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

Nomination of Ningaloo Reef for the World Heritage List; Gillard Government

Interview with Rachel Fountain
ABC North West WA
1 July 2010

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FOUNTAIN: Well, let's look at Ningaloo for a moment. It's an incredible natural asset, so would a World Heritage Listing be a good thing for the region? We've heard so much debate, plenty of voices. There've been concerns and some support out there, plus a lot of worry about just what a listing might mean.

Mostly, I guess the people of the Ningaloo region and the land along that coast there have questions. Federal Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, is here to hopefully answer a few of those. Greetings, Minister.

GARRETT: Hi, Rachel.

FOUNTAIN: I guess the best thing to do for a start is to put a few of the local concerns to you. We're aware that some people, and it does appear to be a minority thus far, support the nomination, but these are some of the questions we've been asked time and time again.

I'll just play you a quick grab of those if that's okay?

GARRETT: Yeah, sure.


GRAB 1: Well, I think the impacts - what I've seen and I've travelled a little bit to a few World Heritage areas - and I think it's like putting up a big neon sign for people to come.

And we welcome people coming, but whether we can manage large numbers right now, is quite another question and I think there needs to be some guidelines in place for the management and there has to be more people on the ground to manage it. And I think the only way we can do that is to look at what's really affecting the Ningaloo Marine Park and the fish stocks is critical.

You know, we would like to think that when something as important as this to the state of Western Australia is being pursued, that people would actually come on the ground and see what they're talking about, what it's all about and bring some of the high officials from Canberra to do that.

And also from UNESCO, from the World Heritage people, bring some of that crowd over and have a proper meeting with the people on the ground who manage it every day of the year.

GRAB 2: I would have to say that the consultation has been extremely poor and that our knowledge of what it might mean to our marine-based businesses is very poor as well, because of a lack of consultation.

[End of excerpt]

FOUNTAIN: I guess the most obvious question that arises here, Minister, is how will you help the community to manage the area so that the human traffic that a World Heritage Listing brings doesn't destroy that very pristine environment that it's supposed to recognise and to protect?

GARRETT: Yeah, look, it's a good question, Rachel, and I think the answer is that having World Heritage Listing does mean that you'll get clear management guidelines for the area and that's entirely appropriate and as it should be.

And I guess the overall template for me in relation to this debate is to recognise that World Heritage Listing is an identification of values that are considered outstanding. It is the case that those values will most likely attract more tourism, but you're already getting increased interest and tourism activity happening up and down the West Australian coast.

So World Heritage Listing will effectively provide the opportunity for clear guidelines and clear management. And on the question of officials having a look or people coming to see it, I've been to Ningaloo. Commonwealth and state officials have been on a number of occasions, including since December 2007. Many meetings have been held in relation to the issue.

In relation to the lady's comment about World Heritage officials themselves, from the IUCN, coming and visiting, they will be visiting Australia later and coming to Ningaloo. I certainly do recommend that they take the opportunity to meet with the community, if that's possible. They'll certainly be visiting. There's no question that they wouldn't.

And finally on consultation, there has been a fairly significant amount of consultation and it's typical in different places that the consultation that takes place isn't considered satisfactory. But that's sometimes because there are other people putting views about what World Heritage does and doesn't mean.

FOUNTAIN: Just on that point, I'm sorry to interrupt. The community doesn't feel that there's been enough consultation, but the consultation that there has been has surely thrown up the issue that the majority of the community who we've spoken to and canvassed and who call in constantly, don't want a World Heritage Listing.

GARRETT: Well, I think that there's an issue - a more important issue here and that's having accurate and correctly factual information in the debate. And I know that you spoke to the Opposition spokesman Mr Hunt the other day, who's completely wrong about World Heritage and National Heritage Listing.

He doesn't understand it and is saying things which are clearly factually incorrect and I think frankly just muddying the debate in an extremely poor fashion. So when you've got, you know, politicians or other people sort of making comments which are either inflammatory or incorrect…

FOUNTAIN: Minister, I'm sorry to interrupt, but you're not really answering the question.

GARRETT: Well, I make the point to you that you've had Mr Hunt on the radio and writing to me as saying that it's potentially an illegal listing, that there are issues around people that are holding partial leases that shouldn't be included in the listing and the like and completely misunderstanding that there is no impact upon existing leases at all. That this is a…

FOUNTAIN: But haven't you just said that the management, there will be stringent guidelines for the management of the area?

GARRETT: Well that guidelines for managing the area in terms of people who come to the area. That's not about managing the existing activities that are underway. This - both National Heritage Listing and World Heritage Listing - does not affect existing partial activities. It does not affect existing mining activities, it does not affect existing tourism activities.

FOUNTAIN: But they're all tied up together, for instance, on those pastoral leases, people come and do wilderness fishing and I understand, actually, that it will impact that amount of time people can stay there. So there will be - these pastoralists have been managing the area for decades, now it will affect their management of the area.

GARRETT: Well, Rachel, again, I don't think that's exactly accurate. It's really important to understand that existing activities won't be affected. They continue under the existing WA laws and the local government laws.

And it's the same in other World Heritage areas around Australia. I mean, this is a nomination that was supported by the West Australian Government and I was pleased, by the way, for that support. And I think it's going to…

FOUNTAIN: Minister, I'm sorry to interrupt. We are just about to run up onto the news, but we'll have more from you just after this very quick bulletin.

GARRETT: No worries.


FOUNTAIN: 27 to 11, Rachel with you this morning on ABC North West. Minister Peter Garrett is my guest this morning. Good morning again, Minister.

GARRETT: Morning, Rachel.

FOUNTAIN: We were getting a bit mired in the debate there. I guess the simple question that we need a simple answer to is, how will these new management procedures change? What will be the differences? People have felt that there's a lack of consultation in the sense that they don't know what World Heritage will mean for them.

GARRETT: Yeah look, I think the key thing in this debate is to separate out the claims which are made which are incorrect from what actually World Heritage will mean and then look at what likely steps will be taken down the track.

So let's just deal with the claims that are made and settle those first.


GARRETT: For example, there's no secret plan for a buffer zone. There's no activities that would be banned outright because of Heritage Listing. Existing activities won't be affected.

FOUNTAIN: As in fish catch limits and wilderness camping?

GARRETT: Well, fish catch limits are an issue for the West Australian Government. They're not a World Heritage issue at all. World Heritage Listing is about the outstanding values of a particular location and the only time where you have a decision about that is if there is a proposal for a very large scale development, for example, that may have an impact on those World Heritage values.

Now in that case, if that were to happen, it is something that would be considered by a Minister. But, you know, fishing, camping, people exercising their dogs, snorkelling, diving, hiking, you know, enjoying the area, they're all low scale, low impact activities that won't likely have an impact on the Heritage values of the area.

FOUNTAIN: I've actually heard, though, Minister, that wilderness camping will be affected. These regions along the coast there, particularly the ones managed by the pastoral stations, or ones where families go to camp for say months at a time. It's a long held tradition and we've heard that there'll be a limit placed on the amount of time that people can spend wilderness camping in those regions.

GARRETT: Well, I don't know who you've heard that from or what that's in relation to, but I can say very clearly that existing WA laws in relation to camping permits and numbers of people and fish catchers and all of those sorts of matters that people have raised clearly with you on the radio, are matters that go to the WA existing legal framework.

What's really critical to understand here is that World Heritage Listing hasn't had any effect on most of the developments that have taken place in Shark Bay. Even in the past where we've had applications for developments and they include things like expanding a resort, you know, flood management works, expansion of pearl farm, et cetera, et cetera.

Most of those would not have even come to the Federal Minister because the test for me under my legislation or anyone who has my job, he or she, is whether or not any activity will have a significant impact on World Heritage values.

So it's really important to recognise that. It's important to know that activities that are going on now and will go on in the future, they'll still be managed under the existing legal framework.

FOUNTAIN: I might just play you for a moment, Minister, a couple of opinions on - one from the Carnarvon Shire President about what he's observed in Shark Bay and one from a current councillor on Shark Bay on that issue.

GRAB 1: If it's such a good idea, I suppose we need someone to give us an example, a specific example of the benefits because we live right next door to Shark Bay and anecdotally and visually, the benefits there seem to be fairly limited. But we'll just wait until someone can convince us that it's a good idea before we embrace it totally.

GRAB 2: Well, there are obviously areas of the coastline where you cannot camp and you cannot - with that goes fishing and barbecuing, et cetera. So, you know, they - so their crowd have to apply certain stringent rules and it's a two-edged sword.

In the one breath, they want it back to nature and all the little creatures flourish and survive, but by the same token, the conservation must expect a traffic of people to come to see it. It helps keep the kitty solvent.

So you've got to - in the one breath, stuff that's threatened and the other breath, a well meaning - I don't think it's very practical, frankly, a lot of it.

