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Transcript of joint press conference: Canberra: 2 June 2011: Kakadu National Park; Tackling Climate Change; Opposition’s fear campaign; Christopher Pyne

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Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra THU 02 JUNE 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Kakadu National Park; Tackling Climate Change; Opposition’s fear campaign; Christopher Pyne

PM: 20 years ago a very remarkable Australian decided to protect a bigger area and make it part of Kakadu National Park. Of course that very remarkable Australian was Prime Minister Bob Hawke who joins me here today. That was a big decision, a big decision to extend further protections to Kakadu and it was a big decision that was hotly politically debated at the time, it was very, very strongly opposed by the Liberal Party and the National Party and a fear campaign was run that if these protections went ahead and Prime Minister Bob Hawke extended Kakadu National Park, that that would be the end of mining in our nation.

In fact I have with me a clip from the Sydney Morning Herald, a news report from the time, that say ‘Coronation Hill to make or break the mining industry’; that was the nature of the fear campaign at the time being run by the Liberal Party and the National Party.

Now here we stand 20 years later with the mining industry in the midst of Resources Boom Mk II with more than $600 million of investment in the pipeline and I don’t think you’d find one Australian who said that Prime Minister Bob Hawke made the wrong decision, I don’t think you’d find one Australian in Parliament House behind me who would say that the wrong decision was taken 20 years ago, I don’t think you’d find one Australian in any corner of our nation that would say that was the wrong decision.

And here we stand 20 years later and we’re in the midst of another fear campaign by the Liberal Party and the National Party and they’re trying to tell Australians that if we put a price on carbon that’ll be the end of our economy, it’ll be the end of mining, it’ll be the end of life as we know it. And of course this fear campaign is as silly as the fear campaign that Prime Minister Bob Hawke stared down 20 years ago.

And we’re here talking about Kakadu 20 years later but we’re talking about the new challenge for Kakadu. Today I’m launching this report, this report that talks about the results that climate change can have on Kakadu, the real risks for Kakadu from climate change. It talks particularly about the risks that flow from rising sea levels, more salt water getting into the fresh water systems in Kakadu, changing the nature of the ecology, being a real risk for the native animals that live, being a real risk for Indigenous communities that still rely on this ecosystem for their bush tucker, and being a real risk for the tourism industry as parts of Kakadu would become inaccessible for parts of the year due to higher water levels.

So 20 years after Bob Hawke took a brave decision, we as a nation need to take a brave decision too, a brave decision to price carbon, a brave decision to tackle climate change; and yes we’re in the midst of a fear campaign from the Opposition, just like Bob Hawke stared that fear campaign down, as a nation we need to stare this fear campaign down and get the right thing done by our environment, the right thing done by Kakadu and move to price carbon.

I’ll turn now to a man who needs absolutely no introduction from me or anybody else, Bob Hawke.

MR HAWKE: Thanks Julia.

Well it’s a great pleasure to be here with you Julia and it is a very appropriate anniversary of timing which has a very direct relevance to the challenges that you’re facing. The first point I’d like to make is that Julia and her Cabinet are absolutely right in terms of the decision they’re taking in being prepared to tackle the issue of climate change now and not obfuscate and give into fear campaigns. Political leadership requires the readiness to make tough and what may, at times, seem to be unpopular decisions. Julia referred to the fear campaign that I faced 20 years ago and I tell you what if was very, very solid. As usual, the Liberal and Country parties led that campaign of fear, the sky is going to fall in, the world would never be the same again. And then as now, as supported by the mining industry, and I’ll just show you another of the time, that was from the Sydney Morning Herald, this was from The Australian: ‘Can we afford to let Mr Hawke make a $38 billion mistake?’ That was the nature of the nonsense we were confronted with then, $38 billion was the assessment of the assets invested in the mining industry, and if I were allowed to go ahead with the decision that I made, then that was going to end the mining industry as we knew it. Investors were going to be frightened off from Australia, they were going to pull up stumps and go away. Now you recognise exactly the same nonsense again.

Now I want to say to you Julia I congratulate you on the fact that you, like we did 20 years ago, maintaining the tradition of the great Australian Labor Party. We are the Party, we have historically been the Party prepared to make the tough decisions, to change things that we did

in Government when we grabbed hold of an economy that was just disappearing down the gurgler, made the tough decisions, a lot of opposition then, but we made the tough decisions. In the environment we made a decision about saving the Franklin, we had a marvellous record on the environment but it was a question of always taking into account the need to face the challenge of the environment and also taking account a need to ensure that we’d continue to have sustainable economic growth.

