Transcript of Media Conference
Marrickville Town Hall
26 July 2006
Subject: Environment Minister’s actions, Bald Hills Wind Farm, Uranium Mining.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m here today to talk about Minister Ian Campbell’s political decision to block the Bald Hills Wind Farm, which has potentially exposed the Commonwealth to legal action and damages.
On the 5th of April 2006, the Minister said that he decided to block the Bald Hills Wind Farm in Victoria because, “The report commissioned by my Department has said the Orange Bellied Parrot which is threatened and in a very precarious situation as a species can’t really stand any further impacts.”
We now know that this was not true. Once again, the Minister for the Environment has misled the Australian public. It’s clear this decision was not made for environmental or scientific reasons, but was all about politics.
The Minister’s own department recommended approval for this project on the 10th of March 2006 because as they advised, there did not appear to be direct evidence of any impact on the Orange Bellied Parrot from the Bald Hills Wind Farm. What this does is expose the Minister and therefore the Commonwealth to potential legal action under the tort of misfeasance in public office.
Because the Minister’s decision was not for environmental reasons and the Minister knew his actions would probably harm the project and cause damages, the Minister has exposed the Commonwealth to potential damages.
To potentially protect 1 parrot every 1000 years, the Minister stopped a $220million project that would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 435,000 tonnes a year. This typifies the Government’s attitude towards renewable energy projects. At a time when there is a trillion dollar industry emerging in renewable energy, this is a government that blocked this project because of politics.
We also know that $500million worth of projects in Tasmania and South Australia will not be proceeding due to the Government’s failure to increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. The Government has simply got its attitude towards renewable energy all wrong because of its obsession with trying to bring nuclear energy into Australia.
REPORTER: Isn’t it the case that the Minister though has the right under that legislation to ignore departmental advice and has a right to ministerial discretion?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well there is certainly considerable Ministerial discretion under the EPBC Act. But what there isn’t discretion over is in the Common Law and tort law to create decisions on the basis of malicious intent when there has been clear advice to the contrary.
The consideration is that the Commonwealth could be liable because of the Minister’s failure to take proper account of advice which he was given. If he chose to ignore that advice, and a court determined that was done deliberately, then both the Minister and the Commonwealth could be liable for damages.
REPORTER: Are you accusing the Minister of lying or was he just playing with words?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Quite clearly, the Minister lied to the Australian public when he said that this decision was based upon sound advice. It’s very clear, given the Minister’s own department indicated to him that there was no evidence of this parrot, the Orange Bellied Parrot, being in the vicinity of the Bald Hills Wind Farm project, that this was a decision based upon politics, not based upon good environmental practice, and what that does is to undermine the whole basis of confidence from the public, in the EPBC Act.
It also serves to undermine good infrastructure planning, good employment prospects and good environmental outcomes by undermining the renewable energy industry in Australia.
REPORTER: You’re saying that the Liberal Party promised the local electorate to oppose the wind farm in the first place, so this was just paying them back for that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This of course was a project that was in the electorate of McMillan. Prior to the election, Minister Campbell indicated his opposition to this particular project, and quite clearly this has been a political decision, but it’s a decision which has undermined confidence in terms of business and infrastructure planning and undermined the renewable energy industry.
REPORTER: I don’t understand why it’s political. Why is that electorate against the wind farm?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Minister quite clearly had campaigned and had indeed written to constituents in that electorate, indicating his opposition. The candidate for McMillan, Russell Broadbent, campaigned during the last federal election on this issue, indicating his opposition to this project.
And if you try to find a rational reason for why the project has been rejected by the Minister, then it’s very clear it has been rejected for political reasons because there are no sound environmental or scientific reasons for this project to be rejected, particularly given that five similar projects were approved.
REPORTER: Why is it an electoral winner to block a wind farm?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s not up to me to answer that. That’s obviously a judgement that has been made by Minister Campbell and it’s unfortunate that we have an Environment Minister who is prepared to make decisions which are against the environment, which undermine the renewable energy industry.
But the Minister has quite clearly tried to make wind farms a political issue. It isn’t just in Bald Hills, but with a community based wind farm project in Denmark in Western Australia, he attempted to intervene to stop that wind farm.
He has also argued that there needs to be a national code on wind farms in spite of the fact that he has had a report with national guidelines sitting on his desk for more than year that he refused to respond to. So this is a government with a Minister for the Environment who’s been prepared to play politics with these issues, which serve to undermine confidence in both Commonwealth environmental legislation, and also confidence in terms of the investment community.
