Topics: Great Barrier Reef, CSIRO, Sydney light rail
For more on the funding of Great Barrier Reef protection programs, I was joined earlier by the Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt.
Well Greg Hunt, as we heard the Barrier Reef Water Resource Taskforce has recommended a figure that needs to be spent over the next five years by each government, the Queensland Government and the Federal Government, $300 million from the Federal Government.
Are you going to provide that much funding?
Yes, we will and we'll in fact meet and beat our commitments. It's not just a rock solid government commitment, it's a deep personal passion.
We're announcing $50 million today for investment in very important water quality activities. I will be announcing that with Warren Entsch in Queensland later today.
And that's reduction of sediment, reduction of nutrient, reduction of pesticides through grazing, cropping and plantation managements, the practical on the ground farm projects.
It's not the last of the announcements.
We're going through the process of implementing the advice of the Commonwealth Independent Expert Panel on reef science.
And we've also created a $30 million tropical water quality research hub. So put that together and we can meet and beat our targets.
And that money you're announcing today, is that all new money? It's not money that's already been announced?
So this is money which hasn't been assigned so it's going directly to the projects that have been recommended by the panel led by the former Commonwealth Chief Scientist – Ian Chubb.
And in addition to that, further budget funding will be announced in the coming weeks, so we're actually making record investments in science and research and in particular, practical action.
I hope that this will be matched by the Queensland Government and I'd also encourage WWF, which has been raising money off reef campaigns, to invest in similar practical on the ground programs – whether it's wetland protection, whether it's farm nutrient runoff.
It would be great to see a guarantee from them that 100 per cent, or if not 100 per cent, 90 per cent of the money they raise off the reef is spent on the reef.
Okay so when they talk about a $100 million gap in the funding, they say there's only $200 million or so listed in the forward estimates. This extra $100 million then, is that gap going to be filled by this budget, is it?
Look, we will meet and beat our commitments clearly, absolutely, unequivocally.
We're well ahead of the rollout that we had planned and promised in relation to the water quality.
And again, the $50 million today goes directly to reducing sediment, nitrogen and pesticide, and it comes on top of recent announcements with regards with gully erosion.
And as Ove Hoegh-Guldberg himself said, this is a 100 year problem, which we're fixing on our watch.
It's important that we do these things and it comes on top of the ban forever of capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area – something which was hailed around the world.
Okay, climate change is obviously the other big deal affecting the reef.
What did you think when you heard of that figure of 93 per cent of the reef bleached to some level?
Look, it is a very severe bleaching event, and I think we need all of the reports and all of the science.
I'll be there today, not just to talk with scientists and with farming groups, with tourism groups, but weather permitting we are going out onto the reef to do a direct site inspection.
So the bleaching is serious. It ranges according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority from minor in the bottom quarter, then to a ranking of minor to severe, moderate to severe, and then severe in the northernmost section.
So there are differing degrees across it, but nobody should understate the extent of the challenge.
A couple of quick questions on other topics while we've got you.
The CSIRO has today announced the establishment of a national climate research centre to be based in Hobart.
With a number of the 100 or so climate scientists who were set to lose their jobs to be among those 40 full time scientists employed there, is this an admission that the Government got it wrong when it flagged the job cuts to CSIRO last year?
Look, CSIRO is an independent organisation. These were decisions they made.
Yes, we did help broker an outcome here and the Chief Scientist in particular, Alan Finkel did.
But I know for myself and Christopher Pyne, we were very involved and each of us played our role.
What's being announced will be put out in detail by the Chief Scientist, but essentially there's a national climate science research centre based in Hobart, a national climate science advisory panel which will report to both Christopher Pyne and myself, and a 10 year agreement for funding with CSIRO.
So from what was frankly a difficult situation, we worked to engage with the organisation and to get I think the longest, deepest, national climate science program that Australia has ever had.
There's reports also this morning that you've rejected calls to intervene in the Sydney light rail project to protect tens of thousands of Aboriginal artefacts that the construction has unearthed.
You have the power to intervene here under the Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act but you've decided not to, why?
Well actually the advice from the Department is quite different to the way you've put it there.
Firstly, the artefacts in question have been quarantined and placed in a safe zone by the New South Wales Government and the project.
Secondly, the legal advice is that section nine of a very limited Commonwealth involvement is not triggered and doesn't apply…
So are you convinced there's no…
…(inaudible) clear legal advice that I have received. But section 10 of the Commonwealth Act is then invoked, and I have invoked that, so as there will be an assessment under that area of the Act.
So you're convinced there's no risk then to the artefacts?
Well the advice we have is firstly that New South Wales, as I say, the project leaders have quarantined the area that has already been identified.
Secondly, that the Commonwealth's legal power doesn't extend through section nine to this issue.
However, I have invoked, as I say, section 10 of the Act which is a longer term process.
Okay, Greg Hunt, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.
Many thanks, cheers.
Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt.