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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Canberra: 23 May 2011: Youth Allowance; carbon price; Western Australia



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Transcript of joint doorstop interview, Canberra MON 23 MAY 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Youth Allowance, Carbon price; Western Australia

PM: I’m here at the University of Canberra and thank you very much to the friends just over there who have shown us around this university. I’m here with Chris Evans, the relevant Minister.

We’ve had the opportunity today to meet with some students who are the first students in their family to go to university, people who have come here despite a disadvantaged background. There have been some great stories, and it’s been wonderful to be able to meet with individuals who are the face of the change that we’re bringing to universities.

In the last few weeks we’ve brought down the budget, and the budget’s been all about jobs and opportunity, and they are jobs that people are filling today, they are opportunities that people are seizing today.

The budget, as it builds on jobs and opportunities, is building on our past reforms and we’ve come here today to talk about the importance of some of the reforms that we’ve brought into universities. As a result of our reforms the number of places for undergraduates at university has grown by 50,000, and the enrolment of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds has also grown, as has the participation of rural and regional students, and as a result of our Youth Allowance reforms we are better delivering Youth Allowance support to students from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds and rural and regional backgrounds.

So, to give you just a few of those statistics: an extra 21,000 university students are now receiving Youth Allowance. That’s a 15 per cent increase compared with March 2010.

The number of dependent university students from disadvantaged backgrounds has more than doubled. It’s increase by 108 per cent.

The number of rural and regional university students receiving Youth Allowance has increased by 22 per cent, and the cumulative effect of all of these changes is that more than 107,000 young people have benefited either by becoming eligible for Youth Allowance for the first time or receiving more money than before.

More than 36,000 of these young people are from rural or regional Australia, and of course the scholarships that we’ve also provided are assisting students, too. More than 240,000 university students have received our Start Up scholarships. That’s more than 55,000 from

rural and regional areas and more than 36,00 university students have got the money to help them relocate when they need to move away from home to take an opportunity at a university and more than 15,000 of those are from rural and regional areas.

I’m very pleased that our additional investments in higher education have had precisely the effect that we wanted them to have. It’s grown the number of places available, so it’s grown opportunities for Australians to study at our great universities. It’s directed support so we increase the enrolment of students from low SES backgrounds - I didn’t want our university system to be one where some Australians couldn’t get the benefit of opportunity. And it’s also increased participation from rural and regional areas, and we know unfortunately under the Howard Government the participation of those students was going down. Now we see it lifting again and that’s great news.

I’d like to thank the University of Canberra for helping us share this story by introducing some students who have lived this experience that I’m talking about today, people who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are here now seizing the benefit of opportunity.

I also wanted to take this moment to say some things about the Climate Commission report that was released a little bit earlier today. It was formally handed over to me by our Climate Commission and I very much thank them for the work that this report represents.

Now what this report is telling us, it is confirming that this is a critical decade for taking action on climate change and here we are in 2011 and this is a critical year, this is the critical year in which I am determined that we will price carbon.

Now, the facts and figures in this report certainly bear study, but what they confirm is that climate change is real; our planet is warming; and that has huge effects for the Australian economy in the future and for our environment in the future, for the lifestyle that we want to have.

What the report confirms is that in the last 50 years the number of record hot days in Australia has more than doubled and the last decade was the warmest on record since 1961. It confirms that sea levels are rising and if they continue to rise as this report projects we may see a doubling of the risk of coastal flooding.

The report confirms the Great Barrier Reef has already sustained significant damage and the report says ocean acidity is expected to increase, which will have severe consequences for marine life.

All of the information in this report about the impacts of climate change, about how climate change is real and it’s making a difference to Australia and Australians today strengthens in me my determination to make sure we price carbon. We have to price carbon to cut carbon pollution. We have to price carbon to address dangerous climate change.

I would say to everyone this Climate Commission work is a very good report confirming climate change is real and the time to act by pricing carbon is this year, so carbon can be priced from the middle of next year.

I’m very happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Given the dire warnings in that report are you now considering a higher starting price for the carbon tax?

PM: We will announce the details of the starting price and the design of the scheme in the middle of the year, as promised. This information is confirming information that we knew: that climate change is real and it’s having a real impact. We need to get on and to price carbon to cut carbon pollution.

What this report is telling us is we need to cut carbon pollution and the most efficient way of doing that is to put a price on carbon.

JOURNALIST: So this report’s telling you what you already know?

PM: Well, this report is a peer-reviewed work by scientists and it’s confirming that climate change is real. Of course, it’s building on past work, past work that’s been available from climate scientists, and that work is verifying to Australians climate change is real, it has real effects, effects that we can observe now and effects that we can extrapolate into the future - effects about our planet warming, about sea levels rising, about ocean acidity increasing, about impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.

