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Early Agenda -

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KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning and welcome to the first AM Agenda for the year. The government's
efforts to win over the Independents on the flood response will gain some momentum today, with some
of the key crossbenchers to receive briefings from members of the Prime Minister's office. Coming
up on the program to discuss our panel, Mitch Fifield and Labor MP Andrew Leigh. First though,
we've got with us the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet. Mr Combet, thanks for your time.

GREG COMBET: Pleasure.

KIERAN GILBERT: The briefing start today in earnest, with the Independents. What's your sense? Will
you win them over on it?

GREG COMBET: Oh, let's wait and see on that. I think they want to understand the issues in detail,
so the government will be going through the issues. But I think the fundamentals are what's really
important and the fundamentals are that people in Queensland need help. These have been devastating
floods. It's going to take a huge restructuring and rebuilding effort. Australians have already
been generous to the extent that there's about $180 million has been donated to the Premier's
Appeal. That will help many individual Australians in Queensland. But the estimated cost of
rebuilding things like public infrastructure, thousands of kilometres of roads and railway lines,
for example, is in the order of $5.6 billion and the government has put together a package to try
and address that need. That will be critical for jobs, that will be critical for our economy. We
need to get on with it. We've put a balanced package together; two-thirds of it from spending cuts,
one-third of it from the proposed levy. No-one under $50,000 a year, earning that much, will pay
anything. Someone on $60,000 a year will pay just under a dollar a week and someone on $80,000 a
year, about $2.88 a week for 12 months. It's a modest ask to help people in Queensland who need it.
And I think the package...

KIERAN GILBERT: But the Independents know...

GREG COMBET: ...should be supported.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well the Independents are saying they've got an open mind, but they're also saying,
for example, Tony Windsor wants a disaster relief fund. Nick Xenophon wants a national insurance
scheme. These are bigger picture, broader issues, but the Prime Minister seems to be brushing them
off at the moment. She wants urgency. Won't you need to compromise though to get these key people
across the line?

GREG COMBET: But let's not - we'll listen to all of that and consider all those issues of course.
However, there is an urgent need here. We've got a package to help people in Queensland who need it
now. And yes, we can talk about longer term issues and the affect of extreme weather events, but
the most urgent, important need we have now is to help other Australians who need it. To try and
get the Queensland economy and, therefore, a major part of the Australian economy, back on its
feet. We want to focus on that. We've got a balanced package that asks for a modest contribution
from people earning in excess of $50,000 a year. You now, for someone on 80 grand it's less than a
cup of coffee. We think that, you know, with the spirit and the values that we hold dear in this
country, of caring for each other and giving people a helping hand when you need, that that's what
we need to focus on right now.

KIERAN GILBERT: But you are - okay, but you're willing to look at these ideas like Xenophon's idea,
like Mr Windsor's idea of those longer term arrangements and also, I suppose, to placate the
concerns of the people like Senator Xenophon who are worried about the government's issues here,
that the money's going to be spent right.

GREG COMBET: Well as Mr Xenophon and others are briefed about these issues, they'll have explained
to them the proposed governance arrangements and we'll ensure value for money in the reconstruction
effort. And, look, all these issues that are being raised are, of course, are valid; they need to
be considered. But I keep coming back to the fact, you see the devastation in Queensland - people
need help. Can we please stop having the political arguments, you know, that Mr Abbott in
particular is promoting, and focus on what needs to be done to help people. And Mr Abbott's
basically said over the weekend, for example, that he wants to try and use this crisis to coast in
to achieve a change of government, become Prime Minister. This is precisely the sort of thing that
we don't need. We need to unify as a country and deal with the crisis that we currently face and
help people get back on their feet and help the economy get back on its feet. Frankly, some of the
contributions that Mr Abbott's made, I find disgusting. I think it's demonstrated he is not fit to
be Prime Minister. He should support the government's package. We should all pull together, to get
it in place, and help people. That's what's needed.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well can you clarify for me, on that issue of that national insurance scheme
proposed by Nick Xenophon and the disaster relief fund, are these measures that you would be open
to in the longer term?

GREG COMBET: Well these are issues that they will raise and that will be discussed. But the thing
that the government will be saying, that we have been saying, is that we've got an immediate,
urgent need to get this package through the help people in Queensland.

KIERAN GILBERT: And so are you open to it? Are you open to these or not?

GREG COMBET: Look, we need - can we please get this through and help people in Queensland. That is
- that is what we've really got to do here and help people in Victoria. That's what's needed. Let's
get that sorted and we'll look at the longer term issues in due course. But we've got an urgent
priority; a crisis on our hands. Let's get on with it.

KIERAN GILBERT: Some of the dud policies that you inherited as Climate Change Minister - cash for
clunkers, a few of the others - went by the wayside. Was that a chance to clean up some of the
areas in your portfolio that were a bit messy?

GREG COMBET: I think you and I have spoken about this on previous occasions, on Sky Agenda, that
there have been programs in the area that I've been looking at for some time including some that
were subject of the announcement and we've been looking at them from the point of view of
efficiency and effectiveness and also whether the programs are spending the money had been
allocated to them and so there are a number of programs from which some of the savings have been
made that we think are appropriate for purposes such as this and...

KIERAN GILBERT: And they probably would have been cut anyway, wouldn't they?

GREG COMBET: But at the end of the day when you've got spending priorities, and I think it's fair
to say that the flood devastated areas are a spending priority, then you've got allocate funds to
achieve your priorities.

KIERAN GILBERT: But some of these were duds...

GREG COMBET: That's what we've done on this occasion.

KIERAN GILBERT: Some of these were duds and they were on the way out anyway.

GREG COMBET: I'm not going to - I'm not going to call them duds but I think dealing with the
devastation of the floods, you know, a $5.6 billion infrastructure rebuilding exercise that's
needed in Queensland alone, I think that's a priority from my point of view and I'd rather be
spending the money there.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Front page of the Financial Review, just one last issue I want to ask you
about. Labor warned on carbon price is the headline and Ross Garnaut warns that any future
emissions regime's going to cost more than the original ETS. He says when adjustment comes about it
will be forced into a shorter period, faster adjustment is always more expensive than gradual
adjustment so this carbon price you're working towards is going to be more expensive than the ETS

GREG COMBET: No, I don't think that's the correct conclusion to draw but the point that Professor
Garnaut is making and that the Government has been making for the last few years, is that the
longer you put this off the more difficult and more expensive the adjustment in the economy will

KIERAN GILBERT: But you've already put it off.

GREG COMBET: That's the point.

KIERAN GILBERT: The point is, you've just put it off two years.

GREG COMBET: Well, actually it was defeated three times in the Senate by the Greens and the
Coalition, Kieran, is the fact of the matter. The Government made every effort to get a carbon
price into our economy in the last term of government. It's my job now to try and achieve that
economic reform for good purpose and I'll be fighting very hard to achieve it in this term of

KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks for being with us on our first edition of AM Agenda for the year. We hope to
chat many times throughout 2011.

GREG COMBET: Me too. See you.

KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks. Cheers.