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Interview with Neil Mitchell
3AW Mornings, Melbourne
9 July 2009
MITCHELL: …I have been there, I chose not to climb it because of the request, but as I said I don't know that you need to climb it to observe the atmosphere of the area anyway.
On the line is the Federal Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett. We spoke to the Opposition spokesman earlier who said it was all Peter Garrett's doing.
Mr Garrett, good morning.
GARRETT: Good morning, Neil.
MITCHELL: What are the environmental reasons for not climbing it?
GARRETT: The reasons that are being put forward for not climbing the rock go to a couple of things, Neil. One is issues around culture, as you pointed out in your introductory comments, there are signs there from the traditional owners saying "please don't climb Uluru". But it is also the case that there are a number of issues relating to visitor safety, a lot of unsafe weather conditions up there. I think we had about 36 days when the climb was open in 2008 and on the hot days the climb is closed down from 8 in the morning. And tour operators, I noticed, are also saying that it is a real headache for them when people come to trouble climbing the rock. So there is a range of issues that have been identified by the Board of Management and I have got to say…
MITCHELL: And what are the environmental issues?
GARRETT: Well they're not specifically environmental issues that the Board is addressing. They're addressing a range of issues.
MITCHELL: No, but they say that in their report, it is 6.3.3(b) for visitor safety, cultural and environmental reasons.
GARRETT: Well in terms of the integrity of the environment, I mean you would have seen it when you had a look at it, Neil, you have got the actual chain that runs its way up the side of the rock and you have got the pathway that goes up through the rock…
MITCHELL: So you would need to take that out would you?
GARRETT: Well you have also got issues in relation to the impact that people are having on the rock when they go up and down.
Now look, the thing about is that we…
MITCHELL: Sorry, you would take the chain out would you?
GARRETT: Well it would be a question for the Board's final recommendations to me as to what they decide to do. The point about having this in a draft form is to give everybody the chance to have their say about the proposal and we're going to have a vigorous debate about that, there is no doubt, and I welcome that vigorous debate. On the basis of all the comments that come through, the Board will give them some thought and then they will bring through to me their recommendations for me to consider.
MITCHELL: Well the suggestion from the Opposition, Greg Hunt, is that it is pre-determined. You deny that? You haven't made up your mind?
GARRETT: Look I think Mr Hunt has been so hysterical on this issue, Neil and I notice this morning that the Opposition spokesman on tourism, Mr Ciobo, said look, let's not have a knee-jerk reaction about this. They're not really agreeing with one another. But it is preposterous for Mr Hunt and others to be jumping up and down and saying we have got a secret plan to close it. This is a draft plan form Uluru's Board of Management who have got the responsibility for providing and considering these matters…
MITCHELL: So have you decided yet?
GARRETT: I say, let's not pre-empt the process. Let's have the discussion.
MITCHELL: Have you decided yet?
GARRETT: No I haven't and I want to make that perfectly clear. I think that there are some issues that we really need to talk through, but on the face of it there are strong reasons for considering whether or not it actually should be permanently closed. That, I think, is what we really do need to talk about. It is not a case of simply saying we're going to see a lessening of tourism numbers and we're stopping access to a tourism icon. About 95 per cent of people who visit the Rock say they would still visit even if they couldn't climb. There is many other things that we want to do around Uluru to increase the visitor experience. We want to build up the capacity for Indigenous businesses there are you don't need to climb that rock to see its magnificent beauty.
MITCHELL: I tend to agree with that. But are the reasons to keep it open to climbing?
GARRETT: Well that would be something which we will hear from those who think it should be kept open.
MITCHELL: So you haven't heard them yet? They haven't been put to you?
GARRETT: I am not hearing many voices from the tourism industry or Indigenous people saying that the climb should be kept open. It is very, very steep, it can be very slippery, it is closed when it is hot. You know, we're seeing some significant anxiety that is caused when you do have people that become sick or injured on the rock and the fact of the matter is that we've now got a really fantastic visual viewing platform sitting out there that gives people a fabulous view of that whole area. And we're looking at a whole range of other things, how to better conserve the environment, what the visitor services should be to be developed. We want to maintain strong tourist presence there but it doesn't have to be at the extent of a traditional owner seeing that the notices that are being put at the bottom of the rock are ignored and we don't have that many people [inaudible] access to it and when they do they quite often get into strife.
MITCHELL: Is it correct that there is division within the traditional owners as to keeping it open or not?
GARRETT: Not that I am aware of.
MITCHELL: What, so they are unified in wanting it closed?
GARRETT: Well I am taking this from the Uluru Board of Management and traditional owners have representation on that Board, Neil. So my view is that I will look at what the Board of Management brings through to me as a draft but I will hear other views if they are around.
MITCHELL: When will there be a decision on it?
GARRETT: I'll give them a month or so for the consultation process to take place and then we will look carefully at what the Board brings through. We'll make a decision but the end of the year.
MITCHELL: Okay, thank you for talking to us.
Can I just ask for your help on one other thing? Now, your boss is touring. The Prime Minister is overseas. You're at home?
GARRETT: I am.
MITCHELL: He's overseas. Can you tell me what this means? This is the Prime Minister [plays audio of the Prime Minister] "it is highly unlikely that you will have anything emerge from the MEF by way of detailed programmatic specificity."
GARRETT: Oh, specific programs, Neil would be my interpretation of that.
MITCHELL: Programmatic specificity [inaudible].
GARRETT: Well, you know, I think the point the Prime Minister is making is that those MEF discussions are going to continue. They won't necessarily come up with specific programs that are identified right through this period but it is all part of the bigger discussion that is happening on the way to Copenhagen.
MITCHELL: Fair enough. What happens when he crosses the equator, the language gets a bit weird doesn't it?
GARRETT: I think I understood carefully and clearly what he said.
MITCHELL: I bet you did, he's the boss. Thank you for speaking with us.
GARRETT: Thank you.
MITCHELL: Peter Garrett, the Federal Minister for the Environment.