Minister Ley interview Ben Fordham, 2GB Breakfast

27 July 2021

BEN FORDHAM: Well, we need to say congratulations to Sussan Ley, the Federal Environment Minister, because the Great Barrier Reef is safe for now. It's still in the sights of the UN's environmental body, UNESCO. Until last week, the committee was ready to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef and make it in danger. And then Sussan Ley went on a bit of a worldwide adventure to try and turn the vote around, and she had a win. Sussan Ley, good morning to you.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning Ben and good morning to your listeners.

BEN FORDHAM: Congratulations. I know you put in a lot of hard work, but this was the right decision, wasn't it?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, Team Australia put in a lot of hard work, Ben, and that was across many government departments. And certainly, spending a week where I visited personally some of the countries that were on- that are on the World Heritage Committee, I think made a difference. Because an in danger listing could've been a real kick in the teeth to our tourism operators who work so hard. Our farmers, our fishers, our marine park managers. And people overseas didn't necessarily understand, this is 2300 kilometres of coastline with $3 billion of investment. And you know, farmers have to watch what they do on their farms so that the water quality going into the inshore reef is good. Fishers have to report back, marine park managers make sure they kick out anyone who shouldn't be there. And this is just a massive community effort, and just explaining that to people. Plus of course the reason for the in danger listing was a climate change related one, and how can Australia control the emissions of the whole world? We're part of it, but we're not all of it.

BEN FORDHAM: Let's be fair dinkum here, Minister, this was just a job from China to try and jam Australia. The bloke running the last meeting is a minister in the Chinese Government, and Beijing put pressure on a number of other committee members to try and downgrade the Great Barrier Reef. So, it was a political move. It was payback from China.

SUSSAN LEY: Look, all I can report is what I saw on the meeting. And actually, the Chinese delegate went along with the consensus, the overwhelming consensus, which came from 19 out of 21 countries who basically agreed with us, and it made no sense to be on the in danger list. So, there was a fair bit of- you know, green bureaucracy politics if I can call them that, which you often do find in some of these bodies, particularly when they're centred on a big picture without understanding individual countries as well as they should understand Australia. Just to have that climate change mentioned as many times as it was gave me the opportunity to come back and say: hang on a minute, do you realise that our emissions are lower than the OECD average? Do you realise that we've got international partnerships in technology with Singapore, Germany, and Japan that are all about how we bring emissions down? And do you realise that we're 1.3 per cent only of global emissions? So, making those points is really important.

BEN FORDHAM: I know you've had a lot on your plate with the Great Barrier Reef but I've got a question for you as a former health minister, and that is whether we should be having a look at this rapid antigen COVID testing in Australia that gives you a result in 15 minutes. You've got 21 countries in the EU using them. Germany says they're a cornerstone for their coronavirus response. In the UK, everyone's got access to two free rapid antigen tests per week. They're being used in the USA. But we're not really using them in Australia. Should they be part of our response?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, as I understand through the Health Minister, we've approved some 18 through the TGA. So, I hope the states pick this up. I hope the public health authorities use them. Obviously, in the middle of a pandemic where it's sad and it's frightening you've got to be careful too with home diagnosis, but the chief health officers in each state are vital to this, and I'd like to see them deliver a positive message. So, I think they're on their way well and truly, and I think they are an important part of our response.

BEN FORDHAM: Congratulations again on your whirlwind adventure all about saving the reputation of the Reef, and we hope we can all get there sometime soon. Thanks for joining us.

SUSSAN LEY: Cheers. Thanks Ben.

BEN FORDHAM: Sussan Ley, the Federal Environment Minister.