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Doorstop Interview, Darkwood, New England National Park, Bush Blitz Launch
15 February 2010
GARRETT: This is a very, very important day and a very important announcement because at the beginning of the International Year of Biodiversity Australia will be leading the world in getting better understanding about our native plants and animals that are located in our National Reserve System.
And the announcement that I am making today – a $10 million investment, partnering with one of Australia’s leading companies, scientific organisations and volunteer organisations – shows how important it is for us to be able to provide the investment necessary to let out scientists get around the country and give us a better understanding of the kind of species that are still there on the Aussie continent.
And what is incredibly exciting about this, is that they are already making new discoveries – that’s extraordinary. At the beginning of the International Year of Biodiversity to know that our young scientists are scouring this country and coming up with new discoveries and they will come up with more and more.
This information will be important for the government, for the community and for scientists as we go about delivering more effective and better investment into protecting our natural landscapes in the year of biodiversity, the International Year of Biodiversity. Understanding how important our natural ecosystems are, the provision of clean water, fresh air, healthy ecosystems are essential to the health of the country.
I am really delighted that we have got such a strong partnership arrangement with a leading Australian company, with Earthwatch, with the scientific organisations that are involved in this project and very, very pleased that I have been able to come onto site to already see some of the wonderful examples of the work that these scientists have been doing here. And I am very much looking forward to this program going for three years with a significant investment and bringing back to us the kind of information and knowledge base that we need to better look after Australia’s fantastic natural environment.
JOURNALIST: Are you surprised at how many species haven’t been identified?
GARRETT: I think it is surprising for us to see that there are still pretty big opportunities in terms of identifying new species. We have got 400 now already, previously unreported, unrecorded, undiscovered species. How incredible.
Quite often we have a sense that the environment is under some pressure and threat, and that is true, but what we don’t have a sense of is the already great expanse of species there. That understanding is becoming filled in by this kind of scientific effort and I am really delighted that we are starting to see these new discoveries come through already.
JOURNALIST: And when you talked about a world first before, what is the world first. Is it the partnership that is involved or…?
GARRETT: The partnership, the scale and the fact that we are going into Australia’s National Reserve System – a reserve system which this government has provided a four-fold increase in funding for, which scientists tell us is absolutely critical to underpinning the biodiversity resources of this country.
And the fact that we will see a partnership of government, of business, of science, of volunteers, and of young people out there in our natural landscapes, in our natural and national reserve areas getting a better understanding of what is really there in our bush.
JOURNALIST: Minister, a range of environment groups and also the Farmers Federation have called for a further investment in biodiversity of up to the tune of a billion dollars extra a year. Do you feel the current funding for biodiversity programs and protection is adequate?
GARRETT: This government has provided more investment into biodiversity and more investment into our National Reserve System than has ever been the case in the past. That was one of the first steps I took as Environment Minister, and it is one that I am particularly proud of. And today’s announcement of additional investment and a partnership with business, with research organisations, and with conservation organisations, is yet another example of the approach that we are bringing to that investment.
I think we all have to recognise that the ongoing protection of biodiversity will require innovation, will require constructive partnership arrangements, will require good science and good planning, as well as investment. We have already identified those measures as being critical in our Caring for our Country program. Today’s Bush Blitz announcement means that we are taking that another big step further.
JOURNALIST: Minister, more broadly in your environment portfolio, you have had a difficult couple of weeks and I guess the question is how do you get the program on track? The government came in with a huge mandate to do something on the environment. I guess a lot of people feel that a lot of it hasn’t been delivered. How do you win the public support back on the environment?
GARRETT: Our delivery on the environment has been absolutely significant and way surpasses anything that the Opposition did when they were in government. And the facts are absolutely crystal clear on that. And it is really important in the midst of a fractious political debate, where there are a series of claims made by the Opposition which don’t bear out the facts of the situation, to recognise how much delivery there has been from the Rudd Government on the environment.
And I am absolutely committed to continuing that delivery, making sure that these programs are delivered effectively and properly, making any changes that we need to, if we think they are warranted, but continuing on the journey that we have undertaken.
JOURNALIST: But would you acknowledge, though, that the delivery of a lot of those programs has been very poor?
GARRETT: Absolutely not. In fact, we have delivered one of the most significant energy efficient programs that we have ever seen. Over one million homes insulated - a response to the global financial crisis - the delivery of national training module for the installation, the setting of safety standards which I expect every person involved in this program to faithfully and properly observe, and delivering significant energy cost savings and greenhouse gas emission savings to large numbers of Australians.
We have never seen a program of this size or scale rolled out in Australia before. It will leave a tremendous legacy of homes insulated and safety has always been a priority for us under this program.
Any installers, any installers at all, in any state in the Commonwealth, who is not fulfilling the requirements that the Commonwealth has placed on them in respect of this program will be dealt with appropriately because the delivery of this program has to be done in a way which is consistent with the guidelines that we have put in place.
JOURNALIST: Have you walked away from the meeting today, should you be at the electricians meeting in Canberra?
GARRETT: I instigated this meeting today because I want my department and technical experts to sit together and to talk through issues and bring back the advice to me. This is not a decision-making meeting, it is a meeting that I myself want to see happen and my expectation is that my department and experts will provide me with the kind of advice that I need to make additional further decisions if necessary.
