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Tim Flannery announced Australian of the Year -

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Tim Flannery announced Australian of the Year

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: As announced just minutes ago, Tim Flannery is Australian of the Year. He's a
scientist of world standing, a prolific and bestselling writer, a noted explorer, passionate about
the Australian environment, and believes global warming is a calamitous crisis facing us all. Tim
Flannery is also a controversial, outspoken stirrer who promises to use his role this year to tread
on toes if he has to, to get his blunt views across. He's already offended many environmentalists
by advocating nuclear power despite the risks it poses as part of the solution to climate change,
but not in Australia, where he says other alternatives should be pursued. I recorded this interview
with Tim Flannery.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tim Flannery, a former governor general once said he saw his job as holding up a
mirror and reflecting the nation to itself. I wonder what you see in that mirror?

TIM FLANNERY, AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR: I suppose what I see in that mirror is a people who are
coming to terms with the land that supports them and really defines them, who don't yet understand
it particularly well and understand its sensitivities, and therefore are sort of like squatters.
We're squatting on the country rather than being true ones who have a long term future here through
a careful caring for our land.

KERRY O'BRIEN: If we've been slow learners in that, it would be in part at least, wouldn't it,
because of the kind of iconic images that we've drawn for ourselves as being hardy pioneers of the
land, and the land and our development of the land, working of the land, has been so much a part of
the ethos.

TIM FLANNERY: That's right, and that grand illusion, if you want, came from a particular history
where our ancestors came from an overcrowded and impoverished Europe into this, what seemed to be
an open continent, that seemed so easy to exploit. You could put the sheep on the land, you didn't
even need to knock down the trees and all of a sudden you were a wealthy landowner. And that
pioneer phase is due to a naivete both on the part of the land about us and us about the land and
what it can actually contain. It was as if we ate through the wealth of the continent in just a few
decades rather than carefully shepherded it. And those images and icons made it harder to realise
the reality of the situation for us and I think it's only now, as people look at the country with
new eyes and see that it is limited, that we need to take care of it and that it will define our
future, that we're starting to see a new reality.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You wrote an Australia Day article, as it happens, five years ago in which you
talked about how Australians tend to define themselves culturally as opposed to how they should
define themselves; can you remember your argument?

TIM FLANNERY: Yeah, I can, I remember thinking about it, why we imagine that meat pies and football
and Holden cars are important when the true underpinnings, the one thing that we all share as
Australians, is this land. It's what gives us our water and our food and our shelter and defines us
as a nation. Why isn't that the basis of our common sentiment about what it means to be an
Australian? The rest of it seems to me to be sort of randomly chosen bits of icons that we just
happen to like.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You share Al Gore's apocalyptic view on global warming. Do you take any comfort in
the fact that the issue has finally forced itself into the consciousness of politicians and big
business in the country?

TIM FLANNERY: I do take comfort from that, but I do so with an acute awareness that we have wasted
at least a decade in dealing with this problem and therefore the efforts we have to make now have
to be so much greater and done with so much more single-mindedness where we're not thinking about
short term self interest, whether it be the future of the coal industry or whatever else, but
thinking about the bigger picture of our position in the world, and that's the critical thing.
We've got a very short amount of time to deal with this problem. Many people argue that the amount
of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere already is too great to allow for climate stability and there
are signs of that already. If you look at the high Arctic and changes there you will see how severe
this problem's becoming. It will take a single-minded, united effort, people working together to
overcome this problem, which I think is the greatest challenge that humanity really has ever faced.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've startled, even angered, some environmentalists with your embrace of nuclear
power as potentially part of the solution to global warming. Put that into context.

