By Terri Butler MP

SUBJECTS: Morrison-Joyce Government’s billion dollar Great Barrier Reef Announcement

TOM CONNELL, HOST: I'm joined live by Labor's Shadow Environment Minister Terri Butler for more on this particular issue. Thanks very much for your time, now there was a recent announcement by Labor, $163 million over four years for the reef. This is a billion. Yes, it's over nine years, but pro-rata, you still seem to have been trumped here in terms of a funding announcement. 

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well I think Tom, that the people of Australia will judge this government on what they have done over their decade in office. Before they start accepting any promises from them about what they're going to do in seven, eight or nine years time, particularly given the Morrison Government's track record of making big announcements and then not following up with delivery. I'm sure there'll be a lovely photo op with the Prime Minister this afternoon, but the real test is whether this government is serious about protecting the reef, for protecting the 64,000 jobs that depend on it. And frankly, what we've seen from this government is a backroom deal in 2017, giving more than $440 million to a charity, basically washing their hands of responsibility for the reef when they did that. And we've seen a very near miss last year, a stay of execution if you like, when the World Heritage Committee seriously considered inscribing the Reef on the World Heritage in Danger list. That committee has given this government until February this year to provide an update on what they're doing on the reef. I certainly hope that they can demonstrate more commitment to reef protection now than they have previously. But at the end of the day, I think most people know that the greatest threat to the reef is climate change. And the government with such a poor track record on climate change, is going to have a hard time convincing the world that they're serious about protecting the reef as well. 

CONNELL: We'll get to the climate change matter in a moment, but you mentioned the government has till February and they need to demonstrate they're doing more. They are pledging a lot more money. Would Labor look to up its commitment? As I said, yours at the moment was an additional $163 million. Is that a static figure or are you looking at this announcement and maybe matching it?

BUTLER: Well, as you said, Tom, our commitment is immediate. The government's commitment, we don't know when they're planning on funding this, they’ve said over the next nine years for we know it's in the 7, 8 and 9. Because that's the way this government rolls. They make announcements, but they’re largely spin. So we'll wait to see the detail about what they're going to do. 

CONNELL: So you might up your commitment? When you say you're waiting to see that detail, you might up your commitment?

BUTLER: More than half of the announcement is actually agricultural commitment for water quality, so that's about land use and land practices. We'll see what the details of that are. I'm very interested in that. And $250 million of it seems to be money for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). It's very, very clear to me that we need to see the detail to see whether this actual additionality in the outcomes for that money or whether it is programs that GBRMPA was going to be doing anyway. So we will take a look at the detail. Our commitment, in contrast, is for immediate spending to create jobs and conserve the reef. We think jobs and tourism and the reef conservation issues go hand in hand because the more tourists you have visiting the reef, the more of an appetite you create for reef conservation. It's a virtuous circle. But as I said, fundamentally and the World Heritage Committee made this point themselves, the greatest threat to the reef is climate change. And until this government wants to get serious on climate change we’re not going to see any meaningful response.

CONNELL: A lot of experts would agree with that, but realistically, that's up to the rest of the world isn't it? And even the bill trying to go through the US Congress at the moment and Joe Manchin, he has much more of a say than anyone in Australia. We've got about one and a half per cent of the world's carbon dioxide coming out of Australia. That's a world problem, isn't it? Labor can't fix that. 

BUTLER: It's up to the whole world, including Australia. We're part of the world. We have to live on this planet. And the fact is that when it comes to people wanting to protect the Great Barrier Reef, they'll look at the government's track record on reef protection and on climate change. The fact that they went off to Glasgow with nothing more than a pamphlet last year. And they'll look at Labor: strong climate policies, strong reef protection policies and a track record on the Great Barrier Reef, including you’ll remember - you won’t remember, and neither will I, it was before we were born. But it was Gough Whitlam that had the impetus to create the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the first place, made it a commitment to his election and built the framework, allowing that to happen. So we have a strong track record on protecting the reef. The government has been in office now for almost a decade Tom, almost a decade. And what's their legacy on the reef? It's a near miss in relation to a listing on the endangered list. It's three bleaching episodes and it's a dodgy backroom deal to a charity when in fact, what they should have been doing is taking responsibility and making sure that those efforts were going into a co-ordinated government approach in relation to reef conservation.

