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Howard on global warming, water, Hicks -

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Howard on global warming, water, Hicks

Broadcast: 05/02/2007

Reporter: Tony Jones

John Howard speaks to Tony Jones about global warming and the water crisis, styling himself as a
realist prepared to offer practical solutions. Mr Howard also speaks about the latest developments
surrounding David Hicks.

Transcript

TONY JONES: Well, with all those issues swirling around in the public arena, with Parliament due to
resume tomorrow and further evidence in the Australian's Newspoll that Labor, under Kevin Rudd,
continues to make inroads, we asked the Prime Minister to join us for a lengthy discussion. The one
time climate change sceptic may not have undergone a dramatic conversion but he's now gauged public
apprehension about global warming and the water crisis and he styles himself as a realist on the
issue, prepared to offer practical solutions. John Howard joined us in Parliament House just a
short time ago.

Mr Howard thanks for joining us.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Pleasure, Tony.

TONY JONES: Now, can you recall exactly when it was that you ceased being a climate change sceptic
and became, in effect, a true believer?

JOHN HOWARD: I'm a realist. True believers have a touch of the zealot about them and sometimes are
prone to exaggeration. I don't think we should be into exaggeration, but I accept that the climate
is changing. I guess, during the course of last year, I can't put an exact time on it, it wasn't a
Damascus Road conversion, I've always accepted that greenhouse gas emissions, carbon emissions,
were potentially damaging. I think the scale of it has become more apparent as a result of the
research and so on and I think we have to respond in a realistic way. I think we have to respond in
a way that doesn't damage Australia unfairly.

We have to play our part, but we have massive advantages because of our fossil fuels. We have
uranium and, therefore, the potential of nuclear power, and we want to behave in a way that plays
to Australia's strengths and protects Australia's employment. We don't want to give all of that
away in some kind of knee jerk reaction that damages the Australian economy.

TONY JONES: All right. Let's quickly ascertain what you do believe as a realist, as you put it. Do
you accept that climate change is a serious and unprecedented threat to humankind?

TONY JONES: Well, I accept that it is a challenge and, if nothing is done about it, the
consequences could be very serious. I don't think, with something like this, it's wise to adopt the
doomsday scenario. There have been plenty of examples in the past where those sorts of scenarios
have been embraced and they haven't been realised. I think we'd be foolish if we didn't apply the
insurance principle. I think we'd be very foolish if we didn't try to reduce the carbon emissions,
and the whole focus of our policy should be on reducing carbon emissions in a way that doesn't
damage the Australian economy unreasonably or unfairly.

TONY JONES: Prime Minister, what do you think living in Australia would be like by the end of this
century for your own grandchildren and for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of others, if
the temperatures, the average mean temperatures, around the world do rise by somewhere between four
and possibly even more than six degrees celsius?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, it would be less comfortable for some than it is now, but, Tony, I think it's
very, very hard for us, in 2007, to try, with that kind of mathematical accuracy, with great
respect to the scientists, to sort of extrapolate what things might be. I think all we can sensibly
do is to accept there is a problem and take sensible measures over time to tackle that problem. I
think to start working backwards from a mathematically precise scenario 94 years from now, or 93
years from now, is a bit unrealistic and I don't think it's of any benefit to you or your viewers
and I don't know that it gets us anywhere. I think what does get us somewhere is to say, "What can
we do now, in a sensible way, that doesn't hurt us, to reduce carbon emissions?"

TONY JONES: Do you accept then that coal fired power stations, internationally, are a major
contributor, if not the major contributor, to global warming?

TONY JONES: Stationary power is certainly, yes, all round the world, and that's why getting cleaner
coal, it's why looking at nuclear, which is the cleanest option of all, to run power stations you
can't run power stations, on the Australian experience, on wind and solar. You either run them on
the way they're run now, it's predominantly coal or gas or sometimes hydro, or you run them, in the
future, with nuclear. Nuclear becomes more viable economically as the cost of running coal fired
power stations increases with the adoption of cleaner technology.

TONY JONES: As a matter of principle, do you believe it is only the end-users of coal who, in fact,
are responsible for the damage that is done to the atmosphere by burning coal and putting carbon
into the atmosphere?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, look, I'm not trying to apportion blame. I'm trying to provide a response. We
are lucky as a country because we have the vast reserves of coal, we do and we're the largest coal
exporter in the world and we employ a lot of people in that industry and I'm determined that any
response we provide doesn't unfairly disadvantage or hurt them. The question of who's to blame is
not really the issue. The issue is, how can we, maintaining our economic strength, reduce the
amount of carbon we're putting into the atmosphere? Now, that's the challenge and that's why we
want to keep the nuclear option on the table, and that's why we want to look at clean coal
technology.

