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Time to vote on ETS -

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Time to vote on ETS

Broadcast: 15/11/2009

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong joins Insiders to provide some insight into the negotiations
taking place ahead of the second and final parliamentary vote on the Government's ETS legislation.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: After weeks of negotiations essentially between Climate Change Minister
Penny Wong and her opposite number Ian Macfarlane it's almost time to vote; almost time to vote for
a second and final time on the Government's ETS legislation.

And to that end we're joined this morning by Senator Penny Wong. Good morning and welcome.

PENNY WONG, CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER MINISTER: Good morning Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Time for talk is almost over as I said. Are you any more hopeful now of the support
of the Coalition than you were when you first started negotiations with Ian Macfarlane?

PENNY WONG: Well there's still a bit of talking to do. But as you know we are moving forward. It
has been a very constructive process these negotiations. We are moving forward.

We are absolutely committed on this side of the table to doing what we are able to to get a deal.
That's why we've announced this offer on agriculture. That's why we'll continue to move forward in
these negotiations because this is in Australia's national interest. We need to get this reform
through.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And that is a big concession. Is it the deal breaker, the agreement on agriculture?

PENNY WONG: Well there was a long list put forward by the Opposition. Certainly they've said
publicly, Ian Macfarlane said publicly that agriculture was something they had to have.

There's obviously other things on their list. We've said to them economically responsible,
environmentally effective - they're the tests we'll apply.

But in terms of agriculture this is an offer that's made by the Government on an issue that we know
is important to the Opposition because we're serious about getting this legislation through.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And you're also allowing farmers as I understand it to benefit by generating carbon
credits. Why weren't you on that page months ago?

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well just on this issue, we're very, we agree with the National Farmers' Federation
on this that excluding agriculture doesn't mean that farmers can't be part of the solution. We have
to work through how that will be the case.

Where we were a few months ago was that we needed to do more research and that we wanted to review
this issue in 2013.

The Opposition put to us that they wanted more certainty in that. They wanted specific exclusion in
the legislation.

We are saying today, we're prepared to do that in the interests, in the national interest of
getting up the carbon pollution reduction scheme, getting that through the Parliament. This is an
offer we're prepared to make.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What do you say though to the people who want a tougher scheme? That a very large
contributor now, that is farming, to greenhouse gas will be excluded?

PENNY WONG: Well I think we look to what the NFF has said, the National Farmers' Federation have
said, that exclusion of agriculture from the scheme doesn't mean farmers can't be part of the
solution. There are a range of ways in which that can occur and we're interested in continuing the
discussion with the Coalition about how we do that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now overnight the APEC leaders backed away from a fixed target for halving
emissions. That target was in the initial draft accord to the Chinese. It's not there any more. Is
that an ominous sign?

PENNY WONG: Look there's a lot of discussion about targets and communiques and declarations. I've
been part of negotiating a few of them this year.

A key issue is the two-degree target; that is, trying to hold global temperatures to two
degrees. From that flows a whole range on demands on developed and developing economies.

That was included in the major economies forum declaration earlier this year and I think that's the
key way of looking at this. What is the temperature rise that we want to try and achieve?

BARRIE CASSIDY: But you need to achieve that by halving or at least making significant inroads into
emissions. And whenever gatherings like this get together what seems to happen is that the
political will disappears.

PENNY WONG: Well our political will is there. We've said we will move to a 60 per cent reduction by
2050 and the Prime Minister has made clear that he's prepared to go to an election for a greater
target if that's required. Our political will is clear.

But the key issue here is not what's happening in 2050. The key issue here is what's happening in
the next two weeks.

We've got the opportunity to pass for the first time legislation that actually reduces Australia's
contribution to climate change. That's what's on offer here. That's what we've got to get on with
doing. The time to pass this legislation is now.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But again the target seems to be the problem. In your separate negotiations with
the Greens you've excluded any discussion of emissions reduction targets. Why did you do that? Why
did you put restrictions on your discussions with the Greens?

PENNY WONG: Well what I've said publicly is we think the targets that we have put on the table are
both ambitious and credible and they are also achievable.

