Transcript of press conference, Canberra
MON 04 JULY 2011
Subject(s): Climate change; Carbon price; Live cattle exports; News Limited; Australian Labor Party; Australia Network
PM: As Parliament starts this week, inevitably we will be continuing to debate climate change and pricing carbon. That debate will not only happen in Parliament House - it will happen around the nation. Debate is a good thing, but debate needs to be informed by the facts. For our nation to continue to be a nation up to the big reforms, we have to have a public debate informed by the facts.
That’s why, at the start of this sitting week, I wanted to draw - sorry, about that, there’s some noise in the back there - that’s why, at the start of this sitting week, I wanted to draw peoples’ attention to some recently made available information about the science of climate change.
Addressing climate change all starts with the science. The science is telling us that climate change is real. The Government accepts the science. We accept the science from our own CSIRO. We accept the science from our own weather bureau and I would draw peoples’ attention to information released two weeks ago by the CSIRO and by our weather bureau which is available to members of the public in an easily understood form. That data shows that carbon dioxide is now at its highest level in more than a million years. It’s an unambiguous fact - carbon dioxide at its highest level in more than a million years, and to tackle climate change we have to cut carbon pollution, we have to cut those carbon dioxide levels, with that carbon dioxide generated overwhelmingly by human activity.
What this science is telling us is if we look to the days before the industrial revolution, before the industrial era, if we look, say, to the year 1800, at that time carbon dioxide was 280 parts per million. Now, in late 2010, post the industrial age and world we live in today, carbon dioxide is 387 parts per million. That’s an increase of almost 40 per cent, which the CSIRO says it largely due to human activity.
Now the measurement of this carbon dioxide isn’t the province of scientists in lab coats. People can access this information themselves through the CSIRO website. There, they will find a graph that updates air samples recorded from Cape Grim in Tasmania. They’ve been recorded since 1976. Cape Grim is one of the three premier air pollution monitoring stations in the world, and that graph shows rising carbon dioxide levels.
Now, what does all of this mean? Well, it means that our climate is changing. The advice indicates that if we do not cut carbon pollution average temperatures around Australia could increase by between 2.2 to over 5 degrees Celsius by 2070.
Now this is a huge change. It’s equivalent to the climate of Cairns being the climate in New South Wales. It’s equivalent to the climate of Melbourne being the climate of southern Tasmania. It means the number of extreme heat days in Australia will increase with all of the stress that that puts of the young and elderly. It means that global warming would see sea levels rise by possibly up to a metre by the end of this century. That’s a huge risk to many parts of our country, and it would also see the Great Barrier Reef threatened by increasing ocean temperatures and acidification, and of course that’s a threat to natural wonder in the world, but it’s also a threat to the tourism industry in Queensland and the 54,000 jobs that it supports.
There’s also a risk to infrastructure from higher temperatures, altered groundwater and soil conditions, including the potential failure of urban training and sewerage systems, more black outs, transport disruption and greater building damage.
Having accepted the word of our scientists, their research that our climate is changing and it is caused by carbon pollution generated by human beings, I am determined to act. I’m determined, as the Australian economy is strong, that this is the right time to act.
I also understand as our economy continues to be the envy of the world there are many Australian households who aren’t feeling the benefit of that strong economy in their ordinary lives, which is why of course as we move to price carbon we will also move to assist Australian households and 9 out of 10 households will get the benefits of tax cuts or payment increases or a combination of both.
During the course of this week I anticipate we will see many claims and counter-claims made about climate change and pricing carbon. As we move through the week, my message is we need a debate that is governed by reason and governed by facts. The facts are clear. The science is in. We must move to address carbon pollution by putting a price on carbon.
I’m very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what is the net foregone revenue of your decision not to apply a carbon tax to families and small businesses et cetera, and will that be netted out by the removal of the fuel excise concessions for business, and won’t that cost anyway be passed on to people through higher transport costs and higher food costs and higher services costs?
PM: Right, well, there’s a million assumptions in that question-
JOURNALIST: -Three or four, not a million.
