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Transcript of Press Conferene of the Leader of the Opposition with Anthony Albanese: Sydney: 13 February 2005: Kyoto Agreement; Cornelia Rau; regional rorts.

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ALBANESE: Thanks everyone for coming. My name is Anthony Albanese I’m the Shadow Environment Minister. Of course Kim Beazley you know and Linda Burney is the first indigenous person elected to the New South Wales Parliament and is the state Member for Canterbury. Today we’re here to draw attention to

the fact that on Wednesday there will be an historic agreement. The Kyoto Protocol comes into effect. This has been fifteen years in the making. It began in 1990 at the United Nations. Then at Rio in 1992 the international community determined to do something about climate change. It took five years of negotiations to get to the point whereby the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.

Australia was of course one of the original signatories to that Protocol and at the time it was hailed by the Prime Minister, John Howard, as being good for jobs and good for the environment. That agreement enabled Australia to have emissions increased by eight per cent from its 1990 levels during the period in which Kyoto is effective from 2008 to 2012. Internationally, it allows for a reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions of five per cent from industrialised countries over that period. Since then 140 countries plus the European Union have ratified the agreement. That’s not surprising because we know that climate change is the number one environmental issue facing the international community.

We know because we’re experiencing in Australia already the kind of effects that the climate change will occur, an increased number of droughts and water shortages, damage to the Great Barrier Reef due to coral bleaching, difficulties with our rivers with our agricultural production. Increase in salinisation and difficulties with the soil. But internationally it could be even worse. The projections are that some 3½ billion people will suffer from a lack of fresh water.

The estimates are that there could be the creation of some 150 million environmental refugees that counties in our region such as Tuvalu will simply disappear is seas rise by seven metres as anticipated.

We’re seeing glaziers that haven’t retreated since the ice age 12,000 years ago retreating. We’re seeing increase in extreme weather patterns in Europe and we’re seeing the ten hottest years on record, the ten hottest years have all been since 1990. So, it’s clear because of the nature of climate change that it requires an international agreement. That international agreement and response is Kyoto. And whilst Labor Governments say that Kyoto is not perfect we say it is the only game in town. And international agreements have traditionally been taken in small steps. In this case, it is a small step of five per cent agreement, (inaudible) a five per cent reduction. But it’s a necessary component and Australia must be part of the coalition of the willing when it comes to taking action on climate change. And that’s why today we’ve drawn attention to the fact that this Wednesday is the date of the agreement and tomorrow I will be introducing into Parliament a Private Member’s Bill that would require the Australian Government to ratify the Protocol within sixty days of it being carried. And it’s appropriate that I’m introducing that Bill on behalf of the ALP on February 14th, on Valentines Day. Because Valentines Day is the day in which people reflect on their relationships with each other. As just as humans inter relationships are important so too, is our relationship with our natural environment. So, we’re using the fact that February 14th happens to be a couple of day before the Kyoto Protocol to draw attention to this critical issue facing the international community.

The Howard Governments position is totally contradictory. On the one hand they say they won’t ratify the agreement because it would cause economic damage to Australia. On the other hand, they say and the Australian Greenhouse office recorded last year that we will meet our target. Therefore, there is no downside in us ratifying the agreement. The upside is we become part of the international effort the upside is we actually allow ourselves to gain the economic advantages that are there from ratifying Kyoto. Kyoto is a carrot and stick agreement, the stick is you have to meet your targets, the carrot is you gain access to the economic benefits, the new innovations in the economy, you are able to participate in global carbon trading. The Sydney Futures Exchange is already to go. Sydney could be the centre of our region in terms of global carbon trading.

We could, because of where we are, gain access and economic benefits from the clean development mechanism in Kyoto. What that is, it allows investments in developing countries such as the Natural Gas Agreement that we have with China, we could be getting credit for that therefore getting economic benefits. A study by State Governments have shown that it is twice as difficult to meet a target if you are not part of Kyoto and therefore don’t have access to carbon trading and carbon credits as it is if you don’t. So, this is a no brainer and from

today, the Labor Party is having a concerted campaign to make sure that we ratify the Kyoto Protocol that we institute measures that were part of the discussion on what happens post 2012 because we believe we clearly will need much stronger emissions reduction after that. So I’ll leave it there and Linda Burney is going to say a few words.

