Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview - Emma Alberici - ABC Lateline - Super Trawler, MRRT
12 February 2013
Environment Minister Tony Burke has rejected a compromise proposal for the Dutch-owned super trawler, now called Abel Tasman, to operate as a 'mother ship' but not put out its own nets. The Minister has decided to go through the process of banning the super trawler from operating in Australian waters.
EMMA ALBERICI: We are joined now in our Canberra studio by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.
Mr Burke, I understand you have an announcement to make on the super trawler. Tell us what that's about.
TONY BURKE: The super trawler came back with what they regarded as a compromise proposal, which was that the trawler wouldn't put out its own net and it would operate essentially as a giant refrigerator in the ocean and smaller trawlers would go off and come back to it as some sort of mothership arrangement.
I asked my department for advice on first, was it a new fishing activity, and secondly, environmentally, did it raise - even though it was a very different method - did it raise the same sorts of problems as last time?
I have now gone through that departmental advice in the last couple of hours and have determined that, yes, it's a new fishing activity, and yes, a whole - even though it looks like a compromise on the face of it - a whole lot of the environmental problems that we had last time are replicated again under this so-called compromise model.
So I have initiated the process tonight to go through the different methods of consultation that have to happen before I can go ahead with a fresh ban on the new proposal for the super trawler.
EMMA ALBERICI: So are you saying that you are going to ban it outright?
TONY BURKE: I've started the first stage of that tonight. There are about three steps I have to go to.
First is to get agreement from the Minister for Fisheries, second is to give them a six-month notice period - a 60 day notice period where the company gets a natural justice opportunity to respond and then at the end of that the option is there for a further two-year ban on the additional proposal that they have had.
But effectively, even though it sounds like, oh, they're not putting the net out, maybe there's not a problem, for the advice that came back for seals and dolphins and localised depletion, the problems that arise are exactly the same. For sea birds, the problems that arise are potentially worse.
So, while on the face of it it might not make for as bad images when they are not throwing that giant net out, my concern is does the environment benefit from that sort of compromise?, and all the advice I've had now says no.
EMMA ALBERICI: And are you concerned about a potential legal action from the Dutch company that owns the super trawler because they have certainly threatened that in the past?
TONY BURKE: They threatened that in the past. They have told me directly that they may well go down that pathway. From my perspective, this government has taken a highly cautious view when it comes to the ocean. We are very committed to making sure we have proper protections and safeguards in for the ocean. And as long as there is a significant environmental risk and the scientific work hasn't been done, I'm not going to have a view that says we will just go out, let them fish and see where it lands.
EMMA ALBERICI: If I can just move on to the issue that's dominated Canberra today and that is the mining tax, particularly the design of the tax, was your government, in your view, too generous in the tax deductions it offered the miners to get a deal done?
TONY BURKE: I think at the core of what's happened with reduction in revenue is the reduction that's happened in commodity prices.
EMMA ALBERICI: But hold on a minute, if I can just hold you up on that particular point because it's been raised a couple of times, but the fact of the matter is when you're talking about iron ore, for instance, prices are up some 80 per cent since the floor was reached in September last year. They're back to US$150 or thereabouts a tonne. So, that issue alone clearly isn't to blame here.
TONY BURKE: Well I don't think today's value on the iron ore price would be reflected in the taxation revenue that's been published so far. There's always a lag on the revenue figures. I don't have the precise dates as to what the first six months refers to, but today's price would be incidental to that and long after it. From the end of 2011 to 2012 …
EMMA ALBERICI: But - so are you saying the structure of the tax has nothing to do with the lost revenue?
TONY BURKE: No, the structure of the tax is meant to be a super profits tax. Now when commodity prices come down, you don't get the same super profits. When commodity prices ...
EMMA ALBERICI: But my direct question was about the tax deductions offered to the miners. I asked you did you think they were too generous in hindsight?
TONY BURKE: And on the – as you have played in the intro to this, we've got no plans for changing that. The issue of deductions …
EMMA ALBERICI: But you're not answering my question.
TONY BURKE: I was about to at that point. The deductions for the miners is something where we took the view that it was the right policy call. That that was a genuine investment that they were making at the time and therefore it'd be offset against the tax. There was a good policy reason for us reaching that conclusion.
EMMA ALBERICI: The design of this tax, of course, helped destroy Kevin Rudd's leadership. Today Mr Rudd made the point, and I quote him, "No government should ever take a backwards step in pursuit of the national interest." In your view, did the Government take a backwards step in its negotiations with the miners?
TONY BURKE: No, I don't believe we did, I don't believe we did. And if there's any view that somehow we've been scared to have arguments with the miners, then we're forgetting the last two years of history with the discussions on the carbon price. So, we've been quite willing to stand up for the national interest and be able to have those arguments when we think it's right.
When you make a policy call on what's a genuine tax deduction, the policy call we made we believe had good policy foundations.
EMMA ALBERICI: Do you still think it does?
TONY BURKE: Yes, I do.
EMMA ALBERICI: Do you welcome Mr Rudd's contribution to this debate?
TONY BURKE: Yes, I have been asked about this a few times and my view is he's not just any old member of Parliament, he is a former prime minister, he's going to have views in the public debate and what he has been saying and the comments he has been making have been, you know, quite consistent with Government policy.
I know that there will always be a microscope put over every syllable that he puts forward, but for the life of me, I can't see why there's a problem with him going out and advocating on these sorts of issues.
EMMA ALBERICI: Alright, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for coming in for us.
TONY BURKE: Good to be with you.