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Interview with Jim Turnour, Member for Leichhardt Corcoran Farm, Gordonvale Cairns
14 September 2008
GARRETT: It is very good to be here this morning with my parliamentary colleague, Jim Turnour and with local landowners and with people who are starting to really get stuck into the Reef Rescue package that this Government brought forward as part of its commitment to improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef and to work closely with local communities, natural resource management groups and others to make sure that we really do start to deliver better water quality out of the catchment, out of the framing areas and onto the Reef. And its been beaut to go back and meet some of the people that we met when we came through here in opposition, to be able to say to them that we had a promise to deliver to far north Queensland the most significant package for the Reef that has been brought forward by any government a $200 million Reef Rescue Package and today it is terrific to announce as a part of that package, $7.5 million which will in part, is directed to that most important component, the work that is going to be on ground and thats the measuring of water quality and the monitoring processes that are necessary.
What we do know is that the Great Barrier Reef is a major contributor to the economy of the region. What we do know is that there is greater levels of awareness as to the risks that the Reef faces risks of climate change, risks of water quality particularly in the inshore reef. What we also know is that that heightened public awareness is translating into on ground action and commitment from communities, on land from farmers from the sugarcane sector in particular, to actually look at management practices which reduce nutrient outflow onto the reef and which increase their productivity and their sustainability over time.
So I am really, really excited about this program. It is, I think, one of the most powerful and important programs that we have operating right around the country. There is no question that in this part of Australia the interaction between what we do on the land and how we look after the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most important interactions of all.
So todays announcement of extra funding is providing that Rudd Labor Government commitment to deliver for the people of north Queensland for protection of the Reef and to empower communities and particularly communities working on the land to keep on working on those practices and make them better [inaudible].
JOURNALIST: Peter this is essentially about reducing sedimentary run-off into the creeks and rivers, is that right?
GARRETT: This is about measuring the water quality and seeing what kind of programs and techniques are most effective to lessen the nutrient flow into the river systems, the creek systems and then ultimately out into the Reef. What we say is that by committing to Reef Rescue in north Queensland, were providing farmers with the opportunity to produce farming practices which are good and healthy for the Reef and the cooperation from the community here has been fantastic. And were addressing one of the key issues about the Reef itself, its sustainability, its resilience in the face of climate change, which is making shore that our in in-Reef inshore water quality issues which have been quite problematic in the past are addressed and resolved.
JOURNALIST: So this is relevant to mining and agricultural industries right up and down the coast of Queensland?
GARRETT: Well Reef Rescue is about making sure that we deliver program funding which take-up on the good practices that are happening on farm, where people are reducing the nutrient load into waterways, and therefore making sure that our Reef water quality is improved.
So it is a win-win, this program, Reef Rescue. It makes sure that we give a priority to the Great Barrier Reef and it makes sure that we give the resources and the tools to those land managers who recognise how important it is to look at issues of water quality and to take actions to actually improve water quality.
JOURNALIST: So those land managers include the dairy industry, farmers and graziers and miners, is that right?
GARRETT: Well were specifically focusing on those areas here which apply to nutrient runoff into the Reef, in this area, sugarcane farms, but weve just been to a farm which is a mixed farm. I mean, it has got cattle on it, theyre growing legume crops. So where we have a farming activity and where we have the capacity for farm managers to actually apply good management practices and we want to support them in doing that, then we will see that happen and well see it happen in a way in which makes sure that the water quality issues which have bedevilled the reef in the past are actually satisfactorily addressed. And today by the way, is about making sure that we have got the tools to manage that.
JOURNALIST: And this funding announcement, will the funding be spent just in the far north or from like Mackay all the way north?
GARRETT: Reef Rescue is about the Great Barrier Reef area itself and over the totality of the Great Barrier Reef area were looking at those specific places where by applying funding we will get good strong and positive results. I have got to say that I came here in opposition, I met with the local community, I met with Landcare groups. I was absolutely blown away by the work that was already happening on farm. I think there is some real leadership being shown in this region and I applaud that leadership. Where we have important issues of nutrient quality in terms of runoff and discharge, I know this community is more than ready to respond and today, this extra announcement of money that were making, means that well be able to measure and evaluate and monitor carefully the kind of progress that theyre making.
