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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 16735

Joint Press Conference with Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Edward Natapei and Tessie Lambourne, Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Kiribati Cairns

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 05/08/2009

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 16735


PM: Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Today we've been discussing the big challenge of climate change, and in particular with our colleagues from the Pacific Island countries, the impact on them, and what needs to be done globally in order to deal with that impact in the future. That is why the Government today, of Australia, is of course launching this document, engaging our Pacific neighbours on climate change, and Australia's approach.

We in Australia see ourselves as having a particular responsibility to argue the case of Pacific Island countries in the major global fora on climate change. Most recently, at the G20, on top of that, the Major Economies Forum meeting in L'Aquila in Italy, and prospectively in other meetings around the world as well.

The document describes the potential impact of climate change on the Pacific Island countries, severe economic impacts, including reduced income from agricultural exports, from fisheries, and from tourism.

Secondly, storm surges - flooding and coastal erosion, threatening coastal settlements. Thirdly, exacerbation of the existing problems of water security. Fourthly, threats also to food security. And on top of that, changes to the distribution of disease bearing organisms like mosquitoes potentially making worse existing threats to human health.

These are the challenges which are the real practical challenges affecting our friends, our neighbours and partners in the island countries of the Pacific.

On the question of coastal inundation, let me just present you with one simple, stark fact. Fifty per cent of the population of the Pacific Island countries live within a kilometre and a half of the coastline. Fifty per cent of the population of the Pacific Island countries live within a kilometre and a half of the coastline.

Therefore, when we talk about inundation, when we talk about sea levels rising, this is not an abstract concept, it is real.

And today, the Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, was able to present delegates, also, with a graphic video representation of inundation at work in Kiribati. And the distinguished representatives from Kiribati will speak to that and other matters in a minute.

On the practical side, what do we then propose to do as Australia - As outlined in this document, we intend to provide support for practical measures to assist Pacific Island countries to adapt to the impact of climate change. Secondly also, to incorporate climate change into the national development strategies of the Pacific Island countries, in partnership with countries like Australia.

Thirdly, we in Australia ensuring that we take the Pacific experience of climate change to the councils of the world. In many parts of the world, this is seen as an exclusive problem of how the large developed economies adapt or how the largest developing economies may change.

One of the practical and immediate problems is what happens to our friends and neighbours and partners in the region as they deal with the living, graphic reality of a coastal village disappearing. That's what it's about. And also, to contribute to better coordination between ourselves and other donor countries for development assistance cooperation in the Pacific so that climate change is at the forefront of what we do.

These are the measures which are outlined in this document. These are some of the problems we identify in this problem, this area; and therefore, the challenge which Australia believes it has to rise to, in acting on behalf of this region, to the greatest extent we can in the councils of the world as we move towards the Conference in Copenhagen.

I'm pleased today to be joined by the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, and the distinguished representative from Kiribati. I might turn to the Prime Minister of Vanuatu to add some remarks and then to our colleague from Kiribati, and then Penny Wong will close before I take questions from you. Prime Minister.

PM NATAPEI: Thank you Prime Minister. I simply wish to add that Vanuatu is located on this, what they call the (inaudible) of fire, where we have cyclones, earthquakes, volcanic eruption, tsunami. We've got the lot. And indeed, about two years ago, we had to relocate an entire village, (inaudible) in the northern part of the country, from where it used to be, further inland - basically because the existing of the original site went underwater.

That's just demonstrating what Prime Minister Rudd has been talking about, the sea level rise. And even now, some of the plantations, as you drive along the roads along the coast, you'll see coconut trees in the water. So it's an indication of the sea level rise.

About a week and a half ago, I visited some of the islands up in the north, and there's evidence there of what's happening to the sea level rise that is affecting people in the country, and I assume that that also is affecting the rest of the Pacific Island countries.

PM RUDD: Thank you very much Prime Minister. And the representative from Kiribati.

LAMBOURNE: Thank you Prime Minister. Kiribati is one of the front line countries to the impact of climate change. We are made up of low-lying (inaudible) which rise no more than two metres above sea level in average. The islands themselves are narrow strip of lands, that when, some part of the islands, when you stand in the middle, you can see the ocean on one side, and the lagoon on the other side.

