Topics: Melbourne infrastructure, coal, EPBC Act, Canada election, Green Army
Right now though we are joined by the Federal Environment – and Minister for Cities Greg Hunt. Good afternoon.
And good afternoon Tom.
Now firstly, today it's been announced that possibly as many as 44 buildings in and around Melbourne will have to be bought by the State Government and basically knocked over the build the Metro tunnel.
Does that mean that you've agreed to help fund this thing?
No, we haven't. We don't have a business plan.
We have said that as a general principle we think Melbourne needs a cross city tunnel.
We think it needs a rail tunnel and of course a road tunnel.
It need both of those and then to do a long term plan – I know both you and I have written about this in the last week – a long term plan out to the end of the century.
But do we support the general idea of a cross city rail tunnel? Yes we do.
Do we have a business case or a plan for it from the State ALP Government? No we don't.
Okay, but I mean the fact that you support it in principle – that would suggest that if they come up with what sounds like a reasonable business plan you will support it.
Look, I won't give out a blank cheque and you can understand that. We would want to assess it very carefully.
So our approach is – what will reduce congestion and improve the quality of life for the people in Melbourne?
What will improve productivity by reducing the amount of time people have to wait either for trains or in their cars on freeways such as the Monash car park as it's now become.
So we want to get the maximum result for people in Melbourne at the earliest possible time.
Well speaking of freeways – I understand that the Federal Government, which is you, is still backing the East West Link. Is that correct?
We think it has to be built.
And at some stage the history to come is that Melbourne will have a cross city rail tunnel, it will have a cross city road tunnel – which will be the East West Link, whatever you name it and whether there are variations.
And in my view the missing quadrant of the ring road will also be built but underground, and progressively we're likely to see the port moved out and the rail spurs moved underground.
That's the big, big vision for Melbourne.
And I think we have to design and plan not for 10 or 20 years, but as Batman and Fawkner and Hoddle did at the start of Melbourne, for 100 years plus.
Well that is very refreshing to hear because to be honest most politicians can't see beyond the next election.
Okay, just on the port. Now the last state election I think the Coalition was saying – this is the State Coalition – was saying rebuild and expand the old port down in Western Port Bay, because there is a rail line running there – it's where BHP Steel is.
And Labor was saying no, there's an area between here and Geelong, I forget the name of it, but they wanted to move the port there.
Bay West, they called it.
Bay West, that's right. Bay West. Do you have a view on that? Do you support one over the other?
Sure. Look, the Bay West option has essentially collapsed. I don't think there's anybody in the State that thinks that the option that they talked about is real or viable.
The hard rock base is only a few metres down, and you'd have to blast and dredge hard rock for a very, very considerable depth of metres.
And so there's nobody in the State Government that's actually talking about their election proposals.
So now their approach has been to say, look we'll just punt on the Port of Melbourne.
They pretend that that means we won't have to widen the heads, to broaden and deepen the heads at some stage – we will.
And the long term plan that both you and I have talked about is this idea that we have Portland, we have the Port of Hastings, and they were – well the Port of Hastings was – designed for this moment in history – expanded.
That significant reclamation work, whether you agree or disagree with it, was done 50 years ago.
And so it was prepared as an example of long term strategic planning, and now it's sitting idle.
Its time has come.
There's some use, but it's dramatically underutilised.
Whereas river ports around the world are progressively being reclaimed by the cities.
Can I ask you about coal? Now your colleague Josh Frydenberg who is now the Minister for Energy said a couple of days ago that there was a moral case for Australia exporting coal.
And he was saying that if we sell coal to impoverished people in say India or China or wherever, we can help lift them up into a more industrialised higher standard of living.
Now, you're the Environment Minister. Do you think we should be digging up more coal and sending it overseas?
Sure. Look, there are really two goals that I want to achieve.
One is lower overall global emissions than there would otherwise have been.
And if we adopt better technologies we can do that, and it's not about the fuel source. It all depends on how that fuel is used.
And of course solar and wind don't have emissions, but at this point in history they come with a significantly higher cost.
Now that is coming down, but it is still, if we're honest, a higher cost – which is why they require subsidies.
