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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


18 October, 2009



'MEET THE PRESS' PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Good morning and welcome to 'Meet the Press'. Coalition
members and Senators are gathering in Canberra to thrash out amendments to climate change policy.
In the short term the 100 Liberal and National politicians hold in their hands the fate of the
emissions trading scheme.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE JOE HOCKEY: We will show them the amendments. Don't worry, they will
see them. The amendments will be about protecting Australian jobs and Australian exports.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Malcolm Turnbull is confident the party room will accept the proposed amendments
which he warns will then be a manifesto for the election.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER KEVIN RUDD: If we assume everything, we then have a detailed critic and
alternative platform from which we can fight against their scheme. We will be dedicating every
human effort into getting a successful outcome nationally and globally. But the obstacles are huge.
And can I say those obstacles begin at home with a recalcitrant Australian Senate, led by a
recalcitrant leader of the Liberal party.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And while that argument raged more than 250 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka were
intercepted by the Indonesian navy at Australia's request.

SRI LANKAN GIRL: (Wednesday) Please help us and save our lives. We are your children too. Please
think of us, please! Please.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Back from global warming talks in China, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. And we
track a below-the-radar campaign for climate change action with John Connor. First, what the
nation's papers are reporting this Sunday October 18.

The 'Sun Herald' says it's D-Day for Turnbull over climate change. The Opposition Leader is
expected to win support from his party room to negotiate with the Government on emissions trading
but is under pressure from the Government to vote on the legislation in November.

The 'Sunday Age' reports Sri Lankans waver on hunger strike. Asylum seekers on a boat to Indonesia
are considering coming on shore as they backed away from demands to be immediately taken to
Australia or another country. As that drama unfolds another emerges: a boat carrying 270 people is
reported to be sinking in Malaysian waters.

The 'Sunday Mail' says Rockhampton residents had their bags packed and were ready to flee homes
last night as they prepared for the worst fire conditions in living memory. Police declared an
emergency situation but this morning the threat has eased.

Welcome back to the programme, Penny Wong. Good morning, Minister.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, what's the latest that the Australian Government has on the two boats
that are in difficulty, particularly the one in Malaysian waters?

PENNY WONG: Well, Paul, what we do know - and obviously the information is somewhat scant at the
moment - but what we do know is that we have been advised of reports of two vessels in distress in
both Malaysian and Indonesian waters. Obviously the operation respect of these vessels is being led
by Malaysian and Indonesian authorities, however we were asked for some assistance and the HMS
'Armadale' has made contact with one of the boats. The advice I have is that on that boat all
people are safe. Obviously this is an unfolding situation and we only have limited details at the

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, just briefly, do you accept any blame for these people risking their
lives to come to Australia? I mean the National Party says the Government is responsible for 25

PENNY WONG: On that can I say it is really grossly inappropriate for what is a difficult situation
to be inflamed by those sorts of comments. They really are not appropriate for a national political
leader to be engaging in. This is a difficult situation. The government has made it clear that the
approach we take is one that is tough but also humane and fair. We've allocated substantial
resources in the last budget to border protection. Obviously the situation around the world has
meant many factors are increasing the number of people seeking to go elsewhere and this is a
situation that the government is seeking to manage.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Going to the other story of the day - the Coalition meeting to thrash out
amendments. Now, there are many in the Coalition, in fact the Coalition leadership says that you
are rushing things through, that there won't be enough time this year to debate these amendments.
Will the Government consider extending the debating time?

PENNY WONG: Well, the short answer to that is yes. But can I come back to that? Can I first say,
let's remember that every time the Coalition says that this is being rushed, we've waited 12 years
to take action on climate change. We recently had the 10th anniversary of the first report on an
emissions trading scheme handed to the Howard Government. We have gone through an exhaustive
process since the election when Mr Howard and the Labor Party promised to introduce a scheme such
as the one in the Parliament. So any discussion of delay I think needs to have that context behind
it. But I do want to make clear the Government does want to make this legislation into law. We are
willing to extend the sitting of the Parliament, if that is what Mr Turnbull needs to ensure that
the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is passed.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So sitting up to Christmas if needed?

PENNY WONG: Well, what we're saying to Mr Turnbull is that if you want further time to discuss
this, this is a bill that we believe is in the national interest, we're willing to give you further
time, if that's what you want, in order to get this legislation passed. Mr Turnbull's been warned
by one of his own, of the risk of being double-crossed by Labor on emissions trading. If we vote
for the bill with our amendments and Rudd then wins the next election, what's to stop him
cancelling our amendments? You don't do deals with the likes of him.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are you as good as your word, Minister?

