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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP



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

Port Melbourne
Friday, 21 May 2004

Launch of the first Regional Marine Plan

Max Kitchell, National Oceans Office: Good morning everybody. Thanks very much for all of you coming along this morning. For those one or two of you who don't know me, my name is Max Kitchell, I'm the Director of the National Oceans Office.

Welcome again, thank you again for coming along to what we believe is a pretty special occasion. It's certainly an important occasion for the National Oceans Office. And we believe it's symbolically a very important occasion for the management of our oceans in Australia. This being the time when we launch the very first region marine plan in Australia.

It's really gratifying too, to see such a broad representation here today. We have representatives from all of the major stakeholder groups, from the conservation movement, from the fishing and seafood industry, from the shipping sector, from the oil and gas sector, from the Aboriginal community and others are here.

We have people from... we have representatives from the National Oceans Advisory group, the key peak advisory group to the Minister and his ministerial board, we have representatives here from the South East working group, who provided terrific assistance, especially in the formative stages of the development of this plan.

We have people here from other Commonwealth agencies who have helped us in the development of the plan through sometimes pretty robust discussions. Full and frank I think is the way the diplomats put those discussions. But, as rigorous as they were, they have caused us to come up with a better plan at the end of the day.

We've got representatives here from the Victorian Government. And the Victorian Government was one of just four governments that we worked with in the development of this plan, the others being South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales. And of course there are a number of staff here from the National Oceans Office, and at the end of the day it was those people who put this plan together. And I know for a lot of them this has been a long and sometimes painful gestation in getting this plan out. But the birth process, I'm told, is always a joyous one, or at least after the birth process is joyous. And we certainly intend to enjoy today.

Finally and most importantly, can I welcome Doctor David Kemp, the Chair of the National Oceans Ministerial Board, and the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Thank you, Minister very much for agreeing to come along to launch the plan today.

And before I ask the Minister to come forward and to do the honours, I just want to tell you a little story. When the Minister first came to the Environment and Heritage portfolio, myself, when I was in a different position, and my colleagues in the department, briefed the Minister on the respective elements of our responsibilities within the portfolio.

And I can recall the introduction to my briefing went along the lines that 'Minister, during the course of your Ministry, you will be responsible for spending more Commonwealth dollars through these multi-billion dollar programs like the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. More Commonwealth dollars than any Commonwealth Environment Minister before you. And during that same period, almost all of the environmental indicators will get worse. Our rivers will continue to degrade, we will have lost more native vegetation, salinity will have gotten worse. There will be more threatened species listed'

I think they call it frank and fearless advice, and I remember looking at the Minister and seeing this sort of mixture of disbelief and horror on his face. Disbelief I think when he was thinking, 'is this bloke nuts, does he know what he's talking about' and horror in so far as, 'well the Prime Minister never told me it was going to be like this when he gave me this portfolio, and maybe education wasn't such a bad thing after all'.

But Minister I'm here to tell you that with the oceans I think there is a much more positive story to tell. I think with the oceans that we haven't suffered the mismanagement that we have on the land and that our oceans are generally, in so far as we understand them, are generally in pretty good shape. And the industries that rely on our oceans are generally in pretty good shape. And I think we have the opportunity with our oceans for prevention rather than remediation, for not making the same mistakes that we made on the land, and that's what regional marine planning is all about.

Folks, Minister Kemp has been a terrific supporter of the National Oceans Office, and I thank you very much Minister for that. But more particularly he has been a great advocate for a healthy marine environment and a great advocate for sustainable marine industries. So there is nobody more appropriate than Dr Kemp to be here today to launch the first of Australia's regional marine plans and I ask him to come forward and to do that right now.

David Kemp, Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage: Thank you very much, Max. When I first say something I'll listen to my voice and see if my cold is going to allow my vocal chords to properly project the message that I want to project to you, so I shall try very hard, and hopefully it will get better as I go on.