FOUNTAIN: That was Tim Hargreaves at the end there, Minister. He's one of the current councillors in Shark Bay and the canvassing of opinions that we had there in Shark Bay was that it has provided an extra level of red tape to a lot of developments.

GARRETT: Yes, but you know, we've got world heritage properties right around Australia and the economic benefits that are generated by world heritage visitation and world heritage properties is quite clear.

I mean even in Shark Bay we've had additional funding for projects to help the environment for short-term…

FOUNTAIN: How much funding?

GARRETT: I think over half a million dollars from the Jobs Fund for projects.

FOUNTAIN: Not a huge amount when you consider the cost of development in Western Australia though.

GARRETT: Oh well, I mean let's not be too cavalier about it, but I think the point is that you were asking me whether there'd been any funds that came as a result of the world heritage listing and I'm now telling you that there are, there has been some; over a quarter of a million under Caring for our Country to help with feral animal control.

But I guess the bigger issue here is a pretty straightforward one, Rachel, and it's this: these areas are going to be increasingly sought after by tourists because they are beautiful, because they have got high natural values and the like and there will always be a tension between local communities and others who basically want to be able to keep it as it is and who are concerned with the sort of, the increasing demands and the increasing numbers of people coming into the area.

I very much understand that, but those issues are ones that need to be properly regulated and managed through local governments, through state governments, through the existing regulations.

What World Heritage listing does do though, which I think's really important, is it provides an extra level of protection over and above that that's already in place under state laws only in as much as, if there is going to be a significant development which is going to significantly impact on values, then it needs to be assessed.

It doesn't mean it doesn't happen, it just means it needs to be assessed.

FOUNTAIN: How does that differ from the protection that National Heritage would give it?

GARRETT: Well, under the EPBC Act, it means that the Environment Minister can look at whether the values that are identified, say in World Heritage listing or national listing, but in this case World Heritage listing, are going to be significantly impacted upon.

Let me give you one quick example for your listeners.

Bondi Beach in Sydney has national heritage listing. Now that listing hasn't changed a single squiz of activity that goes on down at Bondi Beach.

FOUNTAIN: When did it get the listing, Minister?

GARRETT: The listing was done 18 months or so ago. The precise date, I won't give you a…

FOUNTAIN: So a long time after the area had been developed though?

GARRETT: Yeah, but here's the point: it's the values that are identified at Bondi Beach, just like the values at Ningaloo, but the important part - now Ningaloo, it's the values of the fringing reef and the karst and sort of the geography of that area that are considered really important and of world heritage value.

In Bondi Beach where its National Heritage Listing, it was the arc of the beach, it was the surf club, it was the streetscapes and the like.

Now activity goes on there as it has in the past. It's only if someone popped up and said we want to stick up a 60 foot skyscraper in the middle of Bondi Beach, we want to knock over the surf club and the row of shops and houses down the front in order to do that, then you would say, well hang on a minute, that's probably going to have a significant impact on those national values that have been listed.

The same applies here, at Ningaloo. It's only where you've got an activity that's likely to significantly impact upon the values that are there.

Now I would say to the community is this, that whether it's Peter Garrett or Donna Faragher or whether it's another minister sitting in this role at state and federal level, that is a better thing for this area to have; potential protection in the event that something comes along which provides significant impact on the values that everybody cherishes, everybody loves, those who live there and those that have been identified as being of universal value.

FOUNTAIN: Mr Garrett, if we can just move on from the reasoning behind it for a moment, and I know you have been patient with us today, I've got a couple of quick questions from the community that they wanted to pose to you. Do you have a couple of minutes for that?

GARRETT: Yes, sure.

FOUNTAIN: This is from Barry Sullivan. He's from the Exmouth Chamber of Commerce and he says in the World Heritage Convention, this is paragraph 123, it states that 'participation of the local people in the nomination process is essential to enable them to have a shared responsibility with the state party in the maintenance of the property' et cetera, et cetera.

It basically goes on to suggest that the local community's support is a vital element.

Given the obvious community angst in this case, and the incredible show of concern at Tuesday's meeting, do you think you've failed to get that support?

GARRETT: No, I don't. I mean there have been consultations underway since December 2007. I've got a list of the various meetings that have been held here, the letters that went out to all the leaseholders and also the fact that I went to Exmouth myself, met the Shire Council, Chamber of Commerce and others with David Templeman.

There was a significant period of consultation with the government in terms of delivering the boundary.

