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Transcript of doorstop interview: Melbourne: 22 January 2016: Burke and Wills site heritage listing; Tony Abbott; Queensland Nickel; Werribee South irrigation system

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for the Environment


22 January 2016



Topics: Burke and Wills site heritage listing, Tony Abbott, Queensland Nickel, Werribee South irrigation system

GREG HUNT: The story of Burke and Wills is one of the great Australian stories.

It's about grand vision, grand execution, fatal miscalculations, tragedy, the generosity of the Yandruwandha, the survival of John King - and it's a great privilege to be able to announce that the Burke and Wills historic sites on the Coopers Creek are the 104th inscription on the National Heritage List.

JOURNALIST: They're obviously - it's obviously an important site but what changes by heritage listing that that particular area?

GREG HUNT: So heritage listing first attracts recognition both within Australian but also internationally.

People look at the Australian Heritage List - it’s part of the iconic set of sites for those that visit of Australia.

So for a town such as Innamincka it provides opportunities, people might well choose to visit.

Secondly it brings with it the protection of the Federal Environment Act if there are any risks to these sites.

And then thirdly it also brings with it access to funding. So, it's federal funding that is available under the National Historic Sites funds, but private sector firms and philanthropy is also attracted.

But at the end of the day this is recognising our expeditionary heritage and our Indigenous heritage and putting it on the highest plane.

JOURNALIST: It's not an easy place to get to, Coopers Creek.

Is this less about tourism and more about making sure this - people are talking about this story in 2016?

GREG HUNT: Oh look, it does both. I mean, it is the most remote and inhospitable part of Australia.

It is a tough part of the country which is why the story is so remarkable.

First and foremost the National Heritage List is about just that - recognising our greatest historical and cultural achievements - whether they're buildings such as the Sydney Opera House, whether they are areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, or the entwined Indigenous and expeditionary story of Burke and Wills and the Yandruwandha.

JOURNALIST: Have you been there?

GREG HUNT: No, I haven't. It's on my to do list. I would love to get there.

JOURNALIST: How long has this been in the works for?

GREG HUNT: So this has been under consideration really for a couple of years now.

We've had many people who have put it forward - the Royal Society has been a great proponent and I know that Dr David Kemp himself on the Heritage Council has been a strong supporter of it.

JOURNALIST: Do you think you will be able to get there? Obviously making an announcement like this - if that's not going to get you there, what will?

GREG HUNT: Oh look, I would love to get there. It's about finding time.

But also if there are funds at some stage in the future - to assist with creating a walk or a trail with the consent of the Indigenous owners - then I think that might be the basis for a visit.

JOURNALIST: How exciting was it for you to get the descendants of both sides of the story here today.

GREG HUNT: I think the most important thing today is that we have descendants from Yandruwandha and descendants from the Burke and Wills expedition - Brendan Wills from the Wills family, Leslie Harris from the Yandruwandha and as Leslie told us, he also descended from John King.

So, we really have the deep history of Australia represented in this room today.

JOURNALIST: Just on another issue I've - Tony Abbott's office has confirmed he was sounded out for the UK High Commissioner position. Should he stay in politics?

GREG HUNT: I'll support any decision he makes and I think he should be able to make his decisions with full support of his colleagues and without any public advice from his colleagues.

JOURNALIST: Would it better for stability for the party though if he retired?

GREG HUNT: Look, it's a broad church in there and places for many people.

And we have an outstanding current Prime Minister and a distinguished former Prime Minister and so parliament is rich in terms of two Rhodes scholars who've both contributed and are continuing to contribute to Australia.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect Malcolm Turnbull to intervene in the broader discussions about the New South Wales pre-selections that are going on at the moment?

GREG HUNT: Look, I think he's made his position very clear and beyond that it probably doesn't help if I try to give opinions from afar.

JOURNALIST: More details are emerging about Clive Palmer's Queensland Nickel. What do you make of his actions on that?

GREG HUNT: Look, my concern is for the workers. I think many of these people have worked for many years.

There are stories coming out about those who haven't necessarily received their entitlements or may be at risk.

I think everybody has to focus on the workers because it's their jobs and their livelihoods and Townsville that are at risk here.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, I've just got a few from my journal as well. Will the Government consider upgrading the irrigation system around Werribee South?

GREG HUNT: Look, I'm happy to talk with anybody - it's primarily a state issue.

We have put over $10 billion into water upgrades throughout the Murray Darling Basin.

It is, as I say, primarily a Victorian issue but I will be visiting Werribee later today and I'm happy to hear from anybody with proposals.

JOURNALIST: Okay, why hasn't there been an upgrade?

GREG HUNT: I think you'd have to ask the State Government of Victoria why they haven't upgraded their own systems.

JOURNALIST: Okay and growers are concerned the current problem will lead to virtual price hikes so what support is the Government prepared to offer the industry?

GREG HUNT: Well, again these are all questions for the State Government. It's their area, their responsibility.

We have, on my watch, been responsible for fighting for and receiving upgrades to the Eastern Treatment Plant - that in turn led to the reuse of water in the Cardinia area and that's helped vegetable growers.

And I would urge the State Government to look at what we've done over with the Eastern Treatment Plant and the upgrade there the piping and irrigation system which has helped Cardinia.

And that may well provide the Andrews Government with a model as to what could be done in the west.

Alright, thanks.