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Interview with Roisin McCann, ABS statewide 936 Hobart
30 January 2009
McCANN: Minister Peter Garrett has given us acall. Good morning to you, Minister.
GARRETT: Good morning, Roisin.
McCANN: I'm not sure if you heard Christine Milne and Calton Frame from Gunns talking earlier this morning. Can I just first of all establish whether or not you heard that?
GARRETT: No, I didn't hear them speak.
McCANN: Senator Christine Milne, if I can do a rough job of paraphrasing, was suggesting that the Herzfeld report, as it was released, had significance for what was going on now. So, I guess, the first question is: was the Herzfeld report, in any way, part of the deliberations of your office in looking at the approval process?
GARRETT: Well, I did consider the Herzfeld report in considering the approvals in relation to Gunns. So the answer to that is that it was a part of my deliberations, along with a lot of other relevant material that came through to me from the Independent Experts Group and advice from my Department as well.
McCANN: Do you think that report is still relevant?
GARRETT: Yes, I do. The critical thing in this issue is that my decision previously is to approve some of the modules under Minister Turnbull's original conditions, but not to approve others. And the ones I haven't approved are the ones that go to the commissioning of the mill, the issues of effluent dispersal and potential impacts on matters of national environment significance and, also, monitoring and remediation strategy.
So, what I've really said is that I won't make a final decision on approval, nor a final decision on whether any additional conditions would need to be applied to a final approval until that hydrodynamic modelling is completed. And that's the basis of my decision and that's on the basis of information that I received, including the Herzfeld report.
McCANN: Do you think then Gunnswere right to state that the pulp mill technology will meet approval requirements? Do they have sufficient information to be able to make that statement to the Stock Exchange?
GARRETT: Well, my concern about the statement that Gunns put out went to the fact that it's potentially misleading in it seems to suggest that, in fact, I've given an approval under module L when, in fact, I haven't. And, I mean, the whole point of my not giving an approval to those conditions is that I want the scientists to have the benefit of real time hydrodynamic modelling. We need to have four season modelling on the potential impact of the dispersal of the effluent, the sediments, and so on and so forth, and we need to do that in a way which provides both the Independent Experts Group, which provides me with advice, and also, me, as the final deciding minister, with the absolute accurate data and information that's necessary. And that that will take some time to do. It must be done properly. And until it's done, we can't have, I don't think, you know, a really ongoing discussion -and, certainly, I can't -about the merits, or otherwise, of the views that have been put.
McCANN: So were you surprised by the statement that was made?
GARRETT: Yes, I was.
McCANN: In what way?
GARRETT: Well, I think that the conditions that I've set in terms of the already existing approvals and the fact that I haven't approved these three modules, makes perfectly clear that there cannot be a final decision on approval, and neither am I in a position to make comments about that final approval until the modelling's completed.
McCANN: Were the trigger levels and I'm, I've got to admit that I'm struggling to keep up scientifically here, but the trigger levels that are being referred to in module L, have they been watered down?
GARRETT: No, they haven't. I mean, nothing's been done in any of the modules, either those that have been approved or those that haven't been approved, that relaxes the very strict trigger levels and maximum limits that are setout in condition 32.
And, in fact, I've strengthened those requirements, because I added a new condition, which was condition 43A, which ensures that if any of those limits are exceeded, then that would be a breach, which would be subject to criminal and civil sanctions under the EPBC Act.
So nothing's been done to relax strict trigger levels, and that includes things like dioxins, and furans, you know, suspended solids, and so on and so forth.
But more critical than that, until we've had the benefit of the real time hydrodynamic modelling, with all the necessary data fed into that modelling and the scientific advice that will come from it -and it is independent -an Independent Experts Group. It's a group of credible scientists who provide information on the science, as they're required to, to the Minister. Then I won't be in a position to make a final decision on whether or not to approve.
McCANN: Why did you not release the Herzfeld report under commercial-in-confidence, giving commercial-in-confidence reasons?
GARRETT: The original decision not to release the report was made by an official in the Department. That was appealed by Senator Milne. I expressed the view at the time that I thought that it was important that so long as commercial-in-confidence and other relevant FOI issues were considered, we ought to have transparency, particularly in this issue because there's so much public interest.
