Minister Ley interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News

20 October 2021

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Let’s take you live to Canberra now, joining us live there is the Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley, who’s also the Member for Farrer, appreciate your time. I do want to look at portfolio issues, but I just want to stick on this health topic for a moment. I see you’ve been lobbying your colleague Greg Hunt or this rapid antigen testing to be used on the border, I know that the Victoria-NSW border closures have been a big issue for many people, of course, in the regions. What sort of feedback are you getting? How do you see that playing out in terms of using those tests and how they could avoid those border closures in the future?

SUSSAN LEY: Thanks Ash, good to join you. We’re getting some really good feedback both from the public health system in NSW and also from the federal health system about the use of rapid antigen tests. They have to be supported by the state that adopts them, but in Albury now where we’ve had spread in the schools, or certainly casual contacts in the schools, it would be perfect to have that rapid antigen testing so that our parents and our children can be confident they are only casual contacts. The PCR testing is way down with long lines of people doing the right thing, and again, I’ve encouraged more support and more workforce to come and help with that. But our border communities have really been hit throughout this pandemic and the closure between NSW and Victoria has just driven a stake through our economic heart, if you like, and it does need to change, and I’m delighted that some of those things are starting to happen. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. I really want to encourage my border businesses to hang in there, get through this and it will be fabulous on the other side when people realise what a great place we are to visit.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Absolutely, we can all support you in that, for sure. Let’s just turn to this issue of net zero by 2050 obviously dominating talks there in Canberra this week and the debate between the Nationals and the Liberals. Do you think the Nationals are genuine in this procrastination we’re seeing on this issue or is it a show aimed at winning votes at the next election? Is it more about politics?

SUSSAN LEY: Their processes are their process and I’ll leave them to them, but what I can say is the dial has shifted. It has shifted in the cities, it has shifted in the bush, and it’s certainly shifted in my electorate where I’ve represented western NSW communities for quite some time. And what the Morrison government is able to do is give confidence to the transition because, on its own, that word can be a little scary, but what it means is that the global economy is moving towards clean energy. That’s big technology changes, it’s big investment in RND, it’s big contributions by our farmers, by our landscape managers, by our entrepreneurs, and our innovators, um, to get there. So, I think there’s an exciting future ahead and, as I said, the dial has shifted and it’s not about whether we get there, it’s about how. And, of course, it’s about explaining to people what it means for them, what it means for their community, what it means for their job. I’m getting really positive feedback from my part of the world, Ash.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Considering the shifting of the dial, how can you be a genuine advocate for net zero by 2050 while at the same time you’ve approved these three new coal mines? Why would you play a part in extending fossil fuel developments in that context?

SUSSAN LEY: What I would say, as Environment Minister, under the EPBC Act, I’m responsible for approving developments and those developments may be coal mines, and, of course, in the transition to net zero we are not saying we are going to cut off fossil fuels immediately, what we are doing is transitioning to a renewable energy. So, for example, you think of an aluminium smelter, and you think, ‘oh, think of the carbon emissions’, but Tomago has indicated they’ll be using 100 per cent renewable by 2029 if they can get there. Similarly, Angus Taylor’s technology roadmap has stretch goals of low emissions steel and aluminium. So, it is all part of a transition over a period of time. These big changes do take time, but what I am focussed on as Environment Minister is the part Australia can play because our landscapes, our farmers, our managers of our National Parks and our biodiversity and our oceans have understood and seen this transition taking place. We know the bare statistics that are coming out that describe the vulnerability of some of our country to climate change, but we’ve seen that, we’re on the front line of that. That’s why we had a $100 million dollar ocean package, that’s why we’re investing in coastal mangroves and the restoration of sea grasses and blue carbon, that’s why we’re partnering with the Pacific to do exactly that for the communities that are our friends. And, I mean, you had earlier, Ash, I’ve got to mention the fashion waste story, I was delighted to see it. Europe’s getting on the bandwagon, but we held something here in Parliament House a few months ago where we really highlighted the damage that fast fashion can do in throwing away clothes. So, there’s a lot of big picture conversation at the moment but there’s also some household things, there’s fashion, there’s clothing, there’s the circular economy in recyclables and renewables that this government has been so much in the front of.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: And for you being on the front line of this environment debate in Australia, approving these three new coal mines this year, a very unpopular decision in some quarters, the environment can be, as we know, a really emotive subject that people are really passionate about. We’ve been seeing this week right around the world, including here in Australia, politicians’ safety has been in the spotlight. Have you had moments of fearing for your personal safety? We heard from Greg Hunt, the health minister, this morning about threats that had been made to his children, we know the Northern Territory chief minister has had similar complaints this week. Have you ever faced threats of violence, are you looking for reform in this space?

SUSSAN LEY: I’ve certainly faced vigorous protest, we all have, it’s part of doing the job, nothing will stop me, though, from going out in my community being amongst them. And as Minister for the Environment, being in the environment touching and feeling the things that matter that are at the heart of nature that count for every single Australian. Look, there are days that I worry about my staff because they take a lot of calls from a lot of really stressed people, and if there’s a protest it’s often on the pavement outside my electorate office while I’m in Canberra or somewhere on the road. So, I think today’s a day to remember the hard work that all our parliamentary staff do on behalf of the government, but more importantly, on behalf of constituents. Because what we do is solve problems, we help, we outreach, we support, and that’s the work of an MP and whatever our additional roles might be that’s our core responsibility. And to see what happened to Sir David in England was pretty heartbreaking because that is at the centre of what every single representative does no matter what party or what parliament. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, appreciate your time.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you