Topics: Cairns inlet project, Great Barrier Reef, turtles and dugongs
I’ve been really looking forward to catching up with this gentleman, there’s so much to talk about. He’s the Federal Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt is his name.
Good morning John.
I’ve got to take up an issue with you, and I know it’s overwhelmingly a State issue, but ultimately you’ll be involved, and we’re talking about the- basically the dredge project for the Cairns inlet. Now, we’ve been promised that we’ll have an EIS delivered before Christmas, which means this week or next.
There’s been no hint that it’s going to be pulled this time, so we’re hoping. And of course we’re talking about five options for dumping the spoil at sea if you like, or in the edges of the marine park, and five options for dumping on land, which will need, according to the experts, some level of treatment, the cost of which we don’t know.
However on this program the Premier has extended the offer from $40 million to $90 million support to get this port of ours accepting bigger and more ships, which means we’d see a trebling of ships in very short time, which would be an absolute life-saver for businesses in the CBD. So you can imagine there’s a lot of interest.
We’ve had an extended debate over whether or not the marine dumping could be possible or appropriate here, and there seems to be a consensus on this program that it would not be appropriate, no matter where. We seem to have moved on, there’s a fair bit of pressure on you I know at the Federal level to move on from that, and I would imagine the State Government will be similar, and the sounds are suggesting they have similar thoughts on it.
However that still leaves options open for the dredge spoil going for example at East Trinity or on Admiralty Island or whatever. Can I just have some commentary from you, at the Federal level, on where your Government stands on our particular matter, the dredge project in the inlet?
Sure of course. So I have to decide anything against the law as such, so it’s best for me not to pre-empt, but let me say this. Both myself and Andrew Powell, as well as the Deputy Premier in Jeff Seeney, inherited five major proposals from the Federal and State ALP Government to dredge, and then dispose of spoil within the Marine Park. We’ve progressively worked to ensure that none of those five will see dumping or disposal in the Marine Park.
I announced, after discussion with Andrew Powell, the Queensland Environment Minister, at the World Parks Congress that the Australian Government would move not just to stop those projects, but ban dredge disposal for capital dredging in the Marine Park forever.
Now, the Marine Park Authority is going through the process of preparing a regulatory approval for me, and that will go with the force of law and I’ve committed to that and that will apply to all capital dredge projects up and down the Marine Park. So, that’s a general principle, it’s clear, it’s categorical, it’s not just a policy, it’s going to have the force of law.
But as for the project, I understand that Queensland is very supportive of it, and I understand that locals are. Subject to the ban which we will put in place, obviously I’ll consider any proposal against the law and work with Queensland, and work with the port.
Yeah. I don’t know about your personal involvement in any studies on the cost of treatment of spoil itself, but it has become an issue. And I hope the State Government doesn’t use it as an excuse to walk away from something.
We’ve had a shocking run up here, there’s a lot of doubts about our Aquis development going ahead, and the town is on its knees economically, so there’s a lot of people desperate to get this one over the line.
We’ve had cracks at it before, we’ve been rolled by the green movement, we’re horrified at the prospect of being rolled by the green movement or the green extremists again. So, when it comes to the cost of treatment of spoil, have you had any personal experience of that?
Look I’ve had some very preliminary figures presented to me for different options, but they weren’t finalised and the port authority wasn’t confident at that stage about going public with them because they were working through them. That’s for the Port Authority and the Queensland Government.
But our approach has been to try to resolve issues, not block them. The one absolute line in the sand that I have drawn is no more capital dredge disposal in the Marine Park. That’s had local support, State support, and the Queensland Government has changed a hundred years’ practice – and I’ve got to say for the Premier, and for Andrew Powell, and in particular for members like Warren Entsch, who’s been a total champion of this, that’s a great outcome.
But where we can get projects going we’ve approved about a trillion dollars of stalled, blocked, frozen projects that were left from the previous government. An astronomical figure. But that’s the formal figure from my Department.
So we’ve tried to put in place a sea change in environmental practice. But not be afraid to make decisions. They’re the two principles.
Now, I want to take you off that now, to another matter that’s still critically important – I think that the people up and down the Queensland coast particularly, I’ll take you back. I think it was yesterday’s – yes it was, the Courier yesterday, Julie Bishop will declare the Great Barrier Reef is not in danger as she today heads off an international push to blacklist the national icon.
She’ll warn world leaders to back off, arguing a push to list the Australian icon will put their own heritage sites in the firing line. The Foreign Minister believes a successful ruling against Australia would set a precedent that activists – and she’s talking about the anti-coal lobby here particularly – will use to list key world heritage sites across the world.
Well, as far as our local opponents are concerned, most people seem to believe it’s an anti-coal lobby. Now our Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell has been very active in working internationally to counter some of what he believes, and the Premier believes, and lots of us believe to be misinformation being peddled by these extreme green groups.
Talk to me about your Government generally, and its belief about what it can do to counter misinformation if indeed, you clearly believe it is? According to Julie Bishop, she believes this misinformation is being peddled constantly.
Well, look there are many who are associated with the hard Left, who are holding your tourism operators, who are holding farmers and businesses and communities on the reef hostage for an anti-mining agenda. Essentially, they don’t want the Carmichael mine and other mines to go ahead. The Carmichael mine I’ve visited, it’s not a mine yet.
