Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts logo
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts home page

Archived media releases and speeches

Disclaimer

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Transcript
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Transcript
Meet the Press
Channel Ten
Sunday, 8 September 2002


E&OE

Subjects: Iraq, WSSD, Kyoto Protocol, Plastic Bag Levy, Telstra, Household Environmental Initiatives


Greg Turnbull, Presenter:

Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. I'm Greg Turnbull sitting in for Paul Bongiorno, who is on leave. The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was a mega-gabfest intended to produce a cleaner, greener and more equitable world. But reviews of this 10-day pageant in South Africa have been poor. The head of Australia's delegation was Environment Minister Dr David Kemp, and freshly back from Johannesburg, he's our guest on Meet the Press this morning. Dr Kemp, welcome to the program.

Dr David Kemp, Minister for the Environment:

Good morning, Greg.

Greg Turnbull:

Before we turn to Johannesburg, let's talk for a moment about Iraq. You're a member of the Federal Cabinet, which, in the foreseeable future, is quite likely to have to consider Australian support for an American strike or a coalition strike on Iraq. As a member of that cabinet, what are your thoughts on having to do that?

Dr Kemp:

Well, the first thing to say is that nobody wants a war with Iraq. The great problem is that Iraq is not complying with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. For all we know, there's a very significant accumulation going on now in Iraq of chemical and biological weapons, research into nuclear weapons. And this is a very serious matter. The United Nations has clearly got obligations. It's not just a matter for the United States. It's a matter that should concern the whole world community, that we have a regime like this. If and when the US and the UN decide to take action then the Australian Government is going to have to consider what is in Australia's interests. There will certainly be a very big national debate about this. And the matter will be debated in the Parliament. We have to realise that this is quite a dangerous situation that's developing in the Middle East.

Greg Turnbull:

Yes, it is that. Could I just ask, though, as a member of that cabinet, would you be prepared to sign Australia up to committing forces against Iraq in the absence of any actual act of aggression by Iraq against Australia?

Dr Kemp:

Well, obviously Greg, we'll have to consider the situation when and if it arises. The US hasn't taken any decision as yet. We will consider a whole range of factors, including of course, the importance of the US and supporting the US in a situation like this. But the Cabinet hasn't taken any decision yet. It hasn't debated the matter. And we'll have to take that decision when the circumstances arise, if they arise.

Greg Turnbull:

Let's turn to your portfolio and to the so-called Earth Summit. It went for about 10 days. It cost, some say, about $100 million, 60,000 delegates - all colour and movement. But a lot of people, its critics, have described it as a compromise, as a waste of time that served neither the environment nor the poor people of the world. You were there. How did you see it?

Dr Kemp:

I don't agree with that at all. I think you certainly can't expect everything out of a summit where you've got 60,000 people and where there's inevitably many different views. But I think all the governments that were there felt that it really did advance the cause of relieving poverty around the world. It certainly drew the world's attention to the fact that you can't have sustainable economic development without taking the environment very strongly into account. Some very important decisions were reached. There were some 37 targets for improvement, particularly halving the number of people in poverty by 2015.

Greg Turnbull:

That sounds a little bit like a famous Australian election pledge. How do you halve the number of poor people around the globe by 2015?

Dr Kemp:

You have to have very concentrated efforts. Rightly, people are sceptical of a number of targets and Australia certainly felt that some of the targets that were being proposed were unrealistic. We took to Johannesburg a range of initiatives. We announced some 15 partnerships while we were there. We put our focus particularly on oceans and oceans management because many, many hundreds of millions of people around the world rely on fisheries and the other services and industries that depend on the seas. And we were really the only country who brought the focus very strongly onto the importance of good oceans management - and I was delighted that we had a great deal of support for that. We had, particularly, support from the Pacific Island countries, but many other countries around the world. And if it hadn't been for Australia, there would simply not have been that sort of focus at the summit.

Greg Turnbull:

We were also...

Dr Kemp:

I was going to say; another big issue at the Summit was energy. And energy was, of course, a widely debated topic. I don't think any topic took as much time of the ministers there, as making sure that we gave access to energy for the billions of people around the world who are still burning wood fuel and dung and other biomass, which, of course, is having very serious and detrimental effects on the environment. And if we can connect them up to energy grids, provide them with remote energy access, which would be a huge step forward for the world's environment and for their futures.

Greg Turnbull:

We're also one of the few countries that didn't send our head of government. With respect to you, should not our head of government, John Howard, have gone to that Summit?

