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Transcript of joint press conference: Canberra: 15 June 2011: Carbon price; Dalai Lama; Indonesian live export suspension; Caucus; Australian Labor Party

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Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra WED 15 JUNE 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Carbon price; Dalai Lama; Indonesian live export suspension; Caucus;  Australian Labor Party 

PM: I’m joined by the Minister for Climate Change and we’re here today to launch three new facts sheets from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. These fact sheets are there bringing together the evidence for Australians on three important points.

Unfortunately, in this debate there are three things frequently said that are not right. First and foremost you would frequently hear that other countries are not doing anything. One of these fact sheets addresses what other countries are doing.

Second, you would hear that Australia’s emissions are too small to make a difference. One of these fact sheets talks about our emissions in the context of the top 20 polluters in the world.

And third, these fact sheets make clear that international negotiations are making progress, where of course it is commonly claimed that international negotiations have failed.

If we go through those things briefly, first and foremost the false claims that other countries are not doing anything. The Productivity Commission report released last week clearly showed that our top trading partners are undertaking a substantial amount of action on

climate change. Including our own nation, the Productivity Commission identified over 1,000 policy measures to reduce carbon pollution. The fact sheet which we are releasing today, this fact sheet here, provides further information on the actions that are being taken by our major

trading partners, showing of course that the world is acting.

Then, secondly, we do frequently hear that Australia’s emissions are too small to make any difference. The fact sheet here addresses that and shows very graphically for you that Australia is amongst the 20 top polluters in the world and actually, as Australians, we emit more carbon pollution per person than any other developed nation in the world. If you look closely at this it shows that there are a number of nations on par with Australia when it comes to emissions; nations like Italy, nations like the United Kingdom, and we know that those countries are taking action. You can’t tackle climate change and say that the top 20 emitters should not act and Australia is amongst them.

Thirdly, these fact sheets show that international negotiations are making a difference, taking you through the details of what has happened through international negotiations. Progress was made at Copenhagen with a broad agreement that we needed to stabilise the climate with a change of less than 2 degrees Celsius; this is an important agreement. And then it was built on in Cancun, where nations agreed to further progress. At Cancun, 89 countries responsible for more than 80 per cent of global emissions pledged to reduce or limit their emissions.

So, we don’t want Australia at the front of the world, I’ve never put to the Australian nation we should lead the world, but we can’t afford to be left behind as other nations act and as international negotiations move forward.

To give you one example of the kind of false claims we see about international actions, in the Parliament just a couple of weeks ago both Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey suggested in question time that Russia, Japan, the United States and Canada had advised that they would not join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. That was put in Question Time to suggest that the world isn’t acting, whereas the truth is those countries have said they won’t sign up because they want an even stronger global outcome and each of them is acting on climate change.

So, this is important information we believe Australians should have to bust some of the myths that are being perpetuated in the carbon pricing and climate change debate.

Can I conclude by saying there’s another myth out there as well, and that myth is that people, tradespeople, in our nation have something to fear from pricing carbon. I thank the tradespeople who came to meet with me earlier today; plumbers, electricians who see the opportunities for the future; the opportunities that are already being realised for greens skills,

green jobs, more apprenticeships, more work in the trades that they represent. I thank them for presenting me with a letter that expressed their support for carbon pricing.

I’ll turn now to Greg and then we’ll be happy to take your questions.

MINISTER COMBET: Thanks very much Prime Minister. And it is very important for people in the community to have the information available to them that does demonstrate that other countries are endeavouring to come to grips with this difficult public policy challenge. And of course it does require an unprecedented level of international cooperation to effectively tackle climate change. We are working internationally, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to endeavour to contribute to an outcome. But when you are the highest per capita polluter amongst the developed economies and one of the top 20 polluters internationally in absolute terms, then other countries look to us to say ‘Well

what are you doing? What responsibility will you take in order to contribute to an effective international response to the challenge of climate change?’

And so, the Government’s now generated a significant degree of information. There has been for some months a catalogue, if you like, of measures taken by other countries on the Department of Climate Change website. Last week’s release by the Productivity Commission of its report, I think, was a very important contributor to the understanding that amongst seven of our top trading partners there are, identified in that report, over a thousand policies endeavouring to reduce emissions and of course with varying levels of effectiveness. One of the key things to emerge from the Productivity Commission report is that a market mechanism, such as an emissions trading scheme, is the most cost effective way of reducing

emissions in your economy. And that of course has been something the Government has been cognisant of in approaching this policy issue over recent months. But it is very important that the Productivity Commission has affirmed that position.