It’s a project that’s been approved. It’s 500 kilometres inland, it’s in a dry and dusty area. If you were ever to have a mine, you’d look at a place like that, and say well it’s remote, it’s inland, it’s dry, it’s dusty. I’ve walked the land, I’ve flown over it.
And that doesn’t make for an appealing case. That’s hard to convince the Australian people that this is an unreasonable place to use the resource which is there. So instead what they’re trying to do is to hold the reef as hostage.
And I’ve had questions about, you know, how can you allow a mine like this on the edge of the reef. Actually it’s 500 kilometres inland. And so Julie’s point is that there are groups that are making reference to mining on the reef; complete fallacy, complete furphy. The famous photo of the channel next to Hardy reef…
Has been used by some of the environment groups to imply that this is a dredge. And this actually one of Australia’s great natural wonders. And you have, you know, two halves to a wonderful, world class offshore reef with an amazing natural channel through it.
And then that is photographed and used by groups to pretend and to imply that that has somehow being dredged. And that is just a gross distortion. So what’s happening here? We’ve ended this practice of marine disposal.
The very thing about which the green groups were silent when Labor was in power, but now about which they’re seeking to hold Australia and the North Queensland communities hostage.
And I think that’s deeply irresponsible. And we’re working constructively – I’ve met with numerous international leaders, whether it’s from the international organisations or from countries on the World Heritage committee and when you take them through the facts they’re saying gosh, Australia has listened.
They’ve acted. They’ve turned around a hundred years of practice. We inherited massive ALP dredge disposal plans for the marine park, and we’ve stopped all of those capital dredge disposal plans from going ahead.
Now, I’ve got to take you off that, because you’re in a hurry, and I’ve got to get to other matters as well. When you were last here in the studio I was, to say the least, a little disillusioned about the Federal Government’s plans on the turtle situation and the dugong situation, but particularly the slaughter of turtles at Green Island, Michaelmas Cay and Low Isles.
However, your colleague Warren Entsch has assured me in recent weeks that indeed your Government is taking tough measures on protecting those turtles and bringing to an end this most appalling slaughter that’s underway again.
I’ve got to let you know, I’ve just had fresh reports coming through. The most bloodthirsty slaughter of these animals in front of tourists again, just very recently on Green Island. But if you can just briefly outline what your Government intends to do to bring this sort of slaughter – this appalling behaviour – to an end?
Well, we have legislation before the Senate which was blocked by the Greens because they were going to tack other things to it. We’ve now reached an agreement with the Greens and Warren has played a very important part in this, Colin Riddell has played a very important part in this.
On Thursday of last week we were debating it with agreement from all the major parties to go ahead, put in place the tripling of penalties for those that were illegally taking dugongs and turtles and the ALP, out of sheer bloody-mindedness, filibustered or blocked the debate from going forward, ran it out of time, prevented it being taken to a vote and it is one of the most inexplicable things that I’ve seen.
How could anybody, with any good conscience, stand in the way of putting in place additional penalties for dugongs and turtle protection? It’s just inexplicable but we will get there. We will not stop. It’s been through the House. It’s in the Senate. I would urge listeners to call the ALP, to call Mark Butler, Bill Shorten, Lisa Singh who led a charge to block it.
She was trying to say that it didn’t have the support of the Indigenous (inaudible). I was meeting with Melissa George at the very time the legislation was due to go through, she’s the Head of the Indigenous Advisory Council, her support, we’ve worked with the Dugong and Turtle Task Force, we’ve worked with the Yarrabah community and then just to try to block it, for the sake of saying we won’t let something go through, I think that that was environmental vandalism.
Well, I would hope I’ll be able to get pictures of this carnage in the midst of these international travellers with women absolutely distraught, crying in horror at what has happened to these lovely animals that they’ve travelled from the other side of the world to witness.
I agree. The other thing is we’ve got a $2 million Australian Crime Commission investigation into dugong and turtle poaching underway now. Obviously I won’t go into the detail but these are the heaviest hitters in the land. These are the experts in illegal trade and poaching, in crime, in anything that might involve organised crime.
They are absolutely the heaviest hitters amongst the investigators in the country. And then there is another $3 million which goes to a mixture of rangers, the Dugong and Turtle Protection through to Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Jennie Gilbert’s centre and Marine Debris Reduction.
So, it’s practical action on the ground and its criminal enforcement and criminal sanctions that are going to be strengthened.
You’d realise that so many of these unfortunate animals, after they’d been rehabilitated, they’re at Fitzroy, swim across to Green and get slaughtered within hours of their release.
Look, I am aware of this and so, Warren Entsch is – he’s not just a national leader on this one but he’s out there hosting a significant meeting with Indigenous leaders. They’re looking to get an agreement on this ban, in terms of Green Island and, in particular Michaelmas Cay. My office is coming up, I have met with key players only last week in terms of the Indigenous Advisory Committee on the Environment for the Commonwealth.
So, we are just pushing to get a resolution but there is a law there ready to be passed and I understand they’re a part of differences within the Parliament but there’s no justification for giving poachers a free pass and I say that to Bill Shorten and I would encourage you to get him on or to get Mark Butler on and to ask why they are…
…running blockage on something that should be about protecting the environment.
Well, I find this whole discussion’s been really worthwhile today Greg on balance of encouraging so thank you for your time this morning.
Always a pleasure.
He’s the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt.