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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Discovery of new marine species and undersea mountains; Great Barrier Reef; Gunns pulp mill; Milne FOI; National Reserve System; Tasmanian World Heritage area

Doorstop interview: CSIRO facility
Hobart, Tasmania
8 October 2008

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GARRETT: I might just make a few remarks to begin with. This is a fantastic day for Australian science. It is really good to be here at this CSIRO facility in Hobart and see the extraordinary research effort which has produced a number of new species, hitherto unknown, and given us a much greater understanding of the extraordinary terrain of the marine resources and the marine environment that Australia has. And it shows us how important it is to be thinking clearly about the marine reserves and the mapping and planning and understanding of our marine resource and what the best ways of designing and delivering better marine reserves for the long term. This science will be absolutely invaluable to that.

Look, I want to make one quick remark. I know that the Queensland Premier has released some information and research concerning the health of the Great Barrier Reef. This Government is very aware of the significant issues facing the Great Barrier Reef and its health and we have specifically committed $200 million to Reef Rescue knowing that we need to provide additional resources, additional investment and additional effort to safeguard what is one of our most important national and international natural resources and treasures.

One more thing to add and that is that all Australians should know that the way in which Australian scientists and Australian science institutions are working together, collaborating in partnership, delivering fantastic science results is a confirmation of the fact that as a country we do really well in this area. We do well in science and with good science we can design good policies which make sure that we use the knowledge that we get from our scientists and put it to good effect both for now and in the future.

JOURNALIST: Just getting up close and personal with some of this stuff today, what did you make of it?

GARRETT: I was absolutely astonished at the variety of life forms that we've seen. You know we talk about the rainforests on land - here we have got these incredible forests under water. We talk about species diversity as being one of the really strong indicators of the health of an environment and we're certainly really conscious of the need to protect species on land and here we've got all these new species which are under water in this extraordinary place. So, it has been an amazing day and I think again, real congratulations to a very, very fine effort from the researchers and scientists who brought this material up for the public to see.

JOURNALIST: Are we doing enough to conserve these areas?

GARRETT: Well I think that the great benefit of this extraordinary day of discovery is that it gives us a much better database for the planning of marine reserves over all. Australia has got a commitment to establish a network of marine reserves right around the country. It is a commitment that we have made internationally and we intend to keep to it. But this science enables us to get the design of those sorts of reserves done better.

JOURNALIST: Given the threat that climate change is going to have an effect on the marine industry, do you think the Government should be putting more money into research to deal with the changes?

GARRETT: Look I am confident that the research effort that's underway is a significant one. I am confident that the research that we've received today provides us with the opportunity for the kind of baseline scientific work that is necessary in terms of climate change impacts.

The Government has specifically provided additional resources directed to climate change resource and research across a number of portfolios.

That includes the Climate Change portfolio itself, the Agriculture portfolio too, and I anticipate that we will continue to see a focus on climate change research into the future.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government committed to Tasmania and especially Hobart being the centre of this kind of marine research into the future?

GARRETT: Well I have come here today to acknowledge the really fine work that is being done by these scientists and also to acknowledge that Hobart is clearly a strong hub for scientific research and marine research of this kind. I have every anticipation that that will continue to be the case.

JOURNALIST: ACF sees these discoveries as a good reason, a good reason why there should be greater protection from fisheries in the science, as you go through the process of marine planning around the country, are you going to be extending it beyond the benthic zone and beyond the simple protections to the water column?

GARRETT: Look, we'll certainly consider the science and the data that is coming forward form this research effort to inform our decision making as we continue the planning process. I don't think there is any doubt that at the end of the day we want to see a marine reserve system which manages that always tough balance between sustainability, livelihood, long term conservation and the sort of economic capacity that these zones have. We will continue to use this resource to drive that endeavour and to get the balance right.

JOURNALIST: Is the Commonwealth's commitment to the Barrier Reef somehow questioned by this statement by the Queensland Government?

