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

Speech to open the Reef Rescue Showcase

Rydges Tradewinds, Cairns
8 June 2010

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I'd like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we're meeting today, and their elders past and present.

I'm very pleased to be back in Cairns at this inaugural event to highlight and acknowledge all that you are achieving through Reef Rescue.

It is fitting that on World Ocean's Day we gather to showcase Reef Rescue. It has become one of the most successful parts of the Caring for our Country program, a true flagship program, and the key to its success is partnership.

It started as an idea brought to Labor before the last election by a partnership of farming organisations, conservation groups and natural resource management organisations.

I want to formally acknowledge the inspirational foundational work that went into the development of the program by those partners. The strength of this partnership and the strength of the ideas behind it were obvious.

Reef Rescue had a very clear objective — to improve the quality of water flowing onto the Great Barrier Reef lagoon so that the Reef would be more resilient to climate change.

It had a very clear mechanisms for achieving that objective — by working with farmers to given them the resources and knowledge the need to change their practices to improve the quality of runoff from their land.

Most importantly, Reef Rescue had a solid foundation in science. From the beginning it was recognised that funding should be directed to the places and activities where it would do the most good.

The core components of that original policy became the basis of the Rudd Government's Reef Rescue election commitment.

Once in Government, Labor provided the resources to make Reef Rescue a reality.

We came good with our pre-election commitment of providing $200 million over 5 years.

To date, Reef Rescue has allocated more than $76 million for on-farm activities that improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef. I am pleased to announce today that up to $45 million is being made available to regional NRM groups for this purpose under the Caring for our Country 2010-11 Business Plan.

I expect that my colleague — the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke and I will be able to announce the successful applicants over the coming months.

The government's investment to date has enabled almost 1,400 farmers in priority areas to access Reef Rescue funds to implement on-ground works. Demand to participate in the program remains strong and I am encouraged greatly to hear that farmers from all industry sectors are engaging so enthusiastically in Reef Rescue.

As impressive as these levels of investment and engagement are, they don't tell the whole story. Because the really impressive aspect of Reef Rescue is the fantastic work that is being done on the ground by land holders.

It is worthwhile reprising how this happened — Landholders are supported with the technical information and skills they need by the Reef Alliance, which is coordinated by our hosts the Regional Groups Collective and the Queensland Farmers' Federation. The Reef Alliance facilitates information sharing within and across industries and regions.

Peak organisations in the sugar cane, horticultural, grazing and dairy sectors — represented through Canegrowers Queensland, Growcom, AgForce, the Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation and the Queensland Farmers' Federation — have developed innovative and cost effective ways to give landholders access to cutting-edge information so they can make strategic investment decisions to improve their land management.

The six regional natural resource management (NRM) bodies are also playing a vital role in the delivery of Reef Rescue.

They manage the day to day regional delivery of incentives and extension support to landholders.

They do this by convening regional commodity working groups and overseeing the assessment, contracting and implementation of on-ground activities.

The NRM groups bring dedicated staff and strong project management skills and resources to this task.

The regional NRM bodies have played a central role in developing Water Quality Improvement Plans for several reef catchments.

These plans identify the areas within catchments that are producing, or are at risk of producing, the greatest loads of nutrients, sediments and chemicals.

I'd also like to acknowledge the work of the many delivery organisations that the Australian Government does not directly contract.

Queensland Government agencies, industry groups such as BSES Limited, and several local catchment care associations and Landcare groups provide extension support and best practice advice to farmers participating in Reef Rescue. Their efforts are greatly appreciated.

Of course, the critical partners in Reef Rescue remain the landholders, without whom we could not achieve the improved water quality outcomes we are seeking.

I am pleased that farmers and graziers have embraced Reef Rescue with gusto. And they have invested their own money and time, skills and efforts to make Reef Rescue the success that it is.

I'm greatly encouraged by the fact that the levels of co-investment have far exceeded the minimum requirements of the program, with some regions reporting landholder to Reef Rescue investment ratios of more than two to one.

Reef Rescue funds are being used for a range of capital investments, training and property planning activities that improve the quality of water leaving farms. For example through the adoption of Controlled Traffic Farming, through fencing to facilitate rotational cell grazing, and through the construction of off-stream watering points.

Importantly, these on-ground actions are not taken in isolation, but are parts of a whole-of-farm systems management approach.

