ABC News Breakfast interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

26 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Restoring our National Parks after a decade of Liberal and National party neglect; PBS changes; JobSeeker

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us from Sydney. Minister, good morning. What's this money actually for in our national parks?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, this money is really important after a decade of neglect of our national parks. What we've seen in our national parks are feral animals, invasive weeds, despite the best efforts of our rangers and staff, they just haven't been able to keep up with the demand in our parks. They've actually become unsafe. One of the worst examples I heard was broken and missing crocodile signs in Kakadu National Park. So, this extra investment is fantastic. It means that we can protect nature better, it means that we can deal with those feral animals, like the feral cats we've got on Christmas Island that are responsible for the last two extinctions we had in Australia. And it means that we can provide a much better visitor experience as well. We know that visitors bring about $166 billion into the Australian economy. We know that they want to visit these magnificent World Heritage listed properties. We need to make sure that they are safe, that they've got basic things like drinking water at camp sites, and crocodile signs, and it means that we'll be able to employ an extra 110 staff as well to properly manage our parks. And the exciting thing about this, of course, is that more than 30 per cent of national parks staff are Indigenous, it means great jobs in remote locations for Traditional Owners, and all the while, better protecting these iconic World Heritage-listed properties.

ROWLAND: Well, most of those new jobs will be for Indigenous Ranger positions?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: We've got a separate program for Indigenous Rangers - we are doubling the number of Indigenous rangers in Australia between now and the end of the decade. And so they will be jobs managing nature, often they will be local people, Traditional Owners, managing their own country, and that's a terrific additional benefit for this investment in nature.

ROWLAND: Far from me to tell the national parks staff how to do their jobs, but you'd be fixing those croc signs first and foremost, wouldn't you?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think you would! In fact, actually, just a few months ago, we opened a new crocodile viewing platform at Cahills Crossing in Kakadu National Park. Tourists are really interested in seeing the crocodiles. You just want a bit of distance between you and the crocodile.

ROWLAND: In my case, a LOT of distance! Hey, a couple of other issues - the Government has overnight announced this plan to shake up the PBS. A lot of Australians now can get two months' worth of medicines for the cost of a single prescription. We had a, it's fair to say, a pretty cranky Pharmacy Guild President Trent Twomey on the show at the top of the hour, saying it's great in concept but there aren't enough medicines because of supply shortages to cater for people's needs. What do you say to him?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I don't think that's an honest argument about this because the same number of patients will be taking the same amount of medicine, they just won't have to line up every month at the pharmacy to get it. So, obviously, you might need to stagger things at the beginning, you might need to make sure you've got enough medicines for that initial bump, when people are getting two months' supply instead of one. But in general, this is great for patients, they will halve the cost of their medicines. It's particularly good for those patients who have, you know - we know that some people have not been taking their medicines because it's too expensive, or because they just can't get to the doctor and the pharmacy as often as they need to. So, this has good health benefits. It saves money on dispensing fees. The money that's saved on dispensing fees is being reinvested in pharmacy because we want our pharmacists to be a key part of our primary health provision. We want pharmacists to be doing more of the sort of things they've been doing lately, like flu shots and COVID-19 jabs, and so on. We want them to be doing that front-line work. This is just a sensible, convenient thing for patients, it's a saving to the health system. That money is reinvested in pharmacy and primary healthcare. It's win-win-win.

ROWLAND: Four Labor MPs have joined business leaders, community figures, other prominent Australians in calling on the Government to raise the JobSeeker rate in the Budget. Surely, Minister, the Government can't keep JobSeeker at $50 a day?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, there will be a lot more work done between now and the Budget, and a lot more announcements about how we look after the most vulnerable Australians. We know that this has always been a motivating thing for Labor governments, and particularly now when unemployment is relatively low, this is the time to invest to make sure that people have the opportunity to move particularly from long term unemployment into employment. We need to make sure we are looking after our most vulnerable citizens. That's always something that Labor governments will do.

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.