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

SA Govt proposal to open the barrages at the Coorong; Sea Shepherd

Transcript
Doorstop interview, Maroubra
8 January 2009

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GARRETT: Good morning. I just wanted to make clear the decision today that the South Australian Government's proposal for the consideration of transfer of sea water from the Coorong to Lake Alexandrina will be a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Today's decision means that South Australia's proposal will be subject to a high standard of environmental impact assessment, that there will be sufficient opportunity for the public to comment on that proposal and that all the relevant environment matters that attach to South Australia's proposal are fully and comprehensively considered.

The Environmental Impact Statement will be required to be drawn up and formulated by South Australia according to terms of reference that are set by me and by my Department. My expectation is that the process will take some moths to conclude.

Today's decision is simply to recognise that South Australia's proposal now means that there will be an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal for potential transfer of sea water from the Coorong to Lake Alexandrina. It will be subject to a comprehensive and exhaustive Environmental Impact Statement and there will be sufficient opportunity for public comment in that process.

JOURNALIST: There has been a bit of a delay in terms of the deadline in making this decision today. Why has there been that delay?

GARRETT: There is always going to be a little bit of delay through the Christmas and New Year period, but we are now in a situation where this is clearly being designated as a controlled action. That means that it will be subject to environmental assessment at a high level under the relevant legislation and I am confident that an exhaustive and comprehensive process of assessment is now underway.

JOURNALIST: So does this mean that the State Government's proposal to go ahead and pump sea water in there - does this mean it is a step closer?

GARRETT: No, what today's decision means is that the South Australian Government's proposal for sea water to go from the Coorong to Lake Alexandrina is to be a matter of comprehensive environmental assessment under the relevant Commonwealth legislation and that there will be sufficient opportunity for the public to comment on that proposal and any likely decision is still some way down the track.

JOURNALIST: I know there is a lot of heated environmental debate between scientists about this. I assume you're not in a position to have any perspective on who is right or wrong, but do you have an opinion?

GARRETT: What I can say is that it is important for South Australia's proposal to be considered in a comprehensive and exhaustive fashion and that is what today's decision is about. The public has an opportunity to provide input. The environmental assessment will be full and rigorous and there are now some months to go for that process to conclude. As the environmental regulator in this decision, my decision today is about the Government saying that South Australia's proposal is now a matter that will be given a full and comprehensive environmental impact assessment.

JOURNALIST: Can you just take us through a little bit of the problems if the Lower Lakes run dry? I mean, what is the concern here, is this a possibility if this State Government proposal to pump seawater in doesn't go ahead, if they run dry will this be a major problem?

GARRETT: Well look, there are very serious issues attached to the state of the Murray Darling Basin in general including the Lower Lakes and the Murray Darling Basin Commission has already identified the need for consideration of additional measures if we get a deterioration in conditions in the lower Basin.

What is important about today is that it is a decision which says that the proposal of the South Australian Government will be subject to a full environment impact assessment. I think that's the clear and absolutely unqualified position that we are in at this point in time. To start speculating about either the way in which that assessment will unfold or necessarily other issue around those conditions wouldn't be appropriate for me to do today.

JOURNALIST: Just the obligatory question on whaling which you get at every press conference - given how annoyed the Japanese are at the sea Shepherd, the activities of the Sea Shepherd down there in the South Sea, should they be allowed to refuel at Hobart.

GARRETT: Well there is no formal request from the Sea Shepherd to refuel but they have had that opportunity in the past. Any application would be subject to the normal national and international legal issues, but there is not reason in principle as to why any application to refuel in Hobart should be refused.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia