By Tanya Plibersek

22 May 2024






CAMERON KERR: Well, a warm welcome to Taronga on this cool winter morning, but importantly World Biodiversity Day. I'd like to acknowledge that we are on Cammeraygal land, land that's been cared for sustainably for tens of thousands of years with fabulous song lines that talk to the way they cared for the land and ran culture on this country.

Now I'd like to hand over to the Minister for the Environment and Water, to talk a little bit about a very important program, Saving our Species funding. Thank you, Minister.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, Cameron, thank you so much to you and to the team here at Taronga. I learn something new every time I come here, and I'm always so impressed by the work that you and your staff here are doing for conservation.

It's a real pleasure to be here on International Day for Biological Diversity to talk about the measures that the Australian Government is taking to better protect our plants and animals here in Australia.

Today we're announcing 61 projects with $24 million of funding to protect our threatened species. This is part of our $550 million contribution to protecting Australian plants and animals, making sure that our threatened species have the very best chance of survival.

You have amazing staff here, Cameron, doing incredible work to protect our threatened species, and today we've seen some of the projects, the captive breeding projects, that you and the team are involved in.

Captive breeding is just one of the ways that we're investing to protect threatened species. Captive breeding, dealing with feral animals, cats, foxes, pigs, goats, dealing with weed incursion, reducing risks of fire, restoring habitat, providing nesting boxes and pup huts. All of these are contributions to making sure that our threatened plants and animals have the very best chance of survival.

The $550 million that the Australian Government is investing in coming years includes all of these techniques; habitat, restoration, captive breeding programs, feral management, weed management, fire management, restoring habitat. We actually need all hands on deck to restore biodiversity in this country.

For too long we've seen a one way slide in biodiversity in Australia. We know that there are real threats to plants and animals in this country, including climate change, worse and more frequent fires, natural disasters, pressure from urban development and other development. We need to make sure that we are changing our laws to better protect nature and that we are invested to protect our precious plants and animals.

We need to protect more of what's in danger, restore more of what's damaged and better manage nature for the future.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: So, if we're giving them the best chance of survival, how important is the kind of comprehensive reform of the EPBC and how quickly can that come? Are you disappointed by the speed of it so far?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm really pleased with how we're going with law reform in Australia. We've already passed the first tranche of our Nature Positive Laws, we did that at the end of last year, and that included setting up the Nature Repair Market and it included expanding what's called the water trigger in our environmental laws to make sure that new gas projects have to be assessed for the impact that they'll have on water.

We will shortly introduce the second tranche of our environmental laws to the Parliament and that will include, for the first time in Australia, setting up a national Environment Protection Agency which will have stronger powers and tougher penalties to deal with wrongdoing, to deal with people or corporations that are wrecking our environment.

We're also setting up Environment Information Australia, which will give us much better data and better info into how we're tracking against our environmental objectives here in this country.

We've committed to protecting and restoring 30 per cent of Australian land and waters by 2030. We need to know how we're going against that objective, how we're going in our fight to ensure that we have zero new extinctions in Australia, looking at issues like ground cover, like weed incursion, feral management and so on.

These changes are so important. The environmental rules that we're working off at the moment are more than 20 years old, and they don't work for nature, and they don't work for business. Our environmental law reform will see faster, clearer decisions for business and stronger protection of nature.

JOURNALIST: So, I'm seeing photos of dead pelicans in Lake Menindee, and there's, you know, been months of more fish kills. What's going wrong there, and what you know, what are you kind of trying to do to fix it, and I know there's been kind of, you know, frustrations with, you know, the States, but a lot of this is upstream, so, you know, what could be done in the meantime?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, what's wrong in Menindee is 10 wasted years under a Coalition Government that deliberately sabotaged the delivery of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and we see the impact of that on communities.

We've got 3 million people who rely on the Murray Darling river system for their drinking water, and their domestic uses, and we're seeing on it, because of its impact on nature, of course we're concerned about what's happening in Menindee at the moment, and we know in Australia we've had some really good rain in recent times, in fact, you know, we've even had too much in some parts of Australia in recent times.

The next drought is always just around the corner in Australia, and the water quality issues in Menindee are something that I'm working very closely with the New South Wales Government on.

I am concerned about what happens as our environment dries out, particularly in Menindee. I know there's a lot of bird life in Western New South Wales at the moment, because we've had really good a couple of really good seasons of rain, but that's no guarantee for the future.

We need to be better managing the Murray Darling Basin river system flowing into the Menindee Lakes to protect the wildlife and the environment in that area, and that's what we're getting on with doing.

