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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Launch of Coastcare Week 2009; Opposition positions on climate change policy; Copenhagen meeting on climate change; NSW river red gums

E&OE transcript
Doorstop Interview, Collaroy Beach Sydney
7 December 2009

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GARRETT: It’s terrific to be down on Collaroy Beach this morning launching Coastcare Week 2009 and saying to those 60,000 Aussies right around the coast who do the volunteer work on Coastcare – good on you, you are doing fantastic work.

Our coasts are incredibly precious, important places for us. We are coastal nation. A lot of us live either on the coast or very close to it and coasts are specifically in the front line of dangerous climate change. We saw this from the reports that have been released over the year including the Coastal Zone Inquiry.

We know that the potential sea level rises of some one metre or so that has been identified as happening here over the next 100 years will produce very, very significant pressures and threats to our coastal environment. We have got bills in the vicinity of $60 billion worth or property sitting out there, over 150,000 dwellings or more affected. Some 700,000 Australians directly affected by the impacts of climate change.

Importantly and critically, our coasts are so precious to us because they’re places where we conduct our leisure life, we have got surf life saving clubs around the country, we come to coast on holidays. It is important for tourism for this country. Our coast is absolutely critical because its health determines the health of our fishing industries and the like.

And so never is there a place where the urgency to deal with climate change is more real than on Australia’s coasts. And I say this morning, having seen the remarks from the former Opposition Leader and the reports in the paper about the Opposition Treasurer that the bell has already tolled on Tony Abbott’s absolutely absent climate change policy. Here we have the former Opposition Leader, Mr Turnbull, belling the cat on his colleague, the now Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott, and saying that the emperor has no clothes. And because the emperor has no clothes, it is time for Tony Abbott to ‘fess up that he doesn’t have a climate change policy. His shadow treasurer colleague, is saying there is a $50 billion bill on these thought bubbles that he has had over the last two or three days. And the former Opposition Leader, a man who does understand climate change, has nailed Tony Abbott to the wall as a pretender on the most important that this country faces.

JOURNALIST: … [inaudible] …realistically, what is the best we can expect out of Copenhagen?

GARRETT: Copenhagen is a very, very important meeting, and I think the thing that we want to see come out of it is an effective agreement to bring countries together to determine how we will reduce emissions. We may not see the treaty that was originally anticipated – I think that is clear. But what we do need is an effective agreement, amongst countries, as to how they are going to move forward. As to how, together, they are going to find common cause to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

JOURNALIST: So is that simply an agreement to agree sometime in the future on something that is still indeterminate?

GARRETT: Let us see what the discussions at Copenhagen bring forward, how much detail is in them. We definitely and deeply need an effective agreement to come from these countries meeting as to what necessary and additional actions and steps and agreements will happen in the future.

JOURNALIST: Do you think we are going to get one?

GARRETT: I know that this is the most important issue that the globe faces and I think that is recognised right around the world and I also know that people are going to Copenhagen to find common cause on how we reduce emissions, on how we get the planet off a collision course with its dangerous climate.

JOURNALIST: So realistically is there going to be an agreement?

GARRETT: Well again, let us see what comes out of it. We need an effective agreement. It won’t be in the form of a legally binding agreement; we can see that. So I think it is clear that what is absolutely critical at Copenhagen is that countries find common cause on what they are prepared to agree to and move that through their systems and the international system as quickly as they can.

JOURNALIST: But without a legally binding agreement, how is this anything other than a talkfest?

GARRETT: It’ll be absolutely critical for the parties at Copenhagen to settle on the matters that they have agreement about. And I think that that is absolutely critical both between the developed and the developing countries, and also the scale of ambition that countries want to refer to. It does not mean, simply because we don’t get a final treaty out of Copenhagen, that this isn’t the most important meeting that happens in the world community. It still is and it remains that. And what we want to see is an effective agreement that starts to bring these countries together and show how each of them, and together, we can begin to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

JOURNALIST: We have had a lot of reports over the year, but obviously there is a lot of scientists going to Copenhagen as well; should we brace for more bad news?

