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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 24309

Joint Press Conference, Hamilton Island

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 21/03/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24309

Subject(s): Long- term Sustainability Plan for Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef

GEORGE CHRISTENSEN:

It’s great to be here as the Member for Dawson who represents this beautiful part of the world – The Whitsundays. It is a great honour to have the Prime Minister pop in for a visit and more importantly a major announcement which will, without a doubt, help the tourism industry in particular which is the lifeblood of The Whitsundays in good stead for the future.

It is great also to have the federal and state Environment Ministers here as well for what is a very, very major announcement.

Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

George it is fantastic to be here in your electorate. It is great to be on Hamilton Island. It is great to be here with the Commonwealth and the Queensland Environment Ministers; Greg Hunt and Steven Miles.

It’s really good to be here for this outstanding and important announcement that we are making today. The Liberal National Party – and look I probably should say that all political parties – has a terrific record when it comes to environmental protection but I do, if I may for a moment, want to reflect on the record of Commonwealth Government protection for this iconic wonder of the world because that is what it is: it’s an iconic wonder of the world. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was declared by Malcolm Fraser – the late, great Malcolm Fraser – this became a heritage listed place under Malcolm Fraser.

Then of course under John Howard, the Government in which I served, we established green zones here to protect the reef here and what we are doing now is taking reef protection up to a further level with the release today of the Long Term Sustainability Plan that will take reef protection and reef management out to 2050, a 35-year plan building on the fine record of previous governments of protection for this iconic, natural wonder of the world.

So, the first thing we do today is to formally release the Reef Sustainability Plan and it's great to have both the Commonwealth and the Queensland Ministers here.

The other announcement that we make today is an additional $100 million in Commonwealth money into the Reef Trust which is a very important part of protecting our reef.

We want to work with the landholders to ensure that water quality here on the reef is as good as it possibly can be. In the end, water quality is the key to reef protection. I'm delighted that over the last five or six years – whether you're looking at pesticide, whether you're looking at sedimentation, whether you're looking at nitrogen run-off – all of that is at least 10 per cent improved since 2009 but under the long-term sustainability plan driven by the extra $100 million that we're putting into the Reef Trust, things will improve further and further because we want to work with local farmers, we want to work with local landholders to ensure that this reef is handed on in the best possible condition to our children and to our grandchildren, so that future generations can enjoy this reef, this magnificent, natural wonder of the world in perfect condition.

So, Greg, I might ask you, and then Steven, to add to these remarks.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

Thanks very much, Prime Minister. As a young child, I was fortunate to have a father who loved the reef, and to snorkel along the reef, and then, as I grew up, to dive the reef. The work of my professional life is protecting and managing and handing that reef on to the next generation in an even better condition.

The vision in this plan is very simple and that is to ensure that each successive decade between now and 2050, the quality and universal values of the reef improve. That is underpinned by three big things: firstly, the science; secondly, the policy; and thirdly, the action.

In terms of the science, the outlook report that we've prepared has been adopted by the IUCN as the global standard for quality science for all of their natural heritage properties. In terms of the science, what we've also seen is a two-year strategic plan developed in conjunction with Queensland in what must have been one of the most comprehensive processes anywhere in the world. In terms of the science going forward, what we're also announcing today is that there will be an independent expert scientific panel led by the Commonwealth Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, that will work on informing the monitoring and the allocation of priorities under the Reef Trust.

With regards to the policy, we've had over 6,000 submissions. We've had some of the best science in the world which has gone into it, and this process sets out a policy for the future. It responds to all of the questions that have been asked internationally but most importantly, it's an Australian document for the future of Australia's great reef which we hold as custodians for the world.

In terms of the action, what's happening here – firstly, water quality. As the Prime Minister said, we've had significant improvements in sediment, nitrogen and pesticides. Sediment has improved by 11 per cent,

dissolved in organic nitrogen by 16 per cent and pesticides are down 28 per cent. As we go forward, the heart of this plan, the heart of this programme is about better water quality with hard targets including a 50 per cent reduction in nitrogen by 2018 and an 80 per cent reduction in nitrogen by 2025.

