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Prime Minister Scott Morrison Sets the 2020 Agenda

The Prime Minister had two themes in his address to the National Press Club on Wednesday: resilience and adaptation. He also had two foci of attention the economy and the bushfires and climate change.

He made the interesting point that the aim of economic policy was to make the economy stronger and more resilient. He said that the Government’s decision to press for a budget surplus was part of this process. The fact that the budget was strong made it possible the Government to respond to the need for assistance after the bush fires, the Queensland floods and the drought.

He also said that a strong economy meant that Australia would not suffer unduly as the result of unexpected events like the coronavirus epidemic however he emphasized that the economic impact of the disease was unknown at this time.

While Mr Morrison indicated that the Government was prepared to provide whatever resources are necessary for recovery from the current disasters he did not indicate that the Government would ditch the surplus altogether. Economists believe that the high iron ore and coal export prices will mean the budget will reveal a $5 billion surplus for the 2020 financial year when it is brought down in May.

In response to a question from the Australian Financial Review’s Phil Coorey, the PM admitted that protecting the country and the economy from the impacts of climate change would be expensive. However he said that the investment would save people from much greater costs in the future.

When it came to a national response to disasters he said the Government would legislate for the power to intervene and call a national state of emergency without a request from the states.

“After this fire season and before the next one, this is an area where we need to get clarity and make some decisions, including changing the law where necessary,” he said.

While Morrison called out defense force reserves to help with the fire effort, he said he was aware of stretching the federal government’s powers as defined in the constitution.

He indicated that the federal government would enter into bilateral agreements with the states on energy policy. These would ensure the reliability and affordability of supply and the reduction of emissions. Among the issues to be negotiated would be the development of domestic gas reserves to act as a transition fuel while new low emission technologies came on stream.

The Prime Minister was adamant that the Government’s Paris Agreement targets would not change. He said that Australia would exceed these targets and hinted that it would not use carry-over credits. He said Australia had a good story to tell: by 2030 Australia would have halved per capita emissions. It had a faster take-up of renewables than leading European countries including Germany.

He also made the point that Asian countries are not likely to start reducing emissions until after 2030 and their increases in CO2 would eclipse reductions be Australia.

In the circumstances he was not prepared to impose taxes on the Australian public or to make electricity more expensive and he was not prepared to throw people out of work as collateral damage due to extreme policies.

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