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

Copenhagen negotiations; Japanese whaling; Home Insulation Program

E&OE transcript
Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News PM Agenda
17 December 2009

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GILBERT: Peter Garrett, thanks for your time.

GARRETT: Thanks Kieran.

GILBERT: Before we get onto the issue of whaling I want to ask you about Copenhagen. Is it frustrating that such a matter of global importance is being left to the eleventh hour to sort out?

GARRETT: Look, I think what is happening at Copenhagen, Kieran is what is inevitably going to happen when the world leaders arrive towards the end of the conference. It is going to need that leadership by national leaders - heads of state - to drive an agreement through, and that is what we are seeing now and I suspect it is going to be a minute by minute, hour by hour exercise right down to the wire.

GILBERT: Are you surprised though that less than two days to go there and it is such a nail-biter. There are still more than 90 areas of disagreement?

GARRETT: In some ways I am not because this is a very, very difficult exercise. You are reconciling the national interest that countries have brought with a range of issues that they have got to try and come to a consensus on. You are doing it in an atmosphere which is compressed, because it is a conference, and you're doing it sometimes with national leaders just arriving now. I mean, the Chinese leaders, the American leaders, the Prime Minister - our Prime Minister - just coming into town.

So look it is a difficult and tough negotiation, no question. Yes it is complex. But they will drive to something, they will drive to solution and I am very hopeful that they can drive to an agreement.

GILBERT: Are you confident of that? I mean in a former life you would have been heavily involved in this with the Conservation Foundation and so on. You know most of the players, you know most of the problems intimately. Will they get a deal of substance?

GARRETT: Well that is the most important question anyone can ask and it is a difficult one to answer. I think that the will is there, certainly from the Australian point of view, for us to seek the common ground that we need to get an effective agreement in place. Doubtless there will be other steps to come. Whether it is as comprehensive and as finalised as people are aiming for or would like, who can say? There is still some time to go.

GILBERT: The hope you say, as the world leaders arrive, that they will sort things out, is it the hope that the US President, and particularly the Chinese President, will end up getting the deal across the line? That it will largely come down to those two to steer a final agreement?

GARRETT: Well you know at Bali it took strong interventions by the Secretary General and by other leaders, pretty much at the eleventh hour, to get an agreement out of Bali. That did happen quite late, it happened after these all night meetings.

I suspect that the same kind of dynamic is in place in Copenhagen but it is a more complex dynamic. There is more at stake. But one would hope that there will be a determination by these leaders to focus on where agreement can be found and in doing that recognise that we actually do need to get serious measures out of this agreement because of the scope of the climate change challenge.

GILBERT: Okay, on the issue of whaling, the Sea Shepherd organisation says the Japanese have started whaling this season. Is that your advice that they have?

GARRETT: I haven't seen formal advice to that effect Kieran, so that is just reports that we're hearing at the moment.

GILBERT: Now, their vessel, the Sea Shepherd, is being blocked by Japanese security boats. The captain of the Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, says Australia should send a navy vessel down there to order the Japanese out of the Australian Antarctic Territory. Why don't you do that?

GARRETT: Look Mr Watson is always making claims on various parties here. What we have said is that we expect any party in the Southern Ocean, any vessels and any party, to observe properly the appropriate laws of the sea, particularly in regard to safety at sea.

We have made it very clear, and Foreign Minister Smith along with his New Zealand counterpart and the Netherlands, have said specifically that any vessels including the Sea Shepherd need to be put on notice of a requirement for the conduct of safe activities at sea. That is our expectation.

GILBERT: But what about telling the Japanese to get out of Australian Antarctic Territory, if that is where they are?

GARRETT: Well we have made our views crystal clear to the Japanese Government and to the whalers. We have done it consistently, we have done it through ministerial meetings, we have done it through the whale envoy representation.

I have put the case very strongly in the International Whaling Commission. We have got a whole conservation agenda now that was never, ever in place on this issue, in front of the Commission. And we have also put the Japanese on notice that we expect to make substantive progress on this issue and that if we don't, legal action will be contemplated.

So all the things that we said we would do as a Government, we're in the process of doing. And our strong views and our strong opposition to whaling by the Japanese in the Southern Ocean remains absolutely uncontained.