The cost of coal is at the low end, and other countries – and the real point here is that we shouldn't be neo-colonialists – other countries are choosing to bring people out of poverty on a grand scale = China first, and now India progressively.
And they are choosing a mixture of energy sources, and where they're choosing Australian energy in the overwhelming number of cases it's lower sulphur, lower ash, and therefore cleaner than the alternatives.
Do you – but okay, alright, so what you're saying is that we sell them black coal from New South Wales and Queensland and that's okay – but would you ever export brown coal from Victoria?
Well it's interesting that the Andrews Government has opened up a potential tender, which will ultimately I think be about exporting coal.
Now if that ever comes before me as a Minister, I'll have to deal with it on the facts.
As a Federal Minister, you don't have a discretion with the Federal Environment Act – you're like a judge, you have to judge against the facts and the law.
You're like a judge, are you? So what, you're like an academic who sits in an ivory tower, gets paid a lot of money, and knows nothing about the real world?
No, completely the opposite. There are two distinct parts to the job – being out in the environment, setting policy about our environmental works, our priorities, how we reduce emissions.
But one particular component, this Federal Environment Act, is about making decisions on the law and on the facts.
Elsewhere, you have high degrees of discretion.
And for example, I fought for and made sure we abolished the carbon tax because I didn't think it was working, and it was driving up electricity prices. We put in place something which is reducing emissions and reducing electricity prices.
On the Environment Act side, the role of the Minister is as a decision-maker.
And all I'm saying here is that you actually have to be scrupulous in applying the law and you don't have the discretions that you do where for the vast majority of your portfolio you are the policy-maker.
What does it mean? It means that you've got a Victorian Government that says it wants to open up more brown coal resources.
I think they ought to be clear as to whether or not that's for export.
Okay, now on a separate thing – Dorothy rang us earlier on in the program, and she talked about disenfranchised youth, which I think was a reference to particularly Muslim youths, who feel they're not a part of Australian society.
But she said bring back a type of national service.
Now outside my house for the past week, coming and going but usually parked there overnight, has been a minibus with Green Army written on the side.
Is it likely that this part of the Green Army that you set up when you become Environment Minister a while back?
Yes, it would be. So the Green Army is – it's building to a team of 15,000 young people.
Right around the country we have teams of nine young people and a coordinator that are in the field, they're cleaning up local areas, they're rehabilitating parks and riverbanks and foreshores…
…but what are they doing – I live in the inner city – I mean there are a couple of small parks around there but there aren't – this isn't too much greenery. I mean, what are they doing there?
Well, there are city projects. Why they are parked outside your house – it could be that the coordinator lives near you…
They're spying on me.
…I don't know the answer. I suspect they're not spying on you but- unless you've got a green thumb and you're doing great things with your garden…
…but what we've got is young people – they're between 17 and 24 – it is voluntary in the sense that participate of their own free will but they are paid north of $600 up to nearly $1000 a fortnight.
And they're getting tremendous experience, doing really good things for the environment, they have great self-esteem, and they're going on to work or they're going on to further study.
And the communities that are hosting them are generally being extremely supportive.
Finally and briefly, overnight there's been a bit of a landslide in Canada.
What was suspected to be a fairly close election has not worked out that way.
The Liberal Party, under Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has won 52 per cent of the seats.
And the ex-Prime Minister – now ex-Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who is in charge of the Conservative Party and who is a friend, and I guess political ally, of former Prime Minister here, Tony Abbott, has won just 28 per cent of the votes.
Does this suggest a changing of the guard? A move away from harder right Prime Ministers, or leaders?
Look, I don't think you can interpret it that way.
Each country votes on its own reasons and it was a very, very long standing Government.
We know that in the UK, David Cameron has just been re-elected.
We know that here in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull's early response from the public has been incredibly supportive.
In New Zealand, John Key has been a very long term and very successful centre-right Prime Minister with business experience that in many ways is comparable to Malcolm Turnbull's.
So around the western world, you have governments of both persuasions.
Angela Merkel for example is really one of the stars of the global leadership scene, and she's a centre-right leader who's been in power for a very long time now.
So each government has to ultimately come to an end. I think Stephen Harper has served Canada very well and we wish the new Government all the best and we'll work closely with them.
Mr Hunt, thank you for your time.