28 January 2021



SUBJECTS: Labor’s Shadow Ministry reshuffle; right-wing extremism. 
RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: Ed Husic has been given the job of innovation and jobs. He's the Shadow Minister and he will speak for Anthony Albanese and the Shadow Cabinet on these issues. Ed Husic thanks for talking to us this afternoon.
EPSTEIN:  You got jobs in your title so it's clear where Labor's going. I want to come to your portfolio if I can go...
HUSIC: I loathe to correct you, but it is industry and innovation.
EPSTEIN: Oh industry and innovation.
HUSIC: Richard Marles has got that overarching portfolio area of jobs. But all very important.
EPSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. Industry and innovation, you're the double I. Is the change from Mark Butler to Chris Bowen, is that about personnel? Or is it about policy?
HUSIC: Well Mark has been in the position since 2013. So he's been in there for a while. I think if you looked in particular, after the last election, we had a number of people that moved portfolios after having occupied them for a bit of time. I think it represented in Albo's mind, I think what you saw is he was trying to give the representation a shakeup leading into the federal election and to be able to ensure that we've got people in roles where we can take that fight up to the government, as is often described with people in those jobs.
So to answer your question, it gives people a chance to do new things, it gives us a chance to refresh our frontbench line up and it gives us a focus on the things that we believe need to be done. Not just in terms of holding the government to account but prosecuting the case in terms of jobs. In the climate we've been through where COVID and the pandemic has put enormous economic pressure on employment, we've got 2 million people unemployed or underemployed. It's a big job and we just wanted to make sure that the people are there for the roles.
EPSTEIN: So is it going to lead to a change of policy?
HUSIC: Well we've said for a while and obviously my colleague and friend, Chris Bowen will be in the best place to talk to you through the finer points of policy. But we've said for a while that we wanted to see what happens with the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and shape up the policy accordingly. We've said that we think it's in the country's best interest to commit to a Net Zero Target as well by 2050. So you've seen a range of things that we've said where we think we should be able to take a longer term view and a longer term policy position. But there'll be some things along the way, for example Glasgow that will shape our policy as well.
EPSTEIN: Joel Fitzgibbon said this morning, so he's your factional ally in New South Wales as well, but he said that Mark Butler has just lost the climate job, was over enthusiastic when it came to climate change. Do you agree? Is Mark Butler overenthusiastic?
HUSIC: I think as has been evident for quite a bit of time, Joel will express his opinions quite freely and they're up to him to be able to back up. As someone who's watched Mark for quite some time in this space, he's been very thoughtful in conveying and considered deeply climate change policy for quite some time. Read his book, quite a good book it was. I think he deeply believed in the ability of Australia to be able to reduce emissions, this is Mark Butler, reduce emissions, be able to find new ways to generate energy and also to generate jobs in the process as well.
EPSTEIN: So forgive my interruption Ed Husic maybe it's a mistake for me to ask a politician to comment on personalities, because I understand these are people you work with and you're part of their life everyday. So maybe that's a little unfair. But I guess the guts of Joel Fitzgibbon's argument is what's the point of having a more ambitious number than the Coalition? Labor doesn't believe that the Coalition can even meet their own target. It's the policy that's important and not having a more ambitious number. Do you agree with that, is he right?
HUSIC: I think what we have tried to do is ensure that the nation has some ability to focus on if we're going to say that we want to reduce emissions where are we headed. To give some sort of signal to people about, and in particular industries that are responsible for high emissions to send a signal that we need to get serious about this. Obviously there's been a big debate about what Labor's policy would be in 2030 with the policy that we took to the 2019 election it'd be ridiculous to try and maintain that given developments that are happening overseas. So we've tried to in terms of a commitment to net zero by 2050, we've tried to say this is the longer term ambition and work with people to be able to deliver it. Now in terms of the government, they tried to in terms of Tony Abbott, when he set the policy of 26 to 28, do as little as they humanly could.
EPSTEIN: That's a 28 per cent reduction by the end of the decade, that's the Coalition promise.
