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

26 April 2023

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: From Kakadu to Uluru, Australia is world renowned for our national parks, but the Federal Government says our national treasures are falling apart. Today the Albanese Government is pledging an extra $262.3 million in the upcoming budget to help restore them.

Tanya Plibersek is the Federal Minister for the Environment and Water and our guest. Minister, welcome.


KARVELAS: How would you describe the state of our national parks right now?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I think ‘falling apart’ just about covers it. I mean we've got fantastic, dedicated staff, park rangers and others who have been struggling to protect these iconic places. You know the last two extinctions we saw in Australia were actually on Christmas Island, a place that we should be protecting.

We've got parts of our national parks - our Commonwealth national parks that were closed to visitors because they weren't safe to visit. We've had a roofs coming off buildings. Probably one of the most alarming things I heard were broken or missing crocodile warning signs.

We need to better protect these parks for nature. We need to make sure we're dealing with the feral animals, the weeds that have infested our parks and we need to make sure that they're safe for the staff and the visitors.

So, I'm really pleased that today we're announcing that we will more than double funding to our national parks, and this comes on top of more than doubling funding to our marine science last week. Because as a government we need to better protect nature and leave it better off. Leave it better off.

KARVELAS: You lay the blame on a decade of Coalition mismanagement as the language that's being used. Is an extra $262 million really going to be enough for turning that situation around?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well it's a good start. We're more than doubling funding for our Commonwealth national parks and that's going to a make a huge difference.

We're talking about 110 extra jobs and those jobs are doing important work like dealing with feral animals, dealing with weed infestation, upgrading visitor facilities. Making sure, for example, we've got drinking water at camp grounds, making sure that the accommodation, the shelters, the physical infrastructure in our parks is upgraded. For example, in Kakadu National Park we're upgrading the Warradjan Visitor Centre. That's been work that the staff there have wanted to do for years but the funding simply hasn't been available for that sort of work.

KARVELAS: And how do you distribute the allocation? I mean national parks are all over the country obviously, how do you make those determinations of where the most urgent and dire need is?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well the money's going into our Commonwealth national parks, so that's Kakadu, Uluru and Booderee, which is Jervis Bay, Christmas Island, Pulu Keeling, Norfolk, the Australian Botanical Gardens. We're investing in a new seed bank there as well. This is something that's a huge investment for our future.

I can tell you there's a long list of jobs that need to be done; we know what needs to be done. The staff, the park rangers and others have been wanting to do the work. We know exactly what needs to be done. This is the funding to do it.

As I said, one of the most exciting things about this is the extra jobs that will come with it. It's 110 extra jobs. We know that a lot of these jobs obviously are in remote locations. National parks already have 30 per cent Indigenous staff. These are good full time permanent jobs for traditional owners managing their own country. It means we get the nature benefit that we want. It means we get the upgraded visitor experience that we want.

We've got a $166 billion tourism industry. We want people visiting our world heritage listed properties, but we also get terrific local jobs benefits too.

KARVELAS: If I can move on to other issues in your portfolio. WA Premier Mark McGowan and your colleague Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King will be on the Burrup Peninsula today to open a controversial fertiliser plant. Are you confident enough has been done to secure protection for the ancient indigenous rock art on this site?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well the Murujuga site is absolutely, you know, it's exquisite. It's amazing country and I really do hope a lot of Australians will visit this because we've got probably a million to two million petroglyphs, rock carvings, which are thousands of years old.

In fact it's one of the best examples in the world of rock art, but it goes even on to the ocean floor next to the Burrup Peninsula. It shows that these rock carvings have been there as the oceans have risen. This is deep time on exhibit and so of course we need to protect it. And I've been working very closely with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, the elected representative body of traditional owners to make sure that that happens. We absolutely need to make sure that the petroglyphs are protected and we're supporting a world heritage nomination for this really precious site.

KARVELAS: Last week Woodside CEO Meg O'Neill said her company's decision to relocate ancient art - rock art, from the site of the Karratha Gas Plant was not something they'd do again. Let's take a listen.

MEG O'NEILL: I'll be direct. When we built the Karratha Gas Plant, which was our investment there, we did move rock art and we did it in a way that was culturally sensitive at the time, but in the light of hindsight it's not something we would repeat.

KARVELAS: Will this come to be viewed as a mistake too?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think it's quite right that those early relocations were done thoughtlessly. I've actually visited the site a couple of times now. I've seen where the rock art was relocated. It was basically just picked up with a bulldozer and moved to just stuck in a corner somewhere.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Just recently I know that the senior law man for the Murujuga area has been looking at any further relocations. I don't want to talk too much about the detail of that because it is something that has cultural sensitivities, it's not really for me to talk about. But I can tell you very confidently that we are working very closely with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, which is the elected body corporate for the five traditional owner groups in the area and they have made very clear their expectations of what has to happen in this area.

The World Heritage listing is really exciting. It means that this place will be internationally renowned, and I hope attract visitors because it is globally significant.

KARVELAS: Minister, you were due to determine the fate of the Bowen Coking Coal Isaac River project on April the 6th. That's now been postponed until this Friday I understand. Can we expect a decision then?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well I'm not going to make comment about individual projects. As a decision maker I have to be really careful about what I say. I don't want to pre empt any decisions. I'm not going to comment on individual projects like that.

What I can say is since I've become Environment Minister we are approving renewable energy projects at double the rate of the previous government and I'm really excited to see the queue of renewable energy projects I have before me.

We've got massive offshore wind farm approvals, fast tracked areas where we'll see investment in renewable energy. We're spending $20 billion upgrading our transmission lines so we can see that 82 per cent renewable energy target met by 2030. So, we're going from 30 per cent renewable energy to 82 per cent renewable energy in 82 months.

We've got our a whole range of things that are showing the change that's happening in our economy, our electric vehicle strategy, our methane pledge, further action on the ozone layer. We are absolutely determined to see more renewable energy in our grid and that's where a huge amount of the proposals before me are headed.

KARVELAS: Just finally, there's a budget in under two weeks. Former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry says it would be cruel for the government not to increase the rate of JobSeeker payment in the next budget in just under two weeks. Is the Government preparing to be cruel, to use his language?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, Patricia, we're a Labor Government and we look for every opportunity to help the most disadvantaged people. And we know that long term unemployed people in Australia, in particular long term unemployed people have been doing it really tough. We want to make sure that the most vulnerable Australians are properly looked after. That will always be a motivation for Labor Governments.

KARVELAS: But there is a sense of urgency here. If a former Treasury Secretary says it's cruel, I mean that's pretty strong language, isn't it?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I'm not going to talk about what might or might not be in the budget, I'll leave that for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. But we've got an incredible opportunity now while unemployment is as low as it is to make sure that we can support people into the labour market as well. You know, nobody's ever suggested that living on JobSeeker would be easy. We want to make sure that we do whatever we can within the parameters of the budget to support the most disadvantaged people.

KARVELAS: Just a final question, and you were in the shadow role responsible for the women's portfolio, so I know you know a lot about these issues. Single parents has really dogged the Gillard Government, or the former Gillard Government and finishing off the job of the Howard Government of taking single parents off that higher payment when their youngest child turns eight. Was that a big mistake and would you like to fix it?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think we all acknowledge that that has caused all sorts of difficulties for people, but again I'm not going to start speculating about the budget. You'll see a budget that is in line with Labor values.

KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek, deftly handled. Thank you for joining us.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Patricia.

KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek, Federal Minister for Environment and Water and you're listening to RN Breakfast.