Labor premiers stall Turnbull’s plans

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A meeting of the nation’s leaders has put on hold a decision on a standard for family violence leave.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attends the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: AAP

MALCOLM Turnbull’s meeting with the nation’s premiers in Canberra has put off more issues than it resolved.

The Council of Australian Governments meeting left decisions on family violence leave, competition reforms, energy and climate policy for another day.

The prime minister issued a warning afterwards, saying without serious structural and budgetary reforms the living standards of Australians are at risk.

Mr Turnbull said the meeting had established a work agenda on economic and social reform, indigenous affairs, national security, community safety and social cohesion.

“As always, our conversations have been wide ranging, positive and frank,” he said in a joint press conference with state premiers and territory leaders. Mr Turnbull said Australians could not just hope living standards will keep rising.

“We owe it to future generations to undertake the serious structural and budgetary reform to lift the capacity of our economies and improve productivity,” he said.

But three Labor states — Victoria, Queensland and South Australia — are holding out signing up to competition reforms aimed at driving productivity, jobs and growth.

The official communique at the end of the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra showed that only NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and The Northern Territory had signed the agreement.

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attends a press conference with state premiers and Chief ministers after a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) at Parliament House.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attends a press conference with state premiers and Chief ministers after a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) at Parliament House.Source:AAP

“These are exactly the kind of reforms we need to lift our growth,” Malcolm Turnbull said.

Earlier Mr Turnbull has told state premiers the federal government is “not an ATM” when asked if there will be more money for roads, rail and other major projects as the economy falters.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill also criticised Mr Turnbull for resorting to infantile slogans and dismissing an emissions intensity scheme out of hand.

The two leaders traded thinly veiled barbs over energy policy following the five-hour COAG meeting.

Other state leaders were also divided over the future of Australia’s energy but unanimously called for a national policy to be introduced as soon as possible.

Premier Weatherill said the prime minister’s decision to rule out an emissions intensity scheme for power producers was “disappointing” given it was welcomed by experts and much of the industry.

“We believe that we should be basing our decisions in this on the basis of evidence,” Mr Weatherill said.

“The Prime Minister himself, before he ascended to this role, said these words ‘mature evidence based policy communicated … through sophisticated explanation rather than infantile slogans’ would be the mark of his leadership.

“That’s simply all we’re asking for here.

“This is complex public policy. It is easy to scare people. Fundamentally I believe in the intelligence of the Australian community to actual grapple with these complex public policy issues and come up with the solutions.”

SA Premier Jay Weatherill made his views clear at the COAG meeting. Picture Kym Smith

SA Premier Jay Weatherill made his views clear at the COAG meeting. Picture Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

He also earlier implied Mr Turnbull’s handling of the carbon pricing issue may eventually cost him his job.

“The Prime Minister lost his job in relation to this issue a few years ago,” Premier Weatherill said.

“It would be a great irony if he were to lose his job for a second time on the other side of the debate.”

It comes at the end of an embarrassing week for Mr Turnbull after Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Monday announced a major review of the Government’s climate change policy would look at an energy intensity scheme for power companies — a form of carbon pricing.

Mr Turnbull was forced to rule out any form of carbon tax or ETS being introduced on Wednesday after Liberal senator Cory Bernardi likened it to “ripping the scab off an old wound”.

Mr Turnbull reiterated his guarantee that a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme was not part of the government’s policy.

“We have to achieve three things – one, we have to keep the lights on,” he said, referencing the South Australian blackout in September.

“What does it do to industry, particularly in states that are crying out for more investment, if energy supply is unreliable?

“We have to keep it affordable so that households and businesses are not crushed by constantly rising electricity prices.

“And thirdly we have to meet our emission reduction targets.”

Mr Turnbull said the Commonwealth had already meet Kyoto targets for reducing emissions, was on track to beat the 2020 targets and was confident it could still meet the 2030 target.

TURNBULL: ‘WE’RE NOT AN ATM’

NSW Premier Mike Baird arriving at Parliament House in Canberra to attend the COAG Meeting. Picture: Kym Smith

NSW Premier Mike Baird arriving at Parliament House in Canberra to attend the COAG Meeting. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

NSW Premier Mike Baird went into COAG nominating infrastructure as his key priority, saying governments needed to set a target.

“It’s the biggest economic lever we can pull,” he told reporters.

