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Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Mornings
27 August 2009
KELLY: Well, perhaps the limits of Federal environmental law were exposed yesterday when Peter Garrett gave the green light for the expanded Gorgon gas project in WA.
In announcing his decision the minister made it clear he was not required to consider the location of the gas processing plant beyond Barrow Island, that's despite many calling for the site to be shifted to the mainland.
The project also comes with a greenhouse footprint, adding at least five million tonnes of carbon to our national emissions. Once again, this is something the minister did not have to consider, in making his decision.
Peter Garrett, welcome to Breakfast.
GARRETT: Good morning, Fran.
KELLY: Minister, the key environmental criticism is the site, Barrow Island, for this plant. There are obvious alternatives on the mainland, there's a gas hub being set up, did your legislation actually prevent you from proposing an alternative site for the project?
GARRETT: The legislation doesn't prevent it Fran, but because the previous Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had already approved the first two trains. The proposed action that came to me didn't include a consideration of those proposed two trains which had already been approved being located elsewhere, so all I was being required to do was determine where there were any impacts on matters of national environment significance of the third train.
I also did, in the course of my decision, calibrate the original conditions that Malcolm Turnbull had placed on the initial proposal to strengthen them, but I wasn't, under the legislation, asked to, nor was the controlled action referred to me, to consider alternative sites, and I didn't.
KELLY: Could you have broadened it, I mean was this frustrating for you that you couldn't consider these, did you try to, would you have been able to?
GARRETT: It wasn't frustrating for me. I wasn't about to, because the Gorgon proposal has been afoot for a considerable period of time, the approvals were in place, and they were Government approvals, and I think anyone listening to the program would recognise that the desirability of the Government providing for consistency and certainty through the regulatory framework, is absolutely essential.
Look, I visited Barrow, and had a good look at both what was proposed and what had happened there and I can see that they have done a very good job on issues like quarantine. My own view, and the view that came to me by way of advice from the department, was that any impact on the species that are listed under my Act could be and would be properly managed in terms of conditions.
I've applied a fairly significant and quite strict set of conditions for the company which they've indicated this morning that they're willing to meet, so I'm confident that the way in which we've actually approached it is robust and proper under the legislation, and we won't have an impact on matters of national environment significance.
KELLY: Okay, I'll come back to that in a moment, but there's another potential headache looming for you, I guess Chevron, which is the project operator, has made it clear that it eventually wants to at least double the size of the original operation approved almost two years ago, so increase again, even beyond what you've approved yesterday.
GARRETT: Well again, we'll take an application as it comes through the EPBC Act, Fran in relation to any additional proposals that Chevron want to bring through. I think it's important to recognise that we go through the approvals process on environment conditions with the West Australian Government, we're only in this case under the legislation, required to look at whether there are listed and threatened species, or migratory species, and Commonwealth Marine waters impacts, all the other matters are dealt with by WA.
Of course the officials work closely together and I notice the conditions that the West Australian minister placed on a whole range of matters around the Chevron proposal. But the fact is that we're going through a significant potential resources boom again around LNG in Western Australia, and I expect that there'll be more proposals of this kind, not only from Chevron, but from others.
KELLY: Yes, and which is going to have ramifications, particularly for our greenhouse footprint you'd think, our carbon footprint. I know you weren't required to consider the carbon footprint with this project, but official estimates by the company and by the WA Government, show that even if the unproven carbon burial proposed by Gorgon is successful, Australia's carbon footprint
will rise by more than five million tonnes. That's at a time when we're looking for carbon cuts. Does that worry you, as Environment Minister, does that trouble you?
GARRETT: Well, I think the key here is to have a carbon pollution reduction scheme that's afoot and running, which enables a price in the marketplace to go onto CO2, and that's what's so frustrating about the views that the Opposition have taken in relation to a CPRS, and we now have the National Party literally in opposition to it, and the second…
KELLY: But that's not going to change the fact that these emissions will be…
GARRETT: Well, I think the point about it, Fran is that we need to have a price for carbon in the market, so that it can guide both investment decisions, and also in the longer term, see us get on the path to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
And the second thing to say is that there is a significant carbon capture and storage component to the Gorgon site, it will certainly be a really important aspect of the project. That storage of course will be closely monitored by the Commonwealth and WA Governments, but in the longer term, we have to do two things: we have to continue to provide an economic basis for the country whilst in the overall totality of the economy, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Now you're right, I don't have, under the EPBC Act, specific carriage over that matter in terms of my determinations, but in the longer term, it's critical for us to have a CPRS scheme in place so that there's a price for carbon in the market.
KELLY: There is a review of your legislation, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, you just referred to there, it's due on your desk by 31 October. One of the things it will canvass is a greenhouse trigger for major projects. After your experience on this project, do you think that's needed, that's a good idea?
GARRETT: Well, I don't want to make any second guesses until that report actually reaches me, Fran, and it wouldn't be proper for me to do that. I think that what we've seen over the last 18 months though is the development of a comprehensive plan to get Australia on the pathway to reducing emissions whether it's through specific issues, such as are proposed in the CPRS, whether it's our energy efficiency agenda, and a range of other matters. And I think the most important thing that we can do is identify all the necessary steps, all the necessary steps, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and get on with the job.
Now that's what I'm committed to doing on the energy efficiency side of the equation, I know it's what Minister Wong is focused very strongly on the climate change side of the equation, and we'll have a look at those recommendations when they come to me in final form and the Government will consider them.
KELLY: Minister, your decision very much focused on protected and endangered species yesterday, you talked about the quarantining. You're convinced Chevron and others will do a good job on the quarantining, you specifically mentioned the flatback turtle, and there are reviews built in place, if the endangered species habitats are affected by this project, but what if they are? What if it's found, five years into this gas project, that the flatback turtles' habitats are being destroyed, or affected? Will you stop it? I mean you just won't, will you?
GARRETT: Well, Fran, it's a hypothetical in terms of what you're putting to me now, although…
KELLY: Yes, but you need to have a plan in place.
GARRETT: Certainly it is the case that the company is required to provide a comprehensive long term marine turtle management plan, and it's to be developed in consultation with an expert panel, and I'll need to approve the plan. And there is a significant monitoring requirement, and the requirement for me to insist on contingency measures, if in fact we're seeing data come through that monitoring which indicates that there are significant impacts.
Now I will take that as I would, as any minister would, on the basis of the material that comes through to me. I have the right, under these conditions to veto actions in terms of the approval if the information in front of me indicates that we're seeing significant impact on that threatened species.
KELLY: Well some would say that that information is already there. Yesterday on Breakfast we were speaking to a scientist who's been working around Barrow for many years, for decades, Dr Andrew Burbridge, let's just hear what he told us yesterday about the turtle habitats.
DR ANDREW BURBRIDGE: The flat back turtle has major rookeries on Barrow Island, in particular right where they're proposing to build the LNG plant, so yes, there will be a threat to that turtle rookery, particularly from the light that's generated by the operation. It's by no means the only place where flat backs breed in Australia, but it is one of the most important.
KELLY: Minister, we're almost at the news, but Andrew Burbridge is convinced there's no way it can't affect it.
GARRETT: Well, the conditions are really clear about this in the approval, Fran. The turtle expert panel will provide the information necessary to ensure that we don't get reflective light happening from this proposal, which provides significant impact.
I'm confident given the amount of resources that have been given to the turtle management plan generally, and also the way in which we've structured the conditions, that we'll absolutely minimise any impacts.
KELLY: Peter Garrett, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
GARRETT: Thanks, Fran.
KELLY: Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.