THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
THURSDAY, 27 OCTOBER 2022
SUBJECTS: RENEWABLE ENERGY; GAS AND ENERGY PRICES; ENVIRONMENT BUDGET.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Live now, the Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek. Thank you so much for your time. We are going to get to domestic issues. There’s plenty going on in your portfolio. Great to see you, by the way. This Socceroos story this morning, it’s come out of nowhere. It’s a bit of a shock. How do you feel about that?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: I feel like they’re being really gutsy. I think they’re representing Australian values on the international stage. I’m proud of them.
JAYES: Okay. Let’s talk about this gas issue and energy prices. What can be done within your portfolio and what are you looking at actively at the moment to help bring down these gas prices?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we know what we should have done, and we should have started 10 years ago on the transition to renewable energy because renewable energy is cheaper as well as being cleaner. So, the Government is getting on with that. We’ve got a $20 billion energy transmissions fund. You saw just last week the announcement that we’re bringing more renewable energy from Tasmania to Victoria and into the east coast grid. We really need to redouble our efforts to get renewable energy into the grid and then get that energy into people’s homes. That’s the best way to get energy prices down.
We are subject, in some ways, to the extraordinary prices that are being charged for coal and gas and fossil fuels around the world. That is very largely driven by what’s happening in Ukraine. We know that. And so, working out how we make sure we keep prices down for Australian consumers, both for domestic and business consumers, is going to be really important over the coming months. And the Treasurer has said he’s working with the industry to get those, particularly gas prices down
JAYES: Okay but what’s on your radar because the AWU is calling for gas reservation eventually, increasing supply, and in their document that’s been supplied to Anthony Albanese it said in part by unlocking Narrabri and Beetaloo. Are you actively looking at these projects?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I’m going to make decisions on a case-by-case basis when they come before me. I can’t speculate about the cases that may come before me. I’m a potential decision-maker under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I need to take each decision based on its merits. And of course, we consider things like demand for gas and other commodities here in Australia, but I also have to consider impacts on the natural environment, impacts on water, whether there are threatened species in the area. I’ll make those decisions on a case‑by‑case basis if they come before me.
JAYES: Given what we saw in the Budget, has this been expedited? Is there any way – when you look at these two projects that they – you look at the -
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to talk about individual projects. I can’t. I shouldn’t under law because I’m a decision-maker. But what I can say is we’ve got an extra $117 million in the Budget to make sure that decisions are made promptly. If matters come before me, the processing that’s done in the Department of Environment looking at those decisions, the collection of the science, the interpretation of the scientific evidence before us will be done promptly, and part of the reason for that is we’ve supplemented the funding with an extra $117 million.
JAYES: Okay. So, more broadly, and I know you just spoke about renewables and that they are the cheapest form of energy, but they are not right now. So do you –
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: They are still the cheapest form of energy. The problem we have is transmission and we’re getting on with building more transmission.
JAYES: That’s going to take time as well. In the meantime, bills are going up now. Do you accept that gas is our solution for now?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think we really need to work with households and industry to get bills down and I’m not going to start speculating on how the Government will do that. We’ll work through it on a methodical way. The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, is on to this. Madeleine King as Resources Minister is on to this and, of course, Chris Bowen with the climate change and energy portfolio is all over this. We are working together to get bills down.
JAYES: Let’s look at some other aspects of the Budget because there’s about $16 million for a climate warriors program. Can you tell me, is that under your portfolio? What’s that exactly for?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It’s a Chris Bowen thing, so I’ll let him talk about that. But we have $1.8 billion invested in the environment portfolio and we’re working very hard to do what we said we would do on coming to Government, which is restore the Australian environment. We saw from the State of the Environment Report that was kept secret by the previous Government that the state of the Australian environment is bad and getting worse. It’s on a trajectory to get worse. I’ve listed about an extra 25 species on our threatened species list since coming to Government. Especially since the Black Summer bushfires, we’ve seen a lot of our sensitive habitat destroyed. We see a lot of plants and animals that are threatened with extinction. We’ve got to turn that around.