It is understood he raised the issue in the meeting arguing for billions of dollars to be pumped into infrastructure.

Mr Turnbull answered: “We are not an ATM.” The federal government will release its mid-year budget review on December 19, which will show the impact of lower than expected wage growth, a stalling economy and other pressures on the bottom line.

Here is a breakdown of what else occurred:

ADLER SHOTGUN CONTROLS TIGHTENED

The controversial lever-action Adler shotgun will be subject to stricter controls following an agreement by state and territory leaders at the COAG meeting today.

The five-shot version of the shotgun will now be classified as Category B instead of A under the national firearms agreement, according to a communique from Friday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting at Parliament House in Canberra.

The seven-shot version will be classified as Category D, meaning it will only be available to a very limited group.

Mr Turnbull said there was also agreement to undertake a national gun amnesty to reduce the number of unregistered firearms in Australia, expected to commence mid-2017.

“This is the first time the national firearms agreement has been strengthened in this way in 20 years,” he told reporters.

“It continues Australia’s strong approach to the regulation of firearms.” The Abbott government in 2015 paused the importation of the seven-shot Adler 110 shotgun in the wake of the Lindt cafe siege.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk listening to PM Malcolm Turnbull talk at the start of the COAG Meeting. Picture: Kym Smith

SA Premier Jay Weatherill and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk listening to PM Malcolm Turnbull talk at the start of the COAG Meeting. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

It’s been paused again since, pending agreement from the states and territories on how it should be classified.

The federal government is responsible for dealing with imports under Customs powers.

The issue has caused divisions in the government, with Nationals senators Bridget McKenzie and John ‘Wacka’ Williams crossing the floor to vote with Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm in a bid to overturn the import ban.

FAMILY VIOLENCE LEAVE ON HOLD

The PM and state premiers put off until early next year any decision on a nationwide standard for family violence leave.

Instead they will wait for a Fair Work Commission decision on the issue before revisiting the issue.

The commisson is considering an application to include an entitlement of 10 days’ leave in all modern awards.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Mike Baird say a national energy plan is needed. Picture: Kym Smith

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Mike Baird say a national energy plan is needed. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he was sad the leaders could not agree on a number of matters surrounding family violence.

“I do think we could have gone further today,” he told reporters. “I think we need to do more than talk about family violence leave. We need to deliver it in full.” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said waiting for a FWC decision was a missed opportunity.

She also suggested COAG meet in regional Australia, where people were hurting in the two-speed economy, rather than in Canberra.

“If collectively we can move around the nation and meet in those different pockets I think we’ll understand the issues of people a lot more clearly,” she said.

ENERGY FUTURE REMAINS UNCLEAR

The leaders were given a briefing about a “very important” discussion paper on energy security prepared by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

“It raises a lot of engineering and technical challenges but I think we’re all satisfied that the solutions are there, but a great deal more work needs to be done,” Mr Turnbull said.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett considered himself a lone voice in the energy debate, saying too much attention was been paid to “market schemes and the like”.

“The situation on the east coast would be a lot better with a few simple fundamental reforms rather than exotic and eloquent market solutions,” he said. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill didn’t hold back in criticising the prime minister on the issue of energy policy, especially in light of Mr Turnbull’s decision to rule out consideration of an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector as away of reducing carbon pollution. “We believe we should base our decisions in this area on the basis of evidence,” he said.

WA Premier Colin Barnett arriving for COAG meeting in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith

WA Premier Colin Barnett arriving for COAG meeting in Canberra. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

“It is easy to scare people, but fundamentally I believe in the intelligence of the Australian community to actually grapple with these complex public policy issues and come up with good solutions”.

But Mr Turnbull sidestepped questions about advice the government received warning that Australia currently has no clear path to meeting the 2030 carbon emissions target.

Security, affordability and meeting the Paris targets were the three goals Australia needed to achieve in a manner that kept downward pressure on electricity prices, he said.

“We are committed to ensuring keeping the lights on, that energy security is provided” Mr Turnbull said.

NDIS ROLLOUT, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS

The meeting discussed “inevitable” implementation issues surrounding the rollout of the national disability insurance scheme.

The leaders also reiterated their support for constitutional recognition of Australia’s indigenous peoples and to refresh the Closing the Gap agenda. And Murray-Darling Basin governments will ask their water ministers to report to the next COAG meeting with practical solutions and projects to implement the basin plan in full.

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