Minister Ley interview, Ian McNamara ABC Australia All Over

23 August 2021

SUSSAN LEY: Hello Macca, it’s Sussan Ley, Environment Minister, from locked down Canberra, but talking to you about a rewilding project on the southern Yorke Peninsula.

IAN MCNAMARA: Good morning, Sussan, nice to talk to you. Tell me about it.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, this week we released 40 brush-tailed bettongs, which are a little rat kangaroo, a small Australian marsupial, into the southern part of the Yorke Peninsula. There’s a fence, 25 kilometres long, separating the north from the south. It’s 1.8 metres high. Its purpose is to keep out feral cats and foxes. And I wasn’t there at its opening, but Rowan Ramsey, local member, was, and he tells me it’s a fantastic project because it’s about the environment and farmers absolutely on the same page. We’re not locking up the Yorke Peninsula, but we’re keeping out the ferals and bringing back the bettongs, followed by the barn owls, the phascogales and the native ecosystem.

IAN MCNAMARA: I saw something the other day, and we’ve talked about it for years on this program: bilbies, putting bilbies in the same sort of enclosures. If you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it. It’s a great idea.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, the thing that attacks all these animals is native cats. They’re not native, of course, they’re feral. But they’re out in the environment. I call it the million paws walk. Every night they kill over a million species of native wildlife. So our little marsupials, our little mammals are getting lost over the years. And that’s why it’s just a lovely story, when times are tough, that we’re actually bringing back bettongs, which are quite incredibly cute. But most importantly we’re rewilding a huge area of part of our Safe Havens Project to keep these areas free from feral pests.

IAN MCNAMARA: Yeah, it’s wonderful. I wonder, because there is a space in Canberra which I went to about four years ago one evening with some people from the wildlife department in Canberra, and we walked through an area and saw echidnas and lizards. And as I was just saying, because of this time of lockdown, it certainly does it for me. I mean, if you see a little blue wren or a blue-tongue lizard or something, I don’t know, that’s the way I grew up, but it’s just very calming and it’s a wonderful thing. And I hope, you know, I don’t know- because I could walk through, there was a special gate you walk through in this enclosure in Canberra, and I wonder in future times if you’ll be able to get in and maybe wander around on guided walks to see these little bettongs. They’re wonderful things, bettongs, aren’t they? They’re just fantastic. I saw some in the wild when I was on one of the Variety [indistinct] years ago.

SUSSAN LEY: And it’s pretty incredible to do that. I think that might have been Mulligans Flat in Canberra, but yes they do that incredibly well. But certainly through COVID people are finding their way back to nature. It’s incredibly calming, it’s incredibly peaceful, and we’re hearing from the people who manage our national parks, that they’re getting visitors that have never been there, that are desperate to just find out what Australia has to offer. They’re not going overseas any more, but they’ve led substantially urban lives and they’re reconnecting with nature. So it is one of the upsides.

IAN MCNAMARA: Yeah, a young mate of mine said to me the other day, he said: do you know that nature doesn’t know that any of this COVID’s going on, it’s just continuing. I started laughing because it’s so true. He said they don’t know that any of this is going on, they just continue their life as normal.

[Laughter]

SUSSAN LEY: That’s absolutely right. The natural world doesn’t need us, but we need it.

IAN MCNAMARA: Yeah, I’ll say. As I said, I wonder if tourists, at some time, will be able to wander through those places, in a measured way, of course.

SUSSAN LEY: Yes, and I think it’s important that we don’t talk about nature by way of locking it up, but public access, but also working with the community. This project has been years in the making. But it’s included everybody and it’s particularly included the farmers and the community members. So, you know, the bettongs are going back into reserves, but right there there is farmland, there is activity, there’s people, there are children, it just works really well together.

IAN MCNAMARA: As I said, we were on a Variety club bash, I’m not sure, 15 years ago, we were in Queensland, and I saw these, like little kangaroos, but I think they were rufus bettongs, and they were lovely. They zoomed around and they were in the headlights, and I just- that was the first time I’d seen a bettong of any sort. There’s various varieties of them, isn’t there?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes, these are brush-tailed ones, but they’re so cute and that’s exactly the reaction everyone has. They can jump, they can run, but they’re just incredibly cute, and they’re incredibly popular prey with cats. So, you know, this is my appeal to people with cats: know where your cat is at night, particularly if you’re near the bush or near a reserve, even close to the city.

IAN MCNAMARA: I’m talking to Sussan Ley, who’s the Minister for the Environment. Sussan, I should ask you as a politician: how are you and how are the politicians coping? It must be a very difficult time because, again, with COVID like every other damn thing in Australia and in the world, we just find something that’ll divide us. So everybody’s sniping and I can’t really stand it and I think a lot of people turn off the news because of the same thing, because you’re getting this and that and this and that. You’re locked down in Canberra, your home is in Canberra, is it? Or you’ve just been trapped there, or what?

SUSSAN LEY: No, I’m in a motel in Canberra. My home is western New South Wales, where I’ve spent much of my life. I’ve really missed my electorate and it goes from pretty much Holbrooke on the Hume Highway to the South Australian border, takes in the Murray and the Murrumbidgee Rivers. Look, I feel incredibly fortunate, Macca, we’re still occupied, we’re still employed and we’re still able to do our job, which is really important to me. So I can go into Parliament House as an essential worker, yes I’ve got to follow the quarantine rules. But I’m aware that so many of the people I represent are not so fortunate and they’re really struggling, and young people are. And it is an incredibly difficult time, but what I say is there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve just got to get through this last stretch, come out the other side, and then things will be better because the vaccination rate will be higher and life will start to return to normal. So it’s been a marathon, not a sprint, COVID at the moment. But I think we’re at the last stretch of it. But for me, yeah, I miss my electorate, I miss getting out on the Western Plains, I miss the country people because they always put you in your place in the best possible way. You know them like I do and when they tell me they’re doing it tough, I know they really are.

IAN MCNAMARA: The brush-tailed bettong, I’ll look it up in my book, Sussan Ley, nice to talk to you.

SUSSAN LEY: Lovely, thanks Macca.