JOURNALIST: Only in the far north or outside the far north as well, is this funding announcement?
GARRETT: Well, this is specifically for water quality monitoring within the Reef program and it encompasses the Reef itself.
JOURNALIST: Ok, so up and down the coast?
GARRETT: Where the Great Barrier Reef area is impacted.
JOURNALIST: Ok, you also mentioned that this announcement includes the introduction of new technology to help monitor water quality. What sort of new technology is that?
GARRETT: We want people to bring forward ideas about the way in which theyre using software programs to analyse water quality. There is a fair amount of monitoring that has already gone on in the past on the Reef and what were saying today is that there will be additional resources available for people to tender for evaluation, to bring forward those technologies that they have been using, whether it is a different management regime in terms of collection of collection and evaluation of water samples, whether it different software programs that theyre using, drawing on some of the science that has been undertaken on the Reef. There is quite a bit of research in this area generally thats been done by scientists in terms of how you might better evaluate water quality. We want people to bring forward their proposals for monitoring and evaluation. They will be assessed and the ones that we think are most effective and can work best, then they will get a guernsey.
JOURNALIST: Would you call this money a drop in the bucket or is it the tip of the spear?
GARRETT: This funding is significant. It comes on top of the existing $23 million that we committed earlier this year, in August, to Reef Rescue. $30 million in this program in this year for Reef Rescue from the Rudd Labor Government is a significant component of funding, far greater than has ever been delivered in the past.
JOURNALIST: In relation to False Cape, what do you hope to achieve by suspending approval of the Reef Cove Resort by suspending approvals for 12 months?
GARRETT: That gives us an opportunity to make sure that the site is properly stabilised. I am concerned about a development of this kind where we have significant run-off and potential for damage to the Reef itself and we have a responsibility to look after the Reef.
There will discussions between the developer and the authorities as to what the most appropriate next step is. There is 12 months and within that 12 months period if there is a decision and an application to come forward to me to reconsider what those activities are, once weve actually stabilised and secured the site, then I will consider it.
JOURNALIST: So the ball is really in the developers court?
GARRETT: Yes look, the ball is in the developers court. I have made a decision as Environment Minister because the national environment legislation places a very high priority on the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the values of the Reef. They were clearly at risk as a consequence of this development. I have acted to provide clarity to the developer and local authorities. We want to see that site stabilised and my understanding is that that will happen as a matter of course with the local authorities as well. But after that it is up to the developer as to what next step they want to take.
JOURNALIST: Considering the False Cape issue and todays announcement how great is the problem of sedimentary runoff, generally speaking?
GARRETT: Look, sedimentary runoff is an issue for us to consider and recognise is important, but what I would say it is the way in which we now go about managing our land and water interaction and that is the great thing about the Reef Rescue package is that weve recognised that a significant component of this package actually goes to providing Landcare groups, on farm managers with additional resources, capacity and support to start amending and improving land management practices and then see issues of sedimentation. Were always going to get sediment runoff, there is no doubt about that but it is the nature of the quality of that sediment runoff and the impact that it has on the Reef in the long term that is the critical issue. Were providing the necessary tools in terms of support for programs for farms and for farmers and also that capacity for evaluation and research as well.
JOURNALIST: So it has already caused quite a bit of damage to the Reef.
GARRETT: There is no question that we know that over time the Great Barrier Reef inshore sediment issues, have lessened the capacity of the Reef to withstand its other pressures. This is about water quality. Water quality is important for Reef and coral quality. So, one of the overall approaches of the Rudd Labor Government is to provide significant investment to enable us to build resilience in our natural ecosystems in the face of climate change; to build resilience for coral reef systems means improving water quality, particularly in inshore reefs.
JIM TURNOUR: Can I just make a couple of comments
GARRETT: By all means.
