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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Copenhagen conference; Hawke Government leadership on Antarctic protection; Antarctic Treaty; Japanese whaling; Opposition failure on climate change

E&OE transcript
Doorstop interview
Australian National Martime Museum, Sydney
14 December 2009

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JOURNALIST: …Bob Hawke, former prime minister, talking about the icy reception he received trying to save Antarctica. Do you expect that the Prime Minister will receive a similar reception when he attends Copenhagen?

GARRETT: I think when the Prime Minister attends Copenhagen he will be making a very, very productive contribution. Clearly, he has already been involved in the discussions that he has had with the Danish chair and others.

And I do know that this will be a conference where the participation by world leaders is critical. The Prime Minister is going to provide a very full contribution in that discussion, and there is still some time to travel in relation to this conference. The participation by world leaders – absolutely essential to positive results.

JOURNALIST: If saving Antarctica was mission impossible, what is saving the world?

GARRETT: I think what today shows us is the leadership role that our country can take and has taken on key international environment issues. And I celebrate the fact that, along with Non-Government Organisations and the Australian community at large, the Hawke Government went out there and took such a strong leadership role that we now have a regime for protection of the Antarctic unlike any other in the world.

Additionally, we can see that Copenhagen is a critical threshold meeting – I think everybody understands that. The discussions will continue, more than likely, right through to the conclusion of the conference. And like everybody else, this Government is extremely keen to see the thrashing out of those agreements that are necessary to begin to address dangerous climate change.

JOURNALIST: Should we give up the Australian clause to show good will in terms of Kyoto or whatever comes next?

GARRETT: I think our role, up to now, has been a constructive one, and it will continue to be a constructive one. Each country has a set of different issues that it needs to bring to the table – that has always been the case. But what ultimately is important is to find common agreement. And no matter how hard that may be, no matter how difficult these Copenhagen negotiations can and clearly are, we have to keep on, we have to keep on in good faith. And we have to keep on because the issues are that important.

JOURNALIST: On other hard negotiations, is the Prime Minister going to raise whaling with Japan tomorrow?

GARRETT: Australia has always made its position on whaling in the Southern Ocean clear – we are opposed to it, we remain absolutely opposed to it. And that has already been communicated very clearly to the Japanese government. It will continue to be communicated through the appropriate diplomatic channels and by ministers as, and when, necessary.

JOURNALIST: Are we going to do more? He didn't rule out legal action the other day but you seem to be doing no more than what you did last year.

GARRETT: We have made it clear that we are not writing a blank cheque for negotiations and that if we do not see substantial progress made in these discussions, then legal action will be contemplated. That is what we always said we would do. But we also recognise that there are some 80 nations involved, ultimately, in discussions in the International Whaling Commission. We want to work cooperatively and positively with all of those 80 nations because we have got a conservation agenda that we want the IWC to pick up and we will continue to argue very strongly for that.

JOURNALIST: There are a few comments around today in terms of excluding drought and bushfire – they are calling it cheating. Is that cheating, Minister?

GARRETT: These materials and approaches are already on the public record and it is the case that you do need to find a way to ensure that all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for and provided for, not only in the way in which you determine your own policies here but also the way in which you determine them internationally. And that has always been the case.

JOURNALIST: Is there a possibility of moving further on the Antarctic Treaty and doing about the increasing footprint as one of the campaigners suggested?

GARRETT: In relation to the Antarctic, Australia has always played a key, leading role. We recognise how fragile that environment is. We are very keen to see appropriate and clear mechanisms in place to make sure that the impact on the environment down in Antarctica is as light as it can be. But it also the case that it is a really important scientific laboratory for us particularly in understanding climate change impacts. And Australia will work closely with other research nations, and other treaty nations, to make sure that we do that research in a way that doesn't produce any damage for the environment.

JOURNALIST: The former prime minister said that one of his greatest sayings was “ignorance gets in the way of good policy”. Is Tony Abbott being ignorant by pretending or believing that climate change doesn't exist?

GARRETT: Every day brings from the Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott, more clear evidence that he doesn't understand climate change, that he is not committed to doing anything about climate change and that he is more interested in running scare campaigns and populist political campaigns when what we know, from what we are seeing in Copenhagen, what we know from the kind of impacts that we are seeing in our rural communities and on our coastlines, is that we need a comprehensive approach which deals with dangerous climate change. One that has an emissions trading scheme at its heart. One that has a range of complementary and comprehensive measures that go along with it.

At this point in time, Mr Abbott's thought bubbles are nothing more than that. And I frankly think that for the Australian public, that does want leadership on climate change, the Opposition Leader continues to let the Australian public down.


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