Doorstop on radioactive waste legislation, Parliament House

Doorstop interview
National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, nuclear energy, emission targets, resources portfolio

Joint media conference with Senator Matt Canavan

KEITH PITT: Well, firstly can I thank Matt Canavan for coming along, a former minister for resources. We're here today, through the Parliament, just within the last hour, we have passed the bill for a low-level radioactive waste storage facility in Australia. Now, to give you some idea of how long this has taken, it was ticked off by Kevin Newman, Campbell's father, we believe back in the 70s. It has been through 16 resource ministers since that time. And today, we have managed to pass the legislation necessary to get on with assessing and determining a site for this incredibly important piece of infrastructure. Now, can I thank the Shadow Minister for Resources, Madeline King, who has been very gracious, very supportive, and of course, the Australian Labor Party. And I say to the Australian people, we can still get things done in this building between the two major parties, between the Coalition and, of course, the Labor Party on what is an incredibly important piece of infrastructure for our country.

Now, to give you some idea, we've been advised that every Australian, every single Australian, will utilise nuclear medicine somewhere in their lifetime. That treatment, whether it is to identify or treat cancers, or for other matters, it does produce low-level radioactive waste. It looks like gloves. It looks like needles and all sorts of bits and pieces. But it must be stored and stored in Australia. So this is an incredibly important piece of infrastructure, which we think will last for probably more than 100 years. Now, as the Minister, I will look to determine the site in Australia for that facility in coming weeks. But once again, I thank all of those who are involved, and it's an incredibly long list. I mean, to give you some idea, it goes back to Doug Anthony, Peter Walsh, Gareth Evans, Peter Morris, Peter Cook, all the way through, Ian Macfarlane, Martin Ferguson, Gary Grey, Josh, and Matt, and myself. So once again, thank you to all the participants, all those communities that have been involved. More than 80 per cent of the waste will come from nuclear medicine. It is incredibly important. It is a crucial piece of infrastructure. And it just demonstrates that in this building we can get things done that matter. So after four decades, we are pushing forward on this piece of infrastructure. And I might ask Senator Canavan to make some comments, given this recent iteration has taken some six years and has had a lot of involvement with a lot of people, but including Matt.

MATT CANAVAN: Thanks. Look, thank you. Thank you very much, Keith. It is a historic day. And congratulations to you with the passage of this legislation. As Keith has outlined, this this process has taken a generation, a generation of resources ministers who have been seeking to find a site to store the waste that comes - the necessary waste - that comes from the production of nuclear medicines. We lead the world in the production of nuclear medicines. We have some of the best nuclear technology to produce medicines in the world. But we don't lead the world in the management of the waste and by-products that come from it. It is time for us to find a long-term storage facility for this waste. Otherwise, we will put at risk the ability to produce lifesaving medicines in the future. I do, like Keith, want to thank all of those who have been involved the in decision. I thank the Labor Party here, who have joined us to support this legislation. Thank previous ministers, including previous Labor Ministers like Martin Ferguson and Gary Grey, who are very passionate about this. And I spoke to them often about how we could get this done. And then those on our own side, like Keith and Ian Macfarlane, and Josh Frydenberg, have all put in a great amount of work.

I also, though - the people I want to thank the most is the communities that had to go through a very extensive consultation process. This latest iteration of finding a site has been a grassroots process. We took submissions from right around the country. We held a series of votes, multiple votes, on the issue. And that took its toll on communities, and I recognise that. Wherever a site is looked at in Australia, there will always be people for and people against something like this. And I always understood both of those positions, completely understood people who were opposed to it. But I thank them for all of their consultation, discussions that I was able to have with them. It was a great honour and privilege to go and visit towns like Kimba and Hawker and Quorn, beautiful parts of our country. And Keith's now got the heavy weight of making a decision there. But I hope that we can, as a nation, make these tough decisions for the benefit of our whole country, especially to save people's lives. Thank you.

QUESTION: Minister Pitt…

KEITH PITT: Yes, questions.

QUESTION: … are you hoping to remain as Resources Minister? And have you had this conversation with Barnaby Joyce?

KEITH PITT: Well, let's take some questions on the radioactive waste facility first. Do we have any questions on that?

QUESTION: Are we popping the champagne corks a bit too early here, considering that with the preferred site at the moment near Kimba, the local Indigenous community are already foreshadowing court challenges to the site - to the dumping placed in their area?

KEITH PITT: Well, the legislation has passed through the House and through the Senate. That is a significant step on what has been a four-decade journey. And now, as the Minister, I will be making the determination on the site selection over coming weeks. And of course, we will work continuously, as we have done in this recent iteration more than six years, with those communities and their concerns. But once again, I'll come back and thank the Australian Labor Party, who were willing to not only negotiate but consult and discuss and come up with a solution which we could get through the Parliament. And this is a great step forward.

QUESTION: [Indistinct]… needs to be done? Do you need further information, further consultation? Why can't you just make a decision now?

