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

Doorstop Interview with Member for Leichhard, Jim Turnour, Waterfront, Cairns, 24 March 2010

E&OE Transcript
24 March 2010

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GARRETT: It is a terrific opportunity to come to Cairns to spend time with the member for Leichhardt, my colleague Jim Turnour, and also announce today that we have released the Areas for Further Assessment for the East Marine planning processes that the Government has underway, to ensure that by 2012 we have a representative area of marine ecosystems protected right around the country.

Included in the Areas for Further Assessment today the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, the Fraser area off the part of the Queensland coast near Fraser Island, areas in New South Wales including Clarence and Hastings and also areas around Lord Howe and Norfolk Island.

Critically, these Areas for Further Assessment are simply that – areas that we want to look at closely and identify what potential, future marine protected areas can be put in place and what areas for ‘mixed-use' can be put in place as well.

Critically, the Government is not intending to have one large no-take area across the whole of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. We believe that we want to meet the really important goals of conservation and protecting the environment of the Coral Sea whilst at the same time allowing for mixed uses. And my expectation is that we will receive plenty of stakeholder feedback on these Areas for Further Assessment. This is part of our long term commitment to make sure that we have got a comprehensive system of protected areas for our marine environment.

Australia's marine environment is incredibly important to us. It is a diverse marine environment. It is one that all Australian's value very, very highly and our announcement today means that there is now an opportunity for us to have a conversation with all stakeholders about the final shape of marine protected areas and other mixed use conservation areas in our marine environment.

JOURNALIST: You talk about a further conversation with stakeholders, is it true that the only two groups you consulted with on the proclamation of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone were the Pew Foundation and the Australian Conservation Foundation?

GARRETT: Look I have seen these reports about the consultation processes in relation to the interim zone and subsequent, and all I can say is that we will continue to have a process in place which is robust, which enables sufficient opportunity for all stakeholders to make their views known and that will certainly be the case with this areas of future assessment.

JOURNALIST: Does that include Traditional Owners?

GARRETT: This will include all the relevant groups – all stakeholders – so it is recreational and commercial fishers, conservation organisations, scientific organisations, Traditional Owner groups and land councils and the community generally.

What we are saying today is that we can identify some 2.4 million square kilometres of potential areas of our great marine environment, but now we want to start that conversation and get a strong sense from stakeholders on their views and move through a process which enables really thorough consultation. It is an important thing to make sure that we hear those views and that is what we want to do.

JOURNALIST: The fishing industry estimates that north of the 18th parallel, which is basically Cardwell, that there is basically only 200 grams of seafood or less than 200 grams of seafood, caught per square kilometre, per year. Would you say that that is unsustainable fishing pressure?

GARRETT: Look I am not going to make a judgement on the sustainability or otherwise of particular areas of the fishery and particular parts of the fishery which are already regulated both at Commonwealth and at state levels.

What I would say is that I think that there is a very high level of community awareness that we need to strike the right balance in our marine environment between having areas which are properly protected and areas which are available for fishing and for other mixed use.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GARRETT: The purpose of an area for future assessment is to make sure that we have a clear view, not only of the views of stakeholders, but any additional science that comes through to inform those decisions. I recognise that the Coral Sea has very high environmental values. The area that we are identifying for future assessment today is some 980,000 square kilometres. That is a big area of ocean. It is important that we listen carefully to peoples views but also recognise that there will be areas which will be ultimately protected in the Coral Sea but there will also be areas that ultimately will the have the opportunity to be used for multiple uses and I think that is appropriate. I think that it is all about making sure that we have sustainable use of our oceans in the longer term.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that the science behind this decision is robust?

GARRETT: Absolutely. I have no doubt that as we go forward we will get additional opportunities to hear from scientists and from research organisations.

But let's be very clear Australia has got an incredible ocean estate. We are one of the great nations in the world in terms of our ocean environment. And we do need to properly plan for how we look after that area and how we enable people to derive sustainable livelihoods from them. And today's announcement is all about identifying big areas of our oceans, big opportunities for stakeholders to come back and provide us with their views, and big opportunities for us again to make sure that we have a system which properly protects the environment but which also critically enables mixed uses to take place into the future.

TURNOUR: I welcome this. It is great to have the Minister for Environment Protection back in Cairns today. He has been a great supporter of me and the local community up here. The reality is with this East Coast Bioregional Planning process that was started under the previous government, we have continued with that work, we have always said that we need to go through a proper scientific process, and engage effectively with local users – whether they are fishing users, they are tourism operators or whether they are people in the conservation movement who want to also see the area protected.

And what the Minister has announced today is that we are going to continue working through this proper assessment process. We have got a process in place where there will be good consultation with local communities. I would encourage fishing users, conservation groups to engage further with the development of this marine planning area.

