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

Acceptance speech for the WWF Leaders for a Living Planet Award

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
11 April 2010

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Thank you Greg Bourne and WWF Australia and WWF International.

It is a terrific privilege to receive this Leaders for a Living Planet award. It is not something that when you take public office is at all expected, so I am mightily gratified to receive this award.

As you pointed out Greg, in your remarks, I have worked for and with conservation organisations over a long period. I certainly value the contribution that they make, and that WWF makes, to policy formation, to highlighting key issues, to education and public advocacy, and of course to the political process.

That fact is that your organisation is a highly respected one. It is respected for its policy rigour, for its deep thinking across a range of important conservation issues and of course it has been acknowledged for its global scope. And to that extent, notwithstanding that there are times when governments and NGO's don't line up in the same place on individual issues, when governments will be subject to criticism; I think that goes with the turf.

But I do believe we share a common cause; to protect, preserve and steward those special places, our precious environment.

Like you I know we still have a distance to go, but we can and will make good ground working together. And I very much accept that award in that spirit of continuing that work together.

I am pleased that the award has highlighted some of our substantial commitments because I believe they were substantial.

The expansion of protected areas - something that I was very keen to see happen as soon as we came to office. And recognising how absolutely central these protected areas are to our conservation effort; knowing that additionally in the face of dangerous climate change, they provide what has been described as the safety net for helping us to conserve our rich biodiversity.

And again, the recognition that both in marine and land environments the government is committed to establishing a world class system of protected areas.

That is important, and it is terrific to know that we are already starting to see those results. For example, the declaration of the Djelk and Warddeken Indigenous Protected Areas added over two million hectares to the National Reserve System, creating a huge conservation corridor stretching from Kakadu's stone country to the Arafura Sea.

Those of us there on the ground saw the extraordinary impact this is going to have, and is already having, on communities there.

As well as being one of Australia's most successful conservation stories Indigenous Protected Areas are helping to Close the Gap of Indigenous disadvantage, with their communities reporting better health, social cohesion and higher school attendance, something I'll talk about further this afternoon.

This is so special - marrying what I believe are two very important goals and demands on governments generally.

In expanding Australia's protected area estate we are increasingly taking an ecosystem based approach in recognition not only of the interconnections that characterise our natural environment but because this gives us a better chance of protecting a wider range of Australia's biodiversity values and ecosystem functions.

This gives us the opportunity as well, to work collaboratively both in government with other portfolios, across the jurisdictions, federal, state and local, and into the community working with landowners, companies and commercial interests and other stakeholders as well. And of course that is important particularly as we go through the process of developing a truly representative system of marine ecosystems and marine protected areas in Commonwealth waters by 2012.

The Australian Government recently declared a conservation zone in the Coral Sea covering an area of 972,000 square kilometres.

It is the second, and largest, conservation zone declared in Australian marine waters. We jointly recognise that the Coral Sea is a near pristine marine environment that is internationally recognised for its rich biodiversity and important heritage values and it is near pristine.

I said recently, we do expect that in this planning process there will be opportunities for other users to be able to continue with their activities in this region. That is why we will do a very thorough assessment in this process and that will give us a good sense of the kind of level of permanent protection that is necessary.

And just finally I want to mention the Caring for our Country Program. This again is a substantial reform, transforming the way in which we deliver natural resource management. For the first time ever we're ensuring real accountability and setting clear national priorities and measurable targets.

These priorities are designed to make a real difference at the landscape scale and ensure that funding goes to those areas and projects across the nation that best meet the ecological challenges we face.

I'm determined that we make a real difference, and I know that that means working with civil society, partnering where appropriate, being pushed when necessary, but ultimately committed to the same goals, that each of us in this room and millions of people in our nation and around the world hold dear.

So again I express my gratitude to Greg Bourne, and to the Board of Directors of WWF Australia for this tremendous honour - the Leaders for a Living Planet award - and commit to continuing with vigour and purpose the work we've begun to secure the great heritage of our natural endowments for current and future generations.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia