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

Uluru Board of Management draft management plan; $19 million commitment to feral camel control through Caring for our Country

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Kieran Weir
Morning Show, ABC North & West South Australia
9 July 2009

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KIERAN WEIR: What do you think? We'd like to hear your thoughts on the program. Should Uluru and the climbing of the rock be banned?

I know that my next guest will have a view about that. He is the Federal Minister for the Environment. It's terrific to welcome Peter Garrett to our program. Very good morning, Minister.

PETER GARRETT: Morning, Kieran.

KIERAN WEIR: Minister, I know that you have been out to the rock, probably a number of times because I've seen film clips in the past that you made in and around the central desert region. Have you ever climbed Uluru?

PETER GARRETT: No, I haven't.

KIERAN WEIR: Would you?

PETER GARRETT: No. The signs at the foot of the rock are very clear from traditional owners and they say: we don't climb, please don't climb Uluru and I respect their wishes.

It's interesting because I've never really had a desire to climb it either. I know that some people do want to and obviously people climb it but I haven't ever.

KIERAN WEIR: No, well, I've never been to the base of the rock. I've only seen it from the air so I've been close to Uluru and the area of Kakadu - sorry, I'm trying to remember the name of the rest of the - Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta, that's it.

But on the subject of outback and looking after our desert, the federal Government has just allocated some money to a couple of feral pest control programs, one, of course, are cane toads.

We, fortunately, in South Australia haven't been affected by cane toads but they are moving right across the top end of the country. They're a huge pest.

But camels. Camels have caused real pastoral damage and settlement infrastructure damage and you've allocated, or the federal Government rather, through your department's allocated some funds.

How much money to go into control our federal camels - feral camels?

PETER GARRETT: We're allocated around $19 million for a feral camel program, Kieran, because, as you've pointed out just now, the problem is really emerging as a huge one, particularly in the arid lands area of northern South Australia, southern NT and across to WA as well, and we expect that that will be a cooperative venture, it'll involve the Desert Knowledge Research Centre, it'll involve state governments, it'll involve the land councils, it'll involve Indigenous communities and we really need to get on top of feral camels.

We've got such a history of feral pests in this country and they wreak absolute havoc on our landscapes and we think if we really put a big effort in on camels at this point in time then we can stop this big population growth and big numbers that we're seeing particularly in the desert regions.

KIERAN WEIR: Minister, the research on camels was funded by the National Heritage Trust and released late last year. Were any of the recommendations or the studies about control of camels or is this simply about culling camels?

PETER GARRETT: No, I think it'll include drawing on that research and, you know, we're at an early stage of determining a work plan but it'll have to involve both culling and control.

You know, some Aboriginal communities have expressed views about how they might better use camels, the potential for camels to have some commercial utilisation, an opportunity for local employment development and the like, and we've got small numbers of camels that are also used in the tourism industry.

But the numbers are so large - we've got over a million camels there and they're breeding at a rate which means that their population growth will continue to go up and because we can see the effect that ferals have really had, particularly in the northern and remote parts of the continent, whether it's pigs, whether it's cats, as you mentioned, in the tropical areas, the monsoonal areas, whether it's cane toads, we recognise that now, given that there's a high level of awareness about camels and the fact that they're really out and about and causing quite a bit of damage to the landscape, it's important to get stuck into them.

KIERAN WEIR: How bad is the problem, as you see it? Could it get worse in terms of the populations of camels despite this injection of funds?

PETER GARRETT: Well, we're seeing about 80,000 new camels added to the population every year and we're only getting about somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 removed using aerial and ground shooting and commercial harvest. So we're way short of the actual replenishment breeding rate of camels and actually getting on top of them at all. And that's why we've decided to have a reasonably decent injection of funds to get stuck into this issue.

I've got to say, while I'm on the phone to you, we looked at rabbit control programs as well because we can see that there's still a great deal of work that needs to be done with rabbits and through the Eyre Peninsula, through the Murray-Darling Basin and up at Alintytjara and Wilurara as well, we're providing support through Caring for our Country for rabbit control programs there too and we're also providing $1.5 million for the invasive animal CRC to look at improving rabbit control measures.

As you know, we've had a long history of trying to contain rabbit populations in the country and we think we need to provide so resources to continue that work as well.

KIERAN WEIR: The $19 million injection to have a go at the camel problem, how will that money be spent practically over the next four years?

PETER GARRETT: Well, we want the Desert Knowledge CRC and the stakeholders to sit down and work through a program based on the science and research that we have, based on existing practices and their success rates, to make the best impact that we can on the population. So I won't be directing the work that they do. My expectation is that they will develop a fully fledged, highly focused, targeted plan and they'll start to work their way through that.

Importantly we've got cooperation from local government areas, from communities and from state governments because they pay no knowledge to the border between South Australia and the Northern Territory, they just rock on over and we want to make sure that we've got a sufficient level of cooperation between the state governments and that we roll out a plan that actually does the job.

KIERAN WEIR: We've recently spoken to camel breeders who would like to see more high quality camels being sold back to the Middle East where they are in high demand. Also a lot of African communities, not only in Africa but also African communities here in Australia desperate for camel and - camel meat and camel milk - and a lot of people have been saying the federal Government should be focusing on building an industry for those products. Do you think we'll see that happen any time in the near future?

PETER GARRETT: Look, I think there are opportunities for some business to be developed around camels and it's pretty clear, as you've just pointed out, that people have got an interest and a capacity to take that up.

That is something which would happen, I'm saying, in the ordinary course of time. It's not the number one priority for this program, though, and the reason for that is really simple and that is that we've got camels in very high density in very remote parts of the country, the eastern part of the Great Sandy Desert, around the Simpson Desert et al and their negative impacts are really marked in terms of the health of those natural landscapes out there.

And so I think our first priority is to make sure that we arrest this significant population increase in camels because we can see what damage they're doing and consideration to how to better use and utilise camels in the meantime is something that I certainly would welcome.

KIERAN WEIR: Federal Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, thank you for your time on the program.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks very much, Kieran.


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