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Interview with Madonna King, ABC Brisbane
14 September 2009
KING: Youve heard Anna Bligh saying it is non-negotiable. It will now go to the Federal Government. Now bear in mind this dam was first announced more than three years ago I think April three years ago. But whether Traveston Dam will go ahead or not is now in the hands of the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett.
Minister, good morning.
GARRETT: Good morning, Madonna.
KING: This was announced more than three years ago that Traveston Dam would go ahead. Does it usually take this long to get to your desk?
GARRETT: Well look it varies very much from project to project, Madonna but there has been a lot of work that has been undertaken on this particular proposal and sometimes it does take a long time.
KING: So what happens once you get this report?
GARRETT: The draft report with the conditions has come through to my Department, I understand. The Coordinator General seeks comments from the Department. That will take a couple of weeks and then the final report will come through to me, I then have 30 days to finally consider the report in its final form. I can add another 30 days if I wish under the legislation and if I think I need further information I can actually stop the clock on those 30 day periods to get further information.
Once I have done that and I am satisfied that I have got all the information in front of me that I need I take the Departments advice, the information I have sought if I have sought extra information, and any other matters under the legislation that I am required to consider and then I make a decision.
KING: And are you willing to overturn a decision by your Department if you think it is the wrong decision?
GARRETT: Well, my role is to ensure that I faithfully and fully follow the requirements set out under the Act, Madonna and all of the decisions of environment ministers are public decisions, they are challengeable in law, I have to provide a statement of reasons.
My predecessors have had a number of their decisions overturned. My own position is that I will look very carefully at the advice that my Department provides for me and I will look very carefully at what my requirements under the EPBC Act are and then I will make a decision on that basis.
KING: But will your decision be based on environmental issues?
GARRETT: Absolutely. I mean that is the requirement that I have to meet. The question here with Traveston is whether there will be impacts on matters of national environment significance. I am not looking at state planning issues, I am not looking at issues that fall outside the purview of the national environmentally significant issues and they are the lungfish, the turtle and the Great Sandy Strait Ramsar site.
So it is confined to those particular matters of national environment significance.
KING: Given their national environmental significance is it something you would consult the local people on or its gone beyond that?
GARRETT: Well I have already visited the area and I have met with the local groups and I would look very closely at the submissions that I have received. I have already seen a number of the submissions that have come through. If I think there is the requirement for further information on my part or indeed consultation on the basis of what I get through, which incidentally I havent seen yet, then I will give some thought to it. But there has been pretty extensive awareness on my part of those local issues.
KING: So are you saying that it would take an awful lot to overrule the Queensland Coordinator General who has looked into these issues?
GARRETT: Look I wouldnt go that far and it wouldnt be proper for me to do it, Madonna because as I have said I havent seen the report yet and I wont for sometime. So we are still in the last stages of the process and I think the thing for me to say is that along with quite a lot of other of these decisions that I am required to make, I act as a regulator. I want to make sure that I make decisions that are faithful to the legislation I am required to actually prosecute and enforce and I will do that by making sure that that the environment standards are set as high as I believe they need to be on those matters that I have jurisdiction over.
KING: And in doing that would you be prepared to go against a Labor Premier being Labor yourself?
GARRETT: Well those are not material matters for me. It is very clear that when I come to make this decision I have to consider the advice, I have to consider the national environment legislation and I have to consider the matters of national environment significance. Now, on that basis of course I am aware of the views of the Premier, I am aware of the views of the Government the Queensland Government – but they are not material to my decision making process. Neither should they be, even though obviously I am aware of them.
KING: Do you check your decision with the Prime Minister or is it the buck stops with you?
GARRETT: No, the buck stops absolutely with me and I have been at pains to point that out in the past when I have made decisions. For example I made the decision to not process the original Waratah Coal proposal because of the impact it would have had on the wilderness and heritage values of Shoalwater Bay. I apply conditions to decisions that come through to me which may or may not be something which various state governments see in favour. But the decision of the environment minister in these cases is as a stand alone regulator so I take those decisions in that way. That is understood by the Government both federally and by state governments.
KING: So if there are no extensions and every thing goes according to plan, a decision should be made in the next month or so?
GARRETT: No it could be longer than that. Given that I have got 30 days to consider and then an additional 30 days and given that I havent received the advice from the Department and I havent seen the report it would be premature for us to be putting dates on the conclusion of this matter.
KING: Minister, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
GARRETT: Thanks, Madonna.