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

Breakthrough winners; Four Mile uranium mine approval

Doorstop Interview, St Kilda, Melbourne
15 July 2009

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GARRETT: Well look what a great announcement today five recipients for the initiative that we have for Indigenous contemporary music, the Breakthrough initiative. And it was fantastic to hear Microwave Jenny play here at the Espy which is one of the great music locations in Australia, certainly in the city of Melbourne. And my great expectation is that by providing these Indigenous artists with the opportunity to have a decent size budget, to go in and do high quality recordings, they will be able to come away with material which will give them every opportunity to platform their career, get onto commercial radio and get wide exposure we hope. Because we know that there is immense talent out there in Indigenous communities and I think the fact that we have got these fantastic five artists that we have identified for Breakthrough means that we can look forward very much to the kind of work that they will bring forward once they get into the studios and start doing what I know they really want to do.

JOURNALIST: Obviously very important for Indigenous people but have Indigenous people in central Australia been let down by the mines decision?

GARRETT: No they havent. In fact there is an agreement between traditional owners and aboriginal people in South Australia and the proponents on this matter and I expect that aboriginal communities will receive benefits as a consequence of the decision that has been taken.

JOURNALIST: The question on the groundwater that Bob Brown says will be polluted by the mine?

GARRETT: I dont accept that Senator Brown is right about this at all. I made absolutely sure before taking what was a difficult decision, that I received expert advice from Australias best scientists. The Supervising Scientist and Geoscience Australia have both provided independent reports attesting that this will be worlds best practice in terms of disposal and that the monitoring regime is an absolutely rigorous one and I have set the bar to the highest level to protect the environment in a way which I know it must be protected.

So, different geological formations provide different challenges and opportunities. In this part of South Australia, the method that has been chosen and the conditions that have been applied to that method are entirely appropriate and they have been vindicated by independent scientific review.

JOURNALIST: You admit this has been a difficult decision. Do you personally people are saying you have sold out your principles how do you respond to that?

GARRETT: Look that is an old song, its an old cycle that we hear from political opponents who seem to forget that I joined the Labor Party, I became a member of the Government and I said at the time that I would accept, as a team player, the decisions that the Government took. This was a matter that was determined by the National Conference of the party two years ago and the Governments policy has been clear ever since. And my job, as a consequence of that, is to support the Governments decision clearly and make sure as Environment Minister that I set the bar on environmental protection as high as it needs to go and that is worlds best practice and that is what we have done with this decision.

JOURNALIST: But if you dont support the decision personally, should you get out the environment portfolio?

GARRETT: My role as Environment Minister is to discharge my responsibilities as identified by both the legislation that I am responsible for and by the policies of the Party and I will continue to do that. I approve a lot of decisions right around Australia and Australians can be confident that when Peter Garrett is the Environment Minister he will make sure that the environmental standards are the highest that they can be and that they need to be. Thats my job as a Minister. I will continue to do it.

JOURNALIST: So you dont feel compromised?

GARRETT: There is no question at all that in my role as Environment Minister I see my responsibilities to discharge that role as to being to protect that environment to the best possible extent that it can be protected. And I apply conditions in order to do that. I have done it on a number of proposals up to this point in time. I sought the advice of independent scientists because I wanted to satisfy myself that any proposal of this kind would not leave the environment any worse off in the long term. And I did that by taking carefully the advice of independent scientists, looking carefully at all the material that was in front of me, and making a decision with appropriate conditions for monitoring which will make sure that we properly discharged our responsibility.

JOURNALIST: What about concerns that it will fuel global tensions about where uranium falls into the hands of different people?

GARRETT: Look, what I would say is this the Government has made a decision about this matter. My role as Environment Minister and regulator is to make sure that I set the best, highest, most rigorous and stringent conditions for the protection of the environment. That is what I have done.

JOURNALIST: That is your role but what whats your view personally. Can I just clarify, do you or dont you support the decision personally.

GARRETT: There is no question at all that when it comes to making decisions of this kind of course it is a decision that I support I am making that decision. Look, lets be really clear about this. I am the Environment Minister in the Federal Government. I have had strong views about this issue. We had the opportunity to canvas those strong views, I spoke to them. That debate has been settled by the National Conference and the policy of the Government is clear. My role is to make sure that that policy is effected enabling the best protection of the environment that can be achieved. That is the goal I have set myself and I fully support the decision and I support the conditions I have put in place, I think they are the best conditions that an environment minister can put in place in this case.

JOURNALIST: Fair to say that your views have changed then?

GARRETT: Well it is not a question of views changing, what its a question of saying is this: when you have responsibilities to discharge as a Government Minister you discharge them fully and properly. When you recognise that the Party has made a decision about a policy matter over which you may have had a different opinion, you accept that Party decision. I came into the Parliament to be a team player. I came into the Parliament to make a difference. I sit on the front bench proudly, as a Cabinet Minister and as the best environment minister I can be and this decision and all other decisions that I am making are entirely consistent with that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that disappoints people who may have supported you in the past?

GARRETT: Well what I would say is that if you have an expectation to have someone who cares about the environment as the Environment Minister you have the confidence that he or she and in my case he will apply the most rigorous, strictest and highest standards to protecting the environment in every decision that comes before him. That is what I have done in the past, that is what I have done now, that is what I will do in the future.

JOURNALIST: Would you support more uranium mines in Australia?

GARRETT: Well it is not a case of will or wont, the Governments policy is very clear. The decision has been taken at the National Conference, it is a matter for state governments as to whether other proposals come through. But I make the point again. My role is to make sure that the environment is protected to the highest possible standards. I took this responsibility incredibly seriously when I looked at this proposal as I do with other proposals. Of course I didnt take this decision lightly. But I took it in the clear knowledge that the Party Conference had determined the policy, the Government was implementing the policy, I am the Government Minister and my job is to make absolutely sure that the environment is protected to the best and highest possible standards. I will do that with this proposal, Ill do that with any others that come to me.

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