Max's introduction of course does force me to say some things about the broader environment in which we live. His account of the initial briefing that he gave me was quite accurate. But, as I pointed out to some of his colleagues as I learnt more, the whole story's not black. We in fact have not only plans in place, that Max knows very well about, the natural heritage trust to address some of these issues where we have got degradation and deterioration of the environment, and we have serious issues still to deal with, with our rivers and with salinity. But on the other hand there are positive stories as well.

Everybody take a deep breath. This air, it's cleaner than it was ten years ago, because of environmental regulation, of dual standards and emission standards. The bay behind me, the wonderful Port Phillip Bay is cleaner than it was 10 years ago because of serious environmental work. We are now seeing the end to broad scale vegetation clearing across the continent.

And the message that I draw from this is that if we act wisely and act on the basis of good science we can actually address the environmental issues that we face. And I feel very confident that Australia can be the first sustainable continent, the first continent in the world to be put on a sustainable basis.

We have a highly educated population which wants to look after its environment, we have a very strong science base, we have [indistinct] very enlightened industries that realise that their licence to operate, and indeed their long term sustainability is dependant on caring for the environment which underpins and supports their activities. And so we have great opportunities here in Australia to give a message to the world about how a country can be made sustainable.

It's not going to happen overnight, it's going to take some decades before we can confidently say that we have now got in place and under control all the main sources of environmental degradation. But we are moving very strongly in the right direction.

The National Oceans Office, which Max Kitchell heads up, and which has I believe done an excellent job, is an example of how, by involving the community those members of the community and those interests who are dependant on a particular aspect of the environment, we can make real progress. And today is an example of that real progress. Today is the launch of the first integrated regional marine plan, I think anywhere in the world. It's something that we have been able to do in Australia because of those factors that I've mentioned.

This is really a landmark event in natural resource management in Australia. And I must say I'm pleased to see here today so many of those who have contributed to the development of this plan because this is not a plan which has come out of some bureaucrat's office, this is a plan which has been put together in consultation with all the stakeholders.

That's what the word integrated is intended to mean, it brings together all the relevant interests in the south east marine region, and that's a huge area of sea and ocean, it covers some two million square kilometres, that's about a quarter of the size of the whole Australian continent, it's the seas that surround Tasmania, Victoria and parts of New South Wales and South Australia.

And the word integrated, while it sounds a rather bureaucratic word, really means that we have to make sure that all our activities, whether by the shipping industry or the fishing industry or arising out of the ports, or whether it's to do with science or tourism, any of the users of that sea undertake their activity with an awareness of the impact that they have on others and in particular the impacts that they have on the extraordinary echo systems that lie hidden beneath the waters behind me.

I've been told that the biodiversity in Port Phillip Bay is about the same as that of the Great Barrier Reef. Certainly the biodiversity of the south-east marine region is remarkable in world terms. And something like 80% of the species that exist in this area of ocean are unique to Australia. That gives us a responsibility to care for them, it also gives us enormous opportunities.

I'm honoured to represent here today my colleagues on the ministerial Oceans board. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator Ian Macdonald, the Minister for Industry, Tourism Resources, Ian Macfarlane, and the Minister for Science, Peter McGauran, in publicly launching this plan today. And my colleagues have all taken a very great interest, because not only do we have to have an integrated approach to the ocean, we have to have an integrated approach in government. And we've got a whole of government approach, which has stood behind the development of this plan by the National Oceans Office.

I'm also very pleased to be publicly launching this plan at the heart of the south-east marine region here in Port Phillip Bay just a stone's throw from the Port of Melbourne. As we look out on the beautiful Port Phillip Bay we can appreciate the benefits of regional marine planning.

From where we stand we can see the departure point for Bass Strait ferries, we see recreational fishing and pleasure boats. We see the Port of Melbourne, an international shipping centre with major shipping lanes. If we have good eyesight we can see the fuel depot towards [indistinct] where oil and gas from the rich Gippsland field at Bass Strait have been shipped for decades. We see commercial fishing boats making their way up the mouth of the Yarra, their crews earning a living from the very rich variety of fisheries in the region. And we see the city of Melbourne, by far the largest of the many coastal communities in the south-east region, within an island continent which is dominated by its coastal communities.

So when all these elements are put together we get an understanding of what integrated regional marine planning is all about. The regional area that we're dealing with here today is vast. As I've said it's almost two million square kilometres of seas and oceans. The plan that we're releasing today describes the very significant progress that's been made in improving ocean management to achieve sustainability.

Sustainability means that we want future generations of this country, the managers, the future managers of the great industries in the south-east region to be able to contemplate the same kinds of options, indeed perhaps even better options than those industry leaders can contemplate today.

Through the approach of integrated regional marine planning we're seeking to overcome what has been called the tyranny of small decisions. The fact that if we don't work together we will have an accumulation of individual decisions which one by one will erode the basis on which these communities and these industries are based. And we're seeking to avoid what has been called the tragedy of the commons. We're seeking to make sure that where we all do have public interests and common interests that we look after these in common.

Embodied in this plan therefore, is the opportunity to avoid some of the horrendous mistakes which have been made elsewhere in the world. I suppose many here are aware of the devastation of the ecosystems of the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic, where marine ecosystem mismanagement has devastated once great industries and many, many communities. Once the seas there were boiling with fish, you read the early accounts of the explorers and you couldn't avoid pulling fish out of the seas. Now, you'd have to hunt long and hard for the ubiquitous cod.

In Australian waters science tells us that our marine ecosystems are still largely healthy but they are very vulnerable and, as we know, there are indeed some fisheries which have already found that they are not really sustainable in the longer term and they move from one species to another as a species has disappeared. Over 275,000 people are already employed either directly or indirectly in marine industries in the region. Those industries are worth some $19 billion a year. The South East Regional Marine Plan will enable these industries to expand and develop while ensuring that responsible action is being taken to preserve the integrity of the ecosystems.

The plan already contains two marine protected area candidate options, covering some 40,000 square kilometres, and from the release of this plan, all the industries will be able to take into account the identification of those options as they contemplate the science and information that they need in their decision making. A clear process has been outlined in the plan and with the close cooperation of stakeholders, and using the best available science, over the next 12 months we expect some 11 marine protected areas to be implemented. And these marine protected areas will provide a solid basis for ecological management and protection and the sustainable development of the region for generations to come.

Australia has the world's largest oceans territory. Our oceans territory, covering the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone, covers some 14 million square kilometres. That's almost twice the size of the Australian continent and Australia is responsible for that whole vast area. And what the National Oceans Office is going to do is work with the states and with stakeholders to roll out around the entire Australian continent, the entire continental shelf, marine plans that will provide the basis for sustainability in each of those key areas.

This is an enormous task and it's a world first task. It's an achievement, which many around the world are looking at very closely to see how the task is done. The world, I think, is already quite amazed at what we have been able to achieve. They will be amazed by this plan. They've been amazed by what we've done in relation to the Great Barrier Reef, where we have now instituted the world's largest system of marine protected areas, and have recently increased sevenfold the non-extractive zones on the reef. That means not only no mining, because there hasn't been any mining possible on the reef since 1975, but no fishing in those areas either, to allow the reef to recover.

We have here in this plan, of course, a large number of potential actions. The plan details some 90-odd actions that will be taken in the progress toward sustainability, and they include the development of a performance assessment system to provide a consistent and accountable way of determining the success of our actions. They include a way of ensuring long-term industry security of access and certainty of process through a review of marine-related laws and regulations that apply in the region and integrated planning and management of spatial measures such as fisheries closures. And they include enhancing community and indigenous stewardship of the marine region through the development of a marine discovery centre, network and indigenous sea-country plans.

Much of what occurs in the Commonwealth waters between 300 and 200 nautical miles of course has an impact on the State waters closer into shore. The Government is working closely with the Governments of the south-eastern region of Australia to ensure maximum level of cooperation.

