Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra
15 January 2020
Subject: Bushfire Science Roundtable, climate change
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews held a doorstop at Parliament House, Canberra.
Question: Thank you Minister for your time. Your roundtable today, what is that looking at?
Karen Andrews: We're looking at a few issues at today's roundtable. We're actually going to be having a look at the bushfires that are currently underway across Australia; what evidence we have been able to gather from that. We're going to look at our science capability; what our strengths are, how we can develop that capability. But importantly, we're going to look at what are some of the impacts that we can make now, what changes we can make so that we're going to be better prepared for the next season of bushfires. Because what we know is that Australia is a country that has long experienced droughts, long experienced bushfires. These are unprecedented in terms of the intensity. But we do know that as we experience hotter, drier summers, our fire season is going to be quite extensive over the coming years. We need to prepare for that; we need to adapt and we need to become more resilient.
Question: I want to ask you about those hotter, drier summers because one of the things science is saying is that climate change is a massive factor in that. Do you believe that and is the action you're looking at taking now looking at dealing directly with the effects of climate change?
Karen Andrews: So I've been very clear that every second that we spend discussing whether or not climate change is real is a second that we don't spend talking about and putting in place strategies to mitigate the effects of a changing climate. My starting point at today's roundtable will be that the climate is changing, the climate has changed and we need to focus on how we are going to adapt, how we are going to mitigate those risks and how we are going to become more resilient.
I think we need to move beyond having a debate about climate change and accept that we need to start making some changes. Now, if you look at bushfire risk, one of the contributing factors is temperature. So as the summers do get hotter, that's going to have an impact. We also know that things such as humidity, soil moisture content, prevailing winds also impact on bushfire risk. That's what the signs that are there on the side of the road that CSIRO has done a lot of work for - they’re some of the factors that are taken into account and may determine what the fire risk is. We also know that you need fuel for a fire and of course, we need to start looking at the undergrowth.
I'm very keen to make sure that one of the things that comes out of today's roundtable is strategies for citizen science. I want to bring the communities in. Now, there are a lot of people that say to me almost every single day - what can they do. So let's engage the Australian community that wants to do something to protect not only themselves but their neighbours, people in neighbouring communities, people all across Australia. Some of the things that they can do is take photographs where they see that there is significant growth. Send that through as evidence to the likes of the CSIRO; that provides evidence, it provides data, it provides information as to where we need to concentrate our efforts.
Question: We've seen the devastation of these bushfires. How urgent is the need to come up with those practical steps of having adaptations to climate change?
Karen Andrews: It's imperative that we come up with some actions that we can take in the short, medium and long term. Now, there already has been a lot of work done by our science agencies and our universities right across Australia on bushfires. The point of bringing everyone together today is to have people in the same room talking about the work that has already been done; how we build that capability. We need to be working together not just at government levels but with our scientists, our science agencies, so that we can maximise our efforts and deliver a real outcome. That’s what the Australian people want.
Question: You mentioned the approach that ordinary Australian citizens need to take. Obviously this is a much broader approach. There are obviously pushes for government to take more action. As part of that, do you think Australia needs to look at increasing its emissions reduction targets beyond what the Paris target suggests?
Karen Andrews: Look, we've been very clear, and there is evidence to support that we are going to exceed our 2020 emissions reduction targets and that we will meet our 2030 commitments. What's important is that we look at what is happening with the changing climate, that is one of the issues we need to address. It isn't the only issue. And we shouldn't be selling ourselves short by just looking at one component. Clearly, emissions reduction is one of the issues that we need to be looking at, and the Prime Minister's been very clear about that. But there are other things that we need to look at too, and that is building resilience now, looking at mitigation strategies so that we can deal with the changing climate. So that we can make sure that our firies, for example, have the best resources they possibly can, and technology will provide some of those solutions.
There's already the Spark Program in place. Let's look at what we can do about bringing in real time data so that firies know whether or not the fire they're facing is about to break through a barrier, whether it's going to jump a road or jump a creek - where they need to apply their resources. We can use artificial intelligence, so technology and science can provide some real solutions. I'm focused on bringing all of that together and making sure that we are doing the right thing by the Australian people, by harnessing all of the resources that we already have to deliver an outcome.
Question: There’s 10 years, though, until that 2030 Paris target agreement. Is there a consideration do you think that we have a decade now where the Australian Government, the Australian people, can think about what more can be done and whether that needs to include more action on emissions reduction?
Karen Andrews: Well we are already doing a lot of things, and there's a lot of things in place. We've got a $3.5 billion fund that we've put in place. We are actively looking at alternate fuel source sources and strategies - hydrogen being one of those as well. So a lot of things are already in place. And as a Government, we are not just going to sit on our hands, we are going to continue to do that work. And I commend my colleagues for all the work that they've done on the hydrogen strategy, because that's going to be very important for us, not just in terms of trade, but in terms of what we can do with emissions reduction.
Question: You speak about not wanting to waste time debating whether climate change is real. We've seen Malcolm Turnbull talk about factions within the right wing of the Liberal Party. Do you think that's a problem in your own party?
Karen Andrews: Look, I personally don't have any time for that. I am focused on getting an outcome. And what I’m saying is that everyone – everyone – right across Australia, right across the world, needs to just focus on the mitigation and adaptation strategies, and move beyond a discussion about whether or not climate change is real.
Question: Have the climate deniers though and the climate sceptics in your party damaged the stance of the Australian Government and the Liberal party on climate change?
Karen Andrews: Look, there will always be a wide range of views, not just within political parties but across parliaments, across various communities as well. Each of those people have a right to speak and right to be heard. I don't have any issues with people having different points of view. What I'm saying very clearly is that we need to move beyond a discussion on whether climate change is real and look at mitigation and adaptation strategies.