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ABC, Radio National
22 October 2008
FRAN KELLY: Well, whales are on the federal environmental agenda again but apparently not so for the endangered swift parrot. Only weeks before the Japanese fleet sets sail for the new whaling season in the Southern Ocean, Australia has finally appointed former diplomat Sandy Hollway as an ambassador for whale conservation.
But despite a recommendation this week that the conservation status of the swift parrot should be upgraded to critically endangered, that species is not on the federal priority list for the federal Government now being assessed.
Peter Garrett is the Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts and he joins us this morning from Canberra. Minister, good morning.
PETER GARRETT: Morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: It's been 10 months since you promised us a special whaling envoy. Why has it taken so long to get this in place?
PETER GARRETT: Fran, we had a series of really strong initiatives that we wanted to take internationally. We began at the International Whaling Commission intersessional on the future of the IWC in March where we put forward some new proposals about making the IWC a conservation body. I then led the Australian delegation in June where we put up a really comprehensive reform agenda and also called on the Japanese to cease their southern whaling activities.
The IWC process also included the formation of a small working group which met for the first time in September. Following on from that we felt was the best time to have an envoy continue that engagement with Japan. I think that when we first produced a set of policies on how we were going to engage on this issue in December we said that the most important thing for us to do was to upgrade our efforts at the IWC, appoint and envoy and make sure that we're bringing forward some strong conservation proposals for the commission to consider and continue really strong diplomatic efforts with the Japanese. That's happened with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and myself and now is the right time to have the envoy there.
FRAN KELLY: Well, what will Sandy Hollway be engaging on? He's already had discussions, as I understand it, with the Japanese and the Americans. I would imagine the Americans are the key to any compromise. I'm wondering if you expect an anti-whaling shift under a new American administration and is Sandy Hollway working on that?
PETER GARRETT: Well, it's a bit early to say what will happen in relation to America. There's no doubt about it, Fran, that when we were in the IWC in June we did get some strong support from a number of nations, Latin American nations, countries like New Zealand, South Africa and others, for our approach and the Americans are critical. I expect that Mr Hollway will continue the discussions that he's begun with senior officials in Japan.
I mean, we're really saying that there's a third way, that we need to modernise the IWC. We're persisting very strongly, representing to the Japanese government and to other nations that we think that the opportunity is there to have a much more strong conservation focus on the IWC and that the way to do that is to join together internationally, to have research partnerships in the Southern Ocean which Australia, again, is proposing happen and, at the same time, strongly pushing for the Japanese to come away from their so-called scientific whaling activities in the Southern Ocean. So he'll speak to Japanese officials and he'll also continue his engagement with officials in other parts of the world.
FRAN KELLY: And we've dropped the threat of taking the Japanese to court?
PETER GARRETT: Well, the Government has always said that it's an option to be considered. We haven't made a formal view consequent to that. I said the other day that that option's still there.
My hope is that we can continue to have constructive, robust, no doubt, because even though we're close to Japan on a number of issues - they're an important trading partner for us - we do have a very strong disagreement on this issue. But my hope is that we can just continue a really strong and purposeful diplomatic engagement and also by providing what I think is really strong and clear leadership on what the future of the IWC is and what is the community expectation and a number of countries around the world have actually said, you know, good on you Australia for actually standing up and bringing forward some proposals which are positive, which talk about the conservation agenda for whales and what we can really do to better look after these sea creatures as opposed to having sort of these arguments in the margins about counting the numbers that have been killed and whether they have been killed in the name of science or not.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, can we turn to the swift parrot now? We've been discussing on Breakfast lately the recent decline in the population of the swift parrot. That decline seems to be linked to the logging of its breeding habitat in parts of Tasmania. There was a report this week recommending the parrot be relisted as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Will you list it there?
PETER GARRETT: Well, Fran, I've made it really clear that it's the
responsibility of the Tasmanian Government to make sure that their
forest operations are carried out in accordance with the practices code
and that includes management prescriptions which actually provide for
the protection of threatened species where appropriate and I certainly
do know that it's important for the Tasmanian Government to take into
account the threats to the habitat of the swift parrot particularly in
So I've written to...
FRAN KELLY: Are you happy though to leave it to the - in the hands of the Tasmanian Government? There is more you could do, for instance making sure the swift parrot is listed under the critically endangered - under the critically endangered act. Will you do that?
PETER GARRETT: Well, look, we'll certainly consider whether it's appropriate for that listing and there's a - as you know, there's a fairly comprehensive scientific process that deals with those issues and if - if it is absolutely the case that a swift parrot or any other species has reached or is likely to reach that status, and the threatened species committee provides advice to that level, then we'll always take note of that.
I mean, that's the process that's underway. It's a robust process and we're committed to it but in relation to the swift parrot, I want to know that the Tasmanian Government is working collaboratively, looking at a strategic assessment of Wielangta and those other forests in relation to that habitat. There've been some decisions taken by the Tasmanian Government already in relation to coupes, I understand, and I've also informed now the Tasmanian Government of the concerns that have been raised about the issue around the protection of the swift parrot and I hope the Tasmanian Government's going to respond accordingly.
FRAN KELLY: If it doesn't though, I mean, what I'm trying to get at is are you just going to leave it there? This has come up at Senate Estimates now and there have been promises that this information will be sought from your office to go up - right up to the Prime Minister. I mean, are you engaged in this now?
PETER GARRETT: Well, Fran, you're really putting the views that Senator Brown and others have put in the past about what the powers of the Commonwealth are in relation to the RFA and the EPBC Act and I think that Senator Brown and others would know and should know that under the RFA Act it is the responsibility of the Tasmanian Government to ensure that those management prescriptions that have been identified as necessary are undertaken and it's our expectation that that would be the case.
The EPBC Act does not apply and hasn't for some time to override or to provide necessary - any necessary or additional actions over the RFA. Now, that's always been the case. Senator Brown doesn't agree with that but the fact of the matter is that we will work collaboratively with the Tasmanian Government. I have certainly let my counterpart know in Tasmania about this issue.
I've informed Minister Burke as well of the concerns that have been raised about the protection of the swift parrot and I want to make sure and understand that the Tasmanian forest management agencies work collaboratively to look at an assessment of those forests in relation to swift parrot habitat and I think that has to happen first and that's our expectation.
FRAN KELLY: All right. We do need to leave it there. Thank you very much, Peter Garrett, for joining us.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Peter Garrett is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.