Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with ABC, Fran Kelly
14 June 2012
FRAN KELLY: It's twenty-eight to nine on Breakfast. Environmental groups say it's a reason to celebrate today. Some of the fishing industry call it devastating. That's pretty much the range of reactions to the Federal Government's announcement that Australia will create the world's largest network of marine parks.
The parks, to ring the entire Australian coastline, will cover 3.1 million square kilometres and will put limits on fishing, oil and gas exploration. The plan which includes marine parks in the Coral Sea will be officially unveiled this morning by the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, who joins us now. Minister, good morning. Welcome back to Breakfast.
TONY BURKE: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, what will this network of marine parks mean for the environment? What threats will these parks protect us from?
TONY BURKE: Well in some ways it's establishing the equivalent of a national parks estate in the ocean, so some of the areas, for example the Coral Sea's a classic one where it's not under imminent threat. It's being protected permanently because it's pristine and sometimes we always look at the environment through the lens of well, there has to be an immediate threat or there has to be something that's wrong with it in order for the protection.
This is about looking at our oceans right at the start and saying okay, where are the features and the special places that you'd want to protect forever? So some of the areas there have been fishing in, you know, significant ways and things like that in different parts of it, but some of it is simply magnificent reefs, magnificent areas that are worth protecting and saying we want to keep them that way forever.
FRAN KELLY: Now there's lots of sort of detail to get to and issues, but just on the magnificent reefs, what about the Rowley Shoals, because there was a lot of talk about that and concern about that and allowing exploration, resource exploration close to the Rowley Shoals Reef off the WA coast. Are they going to be - is that going to be protected?
TONY BURKE: Look, there's a level of protection directly on the Shoals themselves already. There's been some expansion of that in terms of not having trawling and things like that immediately around them.
FRAN KELLY: But not the oil and gas?
TONY BURKE: It's not one of the areas where we've put a full a marine national park in which would have the direct impact on oil and gas there.
FRAN KELLY: Okay, which goes to the next point which - how much might this plan that you release today change considering environmentalists believe more can be done and fishing groups say it's already goes way too far?
TONY BURKE: Up until now the public consultation has been about what should the zones be and where should the lines be drawn. As of today the public consultation now, when we go into the next formal phase in a couple of weeks time, is simply do we implement the network or do we not? So the conversation...
FRAN KELLY: You mean this whole thing could be scrapped?
TONY BURKE: Well by law we have to go through that final consultation period but, you know, I wouldn't be putting it out if I wasn't in favour of it. But by law there is a final sixty day consultation period, but the questions are no longer where could boundaries be shifted or anything like that. This is now the network that the Government's putting forward.
FRAN KELLY: For some it's a desire to protect our ocean environments. For others it's their livelihood that will be impacted here. What do you say will be the overall impact on commercial fishing in these parks?
TONY BURKE: The total figures across all of commercial fishing are not a large impact, but there'll be some areas where that's not true. There'll be some areas, particularly some of the long liners up around the Coral Sea area where there is a direct and significant impact on them and there's a couple of businesses there in particular where they have vertically integrated processing as part of the same business.
So we're going to need to work out the displacement on individual businesses on a case by case basis. We haven't been able to have those conversations in a really direct way until we put down what the maps were and those conversations with my department will now be worked through.
FRAN KELLY: Some of the fishing groups say that's where you've gone wrong. They say alongside this plan you should have simultaneously announced the compensation packages for the fishing industry. Why didn't you do that?
TONY BURKE: Oh, very simply because you end up in a chicken and egg argument. I've gone out myself and done a fair bit of the consultation personally, but the answers change as to what compensation would be required depending on where the lines on the maps are drawn. So there are some businesses that are not vertically integrated, some that are, there's just a whole lot of different variations and we felt that you couldn't really have the sensible conversation and start to lock down precise details and impacts until the maps have been finalised.
FRAN KELLY: In the - on the program - on this program on Friday we were talking to a few of the interests in the Coral Sea about this notion and some of the long liners, I think there's four businesses around the Coral Sea who are already clearly engaged in talk with Government about compensation.
When final boundaries are drawn up how much could the compensation bill for the fishing industry end up costing?
TONY BURKE: Look, I don't want to undermine the case by case nature of it. Some of the estimates have been in the order of around one-hundred million dollars. It's been in that order, but we're looking at it case by case on individual businesses around the country, so I don't want to, you know, commit in too much of a final way to that specific figure.
FRAN KELLY: Look, I'm no expert in this but on the surface that doesn't seem like so much, one-hundred million dollars for all of this when you consider as I read this morning that when the Great Barrier Reef was declared a marine path - park, the compensation was mooted to be eight million and it blew out to two-hundred-and-fifty million. Is that right?
TONY BURKE: That's what happened there. You've got to remember you're in...
FRAN KELLY: And that's just one park.