Today with the release of these three fact sheets there’s further information now available. It is important to bear in mind that amongst our top five trading partners which include Japan, China, the US, South Korea and India, and another six of our top 20 trading partners all have implemented or are piloting carbon trading or taxation schemes of one form or another. And of course, across the EU there’s been an emission trading scheme in place since 2005.

China has announced, importantly given it is our top trading partner, that it will introduce emissions trading progressively in a number of key cities and provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai. This would have coverage of more than 100 million people in these six pilot emissions trading schemes that China intends to pursue. And of course, the Government is working with the Chinese Government. We have a memorandum of understanding with them to share information and experience over matters such as that. It’s also worth just finally noting that last year global investment in the clean energy sector, and this is represented in the fact sheets that we’ve provided, taking no less than US$243 billion including $54 billion in China and $34 billion in the US. And its investments of that nature that are going to make sure that economies in the future have the competitive edge and we cannot be left behind in this endeavour. It is very important that we provide the most efficient framework for carbon pricing in our economy, as the Government is proposing. That we’re able to achieve emissions reductions at least cost, but that we also provide the impetus for investment in clean energy and of course that is a key policy objective for what the Government has been advancing.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister the Productivity Commission report listed 230 policies, if I remember correctly, on climate initiatives in Australia. It was also very critical of, well, implicitly critical of solar feed in tariffs, renewable energy targets, which were found to, I

think in the solar energy tariff, had actually pushed up emissions and was costing $1,000 a tonne, too. When you finally produce the carbon plan, is the future of solar feed in tariffs and the renewable energy target on the table, in line with the Productivity Commission findings?

PM: Well, I think when looking at the Productivity Commission perhaps rather than getting into those individual details we should remind ourselves of the central message of the Productivity Commission report. The central message is that other countries are acting, and then of course the Productivity Commission went on to say pricing carbon is the most efficient way of cutting carbon pollution in Australia - that is, the way that will tackle climate change best for this country at the least cost.

So, on the inefficiencies of direct action measures, I’d suggest in part you have that conversation with the Leader of the Opposition, who is promising to Australians direct action measures which we know will be tremendously costly for Australian families and won’t work.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t the Productivity Commission effectively saying all those measures are inefficient and if you are going to adopt the most efficient measure you should dump all these other ones?

PM: Well I think first and foremost it’s saying get on with the job of pricing carbon. We are getting on with the job of pricing carbon because we recognise that is the most efficient way of cutting carbon pollution.

JOURNALIST: When does the Government realistically think there might be a legally binding agreement on climate change? Are you now suggesting that it doesn’t matter that there isn’t one? And a second question, if I may: is the Government still saying that $1.5 billion is appropriate compensation for coal mines, and would it be enough to stop the closure of those couple of very, very gassy mines?

PM: I’ll turn to Greg for some details but policy wise we’ve been very clear with the Australian community that we need to act now to price carbon. We need to act now to cut carbon pollution and that’s why we’re getting on with the job with pricing carbon to start on the 1st of July next year. That’s because we have a high-emissions economy. We can’t afford to be left behind as the rest of the world moves. We’ve got a journey of transformation to a cleaner energy economy and hard things don’t get easier just because you leave them a long time. That’s why we should start now.

On the coal industry, we’ve also been very clear, of course, that we’re in discussions with coal about how we can best work with coal through carbon pricing. I’ll turn to Greg for some details.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) about when you think-

PM: I’ll turn to Greg for that.

MINISTER COMBET: I think it would be brave to predict when there might be a binding international agreement but the important thing is to ask ‘is there progress being made?’ and the answer to that is demonstrably yes. And it’s obviously difficult and as I said before, it requires an unprecedented level of international cooperation to tackle a diabolically complex international problem. But at Cancun late last year, the pledges that the major emitters had made in the context of the Copenhagen Accord were included for the first time under the UNFCCC framework in the decision of the conference. This year, in Durban in South Africa, we’re certainly hopeful of being able to contribute to further progress being made in the international negotiations. And it’s just important that we’re mindful that progress has been made and that we’re committed to continuing to try to work with others to achieve it. When, when you are one of the top 20 emitters internationally, that is what the international community also expects of you. And it is not really satisfactory, if one accepts the scientific evidence and respects it, to say that we’re really not going to do anything serious about it as the Opposition has been suggesting.