That's then backed by what we've done in relation to the dugong and turtle protection plan, the funding for indigenous rangers – very practical, real things that will improve the quality of water. Then finally, there's a $2 billion plan over the next 10 years which has been added to by $100 million from Queensland and now $100 million from the Commonwealth. That takes the total reef trust funding to $140 million focused on water quality and the way forward and working with communities.

At the end of the day this is a plan for the ages, it's a plan to improve the reef and it's a plan to leave our children and their children with an even better quality of coral, with a better quality of marine environment, and with the world's best managed and healthiest reef.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well said. Steven?

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER MILES:

Today is a very special day. Today, we launch Australia’s plan to save the Great Barrier Reef. This plan will take us to 2050. It's a 35 year plan. I was reflecting on the way up here, that by the end of this plan my kids will be about my age now, and I hope to come here with them and maybe even some grandkids and tell them about this day: the day that as Minister for The Great Barrier Reef I had the privilege to stand here with Australia's Prime Minister and the federal Environment Minister and launch a comprehensive, collaborative plan that will make a real difference.

Our Government, the Queensland Labor Government, was elected on a platform, a comprehensive platform, for the reef. I'm grateful to Minister Hunt, who allowed us to redraft significant sections of this plan to incorporate those policies and we moved very quickly to do so.

That plan included $100 million for a water quality taskforce, an additional $100 million, which will address the biggest medium-term threat to the reef and that's runoff of sediment, nutrients and pesticides.

It also commits us to limiting port expansion to four sites and to banning the dumping of dredge spoil within the entire world heritage area – something we've already moved to implement.

This is an important plan. I'm grateful for the focus that the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government has been able to deliver together and I believe that with it, we will be able to convince the world heritage committee that not only should they not list the reef as in danger but that we will keep the reef from actually being in danger.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, Steven. Ok, do we have some questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, how seriously should we be taking the threat of climate change and its impacts on the reef?

PRIME MINISTER:

Climate change is important and climate change impacts on our entire world. Climate change is relevant for all reefs as well as this – the world’s greatest reef. Climate change impacts on everything, everywhere. That's why you need a strong and effective policy to deal with it. Now, we have put a strong and effective policy in place and we will have more to say on this subject in coming days, but what we will be able to point to in coming days is evidence that the policies that have been pursued over recent times have been effective, will be effective, and that we will at least meet our targets for emissions reductions going forward.

QUESTION:

Given the long term threat of climate change as identified by this report, should we be still developing the coal reserves at the Galilee Basin given the IPCC has suggested that much of the fossil fuel reserve should stay in the ground?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's important that we continue to strengthen our economy because a strong economy and a better environment should go hand-in-hand and the really key recent development is the commitment by all sides of politics to work towards a situation where there is no more dredge spoil being dumped anywhere in a world heritage area – no more dredge spoil being dumped anywhere in a world heritage area.

We at the Commonwealth level have already said that there will be no more capital dredge spoil dumped inside the area. The state has made a similar commitment for the waterways under its control, and over time we want to eliminate all dredge spoil being dumped anywhere in a heritage listed area. So, this is a commitment by all sides of Australian politics, a united commitment by all Australian Governments, to ensure that this great wonder of the world of which we are the contemporary stewards, is protected forever for humanity to appreciate and enjoy.

QUESTION:

How exactly does the plan factor in the threat of climate change? How does it deal with it?

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

So, the plan deals with both mitigation and adaptation. That means reducing the volume of emissions both in Australia and internationally, and then also making the reef more resilient. So, in terms of mitigation, what it says is that in Australia we are not just going to reach our targets, we are going to strive to beat those targets. More than that, we have recently allocated through the new climate law a $2.5 billion fund, the first of the auctions is coming up in mid-April. It's looking very, very prospective at this stage – better than we had ever hoped.

Internationally, we've just committed $200 million to the Green Climate Fund and we met our Kyoto 1 targets, we're on track to meet or beat our Kyoto 2 targets for the period up to 2020, and we will play an important and constructive role in meeting our Kyoto 3 targets for the post-2020 period in the coming months.

