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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Queanbeyan, NSW: 12 August 2015: visit to Green Army river corridor and urban bushland restoration project; Australia's 2030 emissions reduction target; same-sex marriage



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PRIME MINISTER

12 August 2015

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND DR PETER HENDY MP,

FEDERAL MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO, QUEANBEYAN, NEW SOUTH WALES

Subjects: Visit to Green Army river corridor and urban bushland restoration project; Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target; same-sex marriage.

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………

PETER HENDY:

Welcome, everybody, we are particularly enjoying the environment today and we are here in Queanbeyan in Eden-Monaro, the Prime Minister is here, Greg Hunt the Minister for the Environment is here to meet the supervisor and team, Mayor Tim Overall is here, but we are here to meet a Green Army team who have been working here in Queanbeyan on the Green Army project which is some very practical environmentalism that I think is scoring real runs for the Governments in terms of its environment policy and also for training young people. I would just like to again invite the Prime Minister to give us a few words.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much, Peter. It is great to be here in Queanbeyan. Great to be here with Minister Greg Hunt and the local member, Peter Hendy, to talk about the Green Army which I hope will be one of the signature programmes and policies of the Abbott Government.

As you might know, some years ago in the early days of the Howard Government I was responsible for something called the Green Corps which was, if you like, a smaller prototype version of the Green Army which is now marching to the rescue of degraded woods, degraded waterways, degraded bushland. This is a very large-scale exercise in practical environmental restoration; it's tree-planting, it’s track creation, it’s weed eradication, it’s feral animal eradication. These are all things which the Green Army is doing and it’s a $700 million project over the forward estimates and it will build up to 1500 projects every year -1500 projects and 15,000 participants every year.

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So, it’s good news for our environment and it’s good news for jobs and, frankly, this is where our environmental credentials meet our economic credentials. I don’t believe that we have to choose the environment before the economy. I think it’s possible to choose both. I think it’s possible and necessary to ensure that we boost the environment in ways which don’t damage the economy, in fact as far as possible enhance the economy, and certainly if we can get our land care better, we will obviously ultimately have a more productive country and a stronger economy.

Today’s launch of the fourth round of Green Army projects supplements the very important announcement from the Government yesterday of our emissions reductions targets for 2030. The 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction target which was announced yesterday is very comparable with that of our like-minded economies. We are reducing our emissions per person by no less than 50 per cent. This is actually the best performance in the developed world amongst the countries which have so far announced a 2030 target. It’s economically responsible, it’s environmentally responsible and of course there’s a clear contrast with our opponents who today could not say what their targets were.

Of course they weren’t so shy at their National Conference a couple of weeks ago - there, they endorsed the Climate Change Authority targets of 40-60 per cent and, as we know, to achieve that will require a carbon tax in excess of $200 a tonne. It will require 50 per cent renewables which means $85 billion-plus over-build of capacity. So, with the Government you get a better, cleaner environment, you get a stronger more secure economy, and frankly, with the other side you get neither.

I want to again thank Minister Hunt for the work he’s done so well for five years now as the Coalition’s environment spokesman and now a really outstanding Minister for the Environment and invite him to support these remarks.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER:

Thanks very much to the Prime Minister and to Peter and also to the Mayor. This project here in Queanbeyan is an example of young people in the environment. The river bank and bushland restoration is exactly what we want our young people to be doing. They work rain, hail or shine - as we can see. They work hard. We’re immensely proud of them and even more importantly, so many young Green Army participants have said they’re immensely proud of what they do and their community is giving them feedback that they’re doing a great job and these are young people making progress.

In terms of the Green Army, as the Prime Minister said, a $700 million allocation, we’ve announced 700 projects already, over 350 have commenced or completed. We’re ahead of our schedule which is tremendous and young people are being trained, they’re getting jobs, they’re going into the field, they’re learning skills and today we’re announcing round four which has a special focus on heritage, on rural, remote and Indigenous and on the reef and threatened species. We want young people to be in the field doing good things for the environment, good things for themselves. Above all else, this is an exemplar of local people and local projects and it comes on the back of what we’ve done yesterday with our targets. I’m really delighted with both projects but above all else I’m proud of Maree, Nonda and Caitlin and our young people who are in the field.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much. Do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, if you're going to have a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, why not have it at the next election to save millions of dollars, save people the inconvenience of going to the polls again?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think the public mind having a say on these things and while obviously this is a Government which wants to minimise expense, by the same token we do want the public to have a say on this. That was the strong disposition that came out of the Party Room meeting yesterday - the very long and, I think, really very decent Party Room that we had yesterday: a very strong commitment to maintain the existing position for this term of Parliament but a belief, given all the circumstances, that it should go to the people in the next term of parliament, that this in the end is so personal, so sensitive, so intimate, if you like, that it really should be decided by people rather than by Parliament.

QUESTION:

Why not do it at the election when people are voting anyway?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the election will be a very clear choice between a Government with a strong record which has a proven competence at building a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia, a Government which is focused on jobs, growth and community safety and an Opposition which frankly hasn’t learned and can’t change. So, I think really the next election will rightly be a contest between two political movements - two very different political movements - and then I think we can have a separate discussion about where we should go with this important subject.

