Transcript – 7:30 Report
31 May 2007
Subject: Prime Minister receives emissions trading task force report; Shadow Minister accuses him of inaction on climate change
KERRY O’BRIEN: And having resisted pressure for some years to embrace any form of carbon trading or setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Prime Minister is tonight on the verge of embracing both as he considers a task force report he commissioned on Australia’s climate change response.
Having castigated Labor leader Kevin Rudd for embracing emission targets before considering their impact on the Australian economy, Mr Howard is now expected to embrace much more conservative targets than Labor. He was at pains to stress today that he will not risk any adverse economic impact. But will it be possible to significantly reduce emissions without any economic impact?
Michael Brissenden reports.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You know something’s getting a lot of attention when it’s generating its own cliches. The hottest topic at the moment, a real change in the political climate, there’s plenty of them about. But it is clear that climate change will be one of the policy fault lines for the next few months.
JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Dr Shergold, this is one of the most eagerly-awaited reports that’s been presented to the Government.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: Today, the Prime Minister formally received the report from his own emissions trading task force. He knows, as do his ministers and backbenchers, and the Opposition, that this is a pivotal political issue.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, OPPOSITION INFRASTRUCTURE SPOKESMAN: My question is to the Prime Minister, and I again refer him to his Government’s secret 2006 taxpayer-funded opinion poll.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: Labor’s been dining out on this leaked information for more than a week now. They obviously have a pretty good source somewhere in the bureaucracy. The Opposition seems to know almost everything about the Government’s yet-to-be-approved ad campaign on climate change, and drops a little bit more each day. Today they came to Question Time armed with some of the Government’s own research in the form of a poll that had been part of the ad agency’s brief.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Did the poll find that 94 per cent of respondents agreed that the climate was changing and that the number of respondents who believed the Government had the prime responsibility to act had almost doubled between 2003 and 2006. The same time the Government changed its position or its rhetoric on climate change? Isn’t it the case that the only thing the Prime Minister is concerned about is the changing political climate, not climate change itself?
JOHN HOWARD: I don’t know whether that poll exists or not, but I’ll find out. Well he may, I don’t know who’s got it. I’ll make inquiries.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: It’s all a bit academic, anyway.
(excerpt from the film documentary An Inconvenient Truth) AL GORE: The Arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this was to go, sea level worldwide will go up 20 feet.
(end of excerpt)
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: After a long drought, unusually warm winters and Al Gore’s inconvenient truth, it’s now accepted wisdom with politicians of all sides that climate change is here to stay as a political issue. How to respond to it and how to get the voters to respond with their votes is now the argument. Labor pledges to cut Australia’s emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. That’s the figure recommended by Sir Nicholas Stern. He recommends a target of 30 per cent by 2020. Labor stops short of accepting that one but according to the electricity generating industry to have any hope of reaching the 60 per cent target we would have to introduce a carbon tax of at least $40 a tonne.
JOHN BOSHIER, NATIONAL GENERATORS FORUM: The $40 a tonne figure is a very high price on carbon dioxide. It would increase wholesale electricity prices by over 100 per cent. It would double them and retail prices would go up about 40 per cent.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: The Prime Minister argues that’s simply economically unacceptable. He’s staking out a far more conservative approach. There will be some long-term targets, he says, but they won’t have a negative economic impact.
We don’t, of course, know exactly what’s in his emissions trading report. But those who feel confident enough to take an informed guess think the Prime Minister will settle on a carbon price of between $5 and $10 a tonne. Enough to ensure we meet Kyoto targets but a price so low that it will have very little real impact. In fact, the Greens say such a figure would be counterproductive.
CHRISTINE MILNE, AUSTRALIAN GREENS: It’s just not even credible. We would be seen as a joke around the world and, in fact, the worst thing that could happen for Australia is the Prime Minister to intervene now to try and drive such a low and weak regime that it somehow prevented real action later.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: The Greens, of course, want targets of up around 80 per cent by 2050. John Howard certainly won’t go anywhere near that. But even the electricity generators agree nothing much will happen without some caps and a carbon price of at least $20 a tonne.
JOHN BOSHIER: $20 per tonne is enough to trigger new technology. It would certainly trigger nuclear power. It probably would not trigger clean coal. Clean coal needs to come down in price if it is to be triggered to that level. So it would certainly involve a lot of response by us in our homes. If we see that kind of price, that kind of increase in price of, let’s say, 20 per cent and it’s a sustained increase in price, then I’ll be using my air conditioner less, I’ll be using my jerseys a bit more to wear rather than turning up the heating. There’ll be just more efficient use of energy in the house. And the generators would certainly welcome that.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: But for the politicians, carbon prices and climate change response is at this pointy end of the cycle, all about votes. Mr Howard says Australia should form its own response and not accept international responses to this global crisis. But Labor thinks that perhaps the Prime Minister should be aware that foreigners may hold not just the key to environmental survival, but perhaps political survival, as well.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Is the Prime Minister aware of comments made by the Republican Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger on 11 April 2007, regarding the fate of political leaders that don’t respond to climate change. And I quote, "Your political base will melt away as surely as the polar ice caps, I can guarantee you that. You will become a political penguin on a smaller and smaller ice floe that is drifting out to sea." Is the governor right?
JOHN HOWARD: I follow the comments of the Governator very closely, but I haven’t seen that one. But I do know this, that the state that he governors derives 28 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power.
MICHAEL BRISSENSEN: This debate has a long way to run yet. Labor clearly believes it has a policy response that reflects the public mood. John Howard is gambling that his approach will appeal more to voters’ concerns about the domestic economy and reinforce the perception that in this area Labor is a risk. Only one of them can be right. Perhaps this is the real test of who is the cleverest politician.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Michael Brissenden.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.