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

Coastcare Week; Community Coastcare grants; Reef Rescue; Gunns pulp mill; environment policy; solar rebates; Green Loans; forward agenda; Australian National Academy of Music

E&OE Transcript
Interview with 9AM with David & Kim, Network Ten

3 December 2008

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DAVID: It's amazing what 12 months spent in Canberra will do to you. Having to sit there on the front bench as all that name-calling and cat-scratching and political freeze goes on about you. Is it any wonder Peter Garrett has been dreaming of the beach? Is it any wonder he's now determined to get those responsible for sending him to Canberra to run 100 kilometres along it?

KIM: The Minister joins us this morning live from Canberra on day three of Coastcare Week to urge all Australians to protect our precious coastal environment. Good morning Peter Garrett.

DAVID: Good morning Peter.

MINISTER: Good morning guys.

DAVID: When was the last time you had a surf?

MINISTER: Yeah, I was just thinking about that, oh, probably last summer for about, you know, 20 minutes.

DAVID: It's massive isn't it? It is a massive, massive commitment to become, not only a politician, but to become a Minister in the Government.

MINISTER: Yeah, look it's a lot of work and I think, you know, we've had 12 months where we've really gone hell for leather to put those commitments that we went to the election with in place and I think you don't put your hand up for this job unless you're prepared to work the long hours and it's always a privilege to do it. So, I'm certainly looking forward to getting my toe in the water a little bit later on but we've still got a bit of work to do yet.

KIM: Given that our coastline is literally surrounding us, we're an island continent, it seems extraordinary that it's only really been in the last, well maybe in only the last decade that we've focused so intensely on protecting our coastline?

MINISTER: Yeah, look I think the incredible thing is that we're a coastal nation. What is it -about 85 per cent of Australians live in or near the coast -and it's incredibly important to us because of the environment, because of tourism, because of fishing and we love our coasts. You know, we absolutely love this time of the year when we go down there and, in fact, today the Government's announcing $22.5 million for Coastcare Grants for 400 community groups around Australia who'll do all sorts of great and fantastic volunteer activities looking after the coast, repairing vegetation, natural vegetation and sand dunes, making sure the dugongs are well looked after, checking out on turtles in the Top End, these sorts of things. We've got some fantastic activities going on around the coast because we're really at that point in our national environment life where we don't want to love the coast to death. We need to understand more about it, protect it more and, as a community, get more involved in looking after it.

KIM: It's wonderful to see so many community groups. Would you like to see more community group involvement and is this why you've offered this extra money?

MINISTER: Well under the Government's Caring for Our Country program, Kim, we're actually focusing pretty closely on the things that we can actually do that make the environment more healthy and better protected and a lot of groups put in bids for these Coastcare Grants and I thought the standard of applications this year was incredibly high. And what it told me was that we've got people right around Australia who are living on or near the coast -sometimes they're retirees who've retired to a coastal area, sometimes they're people who have grown up there -who are really starting to see the impact of development and other activities on the coastline and they want to protect the coast because they know that they grew up with it as kids or they recognise how important it is to our national life.

So, I think this announcement that the Government's made today is a really positive one but the other thing in Coastcare Week that we've done of course, and I think you were talking about it in your intros, is that we've got this Life on the Edge campaign and what we're saying to people is, we've got 36,000 kms of coastline. Take 100 kms and put together a group of people, and you don't have to run David, you could scuba around it, you could ride a bike, it's got to be non-motorised we hope, and put together a fundraising campaign to help these Coastcare communities and also, by doing that, you put yourself in the bid for good holidays, you know, you can do fitness exercise things with Guy Leech who's another one of the Life on the Edge Ambassadors in Coastcare Week.

DAVID: How do we get involved with that Peter? Is there a website?

MINISTER: Yeah, look, there is. It's www.coastcare.com.au and you'll see the range of activities that are open up for people to do. You can have your own Facebook site that you set up and I reckon this is a fantastic thing for us to do. I mean we're in a time of economic uncertainty, sure, but I still think that we'll be going to the beach. It's quite often a low-cost holiday for us if we're going camping or something like that, maybe we're staying with friends. At the same time, our coast is critically important to us, the environments there, and to get involved with others to sort of say, hey I'm going to take the Life on the Edge Challenge, I'm going help support these Coastcare communities, the Government's put it's money where it's mouth is with this $22.5 million commitment today and those announcements will go out today to over 400 groups. Some really exciting ones too, I've got to say. About 170 hectares of South-Straddy that's going to be revegetated by land managers and communities there and that's a really beautiful part of Australia's environment. Any state you look in, we've got this extraordinary, amazing coastline. We want to do more to look after it and we're encouraging others to jump in and do that too.

DAVID: You've also allocated $200 million for the Great Barrier Reef. How dire is the situation at the Reef?