PENNY WONG: Well, I am, but I think that the thing we should remember when Wilson Tuckey makes yet
another excuse as to why he shouldn't, or the Liberal Party shouldn't engage with the Government on
this, he doesn't support action on climate change, and everything he and other sceptics who are
members of that party room are saying, every excuse they throw up is simply an excuse not to take
action on climate change. We are serious about a negotiation and of course as you know the
government of the day. Currently we don't have the majority in the Senate. It's very unusual for
governments to have the majority in the Senate. This has always been a policy where we need a
sensible approach from the Opposition. Regrettably that has not been the case today, but I look
forward to seeing the amendments which undoubtedly will be passed by the party room today -
amendments we believe need to be both economically responsible and environmentally credible.

PAUL BONGIORNO: When we return with the panel - why the rush? Is it politics or good strategy for
Copenhagen? And the Greens want tougher action and a bigger 40% emissions reduction target. Family
First's Steve Fielding brands them hippies who want to destroy Australia.

GREENS PARTY LEADER BOB BROWN: I've had lots of things said to me.

REPORTER: You used to be a hippy didn't you?

BOB BROWN: No, I used to be a Presbyterian. LAUGHTER. The world could do with a little more
flower-power, but really, name calling is not a constructive thing for us to be engaged in and I
wish Steve Fielding all the best.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. And welcome to
the panel, Marian Wilkinson, the 'Sydney Morning Herald'.


PAUL BONGIORNO: And Malcolm Farr, the 'Daily Telegraph'. Good morning Mal.


PAUL BONGIORNO: The debate over climate change and the Government's emissions trading scheme has
caused more problems for the Coalition than the drought for farmers. The Opposition claims the
Government is exploiting their pain for political reasons and the prime example, senior people say,
is a pressure for the vote on the ETS before the Copenhagen conference in December. And Kevin Rudd
said in the United States in an interview recently, I don't know if you saw it, he said in defence
of Barack Obama, he said, well, President Obama doesn't need to have the legislation in the United
States through the US Senate in order to negotiate because I haven't got it in Australia.

MALCOLM FARR: Good morning, Senator. The ETS might be the end of a 10 or 12 year process for you,
but on most fronts - bars and family barbecues around Australia - it's a very new issue and
difficult to get hold of. Many of these people, I'd argue, think you're rushing this through for a
deadline in Copenhagen rather than for what's in the best interests of Australia. Why haven't you
more effectively explained the need for speed to ordinary Australians?

PENNY WONG: Well, apart from the 12 years you mentioned, Malcolm, and the fact that both parties
went to the election promising to do this, this is not a new thing. We're doing what we promised to
do. We do need to get on with it. We have been talking about this for a long time. We know that
business groups such as the Business Council of Australia, Australian Industry Group, other major
companies have said they want the certainty to make the long-term investments which are needed to
respond to climate change. And we also know that the more countries that are moving forward, as we
move into Copenhagen, the more chance the world has of getting the agreement all of us need. We
absolutely believe it is in Australia's national interest for us to act on climate change. What I'd
say to you is that people that I speak to, Australians do want action on climate change, and they
know that action is needed.

MALCOLM FARR: But it's not the end of the process, is it? This vote. I mean, you were going to have
amendments of your own to this legislation when it comes back in the next week or so, aren't you?

PENNY WONG: Well, look, we will wait and see what amendments are put forward by the Opposition. But
I do want to be clear...

MALCOLM FARR: Will you have some of your own?

PENNY WONG: Well, we may or may not have technical amendments but I think the primary amendments
will be those negotiated with the Opposition. Can I make it clear, there's some talk about
amendments post Copenhagen. Copenhagen will set targets, Copenhagen will agree what are collective
and individual ambition is for the reduction of our carbon pollution. Copenhagen is not about the
design of schemes. That's a matter for every individual country. We have put forward a scheme
that's flexible enough to accommodate the outcome in Copenhagen but gives business the certainty
about what sort of scheme, what sort of design, what sort of assistance will be provided. And all
that delay will do, Malcolm, is increase the costs. What we know - the Treasury modelling shows -
is that those countries which delay making these investments. In fact, increasing their own costs,
that's not an economically responsible approach.

MARIAN WILKINSON: The Queensland and Victorian premiers believe the ETS offered by you doesn't give
enough transitional support to the coal and power industries.

PENNY WONG: We've made no secret of our position that we want a scheme which ensures energy
security for our state and I think it would be fair to say that NSW would be in a similar position
and that there may need to be some changes to some arrangements.

MARIAN WILKINSON: Minister, you know that the...what Mr Brumby and in fact other premiers are saying
is that Australia could face energy security problems and that means basically power failures or
black-outs. Now, the Prime Minister said he thought there was a scare campaign going on over this.
Is there a scare campaign or in fact are you looking at a package for generators?

