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Interview with ABC Tasmania re Macquarie Island Rats and Rabbits Eradication programme

ABC Radio Tasmania Tim Cox Show
Tuesday, 27 March 2007

MP3 file

TIM COX: Good Morning to you Minister


TIM COX: Well Paula Wriedt says you’re sitting on a war chest worth $15 billion dollars so you’ll find out who your friends are quickly enough. Why shouldn’t the Australian Government step up to the plate here and say yes this is an Island of nation significance and we will do what we can to preserve it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Look, I am absolutely staggered by Paula Wriedt’s attitude to this. She can see that just a moment ago all the discussions between Tasmania and the Australian Government had been on the basis of a 50/50 split. If you go back to July last year when she wrote to my predecessor. She said, and I’m quoting from her letter, "The implementation of this plan will demonstrate the commitment of both the Australian and Tasmanian governments to conservation of the iconic site." And then of course, as you know, she put forward a $16 million plan. We offered to pay half of it and then she wrote back to us in February, just a month ago, she said, "I understand the Australian Government now accepts the proposed plan and this in turn means that your funding offer of $8.25 million is now confirmed." This is of course when the plan was a $16 million plan. So not only did all the discussions proceed on the basis that is was going to be a shared arrangement, a 50/50 commitment, a partnership; but she wrote a month ago and said, "We confirm that you’re going to pay half."

Now really this is incompetence on a spectacular scale, and it is putting one of Tasmania’s most precious environmental assets at risk. It really is time now for Premier Lennon to step in and take over the handling of this issue and I suspect that Paula Wriedt has mis-represented the situation to the cabinet and to the Premier. I don’t think she’s kept them in the loop. I cannot believe that the Tasmania Government, if it had known that all the discussions had proceeded on the basis, that it was going to be a partnership, that the Commonwealth was being asked to pay half. The Commonwealth agreed to pay half, you would think she would go back to the Cabinet and say "well this is a great outcome, so the Commonwealth is paying half the tab. Let’s get on with it." She only took it to Cabinet, assuming that she did at all, about 10 days ago. So this whole, nearly a year of discussions, between Tasmania and the Commonwealth, has proceeded with a Minister who has had no authority to make the commitments and the arrangements that she has done. And now of course, she has been found out, and she has thrown her hands up in the air and says we are abandoning this part of Tasmania. And you know the real questions is, she talks about the south-west world Heritage area on the mainland of Tasmania… I guess next year that will be put entirely in the Commonwealth’s lap, because they’ll probably find another football club to sponsor. Or some other gym crack idea that is more important to Paula Wriedt than environment.

I mean, you know, you really have to ask yourself, what are the values of an Environment Minsiter, who will go on the radio and say that sponsoring a football club is more important that protecting a World Heritage area.

TIM COX: One of the points that Paula Wriedt makes is that Macquarie Island is a World Heritage area, to which the Australian Government, the Federal Government is a signatory. Not the Tasmanian Government. That the Tasmanian Government manages the island and already has a fairly expensive, in Tasmania terms, Parks and Wildlife presence there. It can’t contribute the sort of sum that we’re talking about to begin the repair work that’s necessary on the Island.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Look, it obviously can contribute the sum. I mean this is a $24 million sorry $24.6 million dollar programme. Paula Wriedt upped it by 50 per cent just a few weeks ago. That shows how good their figuring has been. Anyway, they upped it by 50 per cents, it’s $24.6 million so Tasmania should be paying $12.3 million. How can you say Tasmania can’t afford $12 million? They’ve spent $15 million on sponsoring a football club.

Now let me just get a couple of facts straight too. No other state in Australia received, or seeks, so much Australian Government World Heritage funding as Tasmania. Tasmania gets 40 per cent of all of the Australian Government’s World Heritage funding. And there are World Heritage areas, I mean the greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area which is in NSW, not far from Sydney, is virtually entirely funded, the maintenance of that is entirely funded by the state of NSW. So this notion, that the Australian Government should fund all of the cost of Macquarie Island because it’s a World Heritage area, is absurd. It is without precedent. And of course, what this would do is create a precedent where Tasmania would then progressively abandon its environmental responsibilities. So it would divert money from the environment and spend it on football sponsorship, no doubt they’ll find some other stunts they can spend money on too. But the fact of the matter is that governments are elected to govern and take responsibility for long term obligations. The environment is in the hands of government to protect on behalf of the people and Paula Wriedt is abandoning that responsibility and in a way that is unprecedented in out history.

TIM COX: Malcolm Turnbull, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks for your time this morning.

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