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

Outcomes of EPHC Meeting; National Waste Policy; announcement of an e-waste recycling scheme; container deposit legislation; oil spill inquiry; environmental and other impacts of the oil spill; Victorian fuel quality issue; Britney Spears

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop interview - Environment Protection & Heritage Council Meeting, Grand Hotel, Perth
5 November 2009

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GARRETT: Today environment ministers have made an absolute landmark decision in both agreeing a National Waste Policy for this country and also, for the first time, a national recycling scheme to be operated by industry, with coregulation by the Commonwealth, for computers and televisions; as well as a number of other decisions that we have made.

Today’s meeting is a very important one because for the first time we have a national recycling scheme for computers and TVs – e-waste - which is continuing to grow and grow and where there is a very strong demand on the part of both the community, industry and of governments to address this problem. And I am really pleased that today, not only do we have a National Waste Policy - and we have come on the back of many years of inaction in this area at the national level - but we have also got a very powerful coregulatory scheme agreed by ministers and as well as that, a number of other decisions that we have taken.

Just to say one more thing, we recognise that issues like e-waste need national leadership. Today, we have provided it. But we are doing it in a way which brings community, industry and governments together as one. When we do that we get great results and today is a great result for the community and it means that within a really short period of time we will see a much higher recycling rate for computers and televisions than we have had so far. We are sitting at around 10 per cent, I reckon we can get up over 80 per cent in a period of time once we have got this scheme underway. And that is important for us because of increasing pressure on landfills, I think a very strong feeling in the community that we can recycle well and that we need to recycle well into the future, and also knowing that the industry and the community have worked together to bring us to this point.

So it is a good day for recycling today, here in Western Australia, and it is a very significant breakthrough agreement by state and Commonwealth ministers to deliver a National Waste Policy as well.

JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE – Container Deposit Legislation]

GARRETT: Well in relation to that matter, we have looked at interim material that has come through. We recognise that there is going to need to be finalised material in terms of a report and research brought forward to us. I remain open-minded about this and want it proceeded in an appropriate and in an orderly fashion. We need to be fully possessed of the full report, that will come to us out of session, we will continue to look very closely at that matter.

But in the meantime what we have been able to do is strike an agreement for a breakthrough, first time ever, landmark recycling scheme for televisions and computers. I am really pleased with that result today, and we will continue to work hard on these other issues as the months unfold.

JOURNALIST: What specifically was holding back on a plastic container recycling scheme?

GARRETT: Well we need to get finalised information and material in front of us which is then properly tested, where the data is properly tested, and where we have an opportunity to consider where it will fall in a potential approach and until such time as that material has come through in a concluded fashion, it is appropriate for us to note it, to welcome the fact that the work is underway, and come back to it when it is finished.

JOURNALIST: So how long could that take?

GARRETT: Well look I don’t think it is going to take longer than six months. It is work which I think we all recognise is already underway and we want to see it finished when it can be done properly.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] e-waste scheme will there be some sort of levy on electronic goods?

GARRETT: This is not a scheme which involves a levy, this is a scheme which involves computer and television manufacturers and importers either organising to take back e-waste or to be a part of an accredited scheme, and they can make that decision. There won’t be any additional costs on the consumer for recycling. There may be an additional small cost in terms of unit cost per item, which take into account an accredited scheme. And the choice modelling that we had done which informed our decision today showed that the public is very prepared to pay a very reasonable cost, and I think it will be a very small cost, for a national scheme of this type and scale to be up and running.

JOURNALIST: But how will it work under the scheme, what do we do?

GARRETT: Look under the scheme industry will bring forward a series of specific, accredited measures which will mean that once a computer or a television is sold there will be arrangements in place for that computer to be taken back and then to be recycled. The Government will provide whatever regulatory framework we need to, to make sure that there are no free riders in the scheme.

We have worked very closely with the industry and with non-government organisations on this scheme, we will now start to flesh out the details. But because everybody is agreed that this is the right course of action for this country I am absolutely confident that not only will we end up with a very workable scheme but also a very successful one.

JOURNALIST: What will the costs be? You said a small cost, roughly how much?

GARRETT: Well in terms of the modelling that we have had so far, the costs could be anywhere around $1, $1.50, $1.80 - I would say no more than $2. We need to see what that cost is likely to be when the scheme is infolded but it will be a very, very minor cost for a very, very major benefit.

JOURNALIST: But the people, they take it back and then do they recycle it? It is up to the actual businesses to recycle it?

GARRETT: Look there will be a range of different logistical operations in relation both to product kinds and also the states themselves. But the point about it is simply this – today’s decisions means that we take out of landfill significant, significant amounts of material, electronic e-waste material. And we do that in a way which has government and companies and communities working together.

And I reckon that this is a fantastic day for the country because we have seen the big plasma TVs come onto the market, we have seen people sort of turning over their computers once every two, three, four years, we have got a lot of material out there which we want to see much, much greater recycling for. That is going to happen as a consequence of today’s decision and it is the industry that will be running it out with the community and the government will provide the right framework for it, - the right kind of result.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] inquiry won’t be open to public hearings, is it your understanding that those hearings will be public?