Now you are following, Julia, a very considerable tradition and the Opposition here led by Tony, as I’ve said, I don’t mind Tony personally, I think he’s not a bad bloke, but as I said during the campaign he’s as mad as a cut snake and he is on this issue, he is on this issue, I mean totally irresponsible. This is a real issue about the sort of country this is going to be for his kids, his grandchildren and so on. This is what’s the issue here and it’s cheap

opportunism, this fear that if this decision is taken it’s going to be the end of the mining industry, it’s going to be the end of everything else.

The decisions that are going to be taken will involve appropriate compensation which will protect households and industry and at the same time make sure that Australia plays its part in

meeting what is undoubtedly the great challenge of our time. So I congratulate you Julia on your courage.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke correct me if I’m wrong but you didn’t promise before an election not to do what you did 20 years ago, how does the Prime Minister overcome the perception that she’s broken a promise?

HAWKE: Well what she has said, accurately, is that the circumstances have changed since she made that, certainly the situation in the Parliament has changed and if politicians were to be in a situation where because they’d said something beforehand and you’ve got a change of circumstances they felt absolutely inhibited from making any change then you wouldn’t get very effective Government. You know what Lord Keynes said, the most famous economist, when he was being tackled for changing his mind, he said well ‘when circumstances change I change my mind. Pray sir what do you do?’

So I think to trivialise what is a fundamental issue for the welfare for our kids, their kids, and the future of this country and for the world, to trivialise and say no the Prime Minister shouldn’t do something about this because she made a statement in another circumstance and that should hamstring her forever more about making the right decision. Come on.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke you were when you were Prime Minister renowned for your understanding of what the public was thinking, do you think that in this case the public understand the point that you’ve just put that the Prime Minister may have changed her position, but that the circumstances mean that it’s not a basic betrayal of trust?

MR HAWKE: I don’t think they understand it fully yet but they are in the process of explaining this and there’s plenty of time for Julia and her colleagues to do that. Remember this, the Australian people basically in my experience are sensible when it comes to politics. I’ve made the point many times, I think generally speaking they’ve made the right decision in

terms of who they return to government at the Federal level and I found when I was Prime Minister that when we explained to them the nature of the issues, the challenges, the dangers of just going on without change they responded. The outstanding example in my case was

when we elected to have the economic summit and we ensured that every representative there, all the organisations in Australia, had the full details about the facts, the facts of how badly the Australian economy was going, the facts about what needed to happen, and when we explained all those I got unanimous communiqué - except for Joh Bjelke-Petersen, so that made it all the more compelling - but down there at the Old Parliament House, that was when you give them the facts, let them understand, then they respond.

PM: Yes Bonge. We’ve got sun in our eyes in you’re wondering why we’re going like that, but Paul.

JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce and others in the Opposition make the point that even if Australia went completely carbon neutral tomorrow, it’s not going to change the (inaudible) so how would you (inaudible) if you do bring in a carbon tax?

PM: Well Bonge the problem for Barnaby Joyce is he’s just ignoring the facts and the facts are the rest of the world is moving and my case to the Australian people isn’t that we should lead the world, it’s that we can’t afford to be left behind. We’ve got a high emissions

economy, that means we’ve got a lot to do, a lot of things to change, to be the clean energy

economy we need to be for the future. As I said to the Minerals Council dinner in Parliament House behind me last night, across my lifetime I think I can say this: things have never got easier, difficult things have never got easier by putting them off. We’ve got to make changes, we’ve got to start now, we’ve got to change our economy to being a cleaner energy economy and that, in cutting carbon pollution, will be our contribution to tackling climate change.

I mean reduced to its base proposition, Barnaby Joyce is basically saying ‘don’t do anything’ and there’s no surprise he’s saying that, he’s a member of a Coalition that really is in dispute with the climate change science, they really just don’t accept the science and all of this is just spin and diversion to try and distract people from the fact that they don’t accept the science.

JOURNALIST: He’s also saying if the Coalition wins they will (inaudible)

PM: Well I think it’s the most remarkable thing that Tony Abbott is going to go to the election in 2013 saying to Australians money that has been given to you by the Labor Government will be taken away from, we’ll be ripping money off you.

