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Transcript of interview with Anna Moulder: ABC New England North West: 18 May 2011: Tamworth; regional Australia; Coal seam gas; carbon price

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Transcript of interview with Anna Moulder, ABC New England North West WED 18 MAY 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Tamworth; Regional Australia; Coal seam gas; Carbon price

HOST: Good morning Prime Minister and welcome to ABC New England North West.

PM: Good morning.

HOST: You officially opened Tamworth’s impressive new Sports Dome yesterday and you’ll switch on the NBN in Armidale this morning. Two days in the region - it’s been years since we’ve seen a Prime Minister, let alone seen one for two days, so is it a new Labor interest in the country, are you just trying to get a closer to the end of Tony Windsor’s wish list?

PM: Well, I always like to travel around Australia and go to communities and talk to people directly. It’s the best way of finding out what’s going on and we’ve got a real commitment to regional Australia. I mean it’s a great place to live and to work, fantastic lifestyle, but we want to keep building on that for the future.

That’s what the NBN is all about: new economic opportunities; new ways of delivering health services and education; and it’s what our major investments for regional Australia coming out of the Budget are all about - more than $4 billion to improve hospitals, health care, universities, roads, all of the things that we need to get to regional Australia to keep improving what’s a great lifestyle now.

HOST: How critical is that relationship with Tony Windsor, for you, as you continue to make this Government work?

PM: Tony Windsor is a very important part of our Australian Parliament, and of course his support for the Government is important to me and to the Government. He’s a great representative of this region. He always has been. I’ve known Tony Windsor before this parliament and before the time I was Prime Minister. He’s always been a very vigorous representative of this region’s needs.

HOST: Do you think you are close to seeing the end of his wish list at this stage?

PM: It’s not a question of wish list - it’s really him representing his local community’s view to the Australian Parliament. That’s the right thing to do. Of course, members around the

country do that and as a Government we’ve got to make decisions about what are the most important things to us, particularly in a tight budget and we did deliver a tight budget last week.

In making our choices we’ve deliberately put a priority on regional Australia. We think making sure our regional communities are strong and viable is vital to the nation’s future.

HOST: How would you describe the way he’s handled this process?

PM: Tony Windsor, I think, is a very determined person, a very methodical person, so he works constructively with the Government, raising the issues of concern to the region and that’s good to see. It’s what we want local members to be doing. Labor members around the country are there advocating for their local communities, too, and we’ve got to weigh up the priorities and we do want to put a priority on building up services and economic opportunities in regional Australia.

We outlined last week our sustainable Australia plan, and a big part of that is making sure we can see growth in population in regional communities. We’ve got congested cities where we need to take some pressure off; we’ve got lots of regional communities that want to grow, we want to match that aspiration for growth, but in order to do that we do have to keep improving health care, services and education.

HOST: Prime Minister, to the issue of food security and the conflict between resource extraction and food production. How aware are you of the productivity of this region and the coalmining and coal seam gas extraction licences and the exploration that they’re allowed and cutting across it at the moment?

PM: I think I’m fairly aware. Actually, as we flew in yesterday Tony Windsor took the opportunity to point and explain the local terrain and some of the issues. I’d had familiarity with them before, but it’s nice to be able to come and see it.

I understand that here locally we’ve had long-term coal mining and we’ve also got great agricultural production, and now there’s the question of new coal mining ventures, particularly coal seam gas and whether that’s appropriate and how that fits in with the region’s agricultural industry and how it works for water use in the future.

Tony Windsor has raised this issue with the Government in the past and we’ve agreed with him to fund a water study, so we can be guided by the science as to what this may mean for the local community.

HOST: Tony Windsor is preparing to introduce into Parliament legislation to protect what he is calling ‘sensitive land’. He’s suggesting using the Corporations Act to get the Commonwealth into what has generally been a State government controlled issue. He says this was a part of the discussions he made with you when he was making the Government agreement, or the formation of Government. Is this crunch time for you? Where do you stand on the issue of food production and mineral extraction?