TIM FLANNERY: Well, you know, when I travel to China, to the east coast of the United States and to
parts of Europe and look at the options available to those people to generate even the minimum
amount of electricity required to keep those societies functioning, I can't see an alternative to
nuclear power, at least as part of that generation of base load. Now we all know the dangers of
nuclear power, you know, particularly nuclear proliferation, which scares the hell out of me. But I
simply cannot see another alternative. It's the lesser of two evils and for that reason I refuse to
condemn uranium mining in Australia, I think it's going to be part of the solution. What we need is
really, really good regulation where we can stand up with pride and say we're doing this in a way
that absolutely minimises those dangers and that we can do that better than anyone else. My view is
that governments immediate to set the regulatory framework. So when it comes to uranium mining, we
need to have the best regulatory framework in the world that will satisfy all Australians that we
are doing our utmost to make sure this fuel is as safe as it possibly can be.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you know the practical realities of global politics and diplomacy and of
relationships between countries - you know that at times countries can be as pragmatic as hell to
get a desired outcome. You've said yourself, you asked in a recent article on nuclear power whether
our politicians have the moral fibre required to export uranium responsibly. Now, how do you answer
your own question? Do you have faith in our politicians' moral fibre?

TIM FLANNERY: I would say that our politicians are what we make them. We need to hold them
accountable at every level, at every election and ask the hard questions. The media is a big part
of that. You're right, it could all go horribly wrong but, you know, we have to march into that
future. It feels a bit to me like 1939, you know, with a lot of the public unaware of the reality
of this growing danger. Some people positively sympathetic to that outside evil for various reasons
and yet somehow we, as good citizens of this country and of the world, have to find a way forward.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In the race against time, isn't it too late to embrace nuclear power, by your own
benchmarks? You're saying we have no time and that you're prepared to countenance all the risks
associated with nuclear power knowing that it could take up to 20 years to get the first nuclear
power stations up and running in Australia?

TIM FLANNERY: I've thought long and hard about that and even at a personal level I think about the
world I will leave my children and I have a boy and a girl, in their 20s, and think they're going
to be dealing with the problems of nuclear waste storage and of proliferation long after I'm too
old to care about it and that's the future I've got to bequeath them, because this situation is so
difficult. It depends upon the resources available and which part of the world we're talking about.
Here in Australia I believe nuclear power makes absolutely no sense because we have an embarrassing
richness of renewable energy resources that we should be using much more aggressively or exploiting
more aggressively than we are. As I said, when you go to places like China, east coast of the US,
parts of Europe where geothermal energy is limited, where other forms of energy are not as abundant
as they are in Australia, I fail to see another alternative. Maybe one will be pointed out, in
which case I would say, thank Heavens for that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How do you explain to Australians why they should make sacrifices to their lifestyle
and potentially the economy when collectively Australia contributes only about 1% to global

TIM FLANNERY: We are on a per capita basis the worst polluters in the world and what's even more
serious, I think, is for the last decade we've held the world up. We've not been part of Kyoto,
we've cost the global enterprise time and time is critical in this area.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Would we have made that much difference on Kyoto?

TIM FLANNERY: I think that we would have, actually. I think you would have left the US totally
isolated or standing with Monaco and Liechtenstein, which is not a good look. I think it did make a
difference and I think that we need to really work in recognition of that, of the cost that our
policies have had to the whole globe and so when you come to searching your own soul about whether
you should put on solar panels on your roof or buy green electricity or whatever else, those things
all need to be taken into account.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Is that going to be part of your message over the next 12 months, pitching
individually to Australians to do their own part in this?

TIM FLANNERY: Yes, it is. But more importantly government, because government can make it so much
easier for people to play their own part. Now, it's, you know, it's critically important that we
all do something but our efforts could be made so much more valuable with the right government
policy and I hope to see over the next 12 months or so Australia develop that policy, a very, very
aggressive policy to combat this problem of climate change, working in an integrated way with the
international community, taking a leading role, in fact, rather than dragging our feet in that
global effort to combat this problem.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Have you ever wondered about your own Australian identity? Have you ever wondered
about yourself within this country and what you are?

TIM FLANNERY: Well, I can only answer that tangentially, I suppose, in that I've tried to live
outside Australia. I was in the US for 12 months and there was something really fundamental missing
in it for me and coming back to the clear skies and the smell of the gum trees, I know that sounds

KERRY O'BRIEN: It sounds fine to me.

TIM FLANNERY: But that's very important to me and this sense of being part of an ecosystem that
supports you and nurtures you and takes you into its bosom when you die and recycles you is very,
very important to me and this country in a sense is very important to me for that reason.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tim Flannery, congratulations on the award and thanks for talking to us.

TIM FLANNERY: Thank you.