Minister Ley interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

19 October 2021

SABRA LANE: The Federal Environment Minister is Sussan Ley, she's a Liberal who represents the electorate of Farrah which stretches along the Murray River in Southern New South Wales.
Minister Ley, you represent a rural seat. Does it rankle you that some Nationals are asserting only they represent regional Australia's agricultural and mining interests? And that the net zero policy is woke policy?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I think they do represent rural and regional seats, but so do many Liberals, and that's a point that needs to be made. Because my strong belief is that rural and regional Australia has lots to benefit from in the move to net zero, and I certainly hear that from farmers and from my rural communities. But everyone has the right to speak up for their seats, for their people, and bring those concerns to the debate. So, no. I, I'm happy that everyone's doing that. I respect my colleagues. Everyone has different views. It's important that we all air those views.

SABRA LANE: The Nationals have killed off the Government lifting its 2030 target for the Glasgow conference. Many other nations are lifting their ambitions for 2030. How damaging is that to Australia?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, they're your words about what the Nationals have done - they're not mine. What I would say is that the strong debate about achieving net zero by 2050 is a really important one for Australia, for the technology transformation that we can make. Those transformations are big. You're talking about a fossil fuel-based economy with significant exports transitioning to clean energy.
The opportunity is huge. It will take time. It is correct that we take into account the concerns of people whose jobs have relied on industries like coal and iron ore and other traditional mining, and we bring everyone with us when we look to the future. So, I'm excited for my rural communities and for the country as a whole for that future. And I think the net zero by 2050 aim is perfect. And I also think what is perhaps missing is the role that Australia can play internationally in sharing technology with other countries. So, they'll look to us, they'll appreciate what we're doing. They know that we've been adapting our landscape for some time and that we're well placed to do this and do it well.

SABRA LANE: But have the Nationals, by saying that they will not back any lifting of the target for 2030, effectively hamstrung the Prime Minister as he heads to Glasgow. It's embarrassing, isn't it?

SUSSAN LEY: I'll leave the, I'll leave the Nationals to make their own points. I think the wider-

SABRA LANE: Sure. But you're a Cabinet Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: Yes. And I think it's important that Cabinet makes decisions in the national interest, and I know that we will. And I also think it's important that everyone has their say - they do that to varying degrees, publicly and privately. But the conversations are happening and the, the critical thing, I think, is that we recognise Australia's role in transiting to new technologies.
And as I said, the Environment, which is my portfolio is- has a huge and exciting part to play in this. The market for voluntary carbon credits and offsets from all over the world can have a destination in rural and regional Australia, in areas where we can revegetate, where farmers can participate, where we can involve the new contributions and commitments we've made to blue carbon, to soil carbon. You know, from, from an Environment portfolio perspective, it is quite exciting.

SABRA LANE: The Parliamentary Inquiry into Rio Tinto's destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves says that Federal responsibility for cultural heritage protection should now rest with the Office of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Do you agree with that? That you and your Department should lose that power?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I'm going to look closely at the report - it was released last night. We were instrumental in setting up the process. They were bipartisan recommendations - I think that's always a good thing, I've kept in close touch with the Chair, Warren Entsch, throughout. And it's important that I do look at it with the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt.
But I think it's important that the report has come out in the way that it has in its strong recommendations that identify the fundamental failure on the part of Rio, and also on the part of state legislation that led up to this awful event.

SABRA LANE: But it also says- your colleague Warren Entsch, says it was inconceivable that Australia hadn't developed proper protections for sacred sites. Do you or your Department acknowledge any responsibility for that?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, heritage protection for Juukan belonged at state government level. The area wasn't listed as a national heritage site, or indeed a world heritage site, although it certainly had the values that could have made it possible. I mean, those processes are not owned by the Commonwealth, they're owned by state governments.
So, what we have to do now, and what I've already started doing, is working out how states and the Commonwealth can come together so that we don't have these gaps in cultural heritage protection, so that we don't have another failure like Juukan.
But it's important, too, to note the social licence of the mining companies. It's important that they recognise that legislation is not about just what they can do, but what they should do. And it's also important that we have Indigenous Australians front and centre of all of the consultations that we make going forward.

SABRA LANE: Is it a national priority for you?

SUSSAN LEY: It certainly is a priority, and I absolutely am focused, along with many other issues within my portfolio, on how we can better protect Indigenous heritage.

SABRA LANE: Sussan Ley, thanks for talking to AM.

SUSSAN LEY: Thanks, Sabra.

SABRA LANE: The Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley.