Transcript of interview with Robert Mailer, ABC Kimberley
WED 18 JULY 2012
Subject(s): East Kimberley Development Package; Ord River Stage 2; James Price; Point; Australian Labor Party; Tree planting
HOST: Good morning to you Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
PM: Good morning.
HOST: Thanks for your time. You had a chance to speak to some locals last night. What were they telling you?
PM: I did have the chance to speak to some locals last night, and I enjoyed it very much. I had a range of discussions about the changes that are being brought by the East Kimberley Development Package, the way in which the community is changing.
I also had a range of discussions with local business people who were there about the economic opportunities that they see at this time in this region, how highly they value the strength of this diversified economy here and how they can see real prospects of growth for the future. So it was a very optimistic feel to the whole engagement last night, and a good, fun evening.
HOST: Of course one of the big things that’s happening in that part of the world soon, it’s ongoing, is the sale of the Ord River Stage 2. Would you be happy if Ord Stage 2 were to be purchased entirely by Chinese investors?
PM: Well we've got to go through the proper processes here, I mean we do want to see further opportunity in this region, but there’s got to be all of the proper assessments, the environmental assessments, the commercial assessments, the views of the traditional owners.
The stage that this is at is that there is a negotiation about various proposals involving the State Government and traditional owners, and that will take a number of months to come, and we've got to see what comes out of that.
HOST: That’s all fair enough but if at the end of that process it was deemed to be fine, would you have a problem with Chinese investors buying the large, or almost all of Ord Stage 2?
PM: Look, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to be pre-judging what may or may not come out of a proper process involving traditional owners.
HOST: Moving to the other side of the Kimberley, Prime Minister, and a proposed gas hub at James Price Point, the Environmental Protection Authority’s process of recommending approval of the project to the Minister here in WA has been mired in controversy. There are ongoing court battles, there is strong opposition in some parts of the community. Is the Federal Labor Party’s support of this project set in stone?
PM: We get engaged in the assessment of this project when the work of the State Government is done. The State Government still has more to do to complete the strategic assessment.
Then that all goes through to our Environment Minister, Tony Burke, who has power under the relevant federal environmental legislation, and he needs then to go through a proper process to assess it all. So once again we are a fair way from at being an engagement for the Federal Government.
The State Government’s still got to do its work, and this is a very strict legal process. It’s not one that I can pre-judge or just chatter casually about. The Minister has legal obligations under the relevant federal legislation and he’ll deal with those obligations at the time the proposal gets to him.
HOST: Once again, that is fair enough from an environmental perspective but your Minister responsible, Martin Ferguson, has expressed support for this project overall. What I’m asking is would that support remain set in stone regardless of opposition or further controversy with the project?
PM: Look I’m not prepared to just speculate and there are real reasons under the legislation why I shouldn’t be speculating. It’s the Minister for the Environment who has the powers here. They’re statutory powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.
They've got to be properly exercised otherwise they can be the subject of legal challenge. He can only properly exercise those powers when the State Government’s finished its job and got all of the necessary work to him, and we’re not at that stage yet.
HOST: Fair enough. We’re speaking to the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard this morning on ABC Kimberley Breakfast, it’s 17 past 7.
The former leader of the Greens, the man who helped you into power, Bob Brown was on the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin vessel yesterday heading to the region to add weight to the campaign against the James Price Point project. Does this sort of action from Bob Brown, so recently retiring from Parliament, add urgency to the Federal Labor Party to distance itself from the Greens?
PM: Our environmental assessments, whether it’s James Price Point or anywhere else, are done on strict scientific and environmental grounds. It’s not about who’s on which ship or who’s holding up which placard. It is about the science and the environment, and what is best for our environment, so that’s what the Minister will take into account.
HOST: But Bob Brown, as I say, recently in the Senate, recently next to you, well a while back now, signing a document. He’s now on the Steve Irwin heading to this place. He’s a central figure now in this project and will get national recognition for that point. Is this reason we have seen the Labor Party in NSW, certainly federally, have comments about the Greens? This sort of activity – does it damage the alliance with the Greens that you have?
PM: Look, our Labor Party values is what guides us when we come to dealing with issues about jobs, about health, about education and about the environment. I mean we’re a political party with a proud track record of protecting the environment.
Major national assets like Kakadu are here because of the actions of past Labor governments. So it’s about a Labor decision guided by Labor processes, that’s what Minister Burke will do. It’s a decision of government, it’s not about the Parliament or parliamentary votes or anything like that. It’s about the science before the Minister properly considered at the time.
HOST: It’s a beautiful morning in Kununurra this morning Prime Minister, and you're a long way from Canberra. It must be nice to have a bit of distance between there, but I do have to ask you a Canberra question. Current polling has the Labor Party stuck at about 30 per cent of the primary vote. I know you don’t spend time worrying about polls, I know you say the leadership issue was determined last February and I know you want to focus on getting things done, but you’re also a realist and pragmatic, and is it the responsible thing for you to lead the Labor Party into the next election with these sorts of numbers knowing it will lead to electoral disaster?
PM: I can tell you what the next election’s going to be about. It’s going to be about our plans for keeping the economy strong and making sure people have got job opportunities. And not just a job opportunity, but a decent job where they're treated fairly.
All of our work building our future, whether it’s the NBN or seizing a clean energy future or our outlook to Asia is about keeping our economy strong so people can have jobs.
The next election will also be about who best supports families with good hospitals, with cost of living supports, getting more dollars into people’s pockets. It’ll be an election about opportunity, our work in schools which is so severely challenged by the Opposition.
Even as recently as the last few days, the Opposition’s been saying it’s fine for kids to be jammed in huge classes. It doesn’t matter if they can’t get any of the teacher’s time. And the next election will be about our places for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
So I’m looking forward to fighting it. The reason people want to be involved in making decisions about our nation’s future, the reason people go into politics, is that they’re desperately concerned to make sure the nation has a stronger and fairer future, and every three years we get to decide as a country who’s best to guide our nation and build that future, and that’s what the next election will be about and be for.
HOST: So it won’t be about your leadership?
PM: It’ll be exactly about the things that I’ve just described to you, and of course it will be about who’s got the best capacities to lead the nation and to deliver policies and plans that make a real difference, and I’m very happy to be fighting the next election on those grounds.
We’re a government that’s got big things done, hard things done, often against very entrenched opposition, but they've been the right thing for our country.
HOST: Finally Prime Minister, you’re getting to plant a tree at Celebrity Tree Park this morning in Kununurra. Do you know what sort of a tree you got to plant?
PM: I think I’m getting a little bit of help with the tree-planting, so a few kids are going to be on-hand to maybe do all of that hard work of digging the hole, but I understand that it is a scarlet gum.
HOST: A scarlet gum? What a wonderful choice.
PM: Well you know they're supposed to have some connection, so I think from the scarlet you can see what the connection really is.
HOST: I wasn’t going to go there, but I appreciate you letting us know that Prime Minister and I really do appreciate you spending some time on the Breakfast Program this morning. Please enjoy yourself in Kununurra and certainly in Wyndham as you enjoy that wonderful town there and continue your visit here in the Kimberley.
PM: Thank you very much, I’m looking forward to the day.