Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Mark Butler MP

Minister for Climate Change
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water

Transcript of interview ABC Hobart with Leon Compton: Shree Minerals decision

31 July 2013

LEON COMPTON: The Federal Government will allow an iron ore mine in the Tarkine to go ahead but with enormous costs attached in terms of environmental compliance. Shree Minerals want to mine iron ore on a one-hundred-and- fifty-two hectare site in North Western Tasmania. The approval for the mine was stopped a few weeks ago after an appeal to the Federal Court.

The Government have renewed their approval now and Mark Butler is the Federal Environment Minister. Minister, good morning to you.

MARK BUTLER: Good day Leon.

LEON COMPTON: And thanks for talking with us. Talk about the cost of doing business in Tasmania at the moment, four hundred thousand dollars for orchid protection, six hundred thousand dollars from the company on devils, big fines if dead quolls are found. With respect are these conditions punitive or frankly ridiculous?

MARK BUTLER: Well they're neither Leon. The first thing I'd say about them is they are conditions that result from Commonwealth legislation so it's legislation that doesn't just apply to Tasmania, but this is legislation that I consider in relation to developments across the country.

LEON COMPTON: Oh sure but I mean there are not so many, there are not so many orchids or quolls or indeed Tasmanian devils in Western Australia where most of Australia's iron ore is extracted from.

MARK BUTLER: Well that's right. I mean the environmental issues in Tasmania, not only in Tasmania, there are parts of the country that are similarly rich in environmental terms as Tasmania. But you're right, we do have an obligation to ensure that developments including mining developments are conducted in a way that preserve the biodiversity and the environmental richness of a place like Tasmania.

The other thing I'd say is that headline figures you've rolled off about orchid research and also protection of Tasmanian devils in particular sound fairly large to a particular household. But in the context of the value that Shree Minerals is going to be able to derive from this mining operation it's a relatively limited impost on them and I'm sure that they'd see it as a reasonable condition for them to be able to mine in this area.

LEON COMPTON: We hear that national and international companies are worried about the cost, in inverted commas, of doing business in Tasmania. I'm wondering if this could be added to that argument?

MARK BUTLER: Well look at the end of the day I think the answer to that question will be answered by whether or not Shree goes ahead with this project and I'm very confident they will. I'm confident that Shree would see this as a reasonable part of the cost benefit assessment that they make about this development.

They stand to derive a significant benefit from being approved by the Tasmanian Government to proceed with this mining operation and I think they're also conscious of the fact that they're proposing to mine in Tasmania, which as you've said has some particular environmental assets, particularly the Tasmanian devil, that are under threat at the moment and need to be considered.
LEON COMPTON: Now the last approval for the mine didn't stand up to scrutiny in the Courts. Will this approval?

MARK BUTLER: Well look that's at the end of the day a matter for the Federal Court if and when someone decides to challenge my decision. I'm very confident that I've taken very detailed legal advice about the implications of the Federal Court. You and I have talked about the Federal Court decision before and it was fairly clear and specific that the deficit with the previous decision was a failure to provide Minister Burke with a particular piece of conservation advice around the Tasmanian devil.

It's clear from Minister Burke's last decision that he did have the plight of the Tasmanian devil front of mind, but he hadn't considered a particular document. Now I've considered that. I've gone back over all of the information that Minister Burke had. I've had briefings with the Department. I've been able to meet with a range of interested stakeholders in the North West of Tasmania last week.

So I'm very confident that I have all the information before me to make the decision according to the provisions of our legislation.

LEON COMPTON: Coming up in just a moment we'll talk with the man that was behind that successful Federal Court action of a few weeks back, but do you feel like environment groups are satisfied based on your consultation with them?

MARK BUTLER: Well look, I haven't talked to the Save the Tarkine, the Tarkine National Coalition which is the group that took the Federal Court action, since I've taken the decision. I met with them last week and it's clear that they've got a concern generally about this development, regardless of the conditions that I might impose.

Now whether or not they've taken a decision, I don't know. I did take some advice from them though about the possibility of private vehicles being used to - by- workers to travel to and from the site and they were concerned about that posing a particular traffic risk to wildlife including the devil.

And as a result of that conversation particularly with that group I've imposed an additional condition that requires all workers, all staff to travel to and from the site on a bus rather than in private vehicles, which I think deals with one of the concerns the group had. But look, they've probably got a more fundamental concern about whether a development like this should go ahead.

I've had to assess the development according to criteria that are pretty clearly set out in the legislation and I think I've done that.

LEON COMPTON: Many of course will be looking at this and thinking about it in terms of jobs, of economic opportunity. Any Court process will take its own time, but when will Shree have the official go ahead to start work, subject to any Court appeal - assuming none of that when will they have the official go ahead to commence?

MARK BUTLER: Well look, I think they've got to sign off some paperwork about particular plans they have to clear the site and such like, but my understanding is that that's all relatively straight forward. There may be some things they need to do with the Tasmanian Government as well. But barring the possibility of Federal Court proceedings, I think it's pretty much go for Shree from now on.

LEON COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning. Thanks for talking with us.

MARK BUTLER: Thanks Leon.

LEON COMPTON: Mark Butler, the Minister for the Environment.