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Transcript of joint press conference: Fremantle, WA: 10 September 2008: wave research; climate change.

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PW 174/08 10 September 2008




WONG: Thanks very much for coming. It’s great to be here today in Fremantle with Melissa Parke, the Member, to come to WA again on climate change issues. The Rudd Labor Government understands climate change is the key challenge of our generation and we understand that it’s important to work with all areas of Government and different communities throughout Australia to address this challenge. One of the things that is very important to understand in terms of climate change is what is likely to happen to our coasts. And I’m very pleased today to announce, to release new research on the impact of climate change on our coastline, particularly on the wave patterns in Australia.

This is really important for two reasons. One is it’s really important from a risk management perspective. We need to understand far better what climate change will mean for our coastlines in terms of wave events, in terms of storm surges. This is a key aspect of adapting to the climate change we cannot avoid. In addition it’s important in terms of the opportunities. One of the things we know is that wave energy and utilising wave energy is a new frontier when it comes to climate change, when it comes to harnessing renewable energies. Certainly here in WA a lot of good work’s being done on that and this research will enable those cutting edge companies to better understand the opportunities which come from wave research and from wave energy. We need to do far better in the years to come when it comes to renewable energy and the Rudd Government has a very clear policy of increasing Australia’s expertise in renewable energy across the board.

JOURNALIST : What did it show specifically in terms of what sort of impact climate change can have on waves?

WONG: It’s a very long report which I hope you might take the time to read but what it does show is this: it gives us a model for understanding what climate change will mean for our coastlines. But also importantly it gives us a model for understanding how the wave patterns will manifest on the coast. So at the risk of sounding like somebody who’s just been briefed by a scientist, what happens obviously in the open ocean in terms of waves, doesn’t necessarily mean that you get the same effect on the coastline. You get different effects depending on a whole range of other climate patterns and also the geography of the sea-bed. So what this research does is gives us another tool - another tool in understanding how climate change, how wave events are going to affect Australia’s coastline. It gives us another tool in understanding how we manage those impacts, how we fill that knowledge gap. So it’s very good research and it’s going to be important in the years to come for us to better understand what the impact of climate change on Australia’s coastlines will be.

JOURNALIST: And when you talk about wave energies, WA’s sort of leading the way when it comes to things like that?

WONG: Certainly. I’ve just toured today with Melissa a company here in Western Australia which is doing a lot of work on this issue. There are companies throughout Australia doing a lot of work on renewable energy. This is one of the great opportunities that does come from tackling climate change. We know that in the years to come, Australia and the world will have to look to a whole range of cleaner energy options and there are clear opportunities there which are innovative that forward-thinking Australian companies are already grasping.

JOURNALIST: It mentions extreme waves of three metres or so. Does that mean we need - do these sea walls need to be bigger, or what does that mean ?

WONG: Well if you look at the research, what it gives us is a model to assess in time the impact of climate change and the impact of storm events on Australia’s coastline. So obviously those are tools which governments over time will have to integrate into their planning. What we do know is that we will have to make sure we understand far better the impact of climate change on our coastlines.

I also wanted to make some comments today about the Murray-Darling Basin and the Senate inquiry that’s currently underway.

As I’ve said the Government welcomes the Senate inquiry. We welcome it as an opportunity to get all the facts on the table. Now I know that through this inquiry and through public discussion, people will have a whole number of ideas about the way forward and the Murray-Darling Basin. Now certainly the Government’s willing to listen to those issues but I will say this when it comes to the Murray-Darling, the time for talking is over and what we need to do is to act which is what the Government is doing. We need to act to purchase water, we need to act to invest in infrastructure to make our irrigation areas more efficient. We need to act now. I know that there are differences of views amongst some lawyers and some academics about what the best way forward is. From the Government’s perspective we believe it is now time to act which is why we are purchasing water, which is why we are investing to return water to the river. What we do know is we face a very difficult situation in the Murray-Darling Basin and the core problem here is that we have had record low inflows for many years. The core problem here is there is simply not enough water at the moment to do everything we want.

JOURNALIST: Will you purchase stations like the one on the market in northern New South Wales?

WONG: I think I was asked this question in Brisbane earlier this week and I said two things. First, a few weeks ago the Prime Minister in Adelaide announced that the Government would look at purchasing both land and water where there were environmental benefits in doing so. We’d look at a model where we purchased in conjunction with State Governments. I’m not going to comment on any particular prospective purchase and engage in any negotiations with prospective buyers through the media. The Government’s policy is there on the table for people to see.

JOURNALIST: At the same time you’ve got people I think you said, David Young this morning, saying that that kind of approach won’t really work because by the time any of it gets to the Lower Lakes it would be used up anyway?

