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Doorstop interview, Sky News AM agenda
18 December 2008
GILLON: Turning now to domestic politics, and the Government's launched its new solar credit scheme, under the - unlike the current solar panel rebate the new scheme won't be means tested and will be available to all households, small businesses and community groups.
Joining me now on the line is the Environment Minister Peter Garrett. Minister, good morning.
GARRETT: Good morning, Ashleigh.
GILLON: How do these solar credits work? Is the scheme likely to see a boom do you think in the number of solar panels installed?
GARRETT: The way in which the scheme will work is that when either a household or a community group or a business wants assistance with the upfront costs for small-scale solar - or even wind or hydro - they'll receive a solar credit for that upfront cost. It'll be approximately $7500 across most of Australia.
And it's attached to the renewable energy target which provides renewable energy certificates for the generation of renewable energy. So, this'll open up the support for small-scale renewables for all Australian households and community groups.
But it'll also provide the solar industry for the first time with a strong and certain pathway for future growth. Because the scheme is set up in such as way as to enable the solar credits and this particular support to apply over a period of years and then slowly taper off as the solar industry itself becomes more competitive with other renewable technologies.
GILLON: Well, this scheme has been pretty heavily criticised by both the opposition and greens groups who claim that this will in fact damage the renewable energy sector. They say an national gross feed-in tariff would be - would do more to stimulate that industry.
Was that an option that you considered? And why didn't you go down down that path?
GARRETT: I don't think the Opposition has any credibility on this solar issue at all. When we introduced the means test for solar panels, Mr Hunt, the Opposition spokesman, said that the industry was in free-fall and talked about the calamitous effect that the Government's decision had had on the industry, whilst at the same time applications for the rebate and the number of solar panels that were being installed went to record highs.
The fact is...
GILLON: Well, but does that scrapping the means test is in fact a win for the Opposition?
GARRETT: Not at all. The Opposition just absolutely got it wrong from day one on solar. I mean, they said that the introduction of the means test for the solar panel rebate would see the industry suffer, it didn't.
We have said all along, and I went through a series of extensive consultations around Australia with community groups, with the industry, with non-government organisations and others, and the clear message that came from the industry was that the changes that had happened, including and particularly under the previous government in terms of the solar panel rebate, were always producing a sense of uncertainty for the industry.
We want to provide an absolute sure sense of certainty for the industry. And now we have a legislative basis for the delivery of upfront support for people to be able to put solar panels on their roofs. Add that to the low interest green home loan scheme which we'll introduce next year, plus the existing National Solar Schools plan with some 3000 schools already putting solar panels on their roofs.
And finally, Ashleigh, and I just need to say it, reflect on the fact that this Government will have put more solar panels on Australian roofs than any other previous government and I think that you'll see that there's a strong commitment for sustainable and growing future solar industry.
GILLON: But it is the industry - that it seems to be agreeing with greens groups that this national gross feed-in tariff would have been the better way to go. Just back to that, was that something you considered, and why didn't you go there?
GARRETT: Well, the Government had always taken the view that national harmonisation of feed-in tariffs was appropriate, and COAG has issued guidelines to that effect.
The fact is that there will be feed-in tariffs that operate in different ways in different states. But if you want to have certainty, if you want to have a strong and clear pathway for future growth for the industry, if you want to provide the industry with the confidence and the opportunity for all Australian households, community groups, businesses and others to get into these small-scale renewables, but particularly solar, then the solar credit is an extremely effective and consistent way of doing that.
And I've just got to say that this industry, you know, if you go onto a website now, you can see systems advertised for only $300 or $400 above the current level of subsidies. I mean, is Mr Hunt really saying that the best way for the solar industry to grow and for Australians to have access to solar is to continue to have a subsidy via way of a rebate, which clearly has got significant uptake, but which doesn't drive ongoing and future growth sustainably into the longer term? I think...
GILLON: Okay. Well, let's just get back to what your side of government is doing, Mr Garrett. I am running out of time. I did just want to touch on another issue with you though. The whaling season's starting up again in the Southern Ocean. One of your first tasks as Environment Minster was to try to attempt to send a strong message to Japan. We saw the Government send down the Customs vessel to monitor whaling over the last season, also use diplomatic channels to try to protest against this to the Japanese.
A year on though has anything actually changed? Have less whales been slaughtered? Is there any concrete achievements that you can point to over the past year?
GARRETT: Yeah, there are actually, and I've got to say we will continue to push very, very strongly including through this season, for the Japanese to cease the so-called scientific whaling in the Southern Oceans. We've had significant diplomatic representation. We did as you pointed out...
GILLON: But using diplomacy to deal with this issue seems to have failed over many years. When will the Government actually bite the bullet and take international legal action? Surely you now have enough evidence to do so?
GARRETT: Well the Government has always said that legal option - the legal option remains on the table. We're continuing to push very, very hard in the diplomatic environment. We expect Minister Smith, who's in Japan this week, will raise this issue again. And additionally, we're working very hard with like-minded nations on making sure that the Southern Ocean research partnership and conservation approach to International Whaling Commission is advanced quickly.
We have taken through more measures to deal with this issue than has ever been the case. We've appointed a special envoy, Mr Sandy Hollway. It's not an easy issue. We're very, very concerned that the potential for whales to be taken in the Southern Ocean remains; we will put our views very, very strongly. We sent the Oceanic Viking into the Southern Ocean over the last season to collect material for potential legal use. That option remains on the table and we're continuing to work very, very strongly through the international fora and also through the scientific engagement which says we can learn and understand about these animals without killing them. And we'll put those arguments consistently and strongly whenever and however we need to.
GILLON: Well if legal action's on the table though, is there a timeframe for when you're going to say enough is enough and actually start doing something in terms of taking that legal action?
GARRETT: Well all the things that we've said that we would do a little over 12 months ago we've done. We said we would monitor and surveil in the Southern Ocean with a view to collecting material. We did that. We said we'd appoint a whaling envoy to engage. We did that. We said we'd have significant and intense diplomatic negotiation. We did that.
We also said that we would take specific, for the first time ever, proconservation measures into the International Whaling Commission, proposals to reform the commission and to change the way in which we actually say and understand the fate of these animals. We've done that.
And we also said that we would consider the legal option. The legal option remains on the table. Minister Smith is in Japan this week, he will raise this issue again on behalf of the Australian people because we are absolutely resolute in our opposition to what is happening, in respect of so-called scientific whaling, and we'll continue to advance that agenda and as we do that, we very much hope to see some positive reactions from the Japanese.
But in the meantime, we'll continue to work with like-minded nations to make sure that this issue of so-called scientific whaling can be resolved.
GILLON: Okay Environment Minister Peter Garrett, thanks for your time.
GARRETT: Thanks, Ashleigh.