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Greg Hunt MP - Federal Member for Flinders

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Transcript, ABC612 Brisbane, Interview with Steve Austin

E&OE….
 
Topics: Home Insulation Royal Commission Report, Abbot Point

STEVE AUSTIN:
The Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt told Federal Parliament the Government is carefully considering the recommendations, and Greg Hunt joins me now.

Minister, good morning to you.

GREG HUNT: 
Good morning, Steve.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
What is to be considered by the Government now? It's too late - sadly the boys are dead and the programme's shut down. What's left to consider?

GREG HUNT: 
Well going forwards there are very powerful lessons to learn and to implement. And I think that that's extremely important. The most significant finding is also the simplest finding. And that is that these tragedies could have been avoided.

These lives could have been protected and saved had the programme been properly designed and implemented. What does that mean in practical terms? When there is powerful, repeated advice from the experts in the field, we need to listen to it.

And that's not just within the public service, where there has to be a culture of frank and fearless advice - and that comes not just from below, but most importantly from above - but also listening to experts outside of the public service who were repeatedly saying whether it was State regulators, union officials, or industry leaders, that this system was not safe, was inevitably going to attract cowboys, and that the cowboys would put individuals at risk.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
Ian Hanger, in his report, found the public servants are not giving frank and fearless advice. Why not?

What's happened to the culture of public service in Australia if the people who the tax payer gives money to give to - Ministers like you - frank and fearless advice, they're afraid to do it. They're not doing it.

GREG HUNT: 
Well this was a finding about the culture in 2009 and 2010. And it's a finding of a rancid culture which was driven from the top down, where there was an absolute determination that the programme would be delivered by an artificial date in an artificially compacted timeframe.

I know that in meeting with my Departmental officials from the Secretary down to the most junior officials, we start from the proposition that your duty under the Westminster system is to give the best, most fearless advice and we actually have a moment where I will say: is this a point where you really want to give frank and fearless advice? Because you should go ahead and do it.

So we are trying to re-establish what was a long-standing tradition which was crushed during this period of governance to the detriment - not just of the families, but most importantly to the families - but also to the devastation of numerous businesses, as was also found by the Royal Commissioner.
 
STEVE AUSTIN: 
My guest is the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt; we're talking about the Home Insulation Inquiries Report which was delivered yesterday in Federal Parliament.

Will the Government be speaking to the families of the four boys at all, Greg Hunt?

GREG HUNT: 
Yes, I have called all of the families. I have spoken with three of them and left a message with one, with whom I've had regular contact over the recent weeks and, indeed, last years and I assume there'll be a response there but it was a difficult day for all of the families yesterday.

We talked about the outcomes and findings of the report. We also talked about the next steps. The Government recognises that there was a manifest finding of fault against the then Government of Australia. That's a deep moral responsibility. It's also a legal duty but, at the end of the day, it's the moral responsibility that matters.

So, we've said we will make an interim response by the end of this month. The Prime Minister was absolutely determined to ensure there was no delay in our response and a final determination by the end of the year.

That means that there are findings in relation to both the families and businesses by the Royal Commissioner and we will have to make some serious determinations about how best to help them going forward and also ensure that the lessons of frank and fearless advice of due time for rolling out of programmes and of protecting life and limb above all else, are enshrined within the very fabric of governance, Westminster and public service.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
The States are normally responsible for workplace health and safety training. This was a key failing in the report's findings. What are the implications for Queensland, the State of Queensland in this report? Are there any?

GREG HUNT: 
Well, it's clear that there was a failing but the Royal Commissioner primarily points to the Commonwealth. There are express, clear and absolute findings which say that the Commonwealth presumed that the States would be able to regulate the system. However, the Commonwealth made decisions which made that impossible.

Decisions to start early, to override the Departmental advice of a five year not a two year programme, decisions to override the Departmental advice in relation to the standards for training and the method of delivery and so those decisions meant that the States were simply unable to manage an unregulated system and the Royal Commissioner, Ian Hanger QC, could not have been clearer in his condemnation of what occurred under the Rudd Government at that time.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
My guest is the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, just before I let you go, I want to ask you something about the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion and the dumping of dredge spoil there…

GREG HUNT: 
Sure of course.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
…today's Australian Financial Review indicates that the two key proponents of that, GVK Hancock and the Adani Group, will resubmit a proposal to you early this week, says the paper, to have the proposed dumping of dredge spoil on land, not in the Great Barrier Reef water.

Can you confirm this please?

GREG HUNT: 
There's no final decision but there is a proposal which is being considered that's been widely canvassed and when I came into office we noted that there were proposals by the previous Government for five major industrial port expansions with about - with up to 90 million cubic metres of dredge disposal in the marine park.

We now have that down to one proposal with three million cubic metres. This may be an opportunity but it will be dependent on the full environmental processes to ensure that the last component does have the option of being disposed of on land. I drew a line in the sand.

There was no option available at the time of the decision. There may well be one opening up. It's up to the proponents to submit it. We haven't seen any documentation…

STEVE AUSTIN: 
Will you support it? If GVK Hancock and Adani Group submit it to you this week, will it have your full and complete support?

GREG HUNT: 
I have to determine it against Federal environmental law but I have set out this policy principle and that is that there is a line in the sand that I want to see the first priority for all dredging proposals being onshore disposal. It has to be considered against the law and if I were to pre-empt it, that would actually be a significant problem.

But the policy principle I set out, we have worked towards trying to find options such as this for all of the five port proposals. This is the last one. All five were inherited with a plan for disposal offshore, in the marine park, from the Queensland ALP and the Federal ALP.

We're down to one and there is an emerging option which I have said we would welcome and we would consider on its merits against the law and there is a very real chance this may come forward and at the moment, we're down from ninety million cubic metres to three.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
Right, I would dearly love to speak with you when GVK Hancock and Adani submit that new proposal, if they do, this week.

GREG HUNT: 
Alright, well I can't put a timeframe, it may be a month, it may be less. It may not occur, but we have encouraged and invited…

STEVE AUSTIN: 
Okay.

GREG HUNT: 
…and we'll see if they put it in and then we'll asses it on its merits but we drew a line in the sand to end the practice of the previous Government.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
Thank you Minister, you've made that point. I'll speak to you again, thank you very much.

GREG HUNT: 
Thanks Steve.

STEVE AUSTIN: 
That's Greg Hunt, the Federal Environment Minister.

(ENDS)

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