Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Press Conference - Super trawler, Tasmanian Forestry, Cory Bernardi
19 September 2012
TONY BURKE: As you'd be aware the Senate has now passed the changes to the national environmental law, which now provide me with the legal powers that I believe I need as Environment Minister to be able to ensure we're not taking risks with the ocean.
The sorts of powers that are made available legally by this Bill going through are similar to legal powers that I already had on land but there was a significant shortfall in the extent to which I could fill knowledge gaps when the answer came back that scientific research to date didn't have the data that I wanted to be able to make an informed decision.
The Bill, now that they've been passed in an identical form to the Senate to how they went through the Reps and I thank the Senate for dealing with the issue today, will now go to the Governor General. I am hopeful that I'll be in a position to be able to use the new legal authority made available to me in the course of tomorrow.
That process just to reiterate it for everybody means that in the first instance anyone who's - a decision is made for two week period and that provides a natural justice period for any effected company to be able to put their view and at the end of that there's then an opportunity for the Fisheries Minister and myself to be able to put together an expert panel to conduct the research that we believe needs to be conducted. During that time an interim ban of up to 24 months is legally available.
QUESTION: Was this discrimination as the company has said overnight?
TONY BURKE: I've seen that statement. I'm not quite sure what to make of it I have to say. The national environmental law by definition when you change it, it effects people who are going to have an impact on the environment. So to that extent we'll see as the different clauses and them being used unfolds. But of course there's an impact on people who are going to have an impact on the environment. That's what environmental law's there to do. I think to use words such as what's in that media release really ignores the fact that National Environmental Law is there for a purpose.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Abel Tasman to stay for the 24 months for them to wait out this ban?
TONY BURKE: That would be a decision for the company and I think they're the only ones that would be a in a position to answer to that. It's true that vessel has been banned from a number of fisheries around the world but I don't know what its options are in going elsewhere.
QUESTION: But are you confident after these two years that they won't try and come back?
TONY BURKE: I don't know. I want to make clear the reason for this law is not to abandon a science based process it's to make sure that we have one. If the extra checks that I need to be done are done and they come back with a complete clean bill of health or something like that then we'll back the science in. but I can't have a situation where I'm expected to rush the decisions when the answer that comes back is on some of these significant environmental issues the research isn't done, the data's really old and I'm not able to make an informed decision they way I would be able to make it on land. The research time enables the additional scientific work to be done.
QUESTION: So if AFMA came back and basically said super trawler's all good to go you'd be happy to see them in the water some time that soon?
TONY BURKE: Well the expert panel that gets compiled under this clause is not AFMA. It's an expert panel that is allowed to be put together and in making those decisions we'll have the two week period first that allows natural justice for the company to be able put its view.
But with all of this my priority is to make sure that we look after the environment and this Government's made some very strong decisions when it comes to protection of our oceans. I'm determined that we don't have other decisions that just undo that.
QUESTION: Minister how sympathetic are you to the company and the situation that it's found itself in? Is it fair to say that they haven't actually done anything wrong through this whole process?
TONY BURKE: There are some issues which are being investigated by other authorities, which it's not appropriate for me to comment on - in particular the Ombudsman. But I'm not going to make any reflection on those aspects of it.
In terms of the clauses that I am intending to activate tomorrow they are new parts of environmental law and companies were not in a position to be able to deal with that until they came into environmental law. So I think that speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Have you had any personal discussions with Gerry Geen and has the issue of compensation come up?
TONY BURKE: I spoke to him some weeks ago where I put to him a number of the environmental questions that I was trying to work through at the time. At that point there were some issues that he was able to provide answers to me immediately that helped narrow the scope of the number of questions I had but there were still issues that were outstanding for me.
QUESTION: Have you or Minister Ludwig heard any further comment at all from the Dutch Government in regards to this issue?
TONY BURKE: I'm not aware of any.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate having to use these powers again in any foreseeable future? I mean can you give us any examples where you might have to exercise these powers again?
TONY BURKE: Well under amendments that were carried in House they're only available to me for twelve months. So that doesn't compromise the impact lasting two years. But fresh declarations are only available for the next twelve months. So during that time I don't know of any new fishing activity that's being proposed where the scientific data currently available won't be able to answer all the questions.
But the legislation is cast as broadly as that and if there were other circumstances that met that fresh criteria then I'll act to protect the oceans.
QUESTION: Just around the peace talks in Tasmania. Will you be heading down there again soon to get those talks back on track?
TONY BURKE: We've to a community cabinet coming up and I'll be there when the community cabinet’s on and I'll be meeting with all the parties then. Whether I'm there or not I'm never very far away from my phone and the calls go back - back and forth pretty regularly.
The next major milestone really for the Tasmanian talks is going to be when we see how many people take up the voluntary exit program for sawlog. Now that is now off and running being administered by the Tasmanian Government. But I really think if there's going to be a new moment of momentum it comes when we see how many people are actually looking for an opportunity to be able to retire some of the that sawlog volume.
QUESTION: What do you make of the Forest Industries Association walking away from the talks?
TONY BURKE: They've walked away because of specific issues, which go to the restructuring of Forestry Tasmania. They're issues which I have not been directly involved with. It's an agency of the Tasmanian Government. Obviously we want things to be able to work through in a reasonable way but the specific negotiations back and forth on who manage - which part of the Tasmanian Government manages ongoing product forests and which doesn't is something that we haven't been intervening with the direct Commonwealth position on.
QUESTION: Just one more if I may? Should the State Government have put off the overhaul of forestry Tasmania until a deal had been struck?
TONY BURKE: I think the order in which they've done it has been one where there's been full transparency. I think realistically, while it's caused some challenges in the negotiations right now, if they'd done it any other way I think there were would have been objections that some information was being held back. So I think when it's the option of doing it the transparent way or another way I think we'd probably have to back the pathway they've chosen.
QUESTION: Do you think that Senator Cory Bernardi should apologise for comments that he made in the Senate last night?
TONY BURKE: There are no end of comments from Cory Bernardi that I find offensive. The comments he's made overnight simply add to the list of groups that he's gone after at different points. Look effectively Cory Bernardi has become Parliament's answer to Internet trolling. He just goes out and finds new people and places to abuse and why that makes him a worthy Member of Parliament is completely beyond me.
QUESTION: And the Greens say it's a cynical ploy by Government to get the gay marriage issue off the agenda by bringing it to a vote today.
TONY BURKE: My understanding was we had an agreement with Greens right at the time we formed Government that this would come to a vote. It's coming to a vote.
Okay. Thank you.