GARRETT: The research that has been released today by the Queensland Government shows that the promise we made in opposition to deliver $200 million - the largest ever financial commitment to the Great Barrier Reef - for Reef Rescue, was absolutely getting it right in terms of the Commonwealth committing to look after the Reef. I think that Queenslanders and Australian's generally can have some confidence with a commitment of that kind, that we'll be able to get on with the job of looking after the Great Barrier Reef and making sure that it's extraordinary important not only of a place of natural environmental quality, but as a driver of regional economies both in Queensland and Australia can continue.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us I s commercial fishing still underway in the two zones we looked at today?

GARRETT: There is commercial fishing in some parts of these zones. I had a look at the zoning designations before I came down. What I think I really took from today was the fact that Australia is an island nation and we have got an extraordinary ocean resource and it is very important for us to take seriously the research efforts that give us greater knowledge and understanding about our oceans. In that way, we will continue to not only draw livelihood from them but to make sure that the ocean environment is adequately protected into the future.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that the bioregional marine planning system will be in place by 2010?

GARRETT: Yes

JOURNALIST: Around the country?

GARRETT: Yes, I am confident.

JOURNALIST: Has Gunn's submitted anymore modules with regards to its environmental management plan?

GARRETT: At this point in time no further modules have reached my desk in the Gunns process. I have received and approved four modules.

There are 12 of the 16 that are still yet to come to me. My expectation is that will happen between now and the period of the extension of the process itself. There will be interaction between the Department and Gunns. Once that interaction and the approvals have been approved at that point, they will then go to the Independent Expert Group. The Independent Expert Group will then bring those recommendations through to me.

JOURNALIST: Has Gunns agreed to release the report on effluent targets?

GARRETT: Which report are you referring to?

JOURNALIST: The one that Christine Milne was after.

GARRETT: The Department had a Freedom of Information request from Senator Milne. In its first instance a Department official did not permit the release and made a ruling not to release that report. Senator Milne appealed. The Department official who heard the appeal ruled that it could be released. That ruling is now subject to an appeal by Gunns. They have I think some 30 days from that decision making to determine whether or not they want to appeal the release of that material.

One thing I want to say is that I have not held up the release of any information from my Department at all. I am in favour of us properly releasing accountable information over time. I have published my reasons for my decisions under the EPBC Act on the website. But in this instance, because it was an FOI request, it had to be dealt with properly by the relevant officials. That is what happened and now it is a matter for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, I believe, to make its determination.

JOURNALIST: We're two weeks into that process now, is there any indication whether the outcome will be different to the last time?

GARRETT: Well that is a process that happens at arms length from me. I don't follow the timing of this process at all and it will happen in due course.

JOURNALIST: So Gunns has objected to the release and so the AAT will have to decide, is that correct?

GARRETT: Well, as I understand it the process is that the determining officer provides the opportunity for the holder of that material to determine whether or not they want to see it released. That is a matter to be determined between the relevant agencies, Gunns and the Department.

JOURNALIST: Has the Department had any discussions with Gunns about the release of the report?

GARRETT: I am not aware of any discussions that have been undertaken.

JOURNALIST: You spoke yesterday about expanding the network of national parks, is there any, or how does that relate to Tasmania? Is there any funding that you may be planning to hand out?

GARRETT: What we were saying yesterday was that we want to set specific targets for the National Reserve System - it can be parks, it can be reserves, it can be land which is privately owned where the Government goes into partnership with private land managers. That can happen in different parts of Australia. My anticipation is that a fair amount of that significant area that we have identified - we want to get up to 125 million hectares of land held in the National Reserve System - my anticipation is that a reasonable amount of that will be happening in northern Australia - areas where you have got large pastoral leases, areas which haven't up to this point in time had significant national park in terms of space and hectareage put into place.

JOURNALIST: Following the last World Heritage Committee meeting you undertook to consult with the Tasmanian Government about extending the Tasmanian WHA (World Heritage Area) in some smallish ways. Has that process begun?

GARRETT: Look we have had some preliminary discussions with the Tasmanian Government and I and we've had an exchange of correspondence and I expect officials will continue with that process to determine the position that we both take in terms of responding to that report. And I expect it to happen, you know, over the next month or two.

JOURNALIST: You see no obstacles to those extensions?

GARRETT: We made our position very clear at the time and I don't think there is any reason for us to divert from that. My expectation is that we will work cooperatively with the Tasmanian Government to that end.

[ENDS]

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