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

Asylum seekers; Energy efficiency and sustainbility of government office buildings; The Montara oil spill, Sea level rise; Opposition positions on climate change; Traveston Dam

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Paul Bongiorno, Meet the Press
8 November 2009

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PAUL BONGIORNO: The Sunday Telegraph leads with John Howards extraordinary attack on do nothing Kevin Rudd. Id stop the boats, the former Prime Minister is quoted as saying it was wrong to overturn his hardline policy. The Sun Heralds front page has Row flares over a new national sex educational package. The proposals condemned by Sydneys Catholic schools head as a how to guide for contraception and abortion. The Sunday Age reports Rudd fails on election promise to run clean energy government. Little progress has been made upgrading all government office buildings to five-star greenhouse ratings. And its welcome back to the program, Peter Garrett. Good morning, Minister.

PETER GARRETT: Morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Going to the boat people issue and John Howard says hed stop the boats - it's wrong to have wound back his policies.

PETER GARRETT: How extraordinary for Mr Howard to intervene at this particular point in a debate, and the question this morning is a simple one - does Malcolm Turnbull accept Mr Howard's view? Or will he repudiate those hardline policies of the former government? And in so doing, will he actually bring forward any policy suggestions of his own? Because up to this point in time, all that the Opposition have really done is seek to score political points - seek to exacerbate what is clearly a difficult situation. One which requires adept management by any government and one that this Government is taking very seriously.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Malcolm Turnbull says you're the Government and that Mr Rudd has outsourced our border protection to the people smugglers?

PETER GARRETT: Yeah, but you know what we hear in this issue from the Liberal Party - we hear the clichs and the slogans and the extravagant language. And I think the Australian people expect a sense of proportion about this issue. We recognise it's a difficult and challenging issue and the Government is working, with our regional partners, in this case Indonesia, to resolve it. It doesn't do us any good if all the Opposition do is try to inflate fears or concerns or beat up on one particular aspect or another and ultimately, its up to Mr Turnbull to show where his actual policy instincts and where his values lie on this issue. We haven't heard from him on that at all.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, despite that Newspoll, the unions are urging the Government to welcome the boat people.

ACTU PRESIDENT SHARAN BURROW: (Monday) The unions support our humanity being at the forefront of our response to asylum seekers. If they're determined to be refugees, we should give them safe haven.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, we have 78 Sri Lankans in the 'Oceanic Viking' refusing to come off. What's wrong with bringing that ship to Christmas Island?

PETER GARRETT: Paul, the Government's determined that the most appropriate way of managing this issue is to recognise that we do need to have disembarkation and it ought to happen in Indonesia and then appropriate processing measures can take place at that point in time. We continue to work pretty closely with the Indonesians on it. I think it's fair to say that you need a strategy here which recognises some of the conditions and circumstances that have led to people being on the Oceanic Viking. Their safety and care is a number one priority. That's being taken care of as a priority and we'll continue as the Prime Minister and others have said, to work through this issue patiently and resolve it over time.

PAUL BONGIORNO: It looks like the Indonesians have given Australia just one more week.

PETER GARRETT: I'm not sure that's the case. I think the diplomatic extension has been for one week. My own strong sense and I think the Government's view will be that we'll continue to work through these issues with our neighbours in Indonesia. And it's a part of resolving these matters.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Would it be, in your view, a failure on Kevin Rudd's part if we end up bringing these people to Christmas Island?

PETER GARRETT: Paul, I think what we've got to do is focus on what we've got in front of us at the moment. The fact is we've agreed to work through these issues with the Indonesians. This is part of our regional relationship. It's a relationship which is strong, its based on good levels of cooperation and our expectation is that will continue.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK, going to an area closer to your portfolio - I'm sure you'll welcome that. The story that the Government has failed in making its own buildings more climate friendly?

PETER GARRETT: Look, Paul, we're well on the way to following through on strong national energy efficiency, including for Government buildings. We've seen a strong commitment to that through the COAG announcement on energy efficiency earlier this year really significant one, I might add. We're rolling out the video conferencing proposals, well be reporting on energy efficiency in Government activities. We do have an interdepartmental committee which is looking closely at sustainability operations.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are you disputing the report that you haven't delivered on your election promise when it comes to making these buildings more energy efficient?