And it is good news that the Pew proposal has been ruled out today. Because effectively there was an attempt I think, by interests on both sides, conservation and fishing, at times to hijack this agenda and what I am committed to is to strike the right balance, protect the environment but there are also people out there that want to use this area and we need to make sure that we get the balance right and I welcome the announcement by the Minister today and I think that it will be very much welcomed by the local community here.

JOURNALIST: Some fishermen say that they are already restricted enough. Why enforce more no take zones?

TURNOUR: Well when the announcement was made in terms of the heritage area for the Coral Sea, no fishermen were impacted by that. And I know that there have been sections of the fishing industry that have sought to maybe indicate that they have been impacted, but recreational fishers weren't impacted, commercial fishers weren't; impacted by that, tourism operators continue to operate out there. But there was a decision made that this is an important area in terms of an area that does have environmentally significant areas that need to be protected in the longer term. We want to get the balance right. We have ruled out today a no take zone and I think that is appropriate and I think it is a question as Government to get the balance right and I thank the Minister for coming up here and talking directly to my community about it and we will be having some meetings this afternoon because I know directly that stakeholders will look forward to putting their points of view forward as well.

JOURNALIST: Minister Garrett both the fishing sector and the environmental sector are both eagerly awaiting word from the government about what its displaced fishing effort policy might look like, whether there will be compensation for fishermen if there are no take areas. Can you give us anymore information on that?

GARRETT: Yes I expect us to have information through to the stakeholder groups on the outlines of a displaced effort policy pretty quickly and we understand that there is a good deal of interest in that. We want to make sure that material that we bring forward has been the subject of really careful consideration and that will happen over the coming weeks.

JOURNALIST: The tourism industry has sent you a letter today imploring you to reconsider your decision to restructure scientific funding for this area. Would you consider that letter at all?

GARRETT: Well the thing I would say about the Government's support for scientific funding here in north Queensland is that we make a considerable commitment both for the research hubs that are here and also for Reef Rescue – some $9 million identified for Reef Rescue, I have already announced some $7 million for the research hubs in their transition.

And that is a strong commitment by the Rudd Government to research in North Queensland. It is a recognition that we do want to see scientists to live and work in the region and continue to do the good work that they have done in the past. So I think our track record is a very good one. It is certainly much, much bigger in terms of the effort that was put in by our predecessors, and I am looking forward to meeting with scientists and others today to talk through some details about the research as it goes forward.

JOURNALIST: The LNP candidate wants an apology from you for a Mila Mila family who is still suffering after an insulation worker died in their home. Can you offer that family an apology?

GARRETT: What we have always said is that we recognise and absolutely acknowledge when there is a fatality or an injury of any kind and we certainly take responsibility, as any Government would, for programs that it rolls out. That is an important thing to do and that will continue to happen as we see Minister Combet progress his work under this program.

It needs to be said though that there are additional responsibilities that all those companies that were involved in this program had signed up to follow. They were bound by guidelines which made it clear that there were requirements for occupational health and safety training and a series of safety measures in place for them to make sure that on each and every job they were followed. I always said that my expectation was that those companies had a responsibility and a duty of care. If they haven't exercised it and if there is a matter that is under investigation or inquiry, we need to wait to see the ultimate results, recommendations and conclusions of those inquiries are. And I think that is all that we need to say, appropriately, at this time.

JOURNALIST: Minister, in terms of Wild Rivers, will you be taking Tony Abbott's advice on how you could handle it?

GARRETT: I won't be taking any notice of Mr Abbott's advice on Wild Rivers because he simply comes up with any idea that he thinks is going to float for a few minutes and doesn't think it through at all properly.

The fact is that the Commonwealth ought in ordinary circumstances, not consider lightly overriding state laws in relation to matters like this. I am confident that this issue is one that can be resolved through productive and open negotiations, consultations and discussions between the relevant parties. The fact is that Mr Abbott came up here and had a thought bubble, just like he had a thought bubble on paid parental leave and at the end of the day it is not a policy that is going to stand the test of time at all.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GARRETT: Well I will always continue to consult very closely with Traditional Owners in relation to resource management issues on the Cape, as we do with our state government counterparts and other stakeholders in this area. And it is simply not enough for the Opposition Leader to arrive and pick up on one particular agenda and then launch a thought bubble on what he may or may not do in terms of legislation when there are discussions, negotiations and processes already underway.

JOURNALIST: NITV, are they going to live to see another year or not?

GARRETT: Well we have said to NITV that we recognise that this budget is a critical one. It is still the subject of budget discussions. I know that the provision of broadcasting for Indigenous people is important. The Government recognises its importance, but we need to go through the budget processes until a final decision is made.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GARRETT: Well, this is what we have said to them when they have come and met with us. We have met with them on a number of occasions. We will continue to talk with them but it is subject to our ongoing budget discussions.

[ENDS]

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