Press conference, Sydney

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP:Thank you. I am delighted to have you all here this morning. My colleague Greg Hunt and I will be announcing a new initiative this morning called the Coral Triangle. - our initiative is an extension of our commitment to the preservation of coral reefs in our region and I've just spoken at the Congress about what Australia is going to do to preserve and conserve the Great Barrier Reef here in Australia - what I believe is a case study for international consideration of best practice in conserving coral reefs. Our announcement today is that Australia will be providing a further $6 million to what is called the Coral Triangle Initiative and that will be supporting about 120 million people in our region who rely on a rich and diverse marine life for their livelihoods.

This is part of the Australian Government aid program, overseas development assistance. It is consistent with our focus on sustainable economic development, private sector growth and the empowerment of women - economic empowerment of women. These are three pillars of our aid program.

So, our contribution to the Coral Triangle Initiative will focus on these areas of leveraging the private sector and driving sustainable economic growth. And one of our main tasks will be to develop a regional approach to building eco-tourism as we have achieved so successfully in Australia.

So, for example, in Timor-Leste we will be working with them to develop their eco-tourism in that country. Our initiative supports activities that promote the health and sustainable use of coral reefs andin-shore fisheries and I'll hand over to my colleague Greg to go into more detail.

GREG HUNT:Alright, thanks very much to Julie and to everybody who's at the World Parks Congress and the international media. Welcome and I also want to acknowledge the Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell who's been just a fantastic partner I have to say.

So really there are two parts to what we want to announce today - there's the Coral Triangle Initiative and there's an additional Great Barrier Reef Initiative in terms of marine debris. In terms of the Coral Triangle, it's a partnership with six nations that are central to it. We work from Malaysia to Singapore to Indonesia to Timor-Leste and we also work with Papua New Guinea and the Philippines and the Solomon Islands.

So, when you bring together all of those countries, what you find is that Australia is supporting the Coral Triangle. It's an area that represents roughly three-quarters of the world's different coral species, roughly a third of the world's different marine species in terms of fish - and what we're doing is really supporting three things as Julie said. One, we're supporting management systems to protect these reefs.

Secondly, we're supporting eco-tourism to provide the traditional communities and fringing communities with economic support, and thirdly what we're doing is ensuring that there's sustainable management of these natural resources. It's an important contribution with the critical nations, with - outside of that, partnering with Singapore and other countries to support the member nations of the Coral Triangle Initiative.

Then at home, I also want to announce that there will be $700,000 on top of everything else which is being discussed to assist with marine debris within the coastal zones of the Great Barrier Reef. It's an important initiative working with local communities and with traditional owners. One of the things I want to emphasis is the work of traditional owner groups up and down the reef in terms of managing the reef and the land that's adjacent to it.

This will be for groups such as Tangaroa Blue in the north and the Eco Barge in south to clean up the coasts, to remove ghost nets, to remove marine debris and it's been a part of the process. So, it's a contribution building on what we said last night that Australia had committed to ending through the force of law, not just the practice that we've already done and turning around 100 years of sediment disposal within the marine park area and also having achieved our international IUCN Aichi target of 17 per cent of land mass now being covered by terrestrial protected areas.

Thank you very much and we're happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the target of 17 per cent to protect the land mass (inaudible)...What assurances can you give that Australia will play its role in these negotiations?

GREG HUNT:Sure. There are three assurances. Firstly, the international goal is 10 per cent. Australia is at 36 per cent of our marine area is being covered by marine protected areas. Secondly, we guarantee that all parks have permanent, ongoing status.

Thirdly, we've guaranteed that all boundaries have permanent ongoing status so there's a review of some of the uses, but the 36 per cent in enshrined in law. The parks are enshrined in law and the boundaries are enshrined in law. Added to that, we've just made the announcement today to help protect the Coral Triangle through the Coral Triangle Initiative and the countries of those zones.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

GREG HUNT:Ah no, with respect, it's almost identical. What you find is that we inherited as Minister Bishop alluded to today, a century long practice. There were five major potential dredge and disposal plans - all of those disposal plans for the reef have been ended.

When you head north from Gladstone, to Balaclava Island, to Hay Point, to Abbot Point, to Townsville, we inherited massive disposal proposals from the previous Labor Government in Australia; they're all gone. And I do want to acknowledge the Queensland Government, and the Queensland Minister Andrew Powell. This would not have happened without him, and Jeff Seeney, and Campbell Newman - that's a century's practice.

