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Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
Tuesday, 3 May, 2005
Radio 2UE Sydney
Steve Price : …whether Australia will or will not allow the importation of Asian elephants from Thailand. Three zoos - Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland - have got together to try and breed Asian elephants, they have fallen in the wild, the numbers, by around 75% since early last century. Taronga want to take on a bull and four females as part of their breeding program - will they be allowed to? Well the Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell was at the zoo today and is on the line. Thanks for your time Senator.
Minister : My pleasure Steve.
Steve Price : How far off are you from making the decision?
Minister : I am expecting the advice to come up from my department in the next couple of weeks. We have been working with the zoos and basically getting all the expert evidence I'm required to consider under the law and international law to make a decision and I have said to the zoo and happy to repeat it to your listeners today I am very keen to make a diligent decision based on the best advice and to make it in a timely manner, these animals are in a quarantine situation.
Steve Price : Boy it has been a long time coming hasn't it?
Minister : It has, they announced, I am impressed today by the head of the zoo said they had embarked on this in 2001, they only ever planned on the elephants coming to Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland this year, so they are happy with the progress. But it is, as we all know, it's a decision where you have environment groups saying look this is inhumane, elephants shouldn't be in zoos and that they do not reproduce in captivity, there are others saying, well I think, as you said in your introduction quite accurately, they are under enormous threat in their habitat in South East Asia. You have big population growth, you have demands on the land for agriculture, they have had a massive population threat there and we have seen what has happened with other species, such as rhinos where they have virtually been wiped out in their existing habitats. So zoos have played a constructive role there in the past and I have got to balance up these two competing arguments and make a decision.
Steve Price : Are the objections anymore than green groups that simply don't like zoos?
Minister : Look I think it is fair to say there is an element amongst those green groups who are anti-zoos…..
Steve Price : …of any kind regardless if we were talking elephants, they wouldn't want any animals held in captivity in a zoo.
Minister : I think that is right, I don't want to cast aspersions on their motives, I think generally the people in these groups are, you know, passionate about things and they have a point of view.
Steve Price : But Taronga is a marvellous research institute as well as being a public zoo.
Minister : Look I think that is the fact that a lot of these groups ignore is that zoos have done an enormous amount to help with understanding, education, science, research and in the case of the species like rhinos and sun bears and others, that they have played their part in saving species, so I think people who are just plainly just anti zoos are out of touch with mainstream opinion and I think quite frankly working against the best interest of the environment.
Steve Price : Does your bureaucracy look at the success or failure of breeding elephants in zoos as an issue when they decide what they are going to advise you?
Minister : Well, they have to and that is going to be the absolute core of the decision.
Steve Price : Is it right to say that no elephants have been breeding in captivity?
Minister : Well I've heard conflicting advice Steve, I have had some people tell me that elephants have bred successfully in captivity and the NGOs saying no they haven't, so we are expecting as part of my advice to get evidence on that - it shouldn't be that hard to get, I would have thought if someone, if there are elephants being born in zoos elsewhere then it shouldn't be too hard to spot that. So there is conflicting advice on that and that is part of my decision making process and quite frankly, you know this is a progressing thing, just because there has always been struggles to get for examples rhinos even to breed in captivity but they were able to do that successfully so I have to look at all of those factors and whether or not they can breed in captivity is central to my decision.
Steve Price : Were you impressed with what you saw there today?
Minister : Look I think Taronga is world renowned for very good reasons, it is an extraordinary site and they have put in something like $40 million in total into this exercise so, in a way it is a bit of a strange process in that they can't apply to bring the elephants here until they have built the facilities so it is a very tough decision that I have to make under the law, a decision based on all the information: just because they build a facility it doesn't mean I can approve it and we have been told by the environment groups and the NGOs as they're known, that should I make the decision issue a permit then they will be taking legal action which of course is their right but I thought…
Steve Price : You would fight that if you had made the decision to bring them in?
Minister : Well, let's not firstly pre-empt the decision, they have pre-empted the decision by saying to the government should I issue this permit then they will take legal action. So I thought it was important that the people of Sydney who have been watching this develop for some four years now know that even if I make the decision in a timely manner and the decision is to issue the permit and I haven't made that decision - and I won't till I see all the evidence, that they NGOs have said they would challenge that decision, I presume in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and of course that could take a lot of time and a lot of extra money but that is a practical reality and hypothetically should I make that decision.
Steve Price : Nice to talk to before I let you go, would you prefer the leadership speculation would go away in the party?
Minister : I think I will stick to my portfolio Steve and deal with the problems I have got to deal with and leave that speculation elsewhere.
Steve Price : A few elephants butting heads in your party at the moment. Thanks for your time.
Minister : Thanks Steve.