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Transcript
Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

Meet the Press
Interviews with Senator Ian Campbell, Minister for the Environment,
Fran Kelly of ABC Radio National and
Misha Schubert of the 'Age'

Sunday 17 September 2006

Discussions about global warming, climate change, Al Gore’s movie and the kyoto protocol.


Meet the Press presenter Greg Turnbull: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. This morning the biggest issue in the world - global warming. There's more and more alarmist talk about the consequences of climate change on our living standards and, ultimately, on our survival. So what are we doing about it and is whatever we're doing enough? Last week former vice-president Al Gore descended on Australia like an environmental evangelist, urging us to wake up to the dangers. Australia's Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, has been in Switzerland this week at a climate change summit. He returned late last night and is our guest this morning. Also, a player's view of the debate on cross-media laws. We'll talk to crikey.com publisher Eric Beecher. But first to what the nation’s papers are reporting this Sunday, September 17. The 'Sun Herald' says Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward will be parachuted into a rural seat in NSW after failing to win Liberal preselection for the urban electorate of Epping. The 'Sunday Herald Sun' covers the return to Australia of fearless cannibal hunter Naomi Robson. In Perth an academic has warned the city's beaches will disappear in 30 years due to rising sea levels. And the 'Sunday Age' says Victorian water is being bought and hoarded by speculators with no intervention from the State Government. Climate change is happening whether we like it or not, and an important man in terms of Australia's response is the Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, who joins us from Perth this morning. Good morning, Minister.

Senator Ian Campbell, Environment Minister: Morning, Greg.

Greg Turnbull: You’ve come in from Switzerland, and thanks for being with us so early from Perth this morning. What did that meeting in Switzerland achieve or was it just another international - multinational gabfest?

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, I think the United Nations framework convention conference process is the one overarching set of meetings, really. It's the primary international instrument to guide the world towards a low-carbon future, a future where we do protect the climate. One of the points I made at the meeting was, I think that just having these meetings once a year, where ministers come along, is probably not enough. I made the point, and I think it was pretty well received, that the convention was written 14, 15 years ago, the Kyoto Protocol process was started nearly a decade ago. My own view, and I think it was received well at this meeting, was that perhaps some of the processes that were designed back then are not serving the world well enough. There needs to be better quality action internationally, but we are making progress. The meeting, Greg, was to get a group of about 30 ministers to plan what's going to happen at Nairobi, which is the next conference in a few weeks' time. I think there is a sense of frustration, a sense that the whole process is becoming too bureaucratic and a sense that we need more practical action.

Greg Turnbull: I think certainly that seems to reflect the parallel process of world trade negotiations. There is meeting after meeting and all we seem to end up with, at the end of the day, is lots of politicians and bureaucrats with frequent flyer points.

Senator Ian Campbell: It gets to feel like that. What I find, having been a Western Australian politician, having to go to Canberra every week and now going to these seemingly endless meetings on climate changes, that I like to take there a sense of me to achieve something from the meetings. I find a sense of frustration of spending two or three days on a plane and not achieving anything. What I seek to achieve out of this meeting and the meeting in Nairobi is a new focus on technology transfer - that's one of the things we can achieve internationally, is if you do develop, for example, a low-emission light bulb - something simple that everyone can understand - if you can develop a lower emission light bulb and replace all of the light bulbs in the world with low-emission ones, then how do you solve the issue of transferring that technology across the globe? But what we want to do is say let's identify the barriers and challenges that stand in the way of technology transfer, say, for a light bulb, but also for carbon sequestration and storage or a range of other technologies, and then work together as a group of ministers to identify those barriers. So that's one of the objectives I've set for myself for Nairobi and for my ministerial colleagues, is to say let's establish, rather than just a bureaucratic working group on technology transfer that we've had in the past, a high-level technology transfer group, make it a permanent part of the UN framework and get ministers involved in actually delivering on it.

Greg Turnbull: Through the week, of course, we had what I'd call a high-emission light bulb in Australia in the form of Al Gore. It was quite a controversial visit that focused a lot of attention on this issue. Here's how seriously he takes the issue of climate change.

Al Gore, former U.S Vice-President (Last Sunday): Well, the reality is shocking, it truly is. We are in a completely new relationship with the ecology of the planet. But you're right that I see this as an action movie because it's designed to persuade the audience to take action.

Greg Turnbull: Senator Campbell, I haven't seen the film myself - I don't know whether you have - but do you share Ian Mcfarlane's view that it's just entertainment?

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, I think it is partly entertainment but that's the importance of what former vice-president Gore is doing. It's incredibly important to engage people right around the world, from households to businesses to the tops of Government, in understanding the science of the issue and then the sort of practical actions that are required to literally save the planet. So I think it is entertainment but that's not, from my point of view, a criticism because people can go and watch this movie. I did see it on one of my flights in the last couple of days. My most respected scientists concur with me that the science in vice-president Gore's movie is sound and solid. It's based on fact and the consequences of not addressing the problems that vice-president Gore has identified are very substantial.

