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Transcript
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

17 June, 2005
Press Conference at Melbourne Zoo

Elephants, whales, drought, mountain cattlemen


Senator Campbell:
I've come to Melbourne Zoo as part of the information process I'm going through to make a decision on the importation of eight Thai, Asian elephants. It's a decision that I will make in the relatively near future - I'm heading up to Korea tomorrow to go to the International Whaling Commission. I've got the advice from the Department which has been put together after a very long and detailed process, looking at all the complicated issues associated with this decision. I hope that since I will be sitting on aeroplanes for two out of the next six days I'll have a chance to have a very thorough read of it. I've spoken to the non-government organisations - most of whom are opposed to the import of the elephants. I've visited Taronga Zoo on a couple of occasions and today's my first time at Melbourne Zoo, and I clearly have to weigh up all of the competing issues on this but I think it's important the public know that a decision is imminent. The elephants themselves are in quarantine and there are animal welfare issues associated with leaving them there for too long. I am very cognisant of the fact that my decision making process now needs to come to a conclusion. I'm also aware that whatever decision I make I'm likely to upset a lot of people but my job is to make the right decision based on all of the information, and today's visit is very much a part of coming to grips with all of the facts that will feed into my decision making process; so that's really where we're at the moment.

Journalist:
Why is it even necessary to even contemplate doing this?

Senator Campbell:
Well, basically the Thai Government and the zoos have come together and put together what they call a 'captive breeding and conservation proposal'. The reason I've got to make a decision is that there are very important national and international laws that come into play: the convention of international trade and endangered species is one of the vital conventions that Australia is a signatory to and a great international supporter of so we have to make sure that we're complying with our international obligations. The zoos say that this is a very important international effort to conserve elephants, to conserve habitat, to work with our close Asian neighbours - they say that this is a very important international effort. The NGOs say, some of them say, zoos are places where elephants don't belong; some of them say that it's not humane; some of them say that this is creating a commercial inducement to create a trade in an endangered species. So they're the two arguments; they're two groups of people I have enormous respect for. It's a pretty tough place to be in the middle of those two - the NGOs are passionate about their beliefs, and so are the zoos - and they're all incredibly dedicated and good Australians and I'm in the next few weeks about to upset one big group of them so...

Journalist:
These are captive-bred elephants from Thailand; it's not as though they're coming from natural surroundings there.

Senator Campbell:
No, that's right, I mean they're all bits of information that we're putting together and the good thing about having the media here today is that hopefully through the pages of the papers and through your bulletins you will help to inform the public about these sorts of issues and when the decision is made everyone will be better informed. But these are elephants that have been bred within what are called logging camps; they are working elephants, they have been bred in captivity and one of the arguments the NGOs put up is that elephants can't be bred in captivity so I have to look at those issues.

Journalist:
Would you like to see the first natural birth of an elephant in Australia under your (inaudible)?

Senator Campbell:
I think that would be pre-empting my decision, however, I am aware that in my hometown of Perth they are very hopeful about a pregnancy occurring there. So it may occur in my hometown of Perth regardless of the decision I make on the import of these Thai elephants.

Journalist:
In New Zealand they've actually backed away from importing elephants after one of the elephants in quarantine had to be released from quarantine because it became quite violent or aggressive. So why is Australia continuing to pursue this after New Zealand's decision?

Senator Campbell:
Well I'm not going to second-guess why my Kiwi friends have decided but this is a decision that Taronga and Melbourne Zoos have made; it's an agreement they've entered into with the Thai people and I have to make a decision about whether I allow it under international and national law. So they're questions quite properly that you could put to the zoo; that's a decision for the zoos, not for me; I have to decide whether this is legal and whether I allow it.

Journalist:
One of the other arguments of the NGOs is that rather than putting money into bringing these elephants in Australia, it's about increasing the breeds, surely the money should go into breeding programs in their homeland?

Senator Campbell:
Well that is one of their arguments; they're all the things that I'm going to be looking at and I can't pre-empt my decision. I'm going to look very closely at the arguments that the NGOs put forward, I've met with the NGOs; I'll be having discussions with them again before I make the decision; I've got to hear both sides of the argument; it's a very tough decision. The zoos are passionate about what they're doing and the NGOs are passionate about what they're doing; they're both highly intelligent, highly informed groups of people and they both feel passionately about conservation, about elephants, about elephant welfare, and they're two great sets of Australians and I'm going up upset one of them, whatever I do.

Journalist:
What do you think of the facilities here?

