Doorstop interview with Josh Wilson, Fatima Payman and Hannah Fitzhardinge - Fremantle, WA

JOSH WILSON MP: Good morning. It's great to be here in North Fremantle at Port Beach on the lands of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people. I'm here with some federal colleagues, my friend Jenny McAllister, the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and also Senator Payman, the Senator for Western Australia, and my fellow Fremantle representative and friend, the Mayor for Fremantle, Hannah Fitzhardinge, and Keith Pekin from the Perth NRM.

We're here at Port Beach because this is a part of the metropolitan area that has already experienced severe, impactful, and recurrent coastal erosion just in recent years and that's an example of the kinds of things that we're dealing with as a result of climate change right around Australia, not just in the form of coastal erosion, in the form of more frequent natural disasters like bushfires as well.

If we're going to respond to that, we need to have a national approach that allows us to adapt and mitigate the parts of climate change that we can't avoid. That work was started under the previous Labor Government, not much happened in the ensuing decade. The Albanese Government won't allow that to be the case. We are acting on climate change, we're acting to reduce emissions and be part of the global response to what is a global emergency, but we're also looking to ensure that we can deal with the things that can't be avoided. We can adapt to and mitigate the impacts like severe coastal erosion that are already with us and to say more about the initiatives that have been announced recently, I'm very happy to hand over to Jenny McAllister, the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy. 

SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER: Thank you, Josh, and thank you, everybody, for coming out this morning. It's a pleasure to be here with my friend Josh, also with Senator Payman, with the mayor, and the representatives from Perth NRM.

Australians have endured a range of very serious natural disasters in recent years. We are all familiar with the images of fire, flood, here in Western Australia people have endured heatwaves, bushfires, extreme weather events. Australians know in their heart that the climate is changing, and the scientists tell us that this is true also. The scientists, in fact, tell us that this is the critical moment, that it's time to act and our government is committed to act. We're back at the international table as a constructive player, we are taking steps to reduce our emissions.

Even as we do so, there are still some impacts of climate change that are now unavoidable. They are baked in, and we are going to have to prepare ourselves for these changes. That is what this announcement is all about. Our Budget provides $27 million to conduct, for the first time, a National Climate Risk Assessment. The Risk Assessment will allow us to work with the state governments, with local governments, with businesses, with communities, with First Nations groups, to bring together a national picture of the risks that come with the changing climate and how they will impact on the things that Australians care about.

Now, unfortunately, the previous government did very little on this at all. The previous government couldn't even acknowledge that some of the things that we were seeing around the country were a consequence of climate change. But to fail to plan is to plan to fail. We won't let that happen. We know that all around the country state governments, local governments, have stepped up. They have assembled a width of information, excellent information in any cases, about the hazards in their local area and as part of our National Risk Assessment, we will work with them to integrate the learnings that they have and make sure that we understand them and create a genuine national picture.

We'll then use that to develop a National Adaptation Plan, again, a first. A national plan which will allow all parts of the community to understand our risks and how we might prioritise our investments to respond to them.

After ten years of denial and delay, we don't have any time to waste. This is an important investment made by our government in the recent Budget and I look forward to working with my colleagues here in Western Australia and right across the country to do this important national work. I will invite my colleague, Senator Payman, to make a few remarks.

SENATOR FATIMA PAYMAN: Thank you. It's very exciting to have the Assistant Minister in town here on our side of the coast, but also it's such an important initiative that we're showing national leadership because after a decade of delay and denial, it's about time that we took climate change seriously and to then have our Assistant Minister come in and tell us about this incredible program is so refreshing, but also this also ensures that states and local governments are not having to then burden on their own. So, I would like to welcome the Mayor of Fremantle to say a few words. 

MAYOR HANNAH FITZHARDINGE: Thanks. Here at Port Beach, we're in one of Western Australia's two worst coastal erosion hotspots. We've already worked with the State Government to bring funding to put some sand back on the beach after a massive erosion event over the past decade. But we've been working with the State and the Federal Government's been absent. We are delighted that there is now a Federal Government framework that puts this kind of project right front and centre and allows us to work within a national framework to deliver projects across our local government area, and across the local government areas of Western Australia, to make sure that the impact of climate change don't have too severe an impact on communities.

In Fremantle, obviously we work with the State, we've delivered sand onto this beach. This is one of the measures that might work, but we want to work within a national framework that uses good science to tell us exactly what is going to work as we have extreme weather events and as we have sea level rise. Pretty much it for me. 

