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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



26th November 2006


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. Protecting the
children of parents on welfare. The Federal Government proposes food vouchers for addicts and stirs
a storm of controversy.


MAL BROUGH (Thursday): There is no punishment here whatsoever. The punishment that is currently
occurring is where children are not being provided with a decent meal in their stomachs.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Family and Community Services Minister Mal Brough is a guest, and the uranium
debate moves into top gear with the release of a major draft review.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Tuesday): For every single solution to the problem of climate change
you need every weapon in the armoury and one of them, of course, is obviously nuclear power.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We speak with review chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski. But first, what the nation's
papers are reporting Sunday, November 26 - The Sunday 'Age' leads with "Bracks strolls back."
Victoria's Labor Premier has been returned with an emphatic victory despite a 4.4% swing against
his Government. Labor looks set to win 55 seats, the Liberals 24, the Nationals the surprise
performers with eight seats and one Independent.

STEVE BRACKS (Last night): And also families want a fair go in the work place as well, and that's
what this shows.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The Sydney 'Sun-Herald's' front page says "Parents beg for P-plate change." After
yet another P-plate death - the fourth in 24 hours - parents have again called on the NSW
Government to change road laws. The Brisbane 'Sunday Mail' has "Spy poison drama sparks
contamination alert." London was radiation alert yesterday after it was revealed Russian exile
Alexander Litvinenko was killed by the deadliest poison known to science. The 'Sunday Herald Sun'
has "McGrath hits critics for six." Bowler Glenn McGrath thumbed his nose at critics and then gave
his wife the thumbs up after helping Australia sabotage England's Ashes hopes. His figures - 6 for
50. Welfare workers have accused the Family and Community Services minister Mal Brough of wanting
to introduce a nanny state that fails to solve the real problems of addicted parents. But at face
value, putting children first, whether it's in the Aboriginal communities or the wider community,
would seem praiseworthy. Welcome back to the program, Minister.

MAL BROUGH: Thanks very much, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Let's go to the welfare of the Liberal Party first. The 20th loss in a row for the
State Liberals. What's your reaction to the result in Victoria overnight?

MAL BROUGH: Well, as a Queenslander who took a drubbing at the last State election, I'm afraid any
loss is very disappointing. I think it points to the fact that whilst Ted Baillieu and his team, I
think, did an admirable job, the fact is you have to build credibility over a long period of time.
You have to deliver policies and have the public understand exactly what you stand for and where
you're going. So there is some up side here, but it's only a small amount of up side, and a very
clear lesson to all of our Coalition colleagues at the State levels that you have to do the hard
yards, you have to do good policy work, you have to have it into the field early and you have to be
single minded and behind a leader.

PAUL BONGIORNO: During the campaign both the Premier and Ted Baillieu, the Liberal leader, said
they didn't want nuclear power in Victoria. Is John Howard the only political leader in Australia
who's positive towards nuclear power?

MAL BROUGH: I'm sorry, Paul, I'm having a little trouble there picking up some of your commentary.

PAUL BONGIORNO: All right. I'm just wondering if John Howard is the only political leader in
Australia who is - has a positive view on nuclear power given that Ted Baillieu, the Liberal leader
in Victoria, along with the Premier, said they didn't want a nuclear reactor in that State.

MAL BROUGH: Look, I think that leaders of a nation, leaders of a State, whether they be oppositions
or governments, have a responsibility to look at all options when it comes to greenhouse gas
emissions. Victoria is a growing State, as is in the rest of the country. We are going to continue
to need more power into the future. We don't need to be punching out and pumping out more
greenhouse gas emissions. So to turn a - put our head in the sand, turn away from all of the
options - I think is folly. That is what the Prime Minister has said. Let's have a look at it,
let's have a debate with real facts around them rather than rhetoric and scare campaigns, and I
would ask all political leaders not to make a judgment call as to what's right and what's wrong,
but have an informed debate in the interests of our nation's energy needs and also greenhouse gas
emissions for the world.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You don't fear there could be an electoral backlash against the nuclear proposals?

MAL BROUGH: Well, there could be, but, I mean, the reality is that if you're in Government you're
there to make tough decisions, you're there to govern in the interests of the nation today and into
the future. So if in doing so you make some unpopular decisions by putting on the table important
issues that must be discussed, then that's what leadership's all about.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK, today you going to make an announcement at the National Seniors Association
conference there on the Gold Coast. What will you be telling them?

MAL BROUGH: Well, look, I think today is probably the single most important thing that the average
Australian can do for reconciliation. There's a lot of talk about reconciliation. This Government
believes in practical measures, and today we will be with - in partnership with the National
Seniors Association announcing a new initiative where what people commonly know and colloquially
know was the grey nomads who, with their caravans, spend large amounts of time in regional and
rural Australia learning and seeing more about our country can take that one step further. They can
take their experience in life, but also their professional lives such as doctors, nurses, teachers,
plumbers, sparkies, you name it, and actually use those skills and learn something about the first
Australians. What we are suggesting is that those older Australians who are retired, that want to
take the opportunity to spend some quality time in a remote Aboriginal community to work with that
community, perhaps reading to children at school, perhaps helping with maintenance, whatever their
skill base may be, we can get a real exchange of cultural diversity in this nation and
understanding of our first Australians, and we can also do something very practical to assist those
same people. We think this is a wonderful initiative that will break down some of these barriers
that have occurred due to isolation.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You don't think it might be hard for a retired person who is, for example, from
Melbourne, to cope with the flies, the heat and the dust in these remote communities?

MAL BROUGH: Well, I mean, that's true, that's a choice some will take. Not every person's going to
do it, but the National Seniors Association is the largest single membership body in Australia, is
my understanding. They have a wealth of talent and knowledge. They spend a lot of time in these
localities now, but not necessarily using their skills base, and of course it's not until you are
working with people that you get to really understand them, and you can give something of yourself,
you can learn something of the culture, and in doing so we can exchange views, and the only way
that reconciliation genuinely works is when there is genuine understanding. And in doing so I think
it will have a longer term assistance here, Paul. I think that if you're in a remote community,
then the way out can seem very daunting. The rest of Australia can seem something quite difficult
to attain. If you're having Australians from Sydney and Melbourne, as you put it, going to a
locality year after year, and I envisage that will happen, building up a relationship, then you're
also building up a group of people who have a connection with that community now in a city.


MAL BROUGH: And should a young person decide to go to school, university, then they have someone
and a group of friends, a group of people that know where they come from, understand them, as a
support mechanism, and I think that's just a wonderful way of expressing reconciliation in a modern

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK. Just going to the voucher proposal that you came up with during the week, food
vouchers for addicted parents to make sure their kids got fed at least, the criticism that's come
your way is that it's not going to treat the addiction, that in a real sense you're not solving the
problem, you're putting a band-aid on it. What's your answer to that?

MAL BROUGH: Well, I have heard this criticism, and you hear it every time that anyone proposes
something new. This is not a change, it's not a - how would I put this? A fix-all. This is an
additional tool. You still need to have those interventions that deal with addictions, be they
gambling, drugs or alcohol. You need to have other support mechanisms which the States do provide
in the form of social workers. What this is saying, though, is that addictions in themselves are
such powerful motivators of personal behaviour that if you don't actually remove some of the reason
and some of the opportunity in the form of that discretionary income. And can I tell you this has
been said to me by so many parents, they want that discretionary income removed from them.

PAUL BONGIORNO: By the way, just on that point there was - a doctor in Tasmania during the week
said that drug addicted mothers should not receive their $4,000 baby bonus in one lump sum. Many
are having babies that are born themselves drug addicted. Will you look seriously at that proposal?

