5 September 2013
I talk politics with independent candidate for Higgins Graeme Weber.
Georgie: You are running as an independent pro-nuclear conservative. When people think of a conservative political candidate, the first thing that crosses their mind usually isn’t a push for nuclear power. Do you think your candidacy has surprised people?
Weber: I’m sure my candidacy has surprised a lot of people, but it is what I’ve been reading and discussing and working on for at least a decade.
Georgie: How did you get involved in politics?
Weber: I got into politics when I was very young, my wife and I met through young Liberals. I probably started being political the moment I could ride a push bike and delivered pamphlets for Sir Robert Menzies in Kew.
Georgie: You say both Liberal and Labor are letting us down. Can you explain why you think this?
Weber: This comes through from the introduction of nuclear power; they’re not prepared to put low cost low emissions nuclear power into out electrical generation system. The Greens and Labor have gone along the German path and said renewables is [sic] the only way to go. Well, that’s not true anymore. The renewable path is not the way to go. It turns out to be very expensive, unreliable, [and] intermittent and costs a lot more than nuclear.
Georgie: Why do you say renewables are expensive and unreliable?
Weber: This is really quite a political thing. There are two major renewables… wind and solar. Solar is very expensive, it takes a lot to keep it up—especially if it works in semi-desert areas where there is not a lot of clean water to clean the dishes and make sure they’re working at maximum. Wind power produces power at about the same cost as nuclear, but what we have is a distorting law in Australia called renewable targets so that as we go towards 2020, 20 percent of our power has to come from renewable energy. Renewable energy then has a position to distort the market by charging more than it should for the power output. It is also one of those things that if a renewable power source produces power, it must be taken into the grid. And there are certain situations now in South Australia where the wind power operates very well at night and they are selling that power at a negative cost into the market because it’s not being used properly. It distorts the grid.
Georgie: So does your support for nuclear mean you believe in anthropogenic or human-induced climate change?
Weber: As a geologist, and I am a geologist and I am a scientist. I believe that most people don’t believe the world’s atmosphere can keep absorbing the carbon dioxide from the three great carbon sinks… These are huge amounts of coal and we have been burning them strongly for over 200 years and it’s starting to show in the amount of C02.
Georgie: So you believe there is a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change?
Weber: Yes, I personally do, but there are papers out there that say it is not as bad as people are making out it is. I think we should be reading them. I think we should be maturely discussing them and I think that we ought to listen to people who have different ideas to what we believe in.
Georgie: Can you tell me why you don’t think the carbon tax will be able to contribute significantly towards tackling emissions?
Weber: It will knock the top off the use of high cost electricity. It will drive those industries off shore. It will create unemployment in those industries, and we’re talking about the aluminium smelting industries. But if we had nuclear power that had low emissions and lowers costs, then those industries and that employment could stay in Australia. But the way we’re going at the moment, they’re going to be driven offshore… On the point of renewables, they do play a very important part. But they cannot drive industry. And I’m just saying to you that there are many places in Australia that solar and wind are major energy inputters [sic] to small towns, medium towns, even quite large towns. But when we come to our industry, we need reliable power to drive our industry.
Georgie: What would you say to those concerned about the potential risks of nuclear power? Many people think of Fukushima when nuclear power comes to mind. So what would you say to those concerned about the risks?
Weber: I say it is a dangerous technology. But, on a comparison to coal, it is probably not a very dangerous technology at all.
Georgie: How so?
Weber: Coal kills a number of thousands [sic] of people in the mines every year. It also produces very bad health risks for people who live near coal-fired power stations. Now I said that nuclear is a dangerous situation, but compared to the old reactors, especially Chernobyl—the Russian reactors—to what is now currently being produced… new nuclear reactors are much more stable. They’re much safer.
Georgie: But what would you say to those who point to Fukushima as a case in point?
Weber: The problem with the four reactors at Fukushima was the regulator authority got too close to TEPCO [The Tokyo Electric power Company] or the generating authority. The backup power systems, and they wouldn’t have melted if the power systems had been maintained properly, the back up power systems were exposed. And the tsunami came. They swamped the back up power; they didn’t work fast enough. The hydrogen built up; they exploded. Now we’ve got problems of leakage of radioactive water into the sea, and I know that and I accept that. But that’s no reason why mankind should no adopt this technology, which has proved time and time again to be the safest man made electrical generating system in the world.