Now I had meetings with people who put it to me that World Heritage Listing would mean, for example, that they couldn't do this or they couldn't do that and we provided the information back to them to provide clarity for that issue. My hope is that so long as we don't have people like Mr Hunt and others muddying the waters, people will understand the genuine benefits that world heritage can bring to the community.

The community will have the opportunity to put their views as well to the IUCN and I really encourage that. I recommend that the IUCN meets with the communities to enable that to happen.

FOUNTAIN: You have got a bit off track though because what I'm saying is consultation doesn't equal support and according to this Convention it seems that support is what's necessary.

I will just be very quick and I'll move on, Minister. Ronnie Fleay, the Exmouth Shire President, she says in view of the national heritage listing and the imminent World Heritage listing, will the Federal Government commit to fund the Ningaloo Research Centre which is, in a sense, an interface between the scientific goings on and the public. It's a project for the future protection of the Ningaloo region.

Her question brings us to an interesting point which is, will the Federal Government be putting more money towards this than they put towards Shark Bay?

GARRETT: Well obviously I'm not going to commit to a funding prior to a nomination proceeding through the IUCN on the basis of what's been put to me over the phone.

FOUNTAIN: Can you give us some indication though?

GARRETT: Well, what I would say is that because the benefits that come to regional economies and state economies from World Heritage listing in other parts of the country and the obvious example we have here is the wet tropics and the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland.

There are a range of benefits and there are a range of additional programs that come in to provide support of one kind or another and that happens at the state and at the commonwealth level.

I guess, just very quickly, Rachel, I say this. There was a lot of opposition to World Heritage listing of the wet tropics rainforest, a lot of opposition from a range of groups, local businesses, local councils, politicians on the coalition side, Aboriginal people and others.

The majority of people now see it as definitely being a positive. It's brought positive benefits for the region, both economically and socially and both governments, in fact governments at all levels, do inevitably provide additional levels of support and programs because of what World Heritage brings.

Now I'm not going to start promising things over the phone to you until this process is concluded. What I can say is that I'm really confident that a World Heritage listing when it happens, does provide overall benefit. When that takes place then governments will respond.

FOUNTAIN: We've heard there's no buffer zone and I'm sure that's a relief for a lot of people who are listening.

We've got a question from Theresa in Exmouth. She says, and just very quickly, we've been told World Heritage will not affect any existing business prior to lodgement.

Her concerns about the eight oil and/or gas rigs sitting just outside that Ningaloo marine park boundary, visible from shore, and they could make a serious, if not total devastation to the reef if there were to be an oil spill like that in the Gulf of Mexico, even a smaller one like Montara.

So will those companies and their future developments be reassessed after World Heritage nomination, because it seems like that's a bigger risk than even tourism and local impact on the area?

GARRETT: Well look it's a really good question and it's something which the government federally is looking at very closely anyway. We've got a Commission of Inquiry into the Montara accident. It's the only one we've had of its kind offshore but we don't want to see any more again.

We'll bring forward a whole series of additional measures which we think are necessary, once we've seen what the commission recommends.

It won't be specifically under the World Heritage issue that these issues are regulated. It'll be specifically through the Minister for Resources and myself if it's in Commonwealth waters. If it's in state waters it'll be up to the West Australian minister.

But I guess the shorthand is this, we will need to set the bar as high as it needs to be in terms of environmental standards for things like offshore oil exploration and drilling. We'll do that. It's only if there's any proposed development that's likely to have a significant impact on the values, the World Heritage values, that it then gets considered by the Federal Government.

What happens then, of course, is you take advice. You listen to community, you take advice from scientists and experts and other agencies that are involved and it's only on that basis that you ultimately make a decision.

FOUNTAIN: Minister Peter Garrett, thanks for your time and your patience this morning. I hope this is the beginning of an open dialogue about the issue?

GARRETT: Look, thanks Rachel. I know that you've tried to get us on a bit early and we had a fair bit on. I've just been back from Morocco and the International Whaling Commission, but I'm really happy to come on and talk about it because I think there's a bit of misunderstanding around it.

If we can help clear that up so that people have got a good idea about World Heritage, I'll be a happy man.

FOUNTAIN: And how are you liking the new look government, Minister?

GARRETT: I think we've just got to get on with the job of focusing on doing what governments must do and will continue to do.

FOUNTAIN: Thanks again for your time.

GARRETT: Thanks, Rachel.

FOUNTAIN: Peter Garrett there. Well I hope that's answered a few of the questions that you've been posing to us and thank you for all the questions that you called in with on the line. We did have to go with the first and put them through to the Minister.

We'll have that interview up for you on our website very soon this morning.


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