4CA Cairns interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

17 June 2022

SUBJECTS: The Great Barrier Reef, climate change and Australia's mining sector 

MURRAY JONES, HOST: It's 846 4CA, good to have you on for the breakfast show this morning. Well, I mean it's not exactly a climate situation, but certainly the climate wars is something that the brand new Albanese Government has basically declared that they are going to deal with this, and, of course, it dovetails very much into the environment. Conservation was something that certainly came up during the election campaign, but we know it's something that's very close to Australians’ hearts and we need to do more. Despite the challenges ahead. Just yesterday here in the tropical north our brand-new Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek was in town and she joins me. Good morning, Tanya Plibersek, how are you today?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: It's always great to be with you, Murray. I am very well. I have to say I had a beautiful day in Cairns yesterday.
JONES: And we were going to get you in studio, but you came up from Gladstone, because of course we've had some fairly high level meetings in Gladstone and of course over the last couple of days, so I did miss you. But just tell me, even though you had a bit of wind and maybe a few waves, how did you enjoy your experience of the Great Barrier Reef yesterday?
Well, you know, it has to be one the most beautiful places on Earth. I had a fantastic day out on the reef talking to traditional owners, marine biologists, people who are looking after the reef and, you know, it is a natural wonder that we need to protect for future generations; make sure that we are looking after it for years to come. And working with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, the Reef Guardian Council, they were really keen to tell me about all the wonderful work that they are doing to make sure that we've got this fantastic gem to show generations to come.
JONES: You know, we've got an obligation, as you well know, for our kids, for our grandkids to be able to enjoy what we've enjoyed. But, look, you know, I'm seeing it in the paper on a daily, daily basis and we talked about ending the climate wars, and you were just talking about talking to qualified people who have got the backing of science and they spend so much time out there on the Great Barrier Reef. You're getting information as minister from all the best sources, but we just have still so much rhetoric and denial about our requirement and our obligation   our moral obligation to continue to look after the reef and do something about climate change. That's going to be, I guess, one of the biggest challenges for you moving forward.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, the very clear message from traditional owners, from scientists, from everybody   the tourism operators, they all take climate change seriously. They know that we've got   as a planet, as an international community do something about carbon dioxide pollution to reduce the risks to the reef over time. We know that water quality continues to be an issue, but we've got $1.2 billion between now and 2030 set aside to tackle some of these issues, to deal with crown-of-thorns starfish, and I think by working together we not only have this beautiful natural wonder for generations to come, we protect the jobs, the businesses that rely on the reef too. I mean, we know that it   it's about 64,000 full-time jobs that rely on the Great Barrier Reef. We know that it's generating about $6.4 billion a year of tourism and other income. We need to make sure that that's protected as well.
JONES: Even the previous government, I mean, it depends on your interpretation, they did put a lot of money aside. And we are talking about that grant of around about $450 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and I know talking to Albo in the lead up to the election he was talking about actually clawing some of that money back because it was possibly not allocated the correct way. What is your position about what may be left of that $449 million or whatever it was and whether there is actually likely to be a bit of a slight reallocation of some of that funding?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, Anthony made very clear before the election that if an organisation walks into the Prime Minister's office not asking for anything and walks out with $444 million that we are going to have a look at that.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think the reality is a lot of the money has been disbursed now, it's been spent in partnership with other organisations. We will look at all of the projects that have been funded. If they make sense, if they are doing a good job, of course they will continue. If there's any unspent money there we will make sure that that unspent money goes to looking after the reef.
JONES: Well, I know you basically just landed into this portfolio, and sometimes that delineation between climate change which is technically a different portfolio and the environment can sometimes be a little bit muddied, but, look, something I do want to talk to you about is obviously mining is one of those things that is causing some concerns when it comes to the environment and when it comes to climate change. But for our national security, for our own self-sufficiency and not having to rely on foreign powers when it comes to some of the rare earths and some of the things that we need to reinvigorate our, you know, renewables when it comes to actually building solar panels, actually having so many of the aspects even when it comes to batteries. We've got the resources here in Australia, so, you know, despite the fact that we've lost a lot of those skills and a lot of that technology has gone offshore, the opportunity for Australia   and I said coming back to a national security issue   is that we actually need to be doing more mining in this country and of course the issue particularly with some of the rare earths and some of those other particular items that we need. Processing is very dirty, it's very polluting and it's often done in foreign countries but we do need to claw that back. As the new Federal Environment Minister do you accept that and, you know, maybe have an idea of the way forward to actually have that mining here, use our resources, but, of course, at the same time protect our environment?
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, 100 per cent. Like, we are in a fantastic position to exploit our rare earth resources. We know that they will be absolutely critical to, as you say, making batteries, for example. But in computers more generally, in defence projects. We know that we are relying a lot on China at the moment as the biggest producer of rare earths, and we need to, I think, do what we can to become more self-sufficient in that area and not just to export raw materials as we've traditionally done, but actually add value here in Australia. So we've talked about, for example having a domestic battery manufacturing industry here. I mean, that would be terrific for Australia.
The other thing we have to do, Murray, as well, is a lot of these very high-value things, like lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel end up going into landfill. So as well as exploiting the natural resources we've got, in a way that looks after our environment as well, we also need to make sure we are pulling this stuff out of landfill and doing a really good job recycling so we are keeping those precious things rather than just, you know, discarding them once we are done with them.
JONES: Yeah and look, I think it's one of those challenges moving forward. It is a reality and I think for the strength of our country we do need to do these things. And of course there's employment; there's so many opportunities. But Australians are clever, we are smart, even whether it comes to processing some of these particular items I think there's actually opportunity there. So moving forward I hope that we can basically have a foot in both camps but most importantly still look after our environment.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, that's right. And I think we can do both. I mean, the whole purpose of Anthony's approach   Anthony Albanese's approach on environment, on industry, on climate change is really bringing people together for the benefit of all of us.
JONES: Speaking of that, for the last two years every time you've come into Cairns you have come into the radio station and seen me, but I missed you yesterday.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I'm so sorry. It was because there were flight delays from Gladstone. I wouldn't miss out on seeing you otherwise, Murray, you know that.
JONES: I know. I'm just teasing and hoping the other half is listening this morning. Tanya Plibersek, it's always a great pleasure to talk to you. Congratulations for the government, for your position, and a really important position as Federal Minister for the Environment. So we are going to definitely maintain our relationship. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Lovely to talk to you, Murray. Thank you