The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

13 March 2011

Interview with Barrie Cassidy

Insiders, ABC

13 March 2011

SUBJECTS: Japan natural disasters; Foreign policy; Carbon price

CASSIDY:

In her absence the Treasurer Wayne Swan has been acting as Prime Minister and he joins us now from Brisbane. Good morning. Welcome.

TREASURER:

Good morning Barrie.

CASSIDY:

What the latest on this on the Australian, from Australia's perspective? Tell us first of all what you know of those Australians who are listed as living or missing in the area.

TREASURER:

Sure Barrie. Well there are something like 11,000 Australians in Japan in total. And in the affected areas we have something like 189 Australians who are registered. But there would of course be several hundred more Australians who are not registered. At this stage we have not made direct contact with many of those 189 that are registered. And what we are going to seek to do over the coming days is to make that contact. As you're aware yesterday the National Security Committee of Cabinet decided to send a search and rescue team. We also decided to send extra consular assistance, particularly Japanese speakers that can go in with the search and rescue teams. And of course, our embassy officials in Japan are seeking to go to the affected areas when it is safe. But at the moment we can't give any greater clarity. I can say that there are concerns for those that are living in the area, naturally. I mean, if you see the footage here this is on a scale which is almost beyond belief. So we are doing everything within our power to assist Australians in Japan.

One of the good things that's happened overnight Barrie is that four or five flights have left Narita Airport so Australians who want to come home are coming home. And of course we remain in contact with the Japanese authorities to discuss what additional assistance we can provide in addition to the research and rescue and the sniffer dogs which are on their way to Japan as we speak.

CASSIDY:

And does that extra assistance also include field hospitals and disaster victim identification teams?

TREASURER:

Yes quite possibly, Barrie. We are very skilled in this area. As the National Security Committee said yesterday and as I indicated we do stand ready to provide additional assistance. You can see that the scale of the disaster is such that there will be a very significant casualty count. The damage to communities is substantial. So of course all of us in the global community will have to cooperate to provide the maximum degree of assistance to our Japanese friends.

CASSIDY:

And Kevin Rudd said this morning that he's also offering them nuclear experts. Is that something that Australia can offer the Japanese given that they have nuclear power stations all over the country?

TREASURER:

Well this morning I've been talking to the head of ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency), our nuclear regulator Mr Magnus Larsson just about this incident, particularly at one of the reactors in Fukushima. This is an incident which is rated - there's a scale of one to seven Barrie that they have for these accidents - in one of the reactors the scale is set at four which is an accident which has local implications. Our nuclear regulator is working with others internationally to model, to seek advice and of course with the International Atomic Energy Agency as well. So a lot of discussion, a lot of consultation going on. But in this community talking about this accident, particularly at one reactor. But as you know it's a bit wider than that as well which is why the Japanese authorities have set up an evacuation zone if you like of 20 kilometres. And of course our travel advice is for people not, I repeat, not to travel to the area.

CASSIDY:

Now you would have heard Kevin Rudd there saying that he's demanded of the Japanese an urgent briefing on the precise status of these reactors. Is that a fair thing to demand of the Japanese right now? They have got quite a few things on their hands.

TREASURER:

I think it's a reasonable thing for there to be discussion amongst international partners about this matter. And that is a discussion which is going on right now. It's a discussion I was just having before with Mr Magnus Larsson about the consultations that are going on with the Japanese and in the international community.

CASSIDY:

Yes but what are you saying is that Australia and the rest of the international community is demanding this? We haven't heard that from the secretary general of the United Nations.

TREASURER:

Well what I think is that there will be lessons to be learnt from these accidents that have occurred. But of course, our focus at the moment has to be on rescue and it has to be on recovery.

CASSIDY:

Well you've already told us what the National Security Committee of Cabinet decided yesterday. Was that part of it, that Kevin Rudd should go and demand this briefing from the Japanese?

TREASURER:

I think Mr Rudd has been doing what he has to do which is to discuss these matters with counterparts in Japan. We are a very close partner of Japan. The relationship is very strong. It's developed very strongly over the past 50 or 60 years. And we are working very closely with them. And I think that's what he was indicating this morning. There is a very close working relationship and we certainly stand ready to provide any more additional assistance that should be required.

CASSIDY:

More broadly do you think there is a need for Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd to get their lines right on Libya?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't accept that they 'don't have their lines right', as you put it, on Libya. The fact is they've both got the same position - that a no-fly zone is one of the options that has to go to the Security Council. Slightly different words, same position, Barrie. And the fact is we've got a very big agenda before us; not just the rescue and the events that have occurred in Japan but also a very big domestic agenda. I just don't think that this is the issue that some have blown it up to be.