Of course, the scientists who have put this together have drawn together the most recent information and that’s very welcome, but the central premise of the report was already known to Government and that’s why we determined to price carbon. The central premise is: climate change is real and to address climate change we need to cut carbon pollution.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the young people that you have just met, there are various critics of your budget from various places, the Opposition, whatever.

When you meet people such as those as you met today, does it sort of reinforce in your mind your personal commitment to equality of education which is what you’ve been on about since ever you’ve been in Government, and does it confirm also for you that when you’re writing a budget you need to make choices, this is a choice you’re making?

PM: Absolutely, I mean I’ve been determined across my life, including my life in the Australian Parliament, to make a difference for opportunity and for education. I know what that’s like from my own personal experience. I know what it’s like to get a go and to get to go to university. I wouldn’t have gone to university if it hadn’t been for the reforms of the Whitlam Government.

We met today some students who are getting the benefits of the reforms that we are delivering, reforms to grow the number of students who get a chance at university, reforms to grow the number of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who get a chance at university. At the moment, or in the past, they’ve all too frequently missed out. We are

growing the numbers of poor kids who get a chance, that is poor kids who have got all of the

wherewithal to get a university education but we’re locked out of the gates of universities simply because of their family background - we’re changing that, and we’re changing the participation of rural and regional students. Now a lot is said about that but the figures don’t lie - under the Howard Government the participation of rural and regional kids in university was going down, now it’s coming back up; so our reforms delivering. This is a good example of how reforms to create opportunity can make a real life difference for Australians and the recent budget brings more of those reforms.

JOURNALIST: What does it say to you about the need to approach it from the school end as well, because if the kids from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t apply or can’t get through school to a point where they can get into an institution, then they can’t, so what are you doing at the school level about improving their access?

PM: Well, that’s a very important point and we are delivering more resources to schools than ever before and we are driving a huge reform agenda in schools - a reform agenda about transparency, about teacher quality, about attendance, about literacy and numeracy, about aspiration and a culture of aspiration and high expectations. This is the reform agenda we’re driving for every child, in every school.

We’ve also deliberately made a stream of money that flows to universities contingent on them doing good work for low SES students and many universities are, as a result, buddying up with schools, buddying up with disadvantaged schools so they can take university professors, students, into those disadvantaged schools and they can show them that university isn’t something that’s beyond their reckoning of their live experience - university is something that’s come to them and they should think about it as a choice.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the mining tax, have you or the Treasurer had any conversations with Colin Barnett over the weekend about (inaudible).

PM: No, I haven’t.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with the Commission’s recommendation, it would appear to suggest that a higher carbon price is needed to force industry into more energy efficient production measures. Does this mean that the Government would think of a carbon price closer to $30, if not $40?

PM: Nice try, but we will announce the carbon price and the design of the scheme in the middle of the year, as announced.

JOURNALIST: How are the negotiations going with the Greens, though?

PM: Well, we’ll announce the carbon price and the design of the scheme in the middle of the year and let’s just be clear - the purpose of carbon pricing is, of course, to drive change, to cut carbon pollution, to have businesses innovate to cut carbon pollution. This is about the 1,000 biggest polluters, the businesses that create the most pollution, that they currently put into the atmosphere for nothing, paying a price, and if they pay that price they will innovate and change, they will cut carbon pollution. That’s what the scheme is designed to do.

We are, of course, still consulting with business and other stakeholders to get the design of the scheme right and all of the details will be available in the middle of the year.

In the meantime, can I just offer these words of counsel - anybody who’s speculating about what the price is, or what the price impacts are likely to be, is simply making figures up and anybody who’s speculating about those things tends not to also explain that there will be generous assistance to Australian households.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is it starting to get frustrating for you in a political sense, for the fact that you do have to wait until July, or whenever it is, for the details to come out? Because I think even as we speak your opponent, Tony Abbott, is out some place in Queanbeyan, presumably bashing you again about this. It must be frustrating.

PM: And I trust any claims made have a appropriately critical and sceptical eye run over them, because if he uses a dollar figure, he’s making it up and if he’s at a business, which isn’t amongst the 1,000 biggest polluters in the country, well I hope people ask him about that as well and they might also ask him about Malcolm Turnbull’s belling the cat last week, that of course, because Tony Abbott’s a climate change sceptic, he’s designed a scheme that won’t work, but which will be very costly for Australian taxpayers.

