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Doorstop interview, Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council, Brisbane
3 July 2009
GARRETT: Today’s a very good day for the Great Barrier Reef because for the first time in some four years the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland have got together at a Ministerial Council to focus very closely on the joint measures that we believe are necessary to ensure the protection of this vitally important national, natural asset.
The Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council – this will be its 33rd meeting which we concluded today. It’s been a very positive, very constructive meeting. This is a new era of cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government and I greatly welcome the cooperation of Queensland Ministers: the Environment Minister with me, Minister Mulherin and Minister Ferguson from the Commonwealth who attended as well. Critically we now will be able to work more effectively together. We’ve identified and we understand the range of significant issues that have to be addressed in terms of the protection of the Great Barrier Reef so that it can continue to do what it does to this country – provide extraordinary economic sustainability for the regions of Queensland and for the Australian tourism industry, a healthy and sustainable fishing industry, the amenity that comes with having a coral reef system that’s the largest in the world, off the coast of Australia. And of course this follows on from the new intergovernmental agreement that the Prime Minister and the Queensland Premier signed recently.
So this was a good positive, constructive meeting – a new era of cooperation between the Commonwealth and Queensland on protecting the Great Barrier Reef. We know how important looking after the Reef is. It’s one of our most important and significant areas of natural beauty, but it’s also a really important economic driver for the region. And in the global financial crisis, that importance cannot be overestimated, and overstated too. So on that basis I was very pleased, Minister Jones, we had such a good meeting and I might ask you to add some remarks.
JONES: Thank you Peter, and I just want to reiterate. It was a very cooperative meeting, one where we made it very clear our intention to work together in a collaborative fashion to protect the Great Barrier Reef for the future. This is the first time that the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council has met since 2005 and I think this is a real indication of both of our commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is worth about $6 billion to the Queensland economy and of course it is one of the most wonderful natural assets of the world. Our responsibility to protect the Great Barrier Reef is unparalleled and we’re absolutely committed to doing that.
JOURNALIST: So why has it taken four years for the Council to meet?
JONES: I might answer that. The previous Government wasn’t really interested in meeting with the Queensland Government in this forum but I’m very pleased that Peter Garrett has made it a priority for him and I look forward to working with him in this forum. We agreed today at the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council meeting that we would meet annually to ensure that the program that we set is met.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible)…what concrete is being done to preserve the Great Barrier Reef and (inaudible)…
GARRETT: The Commonwealth Government has provided the biggest ever commitment to the Great Barrier Reef with the $200 million commitment in the Caring for our Country program. And the first significant component of that commitment – over $50 million, announced yesterday through Caring for our Country. This means that we will have an involvement of land managers, farmers, conservation organisations, scientists, Indigenous people and others in driving through the necessarily on-ground delivery of programs which reduce the nutrient run-off onto the Reef. Critically, for the Great Barrier Reef, the resilience of the in-shore waters of the reef and ensuring that they’re healthy is our absolutely priority. And that is a significant commitment – the $50 million plus that we announced yesterday will provide substantial program support for the work that this Ministerial Council has identified as critical.
JOURNALIST: So will most of that money be going to the farmers to help them reduce the run-off?
GARRETT: Its about…somewhere around the vicinity of $148 million is directed to on-land activities. I think that’s an indication of the fact that we recognise that nutrient and pesticide run-off into the Reef is one of the most critical issues to address. And I have to say that the beauty of us getting together in a way that the former Federal Government wasn’t willing to do with Queensland, means that we can effectively and genuinely work together. We will work together. But that commitment will see significant numbers of farmers – already some over 800 farmers already involved in good program delivery. And I expect that number to grow over time with this additional investment.
JOURNALIST: Do you have farming delegates there today?
GARRETT: This is a Ministerial Council, so it just involves the Ministers from the Commonwealth and from the State.
JONES: But this important point is that the Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries here in Queensland attended that meeting and discussed those issues. The other point to make is that the intergovernmental agreement signed by Prime Minister Rudd and Premier Anna Bligh is the first agreement of its kind since it was signed by Malcolm Fraser and Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1979.
JOURNALIST: And what else will it mean for farmers. Do you have their support? Are they feeling positive about this or is there still some tension that needs to be (inaudible)…?
JONES: I think…
GARRETT: I’m happy, Kate, for you to take that question.
JONES: I think both levels of Government, both levels of Government recognise that there are many farmers out there that are doing the right thing and are moving to best practice to ensure that we protect the Reef and reduce run-off and sediment into the Reef. What we are doing and what we have established today is that we intend to do this in a collaborative fashion. As you know, at a State Government level we’ve introduced some regulations into State Parliament that will be debated later in this year. But that is an additional $50 million commitment which we will be working with farmers to allocate.
GARRETT: Can I just make one point about this and that is that Caring for our Country specifically provides that all stakeholders are involved in identifying business plans and delivering the programs that we want to see delivered. And in this case not only do we have the involvement of the Natural Resource Management groups that are working effectively in this Queensland region, we have the involvement of AgForce, we have the involvement of other farming groups and community groups. We have the involvement of the World Wide Fund for Nature. And that’s building the necessary partnerships across the farming sector, the NGO and the scientific community as well to make sure that the delivery’s done in an effective way and it’s done in a way which has the confidence of all the stakeholders involved.
JOURNALIST: How serious is the risk to the Great Barrier Reef at the moment from run-off etc?
