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Doorstop interview: Kooragang Wetlands, Newcastle
30 September 2008
GARRETT: Look, thanks everybody for coming out today for the launch of the Caring for our Country Outcomes statements 2008-2013. I am pleased to be with my colleague, the Member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson, Wej Paradise, the Chair of the Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority and others, to be able to say that today the Rudd Labor Government delivers on the promise we made to ensure that the programs which we have operating around Australia to improve our environment, to bring sustainability into farming practices are clearly and transparently identified in terms of their focus and will be specifically geared towards meeting the outcomes that weve identified in this Statement which we release today, which has been signed off by the Acting Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. It will provide the basis for the development of not only the business plans but also the targets for the delivery of Caring for our Country which will attach to those business plans.
This is a call for action from the Government, recognising that protecting our natural environment is absolutely critical in the age of climate change, of ensuring that we have the resilience in our natural eco-systems and in our farming lands to withstand the kind of pressures that the natural landscapes of Australia will face in the coming years. This is the first time a federal government has delivered specific outcomes which it is intending to be reached. It is the first time that we have had the clarity and the transparency which I think the public both expect and deserve in terms of the delivery of programs right around this country for Caring for our Country. Lets be clear about this, the former Government had a great deal of funds at its disposal for Natural Heritage Trust One and Natural Heritage Trust 2, and not withstanding the very good work that was done on the ground by numbers of community groups, catchment management authorities and others, and the fact that people rolled up their sleeves and gave it their very best, at the end of the day it was a program that was not properly evaluated, it did not have clear outcomes, goals or targets, nor timelines, and Australias environment was not improved as a consequence of the investment and the attitude, frankly, of the former government on this most important of issues.
One thing to say here which is absolutely critical, we recognise that we need two things to happen to be able to deliver good results for Australias environment we need to operate on a landscapes scale and we need to make sure that we work cooperatively. So we want to see catchment management authorities, local NGOs, farmers groups, community groups and government and business, working together in partnership to deliver much better on ground actions to secure this great environment of ours.
We do care for our country and by delivering this statement Caring for our Country 2008-2013 the Rudd Labor Government shows that it is fair dinkum about transparency and it is a great template for those communities who are going to get out there and do the good work that is necessary.
Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: How are you going to transfer a glossy brochure and words into action on the ground?
GARRETT: This isnt only a glossy brochure and words. This is a specific identification of what we want to see in terms of outcomes. We want to see significant increases in the National Reserve System, we want to see at least 1 in 3 farmers involved and be assisted in delivering sustainable farm management practices. We want to see specific attention to those areas which were identified in Caring for our Country, such as the Great Barrier Reef, and measurable outcomes in terms of improving water quality on the Reef. But as well as this outcome statement, we will be delivering business plans for consideration by communities. I expect that to happen by the end of October, early November. Community Groups and CMAs will have two to three months to look closely at those business plans and bring forward investment proposals geared to deliver on both the outcomes weve identified here and also the content of the business plans. I mean this is true accountability delivered in a way which is clear and transparent, which provides certainty for catchment management authorities and other groups and also dovetails with the six national priorities which we identified at the beginning of Caring for our Country.
JOURNALIST: One of the great achievements of the National Landcare program, which the Hawke Government launched in the late 80s, was that it activated communities all around Australia, got them involved in grass roots activities. Although this isnt replicating that particular program I was just wondering what proportion and what emphasis within the Caring for our Country programme is geared towards activating communities at the grass roots?
GARRETT: One of the national priorities in Caring for our Country is community engagement and ownership and connection. We see communities being the absolute underpinning foundation for good delivery of work to protect the environment. My expectation is that we will see greater community activity, greater volunteer activity, but particularly in communities, critically, working outside of those areas where they traditionally have with others in the community that are doing good work. Youve got some great examples here in Newcastle, even on this site, where the community has got significant volunteer basis, where there has been cooperation with local council, with scientific authorities to make sure that the research is in, to build those kind of partnerships that are necessary. Australians care a great deal about their country, we want to provide them with an opportunity to do good meaningful work, to repair the damage that has been done, to secure us in the face of climate change, to protect out great national natural icons like the Great Barrier Reef, like the World Heritage Areas and for farming communities to start building resilience in terms of their land management for the likely impact of climate change that is going to happen into the future.
JOURNALIST: How will this plan benefit the Hunter community?
GARRETT: Well there is a number of programs that the Hunter already has made application for in terms of funding. I know in Coastcare for example, and were in a coastal area, some $20 million identified for Coastcare programs, a number of applications made by communities in and around the Hunter region, and the results of that will be made clear fairly soon. Some over $300,000 delivered for Ramsar wetlands here there is Kooragang and also up in Myall Lakes and significant delivery for biodiversity as well. This is a community which has shown a real appetite and enthusiasm for taking care of its particular part of NSW and Australia and I have every expectation that not only with the baseline funding that is there but also with the contestable funding thats available for them in the future, that the community will have plenty of opportunities to do the good work that it has already done.
JOURNALIST: How will you make sure that as much of this funding as possible makes it actually to on the ground works and doesnt get lost in bureaucracy and administration.
GARRETT: Well be providing a Caring for our Country annual report. That annual report will enable us to measure both the progress against the outcomes and the business plan against the actual targets that weve set and the work that is done. We dont want to see a highly bureaucratised process and we dont need to have one, frankly. I think there can be and there will be much more streamlined, much more easily identifiable ways of measuring peoples progress. But the difference here is that were saying to communities, bring forward a business plan that shows your ideas, who you are going to invest with and how youre actually going to properly meet the targets that are set. That delivery requirement will be an essential part of all the business plans and I have got every confidence that catchment management authorities, particularly an authority like Hunter-Central Rivers, will be a major bidder in for those contestable funds and I have every confidence as well that they will show that they have actually delivered on outcomes.