Dr Kemp:

There are many other countries that didn't send their heads of government. I don't think Russia did, I don't think India did. Certainly, the US didn't. But Australia took a very well prepared case to the Summit and I think it was a case that attracted a lot of support and a lot of respect. We worked very closely with the developing countries in Johannesburg. In fact, the great majority at the Summit were the developing countries, plus the countries like the US and Canada and Australia. The European countries were somewhat isolated because they took some measures which the developing countries felt really reflected, perhaps, the interests of Europe much more than they did the interests of developing countries, particularly in areas like energy and trade. The developing countries were very keen to see trade barriers removed and, of course, Australia strongly supports that because it's important for us. But it's very important that poor people around the world have the chance to produce their goods and to sell them to the developed countries.

Greg Turnbull:

Whatever our involvement in the nitty gritty of the conference, the overriding international image is Australia's refusal to sign up, to ratify, rather, the Kyoto Protocol. We'll talk about that after the break but, in a nutshell, to a person in the street, why won't we sign up to this thing?

Dr Kemp:

It's not in Australia's national interest to actually ratify the Kyoto Protocol. It is in our national interest to take very strong action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and we're putting almost $1 billion into programs to do just that, and there was a lot of respect for what Australia is doing at the Summit. But in terms of signing the Protocol itself - we don't want to give future investors in Australia the message that we're prepared to impose legal obligations on them which they wouldn't face if they invested in many of our competitor countries. We don't want to drive jobs overseas or industries overseas.

Greg Turnbull:

We'll discuss that very matter in a moment, after the break. When we return with the panel - why Australia and the US are being called the dirty duo.

Greg Turnbull:

You're on Meet the Press with Dr David Kemp. And we're joined now by our panel - Jennifer Hewett from the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and Louise Dodson, of the Melbourne 'Age'.

Australia's image as an environmentally responsible country is coming under attack because of our refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Jennifer Hewett.

Jennifer Hewett, The 'Sydney Morning Herald':

Dr Kemp, you talked about not scaring off future investors but large companies like BHP Billiton and BP say we're missing the boat on not going ahead with the Kyoto Protocol. Why are they bad judges?

Dr Kemp:

Well, the bulk of Australian industry is strongly supportive of the Government's position. What the Government has to take into account is, that while it is true that if we ratified the Protocol that would be to the advantage of some companies, we also have to take into account the fact that it would have a very bad message for many companies taking long-term investment decisions in Australia, perhaps companies that are already here, companies that are thinking of investing in Australia, because we'd be saying to them that we're prepared to impose on them legal obligations which they would not face if they were to invest in some of our main competitor countries for capital investment, countries like China, or Malaysia, elsewhere in the Asian region. And we've got to consider, really, what Australia's national interest is, and we're not going to ratify the treaty until we're quite convinced it is in Australia's national interest and that really means there has to be a proper pathway for the developing countries to be part of a global arrangement. You see, at present, the developing countries don't have obligations under the treaty in the way that developed countries do so we would run the risk of driving investment and jobs offshore and that's the very last thing we want to do.

Jennifer Hewett:

But, in fact, we will be driving some investment and jobs offshore for example, by not being able to participate in the carbon credit trading program, which is a very big new industry for the future, surely.

Dr Kemp:

Well, it's very hypothetical at the moment because there isn't an international carbon trading system. In fact, very few countries in the world have domestic carbon trading systems. So we're talking quite some time off. And what Australia is saying is, we want to see a clear pathway under which the developing countries will be taking on obligations so we're all playing on a level playing field. And I can assure you that's the message I'll be taking to New Delhi, to the next conference of the parties on the Kyoto Protocol. When Tony Blair came to Johannesburg it was quite interesting, he said that, of course, we've got to remember Kyoto itself isn't the answer. It's only going to make a 1% difference to global emissions. And we really need to start thinking beyond Kyoto because until we've got the biggest emitters in - the US and the developing countries - we haven't got the sort of framework that's really going to properly address global warming. Under Kyoto, 75% of emissions simply aren't covered by the treaty and we need an arrangement, globally, which is going to involve all the major emitters. When we've got that level playing field then we'll be able to say to companies, "Now you can invest in Australia with confidence."

Louise Dodson, The 'Age':

So, Dr Kemp, are you actually in negotiations with the US and with the other countries to try and get them involved in Kyoto, so Australia can ratify it?

Dr Kemp:

Well, our engagement with the US at the moment is through the Climate Action Partnership and the aim of that is to put into place practical actions to continue reducing greenhouse gas emissions because that is really the important thing. There's the symbolism of signing but there's the actual practical action of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And Australia is one of the countries leading the world in the reduction of greenhouse gases. We're, of course, going to reach our Kyoto target and that's respected and understood by countries overseas. But I'll be taking to the next conference of the parties a very clear message from Australia that we've got to start thinking beyond Kyoto, because unless we do that, we're not going to achieve the 50-60% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions that we need by the end of the century to stabilise the climate.

Louise Dodson:

But when you say, "beyond Kyoto", what on earth does that mean? If there are no means of making countries comply, surely "beyond Kyoto" is a fairly meaningless concept.