GILBERT: But the Japanese Foreign Minister said just last week, he spoke about the tradition of eating whale meat. That exposed their claims of scientific whaling as a fraud. When is enough, enough?

GARRETT: Well as I have said, we want to see substantial achievement in the negotiations. We considered it was definitely the right thing to do to provide ample diplomatic effort and engagement with our major trading partner, with a new government in place, to provide the space and the opportunity for significant steps to be taken. Now, if significant and substantial steps are not taken then we will take the next step.

GILBERT: And so how likely is it - I mean you have got the evidence, you sent the Customs vessel down there a couple of years ago, this is now the third summer where whales are going to be slaughtered by the Japanese whalers - when is it going to happen? Is it likely that it will happen soon, the legal action?

GARRETT: Well we have got specific negotiations and meetings and discussions going on outside of the International Whaling Commission meeting. The Government's expectation is that we need to advance those discussions substantively and we need to do them in the short term. There will be meetings that take place on the way to the next International Whaling Commission and we will look very closely at the kind of progress that we are making.

GILBERT: When is that, that Commission meeting?

GARRETT: The Commission meeting will be in June. But I want to make one other point...

GILBERT: So you would take some action, legal action before then?

GARRETT: Well no, what I am saying is that we want to see, clearly, what substantive progress has been made in terms of those discussions in the run up to that IWC meeting.

There is an important feature of this discussion that needs to be considered. For the last 14 years there has been no backing off by the Japanese Government of the number of whales that they have targeted in the Southern Ocean. Nothing that the former government did made the blindest bit of difference to the numbers of whales that have been targeted. It is very clear that the activities that were undertaken in the past - whether it was the wrist bands and banging the table and saying how terrible this was, or putting vessels down there - changed the targets that the Japanese put on killing these whales.

We want to reduce that to zero. We don't believe that there should be the taking of whales in the name of science and we believe that the right way to do that is to make sure that all the issues are on the table. We have a lot of like-minded countries that are sympathetic to Australia's position - bring them with us in those discussions. But I have made it clear that there is no blank-cheque. We haven't endless patience, infinite patience on this. If we don't see substantial progress then we will move to the next step of action.

GILBERT: If there hadn't been a new government elected in Tokyo, would you have taken legal action by now? Are you giving the new government a bit of breathing space?

GARRETT: Well I think the fact is that effective diplomacy means that you do take into account when there has been a change in government.

But what I have always wanted to see is where we are going in substantive discussions.

GILBERT: Are you frustrated by the time though?

GARRETT: Well look, I really do share the concern that all Australian's have that we are having another season of the Japanese targeting these whales. But I also say very clearly that all of the measures that we have put in place, including the largest whale research program in the world now, the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, non-lethal research on whales, inviting other nations to come and join us, working very hard on the diplomacy. Also, making sure that we are active in the IWC and retaining the legal option, is the right way to deal with this issue.

GILBERT: Ok, one final issue, under the Home Insulation Program you have released new guidelines for people who are going to be installing pink batts and so on. One of the requirements is simply previous experience. How do you determine that? Is it a months experience, a week, a year? How much more? How much previous experience do you need to participate under this program?

GARRETT: Kieran, we have strengthened the training requirements and one of the requirements is that you need to have at least two years previous experience installing. And we will be requiring statutory declarations from people that use that as their requirement for the training guideline, to continue in the program.

GILBERT: Why have you introduced this?

GARRETT: Well one of the things that we said at the start was that we wanted to make sure that not only that safety issues were properly observed in the program - it is a big program, some 840,000 households now we've seen insulated. The biggest insulation, energy efficiency program on a per capita basis anywhere. And a tremendously successful program.

But those few, small bad apples that try to get around the guidelines, we have strengthened the requirements for training for. And we want to make sure that everybody who is in a roof has a level of training that is appropriate and for the first time we now actually have national training for ceiling insulation which will be pretty good for these people. Even when the program is finished they will have good training requirements in place.

GILBERT: Peter Garrett, as always, appreciate your time.

GARRETT: Thanks Kieran.

[ENDS]

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