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

World Heritage listing for the Ningaloo coast; development in the Kimberley; reports of Japanese surveillance flights in the Southern Ocean; Christmas Island phosphates; Liberal Party falsehoods on Climate Change; Montara oil spill inquiry; Sydney Festival

Joint Doorstop Interview with WA Environment Minister Donna Faragher, Floreat Beach, Perth
6 January 2010

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GARRETT: It's a great pleasure to be here today on the coast of Western Australia with my Western Australian colleague Minister Faragher, to announce that today the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments have formally nominated the Ningaloo coast for World Heritage listing.

This is a really important day for Australia and for Western Australia with the nomination of the Ningaloo coast for World Heritage listing, recognising that this part of our country has extraordinarily high environmental values and that World Heritage listing will provide a recognition at an international level as well as at a national level.

We're also announcing today that the Ningaloo coast also goes on the National Heritage List.

And I want to pay tribute to the West Australian Government, to Premier Barnett, to the Minister. These have been extensive and quite detailed negotiations but they have been done in a very cooperative fashion. And today's announcement is great news for the people of Western Australia and Australia, and it's great news for the environment of this incredible coast.

The nomination identifies specifically a number of criteria that are absolutely unique and important in relation to the Ningaloo coast, its outstanding geographic and biogeographical history.

The unique importance of the environment in terms of the protection of biodiversity, particularly the presence of megafauna on the ocean side, extraordinary richness of sea life, marine turtles, dugong, and of course the world's largest fish, the whale shark; an area of significant and real beauty in terms of the coral reefs, incredible fringing reefs, and of course the limestone ridge of Cape Range which runs down the middle of the area to be nominated.

Some 700,000 hectares are contemplated in the borders of the nomination that the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments are submitting to the World Heritage Committee in Paris. Our anticipation is that there will be a process of some 18 months, potentially more, until the process of consideration is concluded. But this is an area of huge international, national and state environmental significance. It's the Ningaloo reef, the Ningaloo coast, and its nomination for World Heritage listing marks a significant and important step forward in its recognition as a place of outstanding natural beauty.

So I'm really pleased that we've reached the agreement with Western Australia. It's been something which has been very important to me as Federal Environment Minister. And, again, I want to thank the Western Australian Government for the cooperation that it's shown as we've worked these issues through, and hand over to the minister to add some additional comments.

FARAGHER: The Western Australian Government is very pleased to support this nomination. The Ningaloo coast is an incredibly unique and special part of Western Australia, Australia and indeed the world.

It is home to Australia's closest fringing coral reef. It is whale shark central, and home to a diverse range of species including dugongs, manta rays, and turtles.

If successful, the World Heritage area will encompass some 710,000 hectares. We believe that it is incredibly important that we showcase not only to our eastern states counterparts but also to the rest of the world what Western Australia has to offer. We have our Kimberley, we have our south-west and, importantly, we have our Ningaloo coast.

We believe it is so very important that we showcase to the world what Western Australia has to offer, particularly from a tourism point of view. We would hope that a successful World Heritage listing will ensure that we have many more tourists coming both - state, interstate and international over the years.

As the minister has said, there has been good cooperation between both the State and Commonwealth governments and the State Government certainly looks forward to a very successful nomination in the coming months.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Kimberley [indistinct] protection [indistinct] any plans of industry development on that section of the...

FARAGHER: With respect of the Kimberley we have in place, and currently are consulting with respect to the development of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy. That is a $9 million strategy. We've recently completed the consultation as part of that and doing further work. One of the early actions that we have taken though is we have already announced that there will be a marine park in the Camden Sound area. That is the maternity ward of the whales, of humpback whales. That is a very important step and very first step that this State Government has taken with respect to that area.

JOURNALIST: What limitations might there be on future public and commercial use around Ningaloo based on listing?

FARAGHER: In terms of World Heritage listing - and I'll also ask the minister to respond as well - but it does not actually change land tenure. It doesn't change the requirements with respect to regulations and laws, both state, local and federal. It is very important and, as part of the agreement, it was very clear from the state's point of view that we needed to remain in control of the area, and that has certainly been agreed to by the Commonwealth.

So there will be actually no change with respect to those laws and regulations that are currently in place.

JOURNALIST: So what will change? What does this do? What will change?

FARAGHER: Well, it's actually all about making sure that we have an incredibly unique and very special part of Western Australia. World Heritage listing in its very own actually creates a badging. It's enormous tourism potential. It actually highlights an area that is incredibly important. As I've said, it has the closest fringing coral reef in Australia. It is home to the largest population of whale sharks. It's an amazing and incredibly diverse area. And it's important that we recognise that; we promote that both, as I say, nationally and internationally.