I want to say to all of you here today that this process has undoubtable been a learning process. It hasn't been an easy process, or a straightforward process. But it's one where a great deal has now been learnt and the development of future regional marine plans will be streamlined by what we've learnt in the course of the development of this first plan. We're determined to accelerate the national representative system of marine protected areas and to that end I've recently appointed a Marine Protected Areas Taskforce within my department. As the lead agency for the continued implementation of Australia's Oceans Policy, I particularly want to congratulate the National Oceans Office for coordinating the development of this plan and working with stakeholder groups.

The National Oceans Office has, I think, done a quite remarkable job, because they've had to invent their job as they've gone along. No one has really known how to do it before, and the National Oceans Office has been in the front line of those discovering how such a process can be managed. And so, not surprisingly, they've gone up one alley, they've come down another and finally, I think, we've got to a plan which we can all be extremely proud of. And, Max, through you as the leader of the Office, I want to convey my thanks to every member of the National Oceans Office. This has been a great team effort on the part of the National Oceans Office. You brought together a range of extraordinary expertise there and it's been the combination of people with expertise ranging across quite a number of disciplines, which has made this plan possible.

I don't normally like to single out individual people for special mention, but this morning I want to make one exception to that. I want to pay a tribute to Meredith Hall, who led the team within the National Oceans Office that was responsible for developing this plan. Meredith provided a great source of energy and intellectual rigour to the development of the plan. Tragically, Meredith died 10 days ago, aged just 32. While she saw the plan to completion, unfortunately she isn't here today to celebrate its launch and I deeply regret that. I am very glad, however, that Meredith's parents, Michael and Bonnie Hall and her sister Karen are here with us today. And I want to thank them very much for coming along today to celebrate this work and in particular to allow us to tell them just how we feel about the work that Meredith has done. She worked not just for the National Oceans Office, she worked for Australia. And this is going to be an example to others, not just around this country but around the world. On behalf of the office and the Australian Government, I would like to publicly register my appreciation this morning for the fantastic contribution Meredith made in bringing to completion the South East Regional Marine Plan.

The plan, as I've said, does represent a new way of doing business on an unprecedented scale. Congratulations to all the stakeholders who are here this morning for your very constructive input into the development of this plan. What you have shown is that the Australian community is willing to work together to achieve the development of a world breaking plan of this kind. So I want to thank those of you who are here and those of you who are behind you in your industries for the contribution that you've made. I hope to have the chance to speak with you individually when we enjoy the refreshments that will be provided upstairs in a few minutes time. But it gives me very great pleasure this morning to officially now launch the South East Regional Marine Plan. Thank you.

Kitchell: Minister, thank you very much for that thank you for launching the plan and in particular thank you for those kind words about Meredith Hall. Minister, I think almost everybody here would have come in contact with Meredith in one way or another during the course of developing the plan. And I know that everybody in any walk of life that ever did come in contact with Meredith just held her in such high regard. She was an extraordinary young woman, an incredible intellect, amazing energy and an extraordinary ability to work with people in a collaborative way. And just a fantastic, happy personality. She was the lifeblood of our office in many ways and she was a great leader although she never knew it, she never realised it herself. The thing that bugs me about it is the lack of opportunity. Apart from the personal issue, the fact that we've got a young woman who had so much to offer the Australian Government and Oceans Management and as good as she was, she was going to be a whole lot better. And we're not going to reap that opportunity. So that's a great disappointment. Another thing about Meredith though that I knew was that she knew how to party. And she knew how to enjoy herself. And somehow I reckon she's up there looking down and saying, 'stop your moaning and let's get on with the celebration'. So that's what we intend to do. Thank you all again for coming along, thank you for playing a part in something that's very important for us and important to, I think, Oceans Management more generally. We'll now adjourn upstairs to the celebration, to the food and drink and I invite you all to come up there and be with us. Thanks folks.

Commonwealth of Australia