But even the practice that we inherited just over a year ago, all of those proposals now for disposal in the Marine Park are gone. Secondly in terms of the future that we will use the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Act, which is the appropriate vehicle to put in place this ban in legislative form. The mapping of the two areas is almost identical, it's 99 per cent common is the figure from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

JOURNALIST: Can I just check – has it changed the situation (inaudible) that we were talking about earlier this year about dumping it on water and then on land?

GREG HUNT:Well the World Heritage Committee asked us to investigate options for disposal on land, and the Queensland Government in conjunction with the Commonwealth has said that they will no longer seek a marine disposal, and they have accepted the advice of the World Heritage Committee, and they will do it on land.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, can I ask, in terms of that World Heritage Committee, do you feel the Australian Government is doing enough to meet what they've asked you to do?

GREG HUNT:Look, I will obviously let them speak for themselves, but the big thing, the profound thing, the change of history which was asked for and requested, was to address the century long practice of disposal of sediment within the Marine Park. That has ended the capital dredge forever.

The next things is that what we see is that only yesterday Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the Director General of the IUCN was asked this question, and she described the cooperation as being excellent, and in particular she described her position, and the IUCN's position as being optimistic, and she said that in a very warm way. That reflects what we've received privately, across the nations with whom we've spoken, and the different international partners.

JULIE BISHOP:I should add that Australia has also appointed one of our most experienced and senior diplomats Peter Woolcott as Ambassador for the Environment, and he will continue to work closely with the World Heritage Committee on any concerns that they have, so we take this very seriously, and have committed a great deal of human and financial resources to ensuring that we do meet their concerns.


JOURNALIST: May I ask about the US-China climate deal? Does the new announcement change the way Australia prepares for its pledge for next year's Paris Summit on climate change?

GREG HUNT:Well the first thing is we welcome it. This is a very important thing, we had called for a foundation stone for a good global agreement of the US and China cooperating together. It's a very important outcome for the world, with the US adopting a reduction in their overall emissions, and China setting themselves the target of peaking.

The numbers will emerge from China, but at the moment they're at about ten and a half gigatonnes or ten and a half billion tonnes, whether that means that they will peak at thirteen or fourteen gigatonnes, or thirteen or fourteen billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. There is still significant growth; we have to acknowledge that, but we think that this is an important step forward.

For us we are part of that global process. Julia's our international leader of negotiations so… but we've always said we will set our targets within the first half of next year, and we continue to do that.

JULIE BISHOP:And last Monday when I was in Beijing for APEC I held the Climate Change Dialogue between Australia and China with Vice Chair Xie, he's Vice Chair of the National Development and Reform Commission of the Chinese Government. And this was an initiative that was instigated by former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in 2004, and we are the only country other than the United States - and the EU - that has a climate change dialogue with China.

So I revived the dialogue; we met for about four hours on Monday, and talked through what Australia will do to meet our 2020 target, what China is currently doing, and so I had an expectation that the United States and China would make such an announcement.

Indeed Australia has been urging the major economies, the major emitters, specifically the United States and China, to announce their post-2020 positions, so that other countries, for example Australia - responsible for one point five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions - are able to make an appropriate, relevant, and proportionate response. And as Minister Hunt said we will do that in the first half of next year.

At the conference in Lima Peru next month I will attend on Australia's behalf, and we will work with other countries to ensure that there's a global response in the lead up to the Paris meeting in the second half of next year.

JOURNALIST: So Minister, are you saying that you knew that this deal with China was going to happen and given the scale of the cuts that we're expecting, does that perhaps make Australia's five per cent target (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP:No we're talking about our target to 2020. This is a bipartisan target, a bipartisan commitment, from the previous Government and this Government, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. We are confident that we will reach that target.

What the United States and China are talking about is post-2020 and so we are currently reviewing our post-2020 position and have urged both China and the United States, as the major emitters, to make clear what their position post-2020 would be so that other nations could make a considered and proportionate response.

So, as Minister Hunt said, we welcome this announcement. I'm not saying if I knew the specifics in that it was going to occur yesterday, but I was aware that the US and China have a climate change dialogue as does Australia, as does the EU.

