Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Draft South-west Bioregional Plan and proposed Marine Reserves Network, Tasmanian forest agreement

Press conference, Fremantle WA
5 May 2011


Tony Burke Press conference on the draft South-west Bioregional Plan and proposed Marine Reserves Network

Press conference on the draft South-west Bioregional Plan and proposed Marine Reserves Network 

TONY BURKE: Okay, thank you very much everybody.  I want to welcome you here today and in particular acknowledge the presence of the local member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke.  It's great to be here with you.  And Melissa's been very active for a long time, together with the Save the Marine Life campaign in wanting to achieve a good environmental outcome in the oceans generally and particularly in the south-west where the draft plans will be released today.

Today marks the next stage of work that's been going on for more than a decade.  The original concepts for bio-regional planning and for protection of marine reserves is something that commenced in 1998 under the Howard Government.  They then went ahead and in 2002 moved to a series - moved to a pathway of international treaties, making various commitments on behalf of Australia with this work.

But since that time there has been a lot of work that's been done at a community level, a lot of work that's been done within my Department, which has led to the situation where at the last election the Gillard Government promised that if re-elected, over the course of the following year we would put out the draft plans for the remaining regions - south-west, north-west, north and east.

We also committed that the south-west plan would be out within 90 days.  Those 90 days passed some months ago and for good reason.  We've been engaging in extensive consultation in a couple of rounds with interested groups: round tables with environmental groups; round tables with recreational fishers; with commercial fishers; with the resources sector; with the shipping sector, making sure that wherever there was a discretionary way of achieving the environmental outcomes contained within our election commitment, that we would be able to do so in a way that provided the best outcomes for community, the best outcomes for people who love to fish and the best outcomes for jobs as well.

We're now at the next stage of consultation and finally into the formal processes.  Those formal processes that we're in have the south-west region, which is covered there on the screen, an extraordinary stretch of Australia's coastline, having a draft map put out today with a consultation period that will end on 8 August.  That will then be followed by us taking the consultation into account and as a result of that, putting forward a proposal for the mix of marine parks and multiple use zones, which will form the plan for the south-west.

We've had a number of objectives in all of this.  We've wanted to take into account the various marine environments, make sure that we're dealing in the different depth ranges, where you get very different environmental outcomes, depending on the depth that you go to in different parts of our oceans; key features such as canyons and reefs, impact on communities, impact on businesses.

The plans cover a variety of areas: the Abrolhos; the Jurien; The Perth Canyon; the South-West Corner; the Eastern Recherche; the Great Australian Bight Extension; Western Eyre through to Western Kangaroo Island.  In each of these areas there are some variations in the levels of protection which are provided.  These are all detailed in documents which are available publicly today and available in an online fashion from my Department's web page as well, which go through the maps and go through for each of the areas, for which varying levels of protection would be provided, which activities would be able to continue fully, which activities might be curtailed in different ways.

What you see there is a mix of three different colours representing three different forms of protection.  The colour green you can see, where that arises in the materials that you have, represents marine national parks.  In marine national parks all forms of extractive activity would no longer occur, including recreational fishing, including commercial fishing, including new prospectivity for the resources industry.

In the other areas of multiple use there are varying levels of limits, which focus on impact on the ocean floor.  So in the special purpose zones and the multiple use zones you'll find pelagic fishing activity is able to continue. But there are various limits in each of the situations, wherefore the special use zones, you find that there would no longer be demersal trawling in those areas and you'll find a broader range of restrictions extending to demersal longline and - demersal longline and demersal gillnet use also applying in the multiple use zones.

There are some extraordinary environmental outcomes and iconic environmental outcomes, which are contained in the draft plans released today.  As I say, wherever we've been able to achieve the same environmental outcome by minimising the impact on jobs and by minimising the effect on recreational fishing, we have done so.

If I can give you just three examples of some of the iconic features we're talking about, because for a long time in Australia it has been commonplace to protect our most precious and pristine environmental assets, provided they are on land.  And we've been much slower to act when we're talking about environmental assets which are contained within our oceans.

The first example I would give is in the Perth Canyon.  Here in Western Australia you have one of the few places where the blue whale goes to feed.  The particular species of blue whale that feeds in the Perth Canyon and here throughout the Southern Ocean is known as the pigmy blue whale. Notwithstanding the title, one of the largest mammals ever on earth; 30 metres long, 180 metric tonnes.

Very few places where it comes to feed, but just off the coast of WA in the Perth Canyon is one of them.  A canyon larger than the Grand Canyon that every Australian would have already known about and people around the world would have already known about, if it existed anywhere other than in the ocean.

Protections would apply under the plan - under the draft plan for the Perth Canyon.  The multiple use which has been proposed there takes into account that there have been a number of Perth metropolitan closures already and that sort of information we've made sure that we've incorporated into the proposals that have been made public today.