And I think that from the state point of view that we need to be incredibly proud of what we have here on offer and, as I say, that includes all parts of our state, and today it includes Ningaloo.

JOURNALIST: Effectively though it's just a label. Is that right?

FARAGHER: Not at all. I mean yes it is, it is a label in so much that yes it's very [Indistinct] but you know World Heritage does bring an incredible amount of interest from, as I say, both state and international visitors in particular. That's a very important part from our point of view, from the state point of view, and it also recognises the very important and unique parts of the area. And that's important that we do recognise that.

GARRETT: Can I just add one comment to that question and add to the minister's comments? The fact is that World Heritage properties have got the Nobel Prize recognition for their very high environmental values, and research that the Commonwealth has done shows that we get increased visitation and increased economic activity as a consequence of World Heritage listing.

The World Heritage areas that Australia currently has are unique and special places and they're known as being special places right around the world.

This is a really, really significant announcement, it's a really significant nomination, and having flown across this coast and when we went up there early in my term, literally looking out the window seeing the quality of the water, seeing the turtles, seeing the sea life, you could see it from this light aircraft, and recognising that the proximity of the reef to the land and the profusion of magnificent sea life is unlike anything that we could normally expect to see around the world or in this country particularly in such a high state of good conservation health.

JOURNALIST: Given this nomination will, as you've just explained, attract in tourism to the area, what federal assistance and support will you be offering the state in order to ensure that those sorts of isolated areas like Coral Bay for instance are up to speed to cope with this obviously new attraction that we're going to be putting on our doorstep?

GARRETT: I'm confident that the existing planning processes that are underway in relation to this area will be able to manage issues such as increased tourism, and we're happy to continue to work closely with the WA Government on their overall strategies, but they are the responsible managers for this area.

JOURNALIST: But given its fragility can it come with increased tourism?

GARRETT: I don't think there's any doubt at all that with careful and prudent management of this area it can manage increased tourism numbers, and if we look at the kind of sustainable economies that World Heritage listing has provided in other parts of Australia, West Australians can look forward to enjoying both sustainable economic activity and strong appropriate levels of protection for their precious environment for years to come.

JOURNALIST: Can we also ask you about the claims that we've had surveillance planes taking off in Albany to go and check out what the whaling ships are doing in the Southern Ocean?

GARRETT: Look in relation to this morning's articles concerning light aircraft surveillance of the Japanese whaling fleet, we don't condone that activity at all and we're considering whether there are any practical legal measures in place to further the fact that we don't condone it.

JOURNALIST: Could this well be the leverage that you've been looking for while you've been going quietly along the diplomatic line with the Japanese, that it could well be the leverage that you've got something now hard to use for - against them?

GARRETT: Look just to repeat we don't condone at all those activities of surveilling the fleets in the Southern Ocean and we'll consider whether there are practical or legal measures that can be taken.

At the same time the Government's resolutely opposed to whaling in the Southern Ocean. We'll continue not only the intense diplomatic effort, we've already gone through the process of having a vessel previously in the Southern Ocean to collect material for a potential legal action, and the Prime Minister's made it very clear that if our strong diplomatic efforts don't bear fruit then legal action will be the next step.

JOURNALIST: Yeah but that's been said for so long now, Peter. I mean how much...

GARRETT: Well the point here is that we have entered into intensive negotiations and discussions as a part of the IWC, of which we're a member, and in good faith we are going to continue those discussions but we've made it very clear that we're not writing a blank cheque, we've always said that. And remember that we have done more on this issue than has ever been done in the past by any Australian Government. We have the largest ever nonlethal whale research partnership underway, the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, we've invited a number of nations to join us in that research.

I have a very strong vision for nations working together to better understand these beautiful creatures, to learn about them, to build sustainable whale watching industries around them, and for the cessation of the killing of whales in the name of science to be something which we continue to vigorously and actively work for.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that these surveillance flights have taken place? Do you know they have taken place?

GARRETT: Look all I can say is what I've seen in the reports in the papers this morning. We'll seek additional information in relation to that, and as I said I'm seeking advice as to whether there are any practical or legal matters which we can advance in relation to it. We don't condone the matter at all.

JOURNALIST: But you can't have Japanese flights using Australian soil and back up to go off the coast and do this, they're breaching international law. There must be more of a reaction than 'we don't condone it'.

GARRETT: Well, as I said, we're seeking to see whether there are any additional legal or practical matters that can apply in this situation...

JOURNALIST: [Interrupts] So can anyone from any country come into our airports and fly off and have a look...

GARRETT: Let me finish the point I'm making to you. The Government is absolutely unequivocally clear on this issue and we will seek additional legal and practical advice as to whether there's any other steps that can be taken, and we'll also continue to work very strongly in the way that we have up to this point in time on this issue. So we've seen these reports this morning, we will follow up on it as I've indicated to you, and I think that's the appropriate course of action.