So the storm surges that we've experienced over the years have been more intense and more frequent and they've destroyed lots of our homes, our livelihood, in terms of our food crops; and infrastructure. Very critical infrastructure.

And since the release of the fourth assessment report of the IPCC, we've been very much concerned about the projections of sea level rise which some subsequent scientific findings have found very conservative. So the IPCC report, forward assessment report, states that the sea level will rise between 0.4 - 0.8 metres within this century.

Now for some that might seem insignificant. Before my country, Kiribati, and most of the low-lying nations in this region of the world, that is quite an alarming rate. Because before our islands are inundated by the rising seas, they will be unable to support life.

And so this is a very crucial and very critical issue for Kiribati, and the Government, my President, has been speaking on this, and to this, at every opportunity he gets. And I'd like to thank the, on his, on my President's behalf, thank the Government of Australia for its leadership in this area. Since the Rudd Government came into office, they ratified the Kyoto Protocol which all of us in the region, and of course, across the world, welcomed and acknowledged, and are very thankful for.

Australia has taken a leading role in our region, on climate change, and I think it is very fitting that this year's forum is chaired by Australia. It has done a lot since, in the very short period it has come into office. It has done a lot.

Lots of assistance has been extended to our region to adapt - help us adapt to the impact of climate change. The assistance of Australia adaptation program in the $350 million which will focus on the programs in the Pacific, are very much appreciated and welcomed by our governments in the region. The meetings, the international meetings that Australia has attended - it's also provided us, through Australia, the opportunity to be heard.

Australia has kindly taken our issues to these fora and advocated our positions at these international meetings where we do not participate. So we are very grateful to the Government of Australia and we look for the Government of Australia to take the lead in the climate change action for our region. And we are very confident that as chair of the Pacific Islands forum this year for the next 12 months Australia and particularly the Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Climate Change and their team will be helping us tell the world what is happening in our region and to our people.

And I think in Copenhagen we're looking for practical and concrete solutions to help our people who may not be able to continue to live on the lands that their ancestors have lived for a long long time. This is an emotional issue for us, but an issue that needs to be addressed very soon and without much delay. Thank you very much.

PM RUDD: Thank you very much. And if I could ask Senator Wong to conclude and then we'll take some questions.

MINISTER WONG: Thank you, Prime Minister. Well the Pacific Island nations represented here and Australia share many common concerns, many common issues but perhaps none more pressing than climate change. And you've heard the representative from Kiribati talk about the real life issues that are confronting her nation as a result of climate change. That is a view that has been expressed very much by Pacific Island nations including in this forum.

We do regard it as important that we engage closely with the Pacific region on an issue where we share a common concern because as you know and as we discussed today Australia too is vulnerable to climate change as has been demonstrated by Professor Garnaut's review and many other reports.

So this document is to guide our engagement with the region. It sets out a range of priorities that will guide our engagement with the region. It's consistent with the approach we said we would take to the last election, and of course the first amongst these priorities is an effective global solution to climate change.

We need an effective agreement at Copenhagen, that means we have to take action at home and it also means that the voice of these island nations who have such a compelling story to tell about their experience and the risks that they face in the future must also be heard in the international discussions. Thank you.

PM RUDD: Thanks very much, Minister and thank you colleagues. And questions, over to you.

JOUNALIST: Prime Minister what have you learnt [inaudible]

PM RUDD: One cold hard statistic, and not from the report itself but from the presentations we had this morning, and that was the figure I referred to before - 50 per cent of the populations of the Pacific Island nations lying within 1.5 kilometres of the coast. I'd heard before about the challenges of Kiribati, the challenges of Tuvalu, the challenges of the low lying atolls, but to also hear, as the Prime Minister of Vanuatu has just indicated, but also from the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea this morning, reflections on communities now being inundated, and then to reflect on the physical dimensions of that - half the populations of these island countries lying in the pathway of coastal inundation.

That's in terms of what I've learnt. In terms of the course of action it underlines afresh, I believe, Australia's responsibility to argue as clearly and as cogently and as effectively as we can the interests of our friends and neighbours in the councils in the world on which we are active on climate change.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PM RUDD: We believe that on the adaptation measures - well first thing, the key challenge now on the road to Copenhagen is to come up with a series of actions by governments in developed and developing countries to make a difference on climate change itself. That's the first thing. Rather than just saying it's all too hard, it's all too difficult.