GREG HUNT:I might just add something there on comparing apples with apples. I know that Joe Hockey was talking this morning and he was absolutely right in what he said. When you look at the period from 1990 to 2020, that full range of the two Kyoto periods and the different baselines, the US's reduction from 1990 to 2020 is minus five per cent.

Australia is almost exactly the same, almost entirely comparable over that 30-year generational period. If you look at the current US base from 2005 to 2020 the US is minus 17 and if you use the same base for Australia we'd be minus 12 per cent, so actually we're in the same ballpark.

Now what the United States has done - and we really do welcome this, is to set an additional target for the period from 2020 through to 2025 and that's what we will now consider and I think it's a great thing for the world they've done it.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

JULIE BISHOP:I don't believe it's been questioned. I've appeared at a number of climate change summits in recent times and I've had very good feedback about our commitment and our dedication to this bipartisan target and also for details of our Direct Action Plan which is similar in many respects with what China is proposing to do.

I mean I discussed with Vice-Chair Xie China's equivalent of an emissions reduction fund and China's equivalent of planting trees and smarter technologies and greater energy efficiency for buildings and households and businesses. So very similar action is being taken.

The only difference from the previous Government and this Government is that we don't believe in punitive taxes, we believe in incentives and that's what other nations are doing as well - providing incentives for changing behaviours.

So I believe that Australia has been responsible, will continue to be responsible and the dialogue I had with China on Monday was very positive and very productive. In fact I invited Vice-Chair Xie to come to Australia to hold the next dialogue, because I wish it to be an annual dialogue, to hold the next dialogue in Perth. Yes, a little bit of home town bias but...

GREG HUNT:Of course... Mornington Peninsula [inaudible]

JULIE BISHOP:I did suggest that (indistinct) - yes I know you would. But anyway I've invited him to visit Perth so that we can continue to have this discussion in the lead up to the Paris meeting in the second half of next year.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

JULIE BISHOP:But this is what we've been asking the United States and China to do. We've been urging, Minister Hunt, Prime Minister Abbott and I and others, in all of our public utterances have been urging the major emitters to say what they will do because it requires global action. No one country can do it alone and it requires global action.

And if an economy the size of the United States or an economy of the size of China, with the level of emissions that they produce don't take concerted action then other countries will just fall away if we pale into the shade. So this is a commitment that not only Australia but other countries have been urging upon the United States and China and we welcome it.

GREG HUNT:Now we might take a last question perhaps because we both have other commitments - from somebody who might not have asked something yet.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, just wanted your take on the four Russian warships (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP:I understand that these ships are part of an expedition in international waters. It's not unexpected. Russia is entitled as any other country is entitled to traverse international waters. So we have been aware of it for some time.

We've been tracking it and as far as I know they remain in international waters. Now the Australian Navy likewise proceeds through international waters to our north and east and west and so Russia is doing what navies do and that is they traverse international waters.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's a show of force at all?

JULIE BISHOP:Well, Russia's a significant country. It has a significant navy. It's like saying when the United States is in the Pacific, is it a show of force? Well, it's a significant country with a significant navy. When Australia heads up through the international waters in Southeast Asia and North Asia, is that a show of force? Well Australia's a significant country with a significant navy and we're required to undertake exercises from time to time and as long as it's done in international waters then Russia is doing what other countries around the globe that have navies do. So it's not unexpected.

JOURNALIST: Please can I ask one question briefly about Gail Kelly who has announced her retirement from Westpac from February (inaudible)...

JULIE BISHOP:Look, Gail Kelly is an extremely competent businesswoman. She's certainly reached the heights of the banking profession. She has been a role model for men and women and I think she has made an extraordinary contribution to business and professional life in Australia.

I count her as a friend and we have worked together on many initiatives. Westpac has been a partner with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on a number of strategic issues, particularly in the Pacific and so I think she's been a fantastic role model.

JOURNALIST: Please could I ask one more?

JULIE BISHOP:One more, one more.

JOURNALIST: But there are reports that the Egyptian President has issued a new decree that foreign business could be transferred, or should be transferred rather, to their home countries. What do you know of that and could (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has been making regular high-level representations to the highest levels in the Egyptian Government in the lead up to Peter Greste's appeal on 1 January 2015. We are seeking to verify if their announcement has application to Peter Greste's case.

Media enquiries