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Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National - Breakfast
21 November 2008
KELLY: Environment Minister Peter Garrett has a lot on his plate at the moment. The Japanese whaling fleet is steaming to the Southern Ocean for another hunting season and the $2.2 billion Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania is mired in political controversy yet again, with calls now for no more federal approvals for the mill.
Well, the Minister joins us from Sydney. Peter Garrett, welcome to breakfast.
GARRETT: Good Morning, Fran.
KELLY: Minister, despite all the diplomatic protests and the posturing since commercial whaling was banned back in 1986, Japan continues to do just about what it likes in the Southern Ocean. It's business as usual isn't it?
GARRETT: I don't know that that is the case Fran. I mean we're certainly disappointed to see that the Japanese are still intending to go to the Southern Ocean to target whales, but we've got a lot of extremely comprehensive engagement happening on this issue.
We're going to continue to be very focused at the diplomatic level and additionally, we announced last week a special Southern Ocean Research Partnership commitment where we are intending to work with other nations to not only advance the scientific research and understanding of whales in a non-lethal way, but bring those arguments back into the International Whaling Commission, which as you know, is the place where these issues ultimately need to be resolved. And in so doing, provide once and for all a rebuttal of the arguments that have been used to substantiate so call 'scientific' whaling by the Japanese.
KELLY: Sure, but nothing has changed in the Southern Ocean. The Japanese fleet is heading off and the Japanese Government has reconfirmed plans to hunt 953 minke whales and 50 fin whales. That goes on. Is Australia going to send a Customs vessel to the Southern Ocean to monitor the Japanese fleet again?
GARRETT: Well, we won't be using the Oceanic Viking to monitor the whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean this year...
KELLY: Why not?
GARRETT: And into next year. Well, for two reasons. The first is that the Viking successfully completed its mission earlier this year. We said we would monitor the whaling activities and we did and it gathered the high quality video and photographic evidence for possible use in international legal action. That's material which would be valuable if in fact the Government did decide to take legal action in the future. So it's achieved what it was intended to do.
The second reason is that the Oceanic Viking has a number of activities that it has to do looking at illegal and unauthorised fishing. It will be doing its normal runs that it would ordinarily to do in that particular area.
GARRETT: We expect the Japanese whaling operations this summer Fran, to be primarily around the Ross Sea. That is in New Zealand's search and rescue area, so the Oceanic Viking has done what the Government intended it to do but it won't be used to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet this summer.
KELLY: Ok, with no Oceanic Viking out there that means the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will be the only anti-whaling presence in the Southern Ocean. Do you support their efforts in tagging the Japanese whalers?
GARRETT: Well we've always said that we support peaceful protest on this and other issues. What we say at the same time is that we don't support any action that can endanger livelihood at sea, any action that is in breach of the rules of the sea and the laws of the sea and we certainly don't support action which places in jeopardy anybody in the Southern Ocean at that time, at risk.
KELLY: Minister, can I ask you about the Gunns pulp mill now? This week there has been some damning allegations about collusion between the timber company Gunns and the former Tasmanian Premier, Paul Lennon, over approvals for the Tamar Valley pulp mill. Where are we at with approvals for the federal Environmental Management Plan for the mill?
GARRETT: Fran, in relation to the 16 modules that make up the Environmental Management Plan only four have been approved. Another five have been forwarded to my office for consideration. I haven't looked at them yet. I will give them thorough consideration. Again, if I am satisfied that they comply with the approval conditions and also with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act then they would be approved. At this point in time though we only have four of the 16 though that have actually come onto my desk and been approved.
KELLY: Have the revelations in Tasmania changed anything? Geoffrey Cousins has called for a Royal Commission or a Royal Inquiry into federal approvals - says there should be no more federal approvals, sorry - until this proper inquiry or Royal Commission establishes whether the whole approvals process was corrupted in the first place. What is your response to that and are you worried about what you have heard from Tasmania this week?
GARRETT: Well there is a difference between the matters that Mr Cousins is referring to and original pulp mill approval for the Commonwealth responsibilities that was brought forward by Mr Turnbull.
Look, my responsibility Fran on this issue has always been the same and that is to ensure that we apply the most diligent scrutiny to the existing approvals that were given by the former government, according to the 48 conditions that were laid down by then Minister Turnbull, and I will continue to do that scrupulously, I'll make sure that I listen carefully and take note of what the Independent Expert Groups brings forward to us. As you know, there has been some delay in terms of the approval timeline that is because I wanted to make sure that all of the environmental issues that I am required to make determinations about are thoroughly and properly canvassed.
KELLY: And Minister just finally we've reported on this program about the cut of funding to the Australian National Academy of Music. You stood firm on that despite some fierce lobbying, the Federal Government will not provide that $2.5 million to the Academy. Why not? What is it?
GARRETT: It is not a cut of funding Fran, I really want to make that clear. We are going to provide $2.5 million for an Australian Institute of Music Performance to do...
KELLY: But not to the Australian National Academy of Music.
GARRETT: Well, well to enable students who would have otherwise been at the ANAM to continue their elite classical music training. We want to do it in a way which ensures that there is much more national reach in the delivery of these programs, a wider range of curricula and teaching and training that is available to students. I think this is going to be absolutely the right decision, not only for students...
KELLY: But what was wrong with the National Academy? Why can't they keep doing what they are doing?
GARRETT: Well, we made clear to the National Academy that they needed to consider a number of issues including expanding their funding base, having a significant national reach and showing that they were prepared to meet the kind of requirements that the Government had identified in terms of previous reviews that had been done when Mr Howard was in government. Now, they weren't able to do that satisfactorily, they weren't able to commit to doing that.
My view was that the long term future of students who need this classical elite music training was at risk. I have put in place something which is not only going to satisfy the need for that elite classical music training, but provide a wonderful Institute of Music Performance in association with the School of Music at Melbourne University, providing additional support services for those students. I think in time people will see this to be the right decision.
KELLY: Peter Garrett, thank you very much for joining us
GARRETT: Thanks Fran.
KELLY: Peter Garrett is the Federal Environment Minister.