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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Polls; PM's overseas travel; irrigator exit grants package; Melbourne desalination plant; Melbourne zero emissions house

Transcript
Doorstop interview: World sustainable building conference 2008, Melbourne
22 September 2008

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JOURNALIST: Well we might just start with todays poll result which show that Malcolm Turnbull has had a large impact. How do you view those results?

GARRETT: As ever polls will come and go, they will bounce around but at the end of the day Mr Turnbull is the leader of a party whose policies are the key to our criticism of what the opposition has been on about and shows no sign of changing course on. In other words, a party who was extreme on industrial relations, a party that is full of climate change sceptics, a party what is prepared to be irresponsible in terms of the preservation and maintenance of financial credibility particularly in relation the surplus. And a party that still has the same figures in it as we saw a week or two weeks ago when Dr Nelson was leader. So, polls will bounce around but it is really about the policies of this party and that is what we will continue to contest and debate.

JOURNALIST: That being said though his popularity or seeming popularity must be a little bit rattling?

GARRETT: Look, I think all of us have been in or around politics for long enough to know that the polls is one of the daily, weekly or monthly bouncing bubbles. What is really critical is whether or not Mr Turnbull is prepared to take a responsible position on climate change. Will he stop the dithering that was the hallmark of his predecessor in deciding what position the Coalition was going to have on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme? Or, will he become captive to the extreme voices in his own party who firstly dont believe that the threats of climate change are real and secondly dont think Australia should do anything about it?

JOURNALIST: And with the Prime Minister overseas in America at the moment the criticism is of course again that he is spending too much time abroad. Do you think that that criticism is valid?

GARRETT: This is superficial and petty criticism from an opposition that doesnt recognise the seriousness of the international economic situation particularly in relation to global markets and what has been happening in America. It is entirely appropriate for the Prime Minister to be in a position to have those one-on-one discussions which are absolutely essential and critical to Australias national economic security.

JOURNALIST: He is spending, this particular trip aside I guess, hes spending a lot of time overseas it would seem?

GARRETT: Well you know what, the difference between the former government and the Rudd Labor Government is that we take the issues that are absolutely compelling for Australians to address seriously. And the Prime Minister clearly has an absolute and strong responsibility to be able to argue for Australias economic and international interests in those fora and he is doing that. So I think given that we are at such a difficult period in terms of the stability and the challenges that are facing financial, economic markets, for the leader of our country to be able to be in America, to be able to talk with senior officials at a time like this, is very necessary.

JOURNALIST: With the package for irrigators, small block irrigators announced on the weekend, there has been a lot of talk about how that will affect the river system and the Lower Lakes. What about those irrigation districts in northern Victoria, how do you think it will affect the sort of social fabric up in that region?

GARRETT: Well look the details of this package have yet to work their way through. What I do think is that this is an important first step by a Government that is willing to take those necessary first steps that everybody has been talking about for some point in time to enable us to have in the future more water going into the river system, right across the Basin. And the fact is that the Liberal Government had on many occasions been put on notice not only of the likely impact that severe drought with climate change impacts would have on the river system, but also the difficulty that river communities were facing in maintaining sustainable livelihood because of the pressures on the river system. This is a welcome and necessary step for those small hectareage entitlement and land owners and it will provide them with an opportunity not to be constantly under stress, to have some resources to build their lives and sustainability in the longer term, and we hope very much, particularly if we do get some very, very needed rain in the future, contribute over the long term to river health.

JOURNALIST: And you say that the details arent exactly worked out yet but will the Government be considering to giving assistance to sort of service industries as well, people that rely on the business from these people that may be changing how they do things?

GARRETT: Well, lets take things one step at a time. I mean the Government has made an announcement and that will be worked through in a coherent and consultative fashion.

JOURNALIST: When will we get the details?

GARRETT: Well those details will emerge in due course

JOURNALIST: But is there a rough timeframe at all yet, something to work off?

GARRETT: Well look what I can say is that were keen as we are on all of these issues where were bring forward initiatives in the Murray, to have it worked through speedily and efficiently but as something which has to happen in a proper and consultative fashion.

JOURNALIST: And just with regards to the desalination plant in East Gippsland, has the Government made a decision yet about whether theyll pursue the costs from those groups which lost their legal bid?

GARRETT: Look, the first thing to say about those legal challenges is that the court found very clearly that they were without legal merit. They had no legal merit. And a basic principle is that the taxpayer should not have to wear the costs for challenges of that kind and it is perfectly appropriate for costs to be sought to be recovered. Now my understanding is that the Australian Government Solicitor has written to the groups in question seeking further examination and exploration of issues about affordability and costs. We havent heard from them and so until such time as there is a response from those groups, I wont have anything further to add.

JOURNALIST: They have been saying though that if they did have to pay the costs that would all but cripple them and they couldnt operate going forward. If that was the case, then what view would the Government take?

GARRETT: Well look, lets wait and see what response they make to the correspondence from the Australian Government Solicitor. My responsibility is to make sure that I make decisions that are in the best interests of the environment. I make those decisions very carefully and very diligently. Yes, they can be subject to legal challenge. In this case, the legal challenge was clearly found to be without merit. On the question of costs, now that we have a correspondence that is outstanding from the Australian Government Solicitor to the group in question, let us wait to see what response they bring forward.

JOURNALIST: Ok, and finally the zero emissions house to be released today, this must be something encouraging in terms of the way this sector is progressing?

GARRETT: it is very encouraging to know that we can do something like a zero emissions house and it tells us how much significant opportunity there is in the built environment to reduce our emissions, to reduce energy costs to reduce water use while at the same time creating buildings, houses, that are liveable, that are good for the environment and that help us meet the climate change challenge.

[ENDS]

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