GARRETT: As to whether the Commissioner determines to have public hearings or not in relation to the oil spill inquiry is a matter for him,. My expectation would be that he would give pretty open thought to the opportunity for public inquiry participation. But it is a matter for the Commissioner.

What I would say is that the terms of reference for this Commission are comprehensive. They will provide every opportunity for the inquiry to consider all of the relevant matters in relation to what has been a very, very serious, very serious matter, and I have every confidence that Mr Borthwick, who is a public servant of eminent standing, highly respected and recognised as such in the field, that he will conduct a very thorough inquiry and if he deems it appropriate and necessary for there to be public participation he will make that decision.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett are you concerned at all about these consistent reports that the oil spill has seriously damaged the livelihoods of Indonesian fishermen?

GARRETT: I haven’t seen anything other than what has been reported up to this time in the media. I think any impacts of this oil spill need to be fully understood and clearly the inquiry will give us the opportunity to get a full understanding about that.

And remember that very early on I made sure that we had an appropriate environmental monitoring scheme in place to determine whether there were any impacts on the environment. My expectation is that that monitoring plan will run over a significant period of time, just to make sure that we have all the necessary and accurate information that we need to have after an event of this kind.

JOURNALIST: What about over the last 10 weeks, did Mr Watson spend anymore time than 5 days in the water and were there any other commitments beyond that by the Department of the Environment to monitoring?

GARRETT: Well I think the important thing about the long-term monitoring plan and the work that is being done now that we have put that into place was that we sought the advice of the CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and other experts as to what the most appropriate framework for a monitoring program would be. That work has been done. I expect additional work will clearly be done now and in fact some is already underway. As soon as we receive the results from that work we will make them publicly available, as we did with the work done originally at my insistence.

And I have always said that this is a very serious matter and we have treated it seriously. We will make sure that every amount of relevant information in respect of environmental impacts is made available. If we think there’s a necessity for more information and more work to be done, we will get it done.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect that the death toll will rise from 17 birds, I think it is at the moment?

GARRETT: Look I really don’t know. I hope, of course, as I think everybody listening and watching would feel the same way, that there is minimal impact. And so I am not going to start speculating on whether there will be increases and what kinds of increases there may or may not be. We will make sure that we continue to do the work that we undertook in the first instance as a consequence of this event.

JOURNALIST: How would you rate your performance as Environment Minister in responding to this incident?

GARRETT: I would say that I responded immediately, quickly and thoroughly in relation to this incident as was the response of relevant authorities and the Government as well.

I went to the site, I instituted an environmental monitoring plan immediately, we took expert advice on the best way in which to approach that task, and as you know we setup, in cooperation with the West Australian Government, a wildlife refuge centre in Broome. We had experts in the field and we had observations and surveillance underway always recognising that this accident was a critical one and that it was important for us to have a good and clear understanding as soon as we possibly could on what the environmental impacts were. We did that work and we will continue to approach the aftermath of this incident in that same way.

JOURNALIST: Will it be the Government’s or PTTEP’s responsibility to compensate those fishermen whose livelihoods have been lost or will be damaged by this incident?

GARRETT: Questions for compensation and other matters are clearly going to be issues which will need to be properly and adequately addressed and resolved between respective governments, agencies and the company.

What I would say about it is simply this: we take very seriously the proper and full understanding of the likely impacts of an incident of this scale on the environment - that is my responsibility as Environment Minister and it is one that I took not only seriously but I took into immediate account and acted upon. And I will still continue to do that.

You will have noticed from the announcement made today from Minister Ferguson that I am now reviewing the compliance measures around the approvals that relate to the EPBC requirements under the Act. We will do that thoroughly too and again, will communicate very fully to the public any matters that arise out of that which we think are of necessity or public interest.

JOURNALIST: Were you aware that John Wardrop, the environmental consultant appointed by PTTEP, has not been up to the site at all? And if you are, does that concern you?

GARRETT: Look I am not aware of that and frankly the matters that PTTEP and others do in relation to who they contract and otherwise are matters for them.

What I can say is that I made sure as a matter of absolute urgency and priority that we put in place an environmental monitoring plan. I did it on the best advice available to me by marine scientists and others. It was informed by the biologist who had worked on the Moreton Island oil spill. I am very confident that the way in which we structured that particular plan and its continuing life means that we will have a thorough and comprehensive understanding of any impacts.

JOURNALIST: Question from Melbourne, will your department be taking action over the contaminated fuel that damaged over 1200 cars in Victoria earlier this year?

GARRETT: Look I know about this incident and what I would say is that the federal legislation in relation to fuel regulation is about environmental quality. Matters that relate to fuel that is potentially tampered with is a matter for the states and their consumer affairs bureaus.

If there is evidence of widespread and comprehensive interventions with fuel as a consequence of this matter I would be more than willing for the Commonwealth to look at it. But for the moment I have got to say that this is an isolated incident in Victoria, it falls properly within the province of the Consumer Affairs departments and authorities there. The purpose of the Commonwealth regulating fuel standards is to make sure that they don’t have unexpected or poor environmental impacts, but if we see the incident spreading, if it becomes comprehensive and a national issue, then of course I will have a look at it.

JOURNALIST: Did you meet Britney Spears while you were here, one rock star to another?

GARRETT: [Laughs] Thanks very much everybody.

[ENDS]

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