Sky News Afternoon Agenda - 04/03/2022

04 March 2022

SUBJECTS: Political panel with Liberal Senator Eric Abetz; floods affecting the East Coast of Australia; Senator Abetz election campaign. 

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back. It's been a week dominated, of course, by flooding on Australia's east coast. Joining me live now my political panel Liberal Senator Eric Abetz and Labor MP Alicia Payne. Thanks both for your time. A lot of reflections being made, I might start with you Senator, that this might be Australia's new normal with climate change. Is this something we have to adapt to in a strategic sense here in Australia?
ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Many years ago Dorothy Mackellar wrote the poem the sunburnt country. That this is a country of droughts and flooding plains. And at the moment, we are experiencing flooding plains. I do recall, Professor Tim Flannery telling us that we were now in a drought paradigm and we had to get used to drought, that the Brisbane River would never flood again, the Murray River would never flood again, etc etc. And here we are, with the exact opposite. Now look, looking after our climate, looking after our environment is fundamentally important, and the government has policies in place. But we do need to remind ourselves that these type of weather events do occur. And when people make bold predictions in relation to drought, what are we having floods the exact opposite side? Look, that said ...
CONNELL: Tim Flannery, certainly, OK, yep go on ...
ABETZ: Yeah, to the people affected. Our hearts go out to them. We wish them every strength to their [inaudible] as they fight in very difficult circumstances, and especially the first responders. We always take our hats off to them as Australians because they do the fundamental work for us. Be it drought, be it flood, be it bushfires, be it windstorms, Australia has always suffered from them. And of course, as our population increases, it stands to reason more people will be impacted each time such a weather event occurs.
CONNELL: On this one, in particular in Lismore, we're talking about record levels. But you plucked out Tim Flannery's comments, and perhaps he shows that trying to make very specific predictions about climate change is fraught, he got things wrong, but do not take heed of the IPCC report this week. It speaks about, yes, drier areas of Australia. But that floods get worse as well as we warm. Do you disagree with that?
ABETZ: Look, I think it's important to take into account all these things. But look, with the IPCC reports, if I might say, I've now been in the parliament for a few years. And for nearly each and every one of those years, I've been told another 10 years to a point of no return and a tipping point. After you've heard that, for so many years, you do become somewhat questioning of those assertions. And that does not in any way, take away from the importance of looking after our environment, doing our very best. And that is why we've got the zero target for 2050. But to try to turn this into some sort of religious mantra does the science and also the people of Australia, and the world indeed, a great disservice. Let's not adopt the ...
CONNELL: Okay, I'm going to bring in Alicia Payne now on this. Shane Stone said today, he's the head of the government some recovery and mitigation in terms of disaster, that we need to look at floodplain areas and whether or not we should be building in some of these areas. Is that the right policy? What do you think about?
ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Well, I thought that Shane Stone's comments were incredibly insensitive at a time where we're seeing an increasing death toll. Many people still missing and many people who've lost their homes, their livelihoods. And to somehow put the blame on them for where they're living, many of them in cities that have been established for hundreds of years, and towns, I think is incredibly insensitive, and quite outrageous coming from someone who is supposed to be managing disaster relief.
CONNELL: How did he blame them, though? Where did he blame them? 
PAYNE: He said the taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill for people who choose to live in these areas. And I just think that that, he should be keeping these people safe, that should be his focus,
CONNELL: Can he keep them safe? Isn't that the point? That these big floodplain areas are not the best place to build, so it is wasting taxpayer money if we keep rebuilding in some of the particularly flood prone areas.
PAYNE: Well I can tell you about a waste of taxpayers money and that's the $4.8 billion that has been sitting in a disaster readiness fund that has not been spent by the Coalition Government. This is the third disaster season since they established that fund and it has not been spent. It could have been spent on drainage systems, on flood levees, on culverts, on evacuation centres, on all of these things. But instead, it's earned over $800 million in interest for the Coalition Government.
CONNELL: Senator Abetz. It does seem intriguing this particular fund. That no money's come out of it as yet. I know the government says mitigation projects are being entered into, but three years in not a single cheque signed.
ABETZ: Well, it's a question of do you want to plan these things properly, to ensure that the money is well spent? We know that with Labor, as soon as you give them $1, they'll spend $2. And they'll just throw the money out the door. Think school halls, think pink batts, think cheques to dead people. That's the way Labor deals with money. We, a lot more careful, a lot more circumspect. Yes. Does that frustrate people? Yes, it does from time to time, but at the end of the day, you get value for money for the taxpayers dollar. And might I quickly defend Shane Stone. Look, he said the right thing. It might have been at a tough time that we as a nation need to ask the questions, do we want to really continue building in bushfire prone areas, or in floodplains that we know every one, two-hundred years, there's going to be a massive bushfire or a massive flood? And we do need to have that conversation. Tough as it is. But in no way was there a slight to those that are currently battling the floods.
CONNELL: Just on that conversation, Alicia, what does that look like? Because if you go to some of these areas, the lower lying areas are often people that aren't earning as much money because they bought a house that was cheaper in those areas. So that shift, would it take a huge amount of government money and assistance to, for that to happen? Whether it's moving them or, you know, getting their houses higher up? It sounds expensive?
PAYNE: Well, as I was saying, there's a lot more that the federal government could have done to have these areas ready and keep these people safe in areas that we know are prone. And we're talking about places like inner city Brisbane. We're not talking about areas that have not been places where people have been living for a long time. There's a lot more that we could have done to be ready. But right now, the focus should be on keeping people safe. This flood disaster is not finished yet. Keeping people safe and getting people back on their feet needs to be the absolute focus at the moment.
CONNELL: Senator, I just have one to finish with you at the end, your Senate campaign. It's a vote one Eric Abetz campaign, if you like. You did call the same approach by Richard Colbeck previously destabilizing. Won't your vote one Eric Abetz campaign be destabilizing as well?
ABETZ: Oh, a few assumptions there. I fully support the Liberal campaign. And I encourage people to vote Liberal in the Senate. Are there some people that are disappointed with the order of the ticket? Yes. And in our democracy, people can make their own judgment. All I'm asking for is that people vote Liberal in the Senate and how they do that is up to them. But in our democracy, people can pursue Okay, the cause of a particular person should they wish to.
CONNELL: So just to make that clear, do you want people to vote one Eric Abetz? Or do you want people just to follow the Liberal ticket?
ABETZ: I want people to vote Liberal at the upcoming federal election. How they do it is up to them. But of course, the Liberal Party has a how to vote card and that is the Liberal Party line.
CONNELL: Well, but it's not it's not to have you number one. So are you saying you're number one or not? I know you Liberal. But does that mean with Eric Abetz with a one next to his name?
ABETZ: If people want to vote, one for the Liberal Party above the line, and then number two to six in order of choice of party and follow the Liberal Party how to vote card, that is up to them. And if people want to vote below the line for individual candidates, they have to vote one for the favourite candidate and then two to 12 in order of their choice. How they do it. I want a valid Liberal vote for the Senate so that we can get three Senators returned for the sake of Tasmania and indeed the national parliament.
CONNELL: Eric Abetz. Alicia Payne. Thanks for your time today.