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

Kakadu entry fees; plastic bags; Midnight Oil

Interview with Wayne Shields, ABC Darwin
30 October 2008

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WAYNE SHIELDS: News today that the Federal Government has decided to re-introduce entry fees for visitors to Kakadu National Park. The fees were scrapped by the Howard Government in 2004, but the Rudd Government says that's led to a black hole in Kakadu's budget. Peter Garrett is the Federal Environment Minister, good morning, how are you?

PETER GARRETT: Good morning, Wayne, I'm good thanks.

WAYNE SHIELDS: This black hole, how much revenue was lost every year, due to the decision to let people into the park for free?

PETER GARRETT: Well, on the basis of a $25 fee, it generates about $4.5 million in annual revenue, so that gives you an idea of the sort of figures that were being lost, and frankly were being subsidised by taxpayers, and we felt that it was important to make sure that we provide opportunities for this fantastic park to be better managed.

The way in which to do that is to make sure that we actually generate some income from the tourists that do come to the park, and it's consistent with both parks of its stature in other parts of the world, and also of course, parks in Australia too, like Uluru-Kata Tjuta.

WAYNE SHIELDS: So since 2004, has the management of the park been compromised, in the four years since the fees were abolished?

PETER GARRETT: I don't believe it's been compromised at all, I think the management of the park is very good, and we've seen an increase in visitors' numbers. But what I do know is that this is one of our most important international destinations, and national destinations, we really want to improve the facilities in the park over time, and there's no doubt at all that it was a political decision of the former Government.

It's not sustainable, we can't expect taxpayers to bear the full cost of managing what is, after all, Australia's largest park, and we need to look at some elements of cost recovery, and make sure that there's appropriate revenue to maintain what's really a fantastic world heritage area.

So the decision is one which has been taken bearing that in mind, I think that given we're exempting Territorians from entry fees to the park, we'll be able to introduce this in a way which is manageable, the tourism industry is generally supportive of that introduction, and when you consider that the fee is really a small part of the overall travel costs for interstate and international travellers, we don't think it'll have a major impact on visitation numbers.

WAYNE SHIELDS: So if you need the money to help manage it, why not make everyone pay? You could argue that locals, Territorians use the park more, so should really contribute to its management.

PETER GARRETT: Well, we felt that there was a pretty good reason to have a special deal for Territorians, it's their backyard, Kakadu, it's a place where many of them come on more than one occasion, and if there was going to be a differentiated fee, taking that into account, the administration and costs around that would be of an order of magnitude that means an exemption in our view is actually the best policy response, and that many Territorians would use the park on a repeated basis.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Yes. Now you mentioned there that visitor numbers have been increasing in recent years, now - as we're talking about, in recent years it's been free to get in, do you think that visitor numbers have been increasing because it was free, and are you concerned that this could see visitor numbers drop?

PETER GARRETT: No, I'm not, Wayne. I think that what we see from some research that's been done by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre is that most agencies think that park fees are reasonable. The view is that introducing or increasing fees hasn't had significant effect on visitation, if the fees were appropriate to the market.

And here we've got one of our most important, natural and cultural destinations, this is a park that generates significant income for the Top End economy, some $100 million a year, and it's very clear that where the fee structure is based on the overall package that people can expect when they come into the Top End, we don't think there's going to be an impact on visitation, and we realise that this is a fee which has been supported by the Board of Management, it's been flagged with the Tourism Consultative Committee, it wasn't a [indistinct], so those people who are working in the area, are generally supportive of an introduction of a fee of this kind.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Okay, so it'll be free for Territorians, everyone else will have to pay, how much will it cost, and when will the fees be reintroduced?

PETER GARRETT: The fee will be some $25, and we reckon that'll generate around $4.5 million in annual revenue, based on the visitor numbers of 2007. It won't be introduced until 1 April, 2010, that'll give the tourism industry plenty of opportunity to prepare for it, and we reckon that what we're really doing here is putting Kakadu back where it needs to be, capable of generating some income because of its really high level of interest and visitation from our overseas and interstate visitors, but still being one of the most popular recreation spots and visitation places for Territorians, who'll be able to go and come at their will.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Okay. Look, while we've got you here, you are the Federal Environment Minister, a couple of things that I thought it'd be good to clear up, and it was an issue that was fairly controversial, one you didn't have much success with when you first came into the job, that was plastic bags, can you explain why phasing out, and eventually banning plastic bags in Australia, is too hard at the moment?

PETER GARRETT: We considered this issue closely when Environment Ministers from the States and the Commonwealth met the first time, Wayne, and a working group report will come back when we meet again. We actually meet in a couple of weeks time in Adelaide, and we will have a very close look at both the trial that's been introduced by the Victorian Government, in terms of there being a fee that's - a trial fee that's being operated in the supermarkets down there, we'll also look at what the other states are bringing forward.

What we really want to do is reduce plastic bag use considerably, but we need to find a mechanism to do that, where all the states agree, and I'm hoping when we have those discussions, that there'll be more consensus on how we can continue to prosecute that case.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Yes. And another thing that creates a lot of litter and land fill in Australia, and that's empty drink bottles, what's the likelihood of Australia introducing a national container deposit system refund scheme? Is that something that you support, as the Environment Minister?

PETER GARRETT: Look, I've always said I'm open-minded about it. It works in South Australia, no other states have got it, although Western Australia's in the process of contemplating bringing it in. Again, we've got information and reports coming to us to consider specifically that issue, I want us to have a really close look at it when we meet in November, and I'd be happy to come back and talk to you and your listeners, once we've had that meeting.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Sure. Now, a few questions without notice there. I have got just another big question for you. The Eagles did it, the Angels did it, Cold Chisel did it. Any chance of the Oils getting the band back together?

PETER GARRETT: Oh mate. A delightful thought. Wouldn't it be good to be rocking out around the place occasionally, but I - at this point in time, it's fair to say that I've got a lot on my plate, and I don't think there's any chance of it for the moment.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Okay. Well look, I'm going to play a track now - the Ladyboyz. You familiar with Tex Perkins and the Ladyboyz?

PETER GARRETT: I am indeed.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Yes, number one to number twos, they're playing in Darwin tomorrow night. They've done a version of the America classic called Sandman. I'm going to play it now.

PETER GARRETT: That'll be good listening.

WAYNE SHIELDS: Yeah. Thanks a lot for that.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks mate.

WAYNE SHIELDS: That's the Environment Minister Peter Garret, who was talking about the reintroduction of fees in Kakadu. It's going to be $25. It'll be reintroduced in - from 1 April 2010. What do you reckon? Will this discourage tourists? Do you think that we should have to pay to visit the park? I mean, it's been managed for everyone, but probably won't get too many people complaining about continuing to be able to use Kakadu for free.

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