PM: Three or four, and it’s three or four too many. When we’re in a position to announce the full details of carbon pricing then we will, but I was in a position yesterday to assure the Australian community that petrol’s out of the scheme and petrol will continue to be out of the scheme. That means, of course, that the Australian community has been misled by Tony Abbott on this question time after time after time - more than 20 times. In this Parliament and right around the country he has claimed that petrol prices were going up as a result of pricing carbon. That claim is wrong. Mr Abbott should take the opportunity in Parliament House today to admit he was wrong, and Australians might want to think to themselves ‘well, if he was dead wrong about that, how much else is he dead wrong about?’
JOURNALIST: How is it, though, you can announce the headline without the story. We can’t do that. Is this Cabinet-level committee that you’re chairing allowing you to come out and make these announcements without the detail. Is it an agreement among all the party that you do that?
PM: Well, when I’m in a position to give people details, then of course I will. I think it’s important that Australians understand that petrol is not covered by the scheme. There’s been a lot of fear around about petrol prices, that Australian families, for small businesses, for tradies, I’m in a position to offer the reassurance that I offered yesterday - petrol is out.
Everything Australian families have heard about petrol prices going up as a result of pricing carbon is dead wrong.
JOURNALIST: It’s out for households, so implicit in your statement is that it’s going to affect businesses. Is it a fair assumption, then, for us to believe that fuel excise concessions and subsidies are going to be reduced to offset the two billion cost of not applying it to petrol?
PM: Can I suggest that you’ll be in a position when the full scheme is announced, and obviously we are working hard to finalise carbon pricing and to announce the full package. When we’re in a position to announce the full package you’ll have the full details.
The details you have now, though, are significant, they’re important to Australian families and I believe it’s important that they’re understood, and those details include that petrol used by householders and used by tradies and business people, the petrol you get a the petrol pump, that will not be in the carbon pricing scheme; that 9 out of 10 households will get the benefit of tax cuts and payment increases; that the vast majority of households, carbon pricing will not cost them a cent; and of course more than 3 million lower-income households will have the benefit of what has been referred to in the media as the ‘battler’s buffer’. That is, we understand their budgets are tight, that there is not much room for manoeuvre, so they can expect to receive 20 per cent more than carbon pricing will cost them.
I’ll come here and then go to the back.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you come in here today and said the debate needs to be informed by the facts. Now, are you telling us about the households because that’s a poltical point or because you can’t tell us about the business side of things because it’s not been decided yet by the committee?
PM: I’m telling you about the households because it’s a fact.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve mentioned the buffer for battlers. Did you consider extending means testing or compensation through petrol, given that you’re providing compensation for electricity prices? Isn’t there an inconsistency here – you’re providing a means test for compensation on power, but not on petrol?
PM: Well, petrol’s out and that decision has been made, because I understand the circumstances of Australian families who have got no choice but to jump in their car. I represent in this Parliament an outer urban electorate, and we’re working hard as a Government to improve public transport to outer urban electorates like mine. In Melbourne, in outer urban electorates right around the country, there are major public transport investments right around the nation, but even as we do those investments and improve public transport, I know in outer urban communities people really have no choice but to jump in their car. And then, of course, in country Australia people have no choice but to jump in their car. Having petrol out is a recognition of that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you were talking about the increase in the (inaudible) outside the atmosphere that has already occurred, scientists are also talking about the fact that even if we meet our targets, even if all the other countries meet their targets that they’ve got on the table, that increase will continue to go on. So, what’s your best advice on how far are things going to go in the red anyway, and how much are temperatures going to rise anyway, even if we do what we say and everyone else does what they’re saying as well?
PM: Well, the aim here, of course, is to prevent the continued growth of carbon pollution and its impact on climate change. You’re right – a lot of damage has been done already. We can’t go back into the past and fix that damage. What we can do is we can change our future, and I’m certainly saying to the Australian community we need to change our future and we can change our future through a scheme that protects Australian jobs, where households – 9 out of 10 – have got the benefit of tax cuts or payment increases, and we have the 1,000 biggest polluters in this country paying a price for carbon pollution so they innovate and change, and all of that adds up to a clean energy future.