QUESTION:

Do you think a long term document like this should have some form of target, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

The key point to make here is that we are meeting our targets and we expect to more than meet our emissions reductions targets in the years and decades ahead, but we are going to do it without an economically destructive carbon tax – and that's the key point. We can have the best environmental protection and at the same time we can continue to maintain economic growth without destructive taxes and that's our absolute commitment: to give the people of Australia the best environment without the economic vandalism which a whole range of unnecessary taxes would inevitably have involved.

QUESTION:

So how do you think having the world’s largest coal port in an environment like this works?

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

There are two things here. Firstly, what you have seen is the banning of dredge disposal in the marine park. This has been 100 years in the making and it's happened on our watch, just over a year into our period in government. This is ground-breaking, historical stuff. It's been matched by Queensland covering in the same way their own ports. Nobody else has ever done this. When we came into government, we inherited five major dredge disposal plans. In just over a year, we have reduced that to zero and anything else I know that Minister Miles has taken very good care in his first few weeks in office, he might have something to add.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER MILES:

Just to say that in just a few weeks, our Government delivered on our commitment not to allow dumping n the entire world heritage area or the environmentally sensitive Kaili Valley wetlands which was the alternative option that had been considered.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what discussions have you had with UNESCO about this plan and whether, you know, have they indicated whether or not this plan would meet…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if I could say, at the highest level, this is a subject where Australia is telling our international partners, Australia is telling the international agencies, that we are utterly committed as an entire nation to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef which is one of the natural wonders of the world and as Greg has said earlier, if there was one bit of our beautiful environment anywhere in the world that truly deserves world heritage listing – it’s this. If there was only one thing anywhere in the world that was heritage listed this Great Barrier Reef would be it. That's the wonder of this reef that we have the honour to be the stewards of for these times.

So, we're making these representations. We're making our position clear right around the world that this is a number one priority of the Australian Government: to protect the Barrier Reef and, of course, then at every level there are further representations, cascading representations, right through the system.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

I will just speak very briefly on that. Firstly, this is Australia's plan for Australia's reef. It's also the world's plan for the world's reef and we are the custodians. As part of that, we've worked very closely with UNESCO and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. We've been through a series of drafts, we've incorporated suggestions about form and content. I have to say at this stage the feedback has been extremely positive. One national official said to Russell Reichelt, the head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, recently that the progress Australia had made in the last year had been astonishing.

So, I think that in 30 and 40 years’ time when people come to review the period of this government and the Abbott prime ministership, one of the things they will look at is the work that Prime Minister Abbott has done with regards to the reef. Things have happened on his watch that had never happened in Australia's history.

So, I'm feeling very confident. We never take anything for granted, there's more work to be done but the cooperative relationship with Queensland through successive governments has been extremely valuable and extremely important. The feedback is good.

QUESTION:

If they decide to list the reef as in danger do you have a contingency plan?

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

We're not planning on failure and I don't believe there will be.

PRIME MINISTER:

The point that I think all of us want to stress is that we are all conservationists. We are all utterly committed to protecting this magnificent environmental asset – this priceless, unique, environmental asset of which we are today’s custodians. We are all absolutely completely committed to it. Greg has snorkelled on the reef as a youngster. I've done a little bit of snorkelling on the reef myself. I'm probably more of a surfer than a diver, but nevertheless the last thing I want to do as Prime Minister is anything that would compromise the quality of this reef which it is our duty to protect for the future.

QUESTION:

Mr Hunt, how many world heritage committee nations have you visited to discuss about the reef listing?

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

Look, I've written to all countries. I'm in the process of visiting a great many of them and we're completely upfront about that. That's what you should do. This is of immense importance to the world and what's come through from those meetings is that people are beginning to say not only was the outlook report on science a model that the world can adopt, I think there is a very real chance that what Australia has done not just through the plan but most importantly through the action of the two governments can be held up before the world as a model of how we can respond to challenges. That feedback is becoming increasingly evident.

QUESTION:

Given that primary producers, first and foremost cane farmers particularly in this area and also graziers are going to be an integral part of delivering this plan and making sure things like run-off is so important, what kind of support will Government be offering in order to help them reach their target?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is where the Reef Trust is absolutely critical because the Reef Trust will be offering incentives to landholders, particularly farmers, who want to better manage their properties in ways that will protect the reef and I want to stress that the long-term sustainability plan, it's not something that government has cooked up in isolation. Yes, it's been a joint effort between the Commonwealth and the state but it's also a plan that has involved major work with farmers, with fishers, with miners, with the tourist industry, with everyone who is involved with the reef, everyone who is involved with the land adjoining the reef. So, this is something that everyone has a stake in. This is something that I believe everyone should feel a sense of ownership with and one of the reasons why we are all so excited about this long-term sustainability plan is because it has buy-in from just about everyone involved with this reef.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER HUNT:

Steven, you might want to say something about Queensland initiatives to work with farmers and the land and the water quality?

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER MILES:

The reason we've involved so many sectors of the Australian community in preparation of this plan is because we all have a part to play: agriculture, resources, our urban communities on the coast, tourism, the science community, government and policy-makers. And the Queensland Government's initiative is to bring all of those people together in a taskforce. For the first time they will be together with a pot of money to spend to implement least cost initiatives to improve the water running into the Great Barrier Reef. It's a five year programme, but we're confident it can put us on the way to meet the very ambitious targets we have set for nutrient and sediment run-off.

QUESTION:

I just want to ask the Prime Minister what he thought about those because the present state government’s targets are actually to reduce nitrogen run-off by 80 per cent and suspend sediments by 50 per cent within ten years. What do you think of that Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is the whole point. This is in our plan so this is part of the joint Commonwealth-State plan for the long-term sustainability of the reef and it builds on what's already been achieved – with, I think, pesticide run-off is down about 28 per cent, sedimentation and fertiliser run-off is down over 10 per cent, just on 2009 levels, and there's much more that will be achieved in the years and decades to come based on the long-term sustainability plan because water quality is the key. Water quality is the absolute key to keeping this reef in the best possible condition and that's why we are so determined under the plan to achieve just that.

QUESTION:

One final question, sorry, just on primary producers, will they be regulated or will their contribution to this plan be voluntary?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there are obviously a whole lot of regulations that are in place and they are largely the preserve of the state government but there are a whole lot of land use regulations that are in place and obviously you'd expect them to be carefully reviewed to make sure they are as effective as possible. In terms of the Reef Trust, we've put a very substantial amount of money forward, $140 million now, and that will be available to landholders who come forward with their proposals for making change that will improve the conduct of their enterprises of their operations and, critically, will improve the quality of the water in the reef.

So, whether they're adjusting their practices to reduce the fertiliser run-off, whether they're adjusting their practices to reduce sedimentation and so on, this is precisely the kind of projects that we want to come forward to the Reef Trust for funding because that money is there to ensure that the water here, the water that is the key to the quality and sustainability of our reef, is in the best possible condition.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, President Obama addressed or raised concerns for the future of the reef in his G20 speech. Do you think this was damaging or could sway UNESCO’s decision at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that was some time ago and obviously what we have today is a really important announcement; an announcement which all of us think is of historic dimensions. We think this is a historic announcement. We think this builds on 40 years of increasingly improved management practices for the reef. We think previous governments have done a very great deal to sustain the reef but this really does take that to another plain, it really does. It's not just the Commonwealth and the state going their own separate ways to do good things. It's the Commonwealth and the state subscribing to a common plan. But, as I've said, this is a plan that has buy in from just about all the stakeholders: the farmers, the fishers, the miners, the tourism operators, the local indigenous people – this is all of us as a nation saying with one voice that we are the custodians of this priceless, international asset and we won't let ourselves down, we won't let our country down and we won't let the world down.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, just on another issue about the Moss Review. Given it found there was no evidence that Save the Children actually coached people on Nauru, were they wrongly accused?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we welcome the Moss Review. We've accepted all of the recommendations and we make the point that there is absolutely no place in any institution with which the Australian Government has any association whatsoever for the kind of activities that were found. That's why we've accepted all of the recommendations.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, yesterday you said you were not across the details of this report. Is the sexual assault of minors not important enough to be briefed on?

PRIME MINISTER:

These are very important, very important, and very disturbing claims, very disturbing findings, and that is why we have fully accepted the recommendations of the report.

Thank you.

[ends]|

Transcript - 24309