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Transcript of doorstop interview: Melbourne: 6 November 2008: report on climate change and infrastructure; water; small block irrigators package; President Obama and an international agreement; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

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PW 232/08 6 November 2008




WONG: I was very pleased to be here today to announce this report with the Academy. As I said in my remarks, we understand in this Government that climate change is a key challenge for the future of Australia. That’s why we are working so hard on our Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a way of reducing Australia’s emissions at the lowest cost to Australians, at the lowest cost to our economy. But we also have to recognise that part of our climate change challenge is to adapt to the climate change we cannot avoid and we welcome the contribution of the Academy and this report to that end.

JOURNALIST: So what new information does this report provide to you on how climate change is going to affect infrastructure?

WONG: There are a number of recommendations in the report - a number of which I have to say the Government is already recommending. Primarily the report does call for better risk assessments, better skill development and support for professionals to enable them to make the right decisions. So we’re very pleased with the contribution of the Academy and this report. We’ll continue to progress our adaptation agenda as one of the three pillars of our climate change policy.

JOURNALIST: Minister the report has several recommendations, including a call for a national taskforce to develop adaptation guidelines to deal with significant liability issues. Do you accept that recommendations?

WONG: Can I say broadly on this: adaptation to climate change is a very broad agenda. It is a challenge wide in its scope and part of what we need to do at this point in time - which is less than a year after we are elected - is to improve out understanding of the scale of the challenge so that we can better identify where we need to prioritise our effort. And what is useful about this report as with a whole range of other contributions from industry, from scientists, and from professionals is that it enables us to better understand where these sectors are saying we should place our priorities. And as I said in my remarks launching the report, we recognise as a Government that there is a lot more to do when it comes to adapting to climate change. We’re focused at the first instance on making sure that we understand better the risks so that we can prioritise where we need to act and how we need to work across all levels of government to meet this challenge.

JOURNALIST: You said water resources is one of your main concerns; how will you better safeguard supplies in terms of infrastructure and climate change?

WONG: As you know one of the reasons the Prime Minister created a portfolio of climate change and water is because we understand in this Government that water is the other side of the coin to


climate change and particularly in the southern part of Australia. What we’ve seen is reduced water availability, consistent with what the climate change science had been telling us to expect for some time. When it comes to water we have a $12.9 billion Water for the Future plan, that is aimed very clearly at securing the water supplies for all Australians whether in urban or regional areas.

JOURNALIST: Have small scale irrigators become political pawns between yourselves and the Victorian Government?

WONG: Can I say when it comes to the exit package we announced, just to give you a bit of background first. This is a package which arose out of the South Australian Government pressing their views as to the necessity of it, and also out of my consultation and the Government’s consultation with irrigators. So we put in place a package which is available to irrigators across the Basin. In terms of what we are seeking from State Governments: we want to work with State Governments to meet the challenge in the Murray-Darling Basin, to meet the challenge of climate challenge, and to meet the challenge of remedying years of over-allocation in the Basin. For the betterment, for the benefit of regional communities and irrigators and the industries which rely on irrigation. The reforms we are proposing are consistent with those reforms that State Governments have previously agreed to in the context of the National Water Initiative. They are consistent with what is being put before COAG. We want to work with State Governments on these reforms, I’ll made that very clear. We believe that reform of the water market is an important tool in helping communities in the Murray-Darling Basin meet the challenge of climate change.

JOURNALIST: They say you’ll be wedging them against the State and Federal Government, and that they are political pawns or playing a game between federal and states. Will you, or what will it take for the Federal Government just to pay them out?

