By Tanya Plibersek

14 September 2023






REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: There might be some happy barramundis getting around the reef this morning, because there is good news for the Great Barrier Reef. The World Heritage Committee, this is from UNESCO, has given Australia some more time to address threats to the reef by deciding to definitely not add the reef to its in danger list. The Federal Environment Minister is Tanya Plibersek. Minister, good morning. Are the barramundi happy today?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, the fish are happy, and I think the people who rely on the reef for their livelihood, so 60,000 Australians who work around the reef are also pretty happy, and the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government, we're very happy as well, because we've put an enormous amount of effort into protecting our beautiful Great Barrier Reef, and it's wonderful to see that recognised by the World Heritage Committee.

Sources close to the UN said a while ago that between the previous government and this government on the environment and climate, it's a bit like night and day, and I think this decision really reflects the action that we're taking federally on climate change, it reflects the action that we've taken with the Queensland Government on fisheries and on water quality.

And so that's good, it's a good step forward. It's a beautiful place, and no one is more determined to protect it than we are as Australians.

LEVINGSTON: It still sounds like it's a precarious position, and it's interesting, 'cause when I heard the news this morning, I was like, "Didn't we get that news" ‑ you know, there's kind of been this long protracted process.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, it has been quite a process, it has.

LEVINGSTON: At what point do we just go, "We're good, we're safe", and I say that with, you know, keeping in mind that you were criticised last month for approving a fourth coal project this year. Is it those kind of approvals that keep things kind of balancing one way or the other?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, no, not really, because Australia has got a legislated pathway to net zero carbon emissions, that's what's important here. We've got to get, of course, all of our big pollution producers to get their pollution down; we've got a way of doing that, we've legislated a pathway to net zero, 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030.

So I don't think the UN is looking at individual projects, what they're looking at is what we do as a country to get to net zero, and we have to do that, and the rest of the world has to do it too. Because we're not saying for a minute that climate change is not a risk to the Great Barrier Reef, of course it is, it's a risk to every coral reef in the world. It's a risk to our other world heritage properties, like Kakadu National Park. We absolutely need to get to net zero, but we've got to do that across our economy, and we've got to do it globally as well. We need to be part of a global effort to get carbon pollution down.

LEVINGSTON: Good news for the Great Barrier Reef today. You're listening to the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek. You've got bad news for feral cats though, Minister; what's happened?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well, look, we've got a Feral Cat Management Abatement Plan, it's a consultation, it's a very long and complex way of saying we need to get rid of the feral cats. They are doing enormous damage to Australian wildlife. The average cat kills six animals every night. They are very efficient, very effective hunters. There are, you know, hundreds of animals on our threatened species list that have cat predation as one of their key risks. If we don't get a handle on the cats, we can't protect our little marsupials and all the little creatures that the cats find so delicious.

LEVINGSTON: What's the difference, because we've been talking a lot about snakes this week, Tanya Plibersek, because a lot of snakes on the move at the moment, lots of people telling me stories.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yes, I saw that, and there's lots of pictures of, you know, suburban snake handlers picking up eastern browns and so on.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it's a bit nerve wracking, isn't it?

LEVINGSTON: Robert Irwin pulled a python out of a Coke vending machine the other day, but in most stories, lots of people saying, "Oh, yeah, you know, my cat brought in a snake."  And then I get this sort of backlash of people saying, "What's your cat doing outside in the first place?"


LEVINGSTON: So what's the difference between a feral cat that kills animals and a domestic cat?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, well, there's no difference. If people are letting their domestic cats roam at night, those domestic cats are killing on average six animals as well. So I think a lot of cat owners are really sensitive to this. They see that their cats are really efficient hunters, because they've had, you know, little gifts put on the end of the bed, a little lizard, little bird, and I think most cat owners are very responsible about that and they keep their cats inside. But, of course, it's not just feral cats that are a risk, it's people who are not looking after their domestic cats, and so it is a message for cat owners to make sure that they are responsible cat owners as well.

LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek, there are a couple of issues that always bubble up every time we have a chat on ABC Radio Brisbane, but ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Let me guess, so you're going to ask me about Toondah Harbour, aren't you Rebecca?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Because you say that every time.

