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Transcript
Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

Friday, 23 June 2006
InterContinental Hotel, Sydney

Doorstop following Environment Protection and Heritage Council meeting - plastic bags, wind farm national code, cigarette butts, nuclear energy


Journalist:
(...inaudible...)... plastic bags...

Senator Campbell:
Yeah sure. The Council has recommitted itself to the phase out by the end of 2008. The Commonwealth's view - the State's are talking about regulation and levies - the point I've made clear is the Commonwealth will have nothing to do with a levy. We don't want any more taxes on shoppers, we want to try to keep the cost of groceries and the cost of living down. We want work harder with not only major retailers but also continue the work that I've established with smaller business who have a much bigger struggle in this phase. I want to send a clear signal also that Australians and the supermarkets should be incredibly pleased with what they've done - they have effectively taken two million plastic bags a year out of the system. Although we didn't get the 50 per cent reduction target by the end of the last year, we got to 45 per cent so it's an incredibly good start. I think we should actually be pretty pleased and pretty proud of what we've done, recognising that we can go further. The other things that I want to do with industry and the major supermarkets, particularly Coles and Woolies have said that one of the things we have to do is go for a technological breakthrough and we will be working with the major supermarkets - and in fact any other industries who want to do so - to get a breakthrough in getting rid of plastic bags by moving to starch bags or biodegradable bags and I'll try to grab a bag and I'll just show you what one looks like.

(...inaudible...) regulations, more red tape and worst of all a levy or a tax.

Journalist:
So if it doesn't improve by 2008 (...inaudible...)

Senator Campbell:
I can't predict what the Federal Government may do in 2008, all I can say is that here in 2006 we think that the industry and Australian consumers (...inaudible...) and get rid of plastic bags I think that we should actually send a more positive of signal of governance and say look, you've done really well, this is a great environmental achievement for our country, we've got to go further forward, we've got to work harder, but let's do it in a co-operative fashion, let's look at constructive options, let's not hit them over the head with taxes because in the end the people who pay the levies, the people who pay the taxes will be the consumers and the consumers who are hardest hit will be low and middle income earners and that's the last thing we need to do. Here is an example of the sort of bag that we can and should move towards. We're going to boost the emphasis of R&D, we're going to boost and fast-track an Australian standard which the industry that's looking at developing made out of starch. It's an entirely natural product, recyclable and totally melts in water. That's the sort of thing that we want to work with. We think it's a constructive way forward. But the Commonwealth and the States, the Australian Government and the States, are equally committed to a phase-out by 2008. There are just some subtle differences on how we might achieve that.

Journalist:
So what if it rains?

Senator Campbell:
That's a very good point. Well that's what all the testing and the R&D and the research is all about. But I've actually been using this bag consistently even in some rain over the past couple of weeks and it's amazingly resilient, it's fantastic. This is the way of the future.

Journalist:
On the other topic, wind farms. You're essentially being accused of helping blocking wind farms from being set up around Australia by trying to introduce more red tape.

Senator Campbell:
Well that's a political take on it. The reality is that the Australian Government has supported through direct investment and through cross-subsidies a boost in Australia's wind turbine numbers from 20 up to 600 and although my intervention in terms of invoking the Federal environmental law to protect native wildlife on one wind farm has attracted a lot of attention, what hasn't attracted attention is that since I made that decision I have effectively ensured the go-ahead of at least three other wind farms in that time. So we are pro-wind energy, we are pro-renewable energy. What the wind energy industry needs for the future is to have a consistent approach to the planning and approvals process across Australia that ensures that local communities are engaged. Where we are meeting resistance to wind energy in the community is because State governments have, in some places in Australia, ridden roughshod over the views of local communities. You need to ensure those local community views are not just listened to but are in fact acted upon if you're going to make sure that wind has a big future in Australia - and that's what the Commonwealth Government seeks to achieve.

Journalist:
(...inaudible...)

Senator Campbell:
Well it's up to, that's the State's decision, that's their right. What I'm going to do is now convene a national roundtable with the wind energy industry, with local governments, with local communities and progress work on a code. I know that the states have a political position at the moment, we're in the business of greenhouse gas abatement, of addressing climate change. We know that renewable energy has a got an important role to play in that; we need to build a regulatory framework that makes wind energy installations something that the community welcomes. So I will continue to work on this, recognising that the states obviously have political objections at the moment.