TONY JONES: But, as you say, Prime Minister, this country is, in fact, small in terms of its global
emissions but it is the world's biggest coal exporter, as you've just said. At the same time,
Australia may be one of the country's worst hit by global warming. Now, doesn't that lead to the
logical conclusion that at some point exporting coal, without a drastic change in how it's used,
will be against our national interest?

JOHN HOWARD: I find that hard to accept.

TONY JONES: Why is that?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, because - -

TONY JONES: If indeed coal is the major problem - - -

JOHN HOWARD: No, but if you're asking me do I think it is in Australia's interest to drastically
cut the export of coal, the answer to that is no.

TONY JONES: What I was actually going to suggest is that it is reported now that both India and
China, or together, have 600 new coal fired power stations on the drawing board. Now, do you have
any idea - given you have a sort of agreement with China, do you have any idea how many of those
600 are going to be clean coal power stations?

JOHN HOWARD: I would think at the moment very few, if any. I also know this, that the quality of
domestic coal in China is such that they would be even dirtier power stations in China if they
relied exclusively on Chinese coal rather than Australian coal, which, although dirty compared with
other power generation methods, is much cleaner and, therefore, less polluting than the Chinese
coal. In that sense, it's in our relative interests to go on exporting coal to China.

TONY JONES: By the same token, you could use the power you have as a Federal Government to pass
laws prohibiting coal being used by dirty coal fired power stations, could you not?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, you can do a whole lot of things. You can bring the economy to a standstill but
that would throw a lot of people out of work. That would be ridiculous. They're the sort of knee
jerk reactions that are unwise. What you have to do is develop a staged and measured approach to
this problem, which includes providing incentives for people to clean up the use of coal, which
omits of the use of nuclear power, which is really the cleanest of all when it comes to greenhouse
gas emissions, and, over a period of time, reduce the amount of carbon we're putting into the
atmosphere. But we could close the country down and you'd reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in
nine months China would wipe out the contribution that closing industry down in Australia has made
to the problem. So, that kind of knee jerk reaction is quite unrealistic.

TONY JONES: But you do use that principle don't you, when it comes to uranium exports, because the
Government tracks very carefully where uranium goes and how it's used? That's a power commodity.
You could do the same with coal.

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, but, Tony, there is a different issue involved there and that is nuclear
proliferation.

TONY JONES: Indeed there is, but there are some people, scientists, now arguing that the greatest
threat to the world now is global warming - - -

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, I know there are and I think - - -

TONY JONES: - - - and you've acknowledged yourself that coal fired power stations are the biggest
problem, and yet we're sending coal to dirty coal fired power stations?

JOHN HOWARD: I don't equate the threat of nuclear proliferation to the greenhouse gas problem. I
think it's of a different order altogether. You would - if nuclear weapons got into the wrong hands
and were wrongly used, you'd pretty quickly render the debate about greenhouse gas emissions pretty
theoretical.

TONY JONES: Mr Howard, let's move on. You've acknowledged market mechanisms, including carbon
pricing, will be integral to our response to climate change. How exactly do you set a price on
carbon?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, there are certain ways. One way of doing it is to issue permits and those
permits are traded and, over time, the market establishes a price. That's one way of doing it.

TONY JONES: Another way of doing it would be to make it compulsory for coal fired power stations in
Australia to use new technology. Would you consider doing that, regulating that they would have to
use the new technology you are talking about?

JOHN HOWARD: That doesn't sound very much to me like a market mechanism, when you compel somebody
to apply a particular technology. It is far better, if you want to keep faith with the market
approach, to develop a carbon pricing or carbon trading system, and, on Wednesday, the task group
that I established in December will be releasing a discussion paper on what shape a global
emissions system might take and the issues it raises and how that might relate to a system within
Australia. I think people will find that discussion paper, which has been jointly prepared by the
government and industry, as very useful and contributing a great deal to this debate.

TONY JONES: But what incentive, apart from making it compulsory, would there be for the producers
of coal fired power now in Australia, which is quite cheap, to make their power more expensive?

TONY JONES: Well, over a period of time, if you have a permit system and a trading system, there
becomes, in time, a financial cost in the use of power stations in a particular fashion, because
you're putting a price on carbon, and, therefore, the more carbon you emit the more expensive it
is. That's how a market works.

