The Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Minister for the Environment

The Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Minister for the Environment

Topics: Visit to Gladstone, Arrow LNG Project, CCA Draft Report, GBRMPA Board, Abbot Point

Transcript: Doorstop Interview with Ken O'Dowd MP, Member for Flynn - Marina Service Wharf, Gladstone Marina
30 October 2013

GREG HUNT: Thank you very much to everybody for coming.

I'm here with Ken O'Dowd, the Member for Flynn at Ken's request and we're really doing two things;

Firstly, we are looking at the future of Gladstone Harbour and the balance between environment and development.

Gladstone is, in all of Australia, perhaps one of the places which is developing most quickly and is a key part of Australia's economic future. The task then is to ensure that we balance and protect the environment as part of that process.

I know that Ken has been a real champion for the fishing community and for the sea grass beds and for ensuring that Gladstone Harbour and the general Gladstone Port development is done in a way which is sensitive.

The second thing is of course to look at specific developments. There is a process for Curtis Island and for the Arrow LNG Plant. I'm not in a position to speculate on outcome - but I can say that I am meeting with the Council, meeting with the Ports Corporation, examining the site and my door is open to anybody who wishes to make arguments about the environmental merits or otherwise. That's the basis for any Federal decision.

It's about the future of Gladstone's environment. It's also about the process for making a decision in relation to the Arrow LNG Plant.

In terms of the timing, there are really three steps. Right from the outset we said firstly there would be the Queensland Ports Strategic Assessment, secondly the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Strategic Assessment.

The first has occurred, the second will come in the near future, jointly with the Queensland Government.

After that I will be in a position to consider the merits of the Arrow project. The deadline for that is December 13. We will meet that deadline and I make that a categorical commitment.

I might ask Ken to say a few words and then happy to take any questions.

KEN O'DOWD: I think that the Arrow project is very worthy and I know a lot of people in Gladstone are hanging their hat on it, but at the same time as Greg said, to look after the environmental aspects of the project and I thank him for coming to Gladstone.

JOURNALIST: The Climate Change Authority has put out a report saying that the emissions reduction target of five per cent by 2020 in inadequate. Do you agree with that?

GREG HUNT: This report should be a wake up to the Labor Party because what it shows is a 50 per cent increase in the carbon price, in the carbon tax rate, under their so-called floating ETS model.

Mr Shorten's model which is looked at here by the Climate Change Authority will see electricity bills skyrocket. So 'Electricity Bill', now must make a decision whether he's for lower electricity prices and will support our plan to abolish the carbon tax or determine whether or not he's for higher electricity prices.

A simple choice for Bill Shorten - are you 'Electricity Bill Shorten' for higher prices or will you join us in abolishing the carbon tax because this report shows a 50 per cent increase in the cost of carbon under Labor's plan.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the options for minimum targets of 15 per cent or 25 per cent, which is what the Authority is recommending, do you think that's too high?

GREG HUNT: We will make our judgement on the targets in the lead up to the 2015 conference at the end of 2015. We have a commitment to the current targets and we will assess any change in the context of what the world is doing as we've always said we'd do in the lead up to the 2015 conference.

This is one input, it's a draft report. I respect and appreciate the contribution. Our timeframe remains unchanged.

The world will make a decision at the end of 2015 and we will do our analysis based on how the world is tracking at that point.

But today's clear message is Labor's new proposal for an Emissions Trading Scheme; their so-called non carbon tax is exactly the same thing. It will have a 50 per cent increase in electricity prices over the coming years.

The test for Bill Shorten is - will you abolish the carbon tax with us or will you vote for higher electricity prices?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) criticisms have come from Council about it providing not enough for social infrastructure in the town of Gladstone. Is that a part of your consideration?

GREG HUNT: Under the terms of the EPBC Act, so the Federal Environment Act, you look at economic, environmental and social concerns - all of those are elements within it. Obviously I have to assess everything against the Act.

I've met with the Council this morning and they've made their case in terms of the broader future of Gladstone Harbour, but they've also made their case in terms of their position with regards to Arrow.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that the Marine Park Authority, or the board has made decisions with the reef risk, given the issues raised by 7:30 last night?

GREG HUNT: I have ordered an immediate independent probity inquiry into the allegations that have been raised.

These are new allegations from my perspective. All of the appointments were made prior to the current government taking office.

But it's absolutely clear that my job is to ensure that there is an external, well respected, independent probity inquirer and that will happen.

The inquirer will report to the Chairman of the Board at GBRMPA who will in turn report jointly to the Secretary of the Department and myself.

We have taken immediate action.

I do need to say this - that both gentlemen in question, even though one is well connected with the Labor Party, have strong reputations and I don't want to draw any judgement in any direction.

My task, our duty, our responsibility is to have them investigated, but not, in any way to draw inferences against two people who have a long history of public service - one very clearly with the Labor Party, but I respect his work and his heritage.

We'll judge it on the facts and that's why we've ordered an immediate, independent, external, well respected probity inquiry.

JOURNALIST: If the conflict of interest is found to be true, will the Government view the advice given by the board as tainted?

GREG HUNT: I will deal with findings of the probity inquirer as soon as they are received.

I think it would be inappropriate to speculate on what those findings might be.

JOURNALIST: How long do you expect the investigation to take?

GREG HUNT: It will take as long as it's necessary, although I would hope that it is relatively quick.

I would hope that it is through before Christmas, but the inquirer will be able to set the terms with regards to time on the basis of whatever is necessary to get the job done fully, completely and properly.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) on Abbott Point in light of these revelations?

GREG HUNT: This is ultimately a decision for the Minister with regards to Abbot Point.

So it's the Minister that has to deal with these decisions as the primary point of responsibility and any other questions in relation to the park will be dealt with by the Chairman.

My duty is twofold;

Firstly, to make sure that the issues are dealt with immediately and again I emphasise that it's very important to not draw inferences about individuals, let the inquirer do that.

Secondly, that my task and my job is to make decisions against the law which is the Federal Environment Act, whether it's any of the proposals within Queensland.

Yes?

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, can you tell me about the plans to dredge Trinity inlet in Cairns?

GREG HUNT: That's part of the investigations that I'll be conducting on this trip. I will be in Cairns tonight for discussions tomorrow, so the Trinity Inlet issue is one of those which I'll be taking advice. I think the most sensible thing to do is to comment after I've had the presentations, the views and the advice of those who are involved.

JOURNALIST: And what message do you want to get to the Bowen residents this afternoon?

GREG HUNT: I actually want to hear from the Bowen residents. I'm hearing from and meeting with fishing groups, tourism groups, development groups and conservation groups.

So I'm meeting with both sides of the argument. I think they all have a right and a duty and in fact I went out of the way, my way and our way, to really invite in the conservation groups to hear the strongest critics.

I think everybody has a right and a responsibility to present their points.

Thank you very much.

(ENDS)

Greg Hunt

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