By Tanya Plibersek

25 June 2024



SUBJECTS: Great Barrier Reef draft UNESCO decision, vape legislation, Peter Dutton's risky nuclear plan, salary increase for Governor-General.

EMMA REBELLATO, HOST: The Great Barrier Reef has managed to keep off the United Nations ‘in Danger’ List in a draft decision released today. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, good morning. Thanks for joining us this morning.


REBELLATO: You must be pretty relieved. What sort of criteria did you have to achieve and meet in order to stay off the ‘in danger’ list.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, this is a great relief because we know that tens of thousands of jobs rely on tourism to the Great Barrier Reef, and I think it’s an important acknowledgement of two things. The first is our action on climate change, and the second thing is the specific measures that we’ve put in place to protect the Reef. $1.2 billion of funding to do things like manage crown-of-thorns starfish, to stop water running off the land on to the Reef with, you know, nutrients or dirt in it, to work with First Nations rangers to do their work on protecting Reef islands and Reef waters. And this is a very strong investment from this government, and the fact that we’re taking action on climate change is a really important part of it as well. Very early on UNESCO said that the difference between this government and the previous government on climate change is a bit like night and day, and that’s also reflected in this decision.

REBELLATO: Minister, as the former Health Minister, I’d like to ask you about the vaping reforms that we saw with the deal with the Greens yesterday. Are you disappointed that the government has watered down its reforms and its wish list for this?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I was the Health Minister when we implemented plain packaging legislation, and I recognise that this vaping legislation, just like our plain packaging legislation 12 years ago, is absolutely world leading.

This is a huge step forward and it will protect Australian children from the bubble gum-flavoured, you know, pastel-coloured, unicorn-pictured vapes that they can get at any corner store just about these days. This is a big step forward.

Am I disappointed not to see stronger support from the crossbench? Well, I think the real question here is for the Liberals and the Nationals. What are they going to do? Twelve years ago they were on the wrong side of plain packaging. Are they going to keep standing up for big tobacco and keep protecting the profits of big tobacco at the expense of the health of our children? Well, the pressure is on them now to pick a side. Are they on the side of Aussie kids or are they on the side of big tobacco with these enormous factories in China churning out these little plastic death containers?

REBELLATO: What about the side of Aussie adults, though? Your government wanted prescription-only vapes, and now it will be a case of simply if you’re over the age of 18, walking into a pharmacist, having a chat with the pharmacist and being able to get your hands on these vapes. The Pharmacy Guild is not happy at all either. What do you respond – how do you respond to their comments that they’re just being turned into retailers?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, they – pharmacists have very important health conversations with their customers all the time. About vapes in this instance, but about things like the morning after pill as well. These vapes will be behind the counter. They’ll be treated in the same way as some of those stronger medications that pharmacists are required to, you know, have a talk to you before they dispense.

Do we prefer our original package? Of course we do. But this whole package is absolutely world leading. And I think just as Australia led the world on plain packaging for tobacco, we’ll be leading the world on turning around this trend of more and more young people getting hooked on nicotine.

REBELLATO: Minister, day one of Parliament yesterday. And an issue that dominated was energy. No doubt it will for the foreseeable future. How confident are you that you will win this upcoming election in what is seen as a referendum on energy?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: You know what? Australians have a choice to make. Do they think nuclear is a goer or do they want to keep going with renewables? And I think the choice is very clear. Nuclear energy is just an excuse to keep coal and gas going for longer. It’s just the next stage of Peter Dutton’s climate denialism. On the best case scenarios, you’re talking about $600 billion of taxpayers’ money that will deliver some energy in maybe 15, 20 years time. It will push up power bills for ordinary Australians. And in the intervening decades it means more coal and gas.

In contrast, our renewable energy transition is already happening. I’ve ticked off on more than 40 – sorry, more than 50 renewable energy projects, enough to power 3 million homes. In fact, the approvals that I’ve already granted for renewable energy projects is more power than 8 large nuclear reactors would generate. That’s happening right now. These projects are happening right now.

The biggest risk to the transition is Peter Dutton introducing this sort of uncertainty into the equation, something that, of course, investors get nervous about when they see a government full steam ahead on renewables, decarbonising our electricity sector, instead being, you know, held up by these fantasies from Peter Dutton.

REBELLATO: We’ve seen a few newspaper polls in the last couple of days asking people about their opinions on nuclear energy. And, yes, there’s a lot of support, obviously for renewables. But are you surprised that so many people are supportive of nuclear energy or, at the very least, open to the idea and to have that discussion about nuclear energy?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I think what’s interesting about these polls is they universally tell you that renewable energy is more popular. And, you know, there’s a reason that more than 3 million Australian households have got rooftop solar – it’s cheaper. It’s better for the environment and it’s cheaper. And in a country like Australia we’ve got a natural advantage when it comes to solar. I think if you ask people, you know, what – how do they think we should transition to lower emissions energy, renewables always come top of the list.

REBELLATO: Minister, I’d also like to ask you about the Governor-General and the pay rise that Sam Mostyn will be getting when she takes on the role – a $214,000 pay rise, some 40 plus per cent increase. Does that sit well with you? Do you think it will set well with voters?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think it reflects the fact that previous office holders have had pensions and so on. So, look, I’m not going to comment on someone’s pay. I think that’s a matter for her.

REBELLATO: Okay. Minister, I’d also like to ask you about your colleague Senator Fatima Payman. We know that the Greens are set to put forward a pro-Palestine motion. In exactly what form we’re yet to find out. There’s been a lot of talk that Senator Payman is – would consider crossing the floor, which could have consequences. Have you spoken to her about this?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to join in the speculation. And I’ve had many conversations with her over, you know, many months, and not recently on any particular motion, and I’m not going to join in any speculation on that.

REBELLATO: Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for joining us on News Breakfast this morning.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Thanks so much for having me.