The South-West Corner represents one of the largest marine national parks in the world.  The South-West Corner also has been able, in many of those areas, which make - take on such a size, has been able to avoid many of the areas that were contained within the original [AFA] which had a particular challenge for the recreational sector and the commercial fishing sector as well.

It's an area where you have an extraordinary diversity of sea birds, of reefs and we also have the Diamantina Fracture Zone.  This is almost six kilometres deep.  This is an area of the ocean where the biodiversity which exists that far down has still not been fully discovered and this is a way of making sure not nearly that we preserve what we can see, but we also preserve precious sites of biodiversity which remain, in so many ways, part of the unknown of Australia's environment.

All three zonings are contained in the South-West Corner for different regions.  There are regions there that are fully part of the Marine National Park; there are regions where you find a larger variety of activities which would be permitted.

If I can then go to the proposed Western Eyre Marine Reserve, which extends through to about - bordering on the western parts of Kangaroo island.  I should stress all of the zonings we are talking about are Commonwealth waters only.  You're five-and-a-half kilometres out to sea before any of this begins.  There have been instances, as you'll see some here, where there's already some highly sensitive areas which are protected under state marine parks and we've made sure that where we can complement that in different ways we've done so.

One of the iconic concerns in this part of the oceans is the future of our magnificent sea lion colonies.  There are marine parks which have been proposed here, located adjacent to state marine parks, in areas where sea lions forage.  The Kangaroo Island pool is a protection area where, more than protecting individual species we're protecting the habitat.  And protecting the habitat is such a critical of in turn, making sure the environmental dividend lasts and continues to flourish.

There'll be further technical information that will be available from my Department and the information is live on the web, I am told, as of now.  The consultation which will continue from today is real.  There will be - there has been already an extraordinary level of round table discussions, of working issues through in a cooperative way.

The reform will go ahead.  It was flagged in 1998, it is time now to give community certainty and it is time now to deliver on the levels of environment protection that have been spoken about for so long. In doing so, I believe the draft proposal that's been put forward today does provide that right balance of taking into account the impact of communities, the impact on the economy and doing so in a way that allows iconic environmental protection to take place, even though it's under water.

Western Australia, with areas like Ningaloo Reef, is already aware of the extraordinary environmental assets which reside here.  The extraordinary ancient heritage of the geology of Western Australia means that there are environmental assets here protected under the draft plans, which simply will not be matched in other parts of Australia.

The oceans here have a similar story to tell to the magnificence of the Great Barrier Reef in many ways.  A great story of biodiversity, something worthy of protection and something we're finally, as of today, we are well and truly on the path to protecting.

I am happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Yes, the Western Australian Fisheries, Mr Norman Moore, was concerned that this may close fisheries.  Are there going to be any fisheries closing with these plans?

TONY BURKE: A number of the marine proposals, which are presented today, are located within or adjacent to fisheries which have been closed by the WA Government. And I think that point - that some of the adjustments that have taken place under WA Government need to be borne in mind.  Norman Moore has also seemingly been far more vocal about Commonwealth marine parks than he has when marine parks have been proposed by the Premier here.  I'll leave it to your own conclusion as to whether he's opposed to marine parks, or as to whether there are other games going on.

We have announced this week what the displacement policy will be and we will now - we've engaged in a sensible conversation with industry to date about the areas that might be sensitive, the areas that might not.

There are a number of areas, such as Rock Lobster, where there are very high degrees of concern that we made sure we steered clear of.  There are other areas where you couldn't deliver the environmental protection, for example, without potentially having an impact on the shark fishery and that's something where we will now engage with industry to work out precisely what that impact will be.

There is more shark fishing going on now in Commonwealth waters than there used to be, as a result of Fisheries management decisions undertaken by the WA Government. And that has pushed effort into different areas and all of that now needs to be worked through sensibly with industry.

There will be an impact. You can't have environmental protection without there being impacts. Where it's been possible to deliver the environmental outcome in a way that minimises those impacts, we've done so.

QUESTION: But do you believe they'll be particular fishing industries that will close because of this; they just clearly won't be able to survive?

TONY BURKE: I think it's far too early to make a prediction of that nature.  Certainly, what we need to work out now is how would effort shift as a result of any of the areas where certain forms of fishing would not be permitted? And there's a consultation process now with industry, which begins today, where instead of dealing with ideas and maps that were very much at conceptual level, we now have very specific proposals on the table to work through with industry.  There is no doubt there will be an impact on industry, precisely what that impact is, is the reason we have a draft plan rather than a final one.

QUESTION: And is there a level of compensation yet and will that compensation take into account second and third tier industries?

