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

Heritage Estates decision, Midnight Oil

Drive Show ABC 666, Canberra
13 March 2009

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MAHER: But before that, the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has been mixing business with pleasure. In between gigs with his old band Midnight Oil last night and again tonight in Canberra, he's moved to ban a proposed housing development on land near Jervis Bay.

Now the Shoalhaven City Council wanted to rezone 1200 allotments which were sold up to 20 years ago as rural land that could not be built on.

I spoke to Peter Garrett a little earlier and asked him why he stopped it.

GARRETT: Because the proposal would have impacts on threatened species that are protected under the national environment legislation, which were too great. And on that basis, the advice to me, including the relevant expert advice, was very clear and that is that the proposal shouldn't go ahead under national environment law.

MAHER: What particular species would have been threatened by this development?

GARRETT: A number of listed threatened species, including the endangered eastern bristlebird and also the leafless tongue orchid. But the decision also refers to the important wildlife corridors which join the peninsula with the Booderee National Park; and there we have additionally a range of Commonwealth and State listed species, including Yellow Bellied Glider, Ground Parrot and others.

These impacts, that would arise as a result of a development of this kind are significant and, as a consequence, not acceptable under the EPBC Act which I administer.

MAHER: And there's no way the conditions could have been imposed on the development, or that the size of it could have been scaled down to meet the concerns?

GARRETT: No, I don't believe that could have happened, Louise. The advice to me was very clear.

It's worth pointing out that when the Shoalhaven City Council themselves commissioned a biodiversity survey and assessment in 2007, their consultant also recommended that the land shouldn't be developed. It's part of the really precious environment and biodiversity area, which some people listening to this program probably know in that Jervis Bay region.

And I think at the end of the day my decision is one which sees me wanting to protect the environment, considering the impacts.

I do also consider social and economic matters in making that decision, but the advice to me was clear and on that basis I've made the decision.

MAHER: What about those landowners though who were led to believe really, that they could one day build homes there?

GARRETT: Yeah, look, this has had a long and I think pretty difficult history. And I'm certainly - I'm sympathetic to the fact that there are a number of landowners that have been affected by this decision. I've assured them that we've gone through a thorough and an open process. I've considered their submissions. I've looked at expert advice. I've looked at formal scientific assessment.

But at the end of the day, the land that they purchased wasn't zoned for housing. That remains the case today. And on that basis I had to make a decision in relation to the proposal that Shoalhaven Council were putting to me, whether or not there was going to be an impact on matters of national environment significance, a clear - it was clear that there was. And on that basis I made the decision.

MAHER: Can those landowners seek any redress? Is there any compensation available for them? Or is it just a matter of buyer beware, don't believe all you're told?

GARRETT: Well under the decision making processes of the EPBC Act, this is specifically a decision which relates to the proposal from the Shoalhaven City Council. Any issues relating to landowner's grievances, or rights of redress that they might want to seek, they would have to make their own decisions about that.

MAHER: Is there any way the Shoalhaven City Council can appeal your decision?

GARRETT: Look, the decision could be appealed, but I'd have to say that they're at liberty to do that. I think it's unlikely that the decision will be appealed. I had the opportunity to make a proposed decision, which I did over a week ago, and I've given Shoalhaven City Council additional opportunity to respond to my proposed decision. We'd received their submission.

I also spoke to the Mayor about this issue. So I think that we've completely and thoroughly satisfied our requirements, and my requirements, under the national environment legislation.

Of course, all decisions are open to appeal, but I can say to you with absolute certainty that I've made this decision properly, taking into account all the issues that I'm required to do; very mindful of the history of this particular matter and knowing that I think my predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, at one point, had said that he would make a decision on it, so that people didn't have to wait to see what would happen. Well, I've made that decision today and I've made it, I think, in the best interests of the environment.

MAHER: And from your conversation with the Mayor, do you think he will accept the decision?

GARRETT: Oh, well, I think he understands the difficulties that this decision has contained within it. The fact is that when these decisions come through to me Louise, I look at what advice I get from the Department. I look at the scientific assessments. I consider the public submissions and I have to make a decision on a fairly straightforward basis - will this proposal that's before me, have an unacceptable impact on matters of national environment significance, to the extent that the decision can't be approved?

If, in the event that on seeing that advice, I can see that that would be the case, then I do make that decision. And I hope Shoalhaven City Council can appreciate it's on that basis that I have done so.

MAHER: Peter Garrett, I can't leave without asking you about something else, how it felt to be on stage last night.

GARRETT: Look, it felt terrific. And I thought the crowd we had in there were warm and, you know - look, it had a really good feel to it Louise. And I can't say that I had much opportunity to practice or rehearse with the boys, but I guess we've been doing it, haven't we, for quite a long time before me coming to the Parliament. So all the bits and pieces seemed to click into action and there was a lot of good singing in there. And also we were doing it because we want to be in a really good state when we get to the MCG on Saturday.

And, yeah, look, one of the things about it which I guess I was, you know, delighted to see, was just the range of people we had in there. I know we had people travelling from around Australia, as well as a lot of locals. But we also had a pretty wide demographic, so it was nice to be playing to those people who were of our era, and also some that were younger.

MAHER: And a lot of people wondering whether you're going to play US Forces tonight, or tomorrow in Melbourne?

GARRETT: Look, I'd really - it's just - it continues to fascinate us that why people are so interested in the song list that we'll play. Who knows? We'll figure that out in and on the day. But I can say that we're not, in any way, going to be ruling out songs simply because of their lyrics. We're proud of the lyrics that we wrote and they're Midnight Oil songs. And, you know, if they're right for the show, then they get played.

MAHER: Peter Garrett, thanks very much for joining us.

GARRETT: Thanks Louise.

MAHER: The Federal Environment Minister and sometimes still frontman for Midnight Oil, Peter Garrett.

And Michael rang in. He said he was at last night's concert, with the Oils. He loved it. He reckoned the Oils were a little rusty, but he says the thrill of listening to a live band was just fantastic. He reckons it's an antidote to the Australian Idol style of music on TV and he reckons live bands need a big resurgence.


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