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Greg Hunt MP - Federal Member for Flinders

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Transcript, ABC Melbourne, Interview with Ali Moore

E&OE….
                      
Topics: Crown of thorns starfish, Direct Action, Clive Palmer

ALI MOORE:           
Greg Hunt, good morning.

GREG HUNT:          
Good morning, Ali.

ALI MOORE:           
Before we get to the core of why you're on. I know you're in Cairns today and you're talking about starfish.

Apparently there's some good news up there?

GREG HUNT:          
Yes. Look, we're implementing a Crown of Thorns starfish Eradication Programme. It's just past the quarter million mark which according to the local dive operators is likely to save billions of eggs and larvae being released.

And what's happened is a dramatic change, instead of a very laborious process there's now a single shot eradication injection. We're rolling that out across the Reef and it won't solve all of the problems but it can protect some of the high conservation, high threat areas.

ALI MOORE:           
Now, I bet you wish you had such a simple or relatively simple solution to what would appear to be some political problems that you're facing?

GREG HUNT:          
Oh well, nothing as dramatic as that!

ALI MOORE:           
Well listen, we have been talking to Clive Palmer this morning about - he says he's absolutely determined there will be no Direct Action climate change policy. He will not allow legislation through the Senate. How big a problem is that?

GREG HUNT:          
Look, we're obviously respectful of all of the senators and all of the crossbenchers and we'll work with everyone in the Parliament but we were elected with a very clear task.

One, repeal the carbon tax and I agree absolutely with Mr Palmer that it has an impact on a huge scale on electricity and gas prices.

Two, ensure that pensioners are better off. The repeal of the carbon tax will effectively be a pension increase because they'll have lower electricity and gas prices but keep their compensation.  

And three, implement an Emissions Reduction Fund to make a real difference to emissions and to climate change.

They're the things which we pledge to the Australian people and they're the things which we intend to deliver.

ALI MOORE:           
But none of that helps you if Clive Palmer's party's four senate votes are the crucial deciding votes when it comes to putting legislation through Parliament for your Direct Action scheme.

GREG HUNT:          
Look, we'll talk with all of the relevant senators. I'm happy to talk with Mr Palmer. He is keen I think to see a number of things and there is actually common ground.  One, repeal of the carbon tax.  Two, to ensure the pensioners are better off and repealing the carbon tax will actually do that because (inaudible)...

ALI MOORE:           
Sure, you - Minister, you did just outline that and Clive Palmer says he's absolutely adamant - you've already gone through the three points and we do understand them. But Clive Palmer says he's adamant that he won't hold discussions. He's adamant that this is a decision that he is not going to change. And he also made comments on your statement earlier today that the funds will be part of the Budget papers and I doubt the Budget will be blocked.  Clive Palmer says well if you link it to the Budget papers, it you want to play that game then he will simply create difficulties for you with both the mining tax and the carbon tax as well. In fact he even seemed to be prepared to go as far as a double-disillusion if that was how far you wish to take it.

GREG HUNT:          
Look, I think we need to all proceed in a very sensible way. And the first thing is ensuring that the Budget is passed. The second is ensuring that the carbon tax is repealed. And then there is the implementation of the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Of course budget funds are allocated in the Budget documents and in the appropriation bills. That's actually how the country allocates funds. In addition, we have separated out the carbon tax repeal -  I think that's something that I understand is wanted by Mr Palmer.
            
At the moment of course it's being blocked by Bill Shorten. He has stood in the way of repeal of the carbon tax and he's stood in the way of lower electricity and gas prices for Australian families. We will just proceed to implement our election promises and we won't stop until the carbon tax is repealed and we won't stop until the Emissions Reduction Fund is implemented...

ALI MOORE:           
But how do you do that? Is it possible to implement that fund without legislation?

GREG HUNT:          
Well, firstly, obviously all funds are allocated through the Budget process. Secondly, we would prefer to have legislation. But our goal is very clear that we will implement the Emissions Reduction Fund and we will repeal the carbon tax. They are separate items and I think it's very important to understand that and they'll be voted on in a separate manner but we have now been...

ALI MOORE:           
Is it possible though that, is it possible though that...

GREG HUNT:          
...the Opposition, the Labor repeal of the tax for a very long time.

ALI MOORE:           
Is it possible though that you could somehow get your Direct Action plans up and running even if it is blocked in the Senate? I'm not entirely clear how that would happen but if you've got an absolutely adamant Clive Palmer that he will not pass it, I'm not entirely sure how you can proceed with this plan.

