Topics: Abbot Point Growth Gateway project
Minister Hunt, good afternoon.
And good afternoon Craig.
Environmentalists say this plan will ruin the Reef. Why do you think it should go ahead?
Well it is of course a Queensland Labor Government proposal.
And there are two big things here. The first ism we've seen a 97 per cent reduction in the amount of dredge spoil proposed.
The original Queensland Labor proposal under the Bligh Government was 38 times larger – this is now, as I say, a 97 per cent reduction.
The second thing is, the environmental groups two years ago were demanding that it be on land, then demanding that it be within the industrial port site – and that's exactly what's happened.
So a 97 per cent reduction, a Queensland Labor Government proposal, and it's taking what's largely sand based material from within an existing industrial port zone and placing it on land within an existing industrial port zone on land.
So Minister Hunt you're comfortable being the man who has given this the tick of approval, this project that could create one of the world's largest coal ports?
Well as you know, there is an existing major port that’s already in existence.
And these decisions are based on statute and law.
But of course there was an enormous amount of focus on the proponents originally – but it's the Queensland Labor Government, they are the proponent, it's their particular project.
And what we do is make sure that it complies with federal environment law.
And the federal environment law is absolutely clear that a 97 per cent reduction of taking what's a largely sand based material from within an existing industrial port zone and placing that on existing cleared industrial port land is absolutely without question within the federal environment law parameters.
The policy questions are of course questions for the current State Government, Queensland Labor Government, to address.
But does that mean that you are ambivalent about whether it goes ahead or not?
Well no, I approach all of these things in relation to the strict role as a – effectively as a quasi-judge.
Under the federal environment Act it's not for the Minister to substitute policy views or preferences.
You are the arbiter of the law, and the law here is clear and the advice is categorical.
And indeed we're releasing the statement of decisions as well so as there will be complete transparency.
So you're saying you're following the legislation to the letter of the law.
But then what is your policy view on this, should this port go ahead?
Well it's a matter for the Queensland Government. It's their proposal, and…
But as Federal Environment Minister, you'd have a view. What's that view?
Well my view is that it is within the law.
And let's understand the history here.
I received an initial proposal, it was a Queensland Labor Government proposal inherited by the previous State Government, which was about an at sea proposal.
I then worked to have it brought on land, worked to have all five proposals that were received – over 60 million tonnes of dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – stopped.
Yeah, Minister Hunt, with respect, you've already gone over the history and how it has changed over that time.
You just asked me about my view, so I'm giving you my view.
So I'll finish on that, with respect.
And then the third thing that we changed the law forever so as there is no marine park disposal, and in my view will never occur again for any capital dredge disposal.
So those are the policy elements – where we moved to have Queensland bring it on land, to end all five dredge disposal proposals for the marine park which we inherited – none of which we had proposed or developed ourselves – and then finally to change the law so as that could never occur again – a century's practice has been ended, in my view, forever.
And now it's a sand based material from an industrial port zone going on land in an industrial port zone – which was what the environment groups were arguing for only a very short while ago.
Minister Hunt, conservation groups say the State Government shouldn't proceed with the dredging project unless the Carmichael Mine achieves financial closure – that it does happen and Adani sign off on making that investment.
What do you think about that line?
Look I think that's entirely a matter for the Queensland Government.
It's very important to understand that in this space that the Federal Government isn't creating the projects or the proposals.
We assess according to a very strict law and if those assessments aren't done properly of course, then they're subject to review.
That's why I keep myself very much to the law in these projects.
Where it's change of practice that we're advocating – things such as the ending of dredge disposal forever – then that's where I express a personal opinion.
And I set out to change that law. We did change that law.
And being the first person in Australian history to make such a decision, to change that law, I feel that that was an important step forward.
If you're just joining me on the Country Hour, my guest is the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
Mr Hunt your office says the Queensland Government still needs to give approvals before the project can go ahead. What's actually left to happen?
So what we have now is we have got a series of things to take forward from here.
There's a dredge management plan which has to be completed, an onshore environmental management plan which has to be completed, and then what's called a dredge material management plan.
So those are elements that are still to be developed.
Minister Hunt, my understanding is that under your approval the Queensland Government will be allowed to change the plan without having it reapproved if it doesn't have a new or increased impact. Is that correct?
This is minor and administrative changes.
So anything which is substantial, anything which affects the outcome or the water quality, would of course have to be referred back to the Federal Government…
For instance there has been a tug boat harbour suggested that may have to be part of the proposal – a tug boat harbour – if that was to be the case would that have to be come back to you?
Of course it would.
Now this was put forward – now you asked about the timing, we would probably have been able to achieve this outcome a week early, a week before schedule – this question of the tug boat harbour was put forward by one of the environment groups.
It was asserted as if it were a fact and that it could be slipped through without approval.
If this approval doesn't include such a harbour, if such a proposal were put forward then it would have to be in accordance with state and federal law.
And not to do so would in fact be an action that would be punishable under the federal law.
Now of course this is a big part – the Abbot Point expansion is a big part – of the overall Adani plan for the Carmichael Mine, a massive project in Central Queensland in the Galilee Basin, $16 billion mine and rail development.
But it has to get the coal to India and to do so it will be exported through Abbot Point if it all goes ahead.
Now how do you feel about that process being in train, given that the rhetoric I guess of the Paris climate talks just recently.
What future do you see – Greg Hunt, as the Australian Environment Minister – for coal?
Well the Paris outcome was to create a global cap of well below two degrees with then a task of striving towards 1.5, and then for individual countries to create and set and achieve their own targets.
We are of course now well and truly on track to meet and beat our 2020 targets.
We've set a challenging and ambitious 2030 target but we'll also meet that.
India itself has set its own targets which are part of the global goal and they presume the presence of increased electricity consumption – their overall electricity consumption is likely to increase about five times between now and 2020…
And you're happy for Australian coal to feed that electricity consumption?
Well the best advice is that – and the Indians themselves make this point very strongly that – they've set a cap for themselves, if they didn't have Australian resources, they would turn elsewhere.
A very significant part of their electricity growth is renewable but they will still be doubling their conventional energy.
If they didn't have Australian participation in that, it's likely that there would be a significant increase in the overall emissions that they would put out, because they would be using lower quality fuel and in all likelihood they wouldn't be able to have power stations that were either what are called super-critical or ultra-super-critical.
So lower quality fuel and lower efficiency stations – so the net global impact of not using Australian fuels would be for emissions to go up, not down.
Greg Hunt, appreciate your time, thank you very much.
Look I appreciate it enormously, all the best to you and your listeners.