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Transcript
Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

Press conference
4 August 2006

Bald Hills Wind Farm end to court action


Minister
Thank you everyone for coming together here in Perth. Over the recent days subsequent to the proponents of the Bald Hills wind farm approaching me and approaching the Commonwealth with a plan to end the court action, which they commenced some weeks ago, we have agreed between the two parties to get the matter out of court. Clearly having it in court would cost the proponents and cost the Commonwealth taxpayer. The Victorian Government for very obvious political reasons decided to get involved and cost the Victorian taxpayers a lot of money. It was very much in the interests of Australia to reach this agreement.

I congratulate the proponents for working in a constructive way to achieve this result, fundamentally speaking there is a will by the proponents to get it out of the court and the agreement is for the proponents to have some time which is a flexible amount of time. We expect a month or roughly 45 days to be able to bring me a submission. They want time to look at the documentation that has been laid before the court, they want time to look at the cumulative impact assessment report that my department commissioned. They would like to come forward with a new submission. I think it's an entirely sensible and practical way forward and we look forward to receiving their submission in due course.

Reporter
Has there been any information put forward to you so far in recent times that might lead you to change your mind?

Minister
I want to make sure that the proponents have a proper opportunity to review all the information. The Commonwealth has ensured that every piece of information about the decision making process is available. We put up the cumulative impact assessment report on our website, so it's there for all to see and they've said they'd like the chance to review that. One of their claims in the court is that they didn't have time to review that. There's a practical reason for that, they went to court and sought to force me to make the decision earlier than I would have liked to have done so it wasn't possible to give them the report - in fact they never requested it.

I think all people in the Commonwealth and companies deserve fair treatment and fair process. I will receive the submission when I receive it. I've got no idea what they're going to submit, they probably don't have.....they want a chance to submit it and I am happy to give them that chance and do it by agreement. I might just make the point if I could that this is the documentation that the Victorian Government provided to us in relation to the proposal. I've made the point that the Commonwealth put up on its website at the earliest possible stage the cumulative impact report that shows that more rotor blades down here would contribute to an early extinction of the orange-bellied parrot.

The Victorian Government have in their possession a report that says the same thing yet in all the info they've provided to the Commonwealth, they've kept that report from us, kept it from the Australian people and are still yet to publish it. It is still not public, so they are prepared to play games with the process. All of the information I've had available to me is available publicly and the proponents said they're happy to make a submission and I'm happy to receive that.

Reporter
But the orange bellied parrot may not necessarily be completely safe yet; it could be resting on its laurels.....

Minister
The orange-bellied parrot is one of the most threatened species in the world; it's up there with Polar Bears and Siberian Tiger. The Commonwealth has spent over a million dollars on habitat repair and a range of other measures to seek to build resilience in this very vulnerable species. The Victorian Government's own report, my report says rotor blades are a threat to them. The Victorian Government may I say for the record stopped a wind farm less than 200km from Bald Hills because of a report that said two and a half wedge tailed eagles a year would be lost. Their own report shows that says two wedge tail eagles a year would be lost at Bald Hills.

They stopped the wind farm less than 200 km from Bald Hills because of 2 1/2 wedge tailed eagles, but they say that the risk to wedge tailed eagles at Bald Hills is acceptable. I actually don't know what the difference is I think Mr Hulls has to tell you why two birds in the bush are worth more than two on the coast.....

Reporter
Wasn't there a conflicting report that shows that the impact on the orange-bellied parrot would be negligible?

Minister
Well the thing is the Victorians are trying to say that they don't fly through this region, their own report, which they kept out of all their paperwork, shows that they do fly through the region and they do fly through where the rotor blades would go. The reality is that there are very few of them, some people say we hardly ever see them, but you don't see many Siberian tigers either, there are only 50 breeding pairs left on the planet, this is the issue.

Reporter
Does the environmental benefit of the wind farm outweigh the losses?

Minister
Well the point is we get the renewable energy anyway. The Commonwealth has passed a law to ensure that we will build 9,500 megawatt hours of renewable energy in Australia, so we get the renewable energy. It's not like we're stopping wind farms or stopping renewable energy, were building that because we passed the law to reach this target, so we will build this renewable energy, but with all things we need to make sure it's done in an environmentally stable way. You don't solve one environmental problem by creating another one, one of the reasons we're addressing climate change at the Australian Government level with billions of dollars is to try to save our ecosystems.

One of the reasons we're addressing Climate change and were spending billions on a plan to address it is that we want to protect our valuable ecosystems and our threatened species. To solve climate change by destroying threatened species is not overly clever. The Victorian Government likes to paint me as someone who is anti-wind farm, could I just say that through the Commonwealth environmental processes since January this year - ostensibly since I made the decision to stop 1 wind farm - we have had 11 new wind farms put through the same process, so roughly one a fortnight. You won't read about that but one a fortnight has gone through the Commonwealth approvals process........

Reporter
Can I just clarify the proponents for the bald hill, how long do they have to wait for submission?

Minister
We haven't set times but we've been talking time frames between 30-45 days....

Reporter
What would be next?

Minister
I would look at this submission, I'm not too sure what they will submit, we will see, we've had incredibly constructive discussions with the proponents. The only party that is seeking to cause trouble and mischief is the Victorian Government, they will not be at all happy about the outcome today because it's a constructive sensible way forward for the proponents and for the Commonwealth taxpayer.

Reporter
Can you tell us again, how did you come to this agreement with the proponents?

Minister
The proponents approached us last week and said they would like to get this out of court, we would like withdraw our action, withdraw our court action against you, would you receive a submission from us a new submission? Based on the Biosis report that they hadn't seen before I made my decision - and I reiterate that in the normal course of events that report would have been made available to them. The only reason it wasn't is because they had gone to court seeking to get me to make a decision in a quicker time... so I don't know what was driving it......so they would have seen that report, they've had it since April, it's there for the world to see. They have said they would like to make a submission on that and I look forward to receiving it, I can't prejudge what they do and I certainly won't prejudge my response to them.

Commonwealth of Australia