KEITH PEKIN: It's refreshing to see our Australian Government taking such a strong stance on attacking climate change. As one of 54 natural resource management organisations who are dispersed throughout the Australian land area, this Natural Risk Assessment framework will enable us to make much more informed decisions on taking climate change in our regions and take a much more cohesive approach to how we do that. I'd like to thank the Minister, the Assistant Minister, sorry, and the Department for pushing this forward and we look forward to utilising the tools available. Thank you. 

JENNY MCALLISTER: Thank you, Keith.

JOURNALIST: Senator, I'll just start with how long is this Risk Assessment going to take? Are we looking at months and then from then when it's done how long until we start implementing the things to change, with the climate change effects that's happened here?

JENNY MCALLISTER: So, the Risk Assessment will be completed over a two-year period. It's important that we work with all of the stakeholders around the country and understand the data sets that are available and the things that people value that require our attention.

One of the things I'm interested in is really understanding what particular things are going to matter to different sectors. For example, we know that a warming world is likely to produce more frequent heatwaves and more frequent bushfires. Lots of communities talk to us about their concerns that we're going to need to adjust to the way that we behave as a community and the way our health system works to meet this kind of challenge. A National Risk Assessment will allow us to have a good picture of that kind of risk in different parts of the country and then allow our State Health Departments to start planning for that kind of eventuality.

We have some time. We need to make these changes together as a community, bringing people along for the journey over changes that can occur over decades. But we don't have any time to waste. There have been ten years where very little was done at the national level. That's a challenge that we are prepared to remedy and deal with.

JOURNALIST: So we've had some pretty bad flooding events. Up in our north it was a one-in-100-year flood up there, which was quite devastating for the community up at Fitzroy Crossing. Over on the east coast you've had a lot of flooding as well. What's the government doing, you know, over this winter where we could see some more devastating flooding?

JENNY MCALLISTER: You're quite right that flooding impacts all across the country have been devastating in recent years for communities. I come from northern New South Wales and the flooding in northern New South Wales continues to have very serious impacts on those communities and I know that the floods here in Western Australia have been very difficult as well.

Unfortunately, the science tells us that events of these kinds are going to become more frequent in a warming world and we need to prepare for them. Our government is taking steps to address risks associated with natural disasters. In the recent Budget, we saw funding to substantially upgrade flood gauges and the flood warning systems so that communities have better information when natural disasters are occurring. We're also taking steps to help communities prepare themselves for those disasters. So our Disaster Ready Fund, each and every year, will provide resources to communities around the country to help them prepare their community and their infrastructure for more frequent events of this kind. 

JOURNALIST: What do you think of Roger Cook's appointment as Premier?

JENNY MCALLISTER: I welcome the new Premier and we look forward to working with him. I think you will know that our government’s approach has been to develop a genuine consultative relationship with the National Cabinet. Mr Albanese, as you know, is a frequent visitor to Western Australia. He has a long relationship with Mr Cook and we look forward to working with him. 

JOURNALIST: Maybe back on climate change. What are scientists telling you? What are their concerns right now?

JENNY MCALLISTER: So the science has been very clear for some time that Australia can expect more very hot days, more frequent heatwaves, more extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. All of these things present challenges for our communities, for our infrastructure, for our government services.

These challenges aren't insurmountable. Australians are magnificent in a crisis. We stand together, we look after one another and we actually stick together in the months and years that follow a crisis as the long rebuild happens long after the cameras disappear. So this is a challenge that we can meet, but we need to do it together and we need to be very clear about it and direct about it with one another. That means we can't deny the science of climate change. We can't pretend it's not happening.

The investment we're announcing today is a step towards that. It's about bringing communities together to examine the science, to examine the information we have about our cities, our towns, and our regions, and really make an assessment about the most urgent things that we need to deal with together.

JOURNALIST: What if people say this could be a little bit too little too late? What would you say to that?

JENNY MCALLISTER: The best time to start is now. We have had ten years of delay and denial and that's a shame. The good news for Australians is that while all this was going on, state governments, local governments, infrastructure asset owners, businesses, communities were engaging with this challenge. We've got lots to learn from governments like the Western Australian Government. We've got lots to learn from local government like here in Fremantle and we're determined to learn those lessons as we do this work together.

JOURNALIST: I guess that takes me to why was Perth chosen for this announcement today?

JENNY MCALLISTER: The local member tells me that we should appropriately refer to Port as Fremantle. I was interested to come to Western Australia and understand the approach that has been taken here. The Western Australian Government has recently released their approach to climate change adaptation and so there's good work going on in the government here. Fremantle has done important work understanding the risks to their coastal assets as a consequence of coastal erosion. There is lots to learn and I'm delighted to be here with West Australian colleagues and with the Mayor and with the local NRM group to really learn a bit more about what's been going on.