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

Container Deposit Legislation; Kimberley Strategic Assessment; oil spill; whaling

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Geoff Hutchinson, ABC Perth
6 November 2009

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HUTCHISON: Yesterday we talked expansively and you gave me your opinion about the idea of a national deposit scheme. And overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly you said yes, we would like it, we would be quite happy to have a deposit scheme, whereby we took our empties back to a recycling point. And despite hearing from those who brew and bottle who said it would cost more, that it would ruin kerbside recycling, it seems you were very enthusiastic and were hoping to hear state and federal environment ministers give such a scheme the green light. Well, it hasn't happened yet.

Peter Garrett is the Federal Environment Minister.

Mr Garrett, good morning to you.

GARRETT: Good morning, Geoff.

HUTCHISON: Overwhelming public support is how I've described the sentiment towards a national deposit scheme. What's holding it back?

GARRETT: Ministers want to be able to get the fully completed research on choice modelling which we put in place last time Geoff, and then look at the data, test it against the Commonwealth regulation requirements and then determine whether or not they want to take a next step in relation to CDL.

So, I've always said I'm open-minded about it. I want to do it in a way, in terms of our consideration, which is very effective and very thorough. We made a number of important decisions yesterday and there were some very good things which we've decided on there. But in relation to the CDL, there is more work that needs to come through to ministers before they'll make a next step decision.

HUTCHISON: Is there general support? Is there one state that's clearly against this idea?

GARRETT: Look, there are mixed views from the states. Some states are more in favour than others. I think it's fair to say South Australia already has a scheme in place. It's working there and it's one which South Australia feels pretty proud about.

Western Australia previously has expressed some enthusiasm for a scheme and I know you've got strong public support, you've just mentioned it in your preliminary remarks.

Some of the eastern states, including Victoria and New South Wales, have been less enthusiastic about it. They believe that potentially there are other ways in which we can reduce the amount of the plastic bottles in the waste stream.

It's one of those issues where, if we're going to make an additional step as environment ministers, we have to do it on a basis of consensus because that's how these ministerial councils work. In order to get good consensus working in these councils, my view has always been we need decent and proper information and the time to consider it. That's how we'll approach this issue next time around.

HUTCHISON: That's fair enough, but I just wonder how much more research needs to be done before everyone sees the merit of this? I mean, why aren't the results of 30 years of this scheme in South Australia a good enough indication of whether it works or not?

GARRETT: Well, there's two answers to that. The first is, there's nothing to stop other states going ahead and doing it now if they want to. I mean, if Western Australia and Western Australians feel that a CDL scheme is something which they want to get up and running, then they're perfectly entitled to do that and, you know, that's something which would be an option for the State Government here and for communities who feel strongly about it.

But in relation to the question about already existing schemes in place and their cost to the community, the fact is that through the federal regulatory process we have a number of technical economic matters which we've got to consider. There are things called regulatory impact statements. They have to go through the Office of Best Practice Management and we have to be able to demonstrate that there's an ultimate community benefit and that we're not bringing forward measures which have got disincentives in terms of their economics.

Now, there's quite a lot of vigorous debate about the South Australian scheme and whether it does or doesn't conform to that Commonwealth model. And what I've said is, I want the information to be - and the data - to be really thorough, presented to us in a way in which we can speak carefully and clearly about whether we want to take the next step there for a national scheme.

In the meantime, if states want to take up the cudgels on CDL and bring a scheme in, then they're entitled to do so.

HUTCHISON: My guest is the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett. You have to decide pretty soon on whether to approve a massive gas hub in the Kimberley region. Where are you at with that at the moment, given also that our attention has been really stolen in the last 10 weeks or so by the disaster that is the West Atlas situation? Where are you at with those two issues?

GARRETT: The assessment process for a potential on-site gas processing hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley is still ongoing, according to its time line. And I've also, as you probably know and your listeners, Geoff may know, got an assessment of the cultural and natural values of the Kimberley as a whole, which has been conducted by the National Heritage Council which advises me on those matters.

My expectation is that that work will continue to be done over the coming months. I don't expect to be making any indicative decisions about that matter, even including questions about final assessments, until much later in the year.

We have had some slippage in time because of the necessity to make sure that the work that we were getting done was thorough and I didn't end up in a position as minister sitting at my desk and saying, hang on a minute, I think I need more research on A, B, C, D or E. I want to make sure the research that comes through to me on this matter is absolutely thorough and comprehensive. It's underway, but it will take a while.

HUTCHISON: Can you confirm also that PTTEP Australasia will be held to the highest scrutiny over the West Atlas environmental disaster and that the Federal Government will continue to monitor the consequence of that oil leak?

GARRETT: Yes I can. And to that I would say that very early on, from day one, we had surveillance and monitoring for effected wildlife. We put into place a long-term monitoring plan straightaway. We have five short-term studies. They've all been completed. We've released the results from those studies. There's more results to come.

