Radio Interview, ABC Darwin Breakfast

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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19 July 2023

SUBJECTS: Lee Point development; Defence Housing Australia.

JOLENE LAVERTY, HOST: It is just after ten to nine. Defence Housing Australia contractors have downed tools on the contentious Lee Point development. The proposal includes 800 new homes to ease pressure across the housing market and will be available for a mix of private and Defence, that will be both for defence housing and private citizens. However, there is a sacred site not far away from the development and with that comes areas of cultural significance. So, will that be enough to halt development permanently? Defence Housing Australia has provided the following statement. They remain committed to working with the Larrakia Nation on Lee Point. DHA will continue to voluntarily stop clearing work at Lee Point while cooperating with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water in regard to an application from Environmental Justice Australia seeking preservation and protection of the site on Aboriginal cultural heritage grounds. DHA has obtained the necessary approvals, consents, permits and other authorizations as required by Commonwealth and Northern Territory law, including clearance for the proposed development by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. Matt Thistlethwaite is the Federal Assistant Defence Minister. Good morning, Minister. What is the latest update for Lee Point?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning, Jo. Thanks for having me on. I think you've surmised the situation quite well there. At the moment Defence Housing Australia, which is a body that's separate to government, they're an independent, statutory owned corporation with their own board. They've determined on the basis of the application that's been made by Environment Justice Australia under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, that they will pause the development whilst the Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has time to assess this application. But also, Defence Housing Australia will undertake a cultural study and they're in the process of engaging a cultural expert to look at the site, to work with traditional owners and to assess their application. That cultural expert will prepare a report. Once that report is prepared, then it will be reviewed by a further independent expert to make sure that we work as closely as we possibly can with the Larrakia Nation, to make sure that if there is significant cultural heritage there, that it is protected.

LAVERTY: So, you've just engaged, you’ve just undertaken the cultural study, but the bulldozers were already in. Why are you engaging a cultural study so late into the piece?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, so this development is being done in stages. There's eight stages to it. I think it's worth pointing out that stage one of the development is almost complete, and building has been going on there for quite a while and approval for this development was given quite a while ago. The environmental impact statement took 15 months to prepare. It was on display for 70 days. There was a process whereby DHA worked with the Larrakia Nation on issues of cultural significance. The Larrakia Nation were comfortable with the development. It was further assessed by the Northern Territory's Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. They provided a clearance certificate for the site on the 26th of July 2018. Then the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, she gave an environmental clearance under the Environment Planning, Biodiversity and Conservation Act and on that basis the work then began. So —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] But what about the cultural engagement, which, as you've said, you’ve now, you're undertaking a cultural study and then you'll engage a cultural expert. Again, this seems to be very late in the piece. Why so?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the cultural work was done prior to the approval being given and DHA officers walked the site with representatives from the Larrakia Nation. The Larrakia Nation gave approval for the work to go ahead in November 2021. It then received the NT Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority approval —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] So then why are you, if you're confident that the work’s been done, why are you doing it again.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: So, the work, DHA has decided to pause the work because a fresh application has been made by the Environmental Justice Australia under that act. And DHA, I think, is consulting as much as it possibly can. We're making sure that they're doing everything they possibly can to work with registered and traditional owners to make sure that this development has as much consultation and as much cooperation as possible. So, although the approval —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] At this stage, are you starting to think, why don't we just go somewhere else?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I'm sorry, I didn't hear that.

LAVERTY: At this stage, are you and others starting to think, why don't we just go somewhere else? That's going to be slightly less contentious.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, this area has been identified as appropriate for development and that was done in consultation with the Northern Territory Government. There's a need for additional housing in the greater Darwin area and this will provide housing for local Territorians —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] And there’s nowhere else that you think would tick those boxes.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: And there's a need for Defence housing. We know that the Defence Force presence in Darwin and in the north is going to grow —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] Sure and there's nowhere else I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt, but we're going to hit the news soon. There's nowhere else that you would think, let's just move there. That's got to be easier.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, nowhere else has been identified and this is the site that's been identified as appropriate by both the Northern Territory government and the Commonwealth. And they've worked consultatively with the local community and with the Larrakia Nation —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] And if someone were to come to you and say, hey, here's somewhere, it's in Weddell, or anywhere else would you be open to reconsidering where you are at the moment for Lee Point?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, as I said, Defence Housing Australia is an independent body of government. They make their own decisions. It would be up to them to make a decision on this, not the government. The government assesses the applications based on the law and determines whether or not they meet the requirements set out in the law and then provides an approval. And that process has been followed in case of this development. And certainly there's been extensive consultation, not only with the Larrakia Nation —

LAVERTY: [interjecting] Assistant Minister, I’m so sorry to interrupt again and I hope this isn't the last time we speak, but we have to go to the news right now and I appreciate your time. Matt Thistlethwaite —


LAVERTY: Thank you, is the Federal Assistant Defence Minister for Australia.


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