REPORTER: Where should residents in rural areas who don’t want noisy wind farms on beautiful landscapes, where are they in this process?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Their opinions should certainly be a part of the process of consideration of these projects wherever they are suggested. What we have here though is the Minister stating that he was making this decision to reject the wind farm on the basis of good advice, on the basis of environmental and scientific reasons, when it is very clear that that simply isn’t the case.
REPORTER: $3 billion has been spent on wind farms [inaudible] John Howard last week said that he wanted to expand renewable energy including wind farms. Isn’t that a government that is supporting renewable energy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well John Howard said that, but you have to look at what he does, not what he says, when it comes to John Howard, and you can just ask Peter Costello to confirm that that’s the case.
John Howard has established a 2% Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. That target has now been reached, and therefore support and subsidies for wind farms will desist, as they will for other forms of renewable energy, including solar energy, bio-fuels, wave energy, and other possibilities.
Evidence of that is the decision by the Roaring 40’s company in Tasmania not to proceed with 2 projects, one in Tasmania and one in South Australia, that were worth $500million. They did that and made that announcement and directly attributed their withdrawal from those projects to the Government’s failure to increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target in the Federal Budget. So companies are saying that they are withdrawing investment, and in this case, it’s the same company that has done a $300million deal with China to export wind farms to China.
It’s a tragedy that renewable energy is welcome in China, but Australian innovation is not welcome here, and is not being commercialised here.
And $500million it must be said also is the same figure that Australia received from uranium exports last year, so given the obsession the Howard Government has with issues nuclear, it’s extraordinary that their policies have directly resulted in that investment not going ahead.
REPORTER: Will Kim Beazley succeed in getting the Labor Party to get rid of the ‘no new mines’ policy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That will be up the delegates to the ALP National Conference next April, but quite clearly there is considerable opposition to a watering down of Labor’s ‘no new mines’ policy from members, from branches and from affiliated trade unions. What people know is that while you can guarantee that uranium mining leads to nuclear waste, what you can’t guarantee is that uranium mining won’t lead to the creation of nuclear weapons.
The Labor Party Membership knows that. This is a view that has been strongly held and will continue to be debated in the lead up to the Conference next April.
REPORTER: Won’t it be fatal for his leadership if he’s defeated on this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, it won’t at all. What we are seeing is a mature, responsible debate in a democratic fashion from a modern political party. This is as it should be. Kim has made his views clear, but the Party members have a right to participate in that debate and will take their views to delegates to that national conference.
I note today that one newspaper is predicting results and outcomes, which is remarkable given that delegates to the Conference haven’t been elected yet. So maybe they know more than the people who are inside the Labor Party.
I’d suggest that anyone who thinks they can predict outcomes doesn’t understand how democratic the Labor Party is, but maybe they’ll come to understand that over coming months.
REPORTER: [inaudible] …would you be prepared to admit that if you split the motion into allowing new mining but no enrichment that that would be [inaudible] quite acceptable?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s actually not the way, and I don’t know who said that, but that’s actually not the way the processes of the Labor Party work. That particular report had people’s factions wrong, had all the details wrong.
What will occur is that a draft platform will go up to the Labor Party Conference. Amendments may or may not be moved to that. The National Policy Committee hasn’t even determined what the draft platform will be that will go to the Conference yet, so it’s very premature, 9 months out, for people to be talking about processes of motions.
There are committed people who are committed to reinforcing Labor’s anti-nuclear and anti-uranium position at that conference and we’ll see what happens in the debate.
REPORTER: What do you think of Clare Martin’s about-face?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly I think if you look at what the State and Territory leaders have said, it puts the debate into some perspective.
In Western Australia, Premier Carpenter has taken the principled view that he has a mandate against uranium mining because, as he said, inevitably if you have uranium mining, you’ve got nuclear waste, and it has to go somewhere, and Western Australia has already been targeted by the Howard Government as a potential site for a nuclear waste dump.
In Queensland, Premier Beattie has expressed concern with any potential change to Labor’s policy.
In NSW here, Premier Iemma has pointed out that it is actually illegal in NSW, punishable by a jail term, for people not just to mine uranium, but exploration for uranium is outlawed under legislation, carried by the Labor Government in 1988 and he’s indicated he has no intention of changing that position.
Premier Bracks has indicated his support for the existing policy.
Clare Martin has expressed her view but I think it is interesting that the election last year gave a clear mandate to the Northern Territory Government to oppose further uranium mining. But it also should be noted of course that given the Howard Government’s clear ability and desire from time to time to intervene in the Northern Territory and override territory governments, at any time in the last 10 years if the Howard Government had wanted to approve a mine in the Northern Territory, it could have intervened to do so, so it does say something about the reality of the demand for new mines being opened in the Northern Territory.