ABC AM interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

SUBJECTS: Macquarie Island Marine Park; Voice to Parliament.

SABRA LANE, HOST: The Federal Government's moving to expand the size of the marine park around Macquarie Island, which is halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica. The rugged and remote island is home to up to 100,000 seals and 4 million penguins. It means an extra 385,000 square kilometres of ocean will be highly protected. Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek joined me earlier. Tanya Plibersek thanks for joining AM.


LANE: Environmental groups are praising this decision. Fishing groups had been pretty angry about the proposal. Are they now on side with the final declaration?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, two months ago, I announced our plan to expand the Macquarie Island Marine Park. In that intervening time, we've had a great deal of public consultation. We've had about 14,700 submissions from the public. Well over 99 per cent are in support. And when it comes to the two very sustainable Patagonian toothfish fisheries that are in the area, they'll be able to continue to operate just as they are operating right now. In fact, I've changed the map slightly to give them a little bit more room to continue their fishing, so I hope they'll be satisfied.

LANE: But you're not sure?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, look, nobody likes to have their business restricted in any way, but this is too important. I mean, this is an absolute wonderland full of threatened species. We have to protect this habitat so we can protect the animals that live there. We've got Southern elephant seals, endangered albatross, royal penguins that are found nowhere else in the world. We have to protect these waters so that those animals have a place to breed and to feed.

LANE: The Government has pledged to protect 30 per cent of Australia's oceans by 2030. How close are you to that target with this expansion?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, when we include the new Macquarie Island Marine Park, it'll take us to 48 per cent of our oceans protected and 22 per cent will be in the highly protected category. So, we're doing pretty well on oceans.

LANE: Further south in Antarctica. We've been hearing from scientists in the past fortnight about the record lack of sea ice cover for this time of year. Mind boggling, is how one describes it. Are you keeping across this?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I'm really worried about what we're seeing in Antarctica with the lack of sea ice. I think if we needed further proof of the environmental impacts of climate change, we've got a great example there. But that's why it's so important that we continue to act to combat the risk of climate change. It's why we've got a legislated pathway to net zero in Australia. It's why we're making such a commitment to reducing our emissions as a nation.

LANE: The latest Newspoll, If I could change subjects, shows support for the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is now at 46 per cent. That is a ten point drop since February. The no campaign is gaining more support. How worried are you by that?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think the referendum is an absolutely historic opportunity to right a really fundamental wrong in our constitution. When our constitution was written, Terra nullius was still the law of the land. We were pretending that this country didn't have 65,000 years of history and we need to change that in our constitution to properly reflect the country that we are. This is a great opportunity to change our constitution, to recognise 65,000 years of history, and the voice is the mechanism to do that.

LANE: People aren't persuaded by that argument at the moment.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we've still got many months to go before this final vote is put. We know that the campaign for the yes vote is gathering steam. Of course, people are uncertain about any change. We've seen that in referendum contests before. But we've got the opportunity over coming months to get out on the streets to convince every Australian that recognising our 65,000 years of history. Giving a voice to First Nations Australians, so we can make a practical difference in their lives is the right thing to do.

LANE: Tanya Plibersek thanks for joining AM.