LEVINGSTON: I'm not, you zig, I zag. Soft plastics, Tanya Plibersek, what's going on, have we got any news there?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Oh, soft plastic, absolutely, yeah. We're working very hard with the supermarket producers of those soft plastics, you know, the ones that are stocking the soft plastics on their shelves to get collection back up and running, but we're also investing in really increasing our capacity for plastic recycling. We've got a $250 million Commonwealth investment with the States and Territories, with the private sector, we will see more than a billion dollars invested into our recycling capacity. So that's not just plastic, but it's plastic, glass, paper and so on. We've got about 57 plastic facilities that have been funded through this program, we've got about a dozen of them already up and running, so we've got to increase our capacity. We're introducing a plastics passport, so this is something that will encourage more use of recycled plastic content in our packaging and for other, you know, for other reasons. So we're creating the recycling capacity, we're creating the demand in our economy, we're reforming packaging with the States and Territories by 2025, so we'll use less plastic in the first place when we're helping to build up new types of plastic recycling liken enzyme‑based plastic recycling, which is a way that we can infinitely recycle plastic. That means we need less virgin plastic in the first place. We're working with people who are making plastic alternatives as well, so we've seen same great work with, you know, one that really excites me is algae‑based plastics that, you know, properly break down in the environment.

LEVINGSTON: It's like I've pressed some kind of plastic button on you, and like, Tanya Plibersek ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I know, because it's so important.

LEVINGSTON: No, no, do you know what ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It's so important.

LEVINGSTON: Absolutely. And Minister, there won't be anyone who argues with any of that, plastic passports, great. But the main thing is people just want to know, "Ah, when can I go to the shops and just put my soft plastics back in those bins?"

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, soon. Look, we are working really closely with the supermarket companies to reinstate that, we're hoping next year.

LEVINGSTON: That's such ‑ I'm sorry, also that's such a mum word to use, "When can I do such and such?" "Soon."  How long is soon, Tanya Plibersek?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Next year. We're hoping next year.

LEVINGSTON: Okay, all right.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: We hoped that it would be the second half of this year, but more likely that we'll see the full roll‑out of that next year.

LEVINGSTON: All right. I'll hold you to that. And since you think my questions are predictable, Tanya Plibersek ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I didn't mean to say that, Rebecca, I'm sorry.

LEVINGSTON: I am now going to press this button ‑ [music plays] ‑ and I'm going to ask you a Taylor Swift question, Tanya Plibersek, because there is a dream job that's been advertised for probably a Taylor Swift fan to be a Tay‑Tay correspondent; people are losing their minds over it.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Tay‑Tay correspondent?

LEVINGSTON: Yeah, this is a legitimate job. I mean Taylor Swift is like a small economy within a human being. When she gets on a stage, things change, things move, it's probably going to be a business analyst of some sort and also a mega‑fan. Are you a Taylor Swift fan, by the way?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm a bit late to Taylor Swift to be honest, but my teenage son was playing Love Story in the car a few years ago ‑ Taylor's version ‑ and I just thought, "I love this." I did sit on the refresh button for a while trying to get Taylor Swift tickets, but unfortunately missed out.

LEVINGSTON: Okay, but my question for you is ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Would I be her PA? Yes, I would be her PA.

LEVINGSTON: No, no, that's not the question. My question is, what is your dream job? Like is it, I don't know, a diver on the Great Barrier Reef?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I'm doing my dream job; I'm doing my dream ‑‑

LEVINGSTON: Oh, you are not.


LEVINGSTON: Seriously?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: If I couldn't do this job, if I couldn't do this job, when I was a kid I wanted to be a social worker, my daughter's studying social work, I'm really proud of her for doing that. If I ‑‑

LEVINGSTON: No, no, I'm ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: ‑‑ if it was just a completely ‑ you're meaning completely indulgent job, like ‑‑

LEVINGSTON: Yes, totally. Like, for example ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Landscape gardening.



LEVINGSTON: I mean that's a great job. But I mean, for example, Brad, our traffic guy, said he wanted to be Bono's driver, but okay.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, just by myself all day, planning out beautiful ‑ what this garden's going to look like in 100 years' time. I would love that.

LEVINGSTON: All right. You can't have that dream job.


LEVINGSTON: No, but that's a good job. But you've got to go back to your other job. Thank you, Tanya Plibersek.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Great to talk to you.

LEVINGSTON: Spelling is fun. That's Tanya Plibersek. No, she's not the Education Minister anymore. She's the Environment Minister, the Minister for Water. So delivering some good news today for the Great Barrier Reef for now, not in danger, bad news for feral cats, but technically bad news for feral cats is good news for all of us. That makes sense, doesn't it?