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

Addition of the Bowra Sanctuary to the National Reserve System, Koalas

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop Interview
Bowra Station, Cunnamulla, Qld
21 May 2010

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GARRETT: This is a great, great occasion today when we come to a remote part of Australia to launch a sanctuary—the Bowra Sanctuary—a partnership between the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, picking up on the management of this property that has been in the hands of the family for generations and add to the National Reserve System a really important refuge and safe haven for bird species. What a great day.

This is a fabulous place for Australians now to have; a fabulous place because it is a place of staggering diversity, incredible bird life that we have seen today. And I am really pleased that we can take these steps, working with others, to make sure that we have a place like Bowra as a safe haven for hundreds of bird species.

This is consistent with the Government’s bold aim to make sure that we have got a National Reserve System which is big enough to help our native plants and animals withstand the pressures that they face—the pressures of climate change, landscape change. This place will become a Mecca for bid watchers. It will build into the economy of the region and provide great scientific information as well. And it is the staggering diversity of bird life here that makes Bowra so special.

So it is a really good day today and I want to congratulate all those involved. We are committed to continuing to increase the National Reserve System. We are doing it in a way that no other government has before, and today makes a great addition to that very important part of Australia’s natural landscapes.

JOURNALIST: Thinking long term as an investment and including birds but other animals as well, this is an area I gather that as part of the National Reserve System, animals will be reintroduced and it is not just looking at birds it is a big investment with regard to rehabilitation of various species etcetera, etcetera.

GARRETT: Yes look it is not just about birds, although the birds here are incredible. It is about the Mulga woodlands. The fact that this is a region under-represented in our National Reserve System and I have got every confidence that we will see the reintroduction over time of the native species that were here as well—the mammals and others—and also some of the vegetation. But it is a property that is in great condition and the fact that it had such good summer rains, you have got a great water supply behind us, means that there is a tremendous platform for restoring his part of the landscape, but it is already in good shape.

JOURNALIST: What did you see out there, Peter?

GARRETT: We saw a diversity of birds. We saw terns, we saw parrots and we saw birds that I have never seen before. But we saw them in great numbers. And the fact that you can come to this part of the country and know that this is a place where from all corners of the compass birds are travelling, it gives you a real confidence that we can look after our environment here in Australia really well.

I think it is fantastic that we have been able to announce a sanctuary called Bowra today because this is a place where Australians will get a great deal from in years to come.

JOURNALIST: Peter, that begs the question though, Bowra is as it is not because of a sanctuary, it is actually a working cattle property. So it is in this great condition as a working cattle property. Is there really any need to make it a sanctuary at all?

GARRETT: I think the fact that…

JOURNALIST: Could you have saved your money?

GARRETT: I think the fact that the former owners have decided that they want to hand it on and sell it in this condition to the AWC is a great vote of confidence in a modern and progressive approach to land management which sees looking after the environment as being at the heart of the way in which we occupy natural landscapes.

It also recognises that productive enterprises and conservation can and should go hand in hand, managed in a sustainable fashion and building the resilience of the landscape so that it can not only have the native plants and animals that are a part of it, here in tact for centuries to come, but also the populations that live from it.

JOURNALIST: Just on koalas, listing them as conservation dependent, what does that mean?

GARRETT: That means there would be more recognition of the species in terms of any potential developments that come through. But I think the thing here that is critical is that the states have responsibility for planning and for land management and I encourage the states to think really carefully about their long term planning regimes particularly in relation to areas where we have got important koala habitat. I know that Queensland now has in some specific areas, particularly on the koala coast, pretty strict rules about controlling development to make sure that that habitat is protected.

We’ll get advice from the scientific committee later in the year about whether or not the koala should be conservation dependent or not. I will look very carefully at that advice. I know that in some parts of Australia the koala, it’s an iconic species, and its habitat is diminishing at some rate. But I do say to state governments, it is very important for them to consider in their planning the habitat of koalas and make sure that they have got good planning controls in so that this species has the habitat it needs to survive.

JOURNALIST: Some of the critics might suggest that conservation dependent, that status is not strong enough and numbers are that low, that it is not going to be strong enough to save the numbers that are already on the way out.

GARRETT: I guess what I would say there is that we need to work very closely with our state government partners and also with local government as well. The responsibilities need to be shared in terms of protecting koalas. My expectation is that everybody will pull their weight. And a conservation dependent status – if that is the one that is determined – provides us with a little bit of extra guidance along the way.

JOURNALIST: Are the state government’s holding that back?

GARRETT: No. I don’t think that that is the case. I think that what we’re seeing is that in some parts of Australia we have habitat and areas which are under pressure when there is high population increases and development pressures. In other places we have got an abundance of koalas. So it is something which has got to be managed regionally, it has got to be managed through state agencies that have responsibility for planning. But it must be managed in a way which ensures controls are in place, enacted at the state and at the local level, so that the habitat of koalas where they are under pressure or under threat, is properly preserved and maintained.

JOURNALIST: Couldn’t that be driven faster and harder though by the Federal Government to try that action in place.

GARRETT: Well I was the one that proposed that the threatened species committee actually look at the question of koalas. That was something that the former government didn’t do. We have done that because we recognise that there is an issue there. But as with all of these decisions I want to wait until the appropriate scientific information and advice has come through to me and then I will consider it.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia