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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky news AM Agenda: 27 August 2009: Gorgon expansion approval.

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27 AUGUST 2009

SUBJECTS: Gorgon expansion approval

GILBERT: Environment Minister Peter Garrett joins us now on AM Agenda.

Peter Garrett, thanks for your time. Do you have any concerns that you have just given environmental approval to a project that could add one percent to the nation’s greenhouse emissions?

GARRETT: Well, Kieran my responsibility under the legislation is very clear, it is to see whether there are impacts on matters of national environmental significance and if there are, to make sure that they are not significant impacts and to put conditions on any approval that comes to me. That is what I have done with this particular project. I have done it on the back of the pre-existing approvals that were given by the former environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull. And in doing that I have strengthened Mr Turnbull’s original conditions. I have calibrated the conditions that he put on with the conditions that I have added and I have done it in such a way to make sure, as I always endeavour to do, to discharge my responsibilities under the federal legislation.

Under that legislation there is no requirement for me to consider greenhouse gas impacts or other matters. Of course I am aware of the size of the Gorgon proposal but I would say simply this: that in the longer term Australia will continue to build a sustainable economy by having a price in the marketplace for carbon. That is why we need a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme -something that the Opposition have refused to countenance so far and still members of the Coalition, particularly the National Party, are vehemently opposed to. And the second thing I would say is that with Gorgon, we will have the largest Carbon, Capture and Storage program underway in order to sequester some of those carbon emissions. CCS is obviously an important part of reducing emissions in the long term as well.

GILBERT: You talk about that technology but as you have conceded there are some uncertainties around it and particularly the threat and the risk that there could be carbon leakage. You’ve conceded as much yourself.

GARRETT: Well, look I am not sure that I conceded that we are going to have carbon leakage on that site. Certainly I recognise, as I think everybody does who has looked at this closely, that CCS deployment is something which has to be managed very carefully. The Government has no reason to doubt the suitability of the chosen site at Gorgon. I know that the joint venture partners, West Australian officials and the Commonwealth have undertaken rigorous environmental assessment of this project and its location. But of course part of that is monitoring and very, very comprehensive and robust monitoring, to make sure that there aren’t leaks or in the event that there are leaks over the longer term, and these are very long term projects that we are talking about, that they are properly monitored and taken into account and taken care of.

GILBERT: You concede that it is possible that there are leaks at Barrow Island because this sort of project, we have never seen one as large as this in terms of this technology, you don’t know how it is going to rollout?

GARRETT: Well what I think we can say is that there will be a comprehensive reporting regime, there will be strict regulatory requirements covering the CO2 site plan and I notice this morning Mr Cook from the CRC for Greenhouse Gas Technology saying that this is a particularly suitable site for CO2 sequestration. So there is no reason to doubt the feasibility of the site. Scientists and others associated with this project are aware, as everybody is aware, with geology over time that in some locations there may be leaks. But the point is to find the absolute best possible site, to make sure that you have got the right mechanisms, the right regulations and the like in place to ensure that you are absolutely certain about how the CO2 is going to be stored safely there. And make sure in the longer term that when the reservoir’s capped and the site is close, that you continue to monitor.

GILBERT: Minister, you say that you acted under the legislation, that you weren’t required to look at the emissions from the project. Did you feel hamstrung?

GARRETT: No I didn’t, Kieran and I have noticed commentary that we seem to have around these decisions that I make as an environmental minister.

It is really clear to me that my role in this job is a regulator role and I have got to make sure that I look closely and carefully at the advice that I receive, that I do it in the terms that the national environment legislation that I am bound to follow, that I take into account the best available scientific advice and submissions from the public as well, and that I do that in the terms in which the proposal comes to me.

Now this particular proposal comes to me with already existing approvals from Minister Turnbull. It is about the expansion of Gorgon, it is about the third train. And the matters that I had to consider here, legally, were matters to do with listed, threatened and endangered species and Commonwealth marine waters.

Now I heard Senator Brown making some comments yesterday about choosing alternative sites and criticising this decision. It seems to me that Senator Brown and the Greens would prefer an environmental minister who actually broke the law, who exposed companies to sovereign risk and ultimately exposed the taxpayers to extraordinary legal costs in the event that they did take an unlawful action.

I am bound to operate and I do operate properly within the national environment legislation. I make sure I set the bar as high as I think it needs to be set and as people would expect it to be set in terms of protecting the environment, and that is what I have done with this proposal.

GILBERT: OK, one final question I want to ask you about the timeline of all of this. We saw announcements spruiking last week by the Government, on the multi-billion dollar deals done with China on LNG and LNG contracts. Do you regret the way that this has been rolled out, that the Government looks like it has put the cart before the horse and the effect, implications it has had on your decisions and the way it looks?

GARRETT: Look, Kieran I make my decision on the basis of the advice I receive from the Department after properly considering the federal legislation, as I have just said. I have done that in this case, I do it in all the cases in front of me. This project has been on foot for decades. The original approval by Minister Turnbull on that site, on Barrow Island, the approvals that had been undertaken by the West Australian Government and the conditions the West Australian Government minister had placed on it as well, and I think it was very clear, even from the statements that other senior ministers made, that there were additional regulatory matters that had to be considered. I have considered them in terms of the advice and the time that it came to me. I have made sure that we have got strict environmental conditions in this - some 28 additional conditions which the company have said this morning that they are willing to accept and I think that is a positive sign, and I have done it in a way which is consistent with my decision making powers as the regulator.

GILBERT Good on you. Environment Minister Peter Garrett, appreciate your time on AM Agenda this morning. Thank you.

GARRETT: Thanks Kieran.