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

Kimberley Strategic Assessment; Christmas Island phosphate mining proposal

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop interview - Gollarri Media, Broome
6 August 2009

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GARRETT: Its terrific to have the opportunity to visit Broome quickly on my way through to the Garma festival in Darwin after visiting the proposed site of the LNG development on Barrow Island, and to come into Goolarri Media which is an organisation that I have always admired and which I think does and absolutely fantastic job in the north west training young people in media with radio and television content that goes right around the region, and sometimes around Australia as well, and which the Government its extremely keen to see develop and build over time.

I have also had the opportunity to visit James Price Point and meet with some traditional owners there, an opportunity just to be onsite and have some informal discussions with traditional owners. What I would say about the proposal at James Price Point is this: the Government won't be rushed into making a decision about the proposal in front of us because it is important that we have a thorough and comprehensive evaluation through the Strategic Assessment drawing on all the relevant and necessary advice and information as will be needed before a decision will be made.

This is not a tick the box exercise at all, this is one of the most important and critical decisions that will be taken in the North West in coming years, and we take very seriously the environment of the Kimberley, we take very seriously the cultural values, and we take seriously the proper location of facilities which can provide long-term economic sustainability to the populations here. As you'd be aware, I have asked the National Heritage Council to evaluate cultural and natural values of the west Kimberly region. That's a process in its early stages and I expect that they won't come back to me with their advice until June of next year and in relation to final decisions on this proposal my exception also is that that will happen sometime in 2010.

So, the Government is committed to a robust, scientifically rigorous process, I will perform and fulfil my responsibilities as I am required to do as Minister under the EPBC Act. We're working closely in cooperation with Western Australia, I value that cooperation, and my expectation is that the process will continue, but it is not a process that can be rushed, nor should it be, it is a process that requires robust, considered and comprehensive assessment every step of the way, and that's my commitment.

JOURNALIST: What feedback did you get from the traditional owners out there and what are your thoughts on the site now that you've seen it?

GARRETT: Well I had an opportunity to speak with traditional owners in their capacity, and I don't propose to add anything other to those comments. It follows on from discussions we've have had in Canberra with proponents and with other stakeholders. And in relation to the site, it has been through a process of evaluation as a preferred site and now it's the case that there will be a series of important evaluations of all the relevant issues that need to be considered before a decision can be made.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]... in Canberra with the traditional owners and the KLC [inaudible] the prospects about getting a cut of the royalties, would that be something that would be looked at?

GARRETT: The Governments made its position clear about that through Minister Ferguson and Minister Macklin. My role is make sure, as a regulator, as an environmental regulator, that I set the bar at the level it needs to be set under the national environmental legislation. I'm committed to doing that, to having a proper comprehensive robust and legally ordered evaluation and assessment process.

JOURNALIST: How to you then feel about our State Premier saying that this project will go ahead no matter what if you then have the ultimate say? Would this be premature of Premier Barnett?

GARRETT: There are a number of views that have been put about this project. What I would say is simply this: this is not a ticking the box exercise by the Commonwealth. It is a critical and significant project evaluation under the EPBC Act through the terms of the Strategic Assessment Agreement that we've reached with Western Australia and my role and responsibility is to make sure that's done in a comprehensive and in an ordered fashion and that's what we'll be doing.

JOURNALIST: So is there an element of bluff then in the Premier's stance on this?

GARRETT: Well I make no running commentary about comments out there other than to say that the expectation that the public has both here in Broome and around Australia is that traditional owners, community groups, non-government organisations and companies, is for certainty, is for a process that is absolutely rigorous, robust and comprehensive, and its important that we get it right and its important that we do it properly and that is what I am committed to us doing and I think that's what the public expects of us.

JOURNALIST: Just when you're saying getting it right and doing it properly, one of the studies, the mega fauna study that is being conducted by Woodside, for the general public, how can you say to them this is going to be non-biased when it's the gas company that is going to be obviously producing LNG that is doing the mega fauna studies?

GARRETT: The thing to bear in mind is that advice that comes through to me as Minister is advice that comes from my department. We will ensure that all of the studies that are done are done in a way which meets the appropriate scientific benchmark for studies. If I think that there's additional material that's needed in order for my decision making then I'll call for it. My expectation is that there is a range of studies that will be taken over time, well look at all of them very closely, if we reckon that there needs to be additional information sought then we'll seek it.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

GARRETT: Bear in mind that the process for determining the location and finally making a decision on this proposal is identified in the framework of the assessment and that provides significant opportunities for stakeholder involvement, significant public input, and significant opportunities for the Commonwealth Environment Minister to make absolutely certain that in this case he has all the relevant necessary scientific information that they need. Once that material comes to me, and once that material has been considered by me, advice will be brought to me as a Minister and then we take a decision. Until that point in time my expectation is that we'll leave no stone unturned in making sure that we have all of the necessary critical environmental data and information in place before there is any decision making.

JOURNALIST: So you are happy to look at research from other sources....[inaudible]?

GARRETT: There's always the opportunity for people to bring forward information to me and to the department and we'd welcome it.

JOURNALIST: When push comes to shove sometime next year that you'll be the one who says yes or no?

GARRETT: It's absolutely clear under the Strategic Assessment, that in order to approve the environmental conditions of any proposed plan in the Kimberley that the Environment Minister provides that decision making role.

JOURNALIST: Christmas Island phosphates.... [inaudible]?

GARRETT: On the proposal of Christmas Island Phosphates to expand their activities, there is advice that is on its way though to me, when I get to Canberra I will have a look at that advice, and I'll also consider the public submissions that are in front of me and Ill look at them very thoroughly.

JOURNALIST: And the timeline?

GARRETT: No timelines on a decisions, as soon as is practical provided that we have done an absolutely thorough assessment of all the material in front of us.

[ENDS]

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