Senator Campbell:
Well this is the first time I've been here. I think you've got an incredibly professional, well funded organisation with a group of highly dedicated people who are, you know, passionate about looking after the two elephants they've got and about creating a great new home for three new elephants from Thailand. So there's no doubt that these people are very keen to make the elephants very comfortable and to address all of the animal welfare issues that many of the NGOs are concerned about.

Journalist:
Senator, the whales - are you preparing yourself for a fight there?

Senator Campbell:
Well I've been in this issue really since the very first day I became Environment Minister which was coincidentally the same weekend as the last IWC meeting in Sorrento. I was informed by Conall O'Connell, my whaling commissioner, who's in Korea at the moment - when he returned from Sorrento that there was a building momentum towards having what's called a Revised Management Scheme. A number of European countries think that one of the ways you can stop scientific whaling is to re-open commercial whaling. I told them in Europe 10 days ago that the Japanese have shown no indication that by re-opening commercial whaling that they would stop scientific whaling. I think the Foreign Minister of Denmark is basically engaging in very wishful thinking if he thinks the Japanese are going to walk away from scientific whaling. We've shown their credentials, that at the very meeting that they expect to re-open commercial whaling they are also asking the world to accept a doubling in the size of the scientific take. So it is going to be a very very important meeting next week in Korea, I'm leaving for it tomorrow. The votes are just straight down the middle; I looked at the numbers again last night and there really is only one or two votes in it; there will be a lot of ebbing and flowing over the next few days. But I also had a good chat with my New Zealand counterpart yesterday; he and I and the British Minister will be meeting within an hour of me arriving; we will look at tactics, get an update on how things are moving, and my goal is to have a majority of the delegates voting to oppose re-opening of commercial whaling.

Journalist:
Isn't scientific whaling though just a euphemism for commercial whaling?

Senator Campbell:
Oh, look, there's no doubt about it. I mean what the Japanese are doing at the moment is they're going out, harpooning whales, exploding grenades inside their bodies, many of them are writhing in agony for 15, 20, 30 minutes before they die. They are taking 440 minkes now, they're going to take more than double that plus take humpbacks. Migaloo, which is the albino whale that is now cruising up the east coast of Australia, could well be harpooned this summer season. Migaloo is at threat - he's a humpback, the Japanese have said they want to take 20 humpbacks this coming season, Migaloo may never come to Australia again. Migaloo could face the death sentence from this so-called 'science'. When they blow them up they then take them onto a ship, cut them up and send them to restaurants and that's what they call 'science'. It's totally absurd; it's obscene, it's inhumane and we want to stop it. But what's on the ballot in Korea is commercial whaling and we've got to win that fight; it would be an absolute travesty if the countries of the world represented in Korea next week effectively gave a green flag to Japan and said 'go ahead'. Not only within the year when they're proposing to double the scientific take that we give them a green flag and say 'well let's have commercial whaling as well'. It would be absurd. I hope it doesn't happen and I obviously go to Korea quite passionate about Australia's desire to work with the other nations of the world to try and stop this inhumane activity.

Journalist:
On the drought, Premier Bracks apparently is not going to provide additional funds for drought-stricken farmers in Victoria despite promising he would on the day that the Prime Minister announced further funds. What's your response to that?

Senator Campbell:
Well, it shows a pattern of behaviour from a Labor government in Victoria that's growing more and more arrogant. They clearly have decided that they're going to become very city-centric by closing down the 170 years of mountain cattle grazing one week and then, a few days later, say that they';re not going to add any assistance to farmers who are suffering from one of the most long and severe droughts in Australian history shows that a continued pattern of anti the bush, city-centric, arrogant Labor state government.

Journalist:
Do you think the Bracks Government will have the failure of farmers on their hands for this?

Senator Campbell:
Well traditionally state and federal governments work together on drought assistance. The Federal Government, more and more, is having to pick up the tab because state Labor governments are failing in their responsibilities. People should govern for the whole community; you should govern for those of us who choose to live in cities and govern for those who live in our regional and remote and rural areas. We're all Australians and I think most people in the city are very sceptical about governments that hang country people out to dry. We're all Australians, we're one nation together and I think people in the city would like to see governments - both federal and state - lend people on the land a hand when they're in such desperate circumstances.

Journalist:
The alpine grazing legislation's due to pass in the Victorian Parliament this afternoon, what's your legal advice, that you can actually do anything to overturn that ban?

Senator Campbell:
Well the Commonwealth has a law that I am upholding. I am trying to protect Australia's heritage, I am also trying to protect the important environmental aspects of the Alpine park - I think that the two can go side-and-side. Mr Thwaites and Mr Bracks are using Victorian law, and you will have a clash with those two laws, ultimately those things get decided by the High Court, but my appeal to the Victorian Government is let's not keep feeding lawyers and paying lawyers' bills. Let's sit down, lets work out a compromise on this. You can have environmental protection using modern science and you can have the retention of Australia's 170 year old alpine grazing going side by side, protect the bogs, protect the fens, but also protect Australia's heritage.

