ABC Brisbane interview with the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

20 April 2023

REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: Australia loves to tell the world that we love the Great Barrier Reef. And the Australian Institute of Marine Science is tasked with research and care for the reef. They're a world leader, but staff there are working in mouldy offices. 100 jobs were at risk because of a lack of funding. Well, today, some good news for those scientists. Tanya Plibersek is the Minister for Environment and Water. Minister, Good morning.


LEVINGSTON: So, you're meeting with the Australian Institute of Marine Science. What are you telling them?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I've met with them already and I've told them that I'm virtually doubling their funding. That will save the 100 jobs that were at risk, it will create 100 new jobs, and it will really supercharge their ability to do the world-leading science that they are so famous for. And they had a whole wing of laboratories closed down because they just weren't safe to work in. They had mould in the ceiling, mould under the carpets and so on. We can renovate those. And really importantly, the floating laboratory they've got, the RV Apollo, an eighteen-year-old research vessel, will be replacing that, so they can keep doing more of the work that they do on the water as well. I was really lucky to go and see their sea simulator yesterday which is just unique in the world for the research that they're doing on being able to grow coral. They'll be able to seed it on an industrial scale one day in the near future, and that's really important. We need to protect the reef, but we also need to repair it.

LEVINGSTON: How on earth did we get to a point where an authority like AIMS, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, can't use part of their office because it's too mouldy?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's the question for the LNP in Queensland, their federal representatives down in Canberra. I mean, this is ten years of chronic underfunding, and they were drawing on their reserves. They just didn't have any reserves left. This is an organisation - I have to say, when I'm talking to environment ministers around the world, they look to Queensland, they look to AIMS, they look to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, they look to James Cook University as global leaders in reef restoration, repair and adaptation. And the fact that we were risking losing scientists permanently because they didn't have job security, it just would have been a tragedy. And this is a 50-year-old organisation. It takes half a century to build up this sort of expertise. If we had lost it, we would have lost it forever.

LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek, jobs and research, of course, is one crucial area. Part of the bigger picture, though, is approving new fossil fuel projects. Do you take advice from organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science when you're considering approval of fossil fuel projects or development in areas?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. I take the job very seriously. And I get advice from a really broad range of scientific sources. As you know, that meant that not so long ago I said no to a coal mine in Central Queensland because it was less than ten kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef, and the risks to sediment, to runoff, to impacts on the reef were just too great.

LEVINGSTON: There's another big decision you'll have to make soon Tanya Plibersek as the Minister for Environment and Water and that is around Toondah Harbour. The Ramsar listed wetlands at Cleveland, where are things at there?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, the environmental impact statement for that is just being finalised at the moment. There was an opportunity for public comment on that. I think there was a great deal of public comment on that, but because I haven't made the final decision yet, I'm really not - every time I talk to you about this, Rebecca, I know you ask, and I say there are legal processes here that I have to follow. The EIS is just being completed at the moment. That's the next step. And then sometime soon after that, I'll make a decision.

LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek any decision or news on when my listeners will be able to have soft plastics recycled?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yes, soft plastics collection should restart in capital cities in the second half of this year and then progressively roll out across the rest of Australia. But this is a huge problem. Even with RedCycle in place, we were only recycling a tiny amount of the soft plastics that we use in Australia. So, we need to massively upscale our recycling capacity. We've set aside $250 million to do that. In fact, my colleague Chris Bowen will be making a recycling announcement in Queensland later this week. And we're determined, we're determined to make sure that we've got the recycling capacity, the collection capacity, but also that we use less plastic in the first place. And when we do use plastic, we use more recycled content. We need to increase the demand for that recycled content as well. So, we're really working on a circular economy, not just the recycling of soft plastics, but from the design phase. How do we design out some of these harmful plastics?

LEVINGSTON: Well, Tanya Plibersek there will be a lot more Queensland wine and Spirit bottles going into glass recycling in the next little while. That's the other big news overnight, but appreciate your time. Always good to talk, especially when you're in Queensland. Thanks so much.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Great to talk to you.

LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek the Federal Minister for Environment and Water.