BURNEY: Thank you Anthony. If you get on a plane in Mildura and fly to Sydney and look out the window you will see why it’s crucial that Australia signs up to the Kyoto Protocol. Acres and acres and kilometres and kilometres of salt, and you realise very strongly that Australia is not only one of the oldest countries in the world but we are also the driest and we also have the thinnest layer of topsoil. And for those three reasons alone I do not understand why we are not signing the Kyoto Protocol and neither do my teenage children or their friends. Somebody give me a reason, someone give me a real reason and what the downside is for Australia not signing. Why would we not want to be part of an international effort of over 140 countries to sign this Protocol? I cannot understand it and I can assure you most of the people in Australia also do not understand it. Give me the downside, give the Australian people the downside and let the Howard Government explain why we are not signing this Protocol. Endlessly we hear people in public life saying the children are our future. Endlessly in public life we hear people saying we are creating a place for our children and their future, this is not creating a place and a future in terms of the environment for our children and the children of people in this country. We are dealing ourselves out of what the Howard Government is dealing ourselves out of something that is not just symbolic, it is something that will create an atmosphere and a mechanism internationally for dealing with the issues of climate change. And I finish on this point, one of the best questions we can ask ourselves without any doubt is what sort of ancestors do we want to be remembered as. What sort of answers will history consign us to? And this act of not signing the Kyoto Protocol will have future generations asking what sort of ancestors were we and John Howard is the man who’s got to answer that.

BEAZLEY: Labor’s Valentines Day gift to the Australian people is Anthony Albanese’s Avoid Dangerous Climate Change Bill. We will be introducing that into Parliament tomorrow and if the Government supports our positive initiative it will ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Currently they say they won’t and here is the challenge to the Australian people, get the Government to do the job for you and we’ll be passing out cards out like this so that people can communicate directly with the Prime Minister and say stand up for Australia, stand up for the globe, stand up for a decent environment and a decent future for our children. There is no question here that there is no interest at all in Australia in not signing this Protocol. We’re bound by the Government and said we’re bound by the agreement that we’ve entered into but the Government wants to take us out a future agreement. If we don’t ratify this Protocol we will not be at the table

when future decisions are taken on the global warming issue. Everybody in Australia now understands the science here all of us know that we have a substantial problem we can all believe our eyes and we know the consequences of global warming. Only the Government stands aside from it, stands aside from the commitment of Australia to target the Government wants us to achieve anyway. But if we don’t ratify that Protocol we’ll be out of a business opportunity. Here is an environmental opportunity, an environment necessity and here is a business opportunity and our Valentines Day gift to the Australian people is Anthony Albanese’s Avoid Dangerous Climate Change Bill. And I call on the Government to join Labor’s positive initiatives.

JOURNALIST: Have you almost ruled out possibly the Howard Government never giving approval or ratifying the Kyoto Protocol (inaudible)

BEAZLEY: Never give up. Always struggle to do the right thing for the Australian people and we’ve got to keep up the pressure on John Howard because everybody who examines this issue knows that the Government is going to go to the target for Australia but it is not going to ratify the Protocol so we miss out on the business opportunity. Australia should be the home of clean, green, economically efficient profitable technology. The future jobs for Australian people, research programs for Australian universities, we lock ourselves out of all of that if we do not sign up.

JOURNALIST (inaudible)

BEAZLEY: If we’re not in it we can’t benefit, it’s as simple as that.

JOURNALIST: Under a Labor Government, we’d sign up to the Kyoto Protocol?

BEAZLEY: It would be one of the first things we’d do when elected to office, from being elected to office if we haven’t achieved it through our pressure by then. We will ratify the Kyoto Agreement.

JOURNALIST: But by ratifying it does that mean we will sign it?

BEAZLEY: All of that. It means you’re fully bound by the provisions and you’re at the table. That’s the point you’re at the table for future deliberations on where we take the regime after 2012. Australia cannot afford not to be at the table.

