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Transcript of press conference: Hobart: 29 January 2013: natural disaster fund; Whitehaven; Tim Mathieson; Carl Mather; Minerals Resource Rent Tax; EU carbon pricing; Nova Peris

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Christine Milne Australian Greens Leader

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Press conference


Subjects: Natural disaster fund, Whitehaven, Tim Mathieson, Carl Mather, Minerals Resource Rent Tax, EU carbon pricing, Nova Peris

CHRISTINE MILNE: Firstly to the natural disasters occurring around the country, particularly in Queensland, of course terrible that there have been already four lives lost, but what a tribute to our emergency services around the country that they have managed to keep the loss of life to that number. So absolute congratulations to them. And indeed to the academics around the country, I spoke to the head of the fire service in Tasmania recently who said that they credit the fact that we didn’t lose any lives in the fires in Tasmania to the learning that the Tasmanian fire service has had from the bushfire CRC. So it just shows the work that goes in around the country, academics working with people on the ground, the learning we have, we actually get somewhere and do minimise the loss of life. But anyway, all strength the arm of the emergency services around the country.

But it’s time for parliamentarians to recognise that we are going to be living with extreme weather events every year from now on. We can’t say where, we can’t say when, but what we know in a world that is increasingly warming, we are going to see more extreme events. And that means we can’t keep suggesting that this is a one-off response that is needed every time. One of the big mistakes in 2011 in response to the floods was to suggest it was a one-off event and therefore required a one-off flood levee. At the time I said we needed to have a permanent response. As Sir Nicholas Stern said a long time ago the cost of not acting is far greater than the cost of acting to respond to global warming. What we are now seeing is the need to have appropriate adaptation measures.

Now Campbell Newman opposed the flood levee in 2011, as did Tony Abbott. Now we have got a situation where Campbell Newman is calling for one. What we need is not another one-off flood levee this year, but what we do need is a permanent fund, established in Australia to assist communities to deal with the consequences of loss of infrastructure and the community infrastructure in particular and we are going to need to have local government working with state and federal governments to change regulations to make sure that we learn from where we have been in terms of replanning where people can build, the standards that they have to maintain to


build with, but also the money to assist communities to plan. It’s why I moved for the Senate Inquiry into preparedness for extreme weather events and I’m very pleased with the number of submissions coming in from around the country. But right now we need to have a reality check. Tony Abbott cannot keep suggesting that he won’t raise revenue, that he would just cut programs. Last time when he opposed the flood levee he said he would stop funding schools in Indonesia, he would stop funding the car industry. That’s how he would pay for the reconstruction last time. Well how will he pay for the reconstruction this time? He is saying that he won’t block any loopholes in the mining tax, in fact he’ll get rid of the mining tax, he will get rid of carbon pricing, and where is the money going to come from to help communities respond to these disasters?

So I think it’s time that all sides of politics sat down and said this is our future. We’ve always been a country of floods and fires and cyclones, droughts. We have had that cycle in Australia forever but when you add the impact of global warming on to that you get greater intensity and we now have to plan for it in a systemic way. So that’s why the Greens are saying let’s actually establish a permanent disaster relief and reconstruction fund and let’s sit down and work out how we would collectively raise the money to put into that fund so we can meet the needs of preparing for the disasters and then re-establishing after them.

JOURNALIST: Given that the 2011 Queensland floods cost about $5.6 billion how much money do you envisage would have to be in this permanent disaster fund and where would the money come from?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I can’t say how much should be in it, that is something we need to discuss. We also need to be talking to the insurance industry which increasingly is saying that the premiums will rise around the country, I know in terms of the floods at the moment they are saying that they won’t go up, but I’ve spoken to people in Queensland after the last floods to say that insurance premiums did increase. We need to talk to them, we need to learn from the experience in Victoria after the fires, in Tasmania, now after flood, so I can’t put a figure on it and it would be inappropriate to put a figure on it until it becomes clearer, but what we need is a system to put some money into it and then build on it. As to where the money would come from the Greens have talked about many ways of raising revenue, we’re prepared to talk to the other political parties, we will listen to that. But one way we could be looking at this is for example fossil fuel subsidies. The fossil fuel subsidy to the mining industry alone is $2 billion a year. That would make a good start. But let’s actually talk about it, let’s have a reality check. Australians like to think that we’re smart enough to anticipate where our challenges might be coming from and how to deal with them. Well I think it’s treating Australians with contempt to refuse to acknowledge that we need a permanent source of funding into the future to prepare for and deal with the impacts of these extreme weather events.