Dr Kemp:

Well, Louise, beyond Kyoto is when we start getting down to the real business.

Louise Dodson:

But you can't make countries comply because they are no penalties if they don't ratify.

Dr Kemp:

Well, the point is developing countries are not subject at the moment to any legal obligations under Kyoto. So, when we hear that India or China is ratifying, that doesn't mean that they're taking on any legal obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the way that Australia would have to do.

Louise Dodson:

But they will be down the track.

Dr Kemp:

Well, that's the very point that's not clear at the moment. Whenever Australia has raised the point - and we have right through the negotiations - about having a pathway to involve the developing countries, that has not been discussed. The European countries have refused to discuss that issue. Many of the developing countries have refused to discuss that issue. And until we get a proper global framework in place with the developing countries involved, we can't be confident that we're actually going to make the global assault on greenhouse gas emissions, which is absolutely necessary to mitigate the human impact on climate. And there's been no discussion on that at all. And that's where Australia is giving, I believe, a very strong international signal that this is the next item on the agenda. I must say, I was quite pleased to hear Tony Blair raise this issue when he came to Johannesburg on his brief visit.

Jennifer Hewett:

But, Dr Kemp, symbolism is important. You say, on one hand, that we're going to meet the Kyoto targets, and yet, on the other hand that you couldn't possibly ratify. I suppose a lot of Australians would think that if we're going to be doing it anyway, why do we suffer the opprobrium, the general international criticism and the bad symbolism when, in practical terms, if what you say is correct, we're going to meeting the targets anyway?

Dr Kemp:

Well, I wouldn't exaggerate the opprobrium, Jennifer. I don't think I heard a single government in Johannesburg criticise Australia. There were certainly some criticism from groups like Greenpeace and there was quite a bit in the Australian media about it. But most countries greatly respect the fact that Australia is, in fact, at the lead in taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They see that Australia is serious in this matter. They understand why we're taking the decision that we're taking. And we see that decision is based on Australia's national interests. When those national interests change then, obviously, we can take a different decision. But that requires that some action be taken to indicate that there is a pathway to involve developing countries in the global framework, and, of course, ultimately bring in the US,

Greg Turnbull:

Well, Dr Kemp, if I could just butt in there and ask you if you have any message for your former Liberal leader, Dr John Hewson, who said, in the 'Financial Review' the other day that Australia's position on Kyoto, or our leadership on these environmental matters was appalling.

Dr Kemp:

Well, I know that Dr Hewson is very interested in taking part in the international carbon trading system when it comes into place, you know, when it originates, when there's something there to take advantage of. I just have to disagree with his statement at the moment. I think that Australia is taking a very responsible decision. It's making the contribution that it can. Of course, we only produce 1% of the world's greenhouse gases but we're doing what we can. We're working to our target and we're working towards a responsible global framework.

Greg Turnbull:

Time for a break. When we return - we ask if the full sale of Telstra will create a green slush fund.

Greg Turnbull:

You're on Meet the Press. As the Government inches its way towards the full sale of Telstra it could mean a billion-dollar windfall for the environment. Louise Dodson.

Louise Dodson:

Dr Kemp, whether the Government's negotiating with the Greens, the Democrats, the Independents, Meg Lees or whoever for the Senate to pass the Telstra full sale, the environment will be a key bargaining chip. This must gladden the heart of an environment minister, surely?

Dr Kemp:

The environment certainly will be discussed. The Government would like to see the proceeds of any sale of Telstra, if any such sale takes place, of course, going principally to retire debt.

Louise Dodson:

That's what they always say.

Dr Kemp:

Well, it is very important. Australia's benefited a great deal from the billions of dollars we've saved in interest payments from the sale of the first tranches of Telstra. Of course, the first tranche of Telstra did provide well over $1 billion for the Natural Heritage Trust. Since then the Government has shown that it is prepared to invest heavily in the environment out of consolidated revenue. We're putting $1 billion into greenhouse gas emissions. We've added another $1 billion to the Natural Heritage Trust out of consolidated revenue. And with the States we're putting $1.4 billion into the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. So we're certainly not depending on Telstra for investing in the environment.

Louise Dodson:

But it's a once-in-a-term opportunity, isn't it?

Dr Kemp:

It's obviously an issue that the parties in the Senate are going to raise. But the point I want to make is that while there are very big investments to be made in the Australian environment, the Government is prepared to make those out of consolidated revenue, and has been in the past, and we're also encouraging the States to make those investments, and communities. Because in the end the money to restore the agricultural land affected by salinity is not just going to come from government budgets, it's going to come from the whole community, and communities recognise that. I think Australia is well placed to deal with these issues, even without the sale of Telstra.

Louise Dodson:

Would you like to be involved in the negotiations?