Georgie: So do you see Fukushima as a one-off freak accident?
Weber: I would hope so. I can’t guarantee it. Nuclear power with 436 operating reactors in the world, Fukushima is a one-off. We would hope it’s a one off. It’s not to say that it won’t happen again.
Georgie: Moving on from nuclear, do you consider yourself a one-issue candidate?
Weber: I have one major issue, but I have a number of other issues that I would work within the Liberal philosophy in parliament to see if it [sic] can’t be changed and altered.
Georgie: What are those issues?
Weber: Well the obvious one I think is the parental leave. And I think it’s far too generous. And I think it would damage our economy but I’m not an economist, so I can’t state that emphatically.
Georgie: But you do say you think it’s too expensive. So what would be your alternative proposal?
Weber: Well I think that paid parental leave is a very good policy, but I don’t think that $75,000 over six months is a clever policy.
Georgie: Where do you think it should be capped then?
Somewhere around $45,000… maybe at that rate you could expand it to some other people…. These are all open for negotiation and discussion.
Georgie: Do you support PPL for fathers and same-sex couples?
Weber: I don’t really think it’s relevant but yea, I guess so. I mean, I dunno [sic]. I haven’t made up my mind; I haven’t thought about it.
Georgie: What other issues are you passionate about?
Weber: Education. We’ve got two things in education. We’ve got this new Gonski [Better Schools] so-called expenditure on a whole lot of teachers aid and teachers in the classroom. For my mind, it’s really interesting that our higher education is going into lecturers on demand [online lectures]… My thought process, and again, it’s got to be open to the productivity commission and all those sort of things to assess it, would be to apply [the] technology to secondary education.
Georgie: How so?
Weber: Well, I’ve thought about this and if the education department produced something like a 10-minute very interesting video of a particular subject, a particular point, in a particular series on that subject. Had that 10 minutes had the main principle points of what was being taught that particular day, then that is 10 minutes of the class, and then the teacher reinforces it and the teacher goes round to those people who don’t understand those principles. But the better feature of what I’m thinking about is, that if a student is missing because they’re sick or they’re wagging school or they’re not there for any other reason, they can take that video home or dial up to the school and get that video and have it as their homework so they don’t miss the principles of that particular subject and particular day.
Georgie: How exactly would incorporating 10 minute pre-recorded lectures come close to the scale of Better Schools? How is your idea an alternative?
Weber: I’m not saying that technology is the end all and be all, all I’m saying is it should be considered and it may reduce the costs of the overall aims of Gonski [Better schools].
Georgie: How exactly would it do that?
Weber: Because you have the best teachers and the very best technicians producing these videos and then they’re used time and time and time again. And they can be updated; they can be changed. But the principles that are being taught in that particular subject goes on.
Georgie: Is that your only idea for improving education?
Weber: More of our students are asked or being pushed into preschool. The government has turned [a]round and said “Well, we’ve got to have a ratio of people who help in preschools, which is fairly low… and they all need to have qualifications.” Now I’m going to say to you, probably the best people in the world that know about preschool children are mothers. And I would ask people to consider that mothers are just as good preschool teachers as somebody who [has] gone to university who has never had a child who is teaching in preschool. Maybe we ought to consider not having such strict rules on education for teachers in preschool.
Georgie: What about women without children, would they be eligible?
Weber: Yes I guess so, if they showed the right attributes.
Georgie: How would you know whether people had the right attributes without training and testing them in some way?
Weber: Well it obviously has to do with how much experience they have with young children. If they’ve got no experience with young children, if they go to an education facility and they have a degree, how do you know they have the right experience and right attributes to teach?
Georgie: Do you have any other issues that you’d work on or you’re passionate about?