JOURNALIST: Would the money from this fund go to infrastructure or would it go to help private homeowners as well?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I’m quite keen to talk to the other parties about that and also to learn from the Senate Inquiry into preparedness. For example the bush fires CRC runs out of funding in 2014, I would like to think of that that research can continue, if not as a CRC then in some other way. So I would think that this fund could be used to support preparing for and anticipating events as well as infrastructure, assisting them afterwards. As to the extent which private householders are supported, that’s going to be the conversation that has to be had between the insurance industry


and local and state government. It is noteworthy that not only did Campbell Newman not support the flood levee last time, but he has proactively stopped the coastal protection planning policy in Queensland, he has reversed a lot of the regulations that stood there to prevent people from building on vulnerable coastal areas, because he has said Queensland’s open for business, Queensland’s about coal, we want to get all these developments up. Well now it’s quite clear what happens when people build in inappropriate areas, but nevertheless they’ve been allowed to do so by local planning schemes. So this is where you have got to have planning schemes aligned with the science of where you might expect extreme weather events, and then determine the planning schemes into the future from the learning that we have had.

JOURNALIST: Do you see tax payer funded levee, a permanent levee, as one of the options?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the flood levee was in part a tax on income and if Tony Abbott is not going to support any taxation increases then where is he going to get the money from? I think how it is funded needs to be discussed widely, the Greens had proposed for example that we have a millionaires tax in Australia, and we’ve said that that could go to improving Newstart, and to actually assisting single parents so that we don’t see more people being driven into poverty. There are lots of ways in which you might fund a disaster relief fund but let’s have first of all an acknowledgement from both the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott that we need one and that you have to put money into it. And let’s not be naive or silly enough to say to people we don’t have to raise the money. Where else is it going to come from?

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne can I just ask about the Whitehaven coal hoax, there are some differing views within the Greens on the appropriateness of the action taken by Mr Moylan, do you agree with Senator Whish-Wilson that it’s not something you would encourage or endorse, or are you more of Senator Rhiannon’s view that you’d congratulate Mr Moylan on his action, on what he achieved?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well what I’ve said is that we wouldn’t encourage anyone to take the action that Jonathan Moylan took but having said that I’ve also made quite clear that it is part of the frustration in the community that is being felt at Maules Creek, they have tried every which way to get their issue on the agenda, they have not been reported, they have not been listened to, communities around Australia, rural communities, are totally fed up with people not listening to the frustration they have about the expansion of coal seam gas, the expansion of coal mining, the loss of native vegetation, and the real question now is for Tony Burke - and that is Tony Burke, are you going to uphold our environment law and protect species such as koalas, or are you going to go with the massive increase in coal mining, coal emissions, increasing global emissions. That is the real question on the agenda here.

JOURNALIST: But to be clear you do or you do not endorse Mr Moylan’s actions?

CHRISTINE MILNE: What I have said is that I don’t encourage what Jonathan Moylan did but I understand why people take direct action in whatever way that they do that and having also said that, Mr Moylan is prepared to face the consequences, nobody is above the law and he understands that, the Greens have always understood that. And people have taken the actions they do expecting to face the legal consequences in order to raise the issue. And the big issue here is the expansion of coal mining and the cost to communities, that’s really what we have to think about, and you’ve got


Mark Vaile, former National party person, out there driving expanded coal mining and increasing global warming ultimately, that’s the big question, that’s the moral dilemma.

