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Australian National University, Canberra
28 April 2010
GARRETT: Today I have given a major speech outlining Australia’s very strong position on the conservation of whales, pointing out that the proposal that has been brought forward for countries to consider represents an unacceptable compromise which Australia does not support. And that we have put forward an alternative proposal on whale conservation which would see, ultimately, the end of the killing of whales in the name of science, no targeting of endangered whale species or vulnerable whale species, and an agreement that the consideration of science and research within the International Whaling Commission happens according to agreed, strict and appropriate scientific procedures and protocols.
I will be spending a lot of time speaking to my counterparts in other countries around the world in the run up to this June meeting, because we are at a crossroads in terms of the protection of the world’s whales and Australia is committed to their protection. Australia wants to see whales protected through the Commission and Australia will not only bring forward a strong conservation agenda, which we have done already, but also, if necessary, take additional actions including legal action if required, as we consider whether or not countries of the world are going to consider the interests of conserving whales ahead of the interests of killing them in the name of science.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the IWC seems to be pretty spineless over the years, it has never really made any real action on whaling. Why not just take it to the International Court? You have promised it for years and years and years. Three years is long enough isn’t it to take it to court?
GARRETT: Well we have always said that the IWC, despite the difficulties that it has faced, remains the best forum to try and resolve these issues and we have always been committed to the diplomatic engagement that is necessary as a first step to properly resolve these matters. We are committed to that diplomacy, but as I said in my speech and as I have said previously, it is not an open ended cheque for dialogue. The Support Group was setup with the specific intent of enabling countries to try and reach a common cause on this matter.> They weren’t able to. It is clear that there will be intensive discussions in the lead up to the IWC62, we want to be a part of those intensive discussions and we reserve our position on taking legal action until we see the progress of those discussions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have you read the Hawke Report? At what point did you realise that your department was not equipped with the resources to roll out the stimulus insulation program?
GARRETT: Look I think the Hawke Report was a fair and thorough evaluation of the Home Insulation Program. I note that the Hawke Report said that as Minister I acted in a timely and appropriate manner. And I welcome that finding from Mr Hawke.
But I also note that the speed of the rollout and the scale of the roll out meant that the direct attention to issues on the part of the Department did not happen in as quick a way as it should have. What I can say about the advice that I received from the Department was that on the basis of advice that I received on a range of issues, whether they were to do with rollout, cost and pricing, safety, training, I acted immediately upon receipt of that advice to ensure that we could have the most orderly rollout as we could.
Now it is very clear that it wasn’t as orderly a rollout as it should have been and I am sure, and I know, that the Secretary of the Department is mindful of the comments that Mr Hawke has made about the capacity of the Department to manage a program of that size.
JOURNALIST: So Minister are you disappointed perhaps that according to this whistleblower that was on 4 Corners, it seems people inside the Department ignored and dismissed claims about fears of safety and potential deaths and fires? Do you believe that they provided with advice and didn’t pass on these concerns and perhaps were more keen on just getting out the job creation?
GARRETT: From the very start there were two issues that raised themselves as critical for our consideration. One was training and the other was safety. And the initial discussions that were held between the Department and other stakeholders identified those measures that were necessary both to manage risk and to ensure that there was a national training program in place for orderly rollout. That happened early in the program and I was very clear that we needed to have a framework in place that managed those issues that were identified.
Was the Department fully equipped to manage the scale of the roll out, particularly the amount of shonky behaviour and cowboy behaviour that we experienced in the market, which I said quite clearly when I was asked this question some months ago I was surprised at? The answer to that is, most likely not. What Hawke says is that there were a number of issues that arose in this program that could not have been properly anticipated or foreseen until the program itself was being rolled out. As we rolled out the program we endeavoured to deal with all those issues that came forward to us in a timely and proper manner.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] in those four letters that you have written to him?
GARRETT: The four letters - I know the Prime Minister has referred to them in his remarks as well – are subject to Cabinet-in-Confidence and the fact is that as Minister, I had the responsibility for noting the advice that I received from my Department, putting in place the appropriate measures that gave effect to that advice.
You will remember that I gave a statement to the Parliament. In giving that statement to the Parliament I actually pointed out that in some instances I went further than the advice that was sought by me from my Department. I did that on the basis that I wanted to make sure that we had an effective rollout with safety and training measures in place and my communications of matters and issues around that program, where they are appropriately covered by Cabinet-in-Confidence requirements, should remains so.
JOURNALIST: So are you saying that you warned the Prime Minister and it is in fact him that should shoulder the blame for this disaster?
GARRETT: I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that at all times I responded to the advice that came through to me from my Department and it was the case that where it was necessary to add additional measures to ensure safety or additional training measures, I put them in place as well.
JOURNALIST: I know that because I read the report and I know that it says that about you. But there was also this overriding theme in the report saying that there was this pressure to roll this out and get it out the door. Where was that pressure coming from if you were acting in safety?
GARRETT: Well look in relation to the question or otherwise of whether safety was not a priority under this program, I want to make it perfectly clear that it always was. It always was for me and it always constituted the basis of advice that I sought in relation to the speed of the rollout.
JOURNALIST: What about for the Prime Minister? Was it his priority?
