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Interview with Micahel Smith, 4BC Drive, Brisbane
11 November 2009
SMITH: Righto, look, the big news of the day is clearly the Traveston Dam decision. Now on the election night this year, Saturday 21 March this year, I sat with Bob Brown and asked him whether he had sold out over the Traveston Dam. Here's a little of what he said on that night.
BOB BROWN (REPLAY): You wait and see, the Traveston Dam will not go ahead.
SMITH: [Indistinct] It is Labor policy though isn't it?
BROWN: No it's Labor policy to put it to the side here…
SMITH: [Interrupts] [Indistinct] They spent six hundred mil, they spent a lot of money.
BROWN: They sure did. The Traveston Dam won't be built. It has to get the backup of the Federal Government. It's a long way short of getting that and we will see a Greens senator elected out of Queensland.
SMITH: Yeah the Traveston Dam won't be built. Bob Brown, Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens was quite emphatic. Now the man who had to make the decision about it is the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett.
GARRETT: G'day Mike.
SMITH: Why did you say no?
GARRETT: I said no because the departmental advice to me was clear that there would be unacceptable impacts on nationally protected matters which under national environment legislation I'm required to protect.
SMITH: Yeah gee, I would have thought, I suppose you can't comment but I would have thought that the State Government here would have known that as well before they decided to go ahead.
GARRETT: The second part of the decision Mike goes to whether or not the measures that were put forward by the Coordinator General, in other words, additional areas of re-vegetation, fish traps and turtle passages and the like, could actually make up for the likely impact on those species and the advice again to me, both from the department and also from experts was that it wouldn't. So I've got to look at that very closely.
If I think that the long-term capacity of those species to survive is going to be impacted on and I wasn't satisfied that their survival could be addressed by those mitigation measures, then it was over to me to make the proposed decision which I did today, and I did.
SMITH: Well, have you meet privately with the Premier?
SMITH: Are you going to?
GARRETT: Well look not specifically on this matter, I mean I'm sure we'll come across one another in the ordinary course of the work that we do. I'm in Queensland a fair bit as you know.
SMITH: But Peter, you haven't spoken to her at all about it?
GARRETT: Not about this specific matter and not in this period of time when I've been considering it, no.
SMITH: After you've - like did you ring her up and say I've decided no Premier?
GARRETT: Our office contacted the proponent, the Premier's office and other relevant offices as we would in this kind of decision, normally once the decision itself had been made and I was going off to do the press release.
SMITH: So she didn't know - the Premier didn't know of your decision until you spoke at the press conference today?
GARRETT: They would have - they would have had a phone call from my office somewhere between 15 and 35 or 40 minutes before we actually spoke at the press conference.
SMITH: Minister, was part of your consideration the amount of money that has already been spent on the dam?
GARRETT: No it wasn't.
SMITH: Do you know how much has been?
GARRETT: I've heard the figures bandied around.
SMITH: What's your understanding?
GARRETT: It's a - in terms of existing money sort of been spent, I don't have a figure in front of me. I know that they've spent hundreds of millions of dollars up to this point in time. It's a $1.8 billion project.
SMITH: Yeah, gee.
GARRETT: But the answer to your question is no.
Look the thing about this, and I'm at pains to saying this including with other decision that I've made Mike, Great Keppel Island a couple of weeks back here in Queensland and others around the country, the national environment legislation's very clear about what a minister can and should decide on.
It - you stand-alone as a regulator when you make that decision, there are certain things that you don't take into account in that decision making, and there's certain things that you are required to.
Now I make sure I'm really meticulous about that and that's why I followed the process closely on this issue.
SMITH: So - and by that you know, from a layman's perspective, does that mean that the Prime Minister ringing you up and saying, Minister, Peter please, this is important to us, that has no weight at all, is that what you're telling us?
GARRETT: That's absolutely correct and in fact, as a regulator in a Commonwealth, we have specific practices in place to make sure that I make the decisions alone, and I've done that on all the decisions that I've had to make and that's understood in a Commonwealth system and it's understood at state government level as well.
And in this case, what I'm specifically required to do is look at whether there's going to be an impact on matters of national environment significance which are described in the legislation and if they can't be mitigated or offset, if I can't apply conditions which would lessen that impact, then it's open to me to say no to a particular proposal and I do that on my own.
SMITH: Did the State Government lobby you?
