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Doorstop interview: The Esplanade, Cairns
E & OE
14 October 2009
GARRETT: [FIRST 30 SECONDS OF INTRO MISSED DUE TO RECORDING FAILURE]…the provision of nearly $500 million there for the rehabilitation of areas with local Traditional Owners, the Githabul people. Over $1 million for Mossman Gorge and a boardwalk there which will allow disabled access. Additional resources for Charters Towers for one of their most important cultural sites, the heritage of the Stock Exchange Arcade, now properly conserved.
This continues the stimulus package that the Government has put in place to satisfactorily help Australians deal with the global financial crisis, to provide employment in communities, to use local resources and to build skills. And I know that my colleague, Jim Turnour, the Member for Leichhardt who always argues strongly for north Queensland is delighted with his announcement as I am as well and I will be very pleased to see how these projects are delivered.
What we can say is that for this part of Australia the natural and cultural heritage values are important drivers of the regional economy but they are also important in other ways because they provide the linkages for communities with their history and with their past but as also a great heritage asset that they can share, particularly with tourists and continue to build sustainable livelihoods over time.
JOURNALIST: How were the projects selected?
GARRETT: We have a process of arms length selection by a panel. I get advice from the Australian Heritage Council. We are looking at projects which have got identified heritage value, either World Heritage or projects that potentially have got National Heritage listing that accompanies them. We are looking for projects which can be started and completed within a short period of time, which will provide employment most importantly for local communities and potentially some training for local communities as well.
JOURNALIST: While you are here are you going to go have a look at or talk to anyone about the False Cape site?
GARRETT: Look I have been watching pretty closely the developments at False Cape. I won't go to the site, I know the site well, I have flown over it in the past. And what I would say is that there is a responsibility for any party who seeks to develop any part of this extraordinarily precious and important north Queensland coastline to not only observe all of the appropriate regulations, recognising the significant World Heritage values particularly of the Reef, but also to ensure that they have the appropriate capital underpinning any proposal that they bring forward and a willingness to observe those regulations which are put in place to protect the environment.
JOURNALIST: I don't know if you have heard about the protesters trying to get onto the USS Blue Ridge? Any comment about them?
GARRETT: No, look I haven't heard about that so I won't offer a comment on it, seeing as I haven't heard about it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett there is a meeting tonight with people discussing their concerns about the Coral Sea conservation zone. What would your message be to those people who are meeting?
GARRETT: What I would say about the Coral Sea conservation zone is that it does not in any way affect existing use. It is a consultation on a proposal and I invite all interested parties to participate constructively in that consultation.
In fact, I have extended the period of consultation by some six months for the East Coast Bioregional Plan. That means there is plenty of time for people to get involved in this consultation understanding that the protection of the environment is important not only for the sake of the environment but for the sake of the whole community, because if we look after our natural areas well then they provide the opportunity for us into the future to make sure that we continue to enjoy them well and, where appropriate, derive our income from them too.
JOURNALIST: There is a lot of people who are saying that their livelihoods depend on being able to fish out in the Coral Sea though. How will you weigh up those people's livelihoods against the environmental benefits?
GARRETT: Well we will weigh those issues up very carefully but I am really interested in the fact that some Coalition politicians, some senators, are out there arguing as though what we are proposing in some way is going to diminish the values and the economic potential of this region. That is not true.
The Luddite debate about not wanting to do something about climate change or not wanting to protect the environment is really a product of any earlier era and fails to recognise that the long-term economic future of this part of Australia will depend very much on the appropriate protection of its natural and cultural heritage areas and striking and gaining the right balance between employment and environment.
We are committed to doing that. I have allowed extra time for a healthy consultation and the existing declaration that we have made doesn't affect existing uses in any way.
JOURNALIST: I have just got a few questions on the Traveston Dam. Do you know about the request by Sunshine Coast Mayor, Bob Abbot, to meet one-on-one and discuss Council's view on the Dam?
GARRETT: Look I don't know about that request from the Mayor. I don't propose to have one-on-one meetings at this point in the approvals process. I have already been onto the site, I have met with the community groups there and it is now a case of looking carefully at what the Queensland Government has brought to me on Traveston through the Coordinator General, making sure that we have got all the relevant information that we need in front of us. And I will then take advice from my Department before making a decision.
I think I understand this issue and peoples concerns very well. I look closely at what local communities are representing to me and I will take that into account when I make my decision.
JOURNALIST: Will you allow the 1200 conditions recommended by the Coordinator General to be open to public scrutiny?
GARRETT: Well again, I want full opportunity to consider at this point in time the Coordinator General's report itself. I have not yet received my departmental advice on that report, it is still being assessed by the department. If there is advice to me which says that we need to consider additional elements, whether they are relating to conditions or whether they are relating to information that we think is important in order to make a proper decision, then I will take that decision at that time.
JOURNALIST: Do you know if a decision will be made within the 30 day period?
GARRETT: I do expect to make a decision within the 30 day period.
JOURNALIST: Do you have all of the information that you need at the moment to make a decision?
GARRETT: Well again, now that the Coordinator General's report has been delivered to my department, my department will look very closely at what the Queensland Government has presented. If we believe, if the Commonwealth believes, that there is the need for additional information, we will seek it. They will then provide that advice to me, that still hasn't happened yet. We are in the process of looking at what the Coordinator General has brought forward carefully and thoroughly.
JOURNALIST: Lots of people believe the Dam might mean extinction for the lung fish, other unique species. If the dam goes ahead are you prepared to have that on your shoulders?
GARRETT: I won't be entering into hypotheticals about this process. I remind everybody both listening and watching that I am the Commonwealth environmental regulator and I will do my job thoroughly and properly, I will come to a view on whether or not this Dam should go ahead on the basis of the advice I receive from my department, expert scientific information and any other relevant material that comes before me.
JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to wait until the Paradise Dam case is fully heard in the Federal Court before making a decision?
GARRETT: I intend to make the decision on Traveston Dam within the nominated statutory timeline. I think there is clearly a lot of interest in the Queensland community in particular about this particular matter, there is a lot of material that has already come through and is on the record. We now need to look carefully at what Queensland have brought forward to us an then we will make a decision.
JOURNALIST: Just a question for the Townsville newsroom Minister, there have been concerns raised about the effect of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal expansion, about the effects that would have on the Caley Valley/Abbot Point wetlands. Is that something that you will be looking into?
GARRETT: Any controlled action, including this one, that comes before us will be considered thoroughly. We will look at whether or not there are likely impacts on matters of national environment significance. That is at an early stage, it hasn't reached my desk yet. But as with all of the other decisions that we are taking as an environment minister, I will make sure I have all of the relevant material and hear from all of the stakeholders involved before we take any decisions any further.
JOURNALIST: Just finally on False Cape, are you confident that development could go ahead on that site if it is environmentally sound?
GARRETT: I think that is going to be a matter for both proposed developers and the council to resolve. My responsibility on False Cape, as with these other issues, is to make sure that we don't get unacceptable impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and its World Heritage values. If a proponent can show that there will be no unacceptable impacts and I get advice that confirms it, then there is nothing to stop a development going ahead. But it must be contained within those bounds.
We want to make sure we protect one of the great drivers of tourism, of regional economies and one of the great natural richness's of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, in any decisions that are taken.