TONY JONES: So, in fact, it is inevitable, is it, that electricity will become more expensive, that
we are now living in an era which is unsustainable?

JOHN HOWARD: I think everybody should accept that, over time, things like electricity will become
more expensive, as, over time, water will become more expensive, and there's not much point anybody
saying otherwise. It's a question of how you do it and it's a question of ensuring that Australia
doesn't become the international mug and introduces a system that penalises us, to the disadvantage
of this country internationally. That's why I've been very keen to link what we might do here with
what is done internationally.

TONY JONES: But, Prime Minister, inevitably, you're saying, electricity for ordinary consumers in
this country will become much more expensive?

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, Tony, I think it will become more expensive. Whether it becomes much more
expensive depends a bit on how you do it and it also depends a bit on what you mean by "much more
expensive", but the idea that you can bring about the changes that are needed and which many people
have advocated, without there being any impact at all at any time on the cost to the consumer, is
quite unrealistic.

TONY JONES: Prime Minister, let's move onto the water emergency. Given everything we've been
talking about, are you still sceptical about the link between global warming and drought?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I think it can be pushed too far. The reality is we've had drought in this
country for many years, but, Tony, in a sense, if you're taking action in relation to both issues
it's an interesting debate but it's a bit academic.

TONY JONES: The very academic minister Malcolm Turnbull that you've put in place to oversee this
says that water availability is the most obvious manifestation of climate change in Australia. He's
not exaggerating, is he?

JOHN HOWARD: But, Tony, I'm saying whether it's obvious or less obvious or more obvious is not
really the point. The point is what you do about it. The Australian public wants practical
solutions. They don't want theoretical debates. They want something done about the Murray Darling
Basin. They want their state governments to do something about the availability of water in urban
areas. That is why there's been very strong support for the plan they announced a couple of weeks
ago, which is the first really big attempt, financially and otherwise, to tackle the problem of the
Murray Darling Basin.

Now, the question of what caused the wreckage of the Murray Darling Basin climatically is, in a
sense, secondary to doing something about it. What we're going to do with this plan is to pipe and
drain the irrigation systems of Australia. We're also going to help people pipe and drain on farm,
to reduce wastage and seepage, and we're also of course going to do something about the
over-allocation of water entitlements, by providing a $3 billion structural adjustment fund. Now,
this goes to the heart of the problem.

Now, the question of whether it was 50 per cent due to climate change or 20 per cent or 70 per
cent, with respect, is irrelevant. What, really, people want is a solution, and that is what we're
providing.

TONY JONES: A couple of quick practical questions on that. If the states agree to your plan, does
that mean the Commonwealth would then own the water which is currently owned by the states?

JOHN HOWARD: No. We would control the whole river system, and we wouldn't automatically assume the
title. We would determine the overall framework in which allocations took place, and there would be
an entitlement, there would be an arrangement, whereby irrigators would keep 50 per cent of the
water which was saved and another 50 per cent would go back into the environment.

TONY JONES: Let me ask you this. You've stressed how important it is to deal with over allocation.
Do you have any idea how much water in the Murray Darling Basin has been over-allocated and to
whom?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I can't tell you to whom, I don't carry that sort of detail in my head.

TONY JONES: In a general sense.

JOHN HOWARD: No. Well, I don't even carry it in a general sense. There's been a lot of
over-allocation in New South Wales. There's been less over-allocation in South Australia, and
there's been some over-allocation in the other states, but I can't tell you to whom. That's an
impossible question for me to answer, but it's certainly a large amount. I can't tell you the
precise figure. It's obviously thousands of gigalitres.

TONY JONES: What about companies like BHP in South Australia who get their water free as a result
of a deal with the Government in Roxby Downs and Olympic Park? Will they have to now pay for their
water?

JOHN HOWARD: We will respect any contractual rights that irrigators have and companies have. We
don't tear up contracts and we will respect people's property rights but I will make the general
observation that everybody, including big companies, has got to make a contribution.

TONY JONES: Olympic Dam, I meant, Prime Minister, of course, not Olympic Park.

We have to deal with a few other issues briefly before we leave you.

On David Hicks first, do you understand how he could be charged with attempted murder when he
clearly hasn't attempted to murder anybody?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, you assert that. You just - you just asserted that, he clearly hasn't attempted
to murder anybody I mean, it's a very - - -

TONY JONES: I'm going on what the US prosecutor said today - - -

JOHN HOWARD: No, no. Sorry - - -

TONY JONES: - - - that he had the potential to murder somebody - - -

JOHN HOWARD: No, no, I'm sorry, Tony - - -

TONY JONES: - - - that he was like an unexploded bomb, according to the US prosecutor, he hadn't
actually tried to kill anyone.

JOHN HOWARD: It's an interesting technique to keep talking through me but, if you don't mind, I go
back to what you said. You just asserted where it's clear he hasn't attempted to kill anybody. That
is a matter for the military tribunal to determine, and attempting to murder somebody is not only
constituted by pointing a gun at somebody and pulling the trigger and it not going off, or it
missing. Attempted murder can occur in other situations, and I thought the explanation that was
given this morning on ABC Radio by the American prosecutor about the preparations might, given the
circumstances, and I stress might - I don't have the assertive powers that you've demonstrated in
it might demonstrate that he's been guilty of attempted murder, but let the tribunal determine
that. I mean, this business of endeavouring to try this case every time an interview takes place
with myself or a Government Minister is ridiculous.

I want Hicks brought to trial before the commission as quickly as possible. I'm very unhappy with
the length of time it has taken and we will be harassing the Americans from now on, at every point,
to ensure that the deadlines that are set under the new legislation are met. There's a 30 day
deadline for the preliminary hearing and then 120 days after that for the trial, and we will want
those deadlines met, because nobody should think that we're happy that it's taken this long. Let us
also remember that the allegations made against this man, the allegations, are that he trained with
Al Qaeda and, in full technology of what happened on September 11, he returned to Al Qaeda and with
the full, so it is alleged, intent of continuing to operate with them.

Now, that's the allegation. It's a serious allegation and it's the reason why we have been willing
to see him tried before an American military tribunal and not bring him back to Australia where we
would have to set him free because there was no criminal offence with which he could be charged at
the time the offence has allegedly occurred. That, in a nutshell, is our position.

TONY JONES: I'm sorry to interrupt you. If he is, in fact, sentenced, he will be brought back to
Australia to serve out his time here. Is there anything to stop a future government, for example a
future Labor government, commuting his sentence, because they regard the trial as unfair, and
setting him free?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, that would be a matter for a future government. I'm not going to try to suggest
what a future government in this country might do. I can only say what the agreement with the
United States Government is, and that is that he will be brought back here to serve any sentence
that he might receive, but I don't know what the sentence is. I don't know whether it would exceed
the number of years he's now been in custody. We will, of course, be arguing very strenuously that
the time he served in custody should be offset against any sentence he receives.

Let the military commission hear the facts, let us not try this case on national television and let
us remember there is an issue of principle involved, about a person not being held indefinitely in
custody without trial. I accept that and I'm very unhappy about the length of time that's gone by
but let us also remember that this man was not an innocent abroad, on the evidence I've seen. He
deliberately trained with a terrorist organisation and the charges against him are very serious
indeed, and it would hang heavily on many people in the Australian community if they thought he was
getting off without proper trial and proper accountability for those alleged offences.

TONY JONES: Mr Howard, while we've been doing this interview I've been handed some details of
tomorrow morning's Australian newspaper Newspoll. Are you happy for me to run the bare detail past
you?

JOHN HOWARD: Please do.

TONY JONES: It appears that Mr Rudd's honeymoon with the electorate is not yet over. Labor's
primary vote has surged three points, to give them a two-party preferred 56 points to the
Coalition's 44, and it appears in the better Prime Minister stakes, Mr Rudd is just one point
behind you. Does that give you some pause for wondering whether or not this is an election year?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I don't think opinion polls determine whether it's an election year or not. I
think it's the constitution which determines which is the election year.

TONY JONES: Can't you stretch it into next year?

JOHN HOWARD: Theoretically one can but normally you hold them around about three years after the
last one. Tony, I've been here before. I was in that sort of situation, broadly speaking, in 2001
and also in 2004. Do I think I've got a tough fight? Yes, I do. Do I think the main issue in the
election will be the issues we've spent the last quarter of an hour talking about? Not the main
issue. The main issue will still be who's got the experience and capacity to guarantee a
continuation of Australia's economic prosperity. That will still dominate the election campaign
like no other issue.

Do I think the Australian people want a contest in politics? Yes. Do I know who's going to win? No.
Do I take opinion polls seriously? I read them very carefully, like every other politician worth
his or her salt.

TONY JONES: Mr Howard, it sounds like you may well have a bit of a fight this time around. We'll
have to thank you for joining us on the first program that we have back in an election year and
we'll hope to see you again soon.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm sure you will.