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Transcript of interview with Nick McCallum: Radio 3AW Melbourne: 15 December 2015: MYEFO; Green Army; National Clean Air Agreement; Paris climate summit

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for the Environment


15 December 2015



Topics: MYEFO, Green Army, National Clean Air Agreement, Paris climate summit

NICK MCCALLUM: Greg Hunt, Federal Environment Minister is here, he's in his usual slot. Good afternoon to you, Minister.

GREG HUNT: And good afternoon, Nick.

NICK MCCALLUM: Okay so there is so much to talk about.

We have the half yearly budget analysis - the update - coming out and one thing that affects you in particular is Green Army which was such a big deal - it was one of Tony Abbott's, I suppose, pet projects but there's going to be a cap on it now to try and cut back on spending.

How much is this going to hamper the program?

GREG HUNT: Look it will cap it at 5000 people per year. So that's 20,000 young Australians who will be involved in the Green Army over four years. There's no question that is a change. But it's...

NICK MCCALLUM: How much was it originally?

GREG HUNT: So we're actually this year achieving the 5000 young Australians so there's no reduction from here.

What happens is that the additional funds that would have been spent won't go over and above the 5000. So it was going to potentially go up to 15,000 young Australians, it will cap out at 5000 a year, and that's still a very significant number.

The fact is that there are many competing priorities at a time where we've had $34 billion of write-downs from largely falling commodity prices and declining terms of trade.

So you've got to make decisions, and I'd rather be completely upfront about it.

And that means 20,000 young Australians over the next four years in the Green Army.

NICK MCCALLUM: But still it would never have happened if Mr Abbott was still the Prime Minister would it?

GREG HUNT: Look I obviously just can't speculate on a parallel universe.

What I can say is that no matter who was in government, we would have faced very difficult decisions, because we have expansion of new different cancer drugs and other things which have to be paid for, with a reduction in commodity prices and $34 billion knocked off potential revenues over four years. Those two things and others mean that we had to make decisions, but...

NICK MCCALLUM: It won't be - it means it won't be the revolutionary project that it was actually touted as doesn't it?

GREG HUNT: Look it will be a long term stable project with 5000 places a year helping communities.

That's a very significant number of projects, 500 plus projects a year, 5000 people.

So it's a strong stable program. It's going very well in the communities and these are the decisions that you have to make when you've got new cancer drugs that have to be paid for, when you have declining revenue from the commodity sector and that is just a reality of life.

NICK MCCALLUM: Okay so let's move on to today, you've actually announced and signed with the states a Clean Air Agreement. What does that mean?

GREG HUNT: So we've just had a meeting with the national Government and all of the state and territory Ministers agreed on the first National Clean Air Agreement in Australian history.

It really does three things. It most importantly sets standards for particulate matters - so very small items that float in our air that the World Health Organisation believes can be - and really every reputable medical body believes can be - responsible for long term health effects.

We’re setting standards for particulate matter which means we're tightening the national standards. In addition to that we've set standards for new water heaters and new what are called non road spark ignition engines, but think garden equipment and small outboard motors.

Strangely enough Australia had lower standards than many other standards including China and we were getting poor quality equipment dumped on Australia.

There are health benefits, there are economic benefits, all up there's about $6.5 billion of avoided health and environmental costs over the next 20 years from these standards.

And so it's a very proud moment for Australia I think.

NICK MCCALLUM: So Minister, will that mean a lot of people will have to get rid of their current burners and mowers?

GREG HUNT: No this isn't about existing equipment, it's about new equipment that comes in.

There's a fairly high replacement rate, and so it's not about existing equipment as I say, it's...

NICK MCCALLUM: Will the new equipment be more expensive?

GREG HUNT: It's unlikely to be, in fact. What was happening was there was dumping in Australia, but still sales at reasonably high prices.

And the best advice we have is that the net impact will be a saving of about $6.5 billion over 20 years.

And in particular it is likely to lower the number of deaths associated with long term exposure to particulate matter, children's respiratory admissions - now this will take time to have an impact but you can't think of anything that's more important - and cardiovascular hospital admissions attributable to short term levels of particulate matter.

We have some of the best air in the world but it's still not good enough.

All the states and territories, all of the industry bodies, it's I think one of those moments where Australia's really done the right thing.

NICK MCCALLUM: Okay you must have expected this but still you must have been disappointed that there are some Coalition MPs who have taken pot shots at you, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister about the climate talks in Paris and the deal that was signed.

GREG HUNT: Look there are always views from different people and I respect those deeply.

At the end of the day, Australia has been present at the creation - we were a very important part of the outcomes in Paris, we were perhaps the critical, or one of the critical, players in the deal to phase down HFCs which is a particular gas that will save the world about 90 billion tonnes.

We were - the deal for the 2020 agreement was struck in the Australian rooms at the end of week one and then we played a very important role in the overall global agreement.

It protects Australia by bringing everybody into the cart and the beauty of it is we'll achieve our targets without an electricity tax.

Obviously our opponents want an electricity tax, we'll be able to do it without an electricity tax and...

NICK MCCALLUM: But how are we...

GREG HUNT: having others on board is...

NICK MCCALLUM: But how are we in the long term minister, going to be able to achieve some of the more ambitious aims in the longer term without cutting back on the coal industry - that's what I don't get.

I mean it's all good and fine to say we have these wonderful aims but it doesn't seem terribly practical if there is no will within the Coalition to cut back the coal industry.

GREG HUNT: Well I think what you're seeing is a quiet transition that's already occurring.

So there'll be a 19 per cent reduction in coal-fired capacity between 2010 and 2022 on current announcements.

So that's without presuming any further announcements. So that's quite significant.

At the same time we're going, over this five year period, through a doubling of large scale renewable energy and we've already become the highest per capita country in terms of household solar. We're double the next best country.

So you're actually seeing quite a transition which because it's been managed isn't making big headlines but in reality you're seeing a decrease in coal-fired capacity and a doubling of renewable capacity.

NICK MCCALLUM: But you're going to run into big problems shortly aren't you with the coal industry coming back at you?

GREG HUNT: Look I think what we've seen is a pretty strong welcoming of this from the Australian Industry Group, from the Business Council of Australia, from the Minerals Council.

So their view is that we've struck a really good balance, that the deal that comes out of Paris means that everybody for the first time is in the cart or in the tent, that means China and India, Indonesia and Brazil, South Africa and so many other major developing countries are for the first time committing to targets.

That means that we're not just doing it alone or it's not just developed countries.

And that's only good for Australia because two things happen - you get the best chance to reduce emissions, but you make sure that we're not at a competitive disadvantage.

Secondly by doing that we're also able to reap the benefits - if the other countries have technology developments, we get access to them.

NICK MCCALLUM: Okay then Minister, thank you very much indeed for your time.