PETER GARRETT: I think the report in some ways is a little misleading in that were well on the way to getting this work done. I mean, from my own offices, for the department in Canberra, for example, 100% energy efficiency - renewable energy, I beg your pardon. And we would like to see the parliament department advance its energy efficiency measures as well. I think across some 160 or so of the Government buildings around the place, we have about a 10% renewable energy component. We want to see that go further but we're very focused on the kinds of things we need to do. One of the things were doing is focusing on is the issue of ICT and data entry [centres]. Its very clear that if you're going to get better energy performance in public service buildings, then you really need to look at your data entry [centres], at your computers and thats a place where we think we can make good ground.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK. After the break when the panel joins us - mopping up after the biggest oil spill in our history. And no-one can doubt Malcolm Turnbull is crazy brave, after he faced down Sydney shock-jock Alan Jones in what was certainly the rave of the week.

ALAN JONES: (Monday) You go on and on. You think you're in a courtroom. You're not in a courtroom. The public don't understand what you stand for on this issue.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Hang on! Hang on.

2GB RADIOS ALAN JONES: You dont have an answer.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: But, Alan, you are making proposals that are stupid.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Youre on Meet the Press with Environment Minister Peter Garrett and welcome to our panel Eleanor Hall from ABC Radio, The World Today. Good morning, Eleanor.

ELEANOR HALL: Hello, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And Glenn Milne from the Sunday Telegraph. Good morning, Glenn.

GLENN MILNE: Good morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The Government has announced an inquiry in to the 4.5 million litre oil spill in the Timor Sea. The 'Montara' platform oozed its dangerous discharge for 10 weeks. The Greens still have concerns the inquiry won't get to the bottom of the catastrophe.

RACHEL SIEWERT: (Thursday) This whole thing has to be public so finally we, the community, know what caused this accident. We also need full disclosure information about how the company handled this whole thing and how the Government handled this whole thing.

ELEANOR HALL: Good morning, Minister. The Greens Senator has a point, doesnt she? Why isn't this a public inquiry?

PETER GARRETT: Well, actually, well have a number of inquiries, Eleanor. We'll have the inquiry that's been set up for the Commission and that will be Mr Borthwick wholl conduct his inquiry and all submissions to that inquiry will be made publicly available and, of course, the findings will too. It's up to the Commissioner as to whether he actually wants to invite public submissions to him at the time. Therell also be an inquiry by NOPSA, which is the authority that's responsible for petroleum at sea regulation. And, again, they'll make a summary of their findings public as well. And in relation to the terms of reference of the inquiry, they're comprehensive. My expectation is that the Commissioner will do a very diligent job and he'll make his findings public and the Government will act on them.

ELEANOR HALL: But is there any reason why...?

GLENN MILNE: Sorry, Eleanor. The hearings won't be closed, that's the point?

PETER GARRETT: It's up to the Commissioner, Glenn, to determine how he's going to drive that inquiry. It's a judgment he'll make and I think at the end of the day, we want to see all of the information that's relevant to this particular issue exposed and fully considered and we want to make sure that people have every opportunity to be heard. That will be a call for the commissioner. Im sure hell make the right one.

ELEANOR HALL: Will you guarantee that you will appear before this inquiry and that you will make your appearance public?

PETER GARRETT: Well, look, if the commissioner wants me to come into the inquiry, of course I'll do that, as would any Minister. If there's a call for my actual submission or whatever it may be to be a public submission then of course we'll provide that.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think there's any reason at all for any of this to be private?

PETER GARRETT: Well, I don't see any evidence being private, to be honest. I think from day one, we have had a really rigorous process in place which comes about when you have an incident of this kind. We've got the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the regulators, the Northern Territory Government, and my department all working very closely. We had aerial surveillance and dispersals happening immediately and as soon as possible, I signed a memorandum of understanding with the company involved. We have now a long-term environmental monitoring plan. I've sought advice from the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science to make sure that that plan was rigorous. We've started to get some information back from that plan. I can say, thankfully, given something of this seriousness that at this point in time we're not seeing significant impacts on wildlife - I welcome that. We've still got officials on Ashmore Reef and we have a wildlife refuge centre set up in Broome to make sure that if there are any affected wildlife, they will be treated.

GLENN MILNE: You know, it struck me during the week, though, if you had been in your previous incarnation of Head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, you would have been screaming from the raft tops about this, wouldnt you?

PETER GARRETT: Well, Glenn, the fact is, that's many, many years ago and as Environment Minister...

GLENN MILNE: It won't change the oil spill.

PETER GARRETT: As Environment Minister, I think I have the opportunity to do something that's extremely important and reflects my very strong concerns about this particular spill and its potential impact.

GLENN MILNE: But the Government played it down.