TONY BURKE: Oh, that's right, but you're in waters there that are much, much closer to shore than what we're talking at here. I mean when you talk about for example for the rec fishing point of view, if you're in Mackay - if you're south of Mackay and you head due east it's almost impossible to hit a marine park.
If you're in Mackay you've got to power out for about four-hundred kilometres before you'd hit one of the new marine parks that's being proposed here, so we're talking about waters that are a fair way out and that does mean you have a different impact to when we were talking about the Reef.
FRAN KELLY: You've said this morning the jewel in the crown of this network is the Coral Sea. Can you give us a sense, you know, I understand you're in negotiations but how much commercial activity will be restricted in the Coral Sea? Will there be commercial fishing allowed? Will there be recreational fishing allowed?
TONY BURKE: For recreational fishing there's some impact where spear fishers for example have wanted to go out onto the reef in the Coral Sea and there's a whole lot of reefs that are now highly protected where they won't be able to do that. A lot of the rec fishing has been in areas closer to shore, still within the Coral Sea but closer to shore where they're chasing the big species and a lot of that happens in areas which don't go into the marine park.
But for example for your dive industry, it's an incredible outcome for them. Osprey Reef is one of the top dive sites in the world and that'll now have the added protection of being in a marine national park and there was a big push on us during the consultation period that the drafts I put out, a lot of people said we hadn't gone far enough in protecting the reefs within the Coral Sea.
We'd protected a lot of water but not enough of the reefs and so in the final maps we've added Osprey Reef, Shark, Vema, Bougainville, Marion reefs all added to the high conservation area.
FRAN KELLY: And while that's going to please the deep sea divers as you say and the environmentalists, it almost certainly won't please some of the recreational fishers. Again, we spoke to someone on the program on Friday. They were very worried about this in terms of what they can or can't do, where they can go in the Coral Sea and Senator Ron Boswell, National Party Senator in Queensland is warning you there'll be an almighty push back from those who use these areas.
Are you concerned about the political impacts of this? I mean particularly States like Queensland and WA directly affected by this and where Labor already is struggling politically?
TONY BURKE: Yeah, I've got to say that I think the example I gave as to just how far out these waters are from a place like Mackay isn't a bad example of the actual impact in rec fishing compared to the campaign and you know, the rest of the way down that East Coast, you know, you've got to get out basically to Lord Howe Island or Norfolk Island before you find areas that are directly hit in a big way by - for rec fishing.
So Ron Boswell's media releases are pretty full on and he's always been that way, but when you get to what's the actual impact and acknowledge the fact that your rec fishers tend to shift - tend to fish off a reef, not on a reef, then the impact when you look at the boundaries here is nothing of the proportions that Ron is trying to rev up at the moment.
FRAN KELLY: It's nineteen to nine on Breakfast. Our guest this morning is the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke who will today unveil the world's largest network of marine parks, basically ringing the country. There are exemptions. There's zones. It's a multi-coloured map that I'm looking at Minister, because certainly areas are exempted for certain industries or restricted from certain industries.
What about oil and gas exploration? Are they going to be allowed to areas carved out in these marine parks to continue exploring? We are going to have the same sort of argy bargy on the ocean in terms of resources and mining and drilling as we are on the mainland over access to coal seam gas exploration?
TONY BURKE: Oh, I don't think I can ever take the push back and forth away from those issues, but what the decision will mean is that if it's coloured green in that map in front of you or the one that's up on the ABC webpage, that if it's coloured green then there's a lock out of oil and gas in those areas.
There's also a lock out of oil and gas in an area that's marked off the Margaret River area in Western Australia that's been pretty controversial and..
FRAN KELLY: Is there oil and gas reserves there that won't be allowed to be exploited now?
TONY BURKE: That's my understanding, yeah, yeah and certainly through the - throughout the Coral Sea area you've got the same rules there that have applied and historically that was the original big fight over the Great Barrier Reef. That ban on oil and gas extends now across the whole of the Coral Sea no matter what colour it is.
FRAN KELLY: And just finally Minister, what's driven you to do this, to carve out marine parks as I say, to make Australia's create the world's largest network of marine parks? Is this a personal drive? Is it something you've come to since you've taken up the portfolio? What's driven this?
TONY BURKE: Look, the opportunity has been there for a long time. I think Paul Keating was the first to start talking about getting a representative comprehensive network together. For me, I've always been passionate about our national parks on land and there is an opportunity to replicate that in the oceans and the oceans like the atmosphere is a shared resource where around the world it's been going backwards in a big way and I do think as an island nation we're just so wonderfully positioned to be able to lead the world, lead the world in turning the corner on ocean protection and that's the opportunity that we're taking.
FRAN KELLY: Tony Burke, thanks very much for joining us.
TONY BURKE: Thanks Fran.FRAN KELLY: Tony Burke is the Federal Environment Minister and today he will unveil a more detailed, quite a detailed map of these marine parks that ring the country and I think kicks off a sixty day consultation period.