Topics: Reef Trust Phase II Projects, Renewable Energy Target
Good morning. I’m delighted to be here with Col McKenzie from the Australian Marine Park Tourism Operators, or AMPTO, with Matt Kealley from Canegrowers, and we’re here to announce the second phase of the Reef Trust investments. The first phase delivered $15 million for a variety of projects to reduce crown-of-thorns, to decrease sediment run-off, and in particular to decrease nitrogen run-off. And today we are backing up that with a second round of investment.
The broad picture here is that in relation to the Great Barrier Reef sediment has reduced 11 per cent, nitrogen run-off has reduced 16 per cent, and pesticide runoff has reduced 28 per cent. But as part of the broader Reef Plan for Reef 2050, we are seeking to make better and further improvements.
The Reef is making progress, real progress. We have made changes that have never been seen before in Australian history. And it is the farmers and the agricultural community, it is the Marine Park tourism operators, it is the councils, it’s the people on the ground that are making the difference with our support. We have the made the decision to provide $140 million to the Reef Trust all up, as part of a more than $2 billion 10-year Reef improvement plan.
We’ve made the decision to ensure that of the five massive dredge disposal projects which we inherited from the previous government for disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, none, not one, will see disposal in the Marine Park. And the thing which I’m most pleased about, apart from the water quality improvements, is the legal decision to ban forever capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
So against those background items, today I want to announce three initiatives. First, the largest ever Australian investment in cleaning up the crown-of-thorns starfish. This is a $7 million contribution to be an extension of the existing extraordinarily successful program run between the Reef & Rainforest Research Centre and the Australian Marine Park Tourism Operators. Essentially, they are helping qualified divers go to the Reef to eradicate in the high-value, high-threat areas crown-of-thorns starfish, and as Col was saying to me, for the first time ever to be ahead of the curve.
The second thing that we are doing is a $3 million Burdekin nitrogen reduction tender. So working with cane growers, working with farmers, what we’ll be seeking to do is to build on the success and double the funding that was available for the program in the wet tropics. So this is about improving water quality in the Burdekin, about improving the efficiency for farmers, and doing it though on a voluntary basis through incentives.
And then the third and final element is $5.4 million to ensure that we have reduced sediment run-off from cattle grazing throughout the Barrier Reef Catchment Area. Three constructive programs improving water quality and this is part of the broad thing that Australia is doing.
I would just add this – we have made enormous progress in the last year. We’ have made changes to the Reef which people would have thought was never going to be possible. And it wouldn’t have happened without AMPTO, without Canegrowers and without others. I am very confident, very confident that the world has already and will recognise this.
The reef was put on the watch list under the previous government. It is my intention that it will come off the watchlist on our time, under this government. And I think that other countries have recognised these enormous changes and in particular, the water quality improvements, the ending of the five proposals for dredge disposal and perhaps most significantly, the ending forever of capital dredge disposal in the marine park.
Against that background, it is disappointing that we now discover that Greenpeace is actively campaigning to have the Great Barrier Reef put on the World Heritage in-danger list. I think they will fail. I think they should fail. But the damage that they do is to communities, to tourism operators, to Indigenous groups, to people up and down the Queensland coast who live and work within the Great Barrier Reef.
And I think it’s extraordinary that we have an international group led by some people in Australia who want to denigrate what has been one of the most significant turnarounds internationally. What has been recognised as an immensely successful program and do not care about the impacts on the livelihoods, the reputation and the ability of local communities to provide tourism and other services to international visitors
But I’m proud of what we’re doing. I think that these three investments in reducing crown-of-thorns impacts on the reef, in reducing nitrogen run-off and in reducing sediment, are immensely important to better water quality over the future. Col?
Thank you. I’d like to welcome the comments and the commitment by the Federal Government to funding the crown-of-thorns program in particular. This program already has taken over 360,000 crown-of-thorns from the Reef. They’re an amazingly fertile animal, each one giving out around about 60 million eggs a year, so 360 breeding pairs essentially taken out of the reef is going to make an enormous difference in the long term.
With the resources that we have been given by the Government, we will be able to protect the tourism sites of Cairns. There is no doubt we will be able to continue to offer international tourists the best possible, pristine reef environment that they would want to come out and see. Not only do we have the Reef, we have the coral and we have the fish and all those together are something that most other nations don’t have.
With regards to the Reef health, I am absolutely convinced that the measures being taken by government and industry are going to see a long-term improvement in the health of the Great Barrier Reef. We are doing enough. We are absolutely doing more right now than we have ever done in the past.