KEITH PITT: Well, I will be making a decision. That will be determined under the existing legislation using the processes that are in place, and that won't be rushed. I will ensure we meet all the requirements of the leg(islation).

QUESTION: But the point of your legislation as initially drafted was that it did specify a site. So why have you back flipped on that and what progress have you made?

KEITH PITT: Well, we've got the original legislation through the House. There were discussions in the Senate where concerns were raised. We have addressed those concerns in consultation with the Australian Labor Party and others. And as a result, we now have legislation which has passed both houses. This is a significant step on an issue which has been around for four decades. It is substantial. I thank all of those involved and we look forward to getting on with it.

QUESTION: Can we ask some other questions?

KEITH PITT: Well have you got anything else on radwaste?

QUESTION: I've got one on nuclear energy.


QUESTION: What's your attitude and what's the Nationals' attitude at the moment to investing in nuclear energy and allowing it to be a possibility in Australia?

KEITH PITT: Well, there's currently a moratorium on that in Australia. However, we have included small modular reactors in the technology roadmap. We are keeping a watching brief on that. I know David Gillespie has got a local friends-of in the Parliament, which has been looking at some of those technical aspects in recent weeks. And I think we can have a conversation with the Australian people, but the moratorium is in place. It is in place for good reason. But we are monitoring the situation on small modular reactors.

QUESTION: So do you want to remain as Resources Minister and have you had these conversations with Barnaby Joyce?

KEITH PITT: Well, firstly, I won't be breaching any private conversations. Of course, I want to stay in the role that I am in. It's an incredibly great privilege to be in the Cabinet in Australia delivering some of the important pieces of infrastructure like we have just done today and will do into the future. So we are focused on the Australian people and we're getting on with it.

QUESTION: A group of ministers, including yourself, have been meeting since back at least as far as 3 March at the CPO in Sydney about the Government's plan on how it would get to net zero by 2050. Did you raise any objections in those meetings about the Nats not having agreed to that target? And if not, then how can you now claim that you weren't consulted?

KEITH PITT: Well, firstly, clearly, I won't be breaching Cabinet confidentiality. You shouldn't be surprised about that. Secondly, I stand by the comments I made last week. That's just a statement of fact. If there is to be a significant change in any Australian policy, of course, it will go back through our party rooms and have a discussion. That's no surprise and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone here.

QUESTION: Have you made that view loudly known to your Cabinet colleagues? Were they under any aspersions as to what your position was?

KEITH PITT: Well, once again, I'm not going to have a discussion about Cabinet discussions. That is a very clear breach and I won't be breaching those rules.

QUESTION: What is your position today on net zero emissions being in preference of the Government by 2050?

KEITH PITT: Well, as I've said very clearly, there has not been a final commitment. For that to happen would require consultation with our party room, as I've said last week. I stand by those comments.

QUESTION: Under what conditions would you support net zero by 2050?

KEITH PITT: Well, first, we are not getting into a policy debate at a press conference…

QUESTION: Well you did - you got into one last week.

KEITH PITT: …and very, very clearly, those discussions continue to go on, as they have done for more than a decade. So we work very closely with our colleagues. I'm a member of the Cabinet. I won't be breaching that confidentiality. And we're getting on with that work.

QUESTION: I'm not asking you about Cabinet, I'm asking your view as Resources Minister.

QUESTION: Mr Pitt, do you agree with Mr Joyce that any parameters around net '50 should focus on the Australian economy and not the Danish or German ones?

KEITH PITT: Well, I mean, these are all the challenges. For us, as members of the party that represents regional Australia, we want to ensure that those costs are not passed on to the people we represent; that we very, very clearly understand what the path is, what the cost will be, and who's paying.

QUESTION: Will either your or Senator Canavan ever agree to a net zero target by 2050?

KEITH PITT: Well, once again, I'm not going into Cabinet discussions.

QUESTION: Minister, do you believe-

QUESTION: [Indistinct]… ever agree to net zero by 2050?

KEITH PITT: It's been asked and answered.

QUESTION: Can I ask, do you believe that net zero by 2050 can be achieved without passing on those costs to those communities?

KEITH PITT: Once again, we will look forward to seeing what a proposal may or may not be. That hasn't been established yet. We are committed to 2030. And I think before we all get too agitated and worked up, we should recognise the results we've had already. We have reduced emissions by some 20 per cent. That is better than New Zealand. It is better than Canada. It is better than the US. It is a significant reduction in emissions and we are doing what we said we would. We're committed to 2030. We're delivering on those commitments.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Last question, thank you.

QUESTION: So you're open to that discussion about achieving net zero by 2050? The Nationals are open to considering that policy outcome?

KEITH PITT: Well, look, it's not my job to commit to what the Nationals will or won't do, but very clearly…

QUESTION: No, but you're open to that discussion?

KEITH PITT: …this is a discussion which has been running for more than 10 years. It is no surprise to anyone at this press conference that that discussion is continuing.