CASSIDY:

There's far more than a cigarette paper between the two positions. Julia Gillard is talking about it as an option and seems to be going off it anyway. Kevin Rudd was advocating - advocating - that there be a no-fly zone?

TREASURER:

In the context of a range of options going to the Security Council Barrie. That was the context. Same position.

CASSIDY:

Well that's not really the way he put it. He said it was the lesser of two evils and he was advocating it in the region?

TREASURER:

Well there's a range of options Barrie. I think the position is the same. I think this has been blown out of proportion. They've got the same position. The Government's position has not changed since it was announced in the Parliament on the 2nd of March.

CASSIDY:

Well Julia Gillard said in the US she hadn't spoken to Kevin Rudd. Should she talk to him more often? And as one of Julia Gillard's advisers said Kevin Rudd doesn't run press releases past the Prime Minister's office. Do your press releases go past the Prime Minister's office?

TREASURER:

Well first of all I don't respond to unsourced commentary that's in the media. And certainly we do have a degree of cooperation on these matters as we should. And they do talk Barrie. The fact is that they were in different time zones. And you know how these things are done. If the main people in the Cabinet are in different time zones other people will be doing the talking. Indeed overnight Barrie I've had to get a lot of people doing a lot of talking while I was asleep preparing to come on this program, getting information. So that's how it works particularly when people are in different time zones.

CASSIDY:

But I ask the question again, now all of your press releases surely go past the Prime Minister's office before they're circulated?

TREASURER:

They certainly all go through a central process Barrie. That's the way it works. And sometimes Barrie even with my press releases, there may be reasons that they don't. But I can't comment on what's occurred in relation to any particular press release from either myself or anybody else.

CASSIDY:

Alright. Just on the carbon tax now and the polls suggest that you got off to a rather bad start. Have you got a plan B?

TREASURER:

Well I don't think this debate was ever going to be easy Barrie. But it's a very big reform which is right for the country.

It's a very significant economic reform because those countries that make the transition to a clean carbon economy will be those that win the prosperity of the 21st century, that drive the investment - drive the investment in renewable energy, drive the investment in technology and that will drive the jobs of the future.

Barrie we just had some fantastic job figures last week - 330,000 jobs created in Australia in the last year; 50,000 in the month of February despite everything that went on with natural disasters. If we want to keep on doing that sort of thing we've got to continue to transition our economy. This is one of the biggest economic changes that we must put in place to ensure prosperity for the future. The science is there - I know it's disputed by sceptics like Mr Abbott and others. The science is clear and we have to embrace this reform as we embraced big reforms in the 80s and the 90s to drive productivity in our economy. That's what we've got to do. It's a fight we're up for. We're not going to take a backward step and it's a fight we can win.

CASSIDY:

And will you need to win that fight, will you need to spend millions of dollars on advertising?

TREASURER:

Well we haven't ruled advertising in or out. But I was going through these matters, they were raised in the press last week, and I discovered John Howard had in his last budget before he went to the people with his emissions trading scheme which Tony Abbott supported and didn't say that it would destroy jobs, that John Howard had a $50 million allocation in his last budget to advertise his emissions trading scheme. We haven't taken a decision. There's certainly a need to get the correct facts out there, particularly given all of the distortion caused by all the right wing shock jocks and the other sceptics. Big battle on our hands. It's a battle we're up for.

CASSIDY:

Yeah because as you say it's a tough battle if you were to introduce advertising would that come under the category you identified once before on the super profits tax, that you would argue that it's a national emergency, extreme urgency or other compelling reason?

TREASURER:

Barrie I'm not going into the ins and out of our advertising guidelines. I'm not saying we're going down that road. What I am saying is that we haven't taken a decision in that area. There's a long way to go in this debate. Mr Combet has already indicated this morning that we're setting up a climate change commission. We're going to get out there and argue the case on the facts, argue the science, argue the economics and get on the front foot on this issue because it's so essential for future prosperity, so essential to the creation of jobs in our community and so essential to our children and grandchildren. All those climate change sceptics out there that want to deny the science, they can keep their head in the sand but we're going to get with the 21st century Barrie.

CASSIDY:

And if you were to go down the advertising path would you at least undertake not to advertise until the details are at least known and agreed?

TREASURER:

Well Barrie we're working our way through all of that detail right now. I notice there's been some criticism that we announced an emissions trading scheme and then didn't provide all of the detail. Well the fact is we're out there consulting on the breadth of the scheme. We're out there consulting about a carbon price, all of the things people want to be consulted on. We'll do that in a methodical way. We'll go through it in a reasonable way with the community. And we'll put a final emissions trading scheme up and of course people can make their judgment. But we're up for the argument Barrie because we're right, it's good for the economy, good for the country and it's good for the environment. And when you're a Queenslander and you look north to the Great Barrier Reef you understand that climate change is something you've got to deal with.