PENNY WONG: Well, can I say first we're at the very business end, I suppose of this whole process,
which has been going on now for almost a couple of years in designing this scheme. And no doubt we
are going to see various people, various interest groups seeking more assistance. We've designed...

MARIAN WILKINSON: Are they pushing a scare campaign?

PENNY WONG: Well, I think we are focussed on the national interest. There are others who will put
very strongly their argument as to why they should receive more assistance but we have to focus on
what we think is right for Australia and that ensures everybody does their bit to respond to
climate change, so not just one part of the Australian community that is actually doing the work to
reduce their emissions. We are very focussed on ensuring energy security, which is we put forward a
package of very substantial assistance to the energy sector. As you know, we announced the
adjustments scheme with the white paper last year, so we are serious about this.

MALCOLM FARR: But is there more? Is there more? And one of them have asked that you actually buy
out Hazelwood, the dirtiest, most polluting power station in Australia. Will you think about doing

PENNY WONG: Well, on Hazelwood, I think I've been asked about that before. That's certainly been
raised with the Government previously and the Government's package is the one that's on the table,
and that is in the legislation, which is the assistance under the Electricity Sector Adjustment
Scheme, which is about ensuring energy security which was looked at by the market regulators and
they indicated that it significantly reduced the risk of any problems. This is the package the
Government is putting forward.

MARIAN WILKINSON: Minister, you're just back from China. Are the Chinese as enthusiastic about
climate change measures as you are?

PENNY WONG: Well, in fact, I think to be fair to China, China is in fact implementing a great many
domestic policies on climate change. They're investing probably more in renewable energy than any
other nation. They have their own domestic targets and the President - President Hu Jintao - at the
New York event, which world leaders, including the Prime Minister, attended, flagged even further
tests of pollution. Chris, what I would say about my visit to China is this, I think the level of
access - for example, the meeting with the Vice Premier Wu Yi, as well as the content of what was
discussed - shows that China is serious about acting on climate change. It shows this is an
important issue for them. That is a good thing for China, but it is also a good thing for
international negotiations.

MARIAN WILKINSON: Minister, if you don't get these amendments through or don't get a deal with the
Opposition by the end of this year, the end of the session, do you think we won't have anything
until after the next election in Australia? On ETS?

PENNY WONG: Well, I'm focussed on trying to get this legislation through, Marian. I've been
waiting, the Government's been waiting a very long time to have this discussion with Mr Turner and
his - Turnbull and his front bench. We've been asking for their amendments. Remember, this is
legislation that's been in public since March. So we are focussed on doing what we said we would
do, which is to engage in a good faith negotiation with very much focussed on the national
interest, and that is passing this legislation.

MARIAN WILKINSON: You need Malcolm Turnbull. It might hurt, but you need Malcolm Turnbull, don't

PENNY WONG: Well, we certainly need Mr Turnbull to support the legislation if we're going to get it
through the Senate, given the current configuration of the Senate. That's been pretty self-evident
for some time. We look forward to having a discussion. What we're saying is that the amendments
will have to be economically responsible and environmentally credible. I think Australians would
expect that of the Opposition and that is the way in which we'll be looking at them.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, just briefly, before we go, if the legislation goes down, there's really
no option, is there, but for the Prime Minister to take this to an election?

PENNY WONG: Well, I think that's a hurdle into the future that I don't want to speculate about,
Paul. I mean, we're not focussed on an election, we're focussed on getting this legislation
through. Kevin's made that clear.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Has this legislation been forced?

PENNY WONG: We're focussed on getting the legislation through. We've said all along we want the
legislation passed. This is not about a double dissolution election but doing the right thing by
Australia, acting on climate change, delivering on the commitment we made to the Australian people,
and what Australians have asked for, which is to take action.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you for being with us, Penny Wong. After the break, John Connor from Climate
Institute. And humour is often the best way to get a message out. The activists at GetUp! show how
it's done in this ad targeting the coal industry.

GETUP! SPOKESPERSON: Here at the Australian Coal Lobby, our brandologists have spent millions of
dollars on ads to make coal sound less damaging to the environment and more hip. So, from the
industry that brought you clean coal, and NewGen coal, we now present "iCoal 2.0". "iCoal 2.0"
doesn't cut emissions or create new jobs but it does make us feel better about polluting.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet The Press. The Lowy Institute found voters distracted by things like
their jobs, the economy and the global financial crisis in a recent poll. Climate change dropped
down the list. In London, Greenpeace activists climbed on the roof of Parliament to inject some
urgency back into the debate, even though the UK government has more ambitious targets to cut
emissions than Australia and their Opposition unequivocally backs an ETS. Welcome back to the
programme, John Connor from Climate Institute. That Lowy poll, does it worry you that maybe climate
change is losing its political potency?

