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

Protection of the HMCS Mermaid; Gunns pulp mill; Sea Shepherd; forest protests

Transcript
Doorstop interview, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
15 January 2009

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GARRETT: Well look it is a great day when we are able to not only announce that we have had one of our important ships in our maritime history discovered, but also that the necessary protection is in place to ensure that any matters of cultural and archaeological significance can't be removed from the vessel.

A bit of a reminder I think, as we head towards Australia Day, how important the ocean environment is to us. It is the case that for aboriginal people for many years they were visited by the Macassan's and others. The history of settler Australia is a history of these people embarking on these incredible journeys in these really small and by modern day standards, not especially sophisticated vessels. And I really do want to acknowledge the contribution of the team from the Australian National Maritime Museum who were able to take the information that was there in the historical record and go and find this wreck.

JOURNALIST: Just a quick question about the pump mill, with the imposition of a $1 million fine as opposed to closing down the mill, isn't that effectively paying the company to pollute?

GARRETT: No, and there has been a bit of misunderstanding around this particular condition. There are still provisions in place for the mill to be shut down if necessary, but Malcolm Turnbull's original conditions were deficient in that all they provided for was shut down, even if in some instances to shut down the mill would actually produce a worse result for the environment when the mill was restarted.

So what we have done is provided an additional level of protection for the environment by having conditions which permit the mill to continue if in fact the measures can be put in place to ensure that there is no added or additional burden on the environment. Strong sanctions - criminal and civil - in the event that the allowable levels are exceeded, and if a shut down is necessary a shut down can still take place.

JOURNALIST: And under what conditions could a shut down be necessary?

GARRETT: Well, that would depend on what actually happened in an action in terms of a discharge of effluent above the standards and the levels. This is a matter which would be clearly identified and regulated, not only through the company's practice, the Government and the regulator, but also by the standards that are set by the Independent Expert Group. Remember that Malcolm Turnbull when he was a minister put in place a set of conditions which enabled this mill not only to be approved but to start prior to important and critical, real-time hydrodynamic modelling taking place in relation to the effluent discharge into Bass Strait. What I have said is that there are three critical modules that I will not approve until that work is done. That is a sensible way to approach decision making in this issue and it provides more rigour and more
certainty for me as a decision maker that all the issues around the discharge of effluent have been fully considered.

JOURNALIST: Just to clear up the misunderstanding then, how do you decide whether the penalty is a $1 million fine or a shut down?

GARRETT: That will depend on the circumstances of the case, what remediation actions have been put in place, whether the response strategies that have been agreed and identified have been acted on appropriately.

The clear message here is that we have put in place a condition which provides for strong and clear sanctions, including substantial penalties in the event that those levels are exceeded by Gunns. We have also put in place the flexibility to ensure that the environment is not unduly affected in the event that there is an exceedance. It may be more appropriate to have civil penalties and negotiations with the company in question, than to simply shut the mill down and then have a bigger burden on the environment when the mill is started again.

JOURNALIST: Minister, a poll is out today that shows an overwhelming majority opposing your initial approval of the mill. What do you have to say about that?

GARRETT: Well look polls depend on the questions that are asked. What I can say with absolute conviction and certainty is that to make the conditions that were put in place by Malcolm Turnbull work so that the environment of the Commonwealth waters, the marine waters of Tasmania and those matters of national environment significance that I have a responsibility to make sure are properly protected, I have done with this decision.

We have taken the three critical modules, the pre-commissioning, the hydrodynamic modelling and the response strategies modules and we have recognised that they are actually the guts of what has to be properly and fully determined by any Government in terms of a proposal of this kind.

Now under Malcolm Turnbull it would have been straight on down the road. I haven't done that. What I have said is that I want to be confident that full, real-time, four season modelling is done - hydrodynamic modelling on what is the critical Commonwealth issue which is the discharge of this effluent into Bass Strait and its impact on species and on Commonwealth waters and I have done that.

JOURNALIST: The people, they don't want it. They obviously show that. It is not even fully approved yet. They don't want this mill. What is your response?

GARRETT: There is no doubt that there is always been a lot of particular public interest and concern about this mill. My job as the decision maker, given the existing approval by the Howard Government and by Malcolm Turnbull when he was Environment Minister, is to make absolutely certain that I get the best, proper levels of protection for that environment in Tasmania that I have a responsibility to discharge and that is what I am doing.

JOURNALIST: On another other issue, the anti-whaling ship the Sea Shepherd is due back in Hobart soon for refuelling is it welcome and will you go down there to welcome the ship.

GARRETT: Look, I won't be travelling to Tasmania straight away, I have got other work on. But the ship of course is entitled to berth to do refuelling and any other work that is necessary.

JOURNALIST: What is you - you were once head of the ACF - what is your view on what is going on in the Upper Florentine with all the protesters - do you support that?

GARRETT: Well you know what, I was once head of the ACF, I am now a Commonwealth Minister and I respond to that extent. To that view, I am not aware of those particular protests so I don't have anything to add.

JOURNALIST: Well they have been going on for some time, people have been chaining themselves to equipment, blocking roads and trucks can't get in. I mean generally, what is your view on that type of behaviour [inaudible]

GARRETT: Well I have always said that we need to recognise that there is a place for peaceful protest in this country and my expectation is that whatever people undertake they do in a peaceful manner.

Thank you

[ENDS]

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