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

Southern Ocean Research Partnership; Motor Traders green car proposal; Great Barrier Reef

Doorstop Interview, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
23 March 2009

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GARRETT: Thank you for coming to the National Maritime Museum this morning for what is a really important first workshop for the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, led by Australia. In Sydney this morning we have something really important happening. People from around the world gathering together to look at ways of better understanding our whale populations in non-lethal whale research and this will be the largest research partnership of its kind on whales, in the Southern Ocean, in the world, and I am really pleased to see the level of support that we have from other countries. This shows that Australia's approach to this issue is both well regarded and also well supported by other countries.

I am very much looking forward to see the results of the work that is undertaken here today. Australia is leading. We're putting up not only some significant resources to enable not only this Southern Ocean research to take place but we're also taking a substantial reform agenda into the International Whaling Commission which will be meeting in Portugal later this year.

This workshop will be an important part of that reform agenda because what we say is that the time for us to have a conservation focus on whales and cetaceans is now. The time for us to recognise that these species are subject to a number of different threats - climate change, ship strike and a range of others - and a better understanding driven by science - science that is undertaken in a cooperative and consultative fashion - is the way forward both for our understanding and for Australia's reform agenda at the IWC.

So, it is an important day today in Sydney because we have people from right around the world joining Australia in the largest research undertaking of its kind on whales in the Southern Ocean and this is non-lethal whale research - a substantial part of our reform agenda for the upcoming International Whaling Commission and, finally, a way for us to better understand, with the scientific knowledge that can become available, the kind of threats and situations that these creatures face.

Thanks, happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, what are you hopes of getting Japan to join in this scientific research?

GARRETT: Well we have invited all nations from the IWC to participate in this workshop and that includes Japan and I have always said that it would be a terrific thing if we can have as many nations as possible participating in this Southern Ocean Research Partnership. Many nations have an interest in what is happening in the Southern Ocean and it would be terrific for us to have the support from as many nations as possible and that includes Japan.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the 13 member nations so far are saying they're all condemning fatal research?

GARRETT: Well I think the most important thing about today is that when we first came into Government and we first went into the IWC process I made it perfectly clear that this organisation had been gridlocked for too long. How are we going to move the deliberations of the IWC along about a number of issues which are contentious including our opposition to the killing of whales in the name of science? The best way we believe we can do that is to work collaboratively with other countries on non-lethal whale research. Now, we've had a terrific turn-up here in Sydney this morning. I am really excited about the fact that we've had the level of support from the countries that we have. It is a very, very positive sign for us and it means that there is support from other nations for Australia's approach. It also means that there is support from other nations to the notion that you can learn and understand about these animals without necessarily having to put them to death.

JOURNALIST: What kind of timeframe would you like to see where the slaughter of whales ends?

GARRETT: We're taking a number of reform proposals to the IWC and there will be a number of other matters that are discussed at this upcoming IWC in Portugal as well. I hope that the International Whaling Commission provides the opportunity to resolve, for once and for all, the contention and the gridlock that has surrounded a number of these issues and take on board Australia's positive, constructive and collaborative approach to reform in the IWC.

We believe that the IWC should become a conservation focused organisation and I hope that those discussions will be significantly advanced when we meet in Madeira in June.

JOURNALIST: By making this a non-lethal research focused group don't you risk further polarising the IWC though? Won't it sort of divide the science between those who do want to use lethal research and those who don't?

GARRETT: I think that we will see an increasing level of support for non-lethal research techniques because the technologies are there, the scientific expertise is there and the policy-will is there to understand about these creatures and these animals in a non-lethal way. And what we have seen from Australia's efforts already, including the observational work we have been doing most recently, is that we can find out a great deal about these animals and we can do it in a way which is scientifically rigorous, scientifically robust, and non-lethal.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just on another matter, the Motor Traders Association has come up with a proposal today - it wants the Government to pay people $3000 to crush their old cars and then replace them with newer, greener models and help stimulate the economy. Obviously this is a scheme this has worked in Europe, is it something that you think the Government will look at and perhaps consider?

GARRETT: Look I haven't had a chance to look at that proposal. If it has come into the Government it is something which you would look and I just say that we take very seriously the need for us to have motor vehicle stock which is more fuel efficient, which is more energy efficient and which is greener. And we have provided significant investment in green car manufacture in this country in the future and my expectation would be that we will continue to want to see a significant enhancement of green cars in our fleet. But, as to this particular proposal, I haven't seen the details and I am sure that they'll be closely looked at.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, on another matter, in Queensland some groups are calling for the Great Barrier Reef to be declared a disaster area after the recent damage it sustained in the cyclones, is the Commonwealth going to be taking any further action?

GARRETT: Look we've looked very closely at the impacts that the cyclones have had on the Reef and they have been significant. The Reef is our most important national and international coral reef system and it is a treasure of Australia's which requires us to have the most exacting and absolutely comprehensive protection.

There is no formal proposal in front of me which details that matter but what I can say is that my expectation is that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will monitor closely conditions on the Reef. We'll certainly be making sure that any measures that need to be taken to deal with damage, which is significant, are taken and in that monitoring process and we will have a look at it as we go.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, back on whaling, do you think this partnership will impact the current debate about the IWC Chairman's proposal on Japan's scientific whaling?

GARRETT: What I would say about today's workshop is this is a world first because we gather together scientists and officials from around the world who are willing to talk and willing to work with Australia in a non-lethal Southern Ocean Research Partnership. And in so doing we will take through to the International Whaling Commission a strong agenda that Australia is leading, which says that the Whaling Commission can have a conservation focus. And that is really critical what is happening today, and it is very positive.

At the same time there are a number of other issues - issues that have been brought forward by the Chair which need to be discussed at the IWC. Some of those issues are highly contentious. My hope is that we can discuss those issues in a spirit of cooperation, openness and with a view to resolving some of those issues so the IWC can get on with doing what Australia believes it should be doing and that is having a conservation focus.

JOURNALIST: Are all 13 member nations represented today?

GARRETT: Look we have got a significant representation today from South American nations, from Europe, our partners across the sea, New Zealand. My expectation is that once other countries get an opportunity to look at the work which scientists have done at this workshop they can make a decision as to whether they wish to work with us or not.

The critical thing here is that Australia has stood up for a position in the International Whaling Commission and brought forward the most positive and constructive set of proposals that we have seen for reform but we have also done it in a way which invites other countries to come and join us in an effort to better understand the threats and risks these animals face.

Thanks everybody.


Commonwealth of Australia