And so, we’re doing that by investing directly, a huge new resentment in the investment in the Great Barrier Reef. We know the environment of the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure. But also through programs like the almost quarter billion dollars we’ve set aside for our Threatened Species Action Plan towards zero extinctions, we want to make sure that we are turning around this trajectory we’ve got in Australia of environmental degradation that’s putting our plants and animals under pressure.
Beyond that, we really need to change how the economy works a bit. You know, as Australians, we’re huge producers of waste but we aren’t great recyclers by global standards. We need to invest more in a circular economy, more in recycling, more in products that are built to be fixed, rather than end up in landfill. And we are investing in setting up a new nature repair market, a biodiversity conservation market that will act a lot like the carbon market where businesses that want to invest in protecting and restoring nature can do that, and farmers or Indigenous landholders or other landholders can get the economic benefit of conserving land or restoring land. We need to change the impetus in our economy to be a more nature-positive economy and I have been working with Jim Chalmers on the indicators in the Budget that will start to show those environmental improvements over time.
JAYES: Looking at this – I understand this is under Chris Bowen’s portfolio the $16 million for the climate warriors program. You talk about the need to restore the environment and some of our threatened species. But the Opposition points out that looks like the Government is directly funding some of these protesters that actively try to stop these oil and gas projects from going ahead. Is that a fair question?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: We have got a Government that is complaining about the fact that we’ve given –
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Sorry, we’ve got an Opposition – former Government –
JAYES: It’s been a couple of months now. Come on.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: We’ve got Peter Dutton complaining about the fact that we’re giving $9 million to the Environmental Defender’s Office, the legal groups that challenge us, quite properly, to make good, solid legal decisions about environmental matters.
JAYES: Why does the Government need to fund them?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, the same reason we fund Legal Aid. The same reason we fund community legal centres – because access to justice in Australia is expensive. And if you’re up against a big company and they’ve got billions of dollars to throw at a project, and you’re some poor little farmer who doesn’t want their back paddock dug up, perhaps you’ve got a right to the same level of justice as that big company.
JAYES: Is this money – could it find – could this money be in the hands of some of those protests that do sometimes turn into pests, like lying on railway tracks, lying in the middle of the road and shutting down peak‑hour traffic –
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I do not support that sort of protest.
JAYES: Is the Government indirectly funding that though –
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: People have every right to protest, but it needs to be in the law. I don’t support the sorts of things we’ve seen with protesters breaking into art galleries and gluing themselves to paintings. Ironically enough, I saw protesters attacking a Madame Tussaud sculpture of King Charles just a couple of days ago. He’s the biggest greenie around. I don’t know why they’re attacking King Charles.
JAYES: I didn’t understand that one either.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I didn’t understand that one. But when you’re talking about providing money for proper scrutiny of environmental decisions, I think that’s fair enough. The small local environmental group that’s worried about a species that’s almost extinct in their local patch, they deserve to have their day in court and to have their say about their environment.
JAYES: Alright, one thing in the Budget as well that the Nats have got a few questions over is the unpublished amount of initial funding towards meeting environmental water targets. Is this for buybacks? How much is it?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I’ve said all along that voluntary buybacks are on the table, as are programs that increase the efficiency of irrigation, as are other programs that invest in upgrading.
JAYES: Is that what that line item is, though? It’s for buybacks?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It includes buybacks and infrastructure and water efficiency projects, and the reason it’s not published is because if you walk into a negotiation with the amount you’re prepared to pay for something published, you don’t get good value for money. And it really explains how the Liberals ended up paying $30 million for a block of land worth $3 million in Leppington if they don’t understand that telegraphing what you’re prepared to pay for something is not a good negotiating tactic.
JAYES: Okay. That seems like a good point to end the interview. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Thanks.