JOURNALIST: So you support Senator Rhiannon for congratulating Mr Moylan on his action?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I am not going to get into a conversation here about different views in the Greens. What I’m saying is I understand communities around Australia are frustrated about coal seam gas and expansion of coalmining, I understand the long tradition of direct action in Australia, but I wouldn’t encourage the action that Jonathan Moylan took and I understand that he is prepared to face the consequences of the law in this. And it really goes to show how strongly people feel about what’s happening with coal seam gas and coal in their communities that they feel so desperate that they would take some of these actions.

JOURNALIST: Where you at the Lodge last night and what did you make of Tim Mathieson’s comments?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Yes I was at the Lodge last night in order to welcome the West Indian cricket team and of course support the Prime Minister's XI. And very happy to be there to do so. Yes I was there when that remark was made, it was a tasteless remark and I understand Mr Mathieson has now apologised for having made that remark and I would say though he was attempting to raise the awareness of men's health, particularly prostate cancer so that was the context.

JOURNALIST: George Brandis says that we’re now living in the age of extreme political correctness, who do you think has fostered that kind of attitude?

CHRISTINE MILNE: This whole issue goes back to the political point scoring that occurred towards the end of last year and the context for the Prime Minister's speech on misogyny in the House. I think that people need to think very carefully about the kinds of remarks they make so that they’re not sexist, they’re not racist, they’re not having a go at people at a personal level, but rather we should be debating the issues and that’s what I would prefer to be doing.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that it has gone too far now and that people can’t just make off-the-cuff remarks?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I think actually it’s good that people are having to think about the off-the-cuff remarks that they make and reflect on those because we have got a fair way to go in Australia to actually recognise that whilst part of our culture is larrikinism, it’s led to some pretty unfortunate consequences in the way people tend to express that. So I think it’s not a bad thing that people are now forced to think about more carefully how they express themselves and what they say.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the Australian businessman Carl Mather who has been jailed in China, do you think the Australian Government is doing enough for Australians working in China?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I am not across the detail of what the Foreign Minister or the Department has done to support him. I’ve certainly made it clear in the past that I think the Government could be doing a lot more for Julian Assange for example, and it is up to the Government to support Australian citizens where ever they are in the world but I don’t know the detail personally in relation to this.


JOURNALIST: There are a number of Australian businessmen in China who are now in jail, do you think that there is a particular case for the Government to increase its efforts to support Australians who are working and living in China?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I think the Australian Government should be supporting all Australians where ever they are including in China. And I would hope that the Government is doing everything in its power to support Australian businesspeople in China, and I do think the nature of the working relationship in China is going to be problematic and it’s something that probably the Australian Government needs more work on in terms of protocols and probably more discussion with the Chinese at a higher level, but in terms of this individual case I am not across the details.

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne, presumably you don’t yet have any details on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax or what it raised, if you don’t get that by the end of the month are you in position that you would support calling Chris Jordan towards the Senate economics committee to provide that information?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Yes I’m looking forward to the Prime Minister’s speech at the Press Club tomorrow to discuss revenue raising. Clearly she has said in a letter to the Greens that by the 31st of January there will be updates and reviews in terms of the amount of money that has been raised by the resource taxes so let’s see what she actually reveals tomorrow. Having said that I was interested to see in the GST review that Martin Parkinson has said there will be no really significant changes. Now this comes back to Wayne Swan saying when asked how he would block the loopholes in the Minerals Resource Rent Tax that GST distribution was one option. Well clearly that option has been cut off. So I would invite the Treasurer to come out and say that he will now work with the Greens to block the loophole and to go back and make sure that we are not reimbursing mining companies for increased royalties from the states. As to the action we take when the Senate resumes I’m considering all those options but let me say that we want to see transparency around this because the Australian people deserve to know whether a tax has raised any money and if so how much, and if it’s not what are the possibilities for closing the loopholes so it does. I’ll come back to the point I was making before - if we’re going to prepare for disasters and to clean up after them, if we’re going to help people with national disability insurance, if we’re going to follow through with our Denticare proposals, if we’re going to implement better funding for public education through the implementation of the Gonski review, we have to pay for it. Now the Greens want to be totally responsible in this way and in fact we are the most responsible when it comes to economic management here because we are saying we have to pay for it. We called for the Government to abandon the surplus and I’m glad they’ve done that because that was leading to very bad outcomes but that is not enough, we also have to raise money for the things that we want to implement and this is where both Tony Abbott and the Prime Minister really are out there making what are effectively hollow promises to the Australian people, unless they are prepared to say how they would raise the money to pay for it.