ALBANESE: One of the great contradictions in the Government’s position here is that in 1997 and I encourage you go back and hold them accountable for what they said in 1997 we were one of the original party, we signed up, John Howard and other Government Ministers proclaimed this was a great victory for Australia

and they said Australia would participate, it is only later after the United States withdrew did Australia withdraw and there’s only two countries Australia and the United States of industrialised countries who haven’t signed up except for, if you count Liechtenstein and Monaco it gets to four, that just leaves two industrialised nations.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Cornelia Rau, Peter Costello -

BEAZLEY: Have we exhausted the environment?

JOURNALIST: Peter Costello has essentially apologised to Cornelia Rau today, should the Prime Minister be joining in?

BEAZLEY: He’s half apologised, the Prime Minister should fully apologise to Cornelia Rau. It’s an absolute disgrace to have a person effectively imprisoned in these circumstances and the Prime Minister not able to guarantee there’s no one else in this position. I asked him a question about that and he could not guarantee that in these camps there isn’t somebody else in Cornelia Rau’s position (inaudible) that is a terrible situation. It’s not a question of just apologising to her, that’s necessary, but we’ve got to have an open, public inquiry with real powers to get it (inaudible).

JOURNALIST: Do you think the fact that Peter Costello has said what John Howard won’t indicates that there may be a lack of support for John Howard?

BEAZLEY: He’s half said what John Howard won’t, now John Howard needs to fully say it.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that Mr Anderson maybe implicated in the regional rorts scenario with regard to grants being given to Ethanol companies being set up in Gywdir?

BEAZLEY: There is a never ending stream of malpractice associateD with the Regional rorts program. Tens of millions of dollars which should be spent seriously on the infrastructure needs of this country have gone into what is effectively a political slush fund. And the finger prints of pretty well all the ministers are on it and we are going to be going through as we did last week in Parliament this essential exercise in accountability by an Opposition. The positive role that we play in ensuring that there is not the sort of malpractice in management of government and Mr Anderson’s been in it, Mr Howard’s been in it, all of them have been involved in this process.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

BEAZLEY: We’ll be seeking information from the Government on what it is they’ve been up to with that slush fund and the more pressure we put on them the more we get decent, honest government in this country. If we can get this program shut down there’ll be $300 million available for schools, for hospitals,

for roads, for the real infrastructure needs of the country.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, this morning on Meet the Press, Brendan Nelson announced a national inquiry into school teaching, what do you think about that? BEAZLEY: I heard briefly Brendan Nelson and he said he wanted to stand up for terrorism this caused me some surprise when I heard Brendan Nelson say that, I hope he didn’t mean it. Like I hope he doesn’t mean an awful lot of the things that he says. Look, he’s out there calling for national standards, but no national curriculum, when I was Education Minister (inaudible) if you don’t have a national curriculum you can’t get national standards. Think of what would happen to the kids here in New South Wales for example, the parents, if say a West Australian devised the national testing standards coming from a West Australian educational perspective, that (inaudible) would be disadvantaged. No doubt about that at all, that’s why we need first the national curriculum before you think about anything else.

JOURNALIST: Is it true though there’s a huge differentiation between states?

BEAZLEY: There is of course, but the starting point is the National Curriculum and we tried to get that into place and it was wrecked by the Liberals. I was once the Defence Minister of this country and the biggest complaint that was made to me by parents as they shifted their kids from stats to state, has they

had to, as defence folk, they found the changes in curriculum massive and disadvantaged their kids enormously. But before you get anything national, national testing, national teachers standards, national whatever, you’ve got a

starting point as that national curriculum.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about training measures employed by the Defence Force that involves soldiers being tied up, bound, tortured and threatened with sexual and physical violence?

BEAZLEY: I’m not across that mate, I’ll take a look at it but it is true that the Defences Forces generally train themselves for the most brutal circumstances is which they could conceivably face. No, I don’t know the particular story to which you’re referring but the soldiers do train themselves to try and withstand brutal conditions.

JOURNALIST: The report today is that these are tactics which Robert Hill has released in a statement to Parliament last week which involves brutal tactics, involves a Queensland Defence Force base -

JOURNALIST: Going against the Geneva Convention that Australia could be in breach of Geneva Conventions.

