The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for the Environment
Topics: One-Stop Shop, Meeting with the Queensland Environment Minister, Climate Commission, IPCC Report, Climate Change, Kyoto 2, Climate Change Authority
Transcript: ABC Lateline - Interview with Emma Alberici
23 September 2013
EMMA ALBERICI: Joining us now from our Parliament House studio is the new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt. Greg Hunt, welcome to Lateline, thanks very much.
GREG HUNT: Thank you, good evening, Emma.
EMMA ALBERICI: Tell me first off, I understand you've been in discussions with the Queensland Government today. Has there been any progress insofar as streamlining approvals around environment, state and federal?
GREG HUNT: Yes there has. We've really dealt with three things this evening: firstly is the design of the Reef Trust to help protect the Reef on a long-term basis out to 2050; secondly, some very important environmental progress in terms of dealing with what's known as the Fitzroy Delta or Balaclava Island, I am very hopeful we are able to protect this wonderful area; and the third thing is in terms of the one-stop shop, or streamlining approvals.
There's more work to be done, but we've reached preliminary points of agreement.
We each have to take those back to our respective governments, but the goal is very simple: maintain our environmental standards, but end the duplication and have a single, simple process where we protect the environment but we can also make good, rapid decisions whether it's a green light or a red light.
EMMA ALBERICI: And do you suspect - do you have any idea of the magnitude of savings that companies, the government, can expect?
GREG HUNT: Well the Business Council before the election talked about more than one billion dollars of annual savings, if we roll these agreements out across the country without any change in environmental standards.
New Zealand has a nine-month limit on their environmental assessment process. Everybody says that that is one of the best systems in the world.
We should be able to match their standards, but also match their time frames, and that means we can get clear decisions in an early period but with good environmental standards in a way which improves our competitiveness and ends the extraordinary mess.
I've just inherited fifty decisions that were in the bottom drawer, that couldn't be determined by the previous government.
We've got to fix things up like that because they weren't even determinations as to whether or not there would be projects going ahead, it was just whether or not they'd agree to assess the projects.
So we can do things more rapidly but in a way which protects the environment.
EMMA ALBERICI: Do you expect to follow the New Zealand example and put some sort of upper time limit on approvals?
GREG HUNT: Well we'll do it step-by-step. Our goal is to match the New Zealand time limit.
I'm not proposing legislation to that effect at this stage because we've got to streamline the system so as we end this double dipping, so the same thing is being approved twice.
Let's get one good assessment done and we can aim towards that New Zealand goal of nine months.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now in other breaking news tonight, we hear that the Climate Change Commission will continue and the commission is operating on a voluntary basis. What's your reaction to that news?
GREG HUNT: Look, I wish them good luck.
Tim Flannery rang me earlier this evening just to let me know that they were continuing on, on a voluntary basis. And I said that's the great thing about democracy, it's a free country and it proves our point that the commission didn't have to be a taxpayer-funded body, there is perfect freedom for people to continue to do this.
At the governmental level, the primary scientific agency is the Bureau of Meteorology: seventeen hundred staff, I spoke with the director of the Bureau this evening and invited them to provide a scientific briefing, reaffirmed a complete commitment to their independence, to their original research and to the extraordinary capacity that they give to Australia to look at meteorological questions and broader global questions.
EMMA ALBERICI: So they'll take over the responsibility that was previously in the hands of the Commission, and if so do they have the resources to publish the volumes of material that was being generated by the Commission?
GREG HUNT: Well it's actually the opposite.
The Commission didn't have any original scientific capacity; it wasn't doing original scientific work, it was simply collating the views of the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and then other bodies from around the world.
The Bureau is the originating scientific agency for meteorological matters in Australia, for matters relating to climate and matters relating to climate science.
The CSIRO also backs those up. So they are strong, deep, independent scientific agencies, whose independence isn't just guaranteed under us, but is welcomed. That's what I love about our system.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now we understand that the IPCC report that will be released this week will confirm what climate scientists have been telling us for some time, that there has been a slowing in the rate of global warming over the last fifteen years.
Does that give you any particular concerns about the underlying science around, sort of, man-made climate change and how you should respond?
GREG HUNT: Look, we'll obviously review the report when we see it, and I've heard differing versions and differing interpretations already, so I'll respectfully wait to see the report.
But the broad point is this: we have bipartisan support for the science, we have bipartisan support for the targets, the disagreement is about the Carbon Tax and the mechanism because emissions go up, not down under the Carbon Tax, and because it does enormous damage to our costs of living and our economy by being an electricity tax.
In short, it doesn't work but it does do damage.
So we can agree on the science and agree on the targets, but disagree fundamentally on something which Mr Rudd himself has already claimed that he has terminated.
EMMA ALBERICI: So given you do agree on the science and believe it's settled, how troubling is it to you personally to see people with pubic profiles, like the Government's Chief Business Advisor Maurice Newman, continuing to claim that climate change is a big lie?
GREG HUNT: Well, I've just reaffirmed support for Tim Flannery's freedom of speech, for the Climate Commission's freedom of speech, and I make that same point about everybody.
I think we should be very careful about trying to clamp down on anybody's freedom of speech. That's where we get truth: through the debate, through the competing sides, through the differing views. Now, I'll take my primary advice from the Bureau and from the CSIRO, but what a country it would be if suddenly we were to squash people on either side.
