By Tanya Plibersek

11 March 2024








NATALIE BARR: A senior Labor MP looks to have double‑dipped on his government travel entitlements appearing to have charged taxpayers for expensive hire cars, while also claiming for a private vehicle.


Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones has racked up a COMCAR bill of $43,000 in just nine months. Mr Jones's bill includes several one‑way trips between his Shellharbour home and Parliament House in Canberra, which can cost more than $1,000.


For their take let's bring in Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce. Good morning to both of you. Tanya, does this pass the pub test.




BARNABY JOYCE: Good morning.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, Stephen lives in a regional area, he's got a lot of travel to do it's completely within the entitlements, and the story itself says that.


BARR: So there's another Labor colleague, Alison Byrnes who lives in Wollongong; that's 250Ks away from Canberra. She drives herself. Whether it's in the rules or not, does it pass the pub test? Do you think that's appropriate for him to do that? 


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, he's also a Minister, so there'd be additional requirements on him. Alison is a fantastic local member, but at this stage she's a backbencher, so she only needs to go to Canberra when Parliament's sitting.


BARR: Okay. So that's the difference. Barnaby, the rules clearly state COMCARs are not available to MPs if they can reasonably use their private cars. Does he have some explaining to do or did this within the rules and something that a Federal Government Minister should be able to do?


JOYCE: Well, to be frank, I used to drive my car from here in Northern New South Wales to Canberra; I'd stop over in Sydney, and that was much cheaper than flying. Look, it's something for Stephen to explain. I must admit, Tanya struggled with it a little bit, and you know, Stephen's got to explain why he's doing that.


It would seem that there is a strong argument as to why he doesn't turn his own car around the other way, which is taxpayer subsidised and just drive it to Canberra.


BARR: Yes, because taxpayers are also funding a private car for him including a petrol allowance at a cost of more than $11,000. So as you say, I'm sure he will speak on that today and may be explain a bit more to the taxpayer.


Moving on, the fight over vehicle efficiency standards is shifting gears, with Labor claiming it will save drivers up to $1,800 a year. The Government is aiming for an ambitious 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 with the new rules coming into effect as soon as January next year. Major car manufacturers though are saying the government is moving too fast on this with this regulation.


Tanya, what's wrong with applying the brakes a bit here, or do you think you should forge on with this plan?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I have to say, a number of the major car manufacturers back this, as do the motoring organisations like the NRMA, and they back it because they know it will save Australians money. If you want to buy a petrol car, you'll spend less on petrol because it's a more efficient vehicle. If you want to buy a diesel car, you'll spend less on diesel because you'll get a more efficient diesel vehicle, and there will be more choice of hybrids and electric vehicles too.


This is all about saving Australians on their fuel bills, and obviously the further you drive the more you save, if you've got an efficient vehicle.


BARR: Yeah, Barnaby, aren't we the only developed country outside of Russia not to have these pollution caps? So shouldn't we be doing this? You guys, I think, put in vehicle efficiency standards before the last election in 2016 and 2022, so you would be backing it, wouldn't you?


JOYCE: Well, you'd certainly save money on travel on an electric vehicle, because we park down the above the of the hill there, they're useless in areas such as this. Australia's a big nation, 26 million people and the size of Western Europe, we're completely different to other nations, where they're small, compact, overwhelmingly in a lot of places in Europe flat.


Now we have different requirements, which means we'd like four‑wheel drives, we have to use them for not only work but for recreation, for family purposes ‑‑


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: And you still can.


JOYCE: ‑ we've got long distances to cover. And the costs of getting into these things is exorbitantly more different than the cost of the vehicles that are currently there. So you're saying to people at the front end -


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: That’s not right.


JOYCE: ‑ “you’re going to have to pay more."  And they're balancing it out by getting it and saying, "Oh well, we're going to average out every vehicle that's sold to come up with a standard, which includes electric vehicles, which just don't have the technology right now to be effective, they're just not there; it's not even close. You can't get the pulling capacity on them for ‑




JOYCE: ‑ you can't weigh them up, it just doesn't work. I know it, because I live it. I live it.


BARR: You know, we do live in cities, I guess.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: You know what, you’re quite right --


JOYCE: The reason electric vehicles are cheap ‑‑


BARR: Tanya, last words for you.


JOYCE: ‑‑ is people don't want to buy them.


BARR: Yeah, last words, Tanya.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: You know what, Nat, you're quite right. Barnaby's lot tried to introduce fuel efficiency standards when they were in government, they squibbed it. The fact that they squibbed it has meant that Australians have paid $4 billion more than they had to for fuel since that time, $4 billion that they didn't have to pay.


BARR: Okay, let's go to the next topic.


JOYCE: Where do you buy it from, Tanya, where do you buy it from? It's not even sold.


BARR: The Tasmanian Premier has thrown an election sweetener to voters promising to build the world's largest chocolate fountain if returned to Government. Tanya, do you reckon Labor can beat this?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's fantastic that Willy Wonka has decided he wants to run for Premier of Tasmania. That's very exciting news.


Look, tourism is a really important part of the Tasmanian economy, and I'm going to leave it up to Tasmanians to decide how they best attract tourists to Tasmania. I love it there, it's such a beautiful place to visit. It's up to Tasmanians whether they think this is a sensible addition to their tourism industry.


BARR: Yeah. Interesting. When I was a kid, we went on a trip to Tasmania and went to the Cadbury factory.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Cadbury's, yeah.


BARR: I still remember it, Barnaby. Is this a good idea?


JOYCE: Well, that's the part that Tanya missed out while she was practising her pejorative before we came on air. There's a Cadbury factory there, it's a massive employer, in Tasmania. And of course, this ‑ and they've had to fight to keep it there, and this is yet another statement, that they want to keep this major employer on the island, because Cadbury is not only on icon of Tasmania, it's also a large employer and a deliverer of a product to the rest of Australia. I wish we had more manufacturing in Australia, not less.


BARR: Can you still do the tours? Because I mean that was just the highlight of my childhood.




BARR: Yes, Tanya.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I don't think you can at the moment, and there's ‑ I mean it's a great opportunity, and so is all the other sort of farm gate tourism that's down there, you know, the cheese factories, there's a chocolate place called Anvers Chocolates that I've visited before, the berry farms, they're great.


BARR: Eat your way through Tassie, yeah.



BARR: And the best thing is you walk out and you reek of chocolate. Thank you very much, see you next week.