JOURNALIST: The question is, you’ve warned about what will happen if we don’t do anything, but how much of that warming is already in system? how much (inaudible) about even if we take all the actions that you’re talking about?
PM: Well, obviously, having gone to 387 parts per million in late 2010 – yes, you’re right that carbon dioxide’s already in the atmosphere, but I don’t believe that you can use that and say ‘well, we shouldn’t act in the future.’ Of course we should act. We can make a choice between a future with increased levels of dangerous climate change, or we can act to address that. I’m for action.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said that you want the debate to be informed by facts, but twice there Lenore asked you what your advice was one the net effect of our action, taking into account action or lack of action in the rest of the world. Will you provide that fact?
PM: We’re one of the 20 biggest polluters on the planet. Per head of population, we are the biggest generator of carbon pollution per head of population in the developed world. That means we have to act.
Is the rest of the world acting? Well, we’ve been through those facts and figures before, and I’m happy to supply them all again, but, yes, the rest of the world is also acting on climate change and we can’t afford to be left behind.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve accused the Opposition Leader of misleading on the question of petrol. Over several months he’s been making comments about petrol. If it was not true at any point, why wouldn’t you say that then, or has it just been decided, in which case he’s actually possibly had a win?
PM: I’ve consistently made the point in this Parliament and beyond that every number the Leader of the Opposition has used in this debate has been a number he’s made up. Well, we’ve just seen that he’s been making up numbers about petrol over a long period of time now. Petrol is out of the carbon pricing scheme.
JOURNALIST: But when did you make that decision?
PM: We’ve been working on this over a series of months, as you well know. I’m not going to track decision making in all of this.
We are working towards the final package coming out, but let’s just be a little bit practical here – the fact we were working in a Multi-Party Climate Change Committee on the scheme does not give someone license to wander around the country making stuff up.
Of course, when Mr Abbott has seen the full details of the scheme, if he wants to criticise it, then as Leader of the Opposition he should, but that would be based on facts.
The fact that we have been working carbon pricing is not a license to go around scaring the Australian community with figures you make up.
JOURNALIST: You say petrol is out. Is it simply excluded or is it out by a more complicated mechanism using excise?
PM: It’s simply excluded.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, isn’t it the case that given your political position, particularly in the Parliament, you just can’t afford to have a fight on petrol, and could it be too that with pressure in other areas, particularly in something like the steel industry under pressure from the dollar, that you can’t afford to have a fight over that either, and that in the tax relief is much weaker that it could have been?
PM: The only prism I’m brining to the decision making here is the right decisions for the nation’s future and I’ve just described to you I know what it’s like to live in a suburb away from town. I know what it’s like to be a member of a community that lives more than 30 kilometres from the centre of the city, to be a member of a community where there aren’t that many jobs available locally.
One of the most frequent discussions I have with local councils in my area is how can we get more jobs where people live, which is why we had the budget measure in the budget to attract jobs to suburban corridors like the one that I represent in this Parliament.
I know what it’s like, day in day out, after more than 10 years in this Parliament, to represent a community where people have got very little choice except to jump in their car. That has been what’s informed the decision on this from my perspective.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Tony Sheldon the other day raising concerns about the impact of the carbon tax on his members, Paul Howes has done the same thing, Tony Maher - are you confident of holding together the labour movement on this as this moves into the critical stage, and what is your message to the labour movement on this? They obviously have concerns about it.
PM: I believe it’s appropriate for people to raise concerns in the union movement from their members. That’s their job. My job as Prime Minister is to make the right decisions for the nation’s future - and I will.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Indonesian Government has indicated it won’t issue import permits for Australian cattle until October. What’s your Government going to do on that and have you still have full confidence in Joe Ludwig to resolve this crisis?