That's the first responsibility, and when you look at the immediate impacts of inundation and the related problems I referred to before, it underlines the need to act.

Secondly there are other adaptation mechanisms as well. For example we heard a presentation this morning from one of our regional colleagues about the building of sea walls. This is an expensive business and in certain communities where there are larger populations that is already underway.

Thirdly the security of peoples is of course a wider concern for the entire international community, and we are members of the international community. Each of these needs to be considered in its sequence. Our first responsibility is to get a good outcome in Copenhagen because those in the front line of the impact of climate change are within our own region, and we have a responsibility to act.

JOUNALIST: Prime Minister do you believe there should be a [inaudible]

PM RUDD: I would take advice on such questions. On the direct impact on peoples it's quite plain that, based on conversations I had with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, villages have had to be relocated. Now they've been relocated inland. Where do you stop and start in terms of internal refugees within countries whose normal livelihoods have been the same for generations and in many cases centuries, are now disrupted and required to move internally within a country. As you know internally displaced persons is a category in international humanitarian law. But more broadly than that I think we'd take advice.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PM RUDD: I listened carefully to what the Premier of Niue had to say this morning. And, as I said in my remarks also, I believe he's been an excellent chairman of the Pacific Island Forum, and I draw your attention carefully to the content of his remarks.

Secondly what the Premier of Niue has said to us on many occasions now is that nobody in the region can afford to turn a blind eye to what is going on in Fiji - I'll come back to the immediacy of your question in one minute - underlined most recently by these extraordinary arrests of religious leaders in Fiji.

The fact that a leader of the Methodist church can have their door banged on in the middle of the night and be taken off by the authorities, whacked into jail, then charged with some trumped up offence under the emergency regulations put out by the military Government of Fiji is profoundly disturbing.

Across the island countries of the Pacific where religious communities, including the Methodist church who have been most recently affected by these events in Fiji, I believe this is leading to profound, even more profound disquiet.

I believe what the Premier of Niue was referring to was that the peoples of Fiji themselves ought also to be seized of the challenges which their democracy now faces as well as the challenges which the region at large faces.

We advocate and strongly advocate a peaceful solution to the challenges which lie ahead.

(inaudible) a peaceful solution in which the people's of the region and the people's of Fiji must equally engage.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PM RUDD: I would emphasise in absolutely clear-cut terms the importance of a peaceful solution to the problems which exist within Fiji. They are real problems. I've described their most recent manifestation. And that is one of the reasons why the countries of the Pacific Island Forum met in Papua New Guinea earlier this year and agreed on a mechanism for the suspension of Fiji from the councils of the forum. Sorry, mate?

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PM RUDD: I think I've already made my views clear about what this matter raises in terms of fundamental questions about Mr Turnbull's judgement, his integrity and his character, and his fitness to hold office. And I don't propose to add to those remarks here today. I now believe it's properly a matter for the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: [indistinct] 45 per cent cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions. That's a much stronger target than Australia and New Zealand are proposing. I wonder how you reconcile [indistinct]?

PM RUDD: Obviously our friends and partners in the region want maximum action across the world. If you stand back from all of this, what is necessary - and this was the subject for the discussion in the Major Economies Forum in L'Aquila early last month. Action by developed countries, action by developing countries, which together would make a difference for the future, and remember, the targets which was discussed in L'Aquila about two degrees centigrade.

Obviously we're going to need action from both. Obviously the small island states who are those who I just described before as the most vulnerable, want maximum action from all parties, and that's just been the subject of discussion we've had in there today.

We, in our calls to the international community as the Government of Australia, will be taking that strong message when we go to the next round of discussions at the Pittsburgh Summit, the G-20, the special session in the United Nations on the climate change convention, which is being convened by the Secretary-General of the UN at the same time, through to Copenhagen itself.

The minister also has, I think, three preparatory committee meetings to attend between now and Copenhagen (inaudible) next week? Very soon. And another couple, I think in Bangkok and Barcelona between now and the end of the year.

The message we take to all of them is maximum action. You've got to achieve a consensus in this business because you need a globally agreed set of outcomes.

But the good thing about having Mr Yvo de Boer here this morning, as Secretary of the UN Framework Convention Committee, is for him also to be able to brief firsthand colleagues about what the current state of play is within negotiations. It's fair to say it's tough and it's hard. But it's a challenge for all of our respective political wills.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, the process [indistinct] relocation of large numbers of people, as you've indicated. Some can be relocated inside their own countries. I'd like to know whether the ministers here feel that [inaudible]

PM RUDD: As I said before, and my colleagues will answer in their own terms, but as I said before let's be blunt about the order of priorities here. One, a set of actions agreed to by the international community which minimise the impact of coastal inundation as we minimise the impact of climate change by taking the mitigation measures which are outlined in the possible contents of a new framework agreement, and the various national actions which have been undertaken including here in Australia.

Second thing, of course, is the other, shall I say, physical mitigation measures of the type we discussed, including internal relocation of what would then become environmentally internally displaced persons. And, thirdly, wider international responsibilities.

I believe we need to go through each of those stages, as it appropriate. Can I just turn to my colleagues if they wish to comment further on it.

PM NATAPEI: In Vanuatu's case, we have 83 islands. The islands are not low so we won't be looking to Australia to relocate our people. We would simply need assistance through our national adaptation program to relocate people within our country.

LAMBOURNE: For Kiribati, we are in a different situation because, as I've explained before, the geography of our islands may mean - based on that IPCC assessment report, may mean a relocation of our people. This is the worse case scenario under the projections of this report.

This is an option too that the government of my country is looking into. And it has come up with a solution - well, a strategy, not a solution. We hope it will be a solution in the end. But it is a strategy and an option - long-term option that it is providing to the people. And that is - we call it the merit based relocation.

And just to say at the outset that my country and I guess a lot of people in our region, we are very proud people. And certainly my government does not want the people of Kiribati to be relocated as refugees. We do not accept that. We do not want to be labelled as refugees.

But what the government has put in place is a strategy to up-skill the people and up-skill them so that they have international standard of qualifications that they can use overseas and maybe fill labour gaps that exist in countries. Maybe if Australia needs labour that we can provide, then that's the strategy that we're looking for, and we're looking at, not merely relocation as refugees.

PM RUDD: I think also - I'll come to you again, Tim in a sec. - to draw your attention to page 12 of the report that is being released at the moment, which deals with climate change and displacement.

And that's, there is no point pushes this to one side and pretending it's not a problem; it is, and needs to be dealt with. And various broad frameworks for action are canvassed there but it's a challenge for us all, and I note carefully what my colleagues have just had to say.

Also in terms of our national action, bear this in mind: it's not just reaching global targets, it's not just reaching global mechanisms and technology platforms to make all that possible, it's national actions as well, including the proper enforcement of emissions trading schemes within individual national governments.

And in Australia we know full well it's eight days before we've got to vote in the Senate on climate change and on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. That is one of the building blocks nationally, when added to other actions around the world, which make a difference. And that's why there are not just compelling national reasons in terms of business certainty in Australia but international reasons why we need to get on with the business of getting that thing through the Senate. Eight days' time the vote occurs.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, should military personnel or civilian personnel guard Australia's military bases?

PM RUDD: Tim, the first and foremost responsibility of government is national security. Secondly, within that, to make sure our defence forces themselves are also properly protected.

Yesterday I convened a meeting of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet following events which unfolded yesterday morning in Melbourne. I asked two questions of the Defence leadership, both civilian and military. One was the adequacy of our current protection of facilities now. And the second was whether, in the light of recent events, they needed to be further reviewed.

On the first of those questions, Defence's advice is that their current arrangements, in their judgement, are adequate but they will now undertake an immediate and comprehensive review of security needs for our Defence bases including the appropriateness or otherwise of continuing to use civilian contractors. That I think, is the responsible course of action, given the events of the last 24 hours. Last question.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PM RUDD: Normally, in handling the matters of proscription or prospective proscription of an organisation, we deal with these matters confidentially within Government based on the expert advice available to us. And it is far better that we do not engage in extensive public commentary on that process while it is underway.

You would have heard what I have said in my remarks yesterday about the importance of the fact that for quite some months our security agencies have been engaged in a particular operation. And we have been very mindful of the need to preserve the integrity of that particular operation.

On the question of the proscription or otherwise of a particular organisation, including the one to which you just refer, we believe that has to be handled confidentially within the proper processes of government. And, having said that, folks, I've got to get back to chair the conference.

Transcript 16735