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Uhlmann's interview with Greg Combet -

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Chris Uhlmann interviews Greg Combet.

Transcript

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: I'm joined in the studio by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.

Welcome.

GREG COMBET, CLIMATE CHANGE MINISTER: Thankyou, Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN: When do you think that the community will share your enthusiasm for a carbon price?

GREG COMBET: Well, we've obviously got the job ahead of us still to keep explaining the
Government's policy and the legislation that passed through the House of Rep's today and we accept
that responsibility, that's part of government's work. So, we'll keep arguing our case, but I think
a very important moment in this will come towards the middle of next year when the first benefits
start to arrive for households in the form of an advance on the pension increase and the tax cuts
start to kick in, for example, and the increases in family tax benefits, because I know that people
are concerned about that, but they will see that the Government is assisting households.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But at the same time they'll see price rises and do you think that people will
differentiate their price rises as well. Things - the reasons that electricity go up are many and
varied, will they not blame it all on a carbon price?

GREG COMBET: Well, as I said, we've just gotta explain what's going on here, and at the end of the
day what we're doing is undertaking a very important environmental and economic reform for
Australia and it will be of benefit to future generations. Yes, there'll be some modest price
increases, a 0.7 per cent increase in the CPI, but nine out of 10 households will receive
assistance through either tax cuts or increase in pensions or other Commonwealth payments. And
that's a very important element of it, and importantly, a good deal of that money is paid up front.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But in one way or another you've been trying to explain this for four years now and
over that time we've seen community support for this go down. So what makes you think that more
time's gonna make it better?

GREG COMBET: Well there's been a pretty strong debate in the community, hasn't there?, and
particularly at the national political level. Let's not forget that during the course of the last
five or six years John Howard supported a policy very similar to that which the Government is
legislating. He took that as a policy to the 2007 election. Brendan Nelson supported this policy,
Malcolm Turnbull supported this policy, many others in the Liberal Party support it and Labor has
always supported doing this. The thing is we've got Tony Abbott who's being determined in order to
try and get the top job to try and wreck it and to run a fear campaign, and I think people will see
through his fear campaign.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But doesn't that mean that the public's listening to the Opposition and not the
Government?

GREG COMBET: Yeah, but it's a debate and the debate will continue. And I think once people see the
household assistance, the very significant support for jobs in the most effected industries, areas
like steel. When Mr Abbott was running around trying to terrify everyone that their jobs would go,
now he's actually voted against a $300 million package of support for steel industry jobs. People
will see through Tony Abbott.

CHRIS UHLMANN: If you genuinely believe that a market mechanism is in the end the best way to deal
with this problem most cheaply, then why is there a $10 billion package at the heart of this which
is about picking winners?

GREG COMBET: Well the market mechanism, which is an emissions trading scheme, will put a price for
the first time on every tonne of pollution from the largest polluters in the country. That's a very
powerful incentive to cut their pollution levels and to invest in more efficient technology and
renewable energy. So that's the main institutional change that's occurring. You're pointing of
course to the fact that the Government's also investing in $10 billion in a clean energy finance
corporation, and this will be there to try and help bring private finance to technologies,
renewable energy technologies, low emissions technologies to get them to the marketplace, because
in many respects investors in the community are just like everyone else and they're not necessarily
that familiar with some of these technologies and we want to facilitate getting them to market.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But certainly. But this is direct action. This is the stuff you ridicule.

GREG COMBET: No, this is not direct action at all. The Coalition's so-called direct action program
is a subsidies-for-polluters program. This is an institution, a commercially oriented organisation
that will make investments through providing loans or loan guarantees or equity investments to help
get renewable and clean energy technologies to market.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But it's all government money and if - by definition, if something's commercially
viable, then a private sector investor will invest in it. This is a government investment and
you'll be picking winners.

GREG COMBET: Well, no, it'll be an independent corporation. We've announced today that Ms Jillian
Broadbent will chairing the corporation, will be the inaugural chair. She's going to go around in
coming months to develop an investment mandate. She's a very experienced person with Reserve Bank
board experience. She will work ...

CHRIS UHLMANN: But 100 per cent of money will come from government, won't it?

GREG COMBET: No, in particular projects the idea here is for the finance corporation to step in
where perhaps a technology's struggling to get to the marketplace - a proper evaluation will be
done of its commerciality of course - but this can be a circuit-breaker to work with private
finance from banks and the like to get a technology to the market.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Alright. In the long run, your system demands that you be able to buy permits to
pollute offshore. What's the likelihood that there'll ever be an international market?

GREG COMBET: Well there is one now, there's a $140 billion market in the European Union ...

CHRIS UHLMANN: And it declined over the last two years. That market's actually getting smaller,
isn't it, Minister?

GREG COMBET: Well it has shrunk a bit in recent times because of the disorder in European financial
markets and the debt crisis that's being experienced there, but the market is growing in
international carbon markets overall. And there's not just the European market, which covers 30-odd
economies; there's also a thing called the Clean Development Mechanism, which has been operating
for some time. And other countries - let's not forget - just take California alone: 8th largest
economy in the world, larger than the Australian economy, they start auctioning permits, bringing
in a carbon price and an emissions trading scheme next year, and other countries are doing the
same.

CHRIS UHLMANN: That mechanism you talked about had among the largest falls because people aren't
sure what's going to happen if the Kyoto protocol isn't extended, are they?

GREG COMBET: Oh, well, the extension of the Kyoto protocol is the Clean Development Mechanism
itself is a subject matter for the negotiations that I'll be attending in Durban and representing
Australia at in about six or seven weeks' time. But, you know, I think all countries have got an
interest in the carbon markets internationally developing, becoming more liquid, more accessible
and more transparent, and certainly that's something that's in Australia's interest.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What certainty can anyone have while the Government has a primary vote under 30 per
cent and the Opposition says that it's going to repeal all of your laws?

GREG COMBET: Well, look, this is just an overdue reform. And, yes, there's a robust political
debate, yes of course I think everyone knows the polls have been pretty difficult for the
Government. This issue's being seen as a contributor to that. But we'll get through the political
argument. The important thing at the end of the day is that as a country, in our own long-term
national interest, the interest of future generations, we make this reform. It's about reducing the
emissions intensity of the economy, bringing our pollution down, tackling climate change, and that
reform will stay.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Greg Combet, thankyou.

GREG COMBET: Thanks a lot, Chris.