WONG: Look, what we know is that there are environmental pressures throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. We need to purchase environmental water. In many areas of the Basin the issue you raise is what the experts have been telling us for some time. There are substantial losses between purchases upstream and the delivery of water downstream. That is one of the issues that the Government needs to consider when looking at the various options in the Murray-Darling Basin and it simply confirms the problem. At the moment we have a very dry Basin. We have a period of

very low inflows and we are at very low storages in the Murray-Darling. So unfortunately we face a situation where we currently simply do not have enough water to do everything we want.

JOURNALIST: Just in regards to a different issue,. The WA election, what did you think of Labor’s poor performance and the continued uncertainty over who will lead WA?

WONG: Obviously the WA election is a matter for the people of Western Australia and we as a Federal Government - obviously we have a very large reform agenda. We will have to work with whichever government is ultimately chosen through this process, and we will do so.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s a reflection on perhaps federal Labor’s policies?

WONG: I was here for a couple of days during the WA election and it seemed to me it was overwhelmingly fought on state issues. As I said we will work with whichever government ultimately is able to form government.

JOURNALIST: What about the CSIRO, should they have been involved with the Murray-Darling? Is it a surprise to you that they have not been involved?

WONG: Can I say on this, the Government has been completely up front and said we will make public the advice that was provided. We will ensure that there is a clear audit process to show how much water is available in the river. We have asked the Murray-Darling Basin Commission - the people who have expertise in managing this Basin - to provide us with a range of options. If the CSIRO have something to contribute with that, naturally we would welcome it. But can I say in terms of some of the discussion about this, we can talk to a range of scientists and the Government will. But ultimately the core issue is this: we don’t have enough water currently in the Murray-Darling Basin to do everything we want. And that is the core issue that politicians from all parties will have to grapple with, not only through the Senate inquiry but in the months to come.

JOURNALIST: There are reports today that the Federal Government’s rejected a plea from WA’s LNG industry for free carbon permits under the emissions trading scheme that have been promised to other industries. Is that correct?

WONG: Well first nothing has been promised to anybody. What has happened is this: the Government has put out a paper, a Green Paper which sets out its proposals for consideration and for consultation. That is what I did in July and the reason we are going through this process is that we recognise that tackling climate change is a whole-of-economy reform. It requires careful consideration - that is why we are currently in a consultation phase with business. So just as we are consulting with other parts of industry so too we will continue to consult with the LNG industry.

JOURNALIST: Has there been a decision on that though?

WONG: No, as I said we are in a consultation phase we are not in a decision-making phase. We made it clear that we will make decisions later in the year after this consultation process has gone through. So what I will say to the LNG industry as to all industries who are participating in the consultation process is: this is a genuine and robust consultation process. The Government’s put a very detailed set of propositions there in order to enable a good consultation process with the community including with industry. We also continue to make this point though that the Government clearly has to strike the right balance and we have to recognise that this is a whole-of-economy reform. The key policy question here is this: what is a fair contribution from the different sectors of the Australian economy to tackling climate change.

JOURNALIST: Do you concede though that it would put a lot of projects in WA at risk?

WONG: Well there are a number of hypotheticals you are asking me to assume in that question. I have said we will continue to consult with the LNG industry and with other industries. We have a Green Paper that is a paper setting out the Government’s preferred position out there and we will continue to consult on it prior to making decisions.

JOURNALIST: Will you be meeting with industry while you are in WA?

WONG: I have met with some people already while I have been in WA and I will continue to do that through the consultation process that we have put in place.

JOURNALIST: Is that companies like Woodside?

WONG: Obviously I am talking to interested parties. I do not really want to do that through the media, but my door is open as are the doors of other Ministers to the key industries who have views they want to put to Government in terms of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

JOURNALIST: The criticisms of the Garnaut process, his targets, are they politically palatable? Are you concerned about that?

WONG: Look I think I have been asked about this before and what I have said is a couple of things. First, Professor Garnaut is making an outstanding contribution to the discussion in the community and to Government thinking on climate change policy. He also in his report reminds us of the scale of the challenge. We are a very highly carbon-intensive economy and what we have to do over time is make that shift to a lower carbon economy. And the point that Professor Garnaut has made in his most recent report is that is a substantial challenge. The Government knows it’s a substantial challenge. We know that this does require people across Australia both within the community and industry taking responsibility when it comes to climate change.

JOURNALIST: You agree though that it does send, with these academics, it does send the message that Australia is not interested in making a leading contribution?

WONG: The first official act of the Rudd Government was to sign the Kyoto Protocol. And within our first year of government what we have done so far is put out a very detailed policy on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme - a whole of economy reform that your colleague asked me about earlier. We are clearly making a substantial contribution internationally in terms of the

negotiations and it remains a priority of the Government. We understand that tackling climate change is key to preparing Australia for its future challenges.