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Interview with Kate Bedford, ABC Statewide Drive
12 September 2008
KATHY BEDFORD: And the Federal Government has today approved the pipeline, the north south pipeline, to carry water from northern Victoria to Melbourne, the north south pipeline will connect the Goulburn River to Melbourne's Sugarloaf Reserve.
Joining us on the line is the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett.
Good afternoon Minister.
PETER GARRETT: Hi Kathy.
KATHY BEDFORD: Was this sign off really just a formality?
PETER GARRETT: No, I looked very closely at whether or not the pipeline would have impacts on matters of national environment significance. There's a number of threatened plants, animals and ecological communities in or around the pipeline route, which could have been impacted and which now will be protected by a range of conditions that I've applied. So it needed to be considered carefully and I've done that.
KATHY BEDFORD: What about the health of the rivers that the water's being taken from? Is that taken into account?
PETER GARRETT: Yes, to the extent that matters of national environment significance that we've got listed threatened species in the river system, then that's something which obviously was contemplated as well. And that's protected in this instance by conditions which regulate pumping rates.
My role as minister in this is to define the parameters within which the project has to operate in relation to national environment significance and the conditions are specific about that. The actual project itself, the evaluation that's been undertaken by the Victorian Government up to this point in time and the ongoing construction of the pipeline will be a matter for the Victorian Government. But they have to abide by the conditions that I've specifically applied to the project in relation to those matters of NES.
KATHY BEDFORD: Okay, we'll have a look at those parameters in just a moment but at a time when your government is buying up cotton farms to restore flows, I think it just creates a little bit of confusion in the public's mind that environment impacts of piping water out of the rivers for domestic use, that that's not taken into further account.
PETER GARRETT: Well look the Act is very clear about what it is I can and can't consider and as with the other decisions that have come forward to me in the eight months that I've been sitting in this seat I follow the Act very, very closely and I do it thoroughly and I take the advice that I've received from my Department.
In this instance, it is the case that this is the first of two decisions that I'll have to make because we'll also have the Foodbowl Modernisation Project referred to me and as you'd know, and as your listeners would know, the intention of the Victorian Government is that there'll be more water that's produced for the environment as a consequence of the efficiencies that derive out of that project. This is the pipeline approval for the actual amount of water which will travel from the Goulburn down into the Melbourne storage area.
So I've looked over it very closely and carefully but I've done it specifically in relation to those matters of the pipeline which might affect matters of national environment significance, as I'm required to, under the Act.
KATHY BEDFORD: So are you saying as the Minister for the Environment, you can't actually consider the health of the rivers?
PETER GARRETT: To the extent that it impacts on matters of national environment significance, yes, but more generally the Act is really clear and specific about what matters of national environment significance are Kathy. I could run through them with you if you'd like.
KATHY BEDFORD: Well just the impacts on the Coorong, the South Australian lakes, is that something you've considered when authorising the taking of water from the Murray Darling system?
PETER GARRETT: Well as you would know, having asked me that question, there was a decision sought from me to reconsider the headings under which I actually made a determination on this pipeline, including whether or not that matter should be taken into account. I received advice from the Department, having considered the proposals and the correspondence submissions that were put to me, and on that basis have determined that in fact the decision that I make on this particular pipeline will not have and does not have any consequences in relation to the health of the lower end of the river including the Coorong and Lakes Albert and Alexandrina.
KATHY BEDFORD: So how do you have that assurance? How can you be certain of that?
PETER GARRETT: Well I take the advice that's received from the Department. I have a significant amount of material that comes forward to me by way of a brief. The material that's relevant, that deals with whether or not there will be a likely impact on something like wetlands at the other end of the system is considered. Advice comes forward to me. I look at that advice carefully. I consider the way in which it's been drafted and brought to me and then I make a decision on that basis.
KATHY BEDFORD: So you don't see any sort of hypocrisy in buying back acotton farm at one end of the system to restore flows and authorising the taking of flows from another end? It's all part of the same Murray Darling system.
PETER GARRETT: Well I've got to say that we've got a comprehensive program to get water into the Murray and into the lower lakes and, as you know, not only the purchase of entitlements from willing sellers but also a fairly significant financial commitment, particularly at the lower end of the Murray, especially when the South Australian system is already a part of the commonwealth's approach.
So I mean I think to be fair you'd have to say that we've been pretty resolute in identifying what specific financial commitments we are going to be making to ensure that those issues at the lower end of the system which are a very worrying and troubling to all of us are actually dealt with.
In this instance, this pipeline has been approved with environmental conditions, as I'm required to, under the Act. I anticipate that there'll be more water produced for the environment as a consequence of the Foodbowl Modernisation Program. I also make clear in these conditions, specifically that I brought today, is that no water can be taken from the Living Murray Initiative. So there won't be any environmental waters that are denied the river system as a consequence of this approval.
KATHY BEDFORD: Okay, so can you give us a summary then of the other conditions that you've laid down?
PETER GARRETT: Yes, I've laid down a number of conditions in relation to list of threatened plants, animals and ecological communities including conditions that relate to the Striped Legged Lizard and the Matted Flax Lily. There are mitigation strategies that the proponent has to observe. There's an environmental management strategy that's in place.
There are various conditions in relation to protecting Macquarie Perch and species like the Growling Grass Frog. There's a requirement for water quality to be monitored during the construction of water way crossing that has to meet SEPP objectives. Conditions to protect EPCBP - I beg your pardon...
KATHY BEDFORD: [laughs] Sounding a bit ridiculous. The EP what?
PETER GARRETT: It's the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act. This is the federal act. The National Environment Legislation...
KATHY BEDFORD: Okay.
PETER GARRETT: ...lists its species such as the Trout Cod and the Murray Cod, so no more than 75 gigs in any one year. No more than 360 megs any per day. It has to be sourced from savings, not allocated.
KATHY BEDFORD: Were they the amounts that the...
PETER GARRETT: ...or the waters for the rivers.
KATHY BEDFORD: And were they the amounts that the State Government was seeking to take?
PETER GARRETT: Well they are the amounts that are contemplated both under this proposal in terms of the pipeline and also in terms of the broader Foodbowl Modernisation Project.
KATHY BEDFORD: Okay, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks Kathy.
KATHY BEDFORD: Peter Garrett is the Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts.