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Interview with Jessica van Vonderen ABC Stateline, Queensland
5 September 2008
JESSICA van VONDEREN: On the same day Ross Garnaut delivered his recommendations for carbon cuts the Federal Environment Minister has blocked a major industrial project in central Queensland. Waratah Coal wanted to build a rail line and a port at Shoalwater Bay to export 10 billion dollars of coal to international markets. The company says it'll be mounting an immediate Federal Court challenge to Peter Garrett's ruling, saying he's exceeded his authority. But for conservationists and some locals today's decision is a victory. They'd been fighting to protect the heritage listed area which is the second largest piece of undisturbed land on Australia's east coast. Late this afternoon, the Federal Environment Minister explained his reasons.
van VONDEREN: Peter Garrett, the Queensland Premier seemed quite supportive of this project why did you reject it?
GARRETT: I rejected this project on the basis that the impact of the rail line and the proposed port location on the ecological values of the Shoalwater Bay training area and the Shoalwater Bay Corio area were clearly unacceptable. As Environment Minister, under the Commonwealth legislation, I have to look at whether any proposal will have a significant impact on matters of national environment significance, in this case the environment values of that area are of national significance and it was very clear on the advice that was given to me that the impact of this proposed development with the rail line and port would provide significant and adverse impact on those national environment matters and as a consequence it was absolutely clear to me that the proposal was unacceptable and as a consequence I logically then refused it.
van VONDEREN: The Company argued this project would have no impact on things like sea grass or dugong because it was in very deep water.
GARRETT: Well the advice to me is absolutely unequivocal there is no question about it what so ever that a rail line this size and a port facility that was contemplated that would have unacceptable impacts on the environment in the Shoalwater Bay area itself. Remember that in 1994 there was a Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Shoalwater Bay Training Area it found quite clearly that the environmental values of that area were of critical importance and significance that the Commonwealth had a responsibility to ensure their protection.
van VONDEREN: In the 1990s you were personally involved in trying to protect this region, in another role you campaigned against a sand mining proposal at the time. Can you confidentially say you were able to view this application without bias?
GARRETT: Absolutely. Im scrupulous in my administration of my responsibilities under the Environment Act that I am required to properly administer and make decisions by. There are a number of areas around Australia including Shoalwater and that coastline that I have the knowledge of from my past but I am required as the Commonwealth Minister to look specifically at the advice that I receive from the department and to consider the relevant material that comes before me in terms of making a decision. I also required to publish a statement of reasons of course I will do.
van VONDEREN: Is there an avenue of appeal for the company or is this proposal dead and buried?
GARRETT: No it of course it can be appealed and theres an opportunity if the company chooses to bring another proposal forward which may have a different route and location for the rail line and the port. Thats absolutely in their hands. I must stress I think its a responsible way of making a decision on a proposal of this kind because we are providing certainty for the company that what its contemplating will have an impact and certainly part of that proposal which was the rail line and the port clearly would have an impact that I have clean unequivocal advice that the impact is unacceptable and as a consequence of that that particular proposal wont be approved. Now thats providing certainty at the beginning of any proposal or process and I think that should provide some clear and necessary position from the Commonwealth when it comes to matters where you have development that may or may not have strongly impact on the environment we can say clearly, up front in cases of this kind where the advice is absolutely clear cut to me that it will, it doesnt in anyway predicate against company coming up with a different proposal with a different route.
van VONDEREN: Is this a broader indication though the Federal Governments attitude to the future expansion of any coal industry in Australia?
GARRETT: This decision is all about my responsibilities under the environment legislation of the commonwealth and whether or not a proposal will have a significant impact on national environmental significance. I mean Ive earlier approved the expansion of the coal terminal at Gladstone the Wiggins terminal. I dont look at these issues in isolation but the priority and clear area of responsibility that I must exercise in this decision making is to do with whatever it is will have an unacceptable significant impact on matters of national environment significance. Now that was clearly the case here and on that basis I made that decision.
van VONDEREN: Peter Garrett thank you.
GARRETT: Thanks very much.