GARRETT: I think Australians are in the position now that they realise that all of the scaremongering and scepticism that has been undertaken by the Liberal and opposition parties have resulted in a position that the Opposition Leader now holds which is to say that we will do nothing on climate change. And I think Australians want us to do something on climate change both here at home and internationally.

And I guess, as I look out at that stretch of coastline in Northern Beaches of New South Wales, outside of Sydney, I can see suburbs and houses and communities that stretch from here almost to the New South Wales/ Queensland border; and again, in South East Queensland that stretch up to say the lower end of the Great Barrier Reef. Each and every one of those people in some of the most densely populated parts of our country will be impacted on by climate change and it will be the case from the science that we saw released a couple of weeks ago, that the likely impacts on our coastal communities will be great.

Now we have a plan to deal with that. It’s about a CPRS, it’s about increasing energy efficiency, it’s about a renewable energy target, it’s about making sure that we drive change through our economy.

But today, with a blog from Malcolm Turnbull, completely disassociating himself the position that Mr Abbott has put over the last 48 hours, the Liberal Party is in disarray again.

And it is incredibly important that Mr Abbott squares up to the fact that you can’t play fancy feet with climate change policy. You have got to be fair dinkum. The national interest and the international interest depends on it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, on that note. Do you think Mr Turnbull will be able to sway any other Liberals to vote for the ETS? He said he will vote for the ETS next year when you put it up again.

GARRETT: That is a matter you will have to put to Mr Turnbull. All I can say is that Mr Turnbull, as an environment minister in the Howard Government, and as the former Opposition Leader, understands this issue pretty well. And he has completely nailed his leader to the wall, stripped all his clothes off him, and shown him to be naked, absolutely naked in front of the Australian public, on decent, reasonable and substantive climate change policy. I invite you to read Mr Turnbull’s blog. It is all there. It has been expressed very clearly.

JOURNALIST: What about Mr Abbott’s call for a series of debates on climate change?

GARRETT: Well, Tony Abbott can’t walk around the place throwing out thought bubbles left, right and centre, when he has junked one of the key policy responses that is necessary for climate change.

Mr Howard accepted that there needed to be an emissions trading scheme. Countries around the world accept that you need to have a price in the market for emissions trading.

And now Mr Abbott has thrown not only the baby out with the bathwater but he has thrown his policy out altogether. So look, Tony Abbott is the master of thought bubbles on a 24-hour cycle basis, but when you actually strip them back and have a look at what he is saying, you realise that his cupboard is absolutely bare. And that is a terrible place for the Opposition to be in and frankly it is not a good place for the country to be in either.

JOURNALIST: But you would have to admit that there is still a bit of confusion out there about the ETS?

GARRETT: All I say is that 60,000 Aussies will be out and about as Coastcare volunteers this summer. They understand how important it is to do that volunteer work. They can see the kind of impacts that are already taking place in their beaches, around their headlands, in their estuaries, because of climate change. And the science is particularly specific on this point – we will see warming, we will sea-level rises. And for every centimetre of sea-level rise that we get in our country, we get a metre of coast incursion, of coastal erosion.

And for Australians that is a critical issue. That is what Mr Abbott has to address; not throwing thought bubbles out and then getting exposed by his own party for the deficiency of his own policy position.

JOURNALIST: Can I quickly ask about red gum forests? Have you talked to the State Premier, Kristina Keneally, whether she is going to uphold Nathan Rees’ decision to keep the red gum national park on the Murray?

GARRETT: I haven’t spoken to the new premier yet, but I would say to her very strongly that Mr Rees’ decision on the red gum forests was the right decision. It is a good decision. The $48 million restructuring package that he identified is substantial. And this is an environmental issue of significance and importance and I would very much encourage the new Premier and the NSW Government to take that decision forward. It is in Labor’s best interests. It is in the best interests of the environment. And I believe it is in the best interests of the community in the South West.

JOURNALIST: Will you intervene because there is a lot of pressure on her to overturn that decision?

GARRETT: Again, what I can say is that I would strongly encourage the NSW Premier to validate the decision made by Mr Rees on NSW river red gums. It has got a strong supporting package there in terms of $48 million of structural adjustment. And these river red gums are absolutely vital and critical in terms of environment. I very much hope that she will take Mr Rees’ decision and put it into practice.

[ENDS]

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