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Minister discusses Great Barrier Reef; Baker report; National Heritage funding for Douglas Shire; and Iraq.

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Transcript Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Interview North Queensland ABC studios Townsville Friday, 31 January 2003

Subject: Great Barrier Reef, Baker Report, NHT Funding for Douglas Shire Council, Iraq Journalist: Joining us now, and I thank him for getting in here as quick as he could, he just got off a plane, the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, David Kemp. Good morning David.

Dr Kemp: Good morning John.

Journalist: Minister you're in here to talk about some of the issue you'll be talking about today. You're going to meet with cane farmer, you're going to meet with a few other people and also you're going to go to GBRMPA. Now let's talk about the Queensland Report that was released, the Baker Report, through the Queensland Government on Sedimentation, the Flow-On onto the Reef from the Land. Have you had a good chance to have a good read of that Report and take it in?

Dr Kemp: Well I've had a look at the Report and it certainly indicates that there are serious impacts on the Reef from land based activities. We're getting pesticides, nutrients, sediment coming out of the rivers and having quite a big impact on the inshore reef. The impacts on the outer reef are less obvious, but it's clear that these impacts are increasing over time, they've multiplied some four times over the last fifteen years, so there is a serious problem there.

To put this in context, it's a Report which follows on a Memorandum of Understanding between the Prime Minister and Premier Beattie in August last year. There's a very strong commitment on the part of both the Commonwealth and the Queensland Governments to protect the water quality in the reef, because the water quality in the end is essential for the health of the reef, both in terms of the tourism industry and in terms of extractive industries like commercial fishing. If we don't maintain the water quality, ultimately the reef is going to become much more vulnerable, we're going to lose a lot of the benefits of the reef and the reef is, after all, Australia's Number One natural icon.

Journalist: You were aware though at the Federal level of the sedimentation and this ongoing debate about pollution, so-called pollution and run-off of the land onto the reef though, haven't you, you've been aware of that for many years?

Dr Kemp: We have certainly been aware of it for quite some time and since I become...

Journalist: What can you actually... what can a Government actually do about that at the Federal level to protect the reef?

Dr Kemp: Well a great deal can be done and we're working very closely with the Queensland Government at the moment through the Natural Heritage Trust with the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality, to make sure that the onshore activities which are leading to pollution in the reef, but let me emphasise it's not just one industry, it's not just the Sugar Industry, although the Sugar Industry is a significant industry along the coast, it's over-grazing in the dry land areas, it's to do with excessive vegetation clearing and of course urban areas make a contribution to the pollution of the waters.

So what we need to do is to establish clear targets for the quality of water entering the reef and they have to be established on a catchment basis. Those targets need to be understood and owned by the communities around the catchment areas and the really significant feature of both the National Action Plan and the way the Natural Heritage Trust is now being implemented in Queensland, with the support of the Queensland Government, is to involve the community. There has to be community involvement, the Baker Report itself says that.

Journalist: Okay well you're going to be talking to the community later today, aren't you, you'll be talking to those people that do farm sugar cane and I think you're going to Ingham to do that, what sort of reaction are you expecting from them? Are they going to have, you know, they're obviously going to talk to you about other issues to do with sugar cane, but in the environmental sense, are they going to have a reaction to this Report and vent their feeling on you, do you think?

Dr Kemp: Well I've talked to the Sugar Industry before about their commitment to protecting the environment, and I must say that I think the Industry has really done a lot to change.. begin to change the culture of sugar cane growers. There's a voluntary code of conduct. I read the response of the leaders of the industry yesterday to this Report, and it seemed to me that that was a pretty balanced and responsibility answer. They want to take action where there is scientifically demonstrated damage, and it is there. I saw.. there was some quarrel with some one or two aspects of the Report, but overall it seems to me that the Cane growers are taking a pretty responsible attitude to the environment and I'd certainly want to reinforce that in any discussions I have with them.

So are local communities, and I might just mention today John, that I'm also announcing, the Commonwealth's giving Douglas Shire a Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars to develop a Water Quality Improvement Plan in that area, and that

shows really how communities are committed to improving the quality of the water going into the reef.

Journalist: That's in the Daintree...

Dr Kemp: This is a community initiative...

Journalist: ... Daintree area isn't it, Far North Queensland?

Dr Kemp: That's right and it's a very important area, of course, of the reef, because that's where most of the tourism goes on. And we want to see community support and the Douglas Shire has come forward and, of course, Local Members along the whole coastline bordering the reef, Peter Lindsay here in Herbert, Warren Entsch up North, have been very strong in their support for effective action by the Commonwealth and by the States to protect water quality.

