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Transcript of interview with David Speers: Sky News PM Agenda: 23 December 2014: Home Insulation Program Royal Commission; Climate Change Authority reviews; Renewable Energy Target



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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for the Environment

TRANSCRIPT

23 December 2014

SKY NEWS PM AGENDA INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS

E&OE….

Topics: Home Insulation Program Royal Commission, Climate Change Authority reviews, Renewable Energy Target

DAVID SPEERS: The Minister joins us now from Melbourne. Greg Hunt, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Can I start on the…

GREG HUNT:

Good afternoon David.

DAVID SPEERS: … Royal Commission before we get to the Climate Change Authority: the big question I suppose is compensation for families of the four installers who were killed; and then also compensation for business.

Let’s start with families - what’s the Government going to do about compensating them?

GREG HUNT:

So the process for compensating the families, who of course had the most terrible of tragedies and the greatest of losses, is well underway.

Ian Hanger QC, who has conducted overt 3000 mediations and was in fact the Royal Commissioner, was agreed by all parties as a uniquely qualified person. He has been meeting with the families. It will take as long as it takes, however it is probably two to three months ahead of where we had expected it to be at this stage.

So, my expectation is that over the coming month and a half we will reach an agreement with the families. It’s a very sensitive process, and they don’t want to be talking about things such as funds, and nor do we, but it’s our duty and our responsibility, and it flows directly from the findings of the Commission of course that these tragedies could have been avoided.

And so that’s a heavy duty for Government, but a responsibility that we need to undertake.

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah. I understand the sensitivity there and I suppose if they families are happy with any settlement that you do reach in the coming month or two, it doesn’t really matter to us what the dollar figure is.

What about the businesses though? A number of businesses were hit hard at a couple of points during this program. What’s the plan to compensate them?

GREG HUNT:

So again, Ian Hanger has been appointed to work as a mediator with the businesses. We’ve already commenced discussions with the lawyers for the businesses - so we’ve already had meetings with one of their critical small businesses. And that’s the beginning of a process which we will now work through which each of the affected small businesses.

So we have to quantify the damages, and then ensure that there is fair and adequate compensation. We will work as quickly as possible. It will involve, in this case, an assessment of the individual circumstances of the individual firms.

But the Royal Commission was very clear that there were significant breaches, there were profound consequences, that there was great suffering for small business owners in the forms of financial distress, personal distress. And this was a terrible failing.

And the Commission was not just clear about the fact that the tragedies could have been avoided, but clear that there was a duty to the small business owners who acted in good faith and were sadly let down. These were long-standing legitimate businesses.

DAVID SPEERS: Let me turn, Minister, to the Climate Change Authority now, a separate matter entirely. Yesterday their report on your Direct Action Plan found, and I quote: it’s clear that by itself and as currently funded the Emissions Reduction Fund scheme is unlikely to deliver sufficient emissions reductions to reach even the minimum target of five per cent reduction by 2020.

Is the Authority right or wrong?

GREG HUNT:

Well let me be absolutely clear - we will achieve our targets, and indeed the work that I’ve been doing just over the last couple of days makes it clear that we are ahead of where we had expected to have been a year ago. What we’re seeing is that Australia’s emissions trajectory is lower than we predicted a year ago.

The final figures on that will come out in the first quarter of 2015. But our emissions trajectory is better than we had expected. That’s a good thing for Australia.

DAVID SPEERS: Because of the slowdown in manufacturing, a lot of that.

GREG HUNT:

Well there are a whole variety of reasons. That’s before we factor in the Emissions Reduction Fund. And of course we’ve only just passed it. We haven’t actually acquired anything yet, because the Labor Party blocked it.

We had to wait until there was a new Senate and the carbon tax was repealed. So I am not just confident, I am exceptionally confident that we’ll achieve our targets. And a couple of very significant things have occurred.

We see that there is a lower trajectory than expected. I also note that the pipeline of likely bids is far higher than we had anticipated or expected. Material that wasn’t before the Climate Change Authority. And so we are in better shape than I had ever hoped at this stage. And I’m very pleased.

DAVID SPEERS: Let me just ask you one area...

GREG HUNT:

The Climate Change Authority was very clear that this represents a significant improvement in the terms of the Carbon Farming Initiative, and indeed the long-term contracts for seven and ten years will be critical and provide more stability than the environment under which they had previously.

DAVID SPEERS: The Authority does say though, that the safeguards mechanism will be important here. This is the mechanism I guess, to penalise big emitters who increase their emissions. Has that been sorted out yet, exactly what sort of penalties they will be?

GREG HUNT:

So the safeguards mechanism comes into being on 1 July 2016. We have said we would enter into a period of consultation between now and September of the coming year. So what’s really important here is of course, the figures for the trajectory were not fully available to the Climate Change Authority.

The early indications of the pipeline, because they’re commercial-in-confidence bidding process weren’t available. Nor was the safeguard mechanism in place. So they asked for additional measures. While there is a major fundamental additional measure which has already been legislated and which will now be regulated in the form of caps or what you might call baselines for individual firms which cover approximately half of Australia’s emissions.

So the Fund is one part of it. But the safeguards mechanism is a second and fundamental part of it. And that of course wasn’t calculated or anticipated. They indicated that that would have a significant effect. So we’re heading towards a very comprehensive package of measures. Emissions reductions across the economy as it is. The pipeline which is greater than we had anticipated. And then the safeguards mechanism, which will come into play. So I’ve just...

DAVID SPEERS: Can I ask you…

GREG HUNT:

I’m more confident than ever that we’ll achieve our targets.

DAVID SPEERS: All right. On the Renewable Energy Target, the Climate Change Authority has put forward something that looks a bit like a potential compromise outcome here. Stick with 41,000 gigawatt hours target but push it back to at least 2023, rather than 2020. Would you be open to that?

GREG HUNT:

Well, I won’t speculate on our negotiating position because we’re acting in good faith with the ALP. Unfortunately they are on strike. They’re having a pre-Christmas strike in terms of meetings.

DAVID SPEERS: So are you willing to look at this idea?

GREG HUNT:

Well, I simply won’t speculate on individual measures. What is interesting is that they have argued for an 8000 gigawatt hour reduction, from 41 to 33,000 for 2020. So even the Climate Change Authority has recognised that exactly what we have said.

That it’s simply not possible to build what is required between now and 2020. And if you don’t do that, you hit what is an effective carbon tax penalty of $93 a tonne. And that brings me to two points for the ALP.

Are they really going to inflict a $93 a tonne carbon tax on the Australian people, and this year, in the first six months, now is the time for them to release their own explanation of what is the carbon tax they would be putting on the Australian population.

Because we’ll achieve our targets without it - they want to abolish a $2.5 billion fund, which is investing in cleaning up our emissions. Instead they want to bring back an electricity tax.

How much is electricity going to rise? What will be the price per tonne? Who are they going to levy it on? These are all fair things that they should be able to explain before Parliament resumes early in February.

DAVID SPEERS: We’ll see if they do that. Environment Minister Greg Hunt, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us this afternoon. Merry Christmas to you and your family, we’ll look forward to talking more in 2015.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks David. You take care of those two little children of yours.

DAVID SPEERS: I will indeed. Don’t worry about that.

(ENDS)