Minister Ley interview Sky News

26 July 2021


JAYNIE SEAL: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will be added to a list of in danger World Heritage sites in a decision hailed as a victory by the Federal Government, but a missed opportunity by environment groups. The 21 member countries of the UNESCO Committee agreed to repeal a draft listing that would have changed its status without an on the ground assessment. Instead, Australia will be asked to produce an updated report on conservation efforts by February. UNESCO delegates will also examine the reef in the coming months before the case is considered by the World Heritage Committee in 2023. The proposal was based on concerns about water quality and claims not enough has been done to combat climate change.
And joining me now is Sussan Ley, Environmental Minister. Thank you so much for your time, Minister. What were the reasonings to not classify the reef as in danger?

SUSSAN LEY: It's a pleasure to join you, Jaynie. And the committee unanimously endorsed Australia's position and absolutely took out the in danger wording from what was the draft decision and is now the final decision, because it simply did not make sense to have this listing without a site visit. The technical committee hasn't been here since 2012. Without adequate consultation, there’s usually a long period of discussion between the state party and UNESCO before any in danger listing is made, and with that, the latest science. So that case was well made, well supported, and we're absolutely delighted that it's standing up for the reef communities and the reef economy. We are also showcasing what I will say is the best managed reef in the world, notwithstanding the pressure that it is under from climate change.

JAYNIE SEAL: Well, some of the climate outlook is showing the sea surface [audio skip] there set to be a half to 1.5 degrees above average between now and six months over the Great Barrier Reef. We have a history here in Australia of marine heatwaves, one of now, which is off the coast of Tasmania impacting oyster farming. Warmer water is known to cause mass coral bleaching. These types of stats didn't convince them?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, that warmer water does cause coral bleaching, and it is of concern. But what that picks up is the global challenge of climate change. Australia cannot unilaterally change the trajectory of the whole world's emissions. We can play our part under the Paris agreement and we are. But what the delegates said last night was: why would Australia be singled out for what is a global challenge? The actions of Australia in terms of our climate policy, unfortunately, can't make a unilateral difference to those ocean temperatures that you noted. The world has to act together. The world has to act cooperatively together within the World Heritage Convention as well. And actually, it was Australia who was quite forward leaning in saying to the convention, to the committee a few years ago, we need to find a way that treats all properties the same when it comes to climate change and recognises the effect on World Heritage properties. Some of them are natural, like the Great Barrier Reef. Some of them are buildings like so many of the European monuments that are also before the committee in this meeting. We have to be consistent and we have to be fair.

JAYNIE SEAL: Sussan Ley, you have convinced 12 backers of the motion to hold off on the decision until 2022. So what needs to be done between now and then to change the outcome?

SUSSAN LEY: Actually, it was more than 12, Jaynie. We went into the meeting with 12 co-sponsors of our amendments. But when you listen to the discussion around the table, there was broad agreement. Only one country of 21 actually didn't agree, and even they went along with a consensus. So, you know, that's an incredibly strong message about what Australia is doing, what Australia can and cannot be responsible for as one country when it comes to the global challenge of climate change. We will keep doing what we've always done: investing $3 billion on the reef, on land for our reef communities, making sure that we build the most healthy and resilient reef that we can in the face of global climate change. And I want to say for the 29 other reefs that are also on the World Heritage Books, we want to share our science with part of an international coral reef initiative that does that, because we are the reef that- yes, we are a global icon. Yes, we are under pressure from climate change. But we're doing so well in building that resilience, and it's our reef communities that are doing that. And $3 billion spent by us and the Queensland government will continue to work hard.

JAYNIE SEAL: Let's change topics. And you are the Federal Environment Minister and also MP for Farrer, which covers the Far South Western area of New South Wales. How concerned are you during these recent lockdowns across the country for residents, businesses and the economy?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we've had peculiar circumstances on the border, because we have Victorian and New South Wales communities that effectively are one, and cross that border many times. The first lockdown was really difficult, because that factor wasn't well recognised. But now we have what we call the border bubble. As long as that stays in place, to some degree, this is manageable. It's very, very difficult. But checkpoints on the Murray River, 34 checkpoints we had at one stage stopping residents from going to work, going to family, going home was absolutely dreadful. There's been some learnings since then. But of course for regional Australia, we know that we've got great opportunities and a [Audio error] economy, if you like, that's working well and we don't want to put that at risk. But we also know that we're a tourism destination. And when you have lockdown's that prevent people coming to our beautiful iconic tourism sites along the northern side of the Murray, that hurts our people. So, yes, like everyone in Australia, I'm concerned. And I want to deliver a very strong message to my communities, which is that please get vaccinated. Just because you live in regional Australia doesn't mean the threat is not there.

JAYNIE SEAL: It certainly has been a strong message today. Thank you very much. Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, thank you for your time.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you.