Topics: Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project, Paris climate conference
Good afternoon Mr Hunt.
And good afternoon David.
Has anything changed with this new approval?
Look what we've done is add additional conditions in relation to what's known as the Doongmabulla Springs.
That's to make sure that an already tight and strong and safe set of conditions was even tighter and stronger.
All up there are 36 strict conditions – arguably some of the strictest conditions in Australian environmental history.
And it's an area that's 300 kilometres inland. It's remote, dry, dusty Queensland.
I've visited the site myself. It's an area that's been used over the years for cattle amongst other things.
It's a very dry, dusty area. If you imagine outback Queensland, this is deep outback Queensland.
You mention the fact that there are 36 conditions now. How many were there in the last set of approvals?
Look, we had a similar number, but we've added additional conditions now.
So the numbers haven't – so there are still the same number of conditions?
We've added additional work in relation to the Doongmabulla Springs.
So on the Springs, let me take you through exactly what we've done in particular.
What we've done is add the – the approval conditions limit the drawdown to 20 centimetres, which is virtually saying no possible impact at all.
And what that does here means that we have to have the groundwater monitoring and a management plan that includes details of a monitoring system and early warnings.
So that is actually very tough. I know that there was a view that that might be one of the toughest ever environmental conditions in Australian history.
Was the fact that you had to withdraw it a couple of months ago embarrassing to you personally?
Look, it's a fact of life. We withdrew it because there was the risk that the Court might place what would effectively be a new standard requiring materials which hadn't previously been provided.
So there's obviously material that hadn't been provided to me by the Department. But it's part and parcel of the process.
There was a new Court decision in relation to something that Tony Burke determined which rejected and overturned his decision.
In this case the court made no findings. We pre-emptively and on a precautionary basis made sure that – we wanted to remove any semblance of doubt.
And I've gone back and looked at it and it's possibly the most exhaustive environmental assessment in Australian history.
But this is an area that is in the deep outback. It's dry, it's dusty, it's remote.
And even then we've put in place, as they say, some of the toughest conditions…
Sure, you've mentioned that a couple of times along with the dry and dusty.
Did you spend more time considering some of the issues like the yakka skink and ornamental snake that caused the problems?
Look, I looked very, very closely at those.
It's important to understand that, contrary to much of the press, we already had extremely strong standards in relation to them – 135 hectares of ornamental snake habitat had to be acquired, 5600 hectares of yakka skink habitat.
The reason that the approval was withdrawn was because two documents relating to that were not attached to the advice that was passed from the Department to the Minister.
That's simply a matter of fact. That hadn't been the practice in relation to documents produced at that particular time.
But the materials themselves had actually been considered, and that's what really important. The full protection had already been given.
So there was a technical issue which we didn't want to let interfere.
But I took the opportunity to consider every new piece of information, to impose even tougher conditions.
And I think the important thing here is that we have gone through possibly the most rigorous assessment in Australian environmental history.
The Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is our guest on 612 ABC Brisbane this afternoon discussing the fresh approval process from the federal environment perspective for the Adani Coal Mine in Central Queensland.
You spoke of course about some of the creatures, some of the concerns for endangered members of the wildlife population.
The black throated finch is one of those. BirdLife Australia says the mine poses unacceptable risks to the population, which is found in greater numbers at this mine site than anywhere else in Australia.
Are you comfortable with what's being done for that bird?
Yes, I took very, very significant advice.
And the departmental advice was clear and categorical that the proposals we were putting in place here for 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat was an extremely significant offset.
It was something which may well have been far more than was required under the law, but I wanted to make sure that there was no question that we were putting in place long-term, deep, profound protection.
Can you explain what that is? Because at this stage it's just under 30,000 hectares of the most prime black throated finch habitat that will be destroyed. What is there for an offset?
So this is 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat which has to be acquired – reserved…
Acquired, did that – where do they get it from?
Well, that is one of the elements that the company has to provide, and it has to in fact be improved.
So there's no – it's always subject to the approval of the Commonwealth, and it has to meet the standards, and the Department does a rigorous assessment.
This is an approach which has been used through successive governments.
I guess – and I don't want to harp on it – BirdLife Australia and other bird groups and green groups say putting offsets in place doesn't actually create new habitat for the creatures.
Effectively it's just saying move into those houses next door which already have people living in them.
Well this is a fundamental part of the Federal Environment Act, and it's a legal requirement. It puts in place protections and it puts in place acquisitions and indeed improvements.
So I would respectfully but categorically reject the proposition.
Green groups say that the coal dug up from this particular mine will produce around 120 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, equivalent effectively to Australia's emissions from electricity.
Do you as an Environment Minister have to consider that?
No, we have to consider what are known as the matters of national environmental significance. They're set out categorically in the Federal Environment Act…
Is climate change one of those?
…and you are not entitled in fact to consider things which are not under the Federal Environment Act. That is a matter of law that has been determined repeatedly.
So I might actually just take a step back here – because here the Environment Minister is not a policy maker, the environment minister is like a judge.
You don't get to choose what comes before you – because of course this was a project that was set in motion by the Bligh Government.
And you don't get to pick and choose on the basis of what you might like or not like.
You have to apply the law and it has to be done in an absolutely rigorous fashion.
And the legal and scientific advice was categorical.
And so for example, we had to consider matters of national environmental significance such as national heritage places, wetlands of international importance, listed threatened species, listed migratory species, water resources and others.
As an Environment Minister though, you must be pretty upset that you don't get to consider matters that relate to the environment such as putting 120 million tonnes of carbon emissions into the air.
Look, my other role is of course in terms of climate change and what matters is the total figure.
So all that the planet knows is the total figure of emissions.
And we go towards what's called the Paris Conference at the end of the year and the world is working to clear targets.
And we're actually far ahead of where we were a year ago in terms of meeting those targets.
Australia has just dramatically revised our targets so as we will reduce our emissions by minus 26-28 per cent.
India is setting its own limits in a way which hadn't – it hadn't previously done.
So what matters is that we operate within our targets and our limits.
That's what will deliver an outcome for the world.
Is this the final hurdle for this mine? What's the next step?
So this is the primary approval. They also have to produce a groundwater plan and exactly what you and I were discussing – an offset strategy – before they can proceed.
Okay. When you talk about going to the Paris climate talks, can Australia go to the talks like that with – standing upright and standing proudly, having agreed to allow one of the biggest emitters of carbon to be dug out of its own soil?
Does it make it – and put us in a – I suppose – between a rock and a very black, hard place?
Well, I think one of the important things here is that whilst this project is being considered, the Indians have gone to Indonesia and sourced additional material there – with higher sulphur content, higher ash content.
And so the point here is that our job is to ensure that the world achieves its targets.
We're one of the few countries that will actually have achieved our Kyoto one and Kyoto two targets.
And whenever we pledge we actually deliver.
We've met and beaten our first round of targets.
We are going to meet and beat our second round of targets.
And then we've set a 2030 target that I am exceptionally confident we will reach.
And that gives us the capacity as a country to – as the years go by – to do more and more.
Greg Hunt, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
Thanks, I really appreciate it. Take care.