Topics: Great Barrier Reef, coral bleaching
It's absolutely clear that there is a severe coral bleaching event occurring not just in the Great Barrier Reef but throughout many parts of the Pacific.
We took steps early to warn of the risk.
There were some who said that the worst had passed. We rejected that, and they were wrong.
Let it be known that this is a significant event. We take it seriously.
That's why we have stepped up action to assist with the crown-of-thorns eradication, with water quality improvement, and with monitoring.
We will continue to do that, and elevate those steps further in coming days. But this is a significant event and I think we should all be deeply aware of it.
It's precisely because of the fundamental importance of addressing climate change that I will be representing Australia and leaving this evening to be part of the signing agreement for the Paris climate change Agreement which will occur at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Australia will be one of the first nations in the world to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
And we are now not just on track, but we will clearly meet and beat our 2020 targets.
The head of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce Terry Hughes, he said that the Government should give the reef as much attention as it does propping up the coal industry.
In your opinion, do you think the Government's stewardship of the reef has been sufficient?
Look, I think the best place to look is what the World Heritage Committee said.
Only a few months ago, the World Heritage Committee examined the reef – it removed it from being on the watchlist, it rejected the proposal to have it in danger, it raised the reef to the highest level, and the World Heritage Committee declared that under this Government, Australia was the role model for the world in managing World Heritage natural properties.
So the global umpire – the World Heritage Committee – declared Australia to be the global role model for managing World Heritage natural properties.
We've backed that with a $2 billion funding plan with the Queensland Government, $140 million of Reef Trust funding, and then a once-in-a-century ban on capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. So fundamental action. But this is a critical, severe coral bleaching event.
And as you mentioned, it avoided being declared endangered by UNESCO last year, but do you think this could tip the reef over the edge and risk being reassessed?
Well, I have spoken with World Heritage Committee authorities in recent months and in recent weeks.
We have as a Government been in contact with them, and their view is that we continue to be a preeminent manager.
Climate change is a challenge for every reef everywhere in the world. That's clear and absolute.
What Australia has done is to provide the best possible environment to have resilience and to reduce threats and therefore to improve the capacity of the reef.
So a serious, serious Pacific-wide challenge, but the global empire has said that Australia is the global role model.
Fantastic. That's my questions for today, Minister. Thank you very much for your time.
Thanks a lot.
Okay, so just some questions from me. Can you explain how the efforts to wipe out the crown-of-thorns will actually help the bleaching issue?
So the very strong advice from the head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Dr Russell Reichelt, is that eradication of crown-of-thorns reduces the pressure on reefs.
So once again, the very clear advice from the head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is, if you eradicate crown-of-thorns, that in turn reduces the pressure on reefs.
It gives them a greater resilience and therefore a greater ability to withstand external threats.
The eradication program – which has been largely run by the Marine Park tourism operators with Commonwealth funding – has been targeting highly vulnerable, high conservation value reefs.
And you add to that the water quality work – which is about deeply significant reductions in sediment, nitrogen, and pesticide run-off – and the ending of capital dredge disposal, and these three things provide the best basis we can have for resilience within the reef.
You said before you'd be stepping up existing efforts, but is there anything the Government can do that's new or different that might actually help fix the problem, some sort of new innovation or new approach?
So the immediate things that we can do are to assist with water quality and crown-of-thorns, as well as to provide the research and monitoring. We've already added additional research and monitoring capability.
In terms of water quality, by providing assistance to farmers to change practices, to reduce the run-off, you then improve the water quality which improves the ability of the reef to withstand events such as coral bleaching, and in particular such as this major and severe coral bleaching episode.
The Queensland Government wants the Commonwealth to convene an urgent meeting of all Environment Ministers to discuss this problem. Would you be open to that?
Well, we've already convened a meeting of the former Chief Scientist and all of the members of the Reef's Scientific Advisory Panel.
I'd be keen to receive something from the Queensland Government, because they have to do something themselves.
They must stop calling on everybody else to do things which they have refused to do themselves.
We have added additional funds. We have added additional water quality work, additional research.
I would say to them get on the phone, call me now. Because at this point, they have done nothing, and they haven't even bothered to call or to notify us.
So you don't think that a ministerial pow-wow is necessarily the best approach from the Queensland Government?
Well, when did they announce it?
A short time ago.
So have they bothered to contact the Commonwealth?
Not as far as I'm aware.
So the Queensland Government has done nothing, announced it to the ABC, and then doesn't even bother to contact the Commonwealth.
That doesn't sound like the actions of people who actually care about the reef.