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

Marine planning off the NT Coast; Montara well oil spill

E&OE Transcript
ABC Darwin: Interview with Julia Christensen
23 October 2009

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CHRISTENSEN: Peter Garrett is the Federal Environment Minister.

Peter Garrett, good morning.

GARRETT: Good morning, Julia.

CHRISTENSEN: Tell us what these areas are, what you have got in mind for them?

GARRETT: Look, the first thing is to clear up I think some misconceptions about these areas. They are not marine parks and the areas are also not proposed marine reserves and the areas do not cover Northern Territory waters, and it is really important in this planning process that we bear those facts in mind.

CHRISTENSEN: Well anyone looking at the maps would think they do cover Territory waters.

GARRETT: Well these are areas for assessment, that is the whole point of the entire Commonwealth planning process around the marine environment which has been around for some years Julia, is that this is the north marine region and it encompasses Commonwealth waters from three k's offshore to 200 (kilometres). And within those areas we're considering what the best and most appropriate regimes for management, for protection of the environment, for proper and sustainable activities to be undertaken in these areas over time.

So I think it is really, really critical for me to emphasise that they are not Northern Territory waters, they are not proposed marine parks or reserves, they are areas that we want to assess and there is an assessment process which has got a fairly significant level of public consultation and stakeholder consultation in place which I am looking forward to rolling out.

CHRISTENSEN: They are waters around the Northern Territory that a lot of Territorians fish in and I refer to a press release you released recently talking about them as new marine reserves that may be established within these areas, so obviously this is the thinking isn't it, Peter?

GARRETT: It is certainly going to be the case that there will be potential areas which will be considered for marine reserves, much as is happening in other parts of Australia. And any marine reserves that are identified as part of that process are there to ensure that we protect our biodiversity in the long term. But there will be different types of zones which will be proposed -it is my expectation - and the different types of zoning will be used to manage different activities that take place in and around any new reserves that are proposed and through those Commonwealth waters.

CHRISTENSEN: So they could become marine reserves?

GARRETT: Yes, well some parts of them could become marine reserves, that's right. But I think the critical thing here is that I want us to have a good, thorough and effective consultation on this issue so that everybody understands what the facts are.

I am absolutely committed to it being thorough, we're doing it around Australia, we're working closely with state governments, with NGO's, with the fishing industry and others and no decisions are taken until that consultation is concluded. No decisions are taken until we have an opportunity to consider not only the environmental and marine issues there, but also socio-economic issues as well. And no decision is taken, I mean I will release draft plans probably early in 2010, there is still a significant period for feedback that comes after we release those draft plans.

This is a very robust process, it has been underway under the former government as well, the Commonwealth has got a strong commitment to us making sure that we manage our Commonwealth waters in a way which is sustainable and this is how we propose to do it.

CHRISTENSEN: If your plan is to not necessarily lock-up these waters, I am not sure that that message has got through to our Fisheries Minister, Kon Vatskalis, because he came out fighting yesterday with regards to this proposal. This is some of what he had to say:

VATSKALIS (grab): I am going to go down to Canberra and argue in front of him in his office and I am going to take people with me if they want to come, or invite Peter to come up here and take him fishing with me and I'll show him our fisheries.

CHRISTENSEN: Sounds like Kon Vatskalis is going to head a sort of posse to come down and lobby you on this, Peter Garrett.

GARRETT: Yeah, look Kon is expressing a view very strongly there. I have had a previous conversation with him as I think he referred to on your program Julia, providing him with a clear outline of the way in which the Commonwealth proposes to undertake this exercise. I think he just needs to take a slight cold shower, if I can say that, and recognise that while we are more than willing to hear and listen to all of the relevant stakeholders and that certainly includes the fishing industry, more than willing to listen to our state government colleagues, and that is a part of the consultation process, it is not accurate to say that there are going to be large areas that will be locked up, it is not accurate to say that the lines that are on this map are lines which are identifying areas which are all going to become marine parks at all.

This is a complex, important and critical process which I am really keen to have done thoroughly and well. I very much welcome the input that we'll receive from the NT Government and from stakeholders there but I think it is important that we do it in a measured and in a thorough way.

CHRISTENSEN: Is it a bit hypocritical to be talking about protecting our marine environment when the Federal Government can't even sort out the oil spill in the Timor Sea? Nine weeks on the company is having another go at trying to plug it and there are suggestions that maybe 2000 barrels of oil a day may be spilling from it.

GARRETT: Well look, Julia I don't know about hypocritical, I mean I am very, very concerned about that oil spill and I have made that clear in the past. We have made sure that there is a really important environmental monitoring plan that is both underway and will be executed once, I very much hope, this spill is stopped…

CHRISTENSEN: Isn't it a bit late though, I mean it has been nine weeks of oil spewing out into our waters?

GARRETT: Look I am aware of that and I think the authorities and the company involved are doing everything they possibly can and I am very hopeful from the news last night that we'll see finally a successful stop to this spill. By the way, I am not sure that it is 2000 barrels; I think that is if the well was in full production. I know there was some comments in Estimates, my understanding is that that is not necessarily the full amount.

This is a very concerning issue, no question. I know the company has been working very hard. The last effort, which was the third, my understanding is that they did get a little bit of concrete. That gives me some hope, in fact a little bit more than some, that on the next effort we will actually have it stopped, I very much hope so.

CHRISTENSEN: But what does that say about our ability to protect our marine resources.

GARRETT: Well I think the fact of the matter is that from day one we have had in place not only the dispersants that are being issued off the vessels, we have had aerial surveillance, we have had wildlife experts who have been involved from the Commonwealth perspective on Ashmore and Cartier reefs, we have had a wildlife rescue station setup in Broome, I took advice from oil spill experts and biologists who were involved in the Queensland oil spill to make sure that the plan that we wanted the company to agree to was thorough and proper and had the necessary environmental rigour.

I believe that we have acted both properly and quickly each time. The fact of the matter is it is a fiendishly difficult exercise, a little bit like threading the needle to try and get this oil spill stopped. I very much hope that it will be on this occasion. I am concerned about it but we have put a lot of measures in place not only to monitor but to make sure that any wildlife that is affected is properly treated.

CHRISTENSEN: Peter Garrett, thanks for your time this morning.

GARRETT: Thanks, Julia.

[ENDS]

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