PETER GARRETT: Well, and that is to put in place a long-term environmental monitoring plan. And I did say when I went out there and I was one of the first ministers to go on to the site, that I had a high-level concern, as did the Government, about this spill and we wanted to make sure straight away - not only that the measures that were needed were in place, and they were, but as well as that, that we put in place a robust monitoring plan to make sure we had a very clear sense of the potential impacts on our environment and we've continued to do that. There's a number of triggered matters that derive from that plan. Theyve already been triggered and I expect to make the results of that plan and that monitoring public too.

GLENN MILNE: So why didn't you tell us about the oil spill at the puffin field, which is only 50km, for seven weeks?

PETER GARRETT: Well, Glenn, that was a small incident, as I understand. Minister Ferguson, under Minister Ferguson's jurisdiction, there's no impact on the environment at all as far as Im advised.

GLENN MILNE: That's what you said about the original one too?

PETER GARRETT: Well, no, it's never been the case that we've said anything other than the Montara spill had to be treated with the absolute seriousness. We did that from day one. Look, I think the thing about this is we had an oil spill off the Queensland coast. It was an accident on board a ship. We saw how the affects of oil coming on to that shore was managed by authorities. I took a marine biologist who was experienced in the Moreton Island oil spill, made sure they provided advice for us in the work we needed to do on the north-west, and insisted not only that the company will actually pay for the cost of that monitoring and pay for the costs of all the work that we need to be done, but also make sure that we make it public as well.

GLENN MILNE: Just quickly, In future, will you guarantee that if there's a spill of any sort, the Australian public will be notified immediately?

PETER GARRETT: Well, there are always measures for notification on spills of this kind and they will be observed. They've been observed and they will be observed in the future.

ELEANOR HALL: Minister, if we could go slightly broader on climate change, the PM launched an attack on climate change sceptics on Friday as scaremongers, but couldn't you be accused of being one on sea level rises? Do you stand by your comments on Lateline that the sea level will rise by six metres by the end of this century?

PETER GARRETT: Look, I thought this question would come up and as you know, that discussion was a discussion about what scientists were saying about potential sea level rises. I make this simple point about sea level rises and climate change generally. The debate has become very skewed in this country by the efforts of the sceptics. The fact is that the most comprehensive scientific endeavour to look at issues surrounding greenhouse gas emissions and the impact those emissions might have on our environment has been conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its fourth assessment report is crystal clear. It says it's unequivocal that there are greenhouse gas emissions and that they're likely to cause an impact to our environment, including global warming and sea level rise. We've just had a standing committee of the Parliament looking into the coastal zones and again, they've identified the potential for sea level rise and the number of properties that will be affected around the coast. It will vary according to proximity to the coast. It will vary according to the rates of change that take place. But one thing is absolutely certain and that is that our coastal environment will be affected by global warming and the sooner we act, the sooner we're in a potential to minimise that impact.

ELEANOR HALL: Does it help for you to be exaggerating the issue when you say it's as passionate as it is?

PETER GARRETT: I'm not exaggerating the issue. I think the critical thing here is, what is the opposition going to say about the 700 thousand homes and business and pieces of infrastructure that were identified by a committee of which some of their own members were actually a part of with the insurance bill that the insurance industry calculates at being somewhere between $50 up to $150 billion. Thats the kind of economic cost that were looking at with potential impacts of climate change but the Opposition doesn't have the capacity to recognise it needs to get the sceptics out of the way and concentrate on dealing with serious policy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, before we go, we have a viewer question about the decision you're due to make this week on that controversial Traveston Dam in Queensland. Glenda Pickersgill asks, after your decision on Traveston Dam, are you prepared to release publicly, without delay, the full report from your Department on how you made that decision?

PETER GARRETT: My answer to that is, as with every decision that I make, I produce a statement of reasons which goes to the core of why I make any decision and I will produce a statement of reasons following this announcement.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Not necessarily the full report?

PETER GARRETT: Well, the statement of reasons will include references to those matters which I considered which came through as part of my departmental advice. And you know what, Paul, on this issue I know there are very strong feelings in Queensland and I think it's important to know that I will make a proposed decision over the next week. The matters have just come to me now. And in doing that I'll take account not only of what the department brings forward to me, but of the expert scientific advice and the public submissions themselves. Now, in doing that, I will also provide a statement of reasons. All of my decisions under this act, which I've made so far, the majority have been challenged in the court and I've not been found wanting. You can't say the same thing for my predecessors, Mr Turnbull and Mr Campbell. I've had to mop up their poor decision-making. I will make my decision-making properly and Ill make my statement of reasons available to the public.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us today, Peter Garrett.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Paul.

[ENDS]

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