Greg Turnbull: Could I turn to I guess your backyard? A report this morning with a prominent scientist in Western Australia saying say goodbye to your city beaches in the Perth because in the next 30 years they'll go under because of rising sea levels. Do you find that alarmist or do you think it could it be true? And if so what are you doing about it?

Senator Ian Campbell: The latest report I released was by a Professor Will Steffen from, I think, the Australian National University. Will's science is that, based on all of the global evidence that he's reviewed, is that sea level rises across planet will be of the order of about 50cm over the next 100 years. Now, Jorg Imberger would know better than I would the impact that would have on Western Australian beaches. I'm just not sure about that, but it's meant to be about 50cm, so I think perhaps to say we'll lose all of our beaches errs on the side of being alarmist, but we've got to remember that there are consequences of global warming. There will be sea level rises - there already have been. Temperatures have already risen by around about 0.6, 0.7 of a degree. This is built into the system. What are we doing about it? We have already, in Australia, saved around 78 megatons of carbon through the actions of the Australian community, much of it led by the Australian Government. We are working to build, internationally, a system that will save the climate from climate change, and that's why these meetings of the United Nations, Greg, are important. We could actually close down Australia, overnight, get rid of all of our emissions, but the growth in China alone would replace Australia's emissions within 10 months, so we can be the best climate change country in the world - and we are one of the best - but without cooperative, effective action internationally we will not save Perth's beaches.

Greg Turnbull: We'll come back and talk about the Kyoto Protocol and why Australia hasn't ratified it, after the break.

 

Greg Turnbull: You're on Meet The Press with our guest, Senator Ian Campbell, the Environment Minister, and welcome this morning to our panel, Fran Kelly from ABC Radio National breakfast. Morning.

Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National: Greg.

Greg Turnbull: And Misha Schubert from the 'Age'. Morning.

Misha Schubert, the 'Age': Good morning.

Greg Turnbull: The Federal Opposition is maintaining pressure on the Government over the Kyoto Protocol. Here's the Shadow Minister, Anthony Albanese.

Anthony Albanese, Shadow Environment Minister (Monday): This Government is hopelessly out of touch. It should reassess its position and, in accordance with the scientific consensus, ratify the Kyoto Protocol, get serious about reducing our emissions.

Misha Schubert: Minister, you've just acknowledged that without cooperative, effective action internationally we wouldn't save Perth's beaches, so why shouldn't Australia simply ratify Kyoto, get involved and make it better?

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, Australia's deeply involved. We're leading one of the key United Nations task forces. The dialogue for long-term cooperative action has been headed by the Deputy Secretary of my department. The reality that Labor seems to be totally at odds with is that the Kyoto Protocol is effectively being rewritten. The people inside the Kyoto Protocol - look at France, Norway, Portugal, Spain - these are countries that are right in the middle of Kyoto. France is 9% over its target, Norway 22% over its Kyoto target, Portugal 26% over its target and Spain 36% over its target. I mean, just signing Kyoto - I mean, it's sort of a cliché, it's not a policy. The whole world is moving beyond Kyoto and Labor is saying sign up to something that was really drafted six, seven, eight years ago which we know is not working.

Misha Schubert: But Australia's meeting its targets anyway so what's the net loss to Australia in not ratifying?

Senator Ian Campbell: There's no gain to ratifying. I mean, Australia is - we're part of a process that's designing the post-Kyoto world. The whole world - I mean, everyone sitting around the table at Zurich in the last 48 hours is trying to design what comes after Kyoto, yet Labor is saying we've got to sign something that was designed seven or eight years ago. I mean, it's almost funny for me to come back to Australia and see people still talking about signing Kyoto as some sort of answer to climate change. It's a slogan, it's not an answer, it's not a policy.

Fran Kelly: But Minister, in this post-Kyoto world, Australia seems to be leading the way in terms of the push for cleaner technologies - let's invest there. Those technologies take massive investment from business. Where is the price signal that's going to force business to spend that money to develop these technologies without a carbon trading system, without some kind of carbon tax?