We've got seven longer-term programmes in place. Five of those have been triggered. I will make all of that information available and PTTEP are required not only to pay for all of that work, but to work cooperatively with us as we undertake that long-term monitoring.

As well as that, the terms of reference that Minister Ferguson released yesterday for the inquiry into the oil spill are comprehensive. They go to all of the relevant matters that everybody, the Government, public, state governments and others will need to and want to know about this matter.

And it will be exhaustive inquiry. And we will make absolutely sure not only that we enable a proper consideration of why the accident happened, but in the meantime we continue with not only the national plan that's already underway, but also with the long-term monitoring that I've got in place.

HUTCHINSON: Mr Garrett, the Japanese whaling fleet's going to head back to the Southern Ocean. The Steve Irwin is going to go off in pursuit of them. And all summer we'll take calls from people who say all you do is talk. All you do is talk about we have goals to eliminate whaling for good. We support changes within the IWC. We're going to be - it will be diplomatic levels with the Japanese.

You appear to have a rather different public view on this to what, I guess, people believed was a very strongly held private view about that Japanese fleet and the way it whales.

GARRETT: Look, I couldn't disagree with you more Geoff. I feel as strongly about the so-called scientific whaling that's conducted by the Japanese fleet in the Southern Oceans now, as I ever have, and we are resolutely opposed to it.

I'd just simply make the point to people about this issue, and that is that for the previous period of time under the former government, when we did have protests, when we did have wrist bands, when we did have campaigns, we saw the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean double. It doubled in the period - and I'm not playing politics on this, I'm just laying it out very clearly. Since we've been in government we have done a number of really critical things to address an issue which is no doubt very difficult.

We've intensified the diplomatic effort. We've now got a whole envoy. We've had demarches and we've raised it to the highest levels.

I've taken the most substantial conservation agenda to the IWC. We've actually committed ourselves to a completely different approach to this question of scientific whaling. We've said; if we want to study whales, let's study them alive not dead. We've put money on the table and we've invited other countries to join us in a Southern Ocean Research Partnership and that we will be joined by Latin countries and others in doing that.

We've also said that we want the IWC to reform as well and we're pushing very hard for what's called Article 8, what you might describe as the loop-hole, to be undertaken and considered in those meetings. And we've provided more leadership than ever before and we continue to have a legal option, the option to take legal action, on the table.

We also have had a change of government in both the United States and Japan. My expectation and my hope is that we will have increased awareness of how important this issue is for Australians and that our issues will be taken seriously at those high levels.

We will represent very strongly on this issue and I am absolutely convinced that we are doing absolutely everything that we can and we will continue to. We are vehemently opposed to the Japanese taking whales in the Southern Ocean in the name of science and will continue to push that very strongly.

HUTCHINSON: And when people ring up and say - let's say things get tetchy in the Southern Ocean this summer which no doubt they will do, where is an Australian Government presence in that Southern Ocean, and people believing that perhaps there should be one? I guess that's what people - you might think they misconstrue it, but they want to see deeds rather than words perhaps.

GARRETT: Yeah, look Geoff, we took the Oceanic Viking down and conducted surveillance as we said that we would, for the purposes of getting a clearer sense of the activities that were undertaken in the Southern Ocean. We did that two seasons ago.

The fact is - and I notice that Greenpeace are not sending ships into the Southern Ocean and have announced that they don't think that that's the most effective way to campaign on this issue, and I have to say I agree with them. And the simple fact is this…

HUTCHINSON: And Paul Watson - and Paul Watson will no doubt argue that that is the absolute softest, non-confronting option that anyone can take.

GARRETT: Well all I can say - all I can say about Mr Watson's efforts are that they have shown absolutely no success in striking a change in attitude or view…

HUTCHINSON: Yeah, well, I'm sorry, but this has been a conversation - we're getting lots of callers being quite critical Mr Garrett, that you speak a kind of pollie speak that gets you to the line, but what do you say when Paul Watson comes on this program and says; we reduce the Japanese kill to 500 from above 1000? He says that's achieving something.

GARRETT: What I - look, this is not pollie speak. This is getting the Japanese government and the Japanese fishing agency to agree to a comprehensive conclusion of the taking of whales in the Southern Ocean, a decision that will be taken at the highest levels by the Government and by that industry. And there is no evidence at all that the activities of Mr Watson and others going into the Southern Ocean, to harass the Southern Ocean fleet, will ultimately achieve that aim.

Now, at the end of the day, the politics of this are difficult and they require negotiations at the higher level. If people think that's pollie speak, I simply remind them of this: for all of the activity that's been undertaken in previous times, in the Southern Ocean, there has not been a reduction by one single whale, by the Japanese or by Japanese authorities, notwithstanding Mr Watson or anybody's efforts.

We are looking for commitments from the Japanese to reduce the number of whales that they target. We believe that the measures that we put in place are absolutely the right ones to do that and we'll continue on that course.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you for talking to me.

GARRETT: Thanks Geoff.

HUTCHINSON: Peter Garrett is the Federal Environment Minister.

[ENDS]

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