When we passed our Restoring Our Rivers bill at the end of last year, we did it because we want to see our environment protected, and we want to see our certainty for agricultural industry, and we want to see good quality drinking water for Australians who rely on that Murray Darling system; we're getting on with the job. After 10 wasted years, we're getting on with the job.

I just want to say a bit more about plastics. One of the reasons that Australia is leading in the High Ambition Coalition on plastics internationally is because we know that this is an enormous threat to our wildlife.

Pelicans are one example, but if you look at sea birds washed up on the shore, we've got sea birds that are essentially starving to death because their guts are so full of plastic that they've got no room for the fish. We see animals all the time choking, caught in plastic, caught in ghost nets.

We've been working very well with Indigenous rangers in our north waters to fish those nets out of our oceans, but all that domestic plastic that's washing in, particularly from river systems in Southeast Asia into our oceans being transferred into Australian waters and out into the Pacific, we have to reduce the amount of plastic that we're using, we have to reduce the amount of plastic that is escaping into the environment, and that's why Australia is proud to be part of the High Ambition Coalition to end plastic waste by 2040, and we will be pressing in Busan for a strong, binding international plastics treaty.

JOURNALIST: So, was the nuclear power question, you know, the debate that keeps ongoing. Do you think it could be part of our energy solution now or ever?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, you know, once again here's Peter Dutton complaining about energy prices and saying, "But don't worry, I've got a hugely expensive solution that I can get to you in a minimum of 15 years' time".

The most recent information both from AEMO and from the CSIRO shows that nuclear energy is a fantasy, an expensive dishonest fantasy from the Coalition Government. Peter Dutton won't tell you how much it's going to cost, he won't tell you when it will be delivered, he won't tell you where the reactors are going to go.

It is such a joke to have someone who's complaining about energy prices today, saying "I've got plan that may help you in a decade and a half from now, but I'm not going to give you any of the details."

And the CSIRO report confirms that nuclear power, even, you know, cheaper, allegedly cheaper, large reactors, are a decade and a half away, and more than twice as expensive as renewables.

We need to get on with building renewables now. I'm proud of the fact I've ticked off on 47 renewable energy projects, enough to power 3 million homes across Australia.

We need to be building these projects now in the right places, in the right way, with the proper environmental protections, but we need to be building them now, because to get to 82 per cent renewable energy, it's very ambitious for Australia, but we can get there if we get on with the job now.

Peter Dutton's nuclear fantasy is an excuse to expand the life of coal fired power stations, it's expensive, it's uncertain, and I mean, who knows whether such a thing could even built in our lifetimes.

JOURNALIST: Final question is on whether you think campus protests should be cleared, the Gaza campus protests?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think in Australia we have the right to peaceful protest, but the right to peaceful protest comes with a responsibility not to intimidate other students or staff, to make sure that universities are a safe place for everyone.

JOURNALIST: But should they be cleared? Is it happening?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, we'll just stick with what I believe. I believe we have a right to protest and that comes with a responsibility.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.

CAMERON KERR: Well, thank you, Minister. Today, as we wake up and go through our morning routines, we do that with the backdrop of the 6th mass extinctionism occurring right across Australia. This is a time when this generation, this generational cohort, we genuinely understand what the causes of this are, but we're also the last generation of cohort to do something about it. This is a really complex issue and requires sophisticated systems thinking. The funding that has been given out for these programs is the first step in addressing it. It requires the resources, the coordination and the collaboration to really make sure that we deal with these complex issues. One of the fantastic things about this funding is that it means we can work with the Federal Government, the State Government, universities, national parks, to really work on saving our species.

We've been working on the Corroboree Frog for well over a decade. This frog once represented one of the largest vertebrate biomasses Kosciuszko's [indistinct] mosses. Now there is less than 50 adults in the wild outside our [indistinct]. But there is hope. With funding like this from the Federal Government, we can redouble our work. We've bred already 10,000 eggs and released over 1000 frogs. This funding, with our partnership with national parks, Australian National University, Zoos Victoria and the state and federal governments, I am absolutely confident that we can build up populations and restore them in the world. Wicked problems like the biodiversity crisis that we're seeing, can absolutely be addressed, as long as we have the funding, which this government has kindly supported us with. The collaboration amongst all the experts across Australia with the determination to see these projects through. So, thank you, Minister, for your support of this important biodiversity conservation work done by Taronga, Zoos Victoria, Parks New South Wales, Parks Australia, and of course, the state and federal governments. It's exactly what is needed.