Sky News interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

11 May 2023

KENNY HEATLEY, HOST: Thank you. And joining me now is Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek. Minister, thanks so much for your time this morning. The most pressing issue that we have right now probably is Labor's signature Housing Australia Future Fund, worth $10 billion. It was blocked in the Upper House by the Greens in the Senate in a vote last night. There's potentially going to be another vote this morning. One of the things that the Greens aren't happy about, and they hold the balance of power, is that this is not a direct investment. Instead, the fund is going into the stock market, they say, and then the dividends from that fund is going to be used to really help in this housing crisis. And that's not enough, they're saying. But this is the biggest crisis facing Australia right now. So, why is Labour choosing to put the $10 billion into the stock market and only spend the returns on addressing the issue?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, we're investing $10 billion to build 30,000 homes, social and affordable rental homes. And the extraordinary thing about the Greens position is that it's typical Greens. They say they care about climate change, but they threaten to vote against the safeguard mechanism. In my own area, they say they want more investment in the environment, but they've said they're going to vote against the Nature Repair Market Bill. And now in housing, they say they want more investment in housing, but they're voting against tens of thousands of affordable homes for people, for women and children escaping domestic violence, for our veterans who've been sleeping on the streets, who are homeless. I also think it's extraordinary that you've got a Greens housing spokesperson that says he wants more homes but doesn't want them built in his electorate. He's actually opposing the building of new homes in his own backyard. So, once again, we have an example of the Greens making the perfect the enemy of the good and delaying much needed progress.

Just on the Housing Affordability Fund, this is a fund that every state and territory is calling for. Housing experts, homelessness advocates are calling for this spending, and yet, once again, the Greens think they know better. The Housing Minister, Julie Collins, has spent hours and hours talking with the Greens and the Crossbenchers, addressing their concerns. And still, we have this situation where the one political party is blocking investment that would build tens of thousands of new homes, 30 thousand new homes, because they don't like the way the money is being managed. And that's just absurd.

HEATLEY: Opposition leader Peter Dutton, we've got his Budget reply speech tonight, which we're going to be playing to you live here on Sky News. But he's expected to focus on migration. He used that in Question Time yesterday, saying 1.5 million people coming over the next five years and there's no infrastructure deals to – no infrastructure to deal with these arrivals. Is that likely to be a key with his Budget reply speech tonight?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we'll see if Peter Dutton has any positive proposals in his Budget reply speech, it'd be really good. He hasn't used the opportunity up till now to really lay out a vision for Australia. What is his vision for Australia? What sort of Australia does he want to see? I think tonight, let's see. Let's have him lay out what he would do differently. What are his proposals? What are his policies?

HEATLEY: Just on your portfolio, there's $121 million to be spent in the Budget to set up the new Environment Protection Australia agency and $51 million to set up the Environment Information Australia. So, $172 million in total. This is a huge amount of money. Why so much for these setup costs?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, that's to do the actual work. It's not just the setup costs. It's not renting the office and working out what the logo looks like. It's doing the actual work. And so, what we want to see is environmental assessments for major projects done in an independent way at arm's length. And we want a strong cop on the beat to make sure that people who are undertaking projects are actually doing what they said they'd do. If they say they're going to avoid environmental destruction or repair nature as part of the conditions of the environmental approval, are they actually doing that? If you're talking about things like the use of industrial chemicals, are they being properly used? Are there proper protections in place? 

The environmental data function is really important, we can massively speed up decisions about environmental approvals. If we use the data we've got correctly and gather more data and use it effectively, we can take up to a year off an approval process. We can save millions of dollars for big projects by actually having that information to hand, saying yes faster or saying no faster, because businesses will tell you the next best answer after yes is a fast no. Not something that drags on for years and then ends up in a no. So, the EPA will give us a strong environmental cop on the beat, much more independent and arm's length decisions about projects, better protection for our environment, faster, clearer decisions for business. And that data function really underpins that work.

HEATLEY: Minister, thanks for your time this morning. Have a great day.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure. Thank you.