Journalist:
(...inaudible...)...national pollutant inventory

Senator Campbell:
Well the Australian Government has provided leadership not only nationally but around the world, in terms of the quality of our greenhouse inventory, how we report, and the Commonwealth is going to work constructively with the States as we move towards the meeting of the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers to achieve an agreed national reporting framework and today's meeting has been a substantial step forward in that process.

Journalist:
Just on the nuclear issue, the States and Territories say that (...inaudible...) overturn our rules that ban nuclear energy generation in our state. What do you say to that?

Senator Campbell:
Well the States have got an ideological bent against nuclear. The Prime Minister has said that if we're going to address Australia's and the world's energy security needs and the equally important greenhouse gas consequences that we need to consider all technologies, we need to pursue on our work on renewables, we need to pursue our work on fossil fuel cleaning up mechanisms, new energy sources like geothermal, and that Australia is a substantial part of the nuclear fuel cycle in the world and that we should move on from the 1970s ideological obsessions against nuclear when we know that nuclear will be part of it. We have set up an enquiry headed up by Ziggy Switkowski. That enquiry will be very thorough, very detailed and very expert, and I think what the Labor Ministers have done today is to put the cart before the horse.

Journalist:
So would you expect if any of the State or Territory Governments were to change hands and become a Coalition, in the hands of the Coalition, would you expect one of those States or Territories to come forward and offer to provide the site for Australia's next nuclear site?

Senator Campbell:
No, I think once again that's putting the cart before the horse. What the Prime Minister has said is that we need energy security for the world and for Australia. We need to see the energy needs of Australians met securely and also the energy needs of the world; our uranium is already providing the energy equivalent of the entire Australian energy production just from one mine and, if I may conclude my answer, the process we've set up to look at the whole energy fuel cycle is the beginning of the process to make predictions about the outcome of future State elections, the policies of potentially future Coalition governments in any State or Territory is not only putting the cart before the horse, it's putting it in the next suburb.

Journalist:
Well can I ask another way: Are there any Coalition leaders, leaders of the Opposition now, who've come to you and said we actually feel passionate about nuclear power and we're prepared to overturn all the Labor Opposition to having nuclear sites in (...inaudible...) states?

Senator Campbell:
Again, it's not only putting the cart before the horse, it's putting the cart three suburbs away from the horse. We've set up an enquiry to ensure that we have a thorough portfolio-based multi-pronged approach to energy security and to greenhouse gas emissions. Ruling out one technology effectively puts your head in the sand on greenhouse and on energy security. Australians deserve and honest, open, well-informed debate on all of their energy options and in the past - because of the ideological obsessions of the 1970s and '80s has been ruled out - the Prime Minister and the Australian Government have shown leadership in saying you can't rule one technology out, there are no silver bullets; nuclear is not a silver bullet; renewables aren't a silver bullet. We have to do all these things and we owe the Australian population a scientifically-based discussion of all of those options.

Journalist:
Are you personally in favour of nuclear power?

Senator Campbell:
I'm in favour of Australians pursuing all of the energy options available to her, to improve her own energy security, therefore job security, and also achieve the dual policy goal of making energy available but doing so with 50 to 60 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions globally by roughly half-way through this century.

Journalist:
Are you in favour of it?

Senator Campbell:
Well, the reality is that nuclear, in the world, provides very low emissions energy to countries like France where it's 75 per cent of the energy signature. We export uranium to countries around the world that produce that energy. It is a low emission energy source. I am in favour all low emission energy sources, and I don't play favourites. If you play favourites, you are denying the dual policy goals of energy security for the world and Australia, and a lower greenhouse future. So I'm not going to say that I like nuclear any more or less than I like solar because I actually think all of them have a part to play. That's the only sensible, the only sensible approach for Energy and Environment Ministers right around the world.

Journalist:
(...inaudible...)

Senator Campbell:
I haven't, but I did note that they commended my actions by engaging the ASX Corporate Governance Council and so I welcome that pat on the back which is very rare in this job.

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