JOURNALIST: I asked whether you were becoming frustrated, not about (inaudible)

PM: I’m very happy to keep explaining climate change and carbon pricing and in part, apart from celebrating today with some great young Australians about the opportunities in Australians universities today, of course today, with the Climate Commission report, is a day on which people will be talking about and thinking about climate change. It’s real, it’s here, it’s making a difference to Australia, it will make a bigger difference in the future. We have to cut carbon pollution and to get that done we have to start cutting carbon pollution through making the decision this year and bringing it into effect next year.

What the report makes clear is the later you start, the harder it is going to be to cut carbon pollution by the amount we need to.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister?

PM: Sure, we’ll just come over here first.

JOURNALIST: The Commission was tasked with building a consensus on the issue of climate change and the fact that it was real. You say that you already knew that, that those were the facts. Do you think this report is going to do it and what do you say to the critics of the report who say it’s not worth the paper that the Government paid for?

PM: Well, this is a report from scientists, from scientists who have gone and put a report together which is peer reviewed. Now, to anybody who says ‘we’ll they’ve got a better view of the science than the scientists who wrote this report’, then I trust they submit any claim they’re making to the same kind of rigour.

These are climate scientists. We don’t have time - the point I made on the weekend - we don’t have time for false claims in this debate. The science is in, climate change is real. The science is clear, carbon pollution - man-made carbon pollution - is making a difference to our planet and our climate. We don’t have time for people who don’t have the qualifications and don’t submit their claims to proper scrutiny to try and distort this debate. We’ve got to get on with the job of cutting carbon putting and having a rational debate about it.

JOURNALIST: Will the report build a consensus, do you believe?

PM: I think people always want to see work from experts, this is work from experts and of course the Climate Commission is also travelling round the country, meeting with local communities, so people have the opportunity face to face to talk to them about the science and to ask them any questions that may be on their mind.

I mean, let’s be clear, this is of course not the first report about climate change. Climate change has been the subject of scientific inquiry and report for decades now. That’s why politicians in the past, like Margaret Thatcher, were persuaded that climate change was real. This does bring together the most recent information, the very valuable contribution as a result and I’d say that it’s very important for people to look at it and to digest it and people who want to make claims about climate science should look at this report and shouldn’t be trying to distract people with false claims.

Now, I know for example, Dennis Jensen, one of the Liberal Party members, is out today with his climate change denial - well, that might be something that Tony Abbott agrees with. We understand that because Malcolm Turnbull says he’s designed a scheme that won’t work, but this is the credentialed scientific work in front of us now.

JOURNALIST: I’m just wondering what the next stage of negotiations is for your Government, with the West Australian Government, over the mining tax (inaudible)?

PM: Well, as we’ve made clear, the royalties increase that Premier Barnett has made, we are concerned about that. Of course I have regular meetings and discussions with Western Australia about a whole range of issues - about health, about education, about prospects for the economy, about mining as well.

So I anticipate this will be the subject of discussion too.

JOURNALIST: Do you endorse everything in the climate change report? Do you endorse it totally?

PM: I’m not a climate scientist and that, I think, is actually a question that leads us to thinking about how this debate should be conducted. If a doctor said to me that, after medical research, if a doctor came into my office and said ‘something causes cancer and we can make a difference to it’, then I would accept it.

When I first met Ian Fraser and he told me he had a cervical cancer vaccine that could cut the rates of cervical cancer for women and girls, I didn’t pretend to myself that I knew enough about cancer to second guess whether what he was telling me was right. I accepted it, he was right, he’s a scientist.

We’ve got climate scientists here who are telling us exactly the same about the nature of global warming and the climate of our planet. I am not in a position to second guess what they say. We need to accept the science and our society in the past has accepted the science. We accepted that smoking caused cancer, that’s why we acted on cigarettes. We’ve accepted medical inventions and we’ve integrated them into the way that we do things. Vaccines - a fantastic example. Why do we vaccinate kids? Because we know the science is right and here we are today, good credentialed scientists telling us our climate is changing and what the

effects of it are. Of course, we’ve got to act on it and the cheapest and most efficient way of acting on it is to price carbon.

We can’t let this debate be waylaid by people who don’t accept the science. No-one in this country would have said it was acceptable to not fund Ian Fraser’s cervical cancer vaccine because a radio personality thought that it wasn’t going to be any good. No-one would have accepted that. Well, the same applies to this debate.

JOURNALIST: Is Tim Flannery a climate scientist?

PM: Will Steffan - as Tim Flannery has said consistently and publicly, and as he said to me today, this has been put together by the climate scientists on the commission and it’s been peer reviewed.

Thank you