I think you've got to welcome the differing voices and then make your own judgement. My judgement is that the science is real, that the targets should be respected, but that the Carbon Tax was a just hopeless means of achieving the outcome because the emissions go up and electricity goes up.
EMMA ALBERICI: But back to the science - sure, back to the science specifically, do you see yourself as having a responsibility to build general community consensus around the need for action to mitigate climate change?
GREG HUNT: Well I've made the point very clearly that we not just respect the science, we agree on the science and we agree on the targets.
The weird thing about this whole debate over the last few years is that you've had a Carbon Tax, which doesn't do the job, and emissions go up.
So a government which thought under the ALP that it was all about saying you were acting, rather than actually doing something.
So you had the worst of all possible worlds: emissions go up, but economic competitiveness goes down.
EMMA ALBERICI: But I was specifically - with respect, if I can draw you back to the main question, which was whether you see yourself as having a responsibility in your new role as building a community consensus around the need for action?
GREG HUNT: Well of course I'm the Environment Minister, and my job is to make sure that we do two things: that we understand the challenge, and we respond to the challenge. And then the third thing which goes beyond that is to make sure that our actions are sensible and prudent and real.
You've got to remember, the pink batts program and the green loans programs were all done in the name of action in this space, and they were disastrous.
They were human disasters, financial disasters; they were disasters for the businesses involved.
EMMA ALBERICI: If we can stick to your particular action, you've said you'll easily meet the five per cent emission deduction target by 2020.
GREG HUNT: Correct.
EMMA ALBERICI: Can you tell us, where is the independent publically available analysis that gives you that confidence that Direct Action can achieve that five per cent target, or even something more ambitious?
GREG HUNT: Sure. When we published the policy on the 2nd of February 2010, we also published the work of Frontier Economics as well as a series of additional supporting papers.
Now, since that time, a number of things have happened. Firstly, as I've indicated, the actual gap to be closed is less than we had anticipated.
In short, we had over-budgeted. That's been confirmed in the early briefings that I've had form the Department of the Environment.
The second thing is that the price of abatement or emissions reduction internationally has dropped, which will flow through to the cost of our actions in Australia.
And the third thing is, the available pool of practical things that you can do - because the ALP never talked about practical things - such as cleaning up waste coal mine gas, energy efficiency, waste landfill gas, revegetation, rehabilitation of the landscape.
That abatement has all increased, so on all three fronts the conservative parameters we set out three-and-a-half years ago have been well and truly shown to be conservative and - so we'll not just meet our targets, we will do it easily.
EMMA ALBERICI: So can you tell us, if we can meet the five per cent as easily as you suggest, why not have a more ambitious target?
GREG HUNT: Well let's do it step-by-step, because of course the strange thing about the Carbon Tax was that emissions went up, not down, from 560 to 637 million tonnes.
So our task is to get to the 560 million tonnes. Let's make those steps, and the way to do it is to do practical things as I say: energy efficiency, cleaning up waste coalmine gas, cleaning up waste landfill gas, cleaning up power stations.
Practical things, and as we progress we can then revise and see how we are proceeding, but we've set the target, we've set the conditions for any change, and rather than talking big and delivering little, we'd rather deliver what we say and then be in a position to go further down the track.
EMMA ALBERICI: Does your Government intend to ratify the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol?
GREG HUNT: Well as you said in your introduction, in opposition we gave in-principle support.
In Government we still have in principle support, nothing has changed there. Obviously we will want to see the final text; I think anybody would hope that their government would not sign a blank cheque but would consider.
But really, this is about reaffirming the targets, which already have bipartisan support, which are already on the table, to which we've already committed.
So simply ratifying just reaffirms the targets to which we've already committed. So it's not really a major issue, and I don't think we should make it a major issue. What is a big issue is getting rid of that Carbon Tax.
EMMA ALBERICI: So does that indicate you will - you do intend to ratify it then?
GREG HUNT: Look, my position remains exactly what it was in Opposition, and that is we have no in-principle problem. We would understandably want to see the text.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now the Climate Change Authority was due to release a draft report next month on whether to change targets and mitigation activity.
Will they be allowed or indeed encouraged to continue that work?
GREG HUNT: Look, we will as we've said slim the bureaucracy, that's the Climate Change Commission, the Climate Change Authority, the Energy Security Fund and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
In this case, we have to do it legislatively, so they continue to do their work until the repeal process has been completed.
I will be speaking with Bernie Fraser in the coming days. We've exchanged calls, there's no lack of attempt on our respective behalves. But my attitude is that whilst they continue, they should be allowed to proceed with their work.
EMMA ALBERICI: And so you welcome the opportunity to scrutinise their intentions around whether your ambitions should be - whether your targets should be more ambitious?
GREG HUNT: Look, they have a charter and I don't want to interfere with that charter.
What I do want to do is say that we already have the Bureau of Meteorology, we have the CSIRO, we have an entire Environment Department: they can do the job in three organisations that seven were doing previously.
I think Australians want to see smaller bureaucracy. So we've been very up front that the role for the Climate Change Authority will cease, but until it does it can complete its work.
EMMA ALBERICI: Thank you, Greg Hunt, very much for your time this evening.
GREG HUNT: Thanks Emma.