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Minister discusses resource security legislation, which has passed through the House of Representatives

RICHARD ACKLAND: It's shaping up to be one of the most interesting political struggle in years, and it's over policy not personalities. The Government's much-vaunted resource security legislation has passed through the House of Representatives and will now go on to the Senate where it's future may not be so bright. Let's join Pru at the Parliament House studios. Good morning, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Good morning, Richard. Have you got a cold? Are you enjoying Adelaide?

RICHARD ACKLAND: Bit of a croak, and loving your home town - just gorgeous.

PRU GOWARD: It's a beautiful city, isn't it?

RICHARD ACKLAND: It is lovely.

PRU GOWARD: Very civilised. Well, let's look at resource security. In a nut shell, resource security means the Government will stick to the rules. All development projects involving natural resources, like minerals or forests, will have to pass strict tests. But at least business knows them and the Government can't change its mind like it did with Coronation Hill. So far, so good. But the new rules in the forest industry would only apply to developments costing more than $100 million, which is good for them but apparently terrible for anything smaller. For forest projects, anything less than $100 million in investment, and there is no security, almost no chance of getting your project going. As for compensation for lost jobs and profit opportunities - well, forget it. And this is where the fight is.

The politics are even more complicated. The Democrats think it's too soft on development and will oppose it in the Senate. The Opposition thinks it's too green and say they'll oppose it too if certain amendments aren't passed. In reality, they might quite like the new legislation to fail because that would mean no forestry development at all, and the Government might suffer the jobs backlash. But this morning, let's look at the Government's position. They've put this Bill to appease business and investor confidence to get jobs going. But it's not where the votes are. The votes are with saving trees. Resources Minister, Alan Griffiths, actually put amendments to Cabinet similar to the Opposition's, but these were rejected because Cabinet feared a loss of green preferences, calculated out at about 3 or 4 per cent; and when you're trailing your opposition in the polls by as much 18 per cent, well, that three or four can really count.

Well, joining me now, Resources Minister, Alan Griffiths. Minister, thanks very much for joining us this morning. Well, if votes are the bottom line, do you agree that there are more votes in the trees, as Graham Richardson argues, than there are jobs in country towns?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, first of all, votes are not the bottom line. This is an unpopular jurisdiction for any Government, but I think the Government has taken the right, responsible approach, providing or striking a balance between the need for sustainable jobs and a proper and balanced environmental approach. But Pru, can I just take up a couple of points, because you've repeated a lot of the mistaken impressions in relation to this issue. You talk about those projects under $100 million not being covered. Well, they're not covered directly by the legislation but they are covered and are provided a degree of certainty and security via intergovernmental agreement, unlike intergovernmental agreements we've ever had in the past - that is, where resource is withdrawn from even a small saw mill, they have an entitlement under our proposal to seek monetary compensation from the State Government who brings about that withdrawal. And secondly, in the event of a small saw mill seeking coverage under these new separate arrangements, the Commonwealth Government will provide longer-term export licences, providing of course that there is a proper account taken, first of all, all the environmental issues, and then, secondly, is a lever, if you like, to bring about more value adding in what is in some parts a very Dickensian industry.

PRU GOWARD: But the fact is that if it's a small investment, if it's less than $100 million, it's a lot more difficult to get it passed than if it's a big one. That's a bottom line, isn't it?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: No, no. No, in fact, quite the contrary, quite the contrary. I mean, if a small saw mill had to go through the hoops that are required for a .. in excess of $1 billion project, it would simply send them broke.

PRU GOWARD: Well, then why does NAFI, the Forest Industry Association, prefer the hoops to this process?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I mean, NAFI .. their position is one for them to comment on. I've never been able to understand it completely, but nevertheless, that's their position. I should stress, though, that NAFI are very strong in supporting the passing of this legislation, as indeed are the companies, as indeed is the ACTU - frankly, as indeed are most players, excepting the Opposition.

PRU GOWARD: Minister, it's really .. isn't it a cop out to say you can't comment on NAFI position? I mean, it doesn't take Einstein to work it out, does it?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I think they're wrong.

PRU GOWARD: I mean, if they thought that your legislation for your big companies was the best way, the easiest way to get their projects passed, they'd support it, wouldn't they?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: They are supporting it. Can I just make this point, very strongly? The National Association of Forest Industries are supporting this legislation. They argue they would like it to go further but their position is quite clear. They are supporting the legislation.

PRU GOWARD: But Minister, they don't want this secondary process for smaller companies, that you've described, because they say they're much less likely to get their projects approved.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, can I just say, you know, I'm regarded, I think, as reasonably robust in this area. I think they are wrong. And what I've indicated to NAFI is I am not taking into Cabinet or anywhere else, bad policy simply because a lobby group think it's good policy. I am absolutely committed to the view that it's wrong. I've never supported it, unlike your introductory remarks indicated. I've always taken the view that the non-large pulp mill and other major projects industries should be treated under this sort of legislation, but the smaller saw mill area, I've argued - and NAFI will confirm this - I've argued right from the outset that the appropriate path to follow is the one that I indicated in the second reading speech.

PRU GOWARD: And the politics of it, Minister, are that I guess you're hoping the Libs will be blamed for stopping the Tasmanian pulp mill and the electorate won't remember that you might have been making it a bit tougher for some others.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I've put about two years of my life into this. You know, I would have thought that if the Opposition .. that it is quite clear if the Opposition blocked the legislation, then the pulp mill won't proceed in Tasmania. There is nothing surer. Nor will an expansion of Maryvale, which may be a little further down the track, but neither will it proceed. But the issue is one for the Opposition. I mean, the Government has passed the legislation in the House of Representatives. I mean, everyone seems to be forgetting that when it gets to the Senate, the Government will support it. If it is opposed, then of course it will be opposed by the Opposition and it will .. and combined with the Democrats, it will fail. But, you know, I think it would be a little unfair, in fact almost disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the Government, which is doing its best, its utmost, to pass the legislation, would look forward to its failure. I certainly do not, nor do my colleagues.

PRU GOWARD: Minister, thanks very much for joining Daybreak, this morning. Resources Minister, Alan Griffiths.