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

Environmental monitoring of Montara well oil spill; Home Insulation Program; Opposition position on climate change

E&OE Transcript interview with Fran Kelly radio national breakfast
29 September 2009

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KELLY: Well, Peter Garrett is the Federal Minister for the Environment and he joins us this morning.

Minister, welcome to Breakfast.

GARRETT: Good morning, Fran.

KELLY: Minister, is Gilly Llewellyn [from WWF] right, out of sight means out of mind?

GARRETT: Absolutely not, Fran. In fact I have been to the sight myself to make sure that the measures that we put in place as soon as this accident happened were comprehensive and would take into account any potential impacts on the environment.

I mean we have got three things happening here: we have got the actual overall national plan which swings into action and did straight away, weve got a response plan which weve developed with the Marine Safety Authority in the event that oil does reach Ashmore or Cartier islands, and I have also got a specific long-term environmental monitoring plan where my Department now has the role of environment and scientific coordination under that plan. We have got a vessel out at sea at the moment with wildlife experts on board and were treating this very seriously, as we should be.

But at this point in time what I can say is that the response to this difficult accident continues. I am hopeful that the company will succeed in the quite difficult drilling operations that are underway in the next day or two. And at this point in time, luckily I have to say because of the weather conditions, were still seeing sheen generally concentrated in patches to the north and north-east of the well head platform and we dont have, at the moment, any reported incidences of effect on cetaceans or any elements of toxicity and contamination of fish in the area.

KELLY: And who do you have monitoring that, the water quality and the impact on the marine life?

GARRETT: I have a team of marine biologists who have come into the area from the University of Queensland, Fran, specialists in sea birds and marine mammals.

KELLY: And where are they? Have they been in a boat to the areas of the oil slick?

GARRETT: Thats right. They went out on Friday and they will be out for about a week. We are doing water sampling, were making sure that we monitor very carefully the area of the slick and in fact whether there are any impacts on wildlife at all.

I am taking this very seriously, Fran because I recognise that it is a very serious issue. But I want to make absolutely clear that some of the claims that we have heard from the Greens and others that we dont have plans in place to deal with this and we arent working them through are absolutely untrue. Were head down and bum up on this.

KELLY: Well the Greens have been very critical about the lack of response. They said it shouldnt take an NGO to visit the Timor Sea and they are talking about the WWF scientific journey out there.

I think little was known that you had a vessel out there with scientists measuring water toxicity too. So have you had tests sent back, water samples sent back to labs on the mainland for testing?

GARRETT: Well look, the Greens are wrong, Fran on this, I have got to say. I mean there have been surveillance flights that have continued on a daily basis. There have been vessels that have been effecting dispersant in and around this site ever since the accident first took place.

KELLY: I dont think that is the point they are making. I think it is notion of some kind of scientific team visiting the site and on the water and taking water samples so you can actually test what is happening to the ocean there and the marine life.

GARRETT: Yes, well look, as I have just said we have got a team of marine biologists that are doing that. Those samples will be taken and we will continue to do that sampling and we are also putting in place what I think is going to be very critical, which is the long-term scientific environmental monitoring.

There is a wildlife response centre which has been established in Broome, working closely with the West Australian authorities. And the fact that we have a survey vessel out in the area doing that proper scientific sampling and testing to see whether there is any impact or not I think is absolutely necessary. But it is well underway.

KELLY: When we spoke to Gilly, Doctor Gilly Llewellyn yesterday, she described the oil spill on the surface, she spoke of black residue on the surface of the water - this is the water where they were sailing. She also described a heavy wax like substance, a yellowy thick substance, gluggy substance, that looked like hard cheese.

Have you heard reports about that? Did you see anything like that when you flew over a couple of weeks ago?

GARRETT: Look I heard those reports, Fran. No I didnt when I flew over, although I did see the sheen. I mean AMSAs advice is that it might be weathered oil but I havent seen it and I cant comment on it.

What I would say though, is that because we have had a response plan in place with AMSA from day one, because we have got clean-up equipment on site with the dispersants, because were really focussing very strongly on whether or not there would be potential impacts, particularly on the Commonwealth reserves further out at sea, and because we continue to have the aerial surveillance, I am confident that we have all the appropriate and adequate measures in place to deal with what is obviously a very difficult situation.

