Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Press Conference – Marine reserves

16 November 2012

TONY BURKE: Good morning and welcome back to the Sydney Aquarium.

About four months ago I stood here and announced the Australian government had a plan to become the world leader in establishing marine national parks. In creating in the ocean what the world has been for a long time, creating on land. And that's national parks some places reserved for nature.

Today, I can let you know that as of midnight tonight, those boundaries that we put forward four months ago become law. As of midnight tonight, Australia becomes the world leader in protection of the oceans.

There are very few countries in the world that are as responsible for as much of the ocean as Australia is. And our oceans are under serious threat. If you go back - and I referred last time to a bucket of water, what it is today to what it is a hundred years ago - in that time the water - the bucket of water from the same ocean is chemically different, biologically different and physically different. It contains more acid, it contains much more plastic and it contains less life.

There are a range of actions that need to be taken to turn the corner on the health of our oceans. But establishing national parks in the ocean is a big part of that total picture. In recent times, we've seen the Maldives come forward with some very significant proposals for marine national parks. The United Kingdom, the same and only in the last few weeks, the nations that are part of the CAMELAR Treaty Group, which deals with the marine life in the Antarctic have been working through - and I have a special meeting scheduled for next year to determine what national parks in the ocean can be established around the Antarctic.

What we established with these boundaries today is the most comprehensive network of marine national parks in the world. Whether you look at the sea bird areas out to Lord Howe Island, whether you look at an area such as the Diamantina Fracture Zone more than five kilometres deep of the South West of Australia, the Perth Canyon known to rec fishers as the Rottnest Trench, a canyon as big as the scale of the Grand Canyon, yet most people don't know about it because it's under water.

Whether you go to areas across the North West and the North where you've got features like massive sponge gardens, homes for the giant manta ray, for whale sharks, for the humpback whale, for some of the most iconic species known.

We need to appreciate that in the years to come we don't want people to only know the magnificence of their oceans through aquariums or by watching Finding Nemo. We want them to know that marine life is something that is living every moment of the day with the sort of spectacle that should belong to what is, let's face it, seventy percent of our planet. A planet known as Planet Earth, but the vast majority of that Earth is well and truly under water.

So we set those expectations four months ago as to what we thought might be possible. With many many tens of thousands of submissions, the vast majority wanting us to go ahead with proposals to protect the ocean in this way, we've made that decision. And as of midnight tonight, those proposals become law.

If there's any questions, I'm happy to take them.

QUESTION: How satisfied are you with the consultation process? There's been added delays from official spheres.

TONY BURKE: Well, let's not forget this is a consultation process from an idea that began in about 1995-1996. The consultation and the scientific work has been much more than a decade in the making. In the time that I've had this job, more than hundred thousand people - many more than a hundred thousand people - have taken the time to write submissions to be involved in this process.

Recreational and commercial fishers have known upfront that wherever I could achieve the same level of environmental protection in the way that minimised the impact on them, I took that option.

I was at a community cabinet during the week where someone stood up in Queensland and asked you know what would this mean for the capacity of her sons to be able to continue fishing in the years to come.

And I was able to explain it from where we were standing you had to go somewhere between three and four hundred kilometres offshore before you got to the first place where someone wouldn't be allowed to throw out a line if they were out there on a tinny. And if they're out there on a tinny that far out, they are other concerns that they would have about their capacity to get back that night.

We've put them in areas where by in large we are not talking about a significant impact to recreational fishing at all. And that message has started to get out.

In terms of commercial, we're talking about a situation where the impact on wild catch fishing around Australia is in the order of around one percent of their value of production. So we've absolutely minimised the impact. But that doesn't change the fact that there will be some businesses where there is an impact on them. That's why today we also announced the adjustment package. We've put aside a hundred million dollars to be able to work with those fishing businesses to be able to make sure that there is an appropriate adjustment package for them.

And there are also some businesses which are vertically integrated where we're going to be sitting at the table and working out for them exactly what rules are best to apply, because some of them have employees that are dependent on the fishing business but not part directly of the work on the vessel itself. And so for those vertically integrated businesses, there's some extra conversations that we'll be having with them. But all of that is well and truly covered in the hundred million we've set aside.

QUESTION: Is the hundred million capped? Are you expected is that expected to stay at that level or is it going to blow out, would you say?

TONY BURKE: We have set it deliberately in a way that we believe it is more than what's required on any of the costings that we've done.

QUESTION: The Fisheries have come out today and said that it wouldn't be enough. Why [inaudible]

TONY BURKE: The Commonwealth Fisheries Association are doing what a peak body should do and that's when there's money on the table for their members, they will argue that there should be more. And it's no surprise that they'll argue that. But I do think they understand that no industry package ever involves a blank cheque and that's effectively what they're asking for when they say that there should be no cap at all.

The hundred million dollars has been set aside because we believe is in excess of what will be required. And the reason that it's much less than what was required when for example the Howard Government did work within the Great Barrier Reef is because we have consciously tried where we could get the same environmental outcome but minimise the impact on commercials and recs, we took those options. And that ends up resulting in a lower requirement for compensation.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]

TONY BURKE: Yeah, yeah, you can sort of put this in Barnaby's prediction of a $100 for a leg of lamb. He is colourful in his language without necessarily being accurate in his language. When you look at 1% of the total value of your wild catch fisheries, you're talking about a smaller impact on Australian-caught seafood than what you get from annual fluctuations. So how you can then build that into that sort of scare campaign? He can have a go but I think it fails and fails pretty dismally.

I'd also add that while Barnaby has made comments like that, and I understand Ron Boswell will be out later today, there's one question they haven't answered and that is they have never answered whether if they were to come to Government, they would legislate to remove these marine parks in the ocean, these national parks in the ocean. And it's a pretty fundamental question.

If you oppose it passionately, would you legislate to remove it if you came to Office? And what they've been doing at the moment is sending one message to some parts of Australia and a different fear campaign in a couple of coastal communities. And I don't think they're going to get away with that for much longer. And I really do expect in the next few days, they'll be caught out on that because it's a question they do not have an answer to.

QUESTION: What proportion of the network do you think will be general use?

TONY BURKE: It's in the order of close on 95% of the oceans themselves remain areas where people can continue to drop a line and have recreational fishing. And a big part of the areas that are not, are the areas that are many many hundreds of kilometres out. So most of the areas that are within the network are multiple use. And that's for good environmental reasons. If what you're trying to protect in a particular area is the sea bed, if you're trying to protect for example the - some of these incredible sponge gardens that we have in the North of Australia's oceans, then if someone's dropping a line and they're not going all the way down to the bottom of the ocean, it's not going to have the same environmental impact.

So for those situations what you want to be able to do is to be able to ensure that trawling, for example, bottom-sea trawling, demersal trawling doesn't take place. Whereas what they call pelagic operations don't have the environmental impact in the same way. So most of it is multiple use but they are good environmental reasons for it being done that way. There are also two areas where there is a total - two areas in addition to the marine national parks where you have a complete ban on oil and gas operations. And that applies to the Coral Sea and it also applies to an offshore area from Margaret River in WA.

QUESTION: Just on another matter, what are your thoughts about BP paying out four-and-a half billion dollars to settle the criminal charges over the oil spill in [unclear]

TONY BURKE: My understanding from those reports is there are a number of issues still in train, a number of further payments that the companies may well find themselves having to make. And - look, it's a large sum of money. It was a large amount of damage. But I think we need to get back to the very first principles. When we're talking about protecting something as previous as our oceans, no amount of money ever provides genuine compensation for an environmental catastrophe, ever. And some people will want to have a complete focus on can we increase - how much more money can we extract from a business?

I think we need to get back to the first principles of what measures do we need to put in place internationally to try to make sure that this sort of damage is not repeated.

Thank you very much.