CEO OF THE CLIMATE INSTITUTE JOHN CONNOR: We and others have been doing research like this. For
some time it's been clear that issues like the recession have been occupying the tier one. But
concern about climate change is very strong and is strong in the tier two issues and can spring up
at any time. It's optimistic if people think that this is an issue that will go away.

MALCOLM FARR: John, we're looking at another round of negotiations now between the Opposition and
the Government, but groups like yours and like other environment groups have said that you will
walk away from both the Government and the Opposition if there are more concessions made to the
major polluting industries. Does that still hold?

JOHN CONNOR: Yes. Look, something is not better than nothing at this stage. So it's important that
we move forwards with this package with our policies more broadly. We've had a debate here where
politicians, business and, with the greatest respect, even the media have been focussed on the rear
vision mirror here. We've been looking at how to protect our industries. We did a survey with the
carbon competitiveness of the G20 countries. Australian came last amongst the developed world. Last
week the international energy agency reported that it was one of the few developed countries going
backwards in energy efficiency. It is economically responsible and urgent to go back to the
policies that make it more efficient.

MARIAN WILKINSON: What's the deal breaker for you? If the Government gives more to the coal-fire
power generators or more to the coal industry, will that be a deal breaker for you?

JOHN CONNOR: We don't want more windfall games for coal mines. The brown coal generators who bought
these businesses knowing there was a carbon price shouldn't be getting more unconditional handouts.
They are key issues. We also need to move forward in the mechanisms that count. The Government says
it's important to have the CPRS up as a mechanism to go to Copenhagen and we have to have the
international mechanisms for financing toward avoiding deforestation, to help poor countries adapt
to climate change. Unless the Coalition back significant measures and mechanism in that area, then
we don't have credible policy here and we want that as part of the CPRS as well.

MALCOLM FARR: It could be argued that the extended political grind in Parliament numbed a fair
chunk of the public to this debate - something that is happening somewhere else. Now, you guys have
been out door-knocking, which is interesting in itself, if you could explain that. But what are
people telling you?

JOHN CONNOR: Look, people still want action. We did a poll a couple of months ago. I think there
was 7% of Australians that didn't want any action. But we are out there engaging in this debate.
There has been scaremongering and a lot of fear being driven from some of the big polluters out
there amongst the community. So we feel that it's incumbent on us to get out there and say there
are dinosaurs in big business and politics blocking action, which indeed will grow jobs, the jobs
that will be sustainable in the 21st century. And GetUp!, which is not just doing the ad you've
seen, they're out there door-knocking as well. This is a message to both sides to the major parties
of politics that groups engaged in this are active. We're talking to the community. The community
wants action and are sick and tired of politicians dithering and squabbling amongst themselves.

MALCOLM FARR: But isn't a part of the strategy based on a fear the public is drifting on this

JOHN CONNOR: No. We've got multimillion-dollar campaigns being run by the coal industry and by the
minerals council on this, all with misleading claims about job losses and the like, so that has an
effect. They don't spend that money for no reason. But these are industries, I mean, not fretting
about their future. There's over a dozen new coal mines slated to be opening. There's tens of
billions of dollars pouring into these areas. There's a yawning Gulf between the front pages and
the business pages of what's going on in the media here, but they're out there misinforming. So
we're out there doing our best to educate and inform people about the real elements that show we
can grow the economy, we can grow jobs while still reducing carbon pollution significantly.

MARIAN WILKINSON: What's the cost of not getting any legislation through before Copenhagen? How
much will it matter?

JOHN CONNOR: Look, we've always said it would be helpful for Australia, as one of the most carbon
intensive economies in the world, to turn up in Copenhagen. We have a delicate negotiation process
amongst the countries there and so building momentum and trust is important and Australia stepping
forward is really important in that area. So we think it would be extremely helpful but not
absolutely critical.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And, finally, if the legislation goes down, for the second time, is there any
choice for the Prime Minister, other than to take it to the people?

JOHN CONNOR: Look, I'll let those political judgements to the Prime Minister, and...

PAUL BONGIORNO: But it's a big issue, isn't it?

JOHN CONNOR: It's a big issue. Australians want action and I think they need the action so we're
growing an economy that is competitive in the emerging global low-carbon economy but also so we can
be co-operative in an effective global climate agreement.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So the defeat wouldn't put this argument off the agenda?

JOHN CONNOR: No, not at all. I think this is an issue we will see a lot more debate in coming
months and years.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks for being with us today, John Connor. And thanks to our panel, Marian
Wilkinson and Malcolm Farr. A transcript of this program will be on the web. Until next week,