For almost 20 minutes, Sales grilled the Opposition Leader on a wide range of Labor’s more controversial policies, starting with its plans to combat climate change.
Mr Shorten has been plagued by questions about the cost his emissions reduction target will have on the economy since the first week of the campaign. It has become one of Scott Morrison’s favourite talking points.
Sales started the interview by asking whether it was true that shifting to a low emissions economy would impose a short term cost on the economy.
To bolster his response, Mr Shorten drew on his meeting with steelworkers in Whyalla earlier on Wednesday.
“There is a cost to investing in new technology, but they’re absolutely convinced that the only way we will keep making steel in Australia is by investing in renewable energy,” he said.
“Let’s just talk to the two million Australian householders who’ve invested in solar power. There is an initial cost, depending on the deals they can get, but most people who go into solar, they don’t go back do they?”
Sales took that answer as an admission that Labor’s plans would indeed impose an upfront cost, even if there would be a net gain in the long term.
“So if there is a short term economic cost, you have a 45 per cent target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. What will be the cost of that to the economy over the next decade, not in dollar terms but as a percentage of economic growth?” she asked.
“It won’t have a negative effect on economic growth. In fact, most of the mainstream modelling shows that our economy will continue to grow,” Mr Shorten said.
“But if you have firms that have to be shifting and making the transition to having lower carbon emissions, that may mean that they have less money to spend on other forms of investment,” Sales argued.
“It may mean they have lower profits, so therefore they have less money to deliver in the form of company tax into the government’s coffers. Those sorts of things could have a spin-off impact onto the GDP numbers.”
“The problem with what you’re saying is that you assume that there’s no cost to doing nothing, and there is,” Mr Shorten replied.
“I don’t assume that there’s no cost to doing nothing. I accept your position that there’s a long term benefit. What I’m asking you to do is square with voters about exactly what the short term cost is of getting to that position,” Sales said.
“Well my absolute conviction and belief is that if we don’t change, the cost will be far greater than any initial investments,” he said.
“If you’re asking me to specify what a particular company and a particular factory will have to do, I can’t do that. Nor could you, nor could the government.”
Sales tried to jump in again, but Mr Shorten kept talking.
“No no, let’s be fair here Leigh. Let’s be fair. I’m not going to get caught up in this government game of gotcha, where you’ve got to invent a number, which you can’t possibly,” he said.
“The reason why the government’s trying to focus on how much it might cost to put in a new renewable energy system is that they’re trying to distract from the fact they have no climate change policy.”
“But if we could stick with Labor -” Sales interjected.
“It’s so dishonest, this debate. It’s so dishonest,” said Mr Shorten.
“You say you can’t just pluck a number out of nowhere. You’ve come up with a 45 per cent target. You must have done -” said Sales.
“Well sorry, I didn’t pluck that out of nowhere, that was the Paris Agreement, that’s what the scientists tell us,” he said.
The pair continued to speak over each other, until finally, Sales managed to get her whole question out.
“As a government, you are adopting that as your policy, you must have done some projections, short term, to what that will mean to GDP. Will it take say, 0.1 per cent off GDP, 0.5 per cent off GDP over 10 years?” she asked.
Mr Shorten analysis from Citibank saying “the consequences in terms of cost of policies like ours are immaterial”.
“Both in the short term and the long term, the cost of not acting on climate change is far worse than acting on climate change,” he said.
“The Australian people and business are so far ahead of the political debate, you must be bored by the government’s rhetoric, which wants to simply say we can’t do this, can’t do that. The rest of the world is so far ahead of us it’s embarrassing.”
Moving on, Sales asked Mr Shorten about the apparent internal conflict within Labor over the Adani coal mine in Queensland.
The Labor Leader himself has sat on the fence, saying only that he will not be beholden to mining companies on one hand or environmental activists on the other. Some of Labor’s candidates, however, have appeared to pick sides.
“If there’s a miner sitting in Rockhampton tonight and she wants to know, ‘Mr Shorten, do you reckon this mine will be a good thing for my industry and for Queensland?’ What would you say to her?” Sales asked.
“I’d say my view on this mine is going to be based on the best science, whether or not it stacks up. And if it stacks up and passes all the scientific tests, I won’t engage in sovereign risk. We won’t arbitrarily upend things,” Mr Shorten said.
Sales pointed out that Mr Shorten had once told he was “a sceptic” and “not a fan” of the project, and asked him whether his opinion had changed since.
“Adani didn’t get the finance, but now they appear to have it. They were talking about a 60 million tonne mine with 10,000 jobs. Now the promises have shrunk,” he said.
“Various Labor candidates and MPs have had differing positions on Adani. What do you say to the suggestion you’ve created the situation by saying one thing to people in regional Queensland and one thing to environmentalists?” said Sales.
“I’d say that’s wrong. Our position’s very clear,” he responded.
More to come.