26 October 2022









MURRAY JONES, HOST: Well look, we'll come to some more specific things about the local environment shortly but just want to touch on some of the big wins last night in the Federal Budget, certainly for the Cairns region.  The Cairns Marine Precinct certainly - that's been confirmed. $107 million for the Water Security Project here actually for the Cairns city area. $210 million for a Kuranda Range upgrade which is certainly required. Not a total answer to some of our issues there but certainly money that will be well spent. $50 million to the CQU campus right beside us.  

So certainly from our local leaders, pretty damn happy about that and we'll come to some of those things that are specifically for our region, including a confirmation of funding for the Great Barrier Reef. Economically, it would be remiss of us not to continue to support the health of the Great Barrier Reef when it's undisputedly, you know, got some fairly serious issues, particularly when it comes to, I guess, the bleaching and some of the warming that's happening certainly in recent years. 

Interesting to read in the monthly last week - sorry, last month - a real focus on our Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek. Chloe Huey did a really interesting story there, and a bit of a focus at the beginning of this particular story that talked about the State of the Environment report that was commissioned under the former government. It was not released prior to the election for obvious reasons but it showed Australia has lost more mammals to extinction than any other continent, threatened communities has grown by about twenty per cent in the last five years, bushfires ravaging a lot of corners of our country, the Murray‑Darling flows have reduced. There was a proposal to save four hundred and fifty gigalitres - under the last government, they’ve managed to save just two. Big challenge for the current government to try and get to that 450 with 448 gigalitres to go.  Marine plastics killing sea life, more regular bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and of course industrial scale abandoned fishing gear right throughout the Torres Strait Timor Sea as well.  And of course, the deforestation. 

It's a tough gig but she joins me this morning, the Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek, good morning. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: It's great to be with you Murray, and always a pleasure to talk to you and to your listeners in Cairns. 

JONES: Well look, it was a big introduction there and I guess we talked about some of the biggest challenges for you. We'll talk about some things locally, but certainly from your position you've hit the, you know, you've certainly hit the ground running. You know, some of the challenges for Australia are - often they're not seen by a lot of people but, you know, just that list that we've been through, it's a tough portfolio.  You've got some really, really solid things to deal with in the next couple of years. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, there are definitely environmental challenges before us as a nation. Our environment's in a bad state and it's getting worse. It doesn't help that we've had years of drought, massive bushfires and now we're in this terrible season of flooding that's covering so much of the east coast. We know that it's likely we'll have a bad cyclone season again. This all takes its toll. 

JONES: Now look, for the people that just say this is just Australia, this is just the normal routine, despite the scientific data that shows that the regularity of these events is making it even tougher for Australians on the land right across the country. As we know the cost of living is basically underpinned by some of the issues that the farmers have got. I mean what do we say to these people that continue to deny the undisputable science? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well of course, Murray, people are right to say that there's always been floods and bushfires in Australia, but the problem is they're getting more frequent and they're getting more extreme. They're getting worse. Like in the last Black Summer bushfires we saw areas burn, like rain forest burn that had never burnt before. 

You look at the flooding – the poor people in Lismore are looking at being flooded for the third time this year.  You know, it is undeniable that these events are becoming more frequent and they're becoming worse.  And that takes its toll on humans. People are at the end of their tether in some of these areas that keep getting hit again and again. 

It takes its toll on our economy.You know, there are places in Australia now, including Far North Queensland where it's really hard to insure your home in a way that's affordable because the insurers know that the extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and worse. And if you're looking at the environmental impacts on places like the Great Barrier Reef, we're now fighting off a declaration from the United Nations that the Great Barrier Reef is at risk. They're looking at the frequent coral bleaching that we've seen and, they're really, UNESCO, the body that determines these world heritage listing issues, is looking at our beautiful Great Barrier Reef and preparing to list it as ‘In Danger’ and that's a real problem. It's a real problem for the Cairns economy that depends so much on reef tourism. 