JOURNALIST: Senator do you expect that if the mining tax loophole is closed and state royalties no longer have to be refunded that mining tax revenue could fund the NDIS, a disaster insurance pool, Denticare and all of these spending commitments that you’re talking about?

CHRISTINE MILNE: It’s not enough on its own, but it’s a start. We would have preferred to have had the super profits tax and the finance that we’ve had looked at had that if we had gone back to the


original tax we would have had $26 billion over the forward estimates on the modelling at that time. It’s not enough on its own but it’s a start. Just like getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies isn’t enough on its own but it’s a start. The main thing is it that you need to have a change of mindset. Tony Abbott can’t go around telling people that he is going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as little as five percent but nevertheless he’s going to, without saying where he is going to get the money from. Just like the Prime Minister, she can’t be saying to people she intends to implement Gonski and national disability without saying where she is going to raise the money. What we are saying is we will work with them to do so, just as we worked with the Government previously, the Rudd Government to get the stimulus package through, we will work with governments to raise money so we can deliver good outcomes for people and the environment.

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne the European carbon price dipped to a new low last week and there’s various policy options under discussion, what policy implications does this have for Australia’s carbon price now that it’s linked to a European scheme?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I was very disappointed to see the European carbon price drop to a new low recently. I saw that was because of a recommendation made by a subcommittee in the EU in March. It actually goes up for a vote in the EU and I’m looking forward to that because I hope that Connie Hedergaard and others by then will be getting some real discussion happening. The thing about the EU is they have such a pipeline of investment in renewable energy, the Germans in particular are doing a massive rollout of renewables and new grid infrastructure, offshore wind energy, in the UK it’s exactly the same, they need that carbon price restored. And the big problem of course is Poland and with Poland blocking in parts of the EU the question is how far they can go. But, we have to remain confident that the EU will put in place a delayed auction at the very least to get the price back up again.

JOURNALIST: - and the implications for Australia if that doesn’t occur? If the European carbon price continues to trend downwards?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well whatever the European price is, it’s likely to be higher than the CDM price would have been in the absence of European linking. The key thing from my point of view is by 2015 I want the European price to be at least what the floor price would have been and I’m confident that the EU will have moved in that timeframe for that to occur.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it will be what Treasury has modelled though?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well Treasury modelling was based on the best advice at the time-

JOURNALIST: Is that now redundant?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I’m not going to go into predicting what a 2015 European price will be, but I am confident that it will be more than the CDM price which is where we would have ended up being linked by 2018. So the big advantage of linking to the European Union is that we have given people certainty in terms of a forward cost curve, they know that they are looking at the European price, of course you’ve also got some banks now buying at very cheap prices in order to sell in the futures market, that’s part of the carbon trading and finance market. But I remain hopeful that the European Union will get its act together, do some delayed auctions, get the price up in the context of the next couple of years.


JOURNALIST: In the meantime should Treasury remodel?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well we’ve now got the system in place, whatever the modelling says we have a system in place that will prepare us for the transition in 2015 and no amount of modelling will change that.

JOURNALIST: Just briefly on Nova Peris do you think the controversy over the process has marred the sense of occasion in nominating her?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well yes I do. I have met Nova on a few occasions, I think she is a very nice person, and she has done a lot for, particularly as a role model for young people around Australia and young indigenous people around Australia, but certainly the controversy hasn’t helped. I do not know whether they have announced the outcome of the preselection as yet, presumably she’ll get it as the Captain’s pick, but I do think the controversy has in some way undermined her status if she turns out to be the ALP’s senate candidate in the Northern Territory.