GARRETT: Look, one important thing about the Great Barrier Reef that all Australians need to know is that it’s a fantastic resource and it’s in good condition. Yes it is subject to threats, we might get a cyclone that knocks it around, we’ve had some significant bleaching events, and there clearly are risks there and we really do want to focus on those risks and look after it well. But the Reef is in good condition and it’s still the most beautiful and wonderful natural environment for us to enjoy and to recognise how important it is and to have good steps in place to protect it. But the Great Barrier Reef is in good condition.
JOURNALIST: Any idea how much run-off or how much chemical goes into the Great Barrier Reef (inaudible)…?
GARRETT: Look, what the science tells us is that the amount of pesticide and nutrient discharge into the Reef over time has increased previously (sic) and arresting that increase through the catchments is a critical task for us and for Governments, for the community and for farmers. What also it tells us is that a willingness on the part of the farming community to look at modern practices which reduce the nutrient load is what program delivery for the Reef is all about. So I’m very confident that us having a Ministerial Council meeting, having an Agriculture Minister present, recognising that the commitment that we’ve got from Caring for our Country of some $50 million has a significant component going to on-farm activities. Plus agreeing that we actually do what to see targeted reductions in nutrient and sediment over time gives people certainty that the job will be well done.
JOURNALIST: How do you reduce the run-off and pesticide? Will you use environmentally friendly ones or (inaudible)…?
JONES: The main focus on reducing run-off into the Reef is in farming practices. So it’s actually changing the way that farmers use their products, such as fertilised, and actually reduce the amount that they apply to their crop.
JOURNALIST: The Cairns Regional Council, they’ve increased the levies in this year’s Budget for sewerage treatment. Will any of this money filter into those sorts of regional councils to help, you know, protect the reef (inaudible)…?
GARRETT: Look, Reef Rescue is specifically about providing opportunities for land managers and users to significantly reduce nutrient, pesticide run-off and sediment run-off. There is the opportunity under Caring for our Country and other programs for local governments, or other partnerships, to bring forward proposals that they think will satisfy the national goals that we’ve set under Caring for our Country. But the specific focus that we’ve identified in the investment for Reef Rescue is to make sure that we begin to reduce those on-farm, terrestrial impacts into the in-shore waters of the Reef.
JONES: And the other key point to add is, as you’ve heard with Minister Garrett, the Federal Government are committing $200 million to Reef, we’ve made a commitment of $175 million over the next five years. And that’s why we think it’s so important that we work collaboratively to ensure that this money is actually having a real effect on the Great Barrier Reef.
JONES: Yeah 175 in total.
JOURNALIST: The Greens have come out, I think it was in New South Wales, saying consumers should note how much pesticide and chemicals are going on their fruit and vegetables. Do you think that’s a feasible thing that can be done?
GARRETT: Look, the labelling issues around what is and isn’t contained in the products is a really relevant question to be raised at this point in time, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. The regulatory agencies that have got responsibility for it would be I think would be pretty mindful of those sorts of issues. They ought to be giving some thought to whether or not there’s adequate provision for information on labels in terms of whether or not the material, where the material has come from and the like. There’s quite a rigorous process that’s identified through the food regulation authority. My expectation is that they would consider that, but if they have something else to add to what the Greens have proposed I’m sure you put the question to them and they’ll let you know.
JOURNALIST: Kate, (inaudible).. some sort of (inaudible)… announced early in the year, towards (inaudible)…
JONES: Yes, the regulations that we introduced into Parliament are due to come into force on the first of January. During the next six months I’m working with industry to establish a calculator, which is about organising how much is the optimum level of fertiliser that should be applied to a farm. So at the moment, my view is that I should be developing that with industry because industry are best placed to work out what that calculator should look like and how it can apply on a farm.
JOURNALIST: A lot of faming groups say (inaudible)…already have that in place and (inaudible)…?
JONES: My view is that it’s really important that we work with industry so they can demonstrate to me what practices they are using right now which we can incorporate and actually recognise under the regulation. But the problem is, and what we’ve heard today at this Ministerial Council is that one of the largest threats to the Reef is the loss of nutrients into the Reef. And that’s why as a State Government we think it’s very important to act and we’re putting our money where our mouth is.
JOURNALIST: So you think they could be more efficient about (inaudible)…?
JONES: I absolutely think that we could be more efficient, but I also believe that there are many farmers that are doing the right thing. What we want to see is that all the farmers in this priority Reef catchment are using best practice, as is the view of industry.
JOURNALIST: If all these pesticides are making the Reef sick, could they be making us sick as well?
GARRETT: Oh look the focus that we’ve had today is really on the long-term capacity of the Great Barrier Reef to have significant ecological resilience to deal with the pressures that it faces. I mean that’s what is the focus not only of the mangers of the Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Queensland agencies, but also the MinCo. And at the end of the day, as with our terrestrial systems, making sure that we have sufficient resilience in our ecosystems against the kinds of pressures that they’re going to face – the ones that we’ve identified and are talking about here and climate change as well – is absolutely critical. (inaudible)… broader issues that you raise for discussion, but our focus today actually has been on convening the Ministerial Council to agree on these measures and work cooperatively and in a way that hasn’t been done for quite a considerable period of time. I’m absolutely delighted and thrilled at the level of cooperation we’ve had from Queensland and I think there’s going to be able to be very good work from now on into the future. Thanks everybody.