PM: Well, we will look at any legislative proposition that Tony brings to the parliament. In this parliament it is possible for an individual member to bring a piece of legislation for consideration and to have it actively debated. That’s a big change from the past and I think

it’s a good thing. So, when Tony presents his legislation we will obviously consider its details and respond then.

As a Federal Government, at this stage under current legislation, we don’t seek to take over State government and local government planning powers, but we do seek to protect the environment through our Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, which gives the Minister for the Environment special powers for major projects and things that would have a potentially large environmental impact.

So we’re not without a role and we will continue to exercise that role. In terms of any expansion of that role that Tony Windsor wants to bring into the Parliament for consideration, we’d have a look at it when all the details are available.

HOST: And as Prime Minister, though, where do you stand on this particular issue, the issue of balancing the need of food production for the nation and Australia’s role in global food production and that of the resource demand, especially in a region like the Liverpool Plains.

PM: I think the important word in that sentence is balance. We are a great producer of resources. We are a great miner of coal and we’ve exported a lot of coal to the world. We’ll continue to do that.

We’re also a great agricultural nation, a great trading nation in agricultural produce and we will continue to do that, too.

In order to do both - have the resources sector strong and our agricultural sector strong - we have to make the right land use decisions and so doing the planning properly, doing the environmental assessments properly, is pivotal to that.

HOST: Do you see the need to protect sensitive food production lands from mining?

PM: Well, I certainly see the need to protect our environment and to protect our great resources like water. I’m not here today going to nominate a project or a proponent and say ‘I’ve got a view about that project’ - that would be the wrong thing for me to do as Prime

Minister, wrong against the proper processes that we use to assess projects which come through to us if they are of national significance through the environment protection legislation.

But generally, I’m happy to say that I want to see a balance. I want to see strong, continued, food production, as well as us continue to be a nation that exports resources to the world.

HOST: Just to another issue, I guess there continues to be anxiety in regional and rural sectors about plans for a carbon tax and what the Government is proposing. Can you give a guarantee that farmers won’t be pushed away from the land or pushed off their farms? What kind of compensation - and we keep hearing those words, that there will be that level in the tax that you’re working on, or the proposal that you’re working on - what will there be for rural areas in terms of compensation?

PM: For farmers, this is all upside. The agricultural sector will not be in the carbon pricing regime. We’ve already announced that, so farmers do not have to worry about a carbon pricing being imposed on their activities - they’re outside the scheme.

But they do have opportunities. They have opportunities through what is called carbon farming, which is changing land management practices and soil practices so they are actually helping with the task or reducing carbon pollution, and if they do that they’ll be paid for it, so this is actually a new stream of revenue for farmers that they haven’t had the opportunity to access in the past.

HOST: If they’re outside the scheme though, how do they qualify for compensation for things like transport and processing and other parts of their business in that area?

PM: Like other Australian households, for the things that they go and buy which may have seen some price impacts, farmers will be eligible for the assistance that we’re providing. We’ve got to remember the whole way this scheme works is we need to do the right thing by our environment, we need to transition our economy into a clean energy economy, we need to cut carbon pollution. We’ll be getting the 1,000 biggest polluters to pay the price of putting carbon pollution into our atmosphere and using that revenue to assist households, including of course farm households, to protect Australian jobs and to fund programs that tackle climate change.

For farmers, this is a proposition that’s got a very clear upside - they’re not paying a carbon price directly, they’re not in that category of the 1,000 biggest polluters, so they’re not paying the carbon price, but there will be a whole new stream of revenue that they can access. It’s very good news for them.

HOST: I know you’re in a hurry this morning, but we know you have a phone call appointment with Tony Windsor every Friday morning and I think he was a bit disappointed you ditched him a couple of weeks ago for the other House of Windsor, but we’re wondering, within that agreement, is there any chance the ABC New England mornings could maybe take the other Friday?

PM: Well, we’ll do our best to come on and say hello and to work through local issues and I don’t think that Tony Windsor is related to the House of Windsor, but you might have to ask him that.

HOST: Thanks, Prime Minister.

PM: Thank you.