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

INTERCOL Conference; launch of the report Australia's Biodiversity and Climate Change; Cubbie station; renewable energy target; carbon pollution reduction scheme

Doorstop interview: 10th International Congress of Ecology
Brisbane Exhibition & Convention Centre, Brisbane
E&OE Transcript
17 August 2009

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GARRETT: Can I say what a great pleasure it is to be able to officially open what is a really important conference here in Brisbane — the 10th INTERCOL Conference bringing together expert scientists and ecologists from right around the world and also to be able to receive this important report Australia's Biodiversity and Climate Change. Having looked through the summary recommendations that the authors of this report have brought forward I already identify a number of things that the Rudd Government has done in the 20 months in which we have been in Government o address those very important issues that they raise.

We are profoundly committed to addressing the decline in our natural landscapes because we understand very well that they underpin our health and our wealth as a nation. And so I look forward to being brought up to speed with the deliberations of this conference, the many reports that will come through. We have got some outstanding environmental scientists here in Australia who I know will be contributing very fully to this next weeks worth of deliberations and I think it is terrific that we have people of that expertise here in Australia.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Timely then I guess Minister to ask is it appropriate for governments state or federal to chip in and by Cubbie Station?

GARRETT: Well the first thing to say about the reports this morning in the paper about Cubbie is that this Government has been a strong and active purchaser of water entitlements up to this point in time. We are doing the necessary work in that area. In relation to Cubbie it isn't the case that I will start raising publicly whether or not it is desirable. If there is the potential or not for that sale to take place that is something to be discussed by the company and by the Government. That is a matter for Minister Wong. I noticed her comments this morning quite obviously noting that we won't be going into any sort of additional details about whether or not it is desirable. Let there be a discussion if there is one to happen.

JOURNALIST: The report that you are releasing today — are you releasing it today? What does that entail?

GARRETT: The report that is being released today shows that in Australia because we have got such a high number of endangered and threatened species and because the health of our natural landscapes is so important for us, that we need to protect our biodiversity, that there needs to be a greater effort in conservation and greater effort in whole of ecosystem planning. Now both of these things the Federal Government is already doing so I am delighted to see that a number of the reports recommendations have been taken up by the Rudd Government. But there is a challenge there for governments at the federal, the state and the local level and that is to make sure that in their planning, in their decision making and in their support of environmental policies we look at the whole of Australia's environment — we look at our ecosystems, we look at our catchments, and we look at the important habitat — the bush — that holds our native plants and animal species. Our economic wealth as a nation is tied strongly to the natural health of our ecosystems. That is what this report tells us and it is something that we're acting on.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned you would have talks with your state counterparts. What specifically would you be asking them or telling them?

GARRETT: I want to meet again when we do later in the year with state ministers and emphasise to them how critical it is that we recognise the importance of biodiversity. Look it is a technical word, it is a scientific word, but it means the health of all our inter-related species. It is our biodiversity that effectively holds the soil in place, that provides us with our clean water running through the streams and rivers of this country, it is our biodiversity which in an ocean sense enables us to have a sustainable fishing industry. So, we need a greater emphasis on protecting our biodiversity. I know that state ministers will want to engage in that discussion, I look forward to meeting with them later in the year.

JOURNALIST: There has been controversy over the Cubbie Station and its use of the water. Would it be more appropriate then that the Federal Government takes over the property and better manage it?

GARRETT: Look again, in relation to the actions that this Government has taken on the water front, we have been fully engaged with redressing the decade or so of inaction that we inherited from our forebears, the Howard Government, knowing that you need to buy entitlements, you need to get more water flowing back into the river system and doing it in a way that is accountable to the market and accountable to both the economic and environmental needs of communities in the Basin. So, in relation to the Cubbie matter people have known for a long time about the size of Cubbie, they've known for a long time that it is a question of whether or not in the longer term Cubbie itself might decide that it wants to dispose of its interests but that is a matter to be discussed between the Government and between Cubbie, it is not a matter to be canvassing here today. I know there is one report out in the papers, let the discussion if there is to be one take place.

JOURNALIST: So would you be in favour of it?

GARRETT: Well look this is a matter for Senator Wong to consider and all we have seen is newspaper reports up to this point in time. It is a matter which can be considered by Government. We have already, remember, purchased significant entitlements — Toorale Station, Twynam — we have already produced the goods in terms of actually spending money in a way that ensures that we get some entitlements back, water that can then flow through the river system, water than can then nourish our wetlands, water that can then build and protect and enhance the environment. So we have already done a number of steps in this direction. Whether or not it is appropriate for Cubbie to be considered, that is a matter both for the company, for the Government and for Minister Wong's office and I am sure if there are to be discussions then she'll inform you of them in due course.

JOURNALIST: On the subject of the renewable energy plan do you think that is going to pass?

GARRETT: Well both … the Government has always said that the failure of the Coalition to understand how important it is that we have a price for carbon in the market and a carbon pollution reduction scheme has frustrated completely not only where Australians are at on this issue but also the mandate that this Government took when we went to the election in 2007.

However, the Government recognises that it is appropriate that compensation measures that were contained and linked in the CPRS to the renewable energy target be separated out now that the Coalition hasn't passed the CPRS. I think that Minister Wong will continue to have those discussions and negotiations with the Opposition. I am confident that for the Government we want to see a renewable energy target in place which does enable the industry to start building its capacity and which deals with the question of compensations as identified in the CPRS in a proper way. I am hopeful that those discussions will continue and that the Coalition will bring productive and reasonable negotiating points to the table, not simply play politics with it as they did with the CPRS but be constructive in these discussions.

JOURNALIST: Come November if the CPRS isn't passed do you think it will be a trigger for a double dissolution?

GARRETT: Well let's wait and see what happens. I mean Mr Turnbull this morning is reported as being busy considering the amendments that he wants to bring to legislation that he has just refused. I mean what confusion, what an exposure of what has been one of the most baron and vacant public policy positions that we have seen in federal politics in recent times. But if the Coalition are going to be serious about looking at amendments then there is the opportunity for that discussion to happen later on. Remember that it was only last week that they voted against it in the Senate and not only that, Coalition Senators one after the other getting up and saying that they don't believe that it is important that Australia acts on climate change, some of them don't believe climate change is happening at all.

Thanks very much everybody.

[ENDS]

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