Thu, 09 May 2024 - 17:24



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




9 MAY 2024

GREG JENNETT: Well, Parliament is back next week with more than the budget to deal with to cover off some running stories. Liberal frontbencher Paul Fletcher joins us now from Sydney. Paul welcome back. Why don't we start with gas. It's back clearly in favour with the government which is essentially supporting its future for export and domestic use beyond 2050, nailing its colours to the mast in some ways with such clear support for gas on the Labor side, shouldn't this cause a re-examination about nuclear on yours? I mean, we may now be on the cusp of a very clear bipartisan position about the future of gas in this country. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, Greg, it's taken only two years for the Labor government to recognise what the coalition's been saying and what every credible expert has been saying, which is that natural gas has a critical role to play as a transition fuel in the journey towards net zero emissions by 2050. The report that Minister King referred to has a stat that I think some 24% of Australia's energy comes from natural gas. So it's a very significant player now, but it will be a significant player as coal fired power plants exit the system. Of course, it's also important in the contribution it can make internationally. And that commitment about export, Australia being a dependable exporter of liquefied natural gas is very important. I know from my own visit to Taiwan with the parliamentary delegation last year, that's something that the government in Taiwan is concerned about, as are the governments of other countries in North Asia. And they're right to be concerned, because the rhetoric about natural gas from people like Chris Bowen has been pretty negative. And of course, the Victorian government has been on a campaign against natural gas, the Victorian Labor government. So look, there's some useful rhetoric in this report. We'll need to see whether it actually leads to the desirable outcome, which is that available resources of natural gas can now be opened up and can start producing, and additional natural gas can flow into our domestic networks. And it can also go into the export market because as well as our domestic needs, it's also important in helping other countries make the transition they have to make. 

GREG JENNETT: And so who should be leading or making those decisions? Obviously, the states have large rights and controls over these resources. Happy to leave it to them?

PAUL FLETCHER:Well, there's an existing regulatory framework and set of responsibilities. The fact is that we've seen particular state governments like Victoria, frankly, free riding off the efforts of some other states. We need to see a recognition by state governments about the role that gas will have. And we also need to see, Chris Bowen, who has been much more negative on gas than what we just heard there from Madeleine King. We need to see him get with the programme as well. 

GREG JENNETT: So you actually question their commitment to this strategy published under the Australian government's name? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Absolutely. Anybody who's watched the rhetoric of this government and this party, the Labor Party over the last 2 or 3 years and longer, is going to want more than just one nice sounding report to believe that they have now actually recognised the important role of natural gas. We've been saying it consistently and so, you know, it's great to see some sensible observations in that report. But whether this government actually turns rhetoric into action, well, forgive me for being a sceptic. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. Let's move along. Paul Fletcher vapes. I've heard over many months now, endless Liberal MPs and senators strongly decry the use and the expanding use of vapes by young Australians in particular. But when we got to the Senate inquiry report yesterday, coalition senators wrote, quote, we reserve our final position while this policy makes its way through our internal processes, what is so wrong with the direction of the government's national ban that coalition senators should be reserving their right? 

PAUL FLETCHER: I think nobody doubts the scale of the problem that we have with teenagers increasingly using vapes. With vaping stores opened and operating in many parts of the country, there are certainly some in my own electorate on the North Shore of Sydney, and I know there are lots around the country which is causing a lot of concern. Teachers, parents are rightly very concerned about this. And so this is the issue that the Senate committee has been looking at as it considers a bill introduced by Health Minister Mark Butler, which would propose, effectively, the outlawing of vapes, including non-nicotine vapes, uh, except in circumstances where there is a prescription issued. 

GREG JENNETT: So what's the disposition of you and Liberal MPs and senators then, on that question, should they not be outlawed, including the non-nicotine ones? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, my Senate colleagues in their coalition senators’ minority report, I thought, produced a very thoughtful analysis of the issues here. The question is not our objective, our public health objective, which is to have as few people as possible, and particularly as few teenagers and young people using or taking up vapes. The reduction in the amount of cigarette smoking in Australia's population has been a significant public health achievement, and we certainly don't want to see that work, thrown to waste because people take up in large numbers nicotine consumption in another form. But in the thoughtful observations that my Senate colleagues made, my coalition Senate colleagues made in the report, they went to issues about the efficacy of a model that makes vaping illegal and tested it against an alternative model where it is legal but regulated. Now, they were very clear to say the coalition has not reached a position on this. We will work through it in our normal processes, including shadow cabinet and party room, and we'll discuss it carefully. But we need to understand there's no disagreement about the scale of the problem here. The question that needs to be carefully considered is what is the right policy tool to use to respond to the problem? 

GREG JENNETT: All right. Noted. Thank you for clearing that up. A final one. Paul Fletcher, ASF 17. The case before the High Court. It will actually hand down its decision tomorrow. It is really another test case for a caseload of about 150 immigration detainees. If the government loses, will the coalition commit to rapid passage of the unpassed deportation Powers Migration Powers Act? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, again, a committee a Senate committee reported on that earlier this week. Uh coalition colleagues identified some significant concerns with the form of the legislation, while noting that we do support the basic proposition that the Commonwealth immigration minister should have powers to deal with people who are unlawful non-citizens, but who are declining to cooperate with efforts to remove them after they've been found, not to have a lawful right to be in Australia. And they have exhausted all possible avenues. But we have identified some issues in the legislation. The Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Paterson has been speaking about that. He's made the point, for example, that the impact this could have on diaspora communities is something that needs to be thought through carefully. I've certainly had those concerns expressed to me by Iranian Australians in my own electorate. And so, we will obviously give this careful consideration. James Patterson has also made the point that the government has actually said that legislation was not linked to the court case that comes down tomorrow. Of course, if they change their advice, if the government changes its advice on that point, we'll consider that on its merits. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. Well, let's pick up that conversation sometime after the high court's decision tomorrow. Paul Fletcher, a bit happening today. Really appreciate your flexibility around the programme As always. We'll see you back in Canberra soon 

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks, Greg.