MAL BROUGH: I agree with him, Paul, wholeheartedly. The system, as it currently stands, if a
Centrelink officer determines that someone is actually at risk, and clearly drug addiction - a drug
addicted mother at the birth of the child, is clearly someone you really have to question whether
they should have that child full stop. That's a decision of the State welfare systems, but there is
now in place the possibility for Centrelink to refer that person to a social worker and to pay that
payment periodically rather than in a lump sum. So I entirely agree with what the doctor in
Tasmania has said.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK, thank you very much for joining us today, Family Services Minister Mal Brough.
When we return with the panel, the Government's nuclear energy review shows its hand. We speak with
Dr Ziggy Switkowski.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Mid-year John Howard decided to challenge the consensus in Australia that nuclear
power is not for us. After his Washington trip, where energy was high on the agenda, he appointed
nuclear physicist Dr Ziggy Switkowski to review the issue. On Tuesday, Dr Switkowski released his
report that canvassed options like a nuclear power station within 10 to 15 years and a scenario of
25 reactors providing 30% of our electricity by the year 2050. Welcome to the program, Dr


PAUL BONGIORNO: Welcome to the panel, Jennifer Hewett, the 'Australian Financial Review'. Good
morning, Jennifer.


PAUL BONGIORNO: And Malcolm Farr, the 'Daily Telegraph' - nearly said the 'Sunday Telegraph'. Good
morning, Malcolm.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Dr Switkowski, the Prime Minister believes that public antipathy towards nuclear is
shifting, but since you put your draft report out there's been a chorus of people saying 'no'. Do
you believe that public opinion is shifting?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, I would have thought this is one of the things that struck us during the
five months of our work to date, and that is at the beginning the topic itself was a pretty -
generated quite an edgy reaction. By now, however, I sense the community, while not supporting the
introduction of nuclear power in Australia yet, at least is more prepared to consider the facts,
and I'm hopeful that the report that we've now tabled will update people's understanding about the
nuclear fuel cycle and provide the basis for a thoughtful debate that may yet extend quite a long

PAUL BONGIORNO: On Wednesday this is how Labor reacted to your review.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR SCIENCE JENNY MACKLIN: First and foremost, we need to be acting on climate
change now, not in 15 or 20 years time. The other thing that John Howard's nuclear inquiry makes
plain is that Australia does not have the skilled work force to build these power stations, so it's
not going to happen any time soon.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Dr Switkowski, she's right, isn't she? I mean, we're talking about something that,
even on optimistic assessments, is 20 years off, decades off. How do you - and yet there's a whole
lot of political fury around today. How do you feel about being used as a political wedge for the
next election?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, I'm not sure that that's going to be the case, Jennifer, but you're quite
right, there is a mismatch between the intensity of feeling about nuclear today and the realisation
that a decision around nuclear needs to be made in a considered fashion, and it'll play out over 20
decades. But I'd make the following point. Climate change was put on the global agenda in 1992 at
the Rio Earth Summit. We're 14 years into that particular debate. Climate is changing but it's
changing over a period of decades. I think for Australia it's important - it's more important for
us to find the path forward and make the right steps rather to be seen to be doing something
impulsively or just to do anything. I think that is not the right approach.

JENNIFER HEWETT: In terms of impulsive, realistically, given the problems - political, structural -
what do you think the chances are of a nuclear facility being actually in operation in Australia,
in even two decades, and what do you think, in that context, that the Australian Government should
be doing on climate change now?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, I mean, that is at the key. That is, before you can form a view around the
validity of nuclear power in the mix of generation technologies, you've got to form a view as to
the gravity of climate change and what sort of steps the community and the Government has to take
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Frankly, that is a discussion, that is a set of policies, that
is unfolding as we speak, and the Government has, in recent times, announced the formation of an
emissions trading task force to help them form a view about how to get on top of emissions, or
levels of emissions, in a way that makes sense for Australia. But I think there's no doubt nuclear
power today is financially not competitive, and given the long lead times and other risks
associated with investments, most utilities would shy away from committing to nuclear power today
in the absence of a national strategy to reduce greenhouse gases. And I think that might be the
issue that plays out in the year leading up to the election.

