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

Reef Rescue Conference, Cairns Cultural Centre, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, turtles and dugongs

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop Interview, Cairns, Qld
8 June 2010

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GARRETT: Here I am, proudly, at this inaugural Reef Rescue Conference to recognise the significant investment that this Government has put into protecting the Great Barrier Reef, and the fantastic pickup that we have seen on the Reef Rescue Program from the farming community, pastoralists, and organisations right across the region of Far North Queensland.

This is a program which we were very strongly committed to. We have provided a record level of investment of some $200 million over five years. And we are already seeing fantastic pickup by farmers which means that the water quality of the reef will improve over time, which gives it greater resilience to deal with other impacts such as climate change.

And the fact that we have thousands of farmers already involved, adding value and investment to what the Commonwealth is bringing, working in partnership on land to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the sea is a very positive sign.

So I want to congratulate all those involved and I am very much looking forward to the ongoing work of Reef Rescue.

JOURNALIST: What specific improvements have you seen?

GARRETT: The thing that we are seeing at the moment that is most critical is the level of uptake of this program. The fact that we have so many farmers who are starting to bring practices on the ground which will reduce the nutrient and sediment levels that are going into the inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

As well as that, I have committed today some $15 million out of the Caring for our Country program to the monitoring that is necessary to start to track the kind of progress that we think will be made.

What I would say is this, we can never afford to neglect the Great Barrier Reef and this Government takes the health of the Great Barrier Reef very, very seriously. We have provided that level of investment with Reef Rescue and what we have seen is a fantastic take up by farmers as they now start to really bring forward innovative, sustainable land management practices which, in the long term, will improve the water quality of the reef.

JOURNALIST: Are you willing to put anything on the table for the Cairns Cultural Centre?

GARRETT: Well I understand that there will be some support from the Queensland Government for a cultural precinct. I welcome that, I think that is fantastic. And we are well aware of the community and the local politicians desire to see a cultural precinct developed over time. So let's just have a look at the size of the commitment that the Queensland Government has given; we recognise it is something which people feel very strongly about here, and I am delighted to see that the Queensland Government has responded in that way.

JOURNALIST: Just back to reef for a second. Obviously your support has been evidenced by today, but there have been reports that the Marine Park Authority's resources aren't allowing them to investigate properly reports of coral damage on the reef?

GARRETT: I think that we have every opportunity to properly examine any issues associated with damage to the reef. The authority is well resourced and we have provided additional resourcing in this budget this year.

Once of the things about this budget this year is that we provided additional support for the authority, for Reef Rescue and for their activities generally. And I think they have done a very, very good job. The Outlook report was one of the most comprehensive and accessible documents that was provided to the people of Australia to understand the state of the reef and how we can best look after it. And I have every confidence in the authority's capacity to do that job.

JOURNALIST: So do you approve of the four-month delay to investigate a single claim of reef damage?

GARRETT: I am not sure which particular claim you are referring to. I would be happy to take additional details from you, at some point, and provide an additional answer of detail.

What I would say is that the Government's commitment to the protection of the reef is a significant one. The level of investment that we have provided is substantial and what we are seeing here today is partnerships between natural resource management groups, farming organisations, on-ground farmers, government agencies — the Commonwealth and the state. It is a powerful partnership that will ensure that the reef is better protected.

JOURNALIST: As you know there is lots of debate surrounding turtles and dugongs. Do you support a moratorium for the killing of these animals?

GARRETT: I don't think that we need to have a moratorium at this point in time. There is a number of measures that have been put in place including provision of compliance officers, training programs and material to be provided for communities to make sure that the traditional takes of any animals are done in a way which is ecologically sustainable. This is going to require education and communication, and I am confident that if we put those measures in place and see them through then it's an issue that can be properly addressed without a moratorium.

JOURNALIST: Do you see traditional land owners supporting this?

GARRETT: Yeah, I expect that those people who have rights, cultural rights and native title rights, to harvest non-commercially for cultural purposes dugong and turtle, would welcome the opportunity to be provided with appropriate and relevant material and advice on those practices.

Look, we want to make sure that the taking of any animal in the Great Barrier Reef is done in a way which is environmentally sustainable. We recognise that some Indigenous people have specific rights; they are cultural rights, they are not commercial rights, and it is just a question of making sure that everybody understands what their rights and responsibilities are and make sure that they put them into practice.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia