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

ABC Radio, PM
Tuesday, 13 August 2002

Subject: Great Barrier Reef MOU



Friction between the Commonwealth and Queensland over the running of the Great Barrier Reef has been a staple of Australian politics for a generation. But now it seems a new era of co-operation is about to dawn. Prime Minister John Howard and Premier Peter Beattie today signed a memorandum of understanding about a joint approach to the issue of land-based pollution affecting Reef water quality. Gerald Tooth asked Federal Environment Minister David Kemp at Cairns airport today why it had taken so long to reach an agreement in the first place.

Dr Kemp:

Well, I think it's very positive that we've now got this agreement, that obviously the Queensland Government is now taking these environmental issues very seriously. We've just had the successful summit on salinity and now, to get this memorandum in place, is really going to be very good news for the Barrier Reef and by the end of the year we'll have a water protection plan in place for the Great Barrier Reef which is Australia's great natural icon.


It was very prudent to leave this announcement until after the PM had met with canegrowers wasn't it?

Dr Kemp:

Well, it's not bound up with that in the sense that the canegrowers are very supportive of it, this is not an adversarial issue, it's one that I think everybody on the Queensland coast bordering the Great Barrier Reef wants to see addressed. There's strong support for making sure that the quality in the lagoon is improved because there's a recognition that there is pollution, there are effects on the coral reef and in the end the prosperity of all the communities along the coast depends on the Reef being sustainable.


The premise of this document though is that there's been a decline in water quality on the Reef and that's science that the canegrowers dispute right from the outset.

Dr Kemp:

Well, the document makes it very clear that there are very serious threats to the Reef and that there is a decline in water quality entering the Reef lagoon. Certainly scientific research in recent years shows that there has been a quite significant impact on the Reef. If you look at the record of 15 years of monitoring rivers flowing into the Reef, there's been a many fold increase in pollution loads. There have been scientific studies monitoring chlorophyll over the last 10 years, which show the decline of inshore reef water quality, agricultural pesticides are now widely distributed in the marine sediments and we're finding dugong and dolphin carcasses, which are contaminated with a range of pesticides and heavy metals. So there's no doubt at all that there are impacts on the Reef and these are flowing from the most part from land use. There does need to be agreement on the science in pinpointing what the sources of these pollutants are, and I believe the sugar industry and other land users are keen to see the science that will actually identify where the problems are coming from so they can be addressed.


Well, for a long time, the finger has been pointed by environmental groups, at canegrowers and graziers as the source of nutrient rich outflow that's damaging the coral. Is this document an acknowledgement that they are to blame for environmental damage on the Reef?

Dr Kemp:

No, it doesn't point the finger at any particular industry or group. It's a document, which is actually saying that the scientific evidence will be reviewed. It's based on co-operation between all the stakeholders and there will in fact be a stakeholder forum established as a result of this document in which all the interests that contribute to economic activity and land use along, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef can have their say.


Commonwealth of Australia