And to the NGOs that are campaigning against my industry’s wishes, trying to tell everybody the Reef is damaged and not worth coming to, guys, all I can say to you is you are totally missing the point. Sixty-three thousand people in this State rely on their income from the tourism in the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a $5.8 billion industry, it is well-supported by government and industry and we are making an improvement. All we need now is the UNESCO to give us the opportunity to show what we can do in the next five years.
Thanks very much. Matt?
Thank you Minister. Canegrowers has been involved in managing water quality issues in the Great Barrier Reef for at least the last 10 years. Over the last five years, we’ve involved in Australian Government programs and we welcome the continued investment by the Minister and the Prime Minister to improve water quality going out to the Reef. The cane industry does play its part.
Over the last five years, through the various initiatives of the Government, cane industry have almost invested $1.80 for every dollar the government’s invested, of their own money, they invested their own time and resources. So they’ve put that commitment in to improve the Reef, improve the water quality and maintain that amenity that is their backyard. Growers live in these communities, growers have grown up in these communities, growers use the reef for fishing, for recreation, to enjoy. And they want to make sure that’s maintained. So they’re playing their part, they’re improving the water quality as we go.
I think the growers do get frustrated with some of the rhetoric that’s said by some of the green groups. I don’t think they quite understand the detail and the practice change and the effort that’s gone in to what they’ve been trying to do over the last five to ten years. Hopefully, that can be seen with the water quality improvement we have seen through the various Reef programs and through the Reef Trust.
I think the $3 million now being invested in the Burdekin region to improve nitrogen is a great commitment. It’s voluntary, so growers can actually participate in that and see how they can further improve their fertiliser use, further use nitrogen use efficiency and get better productivity for their cane, but also get better water quality outcomes for the Reef. So thank you.
That’s alright. Thank you. Happy to take any questions. If we could perhaps start with the Reef and afterwards I’ll deal with anything else.
Minister, this has happened – your announcement today is on the same day the Queensland Government has made some (inaudible) towards the Reef and they pledged during the election campaign to reduce sediment run-off from nitrogen by 50 to 80 per cent by 2025; but it seems like you’ve got your own targets. Why aren’t you working together on this?
No, no. With respect, it’s completely the opposite. We welcome today’s additional contributions by Queensland. The targets that they have set out have been enshrined and incorporated in the Reef 2050 Plan. So, we have common targets, we have complementary measures and we actually cooperate. Their announcement in relation to a water quality taskforce and panel is something that I unequivocally welcome.
So, it is a very interesting example of Federal-State cooperation. We cooperated really well with the previous Queensland Government and we’re cooperating really well with the current Government. So, sometimes things are way, way, way above any partisan differences and this is a really good example of cooperation and frankly with Minister Miles, I’ve enjoyed a very positive relationship.
And is that because you’re really heading to crunch time because next month UNESCO is meeting, this is all designed to convince them to take that threat of putting the Heritage – the World Heritage listing in-danger?
I think there are two things here. I know Andrew Powell and I share an absolute passion about the view that we have a certain period where it’s our watch to exercise stewardship over the Reef and I know that Steven Miles and I share that same passion for water quality, for reducing the impact of sediment and nitrogen and pesticide, for reducing the impact of Crown of Thorns, for having a long term approach to managing the Reef.
So, firstly it’s about the Reef and protecting it. This is – along with the work of the Emissions Reduction Fund, the work of my life, and secondly we really do – we really do want to make sure that the best case is made internationally but far from UNESCO and other groups looking at Australia now and saying we’re heading towards an in-danger listing.
All of the signs are that they are looking at Australia and how we have responded over the last 12 months to what was a process that began in 2011 as a model to be held up to the rest of the world as to how a UNESCO process can lead to a great, real world, environmental improvement in a World Heritage property. So, it’s a pretty exciting time. You only get this opportunity once or twice in a career. Alright, thank you very much.
…is the Government close to reaching a deal on the Renewable Energy Target?
Look, we’re working constructively with the Clean Energy Council and the ALP. I won’t put a timeframe on it but I believe that we can and will reach an agreement on renewable energy. I believe that we will have a Renewable Energy Target which will be effectively 23 per cent or a little bit more and so that is very significant.
Twenty-three per cent renewable energy is within reach and I hope that the ALP will work constructively with us. We are offering to work constructively with them and I would say that I believe we are close. I won’t put a timeframe on it but I do believe that now we are all working with best endeavours.
Your current position of 32,000 gigawatt hours, are you willing to move from that given that Labor is at 33 and business is backing that?
Look, I have never put a gigawatt hour figure on. I will refer to the general principle of 23 per cent, or thereabouts, being the appropriate range. There are some negotiations to occur and to continue and so you can understand that I won’t pre-empt those but I do believe that we should, we can and we will reach an agreement in the near future.
Alright, thank you very much.