5TH JULY, 2022

SUBJECTS: NSW floods, energy supply, UN Ocean Conference, International relations, climate change, portfolio allocation 

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Well, let’s bring in federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek from Canberra. Thanks for joining us, Tanya Plibersek. I might ask – I might ask first about the flood situation in your home town. Do you expect more of these events, and what do you think about people talking about raising the dam wall at Warragamba? 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Look, it’s just a shocking experience for those communities who are flood affected. And, as you were saying earlier, Andrew, and as the Prime Minister said, many of these people are experiencing flooding for the second, the third, the fourth time. And, really, we need to focus on their immediate needs, making sure they’re safe, making sure that they can get in and out of their communities, making sure that they’ve got food and other basics when they need them. And then we do have to have a talk about how we deal with these extreme weather events. All of the science tells us that they are likely to become more frequent and more severe. That’s certainly borne out in our experience in the last few years. When it comes to the dam wall raising, that’s something that the New South Wales government have spoken about. They’ve raised that as an issue, but there’s no current proposal before the federal government. So, you know, once the New South Wales government has done all of their due diligence on that, that is something that we would look at in some detail. There are differing views, as the PM said, about whether this would be, even helpful in the situation that we’re looking at at the moment. So, we need a lot more detail and a lot more information about the proposal. 

CLENNELL: Do we need to think about where people are living now? Do we need to move people away from rivers, away from flood plains? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s really too soon to be talking about that when people are in the midst of actually just coping with what’s going on in some very dangerous situations or they’re mopping up after another catastrophic flood. I think the last thing they want to be talking about is this sort of long-term planning. But, you know, we do – we do need to make sure that in our urban design we are taking into account and making sure that people don’t build new suburbs in areas where there’s likely to be this sort of damage in the future. I think in the middle of a disaster like this, the most important thing we need to be focusing on right now is helping people immediately. That needs to be the focus of all of our efforts at the moment. 

CLENNELL: Sure. All right. In the short life of the government so far there have been some problems on the energy front already. There was a report this morning that households will pay an average of up to $70 each because of last month’s extraordinary market intervention. Is that based in fact, that report?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I’ve only seen the same media reports that you’ve seen, so I can’t verify whether that’s the case or not. But I can tell you: this is the result of 10 years of energy policy neglect from the previous government. Of course there are recent things that affect it, like the crisis in Ukraine, but, the biggest part of this is really the fact that we’ve had 22 energy policies under the Liberals and Nationals and not one of them landed. 

We’ve seen a lack of preparedness in our energy markets for these changes. We’ve seen, basically, stasis for a decade because the government couldn’t get its act together. You had Liberals fighting Liberals and Nationals fighting Nationals and the Liberals and Nationals fighting each other. 

CLENNELL: All right. Tanya Plibersek, in terms of your government, it seems very ambitious what you’re proposing. You’re talking about 10,000 more kilometres of transmission in the system. You’re talking about the equivalent of a Snowy Hydro 2.0 being constructed every year in terms of renewables uptake. Why is your government so confident this can be done? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, what’s the alternative, Andrew? That we turn our backs on the problem and just leave it for someone else to fix, like the previous mob did? Of course we need to upgrade our transmission system. That’s why we’ve put $20 billion aside to upgrade the transmission network. We know that there are renewables that would go into our grid at the moment if the grid had the capacity to receive them. We know that this transition is coming because renewable energy is cheaper. It’s cheaper as well as being cleaner. We see the impact on fuel prices of international crises like the one in Ukraine. If we can provide cheaper, cleaner energy, if we can upgrade our transmission system and deal with the issues around firming and dispatchable power, then that’s what we should be doing. We have to make that transition in Australia. 

CLENNELL: Well, let’s talk about your trip to Portugal, the Oceans Conference. Welcomed by Emmanuel Macron. You’re back he said – how are you – you said that you make the environment front and centre. I guess the climate target is a big part of that. How else are you going to make the environment front and centre as minister? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, dealing with climate change is one of the most important things we need to do when it comes to protecting our environment in Australia and globally. If you look at issues we’ve got, like protecting our Great Barrier Reef and the environment and the jobs that come with the Great Barrier Reef, of course dealing with climate change is the most critical element of that. So being able to go to Portugal to this United Nations conference and say that Australia is updating its target for emissions reductions and that one of the first acts of the new government will be to seek to legislate that new target, that was very well received. But we’ve also got to deal with a range of other issues internationally and domestically. So the Oceans Conference was obviously focusing not just on climate change but on big issues like marine plastics, reducing the amount of plastics going into our oceans, taking some of the plastic that’s already in there out of our oceans. That’s important for wildlife like turtles, dugongs, dolphins and whales, but it’s also important for human health. The average Australian is ingesting microplastics that weigh about the equivalent of a credit card every week. I mean, this is getting into our human systems as well. So, we made a number of important announcements at this conference, including saying that Australia would join in this international plastics covenant that’s going to reduce the amount of plastics going into the environment, increase recycling – reduce the use of plastic, increase recycling and emphasise more biodegradable types of plastic and packaging. We also made an announcement about blue carbon. We know that mangroves, sea grass, salt marshes, these are incredibly good carbon sinks. And so, while I was in Portugal I announced a number of projects domestically – blue carbon projects – but also that we would be partnering with other countries, particularly in our region, so that they can restore mangrove and sea grasses and so on. 

CLENNELL: Sure. Tanya Plibersek, we’re nearly out of time. I just have a couple of quick questions for you: the first one is on the travel aspect, you’ve just been overseas. You heard the Prime Minister have to answer questions there. Is he and his team going overseas too much at the moment? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: We’ve got a lot of repair to do. I mean, you mentioned the warm greeting I received from the French President. The United Nations Secretary-General and John Kerry the US President’s Envoy on Climate Change, the Prime Minister of Fiji, a number of Pacific leaders, all of them were very keen to hear about Australia’s plans on climate change and the environment and oceans. And a number of them, you wouldn’t say relations have been too crash hot in recent years.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: So there is a lot of repair to do. 

CLENNELL: Just finally, you’re a former Deputy Leader of the party. You were in education and training as a shadow,ou had the women’s portfolio, I think you know this one’s coming. I don’t think you got the portfolio or the seniority that you expected from Anthony Albanese. Why is that? Why didn’t he give you the portfolio that you perhaps would have wanted or the seniority? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, Environment and Water is a really exciting and important area. And we saw how important the environment was in the way that Australians voted in the last election. There are a bunch of seats --

CLENNELL: But it wasn’t what you wanted. It wasn’t what you wanted.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, it wasn’t what I – 

CLENNELL: It wasn’t the senior position that you – 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I expected. And I see it as a very important position. And if you look at the way Australians voted in the last election, I’d say most Australians see it as a very important role as well. 

We saw seats that were traditionally Liberal seats, blue-ribbon Liberal seats, that, in fact, were lost to the Liberals because of their lack of action on the environment. 


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: And it shows that we’ve got a lot of work to do in this area. And I’m up for it. I’m up for that challenge. 

CLENNELL: All right, Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time.