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

$2.9 million water project for the Australian National Botanic Gardens; Peter Spencer protest; Liberal candidate for Bennelong; Parliament House artworks

E&OE transcript
Doorstop Interview with ACT Senator Kate Lundy
17 December 2009

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GARRETT: Just firstly to say how pleased I am to be here with my Senate colleague, Senator Kate Lundy, to announce the provision of the infrastructure to provide water for the National Botanic Gardens which isn't potable drinking water from Canberrans, but it is water which will come from the lake.

And knowing that this is a commitment that the Rudd Government has made - we are delivering on an election promise on hot and dry summer day in this really important national institution. And I am particularly pleased that we are now going to see additional use of non-potable drinking water in these gardens. They are a really important scientific and environmental resource for this country.

And I really want Australians, when they come to visit the National Gallery, or the Portrait Gallery, or they come into Parliament House to watch Question Time, to come across to the other side of the Lake and walk through the National Botanic Gardens. You will learn a lot and you will absolutely luxuriate in the experience of being surrounded by Australian plants and trees - only.

And I just might, for the purposes of today's announcement, invite Senator Lundy to make a few comments.

SENATOR KATE LUNDY: Thanks Minister. I too am really pleased to be here as part of this follow-through of a Rudd Labor Government election promise - $2.9 million to go towards providing a sustainable water supply for this national collection of Australian flora.

It's a wonderful outcome and I am very pleased to be able to be here as part of this formal announcement on the successful tenderer, Draincorp, and proceeding with this project as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Peter Spencer is a farmer on the far south coast, he's down to his 25th day of a hunger strike demanding compensation because he says the Federal Government won't let him chop down his trees. Barnaby Joyce says compensation should be paid. Do you agree?

GARRETT: If Senator Joyce is saying that the Coalition policy is to provide compensation on the basis of state laws that have been in place for a decade or so, then this represents a significant step forward and a very expensive step that Senator Joyce has taken today. So the question for Mr Abbott is does he support Senator Joyce's new policy initiative? Is he saying that the Coalition would now provide compensation for anybody affected in relation to laws that have been made by state governments and, if so, will he put a cost on it?

JOURNALIST: How important is it to stop land clearing?

GARRETT: The controls that are in place for land clearing have been in place under state legislation for many years. And these matters are matters that have been the subject of dispute between this farmer and governments - I understand that. I understand that he is continuing to exercise his rights in the courts, as he should do.

I would say that I think that is the appropriate place for this matter to be resolved. We certainly, no-one wants to see anyone suffer in terms of their health, but it is important to recognise that these are state-based laws that have been in place for a number of years and it is a legal dispute between this farmer and the state government, and also a matter before, potentially, the High Court, that has just been heard in the Federal Court.

If Senator Joyce is jumping in to this issue, and now saying that the Coalition will provide compensation for anybody affected by state laws in this way then he needs to quantify that commitment and the Opposition Leader needs to back his Shadow Finance Minister so we can see the true economic impact of Senator Joyce's statement today.

JOURNALIST: Should your counterpart in NSW be doing more?

GARRETT: This is a matter that has been the subject of considerable litigation, considerable interaction between the land owner and state governments. I don't propose to talk about how the state governments conduct their business in this matter. What I would say is that the courts are the appropriate avenue for these matters to be properly resolved. I know there are frustrations with the speed of those resolutions - I understand that, I think anybody would.

But Senator Barnaby Joyce is now in a responsible position. He is the Shadow Finance Minister and he has jumped onto this issue, taking advantage of this issue, but in doing so he has opened up the Coalition to them actually announcing that they will provide compensation for legislation that is enacted by states. That is a big step for Senator Joyce to take and we now need to know whether his leader is going to back him.

JOURNALIST: Minister, John Alexander is now going to take on fellow celebrity Maxine McKew. Could we do with a few more celebrities in parliament?

GARRETT: I think the fact that there will be a contest by Australians that are recognised and well-known is always a good thing. If anyone puts their hand up to get involved in public life, whatever side of the fence they're cheering from, I think that is a good thing.

What I would say, though, is that Maxine McKew was an extraordinary campaigner. She did something which is in the history books - she unseated a sitting prime minister in that electorate. She is a very good local member - I know that she has a lot of support and I am sure in this instance that Mr Alexander well and truly has a contest on his hands.

JOURNALIST: Do you accept that time has run out for a deal to be made in Copenhagen?

GARRETT: I think we are going to the very pointy edge of the Copenhagen discussions. Clearly, now that national leaders are arriving in numbers, there is still the possibility and the potential for agreements to be struck which we want to see brought forward, which other countries want to see brought forward and which people around the world want to see brought forward as well.

The leaders are there, it is the eleventh hour but, here's hoping, that they can strike and reach a common agreement.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the art at Parliament House?

GARRETT: I like the art at Parliament House. It is one of the great investments we make as a Commonwealth. And the fact that people can come and visit Canberra and see the work of Australian artists, and experience it first hand, is a great thing. It is a fantastic investment for the country and it is also a way of appreciating the creative vitality and scope that our Australian artists have.

JOURNALIST: Minister, if I could just clarify something. Doesn't the Rudd Government also support the idea of not chopping down trees as a way of meeting our greenhouse targets?

GARRETT: The fact is that this matter is in contemplation under the discussions that are taking place in Copenhagen but the land-clearing laws themselves have been enacted at the state level. It is the responsibility of the states to maintain the land-clearing regime under their legislation. All the activities that we are either involved in or will be involved in, in the future, have the potential, ultimately, to be considered in relation to greenhouse gas emissions whether it is by any mechanisms - regulations, policies or otherwise.

But the key issue here is a basic one - they are state laws, they are put in place many, many years ago. These matters should be resolved through the legal system and Barnaby Joyce, by opening up the Coalition to the prospect of compensating anybody that is affected by state laws that have already been in place for ten years or more, has taking a brave new step in the realm of economic policy for the Opposition.

[ENDS]

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