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, I think - that's Labor's policy, is to bring in a new tax. What we do know is that we'll have to spend something like $17 trillion across the globe over the next 20, 30 years to ensure we bring on the energy the world needs so we do have job security, but also to see those new energy facilities, the new powerhouses, brought on with much lower emissions. You don't get that sort of investment by putting a new tax on to the economy - you need to keep the economy going strongly - so the answer here, Fran, is to invest the billions of dollars up front with more public sector investment, and you're quite right, the Australian Government is leading the Government there. It was interesting - David Miliband, the new Environment Secretary of Great Britain, made the point that he thinks that, at this stage in the cycle, government investment needs to be ramped up. Will you need some sort of - that's the, sort of, the push side of the investment - governments investing, the private sector investing alongside it, so you will see billions in Australia spent on creating the technology in the first place. Will you need some sort of pull, or incentive, to get those installations commercialised, commoditised, put into the mainstream down the track? You play well do that, but you want do it in a way that doesn't harm the economy, because you're then, really, working counterproductively, and the last thing you need is a carbon tax that puts a new cost on the very industries you need to be expanding. So getting that right…

Fran Kelly: But Minister, business seems to be way ahead of you on this. I mean, even some businesses in Australia - and I'm talking significant businesses - are saying, there does need to be some price signal here, some penalty or pull, as you say, for business to invest, because the public sector can't carry all of that. We need to bring private investment with us, as you say, and it needs to be induced to do that, somehow - encouraged to do it or forced to do it.

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, you're not going to pull the technologies on when they don't exist. At this stage we're in a research, development and deployment phase, so we are, for example with the Low Emissions Technology Fund, going to be seeing billions of dollars going into actually developing the technologies in the first place and deploying them. What we need to do then is to look at the issue of what incentives are required to see the world replace old technologies that pollute the atmosphere with carbon and other greenhouse gases. What sort of incentive structures are going to be needed? And the last thing you need - this is Labor's policy - is to put a new tax on to create that incentive. It is entirely bad for the economy. Their policy has been - Labor's policy, which looks at a 60% cut using unilateral Australian action, would reduce Australian GDP by around about 20%. It would wipe out Australia. I mean, it's such a bad policy. It's the wrong way to go for Australia, for the environment and for the economy.

Misha Schubert: So Minister, if you acknowledge there is some need for some kind of incentive for industry to get the ball rolling on this even faster, would you consider looking at the renewable mandatory energy targets again and providing some more incentive for investment there?

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, what we're doing, Misha, is to fund the renewable sector off the budget. We're putting in hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars into solar technologies. The solar cities program that the Prime Minister announced a couple of weeks ago will see hundreds of millions of dollars going into solar. The renewable energy target has seen the number of wind turbines in Australia go up to around 660 - it used to be 20 under Labor - but that's a $3 billion program. We're now spending many more billions than that across the whole portfolio. Renewables will play a part of the future but so will a range of other technologies. We don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket. We want to invest taxpayers' money where we're going to get the best carbon reductions per taxpayer's dollar.

Fran Kelly: Minister, about the urgency of this. I mean, our renewables sector tells me that the Government signals aren't enough to encourage them, aren't significant enough. You've seen Al Gore's movie, so have I. Quite compelling are those images of the glaciers shrinking, the polar ice cap shrinking. We've seen this week NASA images of the Arctic Sea ice shrinking. The Prime Minister says the gloomy predictions he's not persuaded by, but things are looking pretty gloomy there. Don't we need to be moving faster here? If Australia was on board, even with Kyoto, that would push the USA, which, of course, is a major source of global warming.

Senator Ian Campbell: Fran, I reject this concept that if you sign Kyoto it's going to push things faster. The real world has moved - you sort of have to believe me on this. If you came and sat in Zurich and sat amongst the 30 ministers who were trying to design what comes after Kyoto - the idea of signing Kyoto is just not even an issue any more.

Fran Kelly: I'm happy to believe you on that but what about the urgency of this, this development of these new technologies? I mean, it's going slowly.

Senator Ian Campbell: Well, I disagree with that. I mean, we've got hundreds of projects across Australia designed to get these breakthroughs. There are - through the Asia Pacific partnership we're now - with America and China, India, Korea and Japan - we are going through a ream of international projects. I mean, there is a strong sense of urgency, and I also reject what people say about Prime Minister Howard's views on this. I mean, what he is rejecting is the more radical, alarmist views, and I think he's right to do that. We need to look at the science. That's why we're spending $32 million on the science and putting out all of the science so people can understand it. Understand what the real science says, understand what the real impacts are, and I don't think people who make alarmist predictions do us much of a favour because the public will switch off. There are going to be substantial, serious consequences of not addressing climate change urgently and with multiple billion-dollar investments, and the problem is too serious to offer up slogans as solutions. I mean, signing Kyoto is a slogan not a solution. Investing billions of dollars in the technologies we need to transform the way we produce and use energy is a substantial solution, and that's what the Australian Government's doing, and that is why we're held in such high regard right around the world, because we're taking practical actions to address it.

Greg Turnbull: Senator Campbell, thanks very much for being our guest this morning.

Senator Ian Campbell: My pleasure.

Greg Turnbull: Senator Ian Campbell, the Environment Minister. After the break, the new media laws and what they mean. And in our cartoon of the week this week, Geoff Pryor in the 'Canberra Times' has Kim Beazley in the Labor Caucus room in search of Aussie values, declaring, "Lifetime loyalty to a footy team - fantastic!”

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