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

Indigenous Communities Compliance Liaison Officer appointment; turtle and dugong hunting and poaching; Coral Sea Conservation Zone; Areas for Further Assessment in the East Marine region; Japanese whaling

E&OE Transcript
Interview with John Mackenzie, Radio 4CA Cairns
24 March 2010

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MACKENZIE: Don't go away. Don't go away whatever you do, because we'll be able to continue this conversation now with the Minister himself, because the announcement has been made that this officer is being appointed. We're going to get the details straight for the horse's mouth, the Environment Protection Minister, Peter Garrett's on the line.

Peter, thanks for joining us in the middle of this debate.

GARRETT: No worries John.

MACKENZIE: Well specifically talk to me about the officer that you've appointed, what powers he or she will have?

GARRETT: That position will be able to work closely with traditional owners and look at the best way to have work that's been done by GBRMPA and by existing Indigenous groups in relation to making sure that the native right practises on fishing are observed, that there's a scientific basis for any take. And that there's the opportunity for people to play an active role in looking after their country and to make sure that there isn't any additional illegal or other takes of dugong or turtle.

And I'm really pleased that we've been able to fund this position John. I think it's going to be an important one. I can say to you, on the radio, my expectation is that the position will be located in Cairns. I think it's important that we do have that position located here. It hasn't been filled yet; it will be advertised and then it will be filled. But my expectation is that it will be filled in Cairns.

And we've got a significant amount of commitment going through to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, whether it's Reef Rescue, whether it's the work that we're doing with Land and Sea Country. And that's all about making sure that there's proper monitoring, that we report the sick, the stranded, or the injured animals, making sure that people are playing an active role and absolutely taking care of their country and making sure that these sorts of practices don't go on.

KING: Peter, Gavin King from the Sunday Mail.

Will the position be preferred to be an Indigenous person in the role? And secondly, how on earth can one person based in Cairns patrol thousands of kilometres of coastline, on such a vast and broad issue?

GARRETT: Yeah, look Gavin, a good question. It won't be a position that's filled on the basis of whether somebody is Indigenous or not, it will be based - it will be done on the basis of whether they've got the right skills for it. And it's all about making sure that those existing TUMRAs and potential TUMRAs - they're the management programmes that we want to put in place up and down the Cape, with people, are done in such a way to make sure these practices - wherever they're taking place and whoever is involved in them - don't happen.

Now you're right, it's a big area that they have to cover, but they'll be working as part of a team. They'll be working with the Sea Country management issues that are already identified. We already have agreements in place and I expect there to be more agreements in place.

And it's really about just providing a really straightforward road map for those communities, as to how to look after country, to apply the traditional practices and knowledge, but make sure at the same time that we're very mindful of those sorts of issues that people are raising in terms of illegal hunting and poaching, particularly marine turtle and dugong, because that's something which I know the traditional owner groups are very concerned about as well.

MACKENZIE: Your state counterpart has actually referred to these reports as a myth.

GARRETT: Which reports are we talking about?

MACKENZIE: The reports of the slaughter of dugong and turtles.

GARRETT: Well look, whether he has or hasn't, I haven't seen these comments but I guess the point I would make is that the right thing for us to do is to provide some support for somebody to work with traditional owner groups and others, to make sure that we do tackle illegal hunting and poaching in Cairns and Cape York and that region.

And that's why we've made that announcement, and I'm really pleased with it. I'd like to give it a chance to get going. I'd like to give the liaison officer a chance to do his or her job and I'm pretty confident that they're going to be able to their job well. We want to pick someone who's going to be able to work effectively. That's the expectation.

I should say that we realise what an important area this is and how these issues are important to people here. I've just come back from announcing Areas for Further Assessment in our marine bio-regional planning processes John, and as you know the Coral Sea Conservation Zone is one of those areas that's been identified for further assessment.

But I did say today, importantly, that it is not the intention, in assessing these areas, that we do establish one large no-take marine park over the whole of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. My expectation is that there will be marine protected areas and there will be mixed usage areas across that zone and I expect that to be the same with the other areas that we've identified including Fraser in Queensland and some in New South Wales.

KING: Peter, how much contact have you had with the local fishing community in recent times? So, for example, over the last three months. Obviously they've been incredibly passionate and vocal about no-take zones. Do you think that they'll be happy with this sort of preliminary announcement that
you've made today?

GARRETT: Well look, I know the department's had a number of meetings with a number of the groups that are involved here, and who've been speaking up about these issues. I'm going to be meeting in Jim Turnour's board room with a whole group of people from the fishing industry, recreational fishers in particular, but others as well. And I think the thing about this is that - and I've been at pains to say to people in other parts of Australia - we recognise that there is an opportunity here to do something [indistinct]…

CALLER: [Interrupts] He's talking to Peter Garrett, but I asked…

MACKENZIE: No, excuse me Peter. Just wait a minute. Mark - please be quiet. Because I can't disengage you at the moment. Please don't make any noise.

