating for change. I just wonder if you, I mean it’s your job right, is persuading people in the middle who might have changed. What gets people to change their mind?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Well can I, I just think that your point about personal stories is a really good one but the other thing that’s really important is just appealing to common ground and starting from where you actually share values and that’s why I think the argument that Kelly is making about the importance of stable relationships in the context of the marriage equality discussion is a really important one because a lot of people who may feel for example that they have felt and seen one model of marriage for a long, long time and feel uncomfortable about the change may have their minds changed because they do believe that children are best raised in stable relationships. So yeah I think that that’s a starting point. What do you think Kelly?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think that town halls are one way of being able to reach and talk to people, I think tele town halls are another way and certainly our Prime Minister, if we are going to lord leaders, he certainly does a lot of those right across the country because not everybody can get out to a town hall to actually meet in person with either their local MP or a visiting MP but I’ll tell you something that I do in my local electorate that I actually find really powerful, and I am doing it this weekend, I just have these mobile office meetings across my electorate and I stand out there...

RAF EPSTEIN:

What does that mean, sorry?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I stand outside of the shopping centre for an hour in one location and an hour in another location and I just talk to people about the issues that are important to them because there are a lot of things that people are thinking about which they are not prepared to pick up the telephone and call you about or write you a letter or send you an email but they will raise it with you if they see you and I find the same thing when I’m at train stations. If fact to be honest I find it when I’m doing the shopping that people will stop you in the supermarket, but it is really important. I think Clare is right when she says it’s really important to listen to people and to listen to the issues that they’re raising with you and to take that very seriously.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Do you know what changes people’s minds? I don’t, I’m asking if you do.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think if you can listen to people and address the concerns that they have raised and put an argument to them I think that can persuade people and change people’s minds.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can it persuade disgruntled millionaires?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Look there are some people who will always have a fairly firm view on certain issues. I have got to say I think very, very disgruntled multi-millionaires who don’t like paying Singapore rates of tax on their earnings on superannuation above $1.6 million, maybe they can’t be persuaded but for all other people, which is 99 per cent of the population, I think that the answer is probably yes.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I want to point out as well, I just want to reflect the text: I don’t mind being called ordinary because I am what irks me though is when a politician refers to me as ordinary because I assume they think they are extraordinary and they are not. That is from Georgie in Clunes.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Fair point.

RAF EPSTEIN:

And Julie in Northcote making the same point so I don’t know you both used the word ordinary or not.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I don’t think either of us used it.

CLARE O’NEIL:

Thanks for putting us in our place.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Quick one on same sex marriage. The AFL has come out in support, someone texting, of same sex marriage, someone’s texting me saying that’s persuaded them to vote no.

CLARE O’NEIL:

Yeah.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Just ten seconds. Sporting organisations and banks coming out for or against same0sex marriage, good or bad?

CLARE O’NEIL:

Look I think it’s great. I’m really pleased to see corporate citizens and other organisations getting involved in this. I just think it’s really important that we don’t give any voter in the country that this is a forgone conclusion. If you want it to happen you have to vote.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I’m not sure it really has a big impact to be honest. I think people have got a strong view on this one way or another and I think there are very few people who haven’t made up their mind.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer, Clare O’Neil, thank you so much.

CLARE O’NEIL:

It’s been a pleasure, thanks Kelly, thanks Raf.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Thanks.