On the coal industry issue, we’re particularly mindful of the importance of course of the job security of coal miners. We demonstrated during the last term of Parliament, in the context of the CPRS, that the Government believed it was justified by assistance to the most affected coal mines. And I’ve made a couple of remarks over the last few days publically about this issue because if one takes an example of a $20 per tonne carbon price and has a look a the impact of that across the coal industry - the average liability per tonne of coal that is produced for methane emissions in the coal industry is about $1.60 per tonne, now that’s in the context that coaking coal prices are in excess of $320 a tonne, steaming coal prices are around about and in excess of $120 a tonne. It is for the vast majority of the coal industry

production not a particularly material cost to have a carbon price applied to fugitive emissions. However, there are a small small number of mines, they number less than 30. They’re underground coal mines that have high methane emissions where the Government does accept the fact that it does have a material impact. And of course, in the context of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, we are discussing that particular issue.

JOURNALIST: Are you still looking at $1.5 billion?

MINISTER COMBET: Well I’m not in a position to speculate about the level of assistance, but it is an issue that is on the table of course.

JOURNALIST: Mr Combet, on the fact sheets you’ve released today, there’s some pretty dire warnings in here for Melbourne, for example, (inaudible) facing 35 per cent less water going into the catchment, tripling the number of extreme hot days and specifically at Mount Hotham the ski season to go from 120 days to just 20 - these are your dire warnings and the

reason you say we need to do, have a carbon price and have action. If you have the carbon price, if you have action, how will those forecasts change, if you act, how those numbers will change?

MINISTER COMBET: The critical thing is that there’s an international response at the end of the day. But that we play our part responsibly in that international response. We cannot -as I think both the Prime Minister and I have indicated - you cannot have a position where we’re one of the top 20 emitters, the highest per capita amongst the developed countries in terms of the pollution that we’re producing and say that we’re not going to be doing anything. Australia has a lot to lose from climate change and we’ve got a responsibility to act with others to deal with it. Of course it’s a problematic question to go and try to identify how much our particular response might contribute to mitigation because it is an international issue. But I tell you one thing, we have to contribute to the international response, to mitigate the risk of damage to our own economy and our own environment.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) really been recently been quite a misleading impression that our actions will, for example, mitigate the effects on the Barrier Reef and areas like this. It’s been the implication in a lot of what’s been said when, as you say, it’s not really the fact.

PM: I’ll turn to Greg for a comment in a second, but I do want to pick Phil up on the language of dire warnings.

I don’t stand here as Prime Minister and Greg doesn’t stand here as the responsible minister issuing dire warnings. What we make available to you is the science.

If I stood here today and said smoking causes lung cancer, your reaction to that wouldn’t be ‘gee, she’s issuing a dire warning’. Your reaction to that would be ‘yep, I know that, the scientists have proved it’. If I stood here today and said ‘lying out in the sun for too long causes skin cancer’ you couldn’t say ‘she’s issued a dire warning’. You’d say ‘yep, absolutely right, know that, that’s why I make sure my child’s wearing a hat every day when they go to school’.

Now, all we’re doing with the science of climate change is giving you the science.

MINISTER COMBET: And I don’t accept that the Government - I don’t accept the presumption for both the questions. That is, that the Government has somehow or other been suggesting something that is otherwise than the case. We’ve been saying clearly, here are risks of climate change to our environment, to our economy, to our communities, to particular industries, as a basis for a case for us to take action as part of an international response.

If you accept the science, it comes back to some very basic propositions, if you accept and respect the science, you have a public policy responsibility to act, and to act as part of an international effort which the Government is doing, and to act domestically to reduce our own emissions, and in doing so, to do it at least cost to the economy, that is, as I said one of the key elements of the Productivity Commission report.

The policy response that the Government is advancing in the form of an emissions trading scheme starting with a fixed price period of between three to five years, is a market mechanism, that in our judgment, with proper design will deliver the mitigation effort in our own economy, the emissions reductions in our own economy at least cost, and what’s more, it’s in our long term economic future and benefit to do so, it is in our national interest to do so and as I’ve said before the economies that take action at least cost, drive the innovation towards clean energy are going to be those economies that will be the most competitive in the decades to come.

JOURNALIST: But you also accept that we might do all these proper things and the Barrier Reef still suffer devastating damage and the Murray Darling Basin be in a bad state, would you accept that?

MINISTER COMBET: What’s the converse, to do nothing? No, we must take responsibility internationally.