QUESTION:

Polls consistently show majority public support for same-sex marriage so by advocating a plebiscite are you conceding that marriage equality is inevitable?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that it’s right that our country should consider where we want to go on this. Obviously, for many, many, many centuries there’s been a settled position on this. In recent times there’s been a strong social movement for change. The Coalition has had a settled and strong position on this for quite some time. We decided to keep faith with the position we took to the last election - the position that we’ve had for quite some time - for this term of Parliament, but let’s give the people their say in the next term of Parliament.

QUESTION:

There was no commitment in the Party Room to a plebiscite idea. How would you describe the decision to have a plebiscite after the next election? Would you call it a leader’s call or a captain’s pick?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we had a very long, very respectful, very sensible, very decent discussion yesterday. It went for about six hours and more than 90 members of the Coalition Party Room had their say - about 60 backbenchers, about 30 frontbenchers. I didn’t try in any way to limit or direct discussion. I spoke at the end of the discussion as I thought was appropriate given that everyone knows where I stand on this particular issue. The important thing was to have a good way forward which respected the commitments that we made to the people at the election, the commitments that we've historically and traditionally had, but at the same time acknowledge the possibility of change. Now, given that this is a very personal, very sensitive subject, the decision that ultimately emerged was that in the next term of Parliament our strong disposition is to put it to the people and that means that going into the next election, you’ll have the Labor Party which wants it to go to a Parliamentary vote and you’ve got the Coalition that wants it to go to a people’s vote.

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QUESTION:

Are you not worried, though, that it could hurt you at the next election? One frontbencher says that he could lose his seat over this issue. Could this not cost you seats?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe that we’ve got a very good way forward, a very fair way forward. What could be fairer than asking the people to tell us what they think on this and agreeing to be bound by whatever the outcome of that people’s vote is? What could be fairer than that? If the people want to change, fine. If the people decide to support the existing definition of marriage between a man and a woman, obviously I’d be pleased and I think everyone else should accept that.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, on the question of public funding for a plebiscite, would both the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ campaigns be jointly publicly funded and would you look at holding it perhaps in conjunction with the referendum on Indigenous recognition in 2017?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve always said that the Indigenous recognition referendum should be dealt with on its own merits and it wouldn’t be my disposition, I've got to say, to hold them concurrently. I think out of respect for Indigenous people, we need to make that particular day, that particular decision all about them, frankly. My disposition, likewise, would not be to hold this people’s vote concurrently with an election because, again, I think that people ought to be able to focus on the differences between a strong and competent Government and an Opposition which hasn’t learned and can’t change.

Nevertheless, these are simply my dispositions. We haven’t finalised what we’ll do. Our strong disposition is to take it to the people in the next term of Parliament while maintaining the position we took to the last election for the duration of this Parliament.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you met with Warren Entsch this morning. What was discussed and what assurances did you give him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, I don’t normally go into the details of private conversations. Warren and I have known each other for a long time. He’s a good friend of mine, he’s an outstanding member of the Coalition Party Room. I deeply respect his position on this. I respectfully disagree with him, but obviously, I want to work with him to try to ensure that we have a good way forward and I believe that’s what we can do.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, will you make sure a Private Members’ Bill on this subject doesn't go to the Parliament and risk putting frontbenchers on the spot? And, secondly, the option for a referendum, what’s the rationale behind that? Do you think that would lead to a permanent outcome to stop political parties in the future putting bills forward on this subject or leaving it open to the interpretation of the courts?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I think the only way to successfully and satisfactorily settle this matter, given that it is so personal and given that so many people have strong feelings on either side of this, the only way to settle it with the least rancour, if you like, is to ask the people to make a choice because all of us are instinctive democrats. We don’t always get what we want but we accept in our country that the people’s vote settles things. Now, that’s why I think the Party Room moved strongly as the debate moved on to this particular position. So, I think that is the best way forward.

As for a Private Members’ Bill, look, the Private Members’ Bill that Warren Entsch and others have indicated they want to bring forward, that will be dealt with in the usual way. It is unusual, at least in the House of Representatives, for Private Members’ Bills to come on for a vote. As I said, it will be dealt with in the usual way. The first thing is for it to go to the selection committee.

QUESTION:

Do you expect frontbenchers to uphold the official position of the Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a policy position on this for the duration of this term of Parliament and I would expect the usual rules to apply.

QUESTION:

Would you like a public vote on this to be compulsory or voluntary and when it goes, or if it goes to the public, would you like to see the decision made based on an overall majority - a simple majority - or a majority of the public in each state and territory?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, these are matters that we will now be working on and we'll have plenty to say on them prior to the election. But what we had yesterday was a really good discussion. I think that my colleagues were proud of each other, didn’t always agree with each other, but certainly, I think we could all be proud of each other as a result of the very decent and respectful debate that we had yesterday. What emerged from that was very strong support - two to one support - for the existing position but a disposition to put it to the people in the next term of Parliament and what could be fairer than that?

Thank you.

[ends]