MALCOLM FARR: Dr Switkowski, you have great faith in science overcoming the problems with nuclear
power. How come you're so pessimistic about that same science not being able to produce renewables
that make a significant contribution to base load power supplies, specifically wind and solar?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: I don't think, Malcolm, that I'd characterise the task force conclusions as being
pessimistic about renewables. In fact, we've painted a scenario into the future which sees energy
or electricity in Australia being generated through fossil fuels, coal and gas, potentially
nuclear, and probably as large a contribution from renewables - in this case wind, solar,
geothermal, eventually perhaps even tidal and wave power. We really believe that the continuing
investment in R&D and innovation in renewables must occur in parallel, and, frankly, that any
incentives that are put in place to shift electricity generation from greenhouse gas emitting
platforms to zero or near zero emitting platforms should provide for developments right across the
spectrum, and in particular for renewables.

MALCOLM FARR: But you don't think renewables will have the grunt to contribute to base load power,
do you, over the next...

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, no. We've certainly lined up with the view of the experts that says
electricity needs to have a very high level of consistent, efficient, uninterruptable base load
power, and that could only be provided by fossil fuels and nuclear, and it can then be supplemented
by renewables. In the main at the moment it's wind. While there is a hope that wind and others
might contribute to base load power as ways of storing that energy are invented, at this stage
nothing seems to be available and therefore wind, renewables, we do not see as contributing to base
load electricity generation.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Dr Switkowski, from what you're saying, it doesn't seem likely that we'd see a
nuclear power plant, even on your optimistic assessments, before 30 or 40 years.

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Look, if you moved very quickly - if you had a national strategy as, for example,
France did post the oil shock in the 1970s, and they went from zero nuclear electricity to now
having an economy where 80% of the electricity comes from nuclear reactors, and most of that was in
place within the first 15 years. So a national strategy that said we're going to intervene, we're
going to sharply reduce greenhouse gases, we are going to support zero emitting platforms such as
nuclear, could see the first nuclear reactor in Australia as quickly as 10 years out.
Realistically, I think the figure is 15, and then you've got a future of several decades of
building up a national network of reactors such as is found in France, in Japan, in the United
States, in the United Kingdom et cetera.

PAUL BONGIORNO: How soon, though, would the Federal Government then have to, either by way of
subsidy or by way emissions trading, put in place an emissions trading regime?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Paul, I think that the proponents of an emissions trading framework argue that
it's almost as important to simply get the philosophy of a framework out there and less important
to get the actual numbers in terms of what the caps and costs might be. That's a decision that the
Government presumably will be prepared to make on the recommendation of their task force, which
might be some months away. Thereafter, energy infrastructure investors can form a view about the
appeal of nuclear and their context.

PAUL BONGIORNO: After the break, the fear factor and the risks of nuclear power. In our cartoon,
Nicholson and the team at Rubbery Figures on the 'Australian's' web site see the week from the
stands at the first Ashes test.

RICHIE BENAUD CHARACTER: Marvellous. Marvellous cricket, really marvellous. Howard's still at the
crease and it's Kim Beazley off his short run.

KIM BEAZLEY CHARACTER: Take that Howard, take that. That's my surprise ball - the interest rate's

BENAUD: The next ball is from a scientist, and it's the global warming googly. Oh, he wasn't ready.
He was watching the big screen. And now to take the new ball it's Iraq from the northern end. Let
me tell you something, let me tell you something, let me tell you something, let me tell you
something, let me tell you something, let me tell you something, let me tell you something, let me
tell you something...

JOHN HOWARD CHARACTER: Look over there, everyone, a tax cut.

BENAUD: I missed that. Anyone see what happened?