MINISTER: Well, look, the Great Barrier Reef is our most important natural, national asset. This is the piece of beautiful coral environment that you can see from space. It generates billions of dollars in tourism revenue and in fishing revenue every year and yet it is on the front line, particularly for climate change, and we have, you're right mate, we put in a really significant commitment,it's called Reef Rescue, and we really now want to work very closely with the farmers, on land in Queensland, and looking at making sure that we don't get as many nutrients and pesticides and so on and so forth coming off to the inshore reef waters where we want to keep the water quality healthy and at the same time work really hard with our scientists to make sure that we can actually put the best measures in place to protect the Reef. And, of course, ultimately have a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in place which starts to deal with dangerous climate change because if we do get warming temperatures continuing then we may have more coral bleaching events and, in fact, we're watching out for coral bleaching this summer on the Reef. It's such a miraculous, important part of our natural environment. We really want to commit and make sure that we've got actions in place to look after it better.

KIM: Peter, I love hearing you talk about the coastline. It's clearly a great passion of yours and we know that you're a great lover of the water. Is it hard though, in your position as a Minister, to manage your personal passions with the expectations of voters who expect you to be the king of all trees and the king of all animals and plants.

MINISTER: Look, that's a really good question, Kim, and I think that there's only a limited amount of stuff that tends to come through on a daily basis that shows the work that you're doing and I think, you know, if you really want to share what you're really on about with people, it's partly by having the opportunity to talk in media, but it's also by just producing stuff on your website and ultimately, you know, really saying we're so committed to looking after the environment. I want to be the best Environment Minister I can be and even though the political dialogue is quite often about criticism, I think that at the end of the day, by putting things like Reef Rescue into place, by making these commitments on Coastcare, maybe I'm not going to get in the water as much as I used to and as I'd like to, I think that goes with the turf, but we're here to do the hard work, you know, and you try and manage a bit of that life-work balance. Probably work's winning a bit at the moment, but anyway, I understand Christmas is coming so...

KIM: What about the Gunns Pulp Mill though? That's caused a lot of people a lot of grief. I know it's caused you a lot of concern as well.

MINISTER: Well, the Gunns Mill was an approval by Mr Turnbull when he was environment minister before we came into Government and my role on these sorts of issues is quite a technical and legal role and I know I have to explain it in a legal and technical way but that's because the legislation that I'm required to observe is very specific about the decision-making processes I have to go through. And what I've said with the Gunns Mill is that I will look at each of the modules that come through to me. I have to see whether they are going to have an impact on matters of national environment significance and I also have to make sure that the conditions that Mr Turnbull set are fulfilled by those modules in my decision-making. It's quite technical. Of course we want to make sure that we protect the environment scrupulously and properly and that's always my bottom line but it's within that Act of Parliament and within the conditions that Mr Turnbull set. So we inherited his decision-making. We'll just make absolutely sure when we look at all the approval processes as they come through that we do it diligently.

KIM: It must be tempting though, to put a big scribble and write no on it?

DAVID: Ultimately yeah, do we need it?

MINISTER: Well, you know, your question's really interesting and the thing about that is that my role is so tightly defined on these approval issues, things like the Gunns Pulp Mill, that I don't even have a view about that because what I've got to take a view about is literally what the proposal says, what the scientists and my Department advises me on and whether or not it has an impact on matters of national environment significance which is something that I have to take into account in my decision making. So it's a pretty tight and strong legal requirement that I have and I just have to exercise it well.

DAVID: It did seem that environmental issues were really gaining some traction in the headlines and then along came this GFC, this damn global financial crisis. How is that now affecting the Government's stand on environmental issues?

MINISTER: We are still as committed as ever to bring forward good environment policy to make the kind of announcements that we've made today on Coastcare and on Reef Rescue and to continue to give Australians right around the country the opportunity to look after their environments, natural resource management, covenanting arrangements with private land owners to look after bits of habitat where we've got native plants and animals. The global financial crisis is absolutely critical and it requires the Government to have that focus and that focus is absolute but we do, at the same time, want to continue to advance our agenda and I think that that's one of the challenges in politics is that you've got things that we never expected when we came into Government, that there'd suddenly be a global financial crisis. You just don't know that that's going to happen, but you meet that measure, at the same time you certainly get on with those other things that you know people want to see you do and which you promised you'd do before you came into power.

DAVID: It would seem to me that it's a win-win situation now though on that front given that, you know, solar rebates are now means tested but if we were to drop the means test on solar rebates it would encourage spending in that area which the Government is keen to do. It's got to be a win-win for both doesn't it?

MINISTER: Well I certainly do think that we can work towards having measures which both address the need to have sustainable employment and make sure that we've got some investment coming into the economy with good measures about sustainability and about dealing with climate change. I just should pick up on the solar panel rebates though, because there's been a lot of stuff around about that. Do you know that we will put more solar panels on more roofs of more Australian homes this year than at any other year in our history and the means…

DAVID: Should we not encourage everybody to put a solar panel on their roof?

