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

Official opening of the Turtle Hospital at Reef HQ; WA oil slick; $200 million Reef Rescue commitment; Coalition split on nuclear power; Townsville Ocean Terminal; False Cape proposal

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop interview: Official opening of the Townsville Turtle Hospital Reef HQ, Townsville
24 August 2009

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GARRETT: It is a great day for Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef when we open a Turtle Hospital here at Reef HQ. It is a fantastic effort on the part of the Townsville community and visitors who have made a contribution here and it is a recognition of how important these species of turtles are to the Great Barrier Reef and also what a great educational facility this will be. Not only will we look after turtles here and see them go back into the wild, fixed up, but it will give many of our young kids that come to Reef HQ to learn about the Reef an idea about what care is available for them.

Let's not forget the Great Barrier Reef remains a most significant driver of regional and national tourism. It is World Heritage Listed and one of the most important natural environments in the world, and for Australia it's of critical importance. This Government's profoundly committed to making sure that we look after the Reef — a $200 million investment on Reef Rescue, making sure that the challenges of climate change are addressed in a robust fashion and also the work that is being done through Reef Rescue and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, something which this Government supports.

So I am absolutely delighted to be able to launch this facility today and I think it is going to do a great job in the future.

JOURNALIST: Can we talk nationally for a moment, what is the latest on the oil slick?

GARRETT: Well we will continue to monitor very closely the activities that are now being focused on the dispersal that has been underway on the slick. This is something where the response has been immediate, the Marine Safety Authority has taken charge of this issue working very closely with both the West Australian authorities, the company and in communication with my department, to make absolutely sure that everything that has to be done can be done.

We have been a little bit lucky to have calm weather off the coast of Western Australia. That has meant that there has been access to and monitoring by officials and also that the aircraft that are spraying the dispersements down have been able to get access to the slick. But clearly it is a matter which needs to be watched very, very closely. The work is ongoing and it will be some time until it is satisfactorily concluded. My very strong hope is that we don't see the slick reach the environments of our coast but that is something which we will see rollout of the next coming days.

JOURNALIST: The Gorgon gas project of course still needs you approval. Are there any implications from this slick that we can take to that?

GARRETT: No, I don't think so. I think that in relation to Gorgon that is a proposal that has been very carefully and closely assessed over a period of time by both the West Australian and Commonwealth governments. I expect to make a decision this week on those matters that relate to specific environment issues under the national environment legislation.

In relation to what has happened off the coast with this particular oil spill, this is something where a national plan has to be enacted immediately. That has happened. Where we need to make sure that we're working very closely both with the company and state officials and Commonwealth officials; that is happening. And we will investigate once the actual treatment and activities around the spill have concluded, the particular matters that led to the spill. We will look very closely at whether the contingency plans have been followed. That is something which will happen once we have done the work that needs to be done immediately.

JOURNALIST: Just on a separate issue now Minister, the caring for the Reef. How can the Government work to keep costs low for landowners who do their bit for the Reef?

GARRETT: Well I think the great thing about Reef Rescue is that it actually provides for the first time, specific resources to enable farmers to put in place good practices which reduce nutrient and chemical runoff onto the Reef. That is the first time we have ever had this.

And you know I hear the National Party meeting on the weekend — a week after we actually saw a renewable energy target passed in Australia where we will have more wind power, more solar power, cleaner, more renewable energy resources — saying they want to reintroduce a debate about nuclear power. Well where is Barnaby Joyce going to locate nuclear reactors around this coastline? Where is Barnaby Joyce going to say that the radioactive waste should be carried? And whilst at the same time that they are going against the interests of renewable energy, this Government is providing direct investment to Queensland farmers to give them the support that they need to have good farm practices which reduce the nutrient runoff onto the Reef. Maintaining the water quality, the inshore water quality, for the Great Barrier Reef is critical. Farmers know that, Indigenous communities know that, the Government knows that — that is the main game for us here particularly in North Queensland but in Australia.

What can I say about the weekend's discussions when Senator Joyce is at odds with his Coalition partners and wants to bring back John Howard's plans for 25 nuclear reactors for Australia? These people are fast becoming irrelevant. They need to recognise what the key important environment and business issues are and get on board with the Rudd Government as we bring our agenda through.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, the Bligh Government is pushing ahead with the Townsville Ocean Terminal project, however conservationists fear it threatens several marine mammal species. What is your position on this development?

GARRETT: Unless that matter comes before me as a controlled action I haven't seen it in detail at this point in time. What I would do is if it were a matter that fell under the national environment legislation as a controlled action and if there were likely impacts on matters of national environment significance, we would look at it very closely. And I would just say more generally that the expectation of the Commonwealth is that planning processes at any level — local, state and federal — need to happen in accordance with the relevant regulations and environment laws that are in place. It is my expectation that that will happen here. But if there are any additional matters that I need to consider because there are impacts on matters of national environment significance then I would look at them very closely.

JOURNALIST: Further north Minister, what's the situation in False Cape?

GARRETT: Well we have got a situation at False Cape where the Government has made very clear what it thinks the path through is and there is an expectation that if there orders for remediation in relation to any parcels of land which have got sensitivities of this kind, then they ought to be observed. So I will watch — I have seen the newspaper reports about False Cape up to this point in time — I will watch very closely the progress of that particular matter. But I just repeat again for the benefits of all those listening and that is this — the Commonwealth Government takes very seriously the environment of north Queensland — World Heritage Areas, the rainforests of north Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. These areas are vital and precious to all Australians and they are drivers of the local economy, a sustainable economy, which needs to be able to know — we need to be able to know, I beg your pardon — that the environment is properly protected at all times and in all places and that is our expectation.

[ENDS]

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