GARRETT: Well again, what I would say is this: we bought forward a number of measures that kept Australia out of recession. It was important to provide the economic activity which saw us avoid that recession. But at every step along the way in the rollout of the Home Insulation Program we ensured that we had in place an appropriate framework, as much as was manageable given that the states have responsibility for occupational health and safety and workplace safety issues, and the appropriate training to ensure that we could manage risk in the rollout of the program.
JOURNALIST: So your priority is safety, what about the Prime Minister’s?
JOURNALIST: What about Mark Arbib?
GARRETT: Well, what I would say to that is that the Government’s priority was to ensure…
GARRETT: Well, what I am saying is that the Government’s priority was to ensure that we managed the challenges of the global financial crisis and that the rollout of this scheme took place on the basis of advice that we received to set up a framework where there was appropriate training and appropriate safety measures in place.
JOURNALIST: The CFMEU was so worried about the training that it refused to participate in it except in New South Wales branch because it had its own training.
GARRETT: Well my answer to that is that there are a number of parties who have made a number of claims about their participation in this program. This was a program that was subject to very through stakeholder engagement. It was a program that consulted widely with training organisations and relevant organisations. And it put in place, for the first time ever, a nationally accredited training scheme for ceiling insulation. That is one of the things which we took on. It was one of the things which we deemed necessary to do and it was one of the things that was done at the time.
JOURNALIST: So are you saying that you were hung out to dry? Your priority was safety and the Government’s priority avoiding recession? There is a conflict there.
GARRETT: Well I can only repeat what I have said before.
JOURNALIST: Is that what you are saying?
GARRETT: Absolutely not. I can only repeat what I have said before. We took every necessary step that was drawn to our attention in terms of the rollout of this program, recognising that it was a large scale program, recognising that is was strongly demand driven. Safety and training were priorities for us at the beginning, in the middle and right through the course of the program.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on environment issues, the ETS has been dumped, it is gone, it is finished, it will never be. How disappointed are you, you have campaigned for 30 odd years on the environment? Can you sit here in the Labor Party and a proud member of the Labor Part when they have ditched such a crucial element of a climate change action?
GARRETT: Look I am very disappointed that we have had to delay this ETS and I think that it is a great pity that the obstructionist activities and behaviours of the opposition party have led us to this point and the failure of the minor parties in the Senate to negotiate in a meaningful and productive way to ensure the passage of an ETS.
I mean here is the rub about the decision to defer the CPRS, it is within the remit of the Coalition parties - and in fact it was their policy when Mr Turnbull was their leader - and it is within the remit of the minor parties, in particular the Greens, to make sure that we had in place in this country an Emissions Trading Scheme for the very first time. They have provided total obstruction.
The new Opposition Leader thinks that climate change is “absolute crap” and Senator Brown, the Leader of the Greens, says that he would prefer not to have a scheme at all rather than support the start of an ETS despite the fact that there were a significant number of stakeholders, business, unions and conservation organisations who recognised that their support for an ETS would have enabled us to have a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in place.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] if it is so popular with the people, an ETS, why not take the ETS to the people, take it to a double dissolution? You have that trigger if you [inaudible].
GARRETT: Well the Government’s decision is that at this point in time it is appropriate for this matter to be deferred given that all we have seen from these opposition parties is obstruction and a failure to act cooperatively.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] change that. The vote from the people would change the Senators so you had the majority in the Senate.
GARRETT: Well I think that everybody who is a part of this interview has got a fair idea without trying to second guess the result of an election, of what the numbers in the Senate would be.
The point about it is simply this: the opposition parties had an opportunity to be a part of history and they squibbed it. Mr Abbott is hostile to climate change and he was hostile to a CPRS. And Senator Brown didn’t take up the opportunity to fashion a form of compromise which would have seen us have an ETS in place. And I think that is tragic.
JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, how is the country better for having voted in Labor at the last election. We would have gotten the same result with John Howard, perhaps even better on climate change, wouldn’t we?
GARRETT: Well I will point out a number of measures but I don’t want to go too long on a list which for me is a long one. A renewable energy target which is substantial, four times that which was on offer from the Coalition. A significant commitment to energy efficiency, an area that the Coalition hardly ever touched. A commitment to pursue a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and an ETS and to work effectively to that end and a commitment to the goals that have been set.
I mean when you look at what the Coalition brought forward by way of their so-called direct action plan, it is a fanciful exercise in speculating that you can sequester significant amounts of carbon in the forests of Australia and it has been significantly disproved and some of you who follow the environment rounds will know this, by those who are expert on those matters.
JOURNALIST: Why is the Government waiting for the rest of the world and looking at a post Kyoto world, rather than leading like you, yourself have said many times over the last two years and the Prime Minister and Minister Wong?
GARRETT: The fact that we have a highly obstructionist opposition and minor parties who are not willing to find a point of common cooperation in bringing an ETS through means that the significant opportunities that were in play when Mr Turnbull was Opposition Leader, have been eroded by the actions of Tony Abbott.
I mean Tony Abbott is the climate change wrecker. Not only is he a sceptic but he is the climate change wrecker and the minor parties had the opportunity to participate constructively in this process, they have denied the Australian people the opportunity for an effective ETS.