Doorstop with the Minister for the Environment, Townsville, Queensland

 

PRIME MINISTER:

…Overnight a shocking shooting in Orlando, Florida.

This is the worst mass shooting in American history.

The President, Barack Obama, has described it as an act of terror and an act of hate.

It's too early to say precisely what motivated the gunman but it certainly appears to be motivated by a hatred of the freedoms, the free society in which – which all of us enjoy.

An attack like this which has killed at least 50 people and injured as many more, is not simply an assault on the people that have been killed and injured, it's an assault on every one of us.

It's an assault on freedom.

I want to say to Australians that we convey our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those who are injured and I will be conveying those more formally to the President in due course.

But can I also say that while we cannot be complacent, and we are not, we are ever vigilant, we have strong gun laws in this country, thanks to the work of John Howard years ago.

Our security and police forces are vigilant in ensuring that we are protected against this type of extremism, this type of violence.

Over the last several years we've provided stronger laws to give our agencies the tools they need to keep us safe.

We are rigorous in our efforts to ensure that guns are not illegally imported into Australia and we enforce the gun laws rigorously across the country.

But we cannot be complacent. There are people outside our country and some within it, who hate the freedoms that we enjoy and would seek to threaten them and undermine them with violence.

I know that I speak for all Australians when I say that we stand in solidarity with the people of the United States as they stand up to this terrorist, violent, hate-filled attack and as we stand up too - whether it is in the skies above Syria in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or on our borders, here in Australia we are united in our determination to maintain our freedoms, to fight to defend them and to keep our nation secure.

I would now invite Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, to join me because we have some very good news to talk to you about, about the Great Barrier Reef.

Now the Great Barrier Reef is a great passion for both Greg Hunt and myself. As one of his predecessors as Environment Minister I took a great interest in the Great Barrier Reef years ago and always have done.

This is the biggest coral reef in the world, you know, it's as big as Italy, so managing it is a huge challenge. It was put on the watch list by the World Heritage Committee as being imperilled and it's been taken off that watch list and indeed Greg's been given the recognition by the World Heritage Committee - or Australia has I should say, for being a role model in the management of coral reefs.

They face, this reef and all coral reefs, face big challenges. The biggest, the global challenge, of course, is global warming which gives rise to coral bleaching as waters get warmer. That is a global challenge which we are meeting globally as part of our commitment to - as part of the world's commitment, the part we're playing in the Paris agreement that Greg and I entered into late last year.

That is to cut our emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. That's a commitment that is substantial. It is actually the second largest on a per capita basis in the OECD. It's a very substantial commitment. We are on track to meet it and we will meet it.

However there is another big threat to this reef and that comes from the run off from the land, particularly of nutrients coming off farms, fertilisers, and so forth, the consequence of livestock grazing. It is a major challenge and it requires major investment to address. We have been working on this over many years right back to when I was the Minister back in 2007 and the work is continuing.

Now what we are announcing today is the largest single investment in protecting the reef in particular in addressing these land side problems of run off. This is to allocate a $1 billion fund from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will be available for projects that will both reduce emissions, use clean energy and, of course, protect the reef.

Much of this will come in the form of financing solar energy which of course will reduce emissions, but also enable farmers to manage their land more efficiently, whether this is in managing more efficient irrigation, that uses less water and is less wasteful and hence causes less run off, or whether it is installing and managing electric fencing which keeps stock away from the edge to the banks of rivers and creeks and water courses.

It also has the opportunity of providing the concessional finance, very relatively cheap loans available to local governments, to improve their own water management, particularly wastewater management operations.

So this is a very important measure and it builds on a lot of the other initiatives that Greg has been overseeing as Environment Minister.

This is a very important time to continue our protection of the Great Barrier Reef. As I said it's the largest coral reef in the world, it is unique, it's gigantic, it's an enormous economic driver here in North Queensland. It's one that we are committed to protect for our children, our grandchildren and many generations to come.

So I'd invite Greg to say some more about this very important announcement today.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER:

Thanks very much Prime Minister. The Great Barrier Reef is not just Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It's the world's Great Barrier Reef.

It is majestic, it's extraordinary.

Of course when we came to Government we inherited a reef that Labor and the Greens had left on the World Heritage watch list on a path to ‘in danger’ as the Prime Minister said. We made significant changes and we've done that already.

We ended five massive dredge disposal plans that Labor left for us. We banned forever capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef marine park area, something that was hailed by the World Heritage Committee.

We put in place a Reef 2050 Plan and we already have a significant base of funds going forward.

But today we are adding to that with a billion dollar reef fund, the largest ever commitment to the health of the reef in Australian history.

It's something that the Prime Minister is passionate about, it's something that I'm passionate about and I have to say the Prime Minister has been engaged personally since December in helping to frame the structure of the plan, in engaging in the detail, and this is about the twin challenges of water quality and climate change.

Climate change is a challenge for every reef everywhere. The Paris agreement is fundamental and Australia played a critical role in helping to secure 90 billion tonnes of emissions reduction through the Montreal Protocol Process between now and 2050, one of the fundamental pillars for the Paris agreement.

In addition to that though we can and must take steps to improve water quality. We're already doing it but today we make the largest ever commitment. It's about reducing sediment and nitrogen and pesticide run off. It's about helping the land, helping farmers and helping the reef by reducing these inputs and by increasing water quality.

That's how you help resilience. That's how you help the reef. In addition to that there is of course a new reef ranger for the southern half of the reef that will complement the extraordinary work of the northern reef ranger.

That's a platform for science and research and compliance but it's also an additional platform for attacking the crown of thorns which eats and itself has a destructive impact on the corals.

So all up this is an investment in the reef. It's an investment in North Queensland. It's an investment in the legacy for our children, their children and our descendants.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you Greg. You know we're going to go and have a closer look out across to Magnetic Island. We'll meet with some experts in the reef management field on the boat and look forward to taking some questions from you when we all return from our voyage. See you soon.