Journalist: We are 630 ABC North Queensland, my guest is David Kemp, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Yesterday on the program we spoke to a few people, in fact Senator McLucas here in Queensland, we in fact spoke to the Federal Member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay, talking about the Barrier Reef yesterday and the Democrats, of course, and the ALP are calling for an extension of the Great Barrier Reef, they're going to put a Bill through Parliament, or trying to, out to the Economic Exclusion Zone.

Now your Office did say earlier this week that it wasn't necessary because there are already appropriate measures in place. Can you outline those measures for us?

Dr Kemp: Absolutely. I mean this is ironic that we should be getting this sort of outdated suggestion now, when the Howard Government has put in place the strongest possible Legislation to protect the Great Barrier Reef and other World Heritage areas through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

That Act in 1999 gives the Commonwealth Government and me particularly, as Environment Minister, full power to prevent any action which could damage the World Heritage values of the reef.

The Labor Party did nothing in thirteen years of office. They had a long time to act. Now they seem to be scrabbling round on the floor picking up the remnants of a Democrat proposals that have been already long on the public record, so there's nothing new there. This is just a stunt. The reality is that the Howard Government has acted to put in place very strong protection from the reef and this proposal is absolutely outdated and not needed.

Journalist: Okay, let's talk about... we did speak about this yesterday too and I said cynically as I'm a media person, that the Norwegian Company is wandering around looking at exploring on the reef and I would make the assumption they're looking for oil. Of course that's what they do, they are a Norwegian Oil Exploration Company, have they responded to the Government's guidelines set out by Environment Australia in any way?

Dr Kemp: Well we've made it pretty clear that there's got to be an EIS under the Legislation, that's required by the Act. I mean there's no way to avoid that. But let me make it absolutely clear that no action will be permitted that will damage the World Heritage values of the reef and if anyone believes that oil drilling can be carried on in any way, the Federal Government is simply not going to allow any action which is contrary to the Environmental values of the reef.

Journalist: But you know...

Dr Kemp: .. and that's why the EIS is required.

Journalist: But you know that... well I made the assumption yesterday, that if they are looking for oil, and that's their business, they intend to carry out drilling on the reef, exploration if they meet with those guidelines?

Dr Kemp: They cannot act contrary to the guidelines that have been set down and there is a requirement...

Journalist: But if they meet those guidelines they could actually drill for oil on the reef?

Dr Kemp: The Federal Government has the full power to stop that action.

Journalist: But they could.. they could drill for oil if it met all the approved guidelines?

Dr Kemp: Well no action is going to be permitted which puts at any sort of risk the Great Barrier Reef or its World Heritage values. This is the essential element, the reef is fully protected. No drilling is permitted on the reef and it hasn't been permitted on the reef since 1975 and no drilling or exploration of any kind is permitted outside the reef which could in any way damage it. So the reef is fully protected.

Journalist: Finally, and a different subject, and we'll let you go because I know you've got many appointment, but we'd like to talk to you about this very quickly.

It's a question I asked Peter Lindsay yesterday and also Senator Jan McLucas, and it's another question I ask you today. As a Member of Parliament, you have a constituency and those constituencies come to you with all sorts of problems and suggestions. Are you getting a lot of reaction to the Federal Government's situation regarding sending our troops to Iraq?

Dr Kemp: Well there is a lot of community discussion, interest and in sections of the community, real concern over the developments in the Middle East. I think everybody is concerned that the reaction that the Inspectors have now got and reported to the

United Nations that there is no serious effort on the part of the Iraqi regime to comply with the United Nations Resolutions and I'm sure the vast majority of Australians will be very pleased to know that this issue is going back to the United Nations next week and the pressure is on the Security Council to do what it must do to uphold its own resolutions.

Journalist: Let me go back to that question. Your constituents, in your area, as a Minister or as a Member of Parliament, are they calling your Office and saying they're against this... as Australians?

Dr Kemp: Well there are people who have views on all sides. There is a great deal of community interest in this issue. I think it's a pre-occupation of many people in the community at the present time and that's why the Government is encouraging the public debate on this issue, why there will be a debate in Parliament. If any further action is taken, the Prime Minister I'm sure will be making sure that that occurs in accordance with his commitments. But the key thing that people want seen, and this is my experience, they want to see the United Nations do what it is required to do, that is to uphold its own resolutions and to make sure that weapons of mass destruction that have been produced by Iraq are not allowed and that Iraq is forced to disarm and required to disarm by the United Nations.

Journalist: Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Mr David Kemp, thanks for coming in today.

Dr Kemp: Thank you very much.

Journalist: Enjoy your trip to North Queensland and we'll see you again soon. Thanks for coming in.

Dr Kemp: Thank you very much John.