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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Thursday, 5 June 2003
Thank you very much for coming to this doorstop on this cold World Environment Day. I want to remind you today of an important piece of legislation that I introduced into the parliament this morning. But let me set the context to this: the Howard Government, in recent weeks, has taken some very important environmental decisions. The first of these, of course, concerns land clearing in Queensland. And, with the Queensland Government, we now have a moratorium on new applications for land clearing in Queensland. This is a very important step and we're now engaged in very significant consultations with the Queensland farming organisations.
We also recently announced a water quality protection plan for the Great Barrier Reef. It's vitally important that we stop the continuing pollution of the lagoon by sediments and nutrients from fertilisers. This government has taken the action to protect the Reef.
Earlier this week I announced the new zoning plan for the Great Barrier Reef, which will increase the high protection zoning from 5% of the Reef to 30% of the Reef. We're now again into the public consultation phase because we know that if we're going to achieve decent environmental outcomes in this country, governments have got to work in partnership with the community and between the State and Federal levels.
Today I've introduced into the Federal Parliament a new piece of legislation which is going to have the effect of reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by up to six million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. That is 1% of 1990 emissions.
Since we are now within about 3% of achieving the Kyoto target, this 1% is obviously a very significant piece of legislation. Again, it's environmental legislation that has been introduced in close consultation with those in the industry. It's very much welcomed by those in the industry as providing certainty, and it shows that this government is doing the hard yards on the environment.
It's a very different picture with the Labor Party. We see Simon Crean just plucking figures and targets out of the air, usually extracted from our papers, usually options that we are currently working with communities in the States on, and in Labor's hands simply pure and empty rhetoric.
We've shown that it's necessary to achieve environmental objectives, to work with communities, and to do the hard work with scientists and to base real recommendations and real decisions on the science. That distinguishes this government from the Opposition.
Ours is not rhetoric. Ours is action. Our environmental decisions are not rhetoric. Our environmental decisions are real action on the ground with communities. And I think that's a very good way to be celebrating World Environment Day.
Bob Brown says that the Federal Government's not doing enough to protect old growth forest in Tasmania, what's your response to that?
Well, I see that the Tasmanian Labor Government has now taken a decision. I believe the Treasurer of that State is Simon Crean's brother. I suggest to Simon Crean - I suppose he's got his brother's phone number - that he picks up the phone and talks to him and tells him what Labor's view is on this. Because it's quite clear that the Labor Party is going to take decisions.
I'm going to be standing in favour of sustainability. I mean it is very important that any of these decisions be taken with the sustainability of Australia's forests in mind and with a sustainability environment in mind.
This is a decision of a Labor Party Government. And it's up to the Federal Labor Party, if it's going to complain about this, to say what it thinks to that government.
A year ago I asked Simon Crean to pick up the phone to Peter Beattie and talk to him about Queensland land clearing. He did nothing about this. We put in the work. We've done the job. And the decisions are flowing through.
In regards to today's legislation, [indistinct] will necessarily lead to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, does it? So is that six million figure actually written into the legislation?
No. This legislation extends the reach of the national framework from ozone depleting substances through to synthetic greenhouse gases. And there are now very important synthetic greenhouse gases being used in refrigeration, in precision work, precision cleaning in relation to foam technology, which are replacing the ozone depleting substances.
Now, these synthetic greenhouse gases are very very damaging, potentially, to the climate and to ozone - to climate warming. These synthetic greenhouse gases are very powerful climate warming gases and that's why we need to extend this legislation.
These synthetic greenhouse gases are being used by industry, so the controls that are being imposed through this legislation are going to have an effect in reducing these gases.
I mean we are working very closely with industry to achieve these objectives. The Labor Party seems to be even unable to reach agreement on the simplest and most obvious environmental matters.
When I announced the new rezoning for the Great Barrier Reef on Monday, we had a press release issued by Kelvin Thompson saying the government must deliver in full on this new zoning scheme. And lo and behold, a day later we had Kirstin Livermore* issuing a press release saying she was absolutely shocked to hear that the government was intending to make very minimal changes, if any, in the light of the consultations on this zoning proposal.
In other words, while we've got the environment spokesman for the Labor Party saying that the government must not change the scheme, we've got Kirstin Livermore up there in Queensland saying the government must change the zoning arrangements.
So while you've got a government which is committed to moving forward in a very practical way and putting in major environmental announcements, we've got the Labor Party fighting with itself unable to decide where it wants to go, being satisfied with empty rhetoric. And, where it's got a chance to do something because it's got Labor governments in the States and it could conceivably influence them, it absolutely refuses to do so.
If you're so close to the Kyoto target, why don't you just sign the Kyoto Protocol?
Well, it's not a matter of just putting your signature on a treaty. I mean this is another example of empty Labor rhetoric. What we're doing is putting a billion dollars into greenhouse gas emission reduction. And we've already, by the current measures we've put in place, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by some 60 million tonnes a year.
And this morning I've introduced into the parliament legislation which is going to have the potential to reduce those emissions by up to six million tonnes per year.
So we're actually doing the work, and we're not interested in empty rhetoric. We're interested in actually having an impact on the environment.
You can hardly call the Kyoto Protocol empty rhetoric?
Well, there's going to be a lot of question marks, I think, over how that is going to operate. It's going to have a 1% impact on greenhouse gas reductions that protocol. Science tells us we need to reduce those emissions by about 60%. Australia produces 1% of global emissions. We're going to do the right thing as a responsible global citizen, but we are not going to put our signature to a document which is going to drive Australian industries and Australian jobs overseas for no greenhouse gain. And that is what the Labor Party is all about.
We'll have to see how the international discussions go. We have seen Russia has not yet signed up. So although people were expecting that arrangement would be operating now, it isn't operating and obviously is not going to be operating by COP9 later this year. No one is certain at all whether the Russians will sign up. We'll have to wait and see.
Do you support Labor's 5% renewable energy target?
Well, this is another classic example of where Labor is just plucking a figure out of the air. I mean why not 10%, 27%? I mean this means nothing. Labor hasn't done any work. It doesn't know what the cost of this is going to be. We've put in place a review of this legislation to provide the government with fully costed advice on what these options are going to mean for Australian industry and Australian jobs.
Simon Crean doesn't know how many Australian jobs that particular target could destroy. He doesn't know what the cost is going to be to Australian industry. He doesn't know what the cost is going to be to the future cost of energy in this country. It's something he's plucked out of the air because he wants to seem as though he's interested in the environment. So he's absolutely not prepared to do the work.
We've appointed an inquiry to look into this and to provide the government with fully considered advice.
Thanks very much.