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet The Press with nuclear review chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski. The
Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in 1986 reinforced people's fears of the industry. The
review documents that 4,000 people, mainly children, contracted thyroid cancer. Other reports
document widespread devastation of the environment and damage to farming. Dr Switkowski, your
report seems very optimistic that the chances of a nuclear accident are close to zero, although you
don't rule it out. Why are you so confident?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, firstly I acknowledge there's no human activity that is zero in risk. But
we did to Chernobyl, we went to Three Mile Island, and then we studied the science and improvements
that have occurred over the last 20 years, and it is impressive. This is a very sophisticated
industry. The levels of incidents and accidents are very low. The nuclear power industry is safer
than alternative energy producers, and we were reassured, both on the safety, the radiation
management and the environmental fronts, as to the integrity of nuclear energy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: During the week the Industry Minister seemed to have a different view from the
experts on where nuclear power stations would be sited. Here's what he said.

MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY IAN MACFARLANE (Tuesday): Nuclear power stations are far more flexible in the
way they can be sited. They require cooling but they don't have to be sited on the coal seam
itself, so the opportunities are to site these power stations away from populated centres.

MALCOLM FARR: Dr Switkowski, that clashes absolutely with what you've said, which is that nuclear
power stations will have to be near the main grid and near population centres, isn't it?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: We've provided some general criteria about where you would site a nuclear power
station. And it would be near the grid, near population centres and probably near the sources of
water. So the Minister is right, Malcolm, in that if you travel around the world you see lots of
examples where nuclear power stations, because they are independent of having the fuel available
just there, have been sited 100 kilometres away from major population centres. But if you're
designing it in a greenfield sense from right the start - blank sheet of paper - for efficiency
sake you'd stay within tens of kilometres of the grid.

MALCOLM FARR: You're been very nice to the Minister. Are you confident that the Minister for
Industry, the Minister for Resources, knows what he's talking about on this subject?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, frankly, it doesn't matter what the Minister or I think on this subject.
Down the line the decisions around the siting of nuclear power stations will be made by the energy
utilities, who will form a view as to where the energy is needed and then run the gauntlet of
regulatory and environmental approvals, and that's a situation that's still some years away.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Dr Switkowski, on one other issue of moment today, and that's Telstra, you've got
Rupert Murdoch saying broadband is a disgrace here, and blaming both the Federal Government and
Telstra. Is he right and who's to blame?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: I think the important point here is that everybody understands how important a
high quality, high bandwidth, low-cost broadband network is to the nation - to our users and to the
economy. So to the extent that his words are an encouragement to the Government and to the company
to agree on an accelerated roll-out of high speed internet connectivity for Australia, I certainly

JENNIFER HEWETT: Well, they're not an encouragement as much as a criticism, are they, the fact that
they're not doing it?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Well, Australia remains sort of slow in its development of the broadband
development. We really have 'broadband lite' at this stage, although I gather from the investment
in the various wireless platforms that that's being rapidly addressed by Telstra and other
organisations. But is there more work to be done in Australia in this area? Absolutely.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Obviously Sol Trujillo said that there was a rapid transformation of Telstra
needed, which was a bit of a kick at your record. Do you think you should have pushed Telstra
farther and faster?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Look, I don't want to sort of fuel that particular debate. I'm quite confident
that with the passage of time that the period that I led Telstra over will be seen to have been a
very progressive one.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are you confident now that maybe that T3 is well and truly under way that the
politics of Telstra may subside?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: I think that's very unlikely, Paul. I mean, Telstra, by virtue of its
significance to the national economy and really its history, will continue to be a controversial
enterprise. The politics in the lead-up to an election are likely to be colourful.

MALCOLM FARR: Did you buy T3 shares?

ZIGGY SWITKOWSKI: Malcolm, I haven't answered that question.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us today Dr Switkowski, and thanks to the panel
Jennifer Hewett and Malcolm Farr. Until next week, good-bye.