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Interview with Jenny Bates and Aaron Kearney, ABC Newcastle
2 March 2009
KEARNEY: As you've no doubt heard on our news by now, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has given the nod to the Rose Group's controversial 600 lot housing development at Catherine Hill Bay.
The residents, who have been very vocal in their protests, had held out some hope that the Minister would put the kybosh on the whole idea. He says he's given it careful consideration, and at this stage it's getting the go ahead.
BATES: It's a 750 lot proposal for what is, well, a small seaside village that could be described. The Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett is on the line. Minister, was this a difficult decision for you?
GARRETT: Well I knew that there was a lot of community concern about the scale of the decision, but Jenny and Aaron, in terms of my decision-making powers, i.e. matters of national environment significance, no it wasn't a difficult decision even though I knew people's concerns, because there were only two significant national environment significant matters. They relate to the leafless tongue orchid and also to another threatened listed and endangered species and I'm confident that there won't be significant impacts on those listed matters.
So, on that basis under the relevant advice that I have from my department, the expert's advice and looking at the recommendations, I determined from an environment perspective on those matters that it could go ahead.
KEARNEY: So Minister, just to clarify, as we understand it the residents had explored all sorts of ways to stop this development. They had brought it to your department in the hope that those two particular endangered plants may be grounds for you to stop it. And they are not?
GARRETT: No, that's right. And look, I know that the residents had also sought to have the Catherine Hill Bay area considered for national heritage listing. They applied for I think it was emergency heritage listing. It was found that the area didn't meet the criteria for emergency listing.
The Australian Heritage Council is going to consider nomination for the proposed priority assessment, and that'll happen this year. But the issue on the national heritage listing side that residents have wanted to try and pursue is that the approvals decisions that were given by the New South Wales Government, who has all the planning approvals on this, had already been made.
So even if at some point this year there's a determination that it's entitled to go on the Australian Heritage Council list as national heritage listed, that still won't affect these original approvals that have been given by the state government.
BATES: Minister, you mentioned there too in, well, two species that were of environmental concern to the residents that brought it to your attention. What is it that makes you confident that those species won't be negatively affected by this development?
GARRETT: Well, the fact that we've got some nearly 300 hectares of land that'll be dedicated back to conservation in perpetuity, land that includes about three times as many of the black-eyed susan's, and also about four times as many of the leafless tongue orchids, and that's consistent with what New South Wales planning conditions had applied. And on that basis it's like an offset but I think we'll see significantly greater numbers of those species protected in perpetuity.
There's some money that goes towards a research project to make sure that we've got an understanding about the leafless tongue orchid. And the other thing is to just to make sure that we've got some strict and clear management plans which protect conservation areas and the habitat in and around the site, including the coastal parts of the site.
I mean, one of the difficult things in these decisions is where you do have a community that does not want to see significant development take place. Decisions are taken by state planning authorities and others for that to happen.
My job is then one of not deciding the planning issues, but really just to see whether or not there are matters of national environment significance that will be significantly impacted upon. In this case the advice to me is very clear, that there aren't, and that the measures are in place to make sure that those issues that have been identified can be properly taken care of.
KEARNEY: Minister, just quickly, Sue Whyte, the president of the Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association is on line about to speak to us. She can hear you. There are many others listening right now. What do you want the residents to understand about your involvement in this process?
GARRETT: Look, I guess two things. One, that my decision-making powers are specifically contained under the environment legislation of the Commonwealth. They don't go to the planning issues at all. I have to take the advice from my department and the expert advice. If it tells me that there's a significant impact on a matter of national environment significance then believe me, I do act. In this case there wasn't.
The second thing is that I do understand their level of concern about the scale and the nature of the development. I know that it's been a very contentious issue and I know they've sought for us to consider whether or not it should go on a national heritage list.
If it does come onto the list, if in fact it does qualify, it still won't be able to undo the decisions and the planning approvals that have already been given by the state and by the Commonwealth because that will happen after it.
BATES: Minister, thank you.
GARRETT: Thanks very much everybody.
BATES: That's Peter Garrett, the Environment Minister.