Mix 104.9 Darwin interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

26 April 2023

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Now, the Albanese government set to invest an extra $262.3 million in the next, the 2023-24 Budget to address what's been described as chronic underfunding of Australia's iconic national parks. Now, in a statement this morning, the federal government said that our national parks have been left with broken infrastructure, out-of-date equipment, and inadequate facilities. Now joining me on the line is the Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to you, Minister.


WOOLF: Now, Minister, firstly, how much exactly for the Northern Territory and indeed Kakadu as part of this announcement?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we're more than doubling funding to national parks, as you said, $262.3 million over four years, and a fair share of that will come to the Northern Territory, to Kakadu and to Uluru. And that'll be clear in coming weeks as we approach the Budget. But this comes on top of the existing spending and it comes on top of $276 million which we're investing in Kakadu to upgrade the infrastructure. That money is already committed, that's being rolled out right now. This is in addition.

So, we're talking about 110 new jobs and we're talking about making up for really ten years of neglect by the previous government. I've been to Kakadu not so long ago, and the rangers there and the people whose businesses depend on Kakadu have been really disappointed by the lack of investment in keeping the facilities up to date and the lack of investment in managing things like feral animals and invasive weeds. So, probably the worst example I heard was broken and missing crocodile warning signs. If you're a visitor from overseas in particular, that's the sort of thing that you really should be able to rely on.

WOOLF: Absolutely. And I think for us locals, we sort of understand that there does seem to have been a real underspend in Kakadu and a lack of maintaining in a lot of different areas on roads, on infrastructure, on various different things. But it seems as though there's always money announced for Kakadu, but it doesn't seem to make a huge difference. So, what is this funding going to go towards?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, you're quite right that the previous government announced $276 million for Kakadu and they spent $17 million out of $276 million. And since coming to government, we've already spent $55 million on upgrading Kakadu, including great projects like the Cahill's Crossing crocodile viewing platform. I mean, our visitors love viewing crocodiles.

WOOLF: Yeah, you can see a lot there. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Distance between you and the crocodile when you're doing it, a safe distance. So, investments like that are really important. 

But the other stuff that we'll be doing with this new money is really quite basic. Stuff like the roof coming off the ranger station at Jim Jim Falls. There's not drinking water at some of these campgrounds for the people who want to go camping there, making sure that the signage and the educational and interpretive information's right. So, we'll be upgrading the Warradjan Visitors Centre. There's a lot of great plans here and, of course, that's about the visitors infrastructure. 

We've got $166 billion tourism industry here in Australia. We want our international and our domestic visitors to get the best possible experience when they go to these iconic places. It's also about better managing nature. I mean, these places are World Heritage listed because they are unique. They are gems in the crown of Australian nature. The fact that we haven't been putting the funding in to deal with feral animals, to deal with invasive weeds. The last two extinctions that happened in Australia happened on Christmas Island, and that's just not right. I mean, these places, if we invest in dealing with things like the feral cats on Christmas Island, we see a huge benefit for our animals and our plants.

WOOLF: So, what are the feral animals that we're most concerned about at Kakadu at this point? And what kind of management are we going to see with that?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we'll do a lot of work with traditional owners and when I say there's 110 new jobs here, 30 per cent of park staff are Indigenous staff, so making sure we're working with traditional owners on feral animal management is really important. But we know that water buffalo, for example, if they get in numbers too large, they're really trampling those wetland areas in a way that's bad for the native animals there. We're always worried about cats. We're worried about pigs, goats, cats - really harmful. There's a million feral cats in Australia and on average, every one of them kills six animals a night. There's six million animals a night killed by feral cats in Australia. We've got problems like insects. If you get yellow crazy ants or other sorts of invasive insects, they're only tiny, but they can do an enormous amount of damage once they get into the natural environment. So, wherever you've got animals that don't belong there, feral animals introduce species like that. We've got to get right on top of them.

WOOLF: Yeah. Now, Minister, I know that you're not the Tourism Minister, this announcement is obviously happening as part of those portfolios for Environment and Water, but I think one of the big things for us here in the Northern Territory as well is we know that we've got this national gem. We know that Kakadu is incredible, as is the likes of Uluru in Central Australia, but it is so incredibly expensive to be able to get your family or your friends to visit from interstate or overseas due to those airline, to the ticket prices. Like, it's insane at this point. Is there anything happening on that national scale to really try to help more regional parts of Australia to get more tourists to our locations?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, I really agree with you. It is one of the biggest barriers for Australians travelling around Australia, isn't it? Some of those domestic air fears are really frightening and it always strikes me as such a shame that you can get a cheaper holiday overseas sometimes than you can in your own backyard when we've got so much to share. Look, we do have a tourism strategy that my colleague, Minister Senator Don Farrell is rolling out, and I'll leave the details for him to describe. But, Katie, our own backyard in Australia is so beautiful and so worth visiting. We need to make sure people have a great experience and that it's affordable.

WOOLF: Well, Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, we always appreciate your time. Thank you very much for joining us on the show this morning. And we're looking forward to the finer detail, of course, when the Budget is handed down, well, early next month.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Lovely to talk to you.

WOOLF: Thank you. That is Tanya Plibersek there, who is indeed the Minister for Environment and Water, the federal minister, and just giving us a little bit more detail about that additional funding for Kakadu.