JOURNALIST: I’m just asking you if you accepted that?

MINISTER COMBET: Well I don’t necessarily accept that because there is action internationally. We have to play our part in it.

JOURNALIST: To take the Prime Minister’s analogy a step further though, Prime Minister, what you’re saying is that Australia doesn’t just have to stop smoking for there to be benefits, the world has to stop smoking and for all of the things you say that the rest of the world is doing, why do emissions continue to grow? Can you tell us when they’ll start to reverse?

PM: Well, if we can refer you to this fact sheet, Fact Sheet Number Three, which in very clear circles, the circles obviously showing the size of people’s emissions, tell you what the top 20 countries causing carbon pollution are doing, what we’re causing in terms of carbon pollution.

We are amongst those top 20 countries, so Australia is here with the Aussie flag on it and the Aussie map and when you see the size of that circle you can see clustered around us a range of nations with a comparable emissions impact on the globe.

Now what that is telling you is we all need to take action, that’s true. What the other fact sheet is telling you is how these countries are taking action.

JOURNALIST: When will we start to see a reversal in the growth of emissions?

PM: Well, you would be aware different countries have different targets and they are in here for you to see, in terms of what is being aimed for. What we are aiming for is an unconditional target, is of course a -5 cut by 2020.

JOURNALIST: Why have you decided not to meet the Dalai Lama?

PM: Look, the Dalai Lama is a frequent visitor to Australia, I think he’s been here four times in the last five years. On some occasions he’s met with the Prime Minister, on others he hasn’t. I’ve determined on this occasion that I won’t be meeting with the Dalai Lama. He will meet with a member of the Government, he’ll meet with Minister Garrett.

JOURNALIST: Has it got anything to do with China - not offending them?

PM: No, I make my own decisions and the Government makes its own decisions about meetings that we hold.

JOURNALIST: Power prices in New South Wales are going up 18 per cent, largely or partly because of the renewable energy targets. How do you explain to families that sort of increase?

PM: When we looked at the increases people are experiencing though electricity bills I’m very concerned about them. I understand what a great deal of pressure they put on the shoulder of families, absolutely, and when we analyse the various elements you’ll see that a very big element, indeed the biggest element is needing to invest in infrastructure. We haven’t been investing in infrastructure as we should, and what I don’t want to see is us wake up in 10 or 15 years’ time, where we’ve under invested in infrastructure again because there’s no certainty about carbon pricing, and when you talk to those in the electricity industry they want to know with certainty how carbon pricing is going to work because they’re investing in incredibly long-lived assets.

So, for us to do the best thing we can, to work with people, to make sure we’ve got electricity supply right, to make sure we’ve got the clean energy sources we need for the future, we’ve got to get on with the job of pricing carbon.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask about live cattle trade? Will you allow the live export of cattle, or the export of live cattle, to Indonesia if they do not apply stunning techniques, which is precisely what the three biggest live cattle exporters want? Paul Holmes a Court is saying that it’s a no stun, no deal, and I note that the Caucus has passed a motion which effectively is not

a no stun, no deal. Will you allow exports if they’re not stunned before slaughter?

PM: The Minister will be dealing with these questions in detail, but our aim here - we’ve suspended the trade - our aim here is to ensure that cattle that go to Indonesia and are slaughtered in Indonesia are slaughtered under international conditions, the standards of the world, when it comes to slaughtering cattle and that we encourage the use to stunning.

Of course, individual producers may well make their own decision about where they want to direct their cattle to, but at the moment we don’t have those standards in place and we don’t have the ability to track where cattle have gone in Indonesia and consequently to monitor

their treatment when they’re there. But the Minister will obviously be in a position to deal with this in great detail for you.

JOURNALIST: The MLA says itself when it did its report last year that with the stunning of cattle you could actually improve the welfare of animals many times over. Do you think that Australia should demand of its major partner to accept Australian standards and not world standards, which applies to 178 nations, many of which processes its cattle from live animals in a way that we would regard as inhumane?

PM: Well, I’m not accepting your characterisation of world standards, and of course world standards have not been in operation in the abattoirs in which you’ve seen the footage that has generated so much concern amongst Australians and I can understand that concern. It was truly horrific footage. So, that is not animals being treated appropriately, it’s not animals being treated in accordance with world standards.

I’ve just said to you, part of the policy here is to encourage the use of stunning. Clearly, Minister Ludwig will be able to go through all of these details.