TONY BURKE: The principles that we are using in the policy that we put out during this week on the adjustment program is a policy which very closely aligns with the adjustment program that was put in place by the Howard Government when they made the decisions regarding bioregional planning in the south-east.  So the rules are not quite identical but extraordinarily closely aligned and we’ll now work with industry to work - to see exactly how that would transpire.

QUESTION: But is there a level of compensation?

TONY BURKE: Well the - you have the policy in place as to what would be provided, you now work out with industry - we now work out with industry exactly what level would be required.  So I think you can’t start with a dollar amount before you sit down with industry and say, what would the adjustment be?

QUESTION: But just for my understanding, is that going to include compensation for [third] and the second tier industries?

TONY BURKE: The principles of the policy are the same or almost identical to the wording of the policy that was put forward under the Howard Government.  I don’t want to define it further than that.

QUESTION: What impact will this have on the Budget?  You’ve probably seen Ron Boswell’s comments that it will have a huge impact.  What impact will it have?

TONY BURKE: Yeah, Ron Boswell has managed to run a scare campaign in every direction.  His first scare campaign was that all recreational fishing would be shut down.  Now that that’s clearly not the case, he’s wanting to claim that all commercial fishing would be shut down and wanting to run a fear campaign about an extraordinary impact on the Budget.

All I can say is Ron Boswell put out his media release at the exact time when he could.  He’s made sure that every part of his fear campaign is run when he doesn’t have information to base it on.  I think that speaks for itself.

QUESTION: But you can’t rule out that it won’t have a - won’t have an impact on the Budget in terms of compensation.

TONY BURKE: The - I have a number of environmental programs within my portfolio that can be involved in this sort of work.  The precise quantum we’re talking about is something that we now need to work through with industry, but I don’t think anyone other than Ron Boswell believes the figures that he’s been putting about.

QUESTION: But are you saying that you've already got money in the portfolio that is available for things like compensation?

TONY BURKE: That’s right.  That’s right.  There are a number of programs where - within my portfolio that activity of this nature can be funded but I also want you to be in no doubt the numbers that Ron Boswell put out there were fictitious.

QUESTION: Recreational fishers have said that this is a lazy form of stock management.  Why did it need to come to this?

TONY BURKE: And this is where it - one of the important things to - and I appreciate their argument.  I used to be the fisheries minister and so I appreciate fully the difference between stock management and what’s being done here today.  Stock management is very much about individual species that are being sought and making sure that they themselves don’t disappear. That’s what you do with stock management.

In stock management you don’t manage habitat the way we are here.  In stock management you don’t manage the full range of biodiversity.  In stock management you don’t have to see any value that we’ve always seen on land in having a national park and saying there’s an area that we just want to keep natural.  There’s an area that we want to minimise activity in, other than the tourism and the enjoyment of the area that can happen, because we believe it has value in its own right.

That’s a different job to stock management.  It can complement stock management and does.   You only have to go to any of the marine parks and find the number of rec fishers who choose that the best place to fish is right on the boundary of them. That says something about how this sort of work can complement stock levels but the objectives here go beyond the straight fisheries management role.

QUESTION: The Coalition are drafting, I think, a bill and my understanding is that would give MPs the power to veto these marine parks.  Have you got advice on what impact that would be or could it be retrospective…

TONY BURKE: Look, my understanding is their first draft of that bill was done incorrectly.  They made a mess of it and it wasn’t going to achieve any of their outcomes.  They’re now scrambling to try to change the bill that they introduced into the Senate.  Look, at the end of it, they are playing a game with the Australian public.  You can’t have a policy that was bipartisan from 1998 on and the moment you’re in the heat of an election campaign in 2010 suddenly pretend you don’t believe in it any more.

They ran a scare campaign against a policy that had been bipartisan and, in fact, had been kicked-off under one of their ministers and then ran a scare campaign around it in winter of last year.  As a way of operating, I don’t think that’s all that honest.

They will now try to play games around the edges with an amendment bill in the Senate.  Where it goes, I don’t know.  Certainly their first cut of it they couldn’t even get the drafting right.  They are scrambling to work out what on earth they believe in, in this area.

We’re not and our position’s really clear.  We think there’s environmental assets worth protecting and we also think you can do that in a way that minimises the impact on jobs and maximises the opportunities for people who love to enjoy the ocean in a whole variety of ways, including rec fishing.

QUESTION: Do you know who’s going to be responsible for monitoring and compliance of the marine parks in particular, and how much that's going to cost?

TONY BURKE: The monitoring and compliance issues are dealt with differently in each jurisdiction and there are areas where monitoring and compliance work can be done directly by the Commonwealth. In other instances, that’s done through a partnership with state governments and that’s something which is worked out from time to time, government to government.