TURNOUR: Its great to have the Minister her in tropical north Queensland. This is a great news story today. Weve been out looking at farming practices that are all about reducing the amount of sediment, reducing the amount of nutrients that get out into the Reef. Farmers out there are doing great things and we want to support them and work with them. Weve already announced, as Peter said earlier, $23 million to support that, we need to monitor that and make sure that were getting the outcomes.
You mentioned sediment. Sediment in reality in the sugar industry is not a huge issue. Its still a major issue with the grazing industry and I come from an agricultural background and have been working for 20 years with farmers and graziers working on these issues. And it is fantastic to be part of a Government that is sitting down, providing support, whether it is in research or whether its on ground works for farmers and graziers, to make change. It is a good news story, the farming community, the grazing community have moved on, theyre doing great things and were out here today seeing some of that.
Peter spoke about himself and the Prime Minister coming here before the election. They were really excited about the work that is happening here in the Mulgrave catchment and it is great to see Peter back here, looking at that again, building on that. And I just think that we need to congratulate our farmers and graziers for the work that theyre doing already and the positive things that theyre doing and we need to build on that and work with them because, you know, the Reef is under threat, whether it is from climate change or whether it is from water quality issues. But we need to also recognise that there are people out there doing the right thing working hard and we want to support them and make sure that we get good value for our money and the package today is about water quality monitoring so we can measure the good things that are happening and the change that are happening which weve seen here today in the Mulgrave catchment.
JOURNALIST: How many farmers or properties in this region will be affected by the program.
GARRETT: This is a program that farmers right throughout the region can have access to and well work with and I know speaking with Bruce and some of the farmers today, theyve got existing Landcare groups that have been very active in this region and my anticipation is that will continue.
JOURNALIST: In relation to the luxury car tax are you concerned about a tax that slugs environmentally friendly cars?
GARRETT: Look the thing about the luxury car tax is that any negotiations or discussions that take place need to bear two things in mind: we dont want to see an over complication of the tax system and we dont want to see the surplus diminished. Theyre the basic bottom line issues which will be worked through. On that basis, those discussions will continue.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] environmentally friendly cars?
GARRETT: Well, the Government made it very clear when we brought this legislation into the Senate that it was up to the Senate to determine whether or not the passage of that legislation should take place. The responsibility is in the hands of Senators on this particular issue. The issue of the prospects of us having a diminution of our surplus is key. We dont want to see an over complication of the tax system in terms of delivering what the policy ambition of the Government was.
On the matter more generally of us having a greater capacity to deliver motor vehicles and motor vehicle practice across Australia which produces less impact on the environment, we have a number of other policies and programs in place. Weve got for example TravelSmart, a program that the Commonwealth has which is encouraging people to make greener choices in terms of the use of public transport, their use of motor cars. Weve got a discussion paper out today which is raising a whole range of really important issues for discussion in terms of issues around energy efficiency, fuel efficiency and the like. So the Government takes this issue very seriously.
But, in terms of the luxury car issue itself, any discussions that are going to be able to take place between Senators and the Government any negotiations have to bear in mind these two core principles: this is not about overcomplicating the tax system and this is not about reducing the surplus.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce has accused you of selling out on your principles by not being able to stop the Yacht Club being knocked down or moved. What is your response to that?
GARRETT: Barnaby Joyce is ignorant of the heritage policies and regulations that apply to this issue, regrettably. He needs to remember that previous ministers, Minister Turnbull included and Minister Campbell, came to the same decision that I did on the basis that the Cairns Yacht Club is not on the National Heritage List and the Commonwealth Minister is not in a position to consider its demolition or otherwise. I understand that there are high levels of local concern about the Cairns Yacht Club. I think it is a real pity if a building that has got that much local affection for it ends up being destroyed. But that is a matter for the local authorities and the State Government my understanding is that it is not even listed on the State Heritage List but Senator Joyce needs to recognise and understand that I take my responsibilities as a Minister very seriously but in this instance I did not have any appropriate head of power with which to make any decision other than the one that I made.