JONES: And I guess it comes back to the principle that the investment that any government puts into the environment pays, you know, really deep dividends long‑term. So despite this money going out in the shorter term, you know, the returns are incredible. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well Murray, the reef investment is a really good example.  So we'll put $1.2 billion into the reef in coming years and when you think about what that means in practice on the ground, it means being able to replant river banks and stream beds so that we don't have dirty water washing into the reef. It means working with commercial fishers so they're reducing by‑catch of threatened species like turtles and dugongs. It means paying people, fins in the water, to tackle those Crown of Thorn starfish that do so much damage when they have outbreaks on the reef. 

It means investing in monitoring ships like the Tamoya that I launched with the Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon earlier last week. It means getting plastics out of our oceans. You mentioned those, you know, ghost nets before that float down into our oceans from the Timor Sea. The tonnes of fish and dugongs and turtles that get tangled up in these nets and the damage that they do, we can pull those nets out of the water if we're funding those programs. By replanting sea grass meadows and replanting mangroves, we don't just suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere really effectively, we provide places for our animals to breed and to feed, our birds, our fish, our turtles, our dugongs. All of that restores the reef, restores the health of the reef. 

It also creates jobs. The work in doing this environmental restoration creates good jobs right up and down the coastal areas of Queensland.  We're working with councils to do that work of improving water quality, upgrading their own town water outlets but also the creeks and rivers and so on that I was talking about.  All of it jobs - jobs, jobs, jobs. 

JONES: And we hear this continuous chorus from a very, you know, vocal minority about reef alarmism, but at the end of the day the science is, as I've said a number of times undisputable. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: And you know the science is really exciting too because we do know there are problems.  We can track those problems; we can measure them. 

JONES: Sure, yeah.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: But there's these incredible scientists working on fixing them too. So one of the investments in this budget is a new reef science centre in Gladstone with Central Queensland University. But we continue to invest with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, with the Australian Institute of Marine Science. These people are working on amazing projects of like getting coral to spawn to - I don't know, replant I suppose is the best way of describing it - areas of reef that have had the coral bleached away or denuded. They can replant coral and we're working on the science of doing that really effectively at a big scale. 

They're working on the science of replanting sea grass beds, so critical to providing habitat and food for our creatures, but also keeping the water quality better that's washing into the reef. There's so much great work going on. 

So our $1.2 billion investment in the reef will continue to make sure that this beautiful part of the world is available for our kids and our grandkids to visit, to work on, to, you know, enjoy for years to come. 

JONES: Diversification and jobs, jobs, jobs, I think that's the bottom line when you look at the bigger picture. Look, I know you've got to go, so look as we quickly wrap up, I talked about the Cairns Marine Precinct, the Water Security Project for Cairns, the Kuranda revamp, Kuranda Range revamp.  CQU university campus which is right beside the radio station here in town.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I know exactly where it is. It was a hole in the ground last time I saw it.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I can't wait to see the building come out next to you. You're going to have some new neighbours. And the Water Security Project I'm really excited about, Murray. That's $107.5 million project for Stage 1 of Cairns water security; new water treatment plant; water reservoirs; a new water distribution network and the early works for that should start - the business case will finish this year - the early works will start next year, full on construction commencing in 2024. People will be able to see improved water security for Cairns and again, jobs, jobs, jobs. 

JONES: It's in the budget so it's looking pretty damn secure just like the money for the Great Barrier Reef by the sound of things. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Sure is, absolutely it's there. 

JONES: Excellent. And just got to mention your Twitter, sorry, as a “twitcher”, I didn't realise you're a twitcher, but Bob Katter has been very impressed with your ability to identify bird species I noticed in a media release in the last few days. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well he's always a little bit surprised.  We had a good conversation about Asparagopsis seaweed the other day because, you know, it's this food additive that we're trying to commercialise to put into cattle feed to reduce methane and he was a bit surprised that I could name the seaweed. But I think probably as an Environment Minister it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that I know my birds and my seaweed. 

JONES: Yeah, no, he's been very complimentary. Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek, looking forward to seeing you coming into town and having a look at the CQU university site next door. Have a wonderful day, thank you so much for your time this morning. 


JONES: Cheers.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: See you, bye‑bye.