It is a total fiction, on the part of the Opposition, to start talking about a meeting that I myself actually wanted to take place and where I am expecting reports from my department on any of the discussions that take place at that meeting. Furthermore, it is not a decision-making meeting, it is a meeting about examining technical issues in relation to the delivery of this program. I look forward to hearing from my officials on what the meeting discussed.
JOURNALIST: Have you reached the point where you are losing the argument on the environment?
GARRETT: Mr Abbott has a track record in government, and Mr Hunt as well, of having failed the environment comprehensively. Under the former government they had no energy efficiency policies of substance. They had no commitment to protect biodiversity through accountable and appropriate investment and setting of targets and evaluation. They delivered across the range of energy efficiency measures nothing of consequence at all that they can honestly point to, as opposed to a significant and substantial agenda that has been brought forward under this government. Our track record over the past two years is one of substance and delivery, and it is going to continue.
JOURNALIST: So the suggestion then by the Opposition and by the report in the Australian that you have scarpered to the bush and turned your remote control off, your mobile phone off, what is your response to that then?
GARRETT: There are going to be silly bits of claim and counter-claim around issues as part of the political debate but my obligation is to fulfil the responsibilities I have as Environment Minister.
This is a very important announcement that we have made today and we have very important partners who are part of this announcement – BHP Billiton, Earthwatch and others – clearly my responsibility is to honour those commitments and obligations. That is what any minister would do in the circumstances. And that is what I have done today.
I am very, very pleased that I am here. I am pleased that the meeting that I wanted to take place, is happening in Canberra as well. I will get the report from that meeting, as I would in the normal course of events.
But as well as that, at the beginning of the International Year of Biodiversity in Australia, I have announced and launched Bush Blitz – one of the most exciting and important projects which has got the support of this government and which is going to bring forward great results in terms of additional knowledge and understand for us to develop better policy.
JOURNALIST: And just to clarify, with the electricians, they were aware that you weren’t going to be at that meeting today?
GARRETT: I don’t go to technical experts meetings in the ordinary course of events. My officials go to those meetings, as they should. They will provide me with the appropriate reports for them. And I will listen very carefully to the discussions that they have undertaken.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Minter Ellison report, when will that be made public?
GARRETT: We will make a decision about when that matter will be made public soon.
JOURNALIST: Can you just tell us, Minister, more broadly, how do you fix something like the Renewable Energy Target, the Renewable Energy Certificates. The price of that, through government policy, has fallen, nearly halved in the 6-8 months. How do you fix something like that [inaudible] the program you implemented has directly hurt investment in the sector?
GARRETT: The renewable energy commitment that this government has made is far in excess of what the former government ever contemplated. They didn’t believe in renewable energy. They didn’t provide a framework for renewable energy investment to take place. And Renewable Energy Certificates and the Renewable Energy Target itself is subject to the market responses in these areas. And we will continue to deliver those programs in a way which is effective. If there are issues that have arisen, and you know there are issues that have arisen in relation to it and we are going to look at them very closely, as you should do in government, - give some consideration to those issues. If there is a need for additional changes to be made or regulatory changes to be made, or policy changes to be made, or improvements to be made, make them by all means. But do them in the context of understanding that we have brought forward the commitment to renewable energy. We have brought forward the commitment to making sure that there are additional energy efficiency opportunities out there in the marketplace for people.
JOURNALIST: I don’t think anyone doubts the commitment, but it is the delivery that is the problem. So how do you fix the renewable energy certificates without killing the solar industry? How do you do that, and without spending huge amounts of government money? That is the problem you are facing, isn’t it?
GARRETT: We will continue to work through any issues in relation both to the Renewable Energy Target, the provision of credits under the target, for solar hot water. We will continue to work those through, in the context of having already delivered on this issue.
I mean, you had what Mr Howard who refused to talk about solar energy and had about 4,000 panels on the roofs. We will deliver 120,000 panels – 11 times more solar panels will go onto roofs under the Rudd Government within the period of its first two years, two and a half years in office, than Mr Howard and Mr Abbott when he was a minister, managed over the period of some 11 years.
The commitment to provide a sustainable growth path for renewables over time under the renewable energy target. The provision of additional support for our scientists to better understand how we look after and protect our precious biodiversity. Those things are all hallmarks of this government. And the track record already after two years puts their period of time – of inaction, of scepticism, of delay, and of political mischief-making - completely in context.
I have every confidence as Environment Minister in this government that what we have brought forward, both in terms of policy and program delivery over the past two years, measures up against any previous actions by our political opponents and outstretches it by a vast, vast distance. And I am going to continue to do that job, it’s an important job and it’s what people expect us to do and we are going to continue doing it.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] what has he said to you. It has been a difficult week. Has he raised the issue with you, said you are doing okay, don’t worry about it. What has he said to you?
GARRETT: Of course I have spoken with the Prime Minister, as I do with other senior colleagues. I think the Prime Minister’s very strong and clear statements of support for my performance are there on the record. We are committed to bringing forward an agenda which is all about doing something on the environment in a genuine way. We are going to continue to do that.