CALLER: Sorry, I was only…

MACKENZIE: Yeah, no, just be quiet okay. Peter, keep going.

GARRETT: Yeah, no - we want to do something that no other country's done. And I think actually to be fair, it was begun in the Great Barrier Reef process. And that was the process that was begun by our political opponents, but it's a process which sees us not only do what both governments have committed to, which is to have areas of representative protection of the environment…

MACKENZIE: Peter, if you can just hang on there, I'm going to have to disengage this other line just for a moment. I'm hoping everything will sort itself out. Are you still there Peter?

GARRETT: Yeah I am.

MACKENZIE: Okay, now we're in business again, keep going.

GARRETT: Yeah, no, both governments - or both sides of politics have committed to comprehensive representative areas for marine protection by 2012. We recognise that there are going to be a variety of interests. That's why we've got an extremely extensive process. Today is not about any legislative change. Today will not impact on any user of the environment at all. What it will do is give people additional opportunities to be a part of that conversation, one which we take seriously.

We will have targeted consultations with community and with fishers. We will go through a really extensive process of looking at what we think are the most appropriate mix of measures are for these areas of future assessment.

And we know that there are balances to be met there. And we intend to meet them as well as we can.

MACKENZIE: Peter, I need to take you back to the earlier issue, and that is the hunting, the traditional hunting rights, et cetera, the dugong, the turtle. We have the jewels in the crown here that attract thousands upon thousands of tourists every year - because of the natural beauty. Now those seemingly - we, well, I suppose they're represented as untouched glorious little hideaways on the reef like Green Island, like Michaelmas Cay, like Low Isles.

They are open to this so-called traditional hunting. Recently we've had the most dreadful reports coming through of the slaughter of these animals - one particularly right in front of a boatful of visiting tourists from Asia.

Now I really plead with you to have a look at this issue. This really needs to be brought to an end. I mean, there is this ridiculous situation where we attract these people at huge cost to come from the other side of the world to see this so-called wilderness area. And that's what they're greeted by.

Is there something you can do on this trip where you can look at least at having a close inspection of that - and realising that it just must not continue to happen?

GARRETT: Well as it turns out, I'm also going to be meeting with local traditional owners as well at Jim Turnour's office. I'm aware of some of those issues.

What I would say is that I think the best way through this, apart from increasing awareness of this issue, which is obviously what the media and others are doing, is to make sure that the Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements that we want to put in place through TUMRA’s we've got one with the traditional owners.

And there are negotiations under way for us to provide some support to implement that particular special traditional use agreement. And as well as that, develop them with other groups. With groups around Cairns. With groups who are users of the water resources so that the sustainable take of culturally significant animals in this case is managed; that there's assistance for addressing illegal take.

That's important. Because we want to have people who do care about their country who say, hang on a minute, what you're doing is illegal, what you're doing is wrong.

And also, to make sure that we're monitoring the conditions as well, particularly human activities, in that sea country.

owners today. I'm very, very confident that as we put these specific agreements in place, as we get our compliance officer working closely with those groups, that we will see these issues addressed in a way which maybe hasn't happened as fully up to now.

KING: Peter, can you ever see a time when there may be a total ban on the hunting of dugong and turtle, particularly because Australian politicians are so opposed to Japanese hunting of whaling - the level of hypocrisy in a sense that there is opposition to whaling, and yet there's this, you know, sort of agreement I guess with dugong and turtle.

Can we ever see a total ban on dugong and turtle hunting?

GARRETT: Well look, I guess my answer to that is to say that there are traditional activities, hunting and fishing, which occur through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. They're in accordance with the native title rights there.

And it's my strong view that they can be managed ecologically and sustainably provided that they're done within the scientifically established limits, and provided that they're done in accordance with traditional customs.

And I don't think that there's a comparison between those ongoing activities, done in that way, and what happens in the Southern Ocean with the Japanese hunting whales down there. I mean, remember that the Japanese hunt whales a long way away from Japan. They actually hunt them off the Antarctic. They want to take some 900 which they actually specifically target. And yet they claim it's for the purposes of science.

These two things are actually pretty different in my mind. One is about continuing to make sure that we work closely with people - that we manage these activities in the way that I've described. The other is that we say, as we've done with the Japanese in the Southern Ocean, we don't believe that you need to kill whales in the name of science. Traditional subsistence rights are recognised in the Whaling Commission, incidentally.

But what shouldn't be recognised is for any country to go out and take unilaterally a large number of whales, particularly some which we value very highly in this country, in the name of science when they're not - don't need to be used for that purposes at all.

MACKENZIE: Peter, appreciate your time on the program today. We've got to leave you sadly, because I wanted to get to some other issues, but we'll have to go. Thanks Peter. Peter Garrett is the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts.

[ENDS]

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