CASSIDY:

Okay can you give us a sense then on the decision making timetable? When will you take a decision on the price and when will you decide on compensation?

TREASURER:

Well these are matters that go through the multi-party committee. We've already decided that there will be compensation. What happens with emissions trading is a few of the largest polluters have to buy permits. That delivers revenue. That revenue is then delivered if you like to households and industry by way of assistance. That's how the scheme works. We're working our way through that detail. We want to get it done. But we've got to do it in a consultative way.

CASSIDY:

Thanks for your time this morning.

TREASURER:

Good to be with you.

TREASURER:

Good morning and sorry to keep you waiting, but there is a lot of detail that we have got to go through today, so I'll take my time to go through it, I know everybody is really interested in what has been happening and what the Australian Government's response is.

I have just now finished chairing an emergency meeting of the Government's National Security Committee. Of course, the Committee did discuss Australia's response the extraordinary nature of the tragic events that we've seen in Japan in the last 24 hours.

I have also overnight spoken with both the Prime Minister, I spoke to the Ambassador last night, and I've spoken with him again this morning. I've also spoken to a number of Australians on the ground in Japan.

These are testing times for the world. There seems to have been a relentless series of natural disasters in recent years. And of course, our Japanese friends have felt the terrifying force and the brutal impact of these earthquakes and tsunamis.

Now, we are just beginning to see the magnitude of the devastation. I think all Australians would have watched last night with a sense of horror and a sense of apprehension. It is truly an epic disaster.

I know a lot of people would have been sitting there thinking that surely only these events could happen in the movies. But, last night was like a nightmare for the Japanese people.

But the waves that destroyed these Japanese towns will be followed by waves for support from their friends here, and around the world. And they will surely need that assistance.

We are beginning to see very significant numbers of casualties, and of course I believe in the days ahead we must brace ourselves for a much larger casualty count, this will be a human tragedy which will be very, very distressing.

Now, of course, Tokyo has been shielded from the worst of the fury, but in the affected provinces there is massive destruction of infrastructure. And of course, as we have experienced, mobile phone coverage for example, is patchy, and of course millions of people are left without power. Now, these services are being progressively restored, but even that is going to take some time.

Now, from the Australian Government's perspective, what we have got to do is concentrate on assisting the Japanese with search and rescue. Already the Japanese Government has mobilised defence and emergency services. But given conditions on the ground, this will be a very complex and it will be a lengthy process. So the National Security Committee of Cabinet this morning met to consider what assistance Australia can offer in these early stages.

At the request of the Japanese Government, the NSC has agreed to provide immediate search and rescue support. Emergency Management Australia is coordinating this will relevant states and territories. A 72 person New South Wales search and rescue team is being readied for deployment today. And this will also include sniffer dogs and handlers which will be provided by Queensland.

Two ADF C17s are standing by to transport the rescue teams tonight. The search and rescue team will be accompanied by Japanese officials from the Department who will assist with all the complex operational requirements. And of course, this team will work very closely with Japanese authorities on their arrival.

The Government is also going to boost its consular assistance on the ground. We are sending an additional ten Japanese speaking officials to supplement the regular consular work in the Embassy. And they too will be deployed today. And of course, Embassy officials are also moving to Narita Airport to assist Australians there who might be in need.

So, as you can see, we have moved as quickly as we can to provide additional support which has of course been requested.

Now, as you know, the DFAT travel advisory has been updated to take into account changing conditions on advice from Japanese authorities. They have recommended that people who live within 10 kilometres of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant evacuate this area immediately. This is a precautionary measure, but that is the advice which is now contained in the DFAT travel advisory. Now of course, we will continue to monitor all of this very closely. And we will, of course, assess the need for further assistance depending upon conditions.

Now, the other concern last night was where the impacts of this might be felt elsewhere in the Pacific. At the moment we stand ready to provide additional support to the Japanese Government and people should that be needed, but of course, one of the good outcomes overnight is that we haven't seen the expected impacts in some of the other Pacific countries. But in terms of people who are worried about family and friends and their welfare in Japan, they should try to contact them directly. And of course, if they are unable to do that or to contact people directly, they can of course call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the 24 hour consular emergency centre, on 1300 555 135.