WONG: Can I say when it comes to water and climate change this is not a game. These are serious issues and that’s the way we approach them and that’s why we have a Minister for Climate Change and Water and that’s why we have $12.9 billion which we are investing to meet the challenge of climate change and to meet the water issues which flow from that. Can I just say in terms of the reforms which are proposed: first, they are reforms which we believe will be necessary to enable delivery of the package. In other words they are market reforms that we believe will be necessary to enable irrigators to take up the package. Second and more broadly, we do believe as a Government that the reform of the water market, as broadly agreed as an objective by the States through the COAG process, through the National Water Initiative, is necessary to reforming the Murray-Darling Basin and we need reform in the Basin for the benefit of these communities. We do have to support them and enable them to meet the challenge of climate change.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask globally do you think that Obama’s election will have any impact on a global agreement?

WONG: We have always said that for an effective global agreement to be in place, we will need leadership from the United States, and we will need the engagement, particularly of China and also of India. We know that the United States is key to an effective global agreement, so will continue to work with the United States through the international negotiating process because we do understand that the United States is a critical and key player in these international negotiations.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] economic data released yesterday predicts slowed growth. Will the Government change its stance on the emissions trading scheme? Will it slow or delay the scheme?

WONG: Of course the Government will approach the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme with economic responsibility at the forefront of its mind. But as the Prime Minister has said


and I have said - as the Treasurer has said - we understand also that climate change is not something we can simply avoid. We do have to transition the Australian economy over time to a lower-carbon future, and what we know, from what Nicholas Stern told the world, from what Ross Garnaut told Australia through his review and from the Treasury modelling, is that delay will simply increase the costs. So delaying action on climate change will simply ensure that we, as Australians, pay a higher cost for the changes that we know we will have to make. Unfortunately there are some who obviously have a different political view - our view is very clearly focused on the economic future of this country and the need to ensure we adapt to climate change in the most economically responsible fashion. Of course the Government will take current economic circumstances into account as we proceed to designing our scheme.

JOURNALIST: …irrigators still want to sell all their licences. Have you had any more meetings with them or have you decided on a price to pay?

WONG: I’m sorry what was the…

JOURNALIST: Wakool irrigation district.

WONG: This is near Deniliquin… yes. I don’t comment - as you’ve probably seen from previous press conferences - I don’t comment on any negotiations in relation to water purchases that the Government may or not be undertaking. We’ve put out a range of guidelines for irrigators to consider and we will process offers from wiling sellers. We do take the view that we want to give people the opportunity to sell water if they so wish and we have guidelines out there but I’m not going to comment on any individual negotiations.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the upcoming talks in Poznan. Can I ask you, what is reasonable to expect from Poznan and what should we not expect?

WONG: I think I’ve said previously that Poznan should be seen as a working conference, as a conference which will bring together all of the countries of the world to progress the Bali Roadmap to see where we’ve got to and to continue to push forward on the work agenda. Obviously the key conference in terms of an international agreement will be Copenhagen next year. I hope that at Poznan we will achieve steps forward, we will achieve progress. But I see it very much as a working conference progressing the Bali Roadmap towards the Copenhagen Conference.

JOURNALIST: Can I just say, obviously Obama wouldn’t have been sworn in by then. Do you hope that he sends a delegate to Poznan?

WONG: Well that will be a matter for the new administration, and obviously, as you said, that’ll be a decision for the President Elect and his administration. I simply reiterate what we said before - that we know that US leadership will be key. Obviously Poznan occurs while they are still in transition - that presents some challenges. But we welcome any engagement from the United States when it comes to climate change because they are such a critical player.

JOURNALIST: Do you have high hopes now though, with his election?

WONG: I think that the Prime Minister spoke quite eloquently yesterday about the personal story that the President Elect brings to this office and the story of hope, which I think characterised his campaign, and is part of his personal story.

JOURNALIST: Minister can I just ask one more question? In Asia there is a story going around that you could be the future Obama of Australia. What is your reaction to that?


WONG: Look, I think we should just focus on what we’ve seen in the last few days in the American election - a great exercise in democracy - and we now have a President Elect which, who I think symbolises a lot of hope for change both in America and globally.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t have any leadership aspirations?

WONG: Absolutely not, thank you.