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

Coral Sea conservation zone

Interview with Paula Tapiolas, ABC North Queensland Mornings
20 May 2009

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TAPIOLAS: Let's take up some of the issues with the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett.

Mr Garrett, first of all, can you tell us what you have in mind for this Coral Sea area.

GARRETT: Look, good morning, Paula. Well, in the first instance, to get a better understanding of the science and range of issues that need to be considered in relation to its long-term management. And I really welcome the remarks that I've heard from Winston Harris because that's exactly what I want to see happen. I want us to have a really full, good consultative process which enables all stakeholders to put their views, which will be carefully listened to and taken into account.

The fact is that everybody has an opportunity to be involved in the planning process for this East Marine Region that we released yesterday, along with the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. And I think that's the right way to go about determining these sorts of issues in the longer term.

If we recognise that we all have an interest in ensuring that our marine environment is both sustainably managed and also adequately protected in terms of its environment values right through to the longer term, then I think we're doing the job that people expect of us.

TAPIOLAS: Mr Garrett, it's an enormous area; one million square kilometres. Who will administer it?

GARRETT: Well, again, I want to enable the process to be undertaken, Paula, that provides for stakeholders to put their views. Obviously it's administered by the Government but…

TAPIOLAS: Would it be the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority though?

GARRETT: Well, no. At this time what we're talking about is the bioregional marine planning process. It's going on right around Australia. I mean, Australia has got an extraordinary and significant sized ocean resource, and our task is to make sure that it's managed effectively right around Australia. That's undertaken through the Commonwealth but working closely with the state government and with stakeholders as well.

And the point about yesterday's announcement is a really simple one, and it's this: If we're going to consider how to best manage and look after these areas, including areas that have got high conservation values which the Coral Sea does have, then we need to have a really thorough, really fair dinkum planning process that enables that to happen.

Now, what I've done is provide the opportunity for everybody to be involved in that process. As Winston and I think your own remarks noted, Paula, there won't be any impeding of current activities that go on. Commercial activities will require a permit but it's a free permit, and there's a three months grace period for people to get that in place, and that doesn't include commercial fishing. Commercial fishing, so long as it's conducted in accordance with existing fisheries regulations and laws, won't require a permit. Scientific research activities will require a permit. And of course recreational fishing will be enabled to continue, as it has up to this point in time.

So what we're really saying here is that proper management and consideration of the significant values of an area like the Coral Sea need us to consider really carefully the science. We will make decisions based on science that comes to us that is credible, that is thorough, and we will listen very carefully to stakeholders. We welcome the input from community groups, we welcome the fact that people are consulting with stakeholders.

I think it's a really good day for FNQ and for Australia. And it is part of a larger marine planning process that we have happening right around the country.

TAPIOLAS: Yes, it says here this is the first step towards permanent protection for those Australian waters. Are we working towards a stage where there could be some zones similar to the green zones in place over that area?

GARRETT: Well, I don't want to pre-empt the stakeholder engagement nor all the material information and science that will come to me. People will have strong views about what the most appropriate mechanisms are that we put in place. I think it's reasonable for me to say that, let this really good open consultation happen. Of course we do want to see appropriate conservation protections right around the country in terms of those areas of high conservation value…

TAPIOLAS: What are the biggest…

GARRETT: We want to have sustainable management of this resource in the longer term. And what that form that will take will be determined later on by the Government but on the basis, certainly substantially, of the material information and input that we get from the public and from those that advise us.

TAPIOLAS: So what are the biggest threats to that area at the moment? Is it overfishing or is it illegal fishing by other - from international fishing, or what are the threats?

GARRETT: The purpose of declaring the conservation zone is to enable existing activities to continue but to prevent any additional pressures being applied to the zone while we conduct the assessment.

And, look, I was in Indonesia last week at the World Ocean Conference, and also at the Coral Triangle Initiative representing Australia. And one of the things that continually came through there for countries who certainly recognise the importance of areas like coral reefs because of their environment values, but also need access to sustainable fish stocks for the purpose of feeding their people, is that the oceans are experiencing great change as we speak. Ocean acidification because of climate change are clearly one of those really, really critical threshold issues that need to be determined.

Now, the purposes of this announcement and decision is to allow that good work to happen. And I reckon that's the most important thing that we can do. I reckon the best thing we can do is to have our scientists, our stakeholders, our governments, our community groups come together, provide their perspectives, the information, the research, the options that they think are worthwhile considering, and let us think very carefully about them.

TAPIOLAS: Just finally, Mr Garrett, who is actually going to police this area, this - the permit system over the new zones?

GARRETT: The permit system will be organised through the Department of Environment and the director of Parks Australia. But if anyone needs any additional information about it, I just suggest they jump on the Net, if they have access, go to the environment website, commonwealth environment department website, follow the prompts and all the information is there.

TAPIOLAS: Peter Garrett, thank you.

GARRETT: Thanks Paula.


Commonwealth of Australia