Interview with Leigh Sales, ABC 7.30

Resource project developments, government issues and achievements.

JOURNALIST: The Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane joins me now. Minister, thank you very much for your time this evening.

IAN MACFARLANE: Evening Leigh.

JOURNALIST: How many project approvals have been delayed by this law?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well what we’re seeing is project after project held up in various environmental courts but the alarming thing about the case with Adani is it’s showing that the environmentalists are taking this war against economic development in Australia to a whole new level. They’ve actually published a manual on how they are going to stop coal exports in Australia. They’re using this provision in the EPBC Act [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act] - which is unique in itself and doesn’t relate to the normal practice in a court - to actually stop these projects.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said project after project and that they are taking it to a whole new level. I did ask how many project approvals because I think it’s important for people listening to try to have some sort of factual sense to back up what you’re saying. So how many project approvals has it delayed?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, this is the first case in Queensland where there is a clear and deliberate pattern …

JOURNALIST: … But I mean overall, because you said project after project?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, we’re seeing projects in NSW held up in environment courts for six and eight years. They are out of our jurisdiction. The issues relating to the EPBC Act in this specific case are in our jurisdiction and we are going to address it. So we have a common sense approach to environmental permitting in Australia. We have the highest level of environmental permitting in the world, we need to make sure the system works, and isn’t plagued by those environmentalists who don’t want to see any economic development in Australia.

JOURNALIST: The Wilderness Society claims that fewer than 0.5 per cent of approvals are held up. I just want to give our viewers something to sort of judge that figure against. If you can’t be specific can you give people a sense of where they might be able to actually go to get the overall bigger picture?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well what we can see right here in front of us is a $20 billion dollar project, a $20 billion dollar project with 10,000 jobs and $22 billion dollars’ worth of royalties coming to Queensland that’s being bogged down in a court where we don’t see a simple end to the process at it currently stands. Now this is, as I say, a clear example of environmental warfare against economic development in Australia and is a precedent that we are going to act on.

JOURNALIST: By limiting legal recourse to people who are directly affected by a development, won’t you in many cases though be ensuring there is no environmental challenges? Because for many people directly affected by a development and might not have the necessary expertise to be able to judge whether it’s worthy of an environmental challenge?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well I don’t accept that and can I say that for farmers for instance, who butt up to coal mines, they will be the first to call out any environmental concerns. So we’re not taking away that right. We’re just saying if people live 600km away from a coal mine or from a development proposal, what right do they have to prevent that proposal to provide an economic boost to the region? We’re saying if there are environmental issues, there are plenty of people adjacent to the project who can raise those concerns.

JOURNALIST: If a project though is environmentally responsible and the relevant Minister has ticked every box, what does it have to fear?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well what it has to fear is as I say, this manual that has been released by the environmentalists, which clearly states, this is how we’re going to stop coal exports in Australia. We believe that this is the beginning of a very well-orchestrated and highly funded campaign that will see the end of coal mining development in Australia, and then they’ll move to the next project and the next project, because it’s more than just a coal mine. It’s a whole economic proposal for Central and North-eastern Queensland.

JOURNALIST: To talk about the Government more broadly, the Prime Minister has apparently read his Ministers the riot act about leaking. What did he say to you all?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well the Prime Minister expects teamwork and I’m a great believer in teamwork myself, in fact Leigh, I won the prize for the greatest team player in my football team in ’74 and that’s very much my adage. We have to play as a team and that’s what we’re achieving now. We’ve got discipline, we’ve got focus and we’re out to make sure that we do a good job in governing Australia.

JOURNALIST: Well why do you keep kicking so many own goals then?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well I don’t think you’re referring to me, Leigh. I have always played a tough team game …

JOURNALIST: … Well you must be feeling a little disappointed by some of the other members on your team then?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well I’m excited by the fact that we are working as a team and we are getting things done in Government. We are making sure that the important legislation that needs to be taken forward - about creating jobs, about ensuring that the economic development of Australia is maintained, about the security of our nation – is being progressed.

JOURNALIST: Would you describe the Prime Minister’s tone as having read the riot act?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well look he made it clear. I’ve known Tony a long time. He was my Senior Minister when I first went into the Ministry and yes, I know when he means it and he said it in a way that he meant it, but that’s what leaders do.

JOURNALIST: And did anybody offer the Prime Minister any feedback on his performance?

IAN MACFARLANE: Everyone understands that the Prime Minister is doing a very good job and in terms of the Cabinet discussion, of course Leigh, I don’t ever talk about what goes on in Cabinet in public.

JOURNALIST: If the Prime Minister’s doing a very good job then why are you behind in the polls and why is his approval rating with people, shows that he’s very unpopular?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well governing is not an easy task and we’ve had to make some decisions that are not popular but in the long run will be for the benefit of everyone. It’s about making sure that we have the economic balances in place to make sure the budget is sustainable, to make sure that the economy is able to provide the jobs that need in the future. Not everyone’s agreed with that and that’s all part of being in Government. But we’re confident that the basics are still right.

JOURNALIST: Minister does the Prime Minister and his team welcome feedback from Ministers as to how he and the Government are performing?

IAN MACFARLANE: We all get free advice in this game, Leigh, and it’s not just from our other Ministers. We get it from backbenchers, I get it from my wife and daughters, I occasionally even get it from journalists.

JOURNALIST: And what are people telling you in your electorate at the moment about how they think the Abbott Government’s tracking?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well they’re saying to us that they are very concerned about the prospect of getting a Labor Government back in power. They are worried about the re-introduction of the carbon tax, they are worried about the sorts of disasters that they saw under the previous Government. So they are urging us on and we accept that challenge, we’ll be out there putting our best foot forward.