Now, there has been assessment as to whether evacuation flights may be required. Our assessment at the moment is that they are not required but we will keep this under review. As I said before, there have been concerns elsewhere in the Pacific, and countries have been preparing for evacuations in a number of pacific countries. And I understand although wave action may have been higher in a number of countries, there has been no significant damage reported to us so far elsewhere. But we continue to keep close supervision of this matter and have been in contact with our missions in the Pacific and monitor situations on the ground.

Now, there can be no more important task for the Australian Government, and no more important priority, than to account for and to assist Australians who are living in Japan.

There are currently 1308 Australians registered in Japan, although we expect there could be as many as 11,000 Australian residents in Japan. We have confirmed the safety of 452 Australians. I'm advised that there are 93 registered Australians in the affected regions. But we expect the number in the affected regions to be significantly higher than 93.

As I said to you before, there are 1300 Australians registered in Japan, but there could be as many as 11,000 across the country, so when we say that there are 93 registered Australians in the region, there could be significantly more – it could be in the hundreds in the affected region.

So accounting for Australians that are caught up in the disaster is a very, very high priority for the Government, and of course, consular officials are preparing to travel to the affected areas as soon as it is safe to go there.

Now, following today's NSC meeting, as I said before, we are sending an additional ten consular staff with Japanese language skills to add to our effort on the ground.

So, I'm sure these are events that no Australian will ever forget. I think they will remember where they were when they first saw these images yesterday. I don't think these images will be easily erased from our memory.

So the task ahead of the Japanese people, and I believe the global community, in the hours, days and weeks ahead cannot be underestimated. At times like these, we are not just Australians, or Japanese, or citizens of any one country, we are citizens of the world. We all need to band together, because that is what friends do in times of need.

Over to you.

JOURNALIST:

Do you known if there are any Australian casualties yet or [inaudible] any idea of injuries?

TREASURER:

No we have no report s of Australian casualties at this stage. As I said to you, there are 93 registered Australians in the affected area but we have no knowledge of reports yet of injuries to Australians in the area.

JOURNALIST:

The C17s flying in, are they going to Tokyo and will they remain there should they be required for evacuation?

TREASURER:

Well these are operational questions for the defence forces. The C17s will be leaving sometime tonight. I can't tell you at this stage where they will land and where they land is also significant. Those matters are being worked through with the Japanese authorities and between our defence forces. So I can't give you the time they will arrive or where they will land but they will be taking with them the search and rescue teams, the sniffer dogs and so on. And how they deploy after that is an operational matter for the defence forces.

But the Government is acutely area that if circumstances arose where evacuation was required that would be one option. But it may not be the only option because it would depend on where they land. It also depends on how the airports are operating, and at the moment some of the airports are operating, some are not and it also depends on the transport links between the city and the regions and the airports. So it's an operational matter which is dealt with by the emergency authorities and the defence force.

JOURNALIST:

Will they be deployed from Amberley, do you know?

TREASURER:

One is currently at Amberley; I can't give you the location of the other. I'm happy to follow up and give you that further information.

JOURNALIST:

What about the potential effects on the world's economy [inaudible]?

TREASURER:

Look it's too early to make predictions about that. Naturally this is a very significant disaster, and it will require a very significant response. My own belief is that our financial markets will take this into account. The Japanese economy is a very important economy in the global economy. It is also been very important for Australia in the past 50 or 60 years. But I believe that if we have a coordinated response, if the governments of the world work with the Japanese Government, that we can do this with a minimal disruption to the global economy.

JOURNALIST:

Does the succession of disasters that we've now seen, [inaudible] curtail our ability to contribute to the recovery of each one?

TREASURER:

Well fortunately we have a very significant capacity in this area and we've seen how well our capacity has worked when we were tested during the Queensland floods and of course then cyclone Yasi. Also our response when we deployed significant resources to Christchurch. We believe that we have the capacity to also respond to assist our Japanese friends.

The Japanese relationship with Australia is a very important one, and it has grown stronger and stronger, not just economically over the past 50 or 60 years - the people to people contact with Japan is very strong. Whether it is in terms of our trade, or whether it is in terms of education or resources or whether it is in terms of cultural links, very strong relationship for Australia and its one that we understand that we need to provide as much additional support as we can to assist our friends in Japan.

JOURNALIST:

How does Cyclone Yasi and also the earthquake affect Australia's financial assistance to Japan? Not just resources.

TREASURER:

Well we are providing very significant resources just as the Japanese offered to provide resources to us during the floods in Queensland and Cyclone Yasi. We are making an initial response, and I believe there will be a very big global response as well. The Americans are marshalling their resources at the moment as we speak, just like the Australians are. But we will provide what we can to the maximum extent possible, but I don't believe there will be a shortage of offers from around the world to assist the Japanese.