CONNELL: Not that the government can be blamed for bleaching episodes given, as I said, that that's a global issue. 

BUTLER: I'm talking about things that have happened on their watch and things that people will look at when they're looking at whether this government's got serious because when you had a 2016 response-

CONNELL: You’re not blaming the bleaching episodes on the government are you?

BUTLER: A 2016 warming and a 2017 warming and what you then do is you do a dodgy backroom deal without a tender to give half a billion dollars to a charity, that's not an appropriate response to those bleaching episodes. I'm talking about what is their response to the events that have happened, the environmental events that have happened on the reef. And yes, I do think we can hold them responsible for their actions in relation to these serious issues. Or their lack of action.

CONNELL: Well their reactions to them, or you can say their announcements, not the bleaching itself. You have criticised the government appointment of Warren Entsch as a special envoy to the reef. You're saying it's token, so would you scrap that position? 

BUTLER: Well, Tom, this is the core business of the member for Leichhardt should be standing up for the Great Barrier Reef and the tourism economic value that comes from it. You shouldn't have to get extra money in a fancy title to do your basic job. It’s a lesson this entire government frankly needs to learn. So we will, we will stand up for their reef. If Elida Faith becomes the member for Leichhardt and I certainly hope that she does, she will every day stand up for the Great Barrier Reef, for tourism operators, for tourism jobs and for the environmental values of the reef without having to get some sort of special encouragement to do that. You don't need to get a participation award for doing your own job under and Albanese Labor government, you do seemingly need to get that under a Morrison-Joyce government. 

CONNELL: So I'm just going to clarify that Labor will scrap that position altogether? 

BUTLER: I'm sorry, Tom and I didn't hear properly, but what I'm saying is we will have a member for Leichhardt, Elida Faith who will absolutely every day stand up for the reef and she won't need a special title and some particular special encouragement award in order to do that. It's just ridiculous. It's just greenwashing by a government that is embarrassed and rightly so about its own track record on reef protection and on climate change.

CONNELL: OK, you've made that point, but I'm just saying, does that mean then the position goes under Labor? 

BUTLER: The position of member for Leichhardt- 

CONNELL: The special envoy. The special envoy.

BUTLER: -Will be I hope under Labor Elida Faith, and that position, that position is responsible for advocating in relation to the reef, as are all the members down the coast of Queensland, frankly, Tom. All the way down to Flynn-

CONNELL: But the special envoy. 

BUTLER: -and we've already had, we’ve already had Matt Burnett as the candidate for Flynn advocating for protection around Gladstone as well. Why? Why does this government think that it needs to spend public money on creating spin to greenwash their reef credentials-

CONNELL: OK we’re out of time folks, I’ll just try one more time

BUTLER: -when their own members of parliament should be doing it as part of their daily job. 

CONNELL: I’m just trying to clarify, though will you have that special envoy position or not? 

BUTLER: Well, Tom, when we are in government and I hope that we are elected, I hope we have an Albanese Labor government. We will have members up and down the coast I hope. That we'll spend all of their time, making sure that their own communities are well represented in parliament. And for the coastal Queensland members from Flynn, up even, you know, everyone pretty much from Hinkler north is a reef seat. If you're on the coast, all of them will make it part of their core business to make sure that they're standing up for the reef. Because 64,000 jobs and billions of dollars of revenue every single year depend on that, and a good MP would be doing it regardless of needing a particular pat on the head from the Prime Minister. 

CONNELL: We'll have to leave it there, I'm sure we'll talk again in the lead up to the election. Terri Butler, thanks for your time. 

BUTLER: Always a pleasure Tom, see you later.