We’ll just go to the front and then we’ll come back. Bonge.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just back on this fact sheet - why is there no international comparison of carbon prices here, seeing that this is about pricing carbon? What is the average carbon price internationally and is your timetable for announcing a carbon price still the end of this month or the beginning of the next?

PM: You’re a man with a lot of work to do, because you’ve got that huge Productivity Commission report to work your way through - many, many pages, very closely and densely argued, which takes you through the questions of carbon pricing, shadow carbon pricing and what can be done to assess comparable carbon prices in other nations, and the clear conclusion of the Productivity Commission is that other nations are acting, so that is the material we announced last week.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a fact that Australia can’t give investors any certainty while the Opposition is promising to repeal your carbon tax?

PM: That’s a question you’d best direct to Tony Abbott.

What I would say is a fact about the policies that Mr Abbott has announced, the fact there is even members of the Liberal Party are horrified at his plans to claw back money from pensioners, money we will give them to assist with carbon pricing. So, even the Liberal Party today, Liberal Party ticket holders are absolutely horrified at his claw back plans and what I can say to Australians is we will be assisting Australians.

Mr Abbott has said however that assistance is provided, however it’s provided to pensioners, however it’s provided to families, whether it’s provided through pensions, whether it’s provided through family payments, whether it’s provided through tax cuts, what Mr Abbott wants to do is claw that money back from people.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) his own tax cuts?

PM: Yes, and there might be a pig flying when I go outside and have a look at the window in Parliament House. A man who came up with an $11 billion black hole during an election campaign, I don’t think is the first person you would look to, Paul, to generate something as complicated as a tax plan.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you get the feeling that you’re sitting on top of a rebellion by the Left of your party?

PM: No, I don’t. Look, I’ve got a very talented Caucus and a talented ministry, and when you’ve got a talented Caucus and a talented ministry they want to have policy discussions and of course that’s a good thing and we do have policy discussions at Caucus. There is a core set of values that guide the Labor Party, that guide this Labor Government. As we make the difficult decisions each and every day about how to translate those values into action, of course reasonable people will differ about the best way of doing that. We have those policy discussions in Caucus, that’s a good thing.

We’ll just go to Laura and then come back.

JOURNALIST: Is Cabinet considering a compensation package, not for cattle producers, I know that’s in discussions with MLA, but to look at the effects, the knock on effects of the cattle ban in Northern Australia?

PM: Cabinet discussions are confidential, Laura.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Ralph Norman from the Coal Association says he hasn’t spoken to the Government for weeks. Tony Maher from the Mining Union says he feels the Greens are treating mining workers like a trophy hunt. What do you say to them to try and placate their concerns? You’re not giving detail to Laura’s question on compensation, what do you say to them about their concerns?

MINISTER COMBET: Well I think on the latter part of the question in relation to the Coal Miners Union, I’d say there’s a good understanding of the Government’s view about the issue, and as I said before the impact of a carbon price on quite a finite number of underground gassy coal mines has been a well traversed issue across the industry since the CPRS debate.

As to the Coal Association, I was in contact with one of the representatives of the Coal Association a couple of weeks ago and offered to have further discussions and meetings and the Association hasn’t taken that up at this point in time but we’re ready to talk any time because they’re important issues.

PM: I think we said last question, but just in the interests of fairness, we’ll have one from Katherine. It’s discrimination in favour of red heads that doesn’t necessarily get favour with the whole group.

JOURNALIST: According to our Caucus briefing a minute ago, you indicated to the Caucus that people, notwithstanding the general debate question, shouldn’t get distracted with issues that should be resolved at the National Conference. Now, I’m a bit confused about the

hierarchy of issues. What should be resolved by the National Conference and what is OK to discuss in Caucus?

PM: Well, I’m very clear on it, so I can help you with that.

National Conference, of course, deals with party renewal questions and there are a significant number of issues about renewing the Labor Party that we need to work through at National Conference. I’ve spoken about those matters before.

I obviously want to see our Labor Party stronger, number of members increase, different ways of working in the modern age with people who no longer see their political engagement as going down to a locality-based branch for a face-to-face meeting. I do want to see us strengthen the party, so there’s a set of party reform questions that can and will be dealt with at National Conference at the end of the year.

National Conference sets the platform for the party - no news in that, that’s ages old - and of course the Government sets the policies for the nation and we’re doing that day after day in accordance with our Labor values, in accordance with the policy discussions we have at all

levels of government.

Thank you.