Dr Kemp:

We'll have to see how that transpires. I'm not going to pre-empt any decisions the Government may make on that, but we'll see how this develops.

Jennifer Hewett:

Dr Kemp, we've talked a lot about big issues. There are obviously in some cases some very small issues where small things can have a very large impact. For example, a levy, some type of levy on plastic bags, to stop the appalling use we have of plastic bags in this country. What's wrong with that idea, in terms of trying to get some practical changes for people?

Dr Kemp:

You're quite right, Jennifer, that plastic bags are a very significant environmental problem. And, of course, they are particularly a problem when they go into waterways and into the sea and they cause the deaths of marine animals and birds. This quite a significant issue, and the Federal Government has been working with Coles and Woolworths particularly to educate their customers to deal responsibly with plastic bags and garbage. We've got the National Packaging Covenant, which again relates to that. So we've pursued a different pathway to Ireland. We've really looked at voluntary measures.

Jennifer Hewett:

But they haven't worked very well.

Dr Kemp:

They are fairly recent, the measures we've taken, and I'll be monitoring how they're working. Obviously the levy is one particular approach that could be adopted. If the voluntary measures don't work, we might have to look at something like that. But at the moment we're in the middle of a campaign. I know Clean Up Australia is going to further support us in that campaign in 2003. The Australian community has a great record of responding to appeals and campaigns of this kind. I think it's a very environmentally conscious community and I'm hopeful that the measures we've got in place will work.

Jennifer Hewett:

Do you think, though, that issues like that have tended to slip off the mainstream political agenda? That there's not been enough leadership from the Government on it?

Dr Kemp:

As you say, it's not one of the foremost issues, but it is an important issue. And that's why we've undertaken to put in place the National Packaging Covenant, which is now operating, and why we're working with the major retailers to educate the public about the importance of handling plastic bags responsibly. I believe the Australian public will respond to that, but, as I say, we'll monitor it as we go and if it doesn't seem to be operating then the levy is the kind of policy we'll be looking closely at.

Jennifer Hewett:

What kind of time frame do you have in mind for that?

Dr Kemp:

I would say we certainly have to go through another year and a half before we could assess whether the voluntary measures were working properly.

Louise Dodson:

On another consumer issue, four-wheel drives are very popular and becoming more popular by the minute but are an environmental disaster and they get much lower taxes. Would you like to see the tax increased on those, for environmental reasons?

Dr Kemp:

That's really an issue that involves a whole range of portfolios. The Government's been looking very closely at issues such as motor vehicle standards, particularly fuel standards. Australia is again one of the leading countries in the world in dealing with leaded petrol and cleaner fuels. And we're going to continue to be looking at that. I'm currently talking with the motor vehicle industry about where we go in relation to fuels in future because clearly the emissions from motor vehicles, from transport in general, are one of the major environmental problems that we've got. In the longer run, the motor vehicle industry is looking to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen-based fuel cells. They will provide no emissions, so that will be a tremendous step forward. But that's some decades ahead. So between now and then, we're looking at a range of measures. Car manufacturers are looking at hybrid cars. The Prius is both petrol and electric. There will be other innovations in fuels. Really, what we want to see is a responsible motor vehicle industry that is taking environmental matters into proper account.

Jennifer Hewett:

But in the short term, would you join former Prime Minister Keating in saying that four-wheel drives should be taxed out of existence because of the short-term damage they're doing?

Dr Kemp:

I don't think that's the way to go. I think again what we need to do is to make sure people are acting responsibly. In the end the protection of the environment is a matter for everybody. It's a matter for everyone in the community. It doesn't fall on one particular section of the community. What we need is a responsible motor vehicle industry. We also need households to be responsible. Of course, a lot of households can take action, and are taking action, to contribute to improving the environment. For example, 15% of Australia's greenhouse gases, perhaps even slightly more, are attributable to households. Households can do a lot to reduce their greenhouse gases. I was at a family's place only a couple of weeks ago and they've reduced their greenhouse gas emissions from 10 tonnes a year to 1 tonne by responsible family action.

Jennifer Hewett:

Are you doing that at home too?

Dr Kemp:

I'm certainly looking at what I can do at home to be environmentally responsible. One thing, for example, that people can do is put in compact fluorescent globes. That greatly reduces their power calls. Front-loading washing machines are a good thing to do. Having the proper shower head is a responsible thing to do. Driving a low-emission vehicle contributes greatly. Everyone in the community can make a contribution to improving the environment.

Greg Turnbull:

Well, Dr Kemp, thank you. We'll have to leave it there. Thanks to our guest, Minister for Environment David Kemp, and our panel, Jennifer Hewett and Louise Dodson. Until next week, it's goodbye from Meet the Press.

Ends

Commonwealth of Australia