BEAZLEY: As I said, I’m not across that particular issue, but I do know this, I assume that we’re not actually training soldiers to be brutal, we’d be training soldiers to withstand brutality and I’m afraid the experience of soldiers in wars of modern times is the likelihood that they’ll confront brutality if captured is very great. Now that’s not how we behave and that’s not how we ought to behave but I would suspect that the Defence Forces would want our soldiers to be prepared for it.

JOURNALIST: Army Reserve figures are reportedly down, many not turning up to, year in year out not turning up to training, what do you have to say about this?

BEAZLEY: This Government doesn’t take the Reserve seriously and yet the Reserve is a substantial part of our military future. As our population ages more and more the Army it recruits is going to rely on people that are prepared to give part-time service. The Government has got to take a careful look at what it does with the Reserves and do better.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, just on the Momdouh Habib situation, Alexander Downer was speaking on that this morning and it looks likely that Mr Habib might actually receive his passport back, what does the Labor Part think about that?

BEAZLEY: There is a process that Mr Habib can go through if the Government takes the decision that you can’t get a passport you can appeal it to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, do doubt he will do that and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will make a determination.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel it puts the Government in a difficult situation given the way that they basically disowned Mr Habib and the treatment he received?

BEAZLEY: I’m not in the business of making Mamdoubh Habib a national hero, don’t get me wrong on this, I don’t want to find myself in that situation. The Labor Party took a principled stand which was when he was in captivity, charge him, or release him. In the end he was released and we believe in making that case of charging or releasing that we’re standing for the very best in the protections that are in our democratic society which we must hold at the same time as we confront terrorism. But having said that, having see him released I’m not in the business of making him a hero.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s fair the Labor has written to the Government over the amount of money that the coalition MP’s are spending putting out newsletters and sending letters on personalised letterhead to their electorate when according to the figures that Labor’s provided, I think Labor used up about three quarters of the same amount of money that the Government has?

BEAZLEY: The Government, this is a government which is very big on using the public purse for its own benefit. Naturally when you’re competing with that government and you will often find yourself dragged along in their wake with the various things that they get up to, but I don’t think there is anything in my memory in politics equivalent of this slush fund that is the regional rorts slush fund. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars, we’re not talking about budget small change, we’re talking about budget big dollars and what the Labor Party has to do and what we all have to do in Parliament is to stand up for the ordinary Australian who sees their taxpayers dollars being so grievously wasted when there are so many real needs that can be met on a proper basis.

JOURNALIST: But on the issue of the mail out allowance, why is it that if you feel so strongly about it, why does Labor MP’s fork out as much money as well?

BEAZLEY: We raised it with the Government repeatedly. The Government puts that position in place that permits Members of Parliament to do it and as Labor Members of Parliament service their electorates in exactly the same way, it

doesn’t mean we like it and we want to change it.

JOURNALIST: Why not set an example then by not doing it?

BEAZLEY: Because we are in competition with them my friend, we are in the business of communicating our message to the Australian people and when your opponent runs over the top of you with hundreds of millions of slush funds,

hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising, you fight back, but you fight back with principals and that’s what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST: What can you tell us about the Advisory Council that you’d like to set up in an effort to get rid of pork barrelling?

BEAZLEY: We have said that we want to create a National Infrastructure Advisory Council to handle the Commonwealth’s participation in the development of infrastructure for Australian industry, to handle it dispassionately aside from the political argy bargy between the Commonwealth and the States, the people are sick of that, aside from the pork barrelling, people are sick of that and suspicious of that too. But we’re going to put in place a national infrastructure council which will ensure that the real needs of the Australian economy are properly identified and we don’t come up with the sort of pressure that we now

have on interest rates. You know if you take a look on what’s putting pressure on interest rates in this country now there are two things putting pressure on interest rates, three things, the failure of the Howard Government to eliminate all the blockages in our national infrastructure. The failure of the Howard Government to provide the skills for our workforce and the massive $66 billion hit that the Howard Government put into the budget during the course of the election campaign as it bought its way back into power. Now, the last election campaign, the Howard Government set interest rates as the test case for government in this country. Now, if interest rates rise, the Australian people will believe that the Howard Government has broken its word.