The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Climate Change
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water
Transcript of interview ABC 936 Hobart with Leon Compton: Shree Minerals mine proposal, non-invasive whale research, water quality in the Tamar River
24 July 2013
LEON COMPTON: In recent months literally thousands of Tasmanians have been gathering at rallies to push Government for more development in the North West of the State. The promise of jobs from the Shree Minerals mine proposal, that would be in the Tarkine if it goes ahead, is on hold at the moment.
The Federal Government, or rather the Federal Court has said the Federal Government didn't take the impact of the Tasmanian Devil into account. So can you extract the iron ore, get the jobs, make the money and protect the devil at the same time and wasn't this exactly what the Federal Government were meant to work out in the first place?
Why is this still being debated? Mark Butler is the Federal Environment Minister, good morning to you.
MARK BUTLER: Good morning Leon.
LEON COMPTON: Will the mine, the Shree minerals proposal go ahead in the Tarkine?
MARK BUTLER: Well I can't say that definitively right now. What I have said is that I'm working as quickly as I possibly can to give some certainty to the North West of Tasmania around this project. And I was working for some hours over the weekend getting my head around the materials, reading them all through. I've had a face to face briefing with the Department now.
I've just met with Sid Sidebottom and Bryan Green this morning and I've got a range of other meetings with interested parties over the next few hours here in Burnie. So by the end of today I think I'll have all of the information that I need to make a proper decision in accordance with the criteria that are set out in the legislation.
But what's clear is that it's important that I not pre-empt that process by indicating a view one way or the other.
LEON COMPTON: When will you be able to indicate a view?
MARK BUTLER: Well as I said by the end of today I'll be in a position to make a decision, I think before the end of this week. I then need to send a proposed decision to the Tasmanian Government under arrangements we have with them, a bilateral agreement and also to some other Commonwealth ministers and give them a chance to come back to me, which I imagine they'll do pretty promptly in the early part of next week.
LEON COMPTON: To what extent are you motivated in terms of timelines by the pressure to do something before election writs are declared and caretaker mode is entered?
MARK BUTLER: Well election timing is not a factor for me. I mean these decisions can be made during caretaker periods. The overriding pressure on me is to make sure that I consider all of the information I'm required to consider in the legislation. But subject to that overriding consideration that I do this as promptly as I can, because I know that some certainty around this project is important for North West Tasmania, whatever view you take about the project.
LEON COMPTON: What happened in the first instance in putting this proposal together? Did the Federal Government, did your predecessor muff it when it came to assessing whether or not the Tasmanian devil would be impacted by this?
MARK BUTLER: Well a couple of things are quite clear, firstly that my predecessor Tony Burke had the plight of the Tasmanian devil front of mind. You could see that...
LEON COMPTON: [Interrupts] The Court doesn't say that. The Court says that it wasn't considered.
MARK BUTLER: The Court doesn't say that the Tasmanian devil's plight was not considered. It says a particular document was not considered and that that was a mandatory criteria, and so it had to be considered. What is clear is that Tony Burke did consider the plight of the Tasmanian devil.
That's why there are a number of conditions on his approval decision that related directly to the plight of the Tasmanian devil. But what is clear is also that the Department unfortunately did not provide this particular document to the Minister, so what happens is the Department provides a quite a lengthy and detailed brief along with a range of attachments to the Minister to consider while making a decision.
And that this advice, this Conservation advice for the Tasmanian Devil was not one of those documents and that was the error that the Federal Court found. It's not an error of the Minister. I think people who've dealt with Tony Burke know that he was a very thorough, very talented Minister for the Environment and it's quite clear he had the plight of the Tasmanian devil at the front of his mind.
LEON COMPTON: So again, you said that you would have the ability to start forming decisions by the end of the day on the evidence. People in the North West will want to know when will a final determination be made? Can this mine go ahead or not?
MARK BUTLER: Well as I said I'm confident I can make my decision by the end of the week. I've then got the obligation to communicate that proposed decision to a range of parties, the Tasmanian Government, some other Commonwealth ministers and also to the proponent company Shree. They have ten days to get back to me about that.
I imagine that they will do that more quickly than ten days and once I've got a response back from them I'm then in a position, pretty much immediately, to make a final decision unless some new material is presented to me.
LEON COMPTON: You'll be making announcements today about something that the Japanese might be interested in, six million dollars to study whales without actually harpooning them. Is this designed to make a point, if you'll excuse the term? Will it replace any of the research that the Japanese claim to do?
MARK BUTLER: Well it really does build on our position as a leader in non-lethal research into whales, particularly the blue whale research that we've been doing out of Tasmania this year. This is a really exciting project because, as your listeners would know who take an interest in whales, research traditionally has been very invasive and often lethal to the whale. So being a leader in this area, I think, builds on our reputation, our tradition as being a country that, as recently as last week, have advocated for the conservation of our whale population.
I think you alluded to this, Leon, last week, or maybe the week before - unfortunately a couple of countries did oppose our proposal for further marine protection areas in the east of Antarctica, particularly to protect our whales. But building on the research we've done and the arguments I think we make strongly, based on the evidence, we'll continue to push the case for further marine protected areas in the Antarctic region, including at the next Global Commission meeting which is in Hobart later this year.
LEON COMPTON: And just briefly, we've spent the last couple of days talking about water quality in the Tamar River and the river around Launceston generally. Has anyone spoken with you in the last twenty-four hours or so about funding potentially for improving sewage outflow into that water course?
MARK BUTLER: They haven't. Water quality is an overriding part of my portfolio. A very important part of my portfolio. I only arrived in Tasmania quite late last night. I'm here today. I'm more than happy to have that conversation, because it's a very important part of my job.
LEON COMPTON: Okay. Well, we'll just let you know, the waters, when there is a high rainfall event, raw sewage flows into the Tamar and the North Esk. I'm sure we can get somebody to talk with you about it. And we'll look forward to talking to you again into the future.
MARK BUTLER: Thanks, Leon.
LEON COMPTON: Mark Butler, the Federal Environment Minister. On your local ABC we've been talking about it over the last few days, the Federal Environment Minister. I wonder if someone will approach him about that as an issue in the next little while. Good to have your company this morning around the state.