Topics: Cities, renewable energy, infrastructure investment, Environment portfolio, EPBC Act
Greg Hunt, good morning.
Good morning Michael.
Clearly this appears to be a turnaround in the view from the Government about public transport. Is it a change of emphasis?
Look, there is an increased focus. That's the honest answer. And it's part of three broad pillars that the Government has – and in particular myself and Jamie Briggs and the Prime Minister in relation to better cities.
The first is, as you say, long term planning.
The second is better transport. And what we do is we look for the best projects that will reduce congestion and improve quality of life and the ability for people to connect and move around their cities.
And the third is greener cities – the long-term agenda with parks and gardens and tree cover which has such a big impact on air quality and quality of life, and ocean outfalls and improving the quality of water near our cities.
Okay, so you are now looking at ways to fund major rail projects that you had previously said wouldn't be funded by federal money?
There is an increased emphasis. That's a reality and what we are doing…
So what was the – was there an ideological opposition to public transport under the Abbott government? What was that all about?
Look, there was a particular view. We now have an increased emphasis on cities, a particular emphasis on better transport in terms of whatever will reduce congestion, improve connectivity – which means the ability of people to walk, to travel, to move freely – all of the things which will create less congestion and a more liveable city environment.
And that's something which Malcolm Turnbull has focused on over many years.
I know that I have written about long term planning, about the connections in our cities myself over many years.
And Jamie Briggs has, a former Minister within the transport portfolio, done an enormous amount of work in this space.
Okay, so the view about public transport has changed, as you admit. Can we look at some of the projects that were, that were put on hold from – at least were quarantined from – federal money.
$1.5 billion for the East West Link toll road which was in a 'locked box' but couldn't be used for other transport projects in Melbourne.
Presumably that now can – the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane's Cross River Rail, the Perth Urban Rail and the Tonsley Park Rail to name just a few in Adelaide.
Well, let me start here with a very clear principle that East West Link has been identified by many people and Melbournians know that it is a fundamental essential to unclogging Melbourne.
So as a Coalition, we remain absolutely committed to East West Link and I know for people such as Michael Sukkar and Alan Tudge, their communities again and again and again – Jason Wood similarly – say this is fundamental.
Sure but not at the expense, not at the expense of rail projects?
Well, we won't be frozen. What we see though is that unfortunately there was just a sheer act of transport vandalism where that critical project was stopped in its tracks by the Victorian Government.
Nevertheless, we want to focus on practical projects – whether it's in Melbourne or Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart – that will help reduce congestion.
And so I'm coming to this and Jamie Briggs and Paul Fletcher, the trio of responsible ministers are coming to this with a very simple goal.
We've been meeting with the Prime Minister, and what he wants is projects that stack up financially, help reduce congestion, improve quality of life and at the end of the day, will lead to better cities.
So it's an approach of whatever will improve lives and reduce transport blockages, that's the key theme.
Okay, are we going to see other emphasis shifts in your area of portfolio responsibilities such as a new look at renewables?
I mean, for instance, what's your view of wind turbines? Are they still ugly, noisy and utterly offensive?
Well, I've been asked about this on many occasions and expressed my view that renewables are not only a fundamental part of our energy mix now and increasingly in the future but also that I find them and have always found them an appropriate part of Australia's energy.
What I can say is that there will be and I have had feedback on this from the industry, increased confidence.
The renewable energy target that we have set is rock solid. It's not just set in concrete, it's set in legislation.
That means that the industry – and this is feedback which I've already had – will be able to move forward, will be able to invest and indeed there are no excuses for not investing and not moving forward.
But the rhetoric has changed.
…we brought the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Agency arena into the Environment portfolio to consolidate what we're doing.
Okay, but the rhetoric does appear to be shifting as much as the emphasis because, you know, you'd have to concede it was pretty clear that there were some senior figures in the Government who took a personal crusade, if you like, against wind farms in particular.
Look, there may have been views expressed by particular individuals. But the policy of course, was for a doubling of renewables at the large scale level between now and 2020.
And that will be a challenge but I believe it can be done, and similarly for a doubling of small scale solar.
The solar PV that we see on our households and through the Solar Towns Programme in communities around Australia.
So that is an ambitious goal. It will be a challenge. I believe we can meet it.
But again, my message to the sector and to the public is – there is an important role for renewables and people should have confidence that those settings will be not only maintained but can and will be met.
Okay, what about moves introduced by the previous Government, the previous Abbott administration to block so-called vigilante litigation by green groups from challenging major projects.
Are you going to – projects like the Adani mine for instance – are you going to relook at that?
Look there are no plans from any discussions that I've had to change that law. We know that the challenge of getting it through the Senate is significant and so that will be, I expect, dealt with in due course.
But our focus here is to ensure that we have the highest standards, that as the World Heritage committee found, for example, we are a global role model in managing the Great Barrier Reef.
And that what we do is, we have high standards, we make decisions and we would hope that that means that law and science are the basis of decision-making in Australia and that everybody should be able to have confidence in that process – but nor should they be using that process as a means of deliberately thwarting and trying to override the umpire's decision.
Okay, Greg Hunt, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.