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Transcript
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Transcript - Press conference
Reef Summit - Townsville
Friday, 4 July 2003

Subject: 2003 'State of the Reef' report


DR KEMP:
This morning I launched the State of the Reef report. The State of the Reef report shows that the Great Barrier Reef is still under great challenge, we've seen some very significant decline in turtle nesting populations, we now only have some 3% of the dugong population in the southern coastal areas of the reef that we had in the 1960s, there is continuing impact on the reef from sediment and land-based activities and all these are summed up in the State of the Reef report.

The main lesson to draw from the State of the Reef report is that as a community we need to take action to put the Great Barrier Reef on a sustainable basis for the long term. We want to be able to hand on to our children a reef which is even healthier than the reef we have today.

Compared to other coral reefs around the world, the Great Barrier Reef in many places is in very good condition. And that's because we've looked after the reef, we've got a proper management system for the reef in place, the World Heritage values of the reef are protected by the Howard Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act so that any activity that could have an impact, a negative impact, on the World Heritage values of the reef has to be referred to the Federal Minister and action can be taken to ensure that the reef is properly protected.

The most significant action that is now being taken to put the reef on a sustainable basis is the Representative Areas Program and I want to say how pleased I am with the state of the consultations on the Representative Areas Program. We're seeing very positive reactions from the commercial fishing industry, from the tourist industry, from recreational fishers on the program.

I know that when the Representative Areas plan was first released, when the zoning plan was first released, there was a reaction from some who hadn't seen it that expressed concern over the impact that the plan would have on their activities. As people begin to look more closely at the draft zoning plan, we're seeing a more and more positive reaction to the plan and I am very pleased at comments that are being made today by the recreational fishers that they're now looking closely at the detailed boundaries, they like the yellow zones on the plan, they are going to suggest some improvements to the zoning which of course is what the consultation is all about. In the end, the aim of the Representative Areas Plan is to empower the local communities and the local industries to have a sustainable reef that can support their activities in the long term.

JOURNALIST:
Very big call to say we're going to have the reef in better condition than the present, given land-based activities are pretty much being pointed to by scientists across the world as being much of the cause of the problem. So wouldn't we have to also address land-based activities.

DR KEMP:
Absolutely. Land-based activities have to be addressed. That's the aim of the Water Quality Protection plan that is now out for public comment. That results from a Memorandum of Understanding as you remember between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland. The aim of the Water Quality Protection Plan is to make sure that we do take action on the land to ensure that the quality of water coming out of the rivers does not pollute the inner lagoon but in fact contributes to the health of the reef and I believe that we can do that. With the cooperation of the industries along the coast, we will improve the water quality coming into the lagoon and the draft Water Quality Protection Plan provides the means to do that.

JOURNALIST:
But Dr Kemp, how do you get the cooperation of the cane industry which is pointed to by many scientists as one of the main contributors to sediments when they refuse to accept that there's any problem with the industry?

DR KEMP:
Well, there's no point at all in demonizing the industries along the coast. I'm very happy with the constructive way in which the leadership of the cane growers and other industries have responded to the draft Water Quality Protection Plan and the Representative Areas Program. What I believe we have in Queensland are industries who understand that the sustainability of the rivers, the land that they farm, and the reef itself is just fundamental to the future economic health of this state. North Queensland depends on having a sustainable environment. The economy of North Queensland requires that we farm, we look after the rivers and we look after the reef so that they are all sustainable. Our land is sustainable, our rivers are sustainable, the reef is sustainable. That's the fundamental foundation for the economic health of the communities and the industries of North Queensland. And I'm pleased to say that I believe the leaders of industry in North Queensland recognise that and want it and are prepared to work in a constructive way to achieve it.

JOURNALIST:
Dr Kemp, one of the main criticisms of commercial and recreational fishers about the Representative Areas Program has been that they don't believe the science that has been put forward to justify the expansion of the green zones. Do you feel the State of the Reef report has satisfied that science?

DR KEMP:
The State of the Reef report sets out what is known in the scientific sense about the condition of the reef. It provides a very clear outline of the scientific underpinning of the Representative Areas Program. It shows that with the expansion of the green zones we will have more fish on the reef, we'll have healthier fish, we'll have bigger fish. That will support expanded recreational fishing in the future, it will put the commercial fishing industry on a sustainable basis so I believe that the science is there that fully supports the actions that are being taken in the draft plan and I believe that those in industry who see that will be very supportive of the general tenure of the draft plan.

JOURNALIST:
Dr Earle is obviously a very important speaker at this forum but how much of what she says is actually going to be taken on board by the council, the government and indeed GBRMPA in terms of finalising this draft reef zone?

DR KEMP:
Well the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority of course has invited Dr Sylvia Earle to come to the conference. Dr Earle is a world renowned explorer and scientist and what she has done at the conference today is to draw attention to the disastrous state of many of the world's fisheries. She said this morning that she regarded Australia as a leader in the protection of reefs and in the protection of fisheries because we have coming into place around this country marine protected areas which have got the capacity to really revive depleted fish stocks and to put the fishing industry on a long-term sustainable basis. Now that's something that hasn't occurred in the northern hemisphere.

JOURNALIST:
She also said that she'd like to see commercial fishing done away within 30 years.

DR KEMP:
Well, no she hasn't said that. What she said is that that is the real prospect if something is not done to put commercial fisheries around the world on a sustainable basis. She's also held out the prospect, which I very much agree with, that commercial fishing can be sustainable if we take the appropriate action now and I believe that the commercial fishing industry here in North Queensland realises that their future is intimately bound up with the sustainability of the reef and that's why they're looking at the Representative Areas Program in such a constructive way.

JOURNALIST:
So this report that has come out today, how much of a decline are we seeing from the original State of the Reef report findings?

DR KEMP:
Well we are seeing continuing decline in the state of the reef. The state of the reef is being affected of course by many different factors. It's been affected by sediments and nutrients coming down the rivers into the inner lagoon and most of the damage that we are seeing to the coral reef itself, we are seeing on the inner reefs. We're also seeing the effect of rising sea temperature, possibly due to global warming in the bleaching of the reef, we are also seeing the impact of specific factors such as the Crown of Thorn starfish so that's why the Federal Government is investing millions of dollars in action to protect the reef against Crown of Thorn starfish and why we're monitoring very closely illegal fishing behaviour on the reef. In the end, I believe everybody wants to see the reef sustainable. There is good scientific reason behind the actions that are being taken and with the cooperation of the community, with the empowerment of the community that comes from the Representative Areas plan proposal, we will see the Great Barrier Reef put on a sustainable basis for the long term.

JOURNALIST:
So if the Reef report says that we think there's been a decline in the past five years, does that mean so far we are losing the battle?

DR KEMP:
Well what it means is that we have got to take further action and that's why we are lifting the highly protected areas of the reef from under 5% to now over 30% in the draft plan. It's important that the community owns this process and we are seeing now increased community ownership of the need to put in place these protected areas so that we can hand on a healthier reef to our children.

JOURNALIST:
Are there any positives in the report?

DR KEMP:
Well the great positive is that the Great Barrier Reef is not only the world's largest coral reef, but it is probably also the world's healthiest large reef. There are areas of the Great Barrier Reef which are still in very good condition. We have people coming from all over the world to see the Great Barrier Reef. So we are really starting at a very good point and it's the responsibility of the community at this time now to make sure that where there is good scientific evidence of decline that we take action to prevent this decline from continuing and that we act to put the reef on a healthy basis for the future.

JOURNALIST:
What is the Government doing to help GBRMPA, to help pay for the expanded enforcement role it is going to have to play once the green zones are expanded?

DR KEMP:
Well the important point to realise about the green zones is that they consolidate a number of much smaller, more fragmented areas. It is much harder to police small fragmented areas than it is to police the green zones which have got clear boundaries in the new draft plan and which are much more consolidated. It is easier for GBRMPA to know whether illegal fishing is taking place, it is easier for fishers to know whether they are properly positioned so the great virtue of the Representative Areas draft plan is that we will have a reef zoning plan which is much easier to police and protect the reef in the future than the one which currently exists even though it protects much more of the reef.

JOURNALIST:
Won't it still cost more to supervise and administer?

DR KEMP:
No, we believe that GBRMPA tells us that they have the capacity to do that and in fact they see this as being a very significant step forward in their capacity to police and protect the reef.

ENDS

Commonwealth of Australia