My department then determined that the report should be released, and I supported the release of that report. But that was then appealed by Gunns, and now that process has led to Gunns determining that, in fact, they're going to allow the report to be released.
McCANN: Now that the report has been released though, we've got another time of a bit of confusion. When do you think we can get to a stage of having a very clear idea of where -what effluent is going into the sea and where it will affect, or not, the areas around Tasmanian waters that are under the Tasmanian Government's control and Commonwealthorders under your control?
GARRETT: Look, Roisin, I know that this is a pretty long and extensive process, and I hear the frustration of people when they call into you and I've spoken to people around the state and in Launceston as well.
I mean, I've just got to repeat what I've said before: we inherited a set of conditions by Malcolm Turnbull that approved this mill. We said that we would ensure that those conditions would not be approved and imposed unless matters of national environment significance were properly considered.
I think there were some deficiencies in the way in which Minister Turnbull provided that approval, and so I have said that I won't approve the three modules that we've been discussing until such time as the work is done, in terms of hydrodynamic modelling and considering the potential impact of the effluent and the discharge into Commonwealth marine waters and on nationally environmentally significant matters.
Now, you've asked me the question about timing. The fact of the matter is that it's going to take 12 months for real time modelling, and that's the four seasons. Four seasons, not in one day, but in one year.
McCANN: It can be four seasons in one day in Tasmania.
McCANN: Or if it gets too close to Victoria, we could be completely stuffed.
GARRETT: Oh yeah, it's incredible isn't it? And anyway -and subsequent to that, at least another six months time before I'll have an idea on the basis of what's come back to me in relation to the scientific Independent Experts Group evaluation of that modelling. And then there's further time to enable the proponent -in this case Gunns and the department -to work through any issues that are unresolved.
So we've got a period of time still to go on this, but I wanted tomake sure that we will make any decision in the future on the basis of having absolutely thorough information in front of me, as a Minister, which enables me to determine and to make a final decision. And I can't do that, and I made the decision that I couldn't do that, and I had advice that I couldn't properly do that, including legal advice, until such time as a full scale of hydrodynamic modelling, real time modelling, was done in understanding the potential impacts of the effluent discharge on Commonwealth marine waters.
McCANN: Just to finish up at 22 past 9 on 936 ABC Hobart and ABC Northern Tasmania, Calton Frame said to us that they in no way were suggesting that module L had been approved. On their release it says, and this is the statement that went to the Stock Exchange: The board believes that the mill will clearly operate within the effluent trigger levels approved by the federal minister in module L, following advice from the CSIRO and the Independent Expert Group. Do you share that belief?
GARRETT: Well look, I've got the paragraph that you're referring to in front of me, Roisin, and it's slightly different from what you've read. But my
McCANN: What -in what way?
GARRETT: Well, it says finalise and complete information from the CSIRO, the Independent Expert Group and approved by the federal Environment Minister in module L has determined appropriate trigger outputs which lead to the Herzfeld report to the IEG being superseded.
Now, my view about that paragraph -this is why I've made apublic intervention -is that it's potentially misleading, in that it suggests that there has been an approval of module L by the Federal Environment Minister, and that's not the case.
McCANN: Okay. Peter Garrett, we'll leave it there. I'm -there must be two different releases here, because I'm looking at a paragraph that I've -that's got just three lines in it. So it may be that this is the press release that's gone out and the Stock Exchange statement was slightly different. But we'll investigate thatas well. It would be good if your office could send us through the one that you've got as well
GARRETT: Oh no, I've
McCANN: just so we can check our information.
GARRETT: Well no, Roisin, I've read it from the same release. It's in inverted commas.It starts off, finalised and complete information.
But can I just bring this to a conclusion by pointing out one other aspect of it, and that is that when I wrote to Mr Gay about this issue, I specifically said that until such time as the hydrodynamic modelling is concluded, and that it must be concluded, and this -I'm not quoting directly, but this is the essence of what I've said -the modelling must be done and any results of that modelling incorporated into the environmental impact management plan before I could approve it as a complete plan.
And that's the basis for not having an approval of those three conditions. And until such time as the modelling is done, I won't be in a position to make a final decision.
McCANN: Peter Garrett, thanks for your time this morning.
GARRETT: Thanks Roisin.