PM: Well, the summary in your question isn’t right. In terms of the decision that’s been taken, there is nothing to prevent import permits being issued during this period, and the decision that’s been taken applies to all nations, not just Australia.
So, we will continue to work as we’ve been working, with our Indonesian counterparts and with industry here, to get this trade back up and running. I want this trade resumed. I don’t want one extra day to go by before the trade’s resumed, but when it’s resumed I want it to be in circumstances that mean the industry has got a strong and sustainable future because we have addressed the animal welfare issues.
The wrong course would be to say, ‘well, let’s just get back up and running’, animal welfare issues aren’t addressed and then in six months’ time the industry has another problem and in 12 months’ time it has a problem again and in two years after that it has a problem. The right thing to do for the industry’s future is to get the animal welfare issues addressed now so that the industry, with confidence, can know that it’s going to be there in 5, 10, 15 years’ time because the animal welfare issues have been addressed right.
And yes, Joe Ludwig is doing a good job in difficult circumstances. Let’s look at the spectrum of community opinion in Australia about this. There are people on one end of community opinion who say we shouldn’t eat animals, people shouldn’t kill animals for food. There are people on the other end of this spectrum that say ‘let’s just get the trade up and running and let’s not worry too much about the animal welfare issues’. I’m not surprised that Joe Ludwig, as the minister responsible, is getting a bit of free advice from both extremes in this debate.
We are, in this debate, determined to do the right thing, that is to enable there to be a live cattle trade – creates jobs, good for Northern Australia, we want that trade, we want it to be under sustainable conditions, which means that the animal welfare issues are addressed.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could you just clarify for us, on live cattle, what are we trying to do? We’ve talked about scanning and barcodes, talked about stunning. What’s the government actually – which of those, or all of those are you trying to achieve with the Indonesian Government?
PM: You’ve got to be able to track and trace, so in order to do that you need an identification system which means you literally know that that animal at that farm has gone via a journey to Indonesia, has ended up in a particular feed lot and then ended up in a particular abattoir.
So, you need to be able to track and trace where the animals are going and then, for the abattoirs that they end up in, we’ve got to make sure that the standards are appropriate and the appropriate standards are the international standards.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you saying-
PM: -Sorry, we’ll come – I feel like I’ve discriminated against this corner here, so we’ll go over.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you believe that News Limited treats your Government fairly?
PM: I’ll let others do the media commentary. I’ve got no shortage of experts in the room to help with that.
My only view as Prime Minister is that news reports should be accurate and they should be balanced. Commentary can be whatever commentary people want to make. Opinion writing is exactly that - opinion writing - but as for the newspapers of every paper, every blog, every website, every TV report, I think they should accurately portray the facts and that should be done in a balanced manner.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning Bob Brown said the Greens are the new face of democracy in Australia. He’s raised that the prospect of the Greens supplanting Labor in the future. Do you agree with him and how do you distinguish the Labor Party from the Greens.
PM: Well I’m very proud to be Prime Minister of a political party that is the oldest political party in our democracy. What that means it that we come to our task of governing with our Labor values etched deep into our bones, and those Labor values are about generating prosperity, keeping the economy strong and then sharing the benefits of that strong economy fairly with Australians.
Now, at an earlier point in time, when shearers stood under a tree, that debate about keeping the economy strong was all about people’s working conditions; and then during the 60s and 70s that debate was about keeping the economy strong and providing appropriate welfare and income support payments.
In the modern age that debate is about keeping the economy strong and spreading the benefits of opportunity to all Australians, and it’s also about being ready to meet the challenges of the future, having the courage to meet the challenges of the future.
So, as a Labor Prime Minister driven by Labor values in the modern age, it’s not acceptable to me that somewhere out there in this country there is a kid from a poorer household getting a substandard education whose got the capacity to be the next Fiona Stanley, but they’re not going to get that opportunity. And as I think is well known, I’ve gone to hell and back and I’ll go there a 12 times more to change the distribution of opportunity in our nation.
That’s not right - we don’t have to be like that as a nation and I’m determined to change it, I’m proud we’re changing it: early childhood policies making a difference; schools policies making a difference; university policies making a difference; the skills package from the budget will make a difference; the opportunity package from the budget, getting people to step up to the responsibility that comes with work but also the opportunity that comes with work, making a difference.
And in terms of the challenges of the future, I’m not going to chuck pricing carbon and climate change in the too-hard basket and I’m not going to let Tony Abbott and others tell us we shouldn’t have the same infrastructure competitor nations have. Australians deserve to have the National Broadband Network.
PM: Yes, we’ll go to David at the back.
JOURNALIST: Can you explain the need for a Productivity Commission inquiry into the way fuel is taxed? Are you open to change on that front? And secondly, will we see the full details of the carbon tax before Parliament rises for the long winter break?
PM: I’m not open to change about petrol. Petrol’s out. On the details of carbon pricing, we are working hard to finalise what is a package where every detail has to be right, and as soon as we’re in a position to announce it we will.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you accept the suggestion on the front page of The Age today that the Government may have not acted appropriately in relation to the tender process for Sky and the ABC for ABC’s broadcasting, and do you have full faith in the integrity of Dennis Richardson as the head of DFAT?
PM: Of course. Dennis Richardson is a fantastic servant of the Commonwealth of Australia and has done that in a large number of capacities over a long period of time, and he’s doing a great job as the Secretary of DFAT in the same way as he did a great job as our Ambassador in the U.S. before that, and then of course the list of Dennis’ achievements would cause me to stand here all morning, if we were going to go through them, so he’s a terrific servant of the Commonwealth.
On the tender process, the tender process is working appropriately. It will work to conclusion. The Government made some decisions about additional factors in asking the tenders for additional information in relation to those factors. Cabinet will have a role in this decision making, the ability to play a part in discussing this decision, and then it will be made by via the Minister for Communications.
JOURNALIST: Why has the process been changed? why is it being (inaudible)
PM: Well, that’s been explained and I’m happy to explain it here.
As you may have noticed, and it certainly appeared day after day, as it properly should in the pages of our newspapers, some things have changed about our world during the course of this tender period. Particularly we’ve seen unexpected events in the Middle East and in North Africa. If you’d got a tribe of foreign policy experts together a year ago or even, you know, eight or nine months ago and said ‘give us your predictions for 2011’, I don’t think too many of them would have predicted what we’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa. That has changed international circumstances. It’s also meant we’ve had changed circumstances in terms of consular work, getting messages out to Australians in difficult situations in that part of the world. So, we want to weigh all of that into this tender process. We’re talking about the voice of Australia to the world. It pays to do it comprehensively and carefully - and we are.
JOURNALIST: But how does that account for the movement of the (inaudible)
PM: Well, all of those things have happened since the tender was originally put out.
I’ll take this as the last question.
JOURNALIST: You began by talking about the justification or the need for change for action on climate change. Is it a question about the scale of the action that you take? Is your policy now more all-encompassing in terms of the size of the economy, that the carbon tax will involve, that’s acting in a bigger way than other nations? What’s your justification to voters about why you need to do that?
PM: We are determined to price carbon - the most efficient way possible and the way that will keep our economy strong, and that is about putting a price on carbon. I accept the science when scientists talk. I accept the views of responsible economists. I believe that as Prime Minister the right thing to do is to listen to the best expert advice.
Now, I know others dismiss this out of hand, never met a scientist they wanted to listen to, never met an economist they thought was worth their salts. I think that’s an irresponsible approach.
So, we’re determined to price carbon the most efficient way possible. That’s by putting a price per tonne of carbon pollution, putting it on the businesses that generate the most carbon pollution, the 1,000 biggest polluters, and then acting to protect Australian families and work with them on their cost of living pressures and protect to jobs.
In terms of the reach of the scheme, you’ll need to wait until we’re in a position to announce full details. Obviously, petrol is out as I described yesterday. Then, we want to see the price paid by the 1,000 biggest polluters in this country.