HUSIC: They're just not going to make it and they haven't had a coherent energy policy for a while and their heart hasn't been in it in terms of finding a much more efficient way to generate energy. They have torn themselves apart in the party room over this policy issue. Why haven't we got the NEG, or the Clean Energy Target or any other permutation of energy policy? It's been a victim to their party room and again, with the finer points of the policy itself, I would definitely encourage you to talk to Chris Bowen about. But I think to say we've been over enthusiastic, that's Joel's words, not mine, and he can explain why that's the case. I'm sure given the opportunity he will.
EPSTEIN: We did ask for Chris Bowen and he wasn't available. We will ask again. Just a few other important issues Ed Husic. You are talking on industry and innovation. That'll cover something like dealing with the tech giants. I'm not really asking you here if you agree or disagree with what the federal government's trying to do with Google and Facebook. But more an issue of how powerful or not Australia is, can we actually get Google and Facebook to change the way they work? Is there anything Australia can do or are they too big?
HUSIC: I don't think Australia is on its own thinking about the way that tech has grown. The impact that it has on industry, the impact it has on jobs, the way it uses data, the way it behaves around privacy. These are all things that a number of countries are thinking about. So it's important to do more. But having said that, I do have concerns about the media code itself. I think we need to be a lot clearer about this media code. It was designed to take into account, for example the impact of tech on media and more specifically ad revenues and those ad revenues financing quality journalism. I don't hear much about whether or not as a result of these reforms, we'll see the financing of more journalists, more independent journalism. As a result of these reforms are we just going to see shareholders benefit or are we going to see journalism benefit?
EPSTEIN: So you've got some queries about the government trying to get the big tech companies to pay for journalism? But do you think are we big enough to get Google and Facebook to pay attention?
HUSIC: Well I think a number of jurisdictions are trying to champion reforms to ensure that they can curtail the worst excesses of big tech and to ensure that we have a viable financing of media in this country. I think those are important things and are definitely worth fighting for. But as Labor has said particularly through our Communications Shadow Minister Michelle Rowland we want a workable code. 
We want to ensure that at this point in time, let me put it to you this way as a politician, the easiest thing for me to do on your show is to say we need this media code and to rail against big tech and you'll earn the favour of media companies across the country. But I want to ensure that we get it right and as I said, the biggest thing I want to see out of this is that we have a code. The government needs to demonstrate that as a result of its code we'll see more journalists, better paid journalists, independent media and the money that is earned through the code does not just syphon out of big tech straight into shareholders. It's got to do what it says it's intending to do which is to finance better media.
EPSTEIN: Final question on a group of Neo-Nazis who have been prancing around the Grampians and even posting a picture of themselves burning a cross, which is just gross and is a little bit of propaganda. There's some talk about proscribing, making illegal, some of these groups. Do you think that's something worth exploring?
HUSIC: Yes and a number of countries and a number of people that we work closely with, countries within Five Eyes nations have taken steps to proscribe far-right groups and we have not done one of them. The argument has been in part that they may not have active operations on Australian soil. But frankly that is not the way that we have approached extremist groups. There are a lot of extremist groups that don't have any operations in Australia and they are still being proscribed by the government.
EPSTEIN: Would it push them underground and make them harder to keep an eye on?
HUSIC: I think even if they go underground, you've got to have the capacity to be able to follow and deal with them. That is always a threat in this environment. Regardless of what side of the spectrum extremists are on, they're always going to try and hide and be a lot more clandestine and camouflaged about their operations. You've got to shine a light on them, track them down and deal with them. 
My big concern has been for some time and it was particularly driven post Christchurch, that we weren't paying enough attention, even though the agencies were recognising it was a danger. The government wasn't taking it seriously. These extremists were basically, if you look at what happened in Christchurch, it was seen as an excuse or a rallying cry for extremists in other countries. In fact there were a number of incidents on US soil where the people involved were citing Christchurch as the motivation. That has got to send a chill down our spines as in the case of the groups that you mentioned at the start of your question should. 
Most Australians would revile that type of behaviour. The government should take a strong stand on it and even though he's a competitor, he is someone I regard as a friend. Josh Frydenberg has not hesitated to speak up on this and has done so in the course of last 24 hours. I think it's important that we send a strong bipartisan signal that extremism regardless of if it's Islamist inspired or white supremacists inspired, it needs to be tackled with the same degree of fervour.
EPSTEIN: Thanks for your time.
HUSIC: Thank you Raf.