GREG HUNT:          
I am extremely confident that we will be able to, not just repeal the carbon tax, but because we have a mandate to do it, not just ensure the increase for pensioners but to ensure that the Emissions Reduction Fund is implemented.

ALI MOORE:           
How do you do that if the person who controls the key voting block in the Senate says no?

GREG HUNT:          
Well, the primary thing of course, is allocation of the funds and that's what the budget process is for...

ALI MOORE:           
Yes.

GREG HUNT:          
...and I would be amazed if the Opposition threatened to block the Budget. I think that would be an extraordinary thing. We were always including the funds for the Emissions Reduction Fund within the budget process that's standard, ordinary operating procedure of government as with the vast bulk, the overwhelming majority of allocations.

But let us remember the central point here. Australians want the carbon tax gone and they voted for it. And they want action on climate change and they voted for that as well.  We have a mandate to implement our policies and we'll do that.

ALI MOORE:           
So in essence Min…

GREG HUNT:          
There is a far better way of doing this than a massive electricity and gas tax.

ALI MOORE:           
So in essence though Minister, what you're saying is that Clive Palmer will become irrelevant to the vote because you believe that Labor will support you if the numbers or the key documents are in the Budget papers?

GREG HUNT:          
Look I won't pre-empt the votes of senators and I look to work with each and every senator. I think it's very important to be respectful to those that have been elected by the Parliament.  But it's equally and fundamentally important to respect the mandate, the will, the result given by the Australian people.

The Australian people voted for a change of government and they voted for a change of policy. They voted for practical action- which by the way you can support irrespective of where you are on the issue of climate change and I am a clear strong believer in the issue.  But you can support it in any event because it's about clean air, clean land, cleaning up waste coal mine gas, cleaning up waste landfill gas, supporting energy efficiency and supporting rehabilitation of the landscape (inaudible)…

ALI MOORE:           
Minister, you say that you were elected on a clear policy but I guess Clive Palmer says that the people voted for an independent Senate, so we're sort of back to square one with both sides saying that this is what the people want.

GREG HUNT:          
Look, this has obviously been a central issue since 2010 when the previous government was elected after having said they wouldn't have a carbon tax.

We set out a clear position opposed to it for the reasons that it doesn't work, that emissions barely dropped 0.1 per cent after a $7.6 billion tax which I think is the thing which will most surprise your listeners that it doesn't do the job and that we will take practical action at a fraction of the cost and most of the elements that we set out and it's not too difficult. We will get (inaudible)...

ALI MOORE:           
Well tell me about Direct Action because am I correct in saying you're about to release a white paper that will give more details about the plan's implementation?

GREG HUNT:          
That's correct. Prior to the Budget we'll be releasing the White Paper. We have already set out a Green Paper, so an extensive document and had a very large period of public consultation that was released prior to Christmas.

ALI MOORE:           
So does that White Paper change anything that we understand at the moment? For example $3 billion by 2018, does it change any costings? Does it change any of our understanding?

GREG HUNT:          
Look, I won't pre-empt the White Paper but the fundamental architecture remains the same and our allocations over the first three years as we said pre-election are $300 million- as opposed to $7.6 billion- $500 million and $750 million.

So a dramatically more cost efficient policy which means there is more money available for ensuring basic services and the quality of government.

ALI MOORE:           
And you still maintain it's going to be delivering reductions of five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020?

GREG HUNT:          
Yes, we'll achieve our target.

This isn't difficult. I think that's the important thing for listeners and for the Australian people to understand. You can reduce emissions by actually cleaning things up.

The problem with the current approach is it doesn't directly clean things up. It hopes and assumes that if you tax people sufficiently highly it will cause enough pain that pensioners and others won't be able to heat themselves in winter or cool themselves in summer. That I think is a very flawed approach. Instead of going and cleaning up emissions from power stations which improves the air quality, cleaning up emissions from land fill and waste coal mine gas which improves air quality and capturing carbon in soils and re-vegetation which improves the quality of our landscape…

ALI MOORE:           
Alright…

GREG HUNT:          
Practical real things.

ALI MOORE:           
Well, Greg Hunt, it's going to be a very interesting time after 30 June in the Senate and I'm guessing that you're going to be one of the busiest Ministers on the negotiation front. Many thanks for joining us this morning.

GREG HUNT:          
Well we always want to take a constructive approach. Thanks Ali.

(ENDS)
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