MINISTER: Well, mate, the means test is there to make sure that those who can least afford to get those solar panels can actually get them on their roofs. And you know what? Applications are at an all-time high. The solar industry is going gangbusters in terms of solar panels and I think that it was the right decision for us to take at the time. I know that people would like, you know, access to more additional support for it but remember that you also do get support from sometimes state government, sometimes you get support from local governments and there's also a built-in renewable energy certificate component in it as well. So for people who are accessing the rebate, it's very affordable now for them to get the solar panels up. We'll also have, incidentally, a low interest green home loan scheme coming into play next year and this is one of the things that we went to the election on. It's a really good idea and you have an audit in your house of the kind of things that you can put into place which will help you deal with climate change, be good for the environment. Whether it's solar panels, solar hot water maybe, it's insulation in your ceiling if you haven't got it and you'll be given the opportunity to have an audit which identifies those things in your home and then the opportunity for a low-interest, almost zero interest really, loan in order to get some of those measures in place. Now of course...

KIM: Is it means-tested Peter?

MINISTER: No it won't be means tested and the, well, it's means tested at the top end but it's a fair way up. I think it's $200,000 from memory, is the top end of it. So a lot of people watching this program will be eligible for this low-interest loan, but the good thing about it is you'll save money in the long term because your energy bills will come down, particularly with something like insulation, but your also adding value to your home over the longer term as well.

KIM: Absolutely. What can we look forward to in the year ahead? What's your dream list, or your dream hit-list, for the next 12 months?

MINISTER: Well we really want to see this low-interest green home loan scheme out and running. Additional energy efficiency measures and we're doing a lot of work on things like household appliances and labeling and so that people have got information when they go into a store, maybe they're thinking of buying a TV or a fridge like that, and they want to see, sort of, how energy efficient it is and how kind it is to the environment. We're advancing that kind of work. It sounds like a small thing but it's actually a really big thing. I mean these new televisions use nearly as much power as fridges do. So there's lots of good work that we're going to do there.

We'll continue to roll out Caring for our Country. I think some of the work that we're doing in northern Australia with Indigenous people and with farmers there in that absolutely beautiful part of our country is critical work in terms of saying work together, in communities, maybe you've got Indigenous people, local councils, local businesses, put together plans that you've got to look after local bushland or river areas or areas that we've identified as matters of national environment priority and we'll provide you with the resources to really get good programs on the ground.

We want to continue to map our coastline. We've got a bioregional mapping program out that runs all the way around the coastline. We started in the south-east, we're now going around the bottom of the country and the south-west, it's coming right around the top to Kimberly which is an incredibly important part of Australia and our environment, and we know that from even looking at some of the shorts in Australia, how beautiful the Kimberly is. So I want to continue that process and look at better ways in which we can actually manage our coastal environments too.

DAVID: Can I just speak to you very quickly as Minister for the Arts? Will you reinstate the funding to the Australian National Academy of Music? I understand there was a very genteel protest by the musicians in Parliament House yesterday. What's behind the decision to remove that funding and where will those students go?

MINISTER: Look we're actually committing that funding and more to an Academy of Music which will be co-located with Melbourne University and we're doing that for two reasons, David. I had a chance to meet with the students yesterday and met with some of the people from ANAM and, look it was a good cooperative meeting, and I pointed out to them why the Government's made this decision. We believe that the opportunities for students, particularly to be co-located next to a school of music of a major institution like Melbourne Uni, to have more flexibility and opportunity in terms of the courses that are provided and a wider range of courses than was previously the case, including things like Concert Master, vocal training and the like. At the moment it's been quite limited just to instruments like the violin and viola and cello and the like and at the same time they have the proximity to be close to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the support services that go with being with the University. The independence of the institution will be maintained. The name will be maintained.

DAVID: It will?

MINISTER: Oh yeah, absolutely and we've said that in our Memorandum of Understanding with Melbourne Uni. We've said that, we've signed off on that.

DAVID: Will it have the same staff? The same level of excellence?

MINISTER: There's absolutely no intention to have anything other than the best possible opportunity for these kids to continue to do the kind of training they're doing but also have the opportunity to do things like a Master of Music and various other degree courses or diploma courses if it suits them and staff from ANAM will be invited to join in that process and my expectation is that we will have at least some of the staff, if not quite a lot of the staff, from ANAM coming across. I think we'll have the opportunity for students, not only to continue doing the kind of individual tuitions that they've been doing in the past but also to have programs which have got more national reach, programs which have got the capacity to have international people coming in as well.

I should say that if I look at something like the National Institute of Dramatic Art, that's NIDA which is in New South Wales, or the National Institute of Circus Art, you know, they take about somewhere between 40 and 45 per cent of their revenue comes from the Government and they raise their other revenues in different ways. ANAM in it's original categorisation was at about 95 per cent and those issues of making sure that we're providing a broader fundraising capacity really deal with how we govern and properly drive the program which see kids really getting good education and having them orchestra ready too for orchestras around Australia is what one of the main focuses of ANAM will be.

So, the funding continues, the programs and the education and the pedagogy that they call it, technically, the kind of learning that these kids have, that certainly is going to be continuing in a form which is agreed between Melbourne University and the Government and the ANAM Board.

KIM: All right. Thank you so much Peter. Good to talk to you.

MINISTER: Nice to see you guys and the same. Thanks very much.

[ENDS]

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