Journalist:
Isn't it true under the EPBC legislation you actually have no power, because (inaudible) says basically that the state government can do whatever it wants, and withdrawing a licence is not a controlled action.

Senator Campbell:
No that's not what it says at all. We have a Commonwealth law, where I have the power to protect heritage and the environment. I'm expecting to receive advice from the Heritage Council in the next 30 days over that protection. Mr Thwaites and Mr Bracks have their own laws about licencing grazing in the national parks, that law is about the change this afternoon in the Victorian Parliament. They have their laws and we have federal laws, where there is a clash between two laws, ultimately the courts decide, but what I'm saying is let's not waste money on lawyers and court battles, let's sit down, lets be constructive, let's for example build a greater Alpine national park, let's try to retain Australia's great mountain cattleman heritage but also work together to look after the rich bio-diversity that's been there. I mean it's been there for 170 years, it hasn't been destroyed by grazing. There's an ad in this morning's newspaper that has a photograph, I know they changed the ad because they were doctoring previous ads, but they've got an ad with people enjoying walking through the Alpine area said the photo was taken prior to the 2003 bushfires, if they wanted to be accurate they would also add a line to it saying this photo was taken after 170 years of mountain cattle grazing.

Journalist:
You talked about compromise, is there any method or concession that you would allow them to see less than those 45 families retain access to these areas?

Senator Campbell:
I think you can retain access, but the sort of package that I want to work on with John Thwaites, is to say how do you identify scientifically the key biodiversity aspects of the park, how do you protect those, and how you manage the grazing in a sustainable way. That is what we do all around the world, you don't just ban things, you sort of say how can you create a balance. I am absolutely certain that with good resourcing - and that means more investment - you just can't close up a national park and not manage it. You need to manage the brumbies, you need to manage the other feral animals, you've got to protect the bogs, you've got to protect the fens and allow the Australian heritage of mountain cattle grazing to work side-by-side. There is a sophisticated, sensible, intelligent way to do this, not just ram a law through and ban something and close down an intrinsic part of Australian heritage and the livelihoods of the 45 families and all of the communities who thrive around it. I appeal to John Thwaites to sit down with me and work out a sensible, scientific and intelligent and sophisticated way you can balance this important part of Australian heritage which is also equally important environmental consideration.

Journalist:
But haven't they already done it in alpine national parks in NSW, to protect the environment there? So why should Victoria be any different?

Senator Campbell:
Well I would think most Victorians would think there's good reasons to be different to NSW. Just because one state does something doesn't mean another state has to do it. Just because the NSW Government's made a mistake, why would the Victorians repeat it? The greater vision should be to create a greater Alpine National Park across NSW, Victoria and the ACT. I am willing to work on that constructively with the Victorian Government but I also think they should be a little bit more sensitive to Australian heritage, a little bit more sensitive to people who live in the bush, a little bit more sensitive to people who live outside the confines of the Greater Melbourne area and try to reach a sensible balance between the environment and Australian heritage.

Journalist:
But how do you protect alpine bogs from cattle?

Senator Campbell:
Well - very simple, you just have to put a transportable electric fence around it, that's one idea, there is a whole range of scientifically proven methods of protecting bits of biodiversity we do it right across the world (inaudible) and allow grazing to continue in balance, side-by-side in harmony with it. This has been going on for 170 years. You've now got the Victorian Government putting full colour ads in the in paper because they are on the back foot politically over this, saying isn't this wonderful lets protect it and if they were honest they'd say on these photographs this is a picture of your Alpine National Park, taken after 170 years of grazing.

Journalist:
Can I just return to the drought very briefly. If the Victorian Government stands by what it's now saying, it's not providing any additional funds, is there any more money that could be forthcoming from the Federal Government to Victorian farmers.

Senator Campbell:
The Federal Government's already invested over $800 million and we have just boosted that by another couple of hundred. We are giving interest rates subsidies, we are doubling the assets test, we are doubling the number of rural financial counsellors. The Commonwealth was congratulated by the National Farmers Federation in relation to its package. We want the Victorian Government to stop beating up on people in the bush, stop beating up on drought-affected farmers and mountain cattlemen and start realising there is a bit of Australia that is outside the capital of Melbourne. We are all Australians - lets be fair to people in the country, not only people in the city. People in the city care about people in the country, they care about mountain cattlemen, and they care about drought-affected farmers.

Commonwealth of Australia