And those are the targets that have been agreed to by the Opposition. Those are the targets that
have been negotiated and agreed to through the discussion the Government had with the community,
the environmental groups and the business community leading up to the announcement earlier this
year - up to 25 per cent reduction by 2020.

That's a very significant reduction. Obviously that's not all we have to do. We have to go further
than that.

But we've got to get on with it. I mean we keep talking about 2020, 2050. I'm worried about this
year and next year and the year after. I'm worried about giving business the certainty that's
required for the investment that's needed for this transformation.

Just this week Barrie we had the International Energy Agency estimating that each year of day will
cost the globe about $US500 billion more to make the transformation - $US500 billion is what
they've put the figure at.

I mean that just demonstrates the longer you delay, the higher the cost. It's the same advice Peter
Shergold gave John Howard. He said, the advice was go soon because if you don't it will cost you
more. Let's get on with it. The time for action is now.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah and you say the time for action is now but can you understand the frustration
from the Greens and those who support the Greens' position that you will negotiate with the
Coalition to weaken the scheme but you won't seriously negotiate with the Greens to strengthen the
scheme?

PENNY WONG: Well we're willing to have a dialogue with the Greens. I'd remind you that the Greens
voted with Barnaby Joyce and Senator Fielding when this was last before the Parliament. Now that's
a matter for them. They're entitled to do that...

BARRIE CASSIDY: For different reasons.

PENNY WONG: We're willing to have a dialogue with the Greens but ultimately the Government has to
get this legislation through if we want to actually effect change.

A theoretical bill sitting on the table doesn't actually do anything to reduce climate change. And
we either have to get the Greens or Senator Fielding and Senator Xenophon or we have to get the
Opposition.

And the judgement that the Government has made is that we need to get into dialogue with the
Opposition. We're obviously prepared to have a discussion with the Greens but ultimately the Senate
means, the way the Senate is configured we need to get a majority of senators to support this
legislation. Malcolm Turnbull still has the majority of senators in the Senate.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now the Greens released a poll, some research overnight that they say says 35 per
cent support the Government's position but 54 per cent want tougher action as outlined by the
Greens. Do you accept that might be the true position?

PENNY WONG: You know Barrie, in this job I've been given lots of modelling by lots of people who've
paid for it. I've been shown lots of polling by lots of people who've paid for it.

Our view is we have got to do what we think is right. People might not agree with the decisions
I've made as Minister, that the Government has made. But I can say this to you: We have always
tried to do what we think is in the national interest and what we need to do to get the support of
the Parliament.

That is how we're approaching this. We think it is absolutely in Australia's national interest to
act. We've had a lot of debate in this country, over a decade. The time to actually do something is
now and in the next two weeks we've got the opportunity to do it.

BARRIE CASSIDY: There were some interesting figures released on rising sea levels, speaking of
research. Not so long ago you released a report suggesting sea levels would rise by 79 centimetres
by the end of the century. Now we have another one on the eve of the vote suggesting it could rise
by 1.1 metre. Which one are we supposed to believe?

PENNY WONG: The 79 cm was the upper end of the IPCC scenario which was based on the science as it
was to 2007.

The reason the Government chose, with the advice of experts and the department, to model a
1.1-metre is that the science has moved on. It is comparable with the sorts of estimates that other
countries such as the US, the UK, Netherlands and New Zealand have put in place.

This is about the upper end of the risk. What we're saying is in terms of the long-term planning
decisions that we're making, the locking in of infrastructure, the planning, land use decisions
that we're making which have very long time frames, we do need to have information that shows us
the broad range of risks and 1.1-metre is the upper end that was chosen.

Obviously this is the beginning of a discussion, a dialogue with different levels of government and
the community. We need a strategy that's going to go forward in the years ahead.

But the first thing we need is the information and that's why the Government did this, what we call
a first pass assessment, a vulnerability assessment that gives us a better sense of the risk.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But it is as you say the upper end of predictions and it assumes in effect that
governments do nothing for the next 100 years around the world. And that's not going to happen so
to that extent it's alarmist, isn't it?