JOURNALIST: I guess some of the climate change activists would say that youre doing this here and it is a good thing, but then a couple of kilometres down the river, the Government is still promoting coal exports. So it is giving with one hand and taking with the other. What would you say to that?
GARRETT: Look, we need a wide range of measures to deal with the challenges of climate change. We need to have a significant investment in clean coal because coal is still clearly going to play a part in our economy for the foreseeable future and the announcements that the Prime Minister has made recently go to the heart of that issue. We also need to provide the capacity for our natural ecosystems to have resilience. So biodiversity is really important in our natural landscapes, particularly with climate change coming. That is what Caring for our Country is about and frankly, that is an approach which recognises that we need to be doing a number of things at once and we need to do them well and that is what we intend to do.
JOURNALIST: The residents of Catherine Hill Bay are asking for you to use your power, similar to the way you did at Nobbys. What is your position on Catherine Hill Bay and the Rose Group development?
GARRETT: Yes, look I had some people from Catherine Hill Bay come and speak to me last night after the Community Cabinet. I recognise that there are really high levels of community concern about the State Government proposals and approvals. The situation is that those approvals still have to come to me to see whether there are matters of national environmental significance which may be impacted upon in a significant way. They havent reached me yet. Neither Rose Corp nor Coal Allied approvals proposals have come to me yet. When they do, I will look carefully to see whether or not they are going to result in impacts on matters of national environment significance. I am not the planning minister at the federal level, I am the Environment Minister, and the Act that I am required to administer and make decisions on is very clear about what those matters are. But if there are matters of national environmental significance in play, I will consider carefully the state assessment process. I will consider carefully what the community has brought forward by way of comment and any other additional information that I feel I need that has come from scientists, planners or others and on that basis I will make that decision. But neither of those proposals has come to me as yet so that is all I am going to say.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied that the Nobbys issue is done and dusted?
GARRETT: I am satisfied that I made the right decision at Nobbys and I am really pleased to know that Department officials have met with the proponent and officials here. My understanding is that there has been discussions about potential draft proposals. I have every confidence that if those draft proposals come through in a way that dont impact on the significant heritage values of the Nobby Lighthouse itself then there is no reason why they shouldnt proceed. I look forward to watching that progress with a great deal of interest.
JOURNALIST: Is there a timeline?
GARRETT: Look Im not sure what the timeline is on that [inaudible] but I imagine its going to happen over the next couple of months
JOURNALIST: I was going to mention that we were speaking to the developer last week and he mentioned that amended plans had gone to your office and he was still waiting to hear back. Obviously youre hoping that that is going to progress and not delay too long?
GARRETT: Yeah look, I have said all along that well deal with this issue quickly and speedily. I gave that commitment to the developer at the beginning. I have been extremely accountable on timelines, I intend that to continue. When they formally reach me on my desk, it wont take me much time to make a decision on it and I expect progress.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] under the same principle as locals at Anvil Hill formerly known as Anvil Hill now Mangoola theyve asked you to step in, use federal powers because the previous federal government allowed that project to go ahead. Theyre calling on you to overturn that. Is that something that youll consider doing as well?
GARRETT: I am aware of that call but [inaudible] that application theyve made hasnt reached me yet. When it does reach me Ill consider it on its merits under the EPBC Act [inaudible]
JOURNALIST: Minister, that fact that youre prepared to step in on these state approved projects or proposals, are you disappointed or are you unhappy with the way the state planning system is letting these projects go through?
GARRETT: What I can say about the exercise of my powers under the national environment legislation is that I take protection of the environment very seriously and I want to make sure that is there is an impact on matters of national environmental significance, as identified under the Act, then I have a clear sense of my responsibilities and I will exercise them. It is not that this position enables you to second guess what has happened at a state or local level. That is not what it is about. And youre not the decision maker of last resort on a range of other environmental matters. What you are the decision maker of last resort on is matters of national environment significance. They are outlined in the Act and its on that basis that I make my decisions.
I will just add one thing. Just have we identified the need for landscape actions to be taken by communities to really hold the natural infrastructure of this country in place in the face of threats including climate change, and to do it in a way which is transparent and holistic, so we need to consider in the future landscape scale changes in planning by state governments or other bodies which involve matters of national environmental significance.
If there is a willingness of state governments to come forward and work with the Commonwealth at the beginning of contemplation of those landscape scale changes, say for example in a large urban or suburban development and there are matters of national environmental significance that come into play, then we are certainly of a mind to work with state governments early, to apply whats called a strategic joint assessment to enable all those issues to be resolved and considered at the first instance, not at the last instance. Were doing it in Western Australia in relation to the onshore site for a processing hub for liquefied natural gas and most recently weve announced, for the first time ever, the same process with the ACT Government in terms of the development of a significant area of land in the Molonglo area. So we have the capacity to work cooperatively if there are matters of national environmental significance at play. Thats my response on that.
JOURNALIST: I know you havent seen Rose Groups proposal yet, but as an environment minister and a former environment activist are you concerned with the scale and the type of development that it is?
GARRETT: Look, I will wait until that material reaches me on my desk. I dont propose to say anything other about it other than what I have said today.