SENATOR THE HON BRIDGET MCKENZIE
MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AND NATIONAL RECOVERY AND RESILIENCE
MINISTER FOR REGIONALISATION, REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS AND REGIONAL EDUCATION
SENATOR FOR VICTORIA
ABC VICTORIA COUNTRY HOUR
INTERVIEW WITH WARWICK LONG
WARWICK LONG I spoke to Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie earlier today about the deal and what it means for agriculture and regional Victoria. Senator McKenzie, welcome to the Country Hour.
BRIDGET MCKENZIE It’s great to be with you, Warwick and with your listeners
WARWICK LONG Well after weeks of negotiation the Government has a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Is this the right outcome?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Yeah, I think it is, Warwick. I mean we’ve made sure that this is the right outcome because it’s going to be right for the regions. The fact that the whole of parliament has been trying to understand how climate policy impacts the regions and what we can do to mitigate that, I think has been a good thing.
WARWICK LONG But we don’t have this commitment will affect the regions ultimately yet, do we?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Well, that’s why we’ve been very strong in advocating for a review mechanism so that long after I leave parliament, as we head towards 2050, governments in the future, the Australian people and importantly, rural and regional Australia will understand how climate policy impacts are not just our traditional industries, but our regional communities going forward.
WARWICK LONG Do you think similar review mechanisms have worked in other areas of policy though? In the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, for example?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Well, at the end of the day, you can review the impact and then it is up to the government of the day to do something about that. Now we’ve got a technology, not taxes approach to lowering emissions. And as you know and your listeners know, we’ve been lowering emissions in this country over the past decade in excess of 20 percent whilst growing agricultural production and growing jobs in the regions.
WARWICK LONG If regional Australia is already part of this and already cutting emissions. Why not legislate this goal and put it in stone?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Well, because we’re not always going to be in government, Warwick. We are already doing this and I think what our job as the National Party is to make sure that we assess the ongoing impact as we move to decarbonise our economy. I mean, we have a very unique economy when you look globally, we are heavily resources dependent, we’re export industry dependent. Agriculture and mining pay for all our state schools, pay for all our state hospitals — and that’s going to continue under this plan.
WARWICK LONG There’s no new policy or major policy change really announced yesterday, apart from the commitment leading to the criticism that this was just spin and not a major change from the Government. How do you address those concerns from people looking for changes either in policy or changes in investment in technology from government, to come with this commitment?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Warwick, I think it goes to as Liberal and Nationals MPs and Senators, we actually support a process to lower emissions across our economy that won’t actually mean traditional industries lose their jobs. And so a lot of the work is being done out there. We’ve got our solar and wind farms, we’re improving our farming techniques, soil carbon projects. We’re trialling feeding our cattle herd with seaweed supplements to reduce methane emissions so carbon offsets, et cetera, are going to help farmers diversify their income. So there’s a lot of things that are already going on that we need to scale up. Our job is to make sure those opportunities occur out in regional Australia.
WARWICK LONG What did the Nationals get from the Government in return for backing net zero? Obviously, the elevation of Keith Pitt back to Cabinet was one of them. What else was part of this deal?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE We took a quite a principled approach to our negotiations with the Liberal Party. The first thing we wanted to do was to protect regional communities. We know that our traditional industries, such as agriculture, such as mining and manufacturing, which underpin our local economies out in regional Australia, are actually the high intensive emission industries. So we wanted to make sure rural and regional communities were protected in any moves towards a net zero position by 2050. S
WARWICK LONG So you got the reviews?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Yeah absolutely. And we also wanted to make sure that we secure any opportunities out in the regions. And so as the Prime Minister has already made clear, there are a lot of programs already in place that will obviously be scaled up to assist with this task. But you’ll be seeing announcements over the coming period.
WARWICK LONG Are we talking billions here or tens of billion? What did you manage get out of the Prime Minister?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Well, Warwick nice try. I feel like I’m still in Senate Estimates, but I’m not going to be getting the jump on the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister around that. But that has been our primary focus as a political party because a lot of people have been talking about how do we get to Glasgow the next three days? How do we get to the next election, sort of the next three to six months? Well, as the National Party, this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve seen how poorly designed government policy can impact our communities in decades into the future, and we’ve been really, really conscious as a political party to actually take that into account.
WARWICK LONG I can rephrase slightly, though, for you Senator. You were in the room, you were one of the Nationals voting for this deal. Personally, when you came time for you to vote, were you happy with the deal that the Nationals were able to negotiate for regional Australia?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Yeah look, Warwick, I just want to clear up something for you. There’s been a lot of chat about a ‘vote’ in the room. It’s very rare that the National Party has a vote. Usually the leader will take the consensus of the room, and it was very, very clear where the room stood on the topic.
WARWICK LONG So when you all nodded at each other, what did you decide?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE So, you know, I think the reality was the Prime Minister was going anyway. Our job was to make the deal a better deal. We believe we did that. We have a plan now that is better for the regions than it was. That’s our job, and I think we’re all a highly pragmatic party like the people we represent. We’re realists. So it’s better that we do the right thing and make things better than stand on the sidelines carping.
WARWICK LONG So was it an important policy decision for the Nationals to make or was it more about getting a war chest for the next election?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE No, and that’s why I’ve tried to deal with that with your previous question. This has been a totemic issue for the National Party. This has been a serious step for us, right. It is the right time, I think, for us to work towards a low emissions future. This is the right plan for us to back. It’s not a plan that taxes out our industries in our communities and our jobs. It is a plan that offers opportunity for the future decades to come, and so I’m excited.
WARWICK LONG And it will be a good plan for the planet?
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Well, I’ve always been very strong on this point. I believe we need to tread very lightly on this Earth. Warwick, I think rural and regional Australia has been unfairly painted as somehow anti-environment, which is completely missing the point. We live in the natural environment, we care for it because our family’s future depends on it. We were conservationists long before, you know, the environment was weaponised for ideology over the last two decades. I think we’ve been very sensible contributors to this national debate over the past decade and a half, and it is now time for us, with the right plan, to be backing a net zero position by 2050.
WARWICK LONG Senator Bridget McKenzie, thank you very much for joining us on the country hour today.
BRIDGET MCKENZIE Yeah, always a pleasure, mate.
WARWICK LONG That is Senator Bridget McKenzie, Victorian Nationals Senator, speaking about the Federal Government’s plan for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And, well, what’s in it. Well, what we’re trying to work out, what’s in it for regional Australia and the details that have been negotiated as well.