Certainly, it may well be the case that the WA Government wants to participate in that way in these areas.  It may well be the case that they don’t. We’re not at the stage of having formal discussions on that yet.

QUESTION: When are the draft maps of the other areas around Australia due to be released?

TONY BURKE: Over winter I expect to be able to release the draft maps for the north-west and the north and it will be later in the year when we’re at a stage of being able to deliver the draft maps for the east.  But I’m still working to a timetable where all of the draft maps are out this year and I would add that I have used the high level of consultation for the south-west as a template for how we intend to operate in all the other areas.

The - there is no doubt we have a better announcement today, better in environmental terms and better in commercial and recreational terms because of the consultation that’s taking place.

QUESTION: I’ve just got a few questions Tasmania [inaudible].  Do you believe the Federal Government is hamstringing the success of Tasmania’s forest [inaudible]?

TONY BURKE: Yeah, I saw that article and it was an article about lack of engagement from the Federal Government. About ten days after, I spent a week in Tasmania with the environmental groups and a day after, I think, I just had a meeting with some of the industry groups.  So I’m not sure what that article’s driving at but I can give some general comments on the situation in Tasmania.

We have a very rare opportunity that might just come off in Tasmania at the moment.  This time last year people were talking about environmental groups, the Forestry Union and industry groups sitting around the table and working out a peace deal.  At the time even sitting at the same table seemed like too big a thing. But they got there; they got to a statement of principles and those principles have started to really flesh-out.

At its heart this is a community agreement, not a political agreement.  It was done without any politicians at the table and I think it’s stronger for that.  Our role, and the role of the Tasmanian Government, has been to help facilitate that outcome.  It may or may not end up being available.  If it is available it is a great outcome long-term for jobs in Tasmania and a great outcome for environmental protection of some of the ancient forests.

Now, there are some roles that the Commonwealth can play and we have been playing that role.  There are some things critical to this which can only be done by the Tasmanian Government because the Tasmanian Government ultimately has control over whether an area is logged or whether it is not.  That’s something that is within their gift.

If we can have all the parties continue to work together and if we can have a similar agreement working through that to facilitate it, between the Commonwealth and Tasmania, then it all becomes possible.  It’s one of those situations where there are always a million ways for it to go wrong and if it comes off, the outcomes are extraordinary.  We’re working to try to help bring it to a head and to try to help bring that outcome in a positive way but everybody has ownership of it.

It’s not a situation at any point where we can say it’s up to industry, it’s up to the environmental groups, it’s up to the Tasmanian Government or it’s up to the Commonwealth.  It’s only going to come together with a high level of cooperation from everyone and we’re certainly involved.  I’ve been taking the lead for the Government on it and we’re doing what we can.

QUESTION: Tony Abbott says that the forestry industry will need compensation and more compensation.  Will it get any?

TONY BURKE: The first principle is to work out the extent to which there will be a transition out of native forestry to a plantation-based resource and that is something that is only possible with the involvement of Forestry Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.  Those are decisions which have not yet been concluded so I just don’t want to be - we’ve gone to a screensaver - I don’t want to be flagging, too far in advance, the issues that are not entirely within our control and the compensation question presumes there is economic loss.

What we are trying to work out is how you can get a transition to a plantation base with good downstream processing being available that actually provides a significant jobs outcome in the short term.

QUESTION: But do you acknowledge, though, that without hundreds of millions of dollars of compensation that this deal will probably [inaudible]?

TONY BURKE: No I don’t.  No I don’t.  I think there’s some quantification that you’ve referred to there that has not been done thoroughly yet and that you can’t actually work that out until you know what the transition will be coup by coup and those decisions can only be made with the full cooperation and involvement of Forestry Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.

Whether they want to go down that path with a resource that is within the State ownership is something that hasn’t been concluded yet.

QUESTION: Just finally, will there need to be federal legislation attached to this?

TONY BURKE: There’s a number of ways you can go forward.  A legislative response, I would be surprised if that was required.  Certainly, you don’t need a legislative response for a regional forestry agreement - which is how we manage forestry between the Commonwealth and Tasmania at the moment.  So the concept of a legislative response, I don’t want to rule it out but there would be a number of ways of reaching a conclusion which would not require that.

But I would hope that whether legislation was required through the Parliament or not was actually irrelevant.  If we can have a situation where people have been fighting each other around the table for generations and they’re willing to come together then I reckon Tony Abbott can probably, you know, offer some level of bipartisanship and the Commonwealth playing a positive role.

He might not be able to manage it but for all the arguments he’s been having with us, I reckon the arguments between the conservationists and the foresters go back a little bit more personally and a whole lot more years than any of the anger that Tony Abbott will try to rev-up from time to time.

Okay?  Thank you very much.