Greg Hunt

10 October 2013 — The Australian Sustainability conference opened yesterday with Environment Minister Greg Hunt offering his “first formal opportunity to speak publicly”, precisely 33 days after the federal election. Obviously his speech writer wanted to get it right.

Mr Hunt told the assembled sustainability experts that the federal government was doing the same as the conference’s theme of “Turning Vision to Action”.

“It is a vision that encompasses simple, practical actions targeted to achieve real and measurable outcomes. It is about a partnership between business, the community and the government,” he said.

“Our plan for the environment rests on four pillars: clean air (direct action), clean land, clean water and heritage protection.”

Mr Hunt said business and sustainability went hand in hand.

“We cannot sustain growth without clean air, safe and reliable water supplies and access to natural resources,” he said.

“Therefore underpinning the government’s environment plan is our fundamental commitment to working hand in hand with business.

“The Coalition Government’s intention is to encourage businesses to do what they do best: be innovative and come to the fore as leaders in our society.

“Business understands better than most the need to think sustainably, to plan ahead and focus on practical, tangible outcomes.”

He cited NAB, Linfox and Visy as good examples of companies working sustainably for the future.

“Australian businesses are focused on sustainability because they recognise that it is central to their bottom line. They understand that anticipation of changes in society, the economy and the environment is crucial if they are to position themselves for continued growth into the future.”

Clean Air

Mr Hunt said the government’s Clean Air policy centred on the abolition of the carbon tax and the implementation of its Direct Action plan.

“We accept that climate change is real and we accept that humans are contributing to it,” he said.

“Let me reinforce that the Coalition Government is committed to reducing Australia’s emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. There is bipartisan agreement on that target and on the conditions for change.

“Where there is a genuine disagreement, however, is on the best mechanism to achieve this target.

“Our commitment to abolish the carbon tax is not a disagreement over belief, science or targets. We will abolish the tax because it represents ever increasing financial pain for no real environmental gain. Scrapping the carbon tax is the only responsible course of action.

“The previous government’s own figures reveal the average family will be slugged $3000 over the six years to 2020 under the carbon tax. Yet our emissions are predicted to climb from 560 million tonnes in 2010 to 637 million tonnes in 2020.

[Emissions would have been higher without a carbon tax, contrary to claims made by Mr Hunt on ABC’s Lateline program and in an opinion article published in a national daily newspaper. See our post Greg Hunt misleading and plain wrong on emissions claim ]

“Under the carbon tax, in order to have any hope of reaching the target of a five per cent cut in emissions by 2020, businesses will be forced to spend billions on overseas carbon credits to make up the shortfall.

“By contrast, the Coalition’s Direct Action policy will achieve the emissions reduction needed to meet our five per cent target right here in Australia. And we will do it by investing in projects that directly reduce emissions, not by imposing an economy-wide ever-increasing electricity tax.”

Mr Hunt said Direct Action encompassed support for solar power through the million roofs program and plans to green our urban areas through the 20 million trees initiative.

“But the centrepiece of Direct Action is the Emissions Reduction Fund, with an initial allocation of $300 million, $500 million and $750 million over the forward estimates period,” he said.

“Through this fund, we will provide a powerful and direct incentive for businesses across the Australian economy to work with the Government to reduce their emissions.

“The fund will ‘buy back’ abatement via a reverse auction. This is a well-established market mechanism that will allow us to achieve our environmental outcomes while minimising our costs.

“By buying up the ‘abatement cost curve’, we will provide the right incentives for businesses to bring forward the lowest cost abatement opportunities.”

Clean Land

Mr Hunt said the Clean Land policy was based on the Green Army, Landcare reform and approvals simplification.

“The Green Army, when fully operational, will see 15,000 young people deployed across Australia to work on local environmental priorities.

“This rolling workforce of young people will generate real and lasting benefits for the environment.

“In addition, the Coalition intends to place Landcare back at the centre of our land management program.

“The National Landcare Program will be based on three principles: simple, local and long-term.

“A third element of our Clean Land policy – the One-Stop-Shop for environmental approvals – will be of particular interest to those here today. It’s an initiative that relates directly to the twin themes of environmental protection and business sustainability.

“We are committed to ending duplication in federal and state environmental assessments and approvals, by instituting a One-Stop-Shop approach to environmental referrals.”

“A One-Stop-Shop is a single, holistic process to streamline the decision-making, whether it is an approval or a rejection. People will know where they stand and not be left in limbo for years.”

Clean Water

Mr Hunt said Clean Water included a commitment to the Murray Darling Plan, Water Security and the Reef 2050 plan.

“The 10-point Murray Darling plan will restore the river system to health while ensuring the viability of Australia’s food producing communities. We want to achieve the best possible outcome from the government’s investment in the Basin – first outlined by the Howard Government – by delivering effective national management, fixing inefficient infrastructure and empowering local communities to deliver water reduction targets.

“Water security will be a particular focus of the Coalition Government. Measures to harness stormwater and new dams will secure our nation’s water supplies, delivering strong economic benefits while protecting our environment.

“Meanwhile under the Reef 2050 plan, a Reef Trust will be set up with the focus firmly on taking a strategic approach to improving water quality and coastal habitat along the Great Barrier Reef.

“After an initial $40 million injection from the Commonwealth, funding will be derived from the pooling of offset funds for significant projects under Federal Law.

“Under the Reef Trust, $2 million will be made available for Crown of Thorns starfish eradication, one of the most serious and urgent current threats to the health of the reef. A further $5 million will protect dugongs and turtles from illegal poaching.”

Heritage Protection

Mr Hunt said Heritage Protection included protection for both natural and cultural heritage with a greater focus on support for community heritage projects.

“We want to help local communities across Australia tell their stories and showcase their local history. To assist in this, $1.4 million will be made available as part of a new Community Heritage Grants program.

“Australia’s heritage icons will also be given greater prominence and protection, including Port Arthur’s iconic penitentiary building, where $1.5 million has been allocated for urgent restoration work.

“The natural heritage of Australia’s Antarctic Territory will be further protected under a new 20-year strategic plan, which will enshrine Tasmania’s position at the centre of Antarctic research and services.

“As part of this, $24 million over three years will fund the establishment of a new Centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research and $38 million will be allocated to extend Hobart Airport.”

The full speech can be found at www.environment.gov.au/minister/hunt/2013/sp20131009.html

The Australian Sustainability conference continues today, October 10, at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.