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

Approval for emergency action in the Goolwa Chanel

Interview with Grant Cameron, 891 ABC Adelaide, Drive
12 May 2009

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CAMERON: Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, good afternoon to you.

GARRETT: Hello, Grant.

CAMERON: The decision is a week late according to the timetable, some suggesting that there was no real reason for this extra delay?

GARRETT: Ah no, we stopped the clock on the decision, Grant, so I could get additional information and advice. I wanted to make sure that I had a clear sense of all the relevant material before making the decision. I got that all in by today and made the decision today.

CAMERON: So youre satisfied with what you have seen from the South Australian Government there is no need for an Environmental Impact Statement? What they want to do in this area is going to work and going to be effective and cause minimal damage?

GARRETT: Yes, because the South Australian Government has made a series of undertakings to ensure that there wont be significant impacts on the nationally protected matters and the advice to me is that there wont be those impacts as well. Plus, I have required South Australia to provide an additional 50 gigs of fresh water into the Lower Lakes to make sure that water that is captured that is in addition to that required for emergency treatment will be delivered into the system, and I have limited the regulators to only operate for two years.

So it is a temporary measure. It is a measure that is taken in recognition that there are significant challenges particularly with the pH readings that are now being expressed in the Finniss River system. And because this is the first time that we have had acidified surface water observed in the tributaries of the Lower Lakes it is appropriate that these measures be taken.

CAMERON: Peter Garrett we have been told just recently that there is no more water for us to get down the river. Where is this 50 gigalitres going to come from do you know where it is and will you assist the State Government to getting it?

GARRETT: Well it will be a requirement of South Australia that they identify and provide that additional 50 gigalitres thats the condition of the Commonwealth. I act as a regulator, Grant, in these matters. I try and determine - and with all of the relevant information in front of me to the best of the advice that I am given - what I think the conditions ought to be for South Australia. I have made that determination. It will be up to the South Australian Government to observe the conditions that I have put in place.

CAMERON: So if we cant find that 50 gigalitres, effectively you say the State Government cant go ahead and do what it plans to do?

GARRETT: Well my role is to make sure that there are no significant impacts on the matters of national environment significance and to ensure that, I have put those conditions in place. So, South Australia will need to show that they can actually meet those conditions and that is something up to them.

CAMERON: Are the conditions that you have placed on that include that no water is going to be extracted for irrigation from any of the water that is captured? So not one drop can be used for irrigation?

GARRETT: Thats correct.

CAMERON: And what else have you put in place to try and make sure that this water, if we find this 50 gigalitres, will be utilised to its maximum advantage?

GARRETT: Well, were looking at a two year operation of the regulators and to that extent it is certainly understood that the primary purpose here is to inundate areas of acid-sulphate soil and to ensure that we basically arrest the threat of acidification. Im really aware that there are significant impacts on the river system because of the potential for fish deaths and impacts on other organisms as a result of acid water. It is a very difficult management issue for the South Australian Government. I understand youll be speaking to the relevant minister later on.

As you know the Commonwealth has provided some significant investment up to this point in time - $200 million for the environment problems in the Lower Lakes, about $120 (million) for the pipelines and there is $10 million in there for bioremediation and reveg projects as well.

What I have decided in this case is to look carefully at the public submissions. I saw what the public was saying to me about this proposal but I recognise that the advice to me was effectively advice which said two things. Firstly, that so long as the conditions are placed on that are appropriate there will not be impacts on matters of national environment significance. That is my requirement. But also that it is a temporary measure specifically designed to hold back the kinds of threats that acidification can impose on the system. And so I felt that by not making that decision wed end up with a bad environmental outcome, that we needed to act prudently given the advice that was in front of me, and I have done that.

CAMERON: Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, thank you for calling in this afternoon

GARRETT: Thanks, Grant.

Commonwealth of Australia