JOURNALIST: Bob Brown said he's sick of the lack of action that you've taken on this stance and he's going to introduce legislation which will ban whalers from using any sort of Australian utilities. Would you support that?

GARRETT: Look, Green stunting on political issues like this frankly doesn't cut too much ice with me, and the reason is simple - that under the previous activities of table thumping and wristband wearing and name-calling that characterised the Howard Government's approach to dealing with the taking of whales in the Southern Ocean, we saw a doubling - 100 per cent increase in the targeting of whales in the Southern Ocean.

That was an approach to this issue which comprehensively failed. We're committed to succeeding in our approach to this issue, and we will continue, as I've said in the past, to vigorously prosecute this case in the appropriate fora, as we're doing, and we're mindful of the fact that our opposition to whaling in the name of science is absolute.

JOURNALIST: The Greens are going to present a bill to the Senate, present the Senate with a bill to ban any aid of any sort including sea surveillance communication facilities in February. Are you going to support that?

GARRETT: Well look, as I've said, I'm seeking - and the Government is seeking advice on what appropriate legal or other practical matters can be brought forward to deal with this issue.

Let us take that proper advice instead of just running off, you know, at the first whiff of a press release from the Greens or anybody else.

JOURNALIST: What environmental [inaudible]?

GARRETT: Yeah look, Paige, I expect that we'll make a decision in relation to Christmas Island phosphates in the next couple of weeks.

My expectation is that an advice will be finally settled within that period of time.

It may be a little longer. I do note that Virgin and other tourist operators are starting to identify Christmas Island as a potential location for tourism visitors. I think that's a good and healthy thing.

But we're a couple of weeks away at the least from making that decision.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]?

GARRETT: Well my decision is specifically on the basis of the matters that come before me - impacts on matters of national environment significance. That marks the hierarchy of my decision making. But I do consider economic and social matters as well.

And I will give those tourism issues and sustainable economy issues some thought.

JOURNALIST: The other thing I was hoping to ask you [inaudible] about Tony Abbott's approach [inaudible]?

GARRETT: Well I'm very, very surprised to not only see that Mr Abbott continues to make factual mistakes about climate change - and refuses to take any acknowledgment or ownership of those factual mistakes - but that this morning, the Shadow Climate Action Minister, Mr Hunt, has repeated factually inaccurate statements about climate change, in fact, on Perth radio.

And the issue here is an absolutely critical one.

Mr Abbott's leadership is the product of the support from people in the Liberal Party who are climate change sceptics and climate change deniers. Now is he going to finally come in to the 21st century and recognise that this issue needs to be dealt with not only in a practical way, but also in a way which bears appropriate recognition of the existing facts - or not?

If he's going to continue to throw out thought bubbles, refuse to take responsibility for the statements that he makes which are clearly wrong, he just can't be trusted on this issue.

And with his Shadow Minister this morning out there, peddling the same untruths, one seems to think that the Coalition on climate change are simply going to be in a ground zero situation of no accountability and no truthfulness.

JOURNALIST: What environmental impact and concerns do you still have surrounding the Timor Sea and the oil rig spill disaster?

GARRETT: We don't have any information in front of me at the moment in terms of advice that indicates that there's been additional impacts on the environment other than the one that has been already identified and is out on the public record. I think...

JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts about exactly...

GARRETT: ...well, that the identification of impacts on small numbers of birds and some sea life that was reported late last year, we will get a better understanding of the appropriate steps and measures that might be taken in relation to the overall question of these accidents when they happen at sea, once Mr Borthwick has concluded his commission.

I am absolutely confident that, in relation to the environment, not only did we act immediately in making sure that we had plans in place to fully deal with any impacts that may have taken place, but also that we were able to both work closely with authorities here, and remain in communication also with Indonesian authorities in relation to that incident.

JOURNALIST: Can I really quickly ask you about the Sydney Festival, is that okay, please? Are you excited about it?

GARRETT: Yeah look, I think the Sydney Festival is going to be a beaut event. We've got a fantastic line up of international and local culture that's presenting itself. The fact that the Reverend Al Green will be in the Opera House is beaut. The fact that there's going to be free concerts for people.

Sydney comes alive at this time of the year, and I very much want to welcome people from right around Australia to come in to this great city and enjoy all that's on offer. Some fabulous things there for people to enjoy. Dance, theatre, music, yeah.

It looks like a really good festival.

QUESTION: And you're going to be on offer - is that right?

GARRETT: Well yeah, look, I do hope to be able to play some role. And we'll have something to say about that a little bit later on.

GARRETT: Thanks everybody.


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