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

$12 million investment in the Great Barrier Reef through the Budget; turtle and dugong hunting; visit to Cairns; Labor leadership

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop Interview
Townsville, Queensland
17 May 2010

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GARRETT: Thanks everybody for coming down today to Reef HQ in Townsville as we make this important announcement of a commitment by the Rudd Labor Government to the Great Barrier Reef, to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and to this fantastic facility, the National Education Centre for Reef research. A really, really important institution, the Reef HQ Aquarium.

I’m here with my colleague Tony Mooney. We want to see the issues that were addressed in the Outlook Report that I released last year, focused on in a targeted way. We want to make sure that Reef HQ continues to function well as a great aquarium, a great visitor attraction in Townsville and in Far North Queensland, and also as a research institution.

It has been around for 22 years or so and today’s announcement means that there is an additional $12 million for the Great Barrier Reef from the Rudd Government, including some $4 million over the next two years for improvement of infrastructure here at Reef HQ, as well as additional money for the Reef Guardian program, Reef Guardian schools, Reef Guardian councils and also a new project, Reef Guardian fishers and farmers.

The Great Barrier Reef remains at the crossroads in terms of its future and yet its health is absolutely vital to our nation’s economy. It is an important economic asset, a vitally important environmental asset, and that is why we are continuing the commitment that we made when we came into Government where we have provided more direct investment for protecting the Reef and for providing the Reef with the opportunity to deal with the many challenges that it faces, with the largest ever commitment by any Federal Government.

I am really pleased that in this year's Federal Budget we have additional resources to commit not only to the Great Barrier Reef authority itself and the very good work that it does, but also to Reef HQ.

I want to finish off by simply saying this - today’s announcement by this Government shows that we care about the Great Barrier Reef, we understand how important it is to the people of Far North Queensland for tourism, for research and also to ensuring the long term future of health of the Reef, which is absolutely critical now, gets the additional resources it needs and for the people who are doing the great work here in this community, providing them the opportunity to continue to do the great work in terms of protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GARRETT: Look we have already got in place a significant commitment - $146 million in terms of Reef Rescue - which deals with off-farm impacts and working with farming communities.

But what I think is exciting about today is providing some additional resources for what is already a very successful program. The Reef Guardians program, working with schools and councils, has been incredibly successful. What have we got, 190 schools in Queensland involved in this program? It is a great way of increasing awareness and it is also a great way of targeting effort and action in the future.

So extending that program out to fishers and farmers, I think is an absolutely necessary step, one I was very pleased to see we were able to support in the Budget.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GARRETT: Well it is important to remember that we amended legislation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act in the Parliament in this term, providing for additional protective regulations that are now in our national environment legislation.

So what we have done is we have brought the powers and the measures that are in the national environmental law to apply to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage areas themselves. That was a very important action and we will continue to make sure that the highest environmental standards are applied to any activity that takes place which can have any kind of impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

This is a World Heritage treasure. Australians should never lose sight of the fact that we have got one of the most amazing natural environments in the world in the Great Barrier Reef and its generation of income by tourism, by fishing and its environmental values are absolutely unarguable and we will do everything that we need to, to make sure that the Reef is properly protected.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider extending that to other waterways as well that aren’t given the same national significance?

GARRETT: Well I think the thing that is important here is to recognise that state and Commonwealth governments have different responsibilities. The state has responsibility for state waters and I note the actions that Minister Jones has taken.

We will continue to monitor very closely any likely impacts on the Commonwealth waters that we have responsibility for. We will work closely with our state colleagues and of course, as you would know, we also have a very significant Marine Protected Area program identifying Areas for Further Assessment for Marine Protected Areas, marine planning right around the country to make sure that we preserve, protect, and steward this reallyimportant natural asset.

JOURNALIST: Animal rights activists in Cairns are calling for a moratorium to be imposed on the killing of turtles and dugongs immediately until research can reveal how many are being killed. What is your take on that?

GARRETT: Look I understand that this is an issue of some concern, particularly in the Cairns area. I think of some of the measures that we have taken to ensure that there are liaison officers that will work with people, including Traditional Owners and others, that there will be additional compliance and monitoring of those activities, and an education campaign to really make sure that where turtle are taken for traditional use that that’s done in a way which is sustainable and that the management is done in a way which is consistent with ethical guidelines, ethical considerations.

JOURNALIST: Some Cairns regional councillors want a ban on the killing of turtles or dugongs in Green Zones. Do you think this is necessary?

GARRETT: Look, I think that is going too far. I think that we all want to see these issues managed in a thorough way, we want to make sure that there is good consultation with Traditional Owners and others. And this is an education program that we really want to roll out and we have identified already and are supporting two liaison officers. One will be specifically involved in the Cairns region in speaking with communities and making sure that where there are traditional takes, which are allowed under Native Title, that they are done in a way which is proper, which ensures the sustainable management of the resource into the future.

JOURNALIST: So what issues are you addressing in Cairns tonight?

GARRETT: I am looking forward to speaking to the arts community in Cairns. We have got additional announcements that we will be making in relation to some of the research institutions here in Far North Queensland.

As ever, it is great to be up here. I come up to Far North Queensland a lot because I recognise that the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforests, the community activities, the economy of this region is important, not only for Queensland but for the whole of Australia. We recognise that we have a huge duty of care to look after the Great Barrier Reef and we are absolutely determined to execute it.

JOURNALIST: Just on Julia Gillard actually, she is gaining higher ratings in the polls and what is your reaction to this?

GARRETT: Look all that needs to be said about polls has been said by my colleagues, I think before 10 o’clock this morning. I don’t propose to add anything to it.

[ENDS]

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