SMITH: Did they make representations other than the formal one? Did they ring you up and say listen Peter we're going to look pretty lousy if you knock us back?
GARRETT: No, Mike absolutely not.
GARRETT: And I want to be at absolute pains to say that.
GARRETT: As with my other decisions, as with here, I've done - I've had Waratah.
By the way I approved the Wyaralong Dam, I can't remember exactly how many months ago it was but I certainly have approved that dam. But in each of these cases it's on the basis of material that comes through to me from my department.
See what happens is we don't double assess these issues, we have arrangements with state governments, they're called bilateral agreements; we've got one with Queensland. So they did the assessment, of course we knew about it because we - you know, it was a major proposal.
My department officials are in touch with them and that process goes a long its course. Once it's concluded, if there are matters under the national environment legislation that I've got to address I ask my department for advice, sometimes I'll get independent expert advice, which I did in this case.
SMITH: Sure. Right.
GARRETT: And then I'll look at all of that and then I make a decision.
SMITH: There's a 10 day period that I understand is triggered now for the Government to come back and have a look again at this decision, is that right?
GARRETT: It's a natural justice requirement under the act that we provide the person who wants to make the development, the proponent and the relevant
federal ministers 10 business days to comment on that decision. So it's a draft decision. Once that's taken place, I look at what they've put to me and then I make a final decision.
SMITH: And can that final decision be appealed in any tribunal or court?
GARRETT: Yes it can and most of, if not all of my decisions, and certainly a number of my decisions since I've been Environment Minister have been appealed. They're appealed in the Federal Court. As were decisions by previous ministers including Malcolm Turnbull. In fact I've had to remake decisions of Turnbull's that he - where he was appealed and of course found against him. All the appeals against my decisions have failed.
SMITH: No it's good to hear.
GARRETT: Well we're taking it very seriously…
SMITH: Yeah sure.
GARRETT: …and I - it may not always be the case. But as far as I'm concerned, I do it as best as we can, make sure that we do it very thoroughly and I provide a statement of reasons, a very detailed statement of reasons for people to know why and how we made the decision.
SMITH: I would imagine that where this developer, in this case the State Government, has spent $600 million to date the likelihood of them wanting to take out that 10 day period or appeal would - you would have to say it would have to be high.
GARRETT: Look, I don't know and so I can't make any preliminary remarks about it.
We'll just have to see.
SMITH: Yeah, righto. I'll put a call in with the Premier, in fact I have this afternoon. We shall see what she has to say publicly about it.
Peter, before I let you go, I'm speaking later on in the program with John Jarratt who is the narrator of a show that will feature on the History Channel tonight and it's in relation to the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.
GARRETT: Oh yeah.
SMITH: The ship - Japanese ship on which a number of Australians - Australian prisoners of war in fact over 1000 - the ship was sunk by a US submarine, I understand your grandfather was on that ship.
GARRETT: That's correct.
SMITH: What - how did he come to be in the custody of the Japanese?
GARRETT: He was a prisoner of war from Papua New Guinea and they were being transited onto the Montevideo Maru when the ship was sunk. So that's my dad's dad.
SMITH: Mate, have you seen the special, the DVD?
GARRETT: No look, I know about it and I've been in touch actually - I think Kim Beazley's had some interesting [indistinct]…
SMITH: His uncle was on it. Kim Beasley's uncle was on it as well.
GARRETT: Yeah, that's right, so I noticed some of the material that Kim had produced and I've been trying to sort of catch up with where it's at but I've been busy with my work but I will get a chance to look at it and frankly it will give me a chance to reflect on that part of my own history.
SMITH: How do you feel on Remembrance Day and knowing that that thing's going to air tonight?
GARRETT: Oh, melancholy I suppose. Bit of a sense of loss but also a sense of you know, understanding the connection to that history because I didn't know my grandfather.
SMITH: Yeah, of course.
GARRETT: So I only knew him via my dad and you know, I guess like any other person in this situation I would have liked to have known him.
SMITH: Your dad still with us?
GARRETT: No he's passed away.
SMITH: I've got the DVD mate. If you - if they won't send you a copy I'll send it to you.
GARRETT: All right, well thanks for that mate.
SMITH: No worries Pete. All the best.
GARRETT: Okay thank you. Bye.
SMITH: Mr Peter Garrett who's made that decision about the Traveston Crossing Dam and also spare a thought for him today. His grandfather features and we'll be talking about the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.