And because we also have a long term environmental monitoring plan in place and biologists and marine experts on site out at sea as well, I am confident that we will pick up any impacts that may be taking place on wildlife as soon as they do and take appropriate responses.

KELLY: And the company involved, PTT Exploration and Production Australasia, hasnt said much about the environment fall-out of the leak. I know you have been negotiating with the company behind the scenes, what will be required of PTTEP in terms of the clean up and ongoing long-term environmental monitoring?

GARRETT: Well Fran, what I have done is make sure that we have got the best science informing the Governments response on the environmental side of response, which I have just mentioned.

We have got the Australian institute of Marine Science and CSIRO and other experts providing input and my expectation is that the company will meet all the costs that are associated with monitoring and the operational phase and that that would go on into the longer term.

I have to say that my understanding is that they have been very focused on the actual business of getting the drill rig properly in place so that the spill itself can be contained. But they must meet all of the conditions and requirements that have been identified by the Commonwealth and I expect that they will.

KELLY: It is a quarter to seven on RN Breakfast. Were speaking to Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett.

Minister, back home the Governments insulation scheme, the pink batts scheme has been beset with problems allegations of widespread rorting and waste, of fly-by-nighters doing dodgy, dangerous work, of collusion and overcharging. There is a lot of money at stake in this program, almost $4 billion. What are you doing, given all these concerns have had public airing, what are you doing to ensure the scheme is operating as it should?

GARRETT: Well I guess the first thing to say, Fran is that we have got a very, very small number of complaints given the number of homes that we have insulated and it is an extraordinary scheme. We have now got about 335,000 homes that have been insulated since February and that is an extraordinary roll-out of insulation and one that I am particularly proud of.

Look, it is the case that there is a small minority of compliance issues. It is about 0.4 per cent is the percentage of complaints. But I am taking them seriously. I wont hesitate to enforce compliance, that includes deregistration and legal action if necessary. We have got a number of robust measures out there a ban on quoting without a physical site inspection, we have got extra field auditors out in the field. I expect 6000 homes to be inspected over the next six weeks.

This is a hugely successful program and it has provided the stimulus effect that the Government said it would, it is providing the opportunity for householders to have insulated ceiling, reduce their energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we do have a number of strong measures in place and I wont hesitate if I think there are other measures that are necessary to deal with compliance issues, to actually deal with them.

But I have to stress it is a very small percentage of complaints that we have got, we are following them through very closely, but this is the most successful energy efficiency program that we have ever seen in the country and it is going gangbusters.

KELLY: Peter Garrett, I know you are not the minister responsible for climate change but you are the environment minister and I know you have an interest in this area. The Federal Government has of course given the Opposition a deadline for handing over its amendments.

Well now the Opposition Leader is demanding the Government release a number of things including a report by Morgan Stanley on the impact of carbon trading scheme, or the emissions trading scheme, on the electricity sector.

Isnt it only right and fair and proper that the Government does release that publicly so that the Opposition knows what those recommendations are?

GARRETT: Look, Fran the situation that Mr Turnbull faces in the responses that he has to the climate change issue and also the emissions trading scheme go to the fact that we heard this morning that there is a small percentage only of his own party room members who support his position.

And I mean really, Mr Turnbull can call for this or for that, there is plenty of information, a most comprehensive process in terms of the green papers and white papers, consultation that has been undertaken up to now, Treasury modelling and the like, to inform us as to what the appropriate measures are for an emissions trading scheme.

But the Leader of the Opposition is in a minority in his own party on climate change, where you have reports this morning saying that a significant number, significant number of members of the Liberal Party room are not in favour of the Opposition Leader or even the Shadow Minister Hunts position. And that means that we are not going to get the action on climate change that we need.

It is means that the Liberal Party are not providing the appropriate constructive response to the most crucial issue frankly, that this country faces. And I think it is extraordinary for Mr Turnbull for be sort of fraying around in the wind and playing on the margins with issues when in actual fact what he needs to do is unite his party room so that we can have a constructive and appropriate response to the legislation that the Government has brought through; legislation which is vitally important.

KELLY: Peter Garrett, thank you very much for joining us.

GARRETT: Thanks, Fran.

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