Now decisions still have to be taken about the best way of assisting Australian households as we make this move to cut carbon pollution, I’ve said that tax cuts are a serious option - obviously we’ve got to look after people who are on pensions and benefits - but however we provide the assistance, whether it’s through an increase in the pension or whether it’s through a tax cut or a mix of the two, Tony Abbott is going to the next election saying to pensioners ‘you should have less money’, he’s saying to Australians ‘you should have less money.’

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister will you be using the carbon tax or the carbon pricing mechanism as (inaudible)

PM: Well I’ve just said to you about tax cuts, tax cuts are a serious -

JOURNALIST: More than just cuts.

PM: Well it’s a serious option, I’m not here today to announce the details of the assistance package, that will be available when all details of carbon price are available in the middle of the year, but the principle here is we want to be there to help Australian families. I understand that they’re struggling under cost of living pressures, so our proposition to Australian families is: climate change is real, we’ve got to cut carbon pollution, we’ll do that by making the big polluters pay, and we’ll use the majority of that revenue and give it to Australian families. Tony Abbott is saying: he doesn’t really believe in the science, but if he’s going to do anything he’s going to take money off Australian families and give it to big polluters.

JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott’s also saying that some Labor backbenchers are getting nervous and that you’re starting to spook the party room (inaudible)

PM: Well he would say that wouldn’t he.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) rock solid?

PM: Well I don’t think we’re going to accept Tony Abbott’s commentary on these things and if we have a look at Mr Abbott’s backbench and frontbench, I think today’s the first time I’ve

picked up the newspapers in a good while that they weren’t in there giving each other a free character assessment.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke you were always a political salesman, almost above everything else-

HAWKE: I wouldn’t have thought that was true, that was just an incidental plus.

JOURNALIST: How would you rate the selling of climate change policy by this Government, the actual getting through into the public sphere (inaudible)

HAWKE: I think Julia would say they’re some things that could have been done differently and better, but I no one, I didn’t do everything perfectly and wouldn’t say that Julia and the Government has done this perfectly, but the point I would make is that I can’t remember a more difficult subject for a government to sell than this because we don’t have historical experience on which to draw, well not the same sense that you do when you’re dealing with a straight economic issue and you have a situation where therefore you’ve got to think afresh,

you’ve got no precedents to draw upon and you’ve got so many interests in the community, vested interests who are looking at this issue through the spectrum of their interests and not the national interest, and I can’t think of really any issue in my political career of which that’s been so true. There are so many special interests who are just saying ‘bugger the national interest, we are going to push a line which we see as being best for us.’

Now in that very complex situation I think a good job has been done and I am confident that with the two years there is to go to the next election that with a combination of the unfolding of the details, I mean after all, what the Government has done is really shown the bad bit, if you like, but the details of the good bits are still to come. And I think as the details are unfolded, as the science here and around the world continues to confirm the necessity for action, and then my confidence in both Julia and the Government and basically in the Australian people leads me to the conclusion that this argument will be won.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

HAWKE: Just one at a time.

PM: We’ll go here and then back to Bonge.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) at any stage did your Government consider action on climate change including some sort of market mechanism?

HAWKE: Well it wasn’t an issue then in the way it is now, we simply didn’t have the substance, but the only point I would make in terms of environmental issues, I think I can assert, perhaps not without fear on confliction but without any possibility of the proposition being overturned, that no government in the history of Australia has done more on environmental issues possibly than my Government.

PM: Ok we’ll take Bonge and make that the last question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister it may shock you to learn that talkback radio in Sydney has gone feral over the fact that a year ago you described Christopher Pyne as a mincing poodle. Do you regret that?

PM: One of the remarkable things about modern journalism is no one actually goes back and ever checks the source document, so they, with grand respect to every member of the press gathered here, there is a tendency to report what everybody else has said. I actually never used that terminology, I’d invite you to go back to the Hansard and see exactly what I said. I did engage in a humorous comparison of Christopher Pyne with Tony Abbott, and my clear recollection at the time is I, following the end of the Parliamentary week, got on a plane to Melbourne. Tony Abbott was on the same plane, and he walked from the gateway where we got off the plane all the way to the luggage carousel congratulating me on my characterisation of Christopher Pyne. So you might want to check was is the official position of the Opposition about all of this because it’s not clear to me.

JOURNALIST: What did you say, I was there and I thought I heard you.

PM: Well have a look at the Hansard, have a look at the Hansard. It wasn’t by way of interjection, so it will be there for you and a little bit of homework, little bit of original research.

Thank you very much.