Weber: Another issue that I have is the amount of unemployment in young people, in the groups of young people. They’re being hindered in getting a job in Australia by the high cost of employing them. And there are many casual type businesses that basically shut on the weekend because of the penalty rates. I think that Australia should look at perhaps having a set period of hours initially in the week that doesn’t engender [sic] penalty rates. Once a person has worked for a period of time, then penalty rates come in. Now there are some people that work Friday nights and Saturday nights and Sundays, and that’s all they work because they’re working on the penalty system. But when we have unemployment rates approaching 20 percent for young people, then I think there’s a serious position we should be taking to have a look at these. I’m not saying I demand it. All I’m saying is it’s a position we should be looking at to increase employment with young people.
Georgie: Your concerns around education and youth unemployment seem to be aimed at quite a young demographic. Are you trying, or do you expect, to gain support from the young adult demographic with these stances?
Weber: No… We can’t have 25 percent of our young people becoming 30 year olds without experienced work. So it’s more to do with what’s good for Australia.
Georgie: From where are you getting your statistics?
Weber: Out of newspapers, out of reports, out of whatever. We have very high youth unemployment. Don’t you know that?
Georgie: It’s just that you’re thrown around a few different numbers—20 then 25—and I’m just wondering where they are from?
Weber: All I know is that it’s significantly higher than our so-called six percent [national average] unemployment.
Georgie: Can I ask you about your stance on asylum seekers arriving via boat?
Weber: I don’t believe that asylum seekers should be allowed into Australia. They’re absolutely distorting our immigration program; they’re coming from a small part of the world… Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. All I’m saying is we are taking just those because they are coming and forcing themselves upon us. The new Labor regulations say they’re all going to be put on Manus Island or Nauru. I’m just saying that basically doesn’t stop them coming. So there are solutions that stop them at the border: and that’s either towing the boats back or if they do land on Christmas island, flying them back to a UNHCR camp in Indonesia or Pakistan or wherever they come from or wherever they want and they go into the column. Now if they’re economic refugees, they won’t come. If they’re really hardship [sic] refugees, we can consider them. But at the moment, our whole immigration system is being dominated by a small group coming from a small area in the world and we should be looking at African refugees and other places to come in. But we’re just being completely dominated of the [sic] one side.
Georgie: You said we’re taking too may refugees from a very small part of the world. One view is because the parts of the world you mentioned— Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan—are often politically troubled, and that it’s feasible to expect these places, subject to frequent fighting, to produce a larger number of refugees than some other parts of the world.
Weber: Are you trying to say Somalia is peaceful? Are you trying to say Central Africa is all-peaceful? Georgie you’ve got your facts wrong… I think there’s [sic] many other places in the world that have genuine refugees.
Georgie: The United Nations Refugee Convention states that signatory countries should not discrimination against asylum seekers on the basis of their arrival. What do you say to this?
Weber: Those regulations were drawn up a number of years ago. As I keep saying to you, the refugees are coming from a small area and there are lots of tales, how true they are, of those refugees not being able to assimilate well into their society. So all I’m saying is they should be assessed as genuine refugees. And the refugee convention basically says also that a refugee becomes a refugee in the first country that they leave from the country where they feel persecuted. So flying to Indonesia and getting on board a boat doesn’t necessarily mean that Australia is their refugee status [sic].
Georgie: There is an argument that many asylum seekers feel persecuted, are without work rights or can’t access social support in Indonesia. Therefore, they feel pushed to come to Australia because they have no protection in Indonesia—even if they’re UNHCR registered refugees. What’s your response to this?
Weber: They also might see a land of milk and honey where they can live very well by coming to Australia as well. For every part of your argument, I’ve got perhaps equally an opposite argument. I don’t think we should be arguing along these lines. I just think if Australia has a very generous refugees program, which it does, then people should go to a UNHCR camp or area, be properly assessed, and then taken in on our very generous migrant scheme.
Georgie: What are your views on same-sex marriage?
Weber: It’s raised every time, isn’t it, same-sex marriage? My view on same sex marriage is that in the eyes of the law, they should have equal rights to de facto couples, OK. De facto couples have medical rights; they have inheritance rights. They have all sorts of rights, OK; They’re de facto couples. But as for getting married in a church, I don’t think that’s completely necessary.
Georgie: Would you support secular weddings for same sex couples?
Weber: I haven’t really thought about that. But all I’m saying is same sex couples should be considered the same of de facto couples in the eyes of the law.