Reef Rescue is funding property management plans and farm risk assessments to help landholders identify areas for improvement and prioritise activities that will have the greatest impact on water quality outcomes.

One of the most critical aspects of Reef Rescue is that farmers are taking up practices that benefit not only the Reef, but also their own longer-term farm productivity and profits. Some of these activities may be taken with the assistance of Reef Rescue funding, while others may be adopted simply because they make good sense.

As partners in Reef Rescue, we have a lot to be proud of and it is vital that we promote our successes and share our experiences with the farming community and the broader public. Of course, effective communication is not only about the message. It's also about how the message is delivered.

We know that farmers don't want to be told by governments how to manage their land. They are far more receptive to advice from trusted industry and other extension staff with whom they have well established relationships. Farmers also learn from each other.

In this context, industry organisations and regional NRM groups are developing novel strategies to promote sustainable farming practices and reach out to potential participants in Reef Rescue.

These include initiatives such as "Farmers Teaching Farmers". Under this broad umbrella, industry and regional groups are organising demonstration field days and web-based information tools such as The Shed Meeting and Canegrowers' 'Virtual Bus Tours' where, without having to leave their own homes, farmers can view, and be inspired by, real farmers undertaking real practice improvements.

There are other important elements to Reef Rescue of course. We're investing up to $10 million in Reef water quality research and development. This will improve our understanding of the water quality benefits of particular practices and support the development of new technologies that improve our ability to monitor nutrients, chemicals and sediments.

We had an overwhelming response to the call for research proposals in the 2010-11 Caring for our Country Business Plan and we're currently working with technical experts to asses those. We'll work closely with research organisations and other stakeholders to ensure that research funded by Reef Rescue complements that from other programs, such as the $7 million Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait research hub funded under the new National Environment Research Program.

Another important component of Reef Rescue is the Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting Program. Last year, in collaboration with the Queensland Government we agreed the funding and implementation arrangements for an integrated 'Paddock to Reef Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting program'.

Through this program we will, for the first time, be able to monitor the outcomes of our investment at the farm paddock scale all the way through the catchment and into the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Government has committed $15.2 million towards this program over the next four years. This investment will support water quality monitoring at the farm paddock scale and maintain the Marine Park Authority's world renowned Great Barrier Reef Marine Monitoring program.

The results of this program will provide us with ongoing information about changes to water quality within the Great Barrier Reef's catchment. This information is important in its own right to see how the Reef is faring, but equally it will help to refine investments under Reef Rescue so we can be assured we are making the right decisions.

Finally, I would like to mention the $10 million Reef Rescue Indigenous Land and Sea Country Partnerships Program. The Indigenous Partnerships Program aims to achieve three things:

This Government's commitment to the Great Barrier Reef extends well beyond Reef Rescue. We recognise its internationally significant biodiversity values, its exceptional natural beauty and its cultural importance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

We also recognise that the Reef also supports a large and vibrant tourism industry, which along with other commercial industries such as fishing, generate more than $6 billion in Gross Domestic Product each year.

The health of the Great Barrier Reef is inextricably linked to economic of Far North Queensland, and to the Nation.

We know that the Reef is in the front line for climate change too, and we accept our responsibility of doing all we can to build its resilience.

Since coming to office, the Rudd Government has have strengthened the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act to increase penalties for environmental damage like oil spills, as well as requiring all developments that affect the reef to be considered under Commonwealth environment law.

We've recognised the importance of the Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville by providing significant capital funding for this vital educational and tourism asset.

And in September last year I released the first Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, which provided graphic assessment of the health of the Great Barrier Reef and its outlook.

This report, prepared by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, gave a tick to the general health of the reef. However, it also highlighted the significant challenges that need to be met to ensure this remains the case. These challenges include the impacts of an already changing climate and a continued decline in reef water quality from catchment runoff.

As you will realise through the course of the day, there is a lot happening under Reef Rescue to help protect the Great Barrier Reef from the threats posed by climate change and declining water quality. I know how passionate the farming community, the Traditional Owners and the people of Queensland more generally, are about preserving this national treasure for future generations. And I know how dedicated and enthusiastic our Reef Rescue partners are about helping us reach our goals.

The water quality targets we have set for Reef Rescue are ambitious and challenging. But I believe they are achievable. Thank you for your efforts to date and thank you once again for inviting me to open this Reef Rescue Showcase. I look forward to hearing of your discussions, learning that much good work will be done to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef remains healthy in the years to come.



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