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

846AM John MacKenzie (QLD)
Thursday, 30 October 2003, 9:42 am

Subject: Launch of Eco-Efficiency Agreements with Cane Farmers and the Fertilizer Industry


Compere:
In the studio, Dr David Kemp, the Federal Environment and Heritage Minister. Good morning.

Dr Kemp:
Good morning, John.

Compere:
What brings you to Cairns?

Dr Kemp:
Well, I'm here particularly to launch two agreements with the fertiliser industry and cane growers, which are called eco-efficiency agreements, and that's all about farming in an environmentally sustainable way, and in particular making sure that the fertilisers and nutrients don't unnecessarily go into the streams and pollute the rivers, and then of course the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

The water health of the lagoon is tremendously important to the long-term resilience of the Reef, and can I just say how delighted I am that the responsible leadership of both the fertiliser industry in Australia - because this is an Australia-wide agreement - and also cane growers for taking these issues on board.

Compere:
Ian Ballantyne of Canegrowers has been saying on this programme the last two years those cane growers in North Queensland have already done lots as far as retaining those fertilisers and - and being careful about them not getting into the river systems to pollute the reef. And he was saying on this programme, how much more do you want them to do?

Dr Kemp:
Well, he's right. They have in fact done a lot, and I - I've visited cane growers, and gone out to cane farms, and had a look at some of the best farming techniques that are being put into practise, like the green trash blanketing - I mean, that's a very important technique to help protect the rivers.

The protection of wetlands is very important. That the cane is not planted to close to the side of the streams, or - or take over wetlands that are important to stop sediments getting into the rivers. And - and I think a great many cane growers - the industry has on the whole been very responsible.

And I'm just pleased that the leaders of the cane growers have now committed themselves to really looking at this in a strategic way, and getting out and getting the message to all the farmers.

Compere:
So you think more can be done?

Dr Kemp:
I think more can be done. I think there's no doubt more can be done. I mean, everyone can do more to help to protect the environment, and I think the sugar cane growers want to do that, because their basic message to the community is "We're environmentally responsible."

Compere:
Alright. Let's talk to the whole community out there now, because this is in everybody's interest. Can you ever get to a situation where you get down to nearly zero run-off when it comes to this sort of nutrients onto the Reef?

Dr Kemp:
Well, you can get pretty close to that. You can get pretty close to that, if you use just the amount of fertiliser that you need to actually grow the crop. You don't just sort of throw it on the ground and hope for the best - you - you actually specify it. And that's what the fertiliser industry can help farmers do.

Compere:
I see.

Dr Kemp:
I think the great thing about the fertiliser industry is that they are not only prepared to clean up their own act, because of course in producing the fertiliser they produce a lot of emissions, they use a lot of energy, but also they're going to take the message particularly to the end user, and work with them to use the fertiliser in the most efficient way.

And of course these eco-efficiency agreements are really very good for the business bottom line. I mean, what it's all about is that if you use less energy, you have to buy less fertiliser. If you have to farm in an efficient way, then you make better profits.

So, a good care for the environment and good business practise go hand in hand.

Compere:
Just while I'm on this issue - the health of the Reef. It was an issue on this programme probably three and four years ago now, and no one mentions it much any more - the importance of tertiary treatment of sewerage in ever-growing cities on the north Queensland coast. It's not in the headlines much any more and I don't know why.

Dr Kemp:
No. Well, I think it is a very important issue. There's always a cost factor involved. I mean, there are some terrific plans. Right up the Queensland coast from Brisbane there's a very visionary scheme relating to the City of Brisbane itself on tertiary treatment.

It's always a cost factor at the end of the day, but I very strongly encourage communities to do it. Particularly up here where you've got these massive environmental assets like the reef, which are also, of course, massive economic assets.

But they produce huge income in the shape of a tourist industry which has a gross annual value of something like four billion dollars a year ...

Compere:
Which industry, sorry?

Dr Kemp:
The tourist industry.

Compere:
Oh, yes.

Dr Kemp:
Tourism - tourism is very strongly supported. Of course, it knows the economic value of the Reef. And the fishing industries also know that the long-term health of the Reef is important for their long-term survival.

And of course tertiary treatment of sewerage is just one of the factors which go into the water quality in the lagoon. I don't know whether you remember, John, but the - just earlier this year the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland signed off on a water quality protection plan for the Great Barrier Reef, and that's going to lead us to actually looking closely at what's coming out of each of the rivers, monitoring that in a scientific way, and working with the farmers - both the cane growers and the pastoralists further inland ...

Compere:
Yeah.

Dr Kemp:
... to make sure that those rivers are really improving all the time.

Compere:
Four oh three double one eight four six is the open line number if you've got a question or a point you'd like to make with the Federal Environment Minister. David, let's talk about the fishing thing.

The rezoning, particularly. Now, from the point of view, particularly, of the recreational fishers for the moment, we had meetings last year that were virtually unprecedented in the numbers of people who are concerned that - that their opportunity to get out on a weekend with the kids, and they only get out three and four times a year, and ten thousand boaties registered in Cairns alone - that they were going to have their weekends disrupted.

Look, just talk to me about this general direction being taken, and I know some areas are the responsibility of the State, and others the responsibility of the Federal Government, and that is confusing to people. But where are we headed there? Do you think there is a real compromise in sight - something that will satisfy both sides?

Dr Kemp:
Ah, to a large extent, I think the answer's yes, although at the end of the day, not everybody is going to be happy with every aspect of it, because the interest of the different fishing groups, for example, are not fully aligned. I mean, the views of the recreational fishers, and the views of the commercial fishers are not identical, so - so no one is going to be completely happy, but there's been a huge effort, once the draft zoning plan was put out, to engage all the relevant interests, to talk with people in the communities up and down the coast, and see if we couldn't draw these lines in a way that has absolutely minimal impact.

And I believe that that's been done. And I've had the chance, even since I've been in Cairns over the last twenty-four hours to talk with people and in general the recreational fishers who've looked closely with these maps are pretty happy with them. I think the commercial fishers, they probably grumble a bit, but they say that a real effort has been made to draw the boundaries of the green zones so that they do have minimal impact.

Compere:
Alright.

Dr Kemp:
At the end of the day, there is going to be some impact.

Compere:
Is it going to be thirty per cent? Will it be thirty per cent?

Dr Kemp:
Oh, I think it will be round about thirty per cent. That will be within the green zones. But the commercial fishers themselves say that the green zones are not actually their major concern. Their major concern are the blue zones and the yellow zones, and of course that's where they meet up with the recreational fishers.

And - and as far as it's possible to balance these interests off, a real and genuine effort has been made to do that, and I think at the end of the day, even if people aren't happy, they will be able to say well, look, I really believe we've been listened to, and I think the Barrier Reef Authority's been responsive.

Compere:
Now, this is from a local perspective - we had a lot of people that were very concerned that they would have to go to billy-o in little unsafe boats to get out to have a fish on the weekend. The complaint being that a lot of these zones, or areas that were made inaccessible to them, were close in to the mouth of the Cairns inlet. Do you know if that's been addressed?

Dr Kemp:
Yes. To my knowledge quite a bit of that has been addressed. That particular claim is one that I've certainly heard when I've talked to groups. We've looked at these in-shore areas. We've looked at how we can make it safer. And I think a lot of changes have been made.

In fact, I was talking with the Barrier Reef Authority last night, and I said how many changes have been made since the draft zoning plan? And they said look, it's literally thousands. It's literally thousands. Some of them are just minor - very minor changes to a line. In other cases, zones have been almost completely relocated.

So there have been very big changes as a result of what the community has asked for.

Compere:
When you get these sea changes in regulation, often you get that touch of ratbaggery and the example of it here was the recruiting of families from throwing a line in off the beaches, off the wharves up here north of the city, and that sort of thing. I mean, the chance of them catching a fish are almost nil anyway. And I always thought well, what sort of contribution is that going to make to the preservation of the fishery. Has that been addressed? That silliness?

Dr Kemp:
Well look, I think at the early stages, of course, when people haven't had a chance to either see the plan, or look at it closely, or had any knowledge about how the consultation would actually be conducted, and whether they'd be listened to. The thing that I found was the greatest cause of anxiety at those early stages was people saying well, isn't the Barrier Reef Authority, when it's got all our submissions, just going to shut the doors, go away, drawn the lines, and we won't know whether they're right or wrong, and we'll be worried about that, and at the end of the day, we'll be told what to do.

Now, that hasn't happened. That hasn't happened. There's been a lot of discussion since those submissions have bee put in, and I think the lines that have been drawn now have been shown to people - a lot of people in the community, particularly the leaders of these different groups - have had a chance to look at the revised maps, and the message I'm getting is that they really feel there's been a genuine effort.

And of course they are all saying that at the end of the day the Great Barrier Reef has to be preserved. And its health has been going down. We want to actually see the Great Barrier Reef reviving. We want to see more fish out there. We want to see it as a better tourism destination. And I'm quite sure out of this that's what it's going to be.

Compere:
And you and the State Government both want less fishermen out there, obviously.

Dr Kemp:
Well, the State Government, I know, has recently issued some new regulations in relation to the line fishing, the reef fishing. And we understand that. I mean, there's got to be an effort on the Reef, which is long-term, sustainable. But the process that I'm engaged with at the moment is not about fishing regulation. It's about preserving what's called the biodiversity of the Reef.

It's preserving the health of the corals, and preserving the numbers of reef fish. And we want to see more fish and bigger fish.

Compere:
You've seen those figures that came out, oh, a week and a half ago, I suppose, about the economic benefits to be gleaned from the Great Barrier Reef as a whole, and it was many billion - I mean, they're virtually putting a value on the Great Barrier Reef in dollar terms. Did you see those reports ...

Dr Kemp:
Yeah. I did see - I did see those.

Compere:
What were your thoughts on it?

Dr Kemp:
Well, when I saw them I thought well, thank goodness someone has done this kind of study ...

Compere:
Yeah.

Dr Kemp:
Because we know what a huge value the Reef has in economic terms. I mean, the Reef tourism industry employs something like 47,000 people. There are a couple of thousand people employed directly in the fishing industry.

So it's a huge economic asset, and what this study did was to put an overall value of billions and billions of dollars - a figure round about eight billion dollars - on the Great Barrier Reef.

I think it's worth saying that the Great Barrier Reef is not just an Australian icon. It is a world icon. There was a survey in London recently that asked people what things should you do in your life before you die, and even in London people put in the Great Barrier Reef and seeing the Great Barrier Reef ...

Compere:
Really?

Dr Kemp:
... as number two of their list.

Compere:
Yeah.

Dr Kemp:
World-wide, of the things to do before you die. So - so we've got the greatest Reef in the world here.

**ENDS**

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