Transcript: Sky News - The Bolt Report

Subjects: Adani, green lawfare, coal investments, former Secretary of Agriculture Department, resignation of Justin Gleeson

ANDREW BOLT:
For years an Indian company, Adani, has been trying to build a $16 billion coal mine in Queensland. Now, building that mine will give jobs to up to 10,000 Australians, will give us billions in royalties and taxes potentially long term, and it will produce coal to help bring electricity to 200 million Indians who now don't have any. But also for years, green groups have delayed this mine with one court battle after another. One year the excuse was a skink allegedly threatened. Then it was Aborigines, they claimed, hadn't been consulted enough. Well, now we know from emails leaked by WikiLeaks that this lead green group in this campaign to stop coal mining here, the Sunrise Project, is actually funded by a multimillion dollar American green group, the Sandler Foundation.

Well, joining me is Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Matt, thank you so much for your time. Hey listen, should foreign, multinational green groups be allowed to interfere like this?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well, look, everyone can have their say, Andrew, but I don't think everybody deserves six years in court rather than just one day in court. That's been the problem here that these groups are seeking to abuse our legal system for political purposes, not to try to protect the environment. What should be important is that people that live in this area - Australians but also of course the people of Central Queensland, and I'm one of them, I live up near Rockhampton - we want this mine, we want these jobs, but our voice gets drowned out. We don't have the multimillion dollar bank accounts that these activist groups have. I don't have the personal email address of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. Neither do many of the people that want this mine. The traditional owners want it, the local business groups want it, local people want it, and how much more do we have to say we want it before we get it.

ANDREW BOLT:
So, there's no way you can actually stop foreign, green multinationals who've got such big war chests, you can't stop them from interfering in our domestic considerations like this?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
So we have tried. Last year, the Government proposed changes to the environment protection act, the federal act, to seek to limit those that could take action in our courts. That failed in the Senate. Today, the Prime Minister has said we'd like to re-see or recheck the tenor of the Senate to see if we can get that support. Obviously we can only do it with the support of the Senate but it's important for you and your show and for me to continue to build that case why we need to do that.

Because these groups we know - not just from these emails, these emails have confirmed the disappointment with this, if you like, they're not surprising - these emails confirm what we know from a couple of years ago where these groups got together in the Blue Mountains in 2011 and mapped out a strategy to stop coal mines in Australia. And that strategy called for legal action, not to win those court cases, but to provide, in their own words, breathing space to create the time and effort for them to run a political campaign. So they are, in their own words, abusing our legal system. I don't think we should let that happen. We have tried to stop that at the federal level, unsuccessfully because of the Senate. But maybe with a new Senate, we'll have the numbers at some point to take some action on this.

ANDREW BOLT:
Yeah, look, I think people have got to know that we're no longer talking about green groups, you know, the guy in the koala suit holding a bucket. They're very, very well-funded. A lot of very rich, green people, the Geoffrey Cousins of this world, with deep pockets, and they just want to punish by process. You yesterday met the Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal. He said all these legal challenges to the Adani project would, he said, certainly dampen future investments from India. India would take its coal from other suppliers. How real is this risk, in your judgement?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well certainly the Adani situation, the lengthy court cases it has involved is a story among business leaders. It's not just Indian business leaders. It's often referred to in boardrooms that I go to, and it is a real risk for our country unless we can correct this, unless we can demonstrate to the world that we do have strong environmental protections. And we should have strong environmental protections, but they should be there to protect the environment, not to be abused by groups to run political campaigns.

We do need to take this seriously. The Government is certainly taking this seriously, because we have great opportunities in this country. We should be very proud of how we've helped Japan develop, now China develop, and the next step is India. There's a huge amount of opportunity for us as a nation in our region to provide India with the kind of services that everyone in developed countries expects. All of these groups in America benefit from 24 hour 7 electricity. It's the millions in India that want that, that just want the same opportunity that we've all come to live and know.

ANDREW BOLT:
Well, is there any environmental, real environmental danger from this mine that hasn't yet been addressed in all these years of litigation, to your knowledge?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well look, it's obviously something I've been through tooth and nail. There are very stringent conditions placed on the mine. It is not in what you'd call prime agricultural land. It is in a part of the country which is largely, almost- actually, it's almost exclusively undeveloped. There is cattle there, but it's grazing country. The cattle producers on the property are desperate for this project to go ahead, because there's enormous opportunities for them in it. There are, of course, some species on these properties, but there are stringent environmental plans put in place, as is right and proper with all projects here.

There's nothing unusual about this project. In some senses, it's the best place for us as a country to have a coal mine. Obviously, it's more contentious where mining butts up against productive agricultural land, but that's not the case here. It's in a coal mining, broad coal mining area. It's an area that's largely undeveloped and will bring great opportunity to Central Queensland and importantly to the traditional owners of the land as well.

ANDREW BOLT:
Now, all these delays have cost Adani $3 billion, it claims. The Australian Conservation Foundation is one of the groups that have tried to stop it. It lost the case trying to claim this inland mine somehow threatened the Great Barrier Reef. The tax deductibility status of groups like the ACF, do you plan to change that?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well in the last term of Government, we had a Parliamentary inquiry in the House of Representatives on this issue. I made, as a backbench Senator, before I was a Minister, a detailed submission to that inquiry. I certainly think there are issues here that need to be examined. It's right and proper, as you implied earlier Andrew, that the vast majority of environment groups in this country do the right thing, and they should receive in my view tax deductible status to help do the good work they do. But there are some who are clearly seeking to abuse our system, and we've got to really question whether they should continue to get that status.

That inquiry made a number of bipartisan recommendations to increase the transparency and oversight of the tax deductible arrangements. They were made by both Labor and Coalition members of the committee. The Government's considering that at the moment, and we'll respond shortly as is the right and proper process to Parliamentary inquiries.

ANDREW BOLT:
Have you got a preference yourself? Would you like to see the ACF, groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation, which is doing so much work to actually- it's not really for the- you know, they're doing these illegal gambits that they know won't win, but it's punishment by process. Do you think at least those activities should lose that component of the donations the tax deductibility status?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well, that's something now for the Government to consider in response to this report, so I'm not going to go rush out and make conclusions ahead of my colleagues and having those discussions with my colleagues. What I would say, though, is a number of countries have made changes in that direction, as you've suggested. Indeed, the Indian Government itself has clamped down on groups like Greenpeace over the last few years, given the litigation they have faced from them and the opposition they've faced from them. So has the New Zealand Government and the UK as well. So this is not a problem that we just face here in Australia, but it's something we need to respond to as long as- as well as those other countries have as well.

ANDREW BOLT:
Before you go, a letter released through FOI today shows the former Secretary of the Agriculture Department, Paul Grimes, writing to your boss and to his, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, saying he no longer had confidence in his ability to resolve matters relating to Barnaby Joyce's integrity after Joyce's staff changed Hansard to hide the fact that he'd told Parliament some false information about the number of people getting drought relief. Grimes then quit. This is embarrassing, isn't it?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well, I understand that Mr Grimes and Minister Joyce had a serious falling out over issues. It was right and proper at the time, then, that the Secretary did resign. This was gone through all back then at the time in terms of that particular incident and Hansard, and as you mentioned, there were some issues in Minister Joyce's office that were dealt with, and staff were counselled. It was an unfortunate episode. It was unfortunate that it had to get to that between the Secretary and the Minister, but that is long, a long way into history now, and I think Barnaby's doing a fantastic job as Agricultural Minister delivering dams and Beef Roads, which I just announced today all around the country.

ANDREW BOLT:
Sure. But the problem is of course today Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson also quit, saying his relationship with the Attorney-General George Brandis had also broken down, and also about a false answer that Brandis allegedly gave to Parliament. Is there a pattern here? Ministers giving Parliament false information, and public servants then quitting.

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well, I don't accept that Ministers have given false information, as you say. Obviously there've been disagreements at times, as there will be. I don't know the specific details of the relationship between Minister Brandis and his Solicitor-General, but clearly there emerged irreconcilable differences between the two gentlemen, and hopefully after the decision today, we can move on and move forward, and establish a proper working relationship between the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General in our country.

ANDREW BOLT:
Matt Canavan, thank you so much for your time.

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Thanks Andrew.

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