Topics: Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, renewable energy, climate change, whaling
Greg Hunt is the Federal Environment Minister, and joins us. Good morning.
Good morning Sarah.
How confident are you that this proposal might finally get up?
Look in the end do I think we'll get there? Absolutely.
Will it happen this year? We don't know.
But our approach is to work with France and the EU, to work jointly with the US and New Zealand, and along the way I've met with representatives over the last two years from Russia, from Norway, from China.
And our experts who are on the ground obviously in Hobart are doing the same thing.
So, it's a process to which Australia is absolutely committed and personally it's a real passion – and that is creating an enormous marine protected area – or if not that a series of protected areas – in the southern Antarctic waters.
If it does go ahead it would cover 2.2 million square metres.
Why does Australia believe that it needs to be protected?
Well this area is of course a sanctuary. It is one of the world's great resource areas in terms of protecting the natural world.
And if you can make a change before people start to heavily fish an area – it's much easier to act in advance rather than to wind back activities.
And in particular one of the things that both myself and the Antarctic Division are concerned about is the long-term krill fishery.
Now krill is literally the base of the global marine food chain – fundamental.
At the moment the catch is about 4 to 5 per cent of what's allowable.
Climate change though has an impact on the – what's often called the – exoskeleton of the krill.
And so we want to make sure that we have a deeply sustainable approach to krill over the coming decades.
And what will that involve?
I mean – I know you've written an op-ed piece today that's appeared in News Limited papers about the need to effectively manage krill in the Southern Ocean – but would that include things like taking krill for human consumption?
I mean, everybody seems to be at the moment wondering whether they should take krill or omega 3 – those sorts of things.
But will it go as far as that?
What it's about is a total allowable catch.
So it's not for me to prescribe what choices people make on their health.
It is for us to try to set limits which will be sustainable over decades and generations.
And if you make those decisions early then it has ripple effects literally down the centuries.
So careful decisions now mean that we preserve the resources in the long term.
So I don't think anybody's proposing a total ban. I think that's not necessary and not in line with the science.
We're currently, as I say, at 4 to 5 per cent of the total allowable catch.
The thing to do is to look at where the impacts of climate change will have an impact on the overall krill resource – and therefore do we adjust the overall total allowable catch down.
Now as I said, the proposals to establish a huge protected area was blocked by China and Russia last year.
Russia is chairing the meeting today, and conservationists particularly are hoping that that might thaw their opposition.
To the issue of China however, I know that we'd signed some agreements with China on polar cooperation and establishment of Hobart as an Antarctic base.
But how confident are you that China would be behind the push to prevent any sort of things like mining or overfishing in the area?
So the agreement with China – which really was a world first and it was signed with President Xi – sets out and we specifically wrote in a clause on long-term peaceful non-militarisation, and long-term commitment to no mining and absolute prohibition in the Antarctic.
So for Australia to bring China into that was a huge, huge achievement.
So that's a written agreement at the level of the president of China.
So as strong a commitment as a country can give.
So I am extremely confident that we have played our role in ensuring that 30, and 50, and 100 years from now there will be no mining in the Antarctic.
Then we move to the waters, the Southern Ocean, and we're progressively working with all of the countries to make sure that there is an acceptance that this is a critical sanctuary for the global oceans.
So step by step, and I think we're making progress.
I feel we have been successful and largely won for this generation the debate about mining and non-militarisation of the Antarctic mainland.
Now we're working on the marine side.
And does that also put more emphasis back on you though as a Government to investigate renewable energy when it comes to climate change?
Well what our task is of course is to achieve our targets, because all that the planet knows is the total volume of CO2.
So we've just recently published the latest national quarterly figures, which were the lowest emissions in both trend and seasonal terms since 2004 on a quarterly basis.
So that's quite a stunning outcome.
And beyond that we're clearly now, clearly going to meet and beat our 2020 targets, which is way ahead of what many of the pundits and the critics have predicted.
And now we've taken a very ambitious minus 26-28 target for the period out to 2030 to the international negotiations at the end of the year.
So we're not just playing our part, we're doing the most of any G20 country on a per capita basis.
This is Greg Hunt, the Federal Environment Minister.
You mentioned – or you touched on – the Southern Oceans there.
And there's news overnight that Japan says that it will sort of overrule or reject a finding last year that prevented it conducting whaling in the Southern Oceans.
Sea Shepherd said it won't be down there.
Will the Federal Government increase surveillance of the area?
Look, there are two things here. The first is that what Japan has said is they've put in what's called a reservation for future actions before the International Court of Justice saying that they won't participate in any cases or recognise the jurisdiction of what's called the ICJ in relation to marine living resources.
Now, that's code for they're not going to participate in any cases involving whaling.
The previous decision stands.
Our view is that that prohibits lethal whaling, that there's no case for scientific whaling that involves the killing of such whales.
This debate is still going on now through the International Whaling Commission, which is different from the International Court of Justice – this is a body set up specifically to deal with the management of global whale stocks.
So we think there's a long way to go, it's not a guarantee that Japan will be in the Southern Ocean, and if that comes up we'll deal with it at the time.
We have immediately dispatched the Environment Ambassador, who is also our Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, Peter Woolcott, to Japan.
He and nd the Australian ambassador have met with senior Japanese officials and made it absolutely clear that we would expect, just as Australia is, all countries to abide by decisions of the International Court of Justice.
My understanding is that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is going to head off to Japan soon. Would you expect him to raise it with his counterparts there?
Look I know that historically he's had very strong views.
I think it's – I won't pre-empt either his travel or his words, respectfully, and I understand your question.
I will say that together Julie Bishop and I immediately determined to dispatch our Ambassador for the Environment to Japan.
So it's a very strong personal issue, it's something I'm very clearly passionate about, and we will just keep going until there is a clear end to whaling in the Southern Ocean.
So just on that though, will you personally try to brief either the Prime Minister or his office before he goes?
Oh look obviously.
And in fact this is something that I have raised repeatedly and will continue to raise with Japanese officials, whether it's in Australia or Japan.
And just a final question while we've got you.
There's been chat over night about a broken table in the – after Tony Abbott was deposed as your leader and so on.
Were you at the party where the table was broken?
Not at that time. I dropped in for about 15 minutes very early on in the evening and left.
So I can't give you any enlightenment on that I'm sorry to say.
Thanks for your time this morning.
Thanks a lot.