Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with Emma Alberici, Lateline
19 February 2013
EMMA ALBERICI: To discuss the break with the Greens, we were joined from Adelaide a short time ago by the Environment Minister Tony Burke.
Tony Burke, it's good of you to be there.
TONY BURKE: Good to be with you, Emma.
EMMA ALBERICI: Tell me, has the Government walked away from its agreement with the Greens?
TONY BURKE: Not at all. I mean, I think what we've seen today is a political manoeuvre from Christine Milne that a lot of Green supporters will be pretty disappointed about, that she's decided to turn her sights and her language against Labor to try to get stuck into us. And to also to do it at a time when over the last two years there's never been a time in Australia's history where so much of our country has been going into conservation. It's a decision today that she's taken for her own political reasons, but I think there'll be lots of people shaking their heads about it.
EMMA ALBERICI: Well given you're the Environment Minister, how much responsibility do you take personally for this decision by the Greens to abandon the Government?
TONY BURKE: I think it's a long time since the Greens decided that they didn't really want to be an environment party. We've had Adam Bandt in the House of Representatives now for more than two years. He's only ever asked me one question about the environment and that was during his first few months there about an action of the Victorian Government. Since then the Greens have moved on to other issues. Now, that doesn't bother me.
I joined the Labor Party over the campaign to save the Daintree. I've been passionate about these issues my whole life. And in that time, for all the criticism that's been thrown around today, let's face it: in the last few years, last couple of years, we've become the world leader on protecting the oceans, the biggest network of marine national parks in the world, Coral Sea with the Great Barrier Reef, the biggest single marine park in the world, we've resolved the Murray Darling disputes that have been plaguing this nation for a century, and, on top of that, we've bought the forestry wars pretty much now to an agreement, to a close with a final stage to go through the Tasmanian Parliament, something that's been a battleground for 30 years. You won't find a term of government where you've had those sorts of environmental outcomes in one term.
EMMA ALBERICI: So what was Christine Milne's motivation in her speech today then?
TONY BURKE: You'd have to ask her obviously, but from everything I can see they've made a political call that they want to be able to complain that, you know, nothing's good enough. Even though more areas have gone into conservation than any other term, it's just not good enough. And if that's what they want to argue, then that's their call. But, you know, you look at the record, you look at the conservation decisions that have been made and there has never been a term like this one. There just hasn't.
EMMA ALBERICI: This severing of ties, is it all bad for the Government, or could this represent an opportunity for Labor to finally differentiate itself from the Greens and in so doing get a bit of an electoral boost from it?
TONY BURKE: Look, from my perspective I think it crystallises a different way of looking at the environment. When I look at an environmental decision, I look at whether it's good or bad depending on what you're actually protecting. For the Greens, they seem to look at whether it's good or bad depending on how many jobs you're destroying. So while the marine national parks are world-leading and around the rest of the world are recognised as such, from the Greens' perspective they would have liked to I'm sure for me to put them in different locations so that more fishing jobs got knocked out. It's a different approach.
EMMA ALBERICI: The Greens clearly believe Labor has become too cosy with the mining industry, too scared to confront the miners on the mining tax. In the Tarkine you opted for mining jobs where many thought you should have opted for tourism jobs and in NSW coal seam gas and coal mines have recently been approved.
TONY BURKE: There's no doubt when you've got a mining boom you got more applications in that industry and they get decided along national environmental law, which doesn't cover every issue, but covers the issues of various threatened species and that's done. Tough conditions get put in place. Sometimes projects end up not going ahead because - either because of the conditions or for other reasons.
But one of the arguments that the Greens have been using about these mining projects is they say, "Oh, but the carbon emissions." Now, let's not forget: only two years ago the Greens agreed with us that the best way to deal with greenhouse emissions was to price carbon, not to use a regulatory instrument. You get the price on carbon and then they say, "Oh, now we want the regulatory instrument as well." I really think you need to adopt a consistent approach on these issues.
The way to deal with emissions is through pricing carbon and the way to deal with your conservation decisions is not to say, "Well we're just going to go to wherever we can knock over jobs." You make your decisions based on your most pristine areas, your most magnificent areas and you provide the sorts of protection you can.
That's why with Tasmanian forests, for example, the Greens only want to talk about the Tarkine. They don't want to talk about the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, which is half a million hectares, including the most precious parts of the Tarkine, all of which is now under a package up and available and possible for conservation. Now, that's the big issue, but they don't want to go there because they'd rather just focus on, well, let's look at where we're knocking over jobs and that's not the way Labor's ever approached this.
EMMA ALBERICI: The Greens leader Christine Milne said in her speech today that the infighting among Labor MPs could exhaust you. She said yours is a, "... party riven with internal dissension". What is the mood like inside the Labor caucus at the moment?
TONY BURKE: Well in terms of the environmental issues, the support's been very strong the whole way through so I haven't been able to deal with anything like that. If your question is regarding the media speculation and the opinion polls, obviously we always want to be on the best possible footing that we can be and people are aware that we've got challenges at the moment. But my view of all of that is the more we talk about ourselves, then the more that gets reflected. So, you know, interviews like this, we've spent the vast majority of it talking about actually policy areas. It's a breath of fresh air to be able to do that.
EMMA ALBERICI: Well let me ask you this: does Julia Gillard enjoy the same level of support today as she did 12 months ago when Kevin Rudd challenged her for the leadership?
TONY BURKE: Well, even moreso because Kevin since then has said that he's not going to challenge again. He's repeated it a million times. I'm not sure what more he can do than keep repeating it. And so I think for the rest of us, we want to be able to get on with the job, we are getting on with it and I respect when there's that sort of speculation in the papers, you're compelled to ask the questions, but it's actually not something that's occupying a significant amount of my time.
EMMA ALBERICI: So what is driving all this speculation around the leadership of the Labor Party?
TONY BURKE: You'd have to ask the people that are writing the stories. I'm certainly not.
EMMA ALBERICI: OK. Well thank you very much for your time this evening, Tony Burke.
TONY BURKE: Good to be with you, Emma.