PENNY WONG: Well Barrie you just actually talked to me about the lack of political will earlier in
a question. But I hope on that you are wrong then and right now, that governments have the
political will to act.

We're not at all trying to do anything other than to put information into the public arena. As I
said yesterday if we knew this, if this information were provided to government and we just sat on
it I think you'd be saying to me: Minister, isn't it irresponsible for you not to release it?

We're saying here is an analysis. We need to do lots more work. We need to work with local
government, state governments. We have to work through this and get a much better framework for
managing the coastal vulnerability that climate change imposes.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But if 240,000 homes are genuinely at risk of inundation, of going under, then
surely given those dire predictions that's a good argument to embrace the Greens' position to do
more than what the Government is actually suggesting.

PENNY WONG: I think it's a good argument to act. I think the thing we keep forgetting is that the
longer we delay, the higher the risk, the higher the cost.

As I said we can have a discussion Barrie you and I about theoretical targets. Ultimately what
matters is how much we actually reduce emissions by, how much we actually reduce Australia's carbon
pollution. And we're only going to do that if we pass legislation that actually sets a cap that
starts to reduce.

BARRIE CASSIDY: The decision taken this week to block the Traveston Dam in south-east Queensland,
in the end what mattered most to the Government? Was it the environmental consequences or in the
view of the Government, there were better options available?

PENNY WONG: Well Barrie that is a decision that Peter Garrett makes as Environment Minister under
legislation. He has a statutory discretion. He's entitled to exercise that in accordance with law
as he sees fit. He exercises his discretion in terms of the decisions under that legislation.
That's a decision for him.

Obviously it is a decision that Queensland has made their views clear about. I've certainly had
some discussion with my Queensland counterpart about consequences.

We'll work through those in terms of the water portfolio but ultimately this is a decision for
Peter Garrett.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But Anna Bligh the Queensland Premier made the point that this is not pristine
country and if you block a dam there, it's hard to see this Government approving a dam anywhere in
the country.

PENNY WONG: Well people are entitled to express their opinion. This is legislation that's been in
place for some time, in fact was introduced under the Howard government. And it gives the
Environment Minister discretion which she or he has to exercise as she, as he sees fit and Peter
has done that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But do you think this Government, the Federal Government and Peter Garrett is
capable of approving a dam anywhere?

PENNY WONG: I think Peter Garrett is perfectly capable of making the decision he believes right in
the circumstances. And that's what he's done on this occasion as he has on previous occasions in
relation to other projects.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well it's going to cost the Queensland taxpayers a whole lot more money, at least
according to the Premier. Will the Federal Government chip in? Do you take the view that supplying
water to south-east Queensland is purely a Queensland responsibility?

PENNY WONG: Well as I said earlier, I have had some discussions with Stephen Robertson when I was
in Queensland on Friday for a Murray Darling ministerial council.

There are obviously consequences for Queensland in terms of how they now manage attaining water
security. They are obviously going to have to reconsider what their plan into the future is.

As the Federal Government we made clear we do believe we have a role in assisting states to ensure
urban water security. That's why we've funded stormwater projects, we've funded desalination
plants. We have an urban water fund. We're certainly willing to have this discussion with
Queensland.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So they can come back to you with some prospect of winning support for desalination
for example.

PENNY WONG: What I said was we're certainly willing to have this dialogue with Queensland, Barrie.
We understand that there are some pressing water issues for that state, particularly with
population growth. So that's obviously an issue we're prepared to have a discussion about.

BARRIE CASSIDY: OK, and just finally it's not in your portfolio responsibility but hopefully you've
been briefed on this, on the Oceanic Viking. Twenty-two asylum seekers now have left the boat. What
do you understand are the prospects of others following them?

PENNY WONG: Well it isn't my portfolio as you said. I do, I do, I am aware of the 22 who've left
the boat. There are some reports of others being willing to leave. This is an ongoing situation.

Obviously the Australian Government's view is we want this, we're prepared to operate patiently
here, wait patiently. But we are keen to see this matter resolved and people are working through it
on the ground.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Senator Penny Wong, thanks for your time this morning.

PENNY WONG: Good to speak with you.