Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much for coming along today. It's a thrill to be here at the Adelaide Zoo with Premier Steven Marshall, the Liberal candidate for Adelaide Shaun Osborn, the Chief Executive of Zoos SA, Elaine Bensted, to talk about the future for pandas Wang Wang and Fu Ni, as well as an exciting development at Monarto Zoo. Scott Morrison, the Liberal National Government in Canberra, is thrilled that we are going to support, together with the Marshall Liberal Government in SA, a package of investment in Zoos SA that it is going to transform Monarto with a new safari style experience and new accommodation. It's going to be a 50 million dollar plus investment in Monarto of private funding, coupled with public funding, to make sure that that becomes well and truly the premier open range safari destination here in Australia and really right across much of this part of the world. It's going to give an incredible opportunity for people to experience rhinos, giraffes, a range of species, all of them in the unique open range environment of Monaro. And here, our deal is going to ensure that Wang Wang and Fu Ni our beloved pandas, stay in Adelaide for another five years. And together, the investments in pandas and the open range safari experience at Monarto, mean that SA is going to be the standout location for wildlife and nature-based tourism experiences across Australia. And that's really exciting because over the last few months we've committed to investments in science, technology, innovation, in South Australia. In the arts and culture, with the new Indigenous Cultures Gallery, the investment in the Cedars, Heysen experience up at Hahndorf and now we're investing in the nature-based wildlife experiences as well. All of this combined is really super charging the South Australian tourism industry for the future, and we know that tourists come and when they spend they spend and invest in our hotels, accommodation providers, as well as attractions like the zoo. This is a thrilling day that is about backing and investing in the future of SA, in around two years’ time we're going to have a new visitor experience at Monarto, new accommodation facilities at Monarto, the pandas here hopefully with a panda cub if the Premier's singing can get them to tango as required. And all of it is going to deliver, we trust, more visitors, more tourists, more revenue, and economic opportunity in SA, as well as of course wonderful experiences for those of us who live here as well. Premier?

Steven Marshall: Well thank you very much Minister. What a happy day this is for South Australia and another example of what can happen with a state and federal government working together. We couldn't be more excited about keeping Wang Wang and Fu Ni here in South Australia and the tremendous opportunity up at Monarto. This transformation will create hundreds of jobs in construction, around 90 jobs on an ongoing basis into a very important region for our state. Most importantly, it's going to provide another facility here in South Australia, for our own South Australians to visit, interstate people to visit, and quite frankly I think we're creating something which is going to be world-class, and will drive international visitation to South Australia. This zoo, the Monarto Zoo is already the largest open range zoo in the country, but this investment will take it to another level, an international level which will drive real economic participation and growth for our state.

Journalist: What kind of return on investment do you expect?

Steven Marshall: We're expecting, well let's just take a look at it now, the Monarto Zoo is going through double digit increases in the number of people that are visiting it each year. This year will see about 165,000 people visit Monarto. Once we get this new facility up and running we believe we'll pass 220,000 annual visitors to Monarto. That would be a massive economic injection into the Monarto and the Murray Bridge area, a very important area of our state's economy.

Journalist: What do the pandas do for numbers here at the and how do you expect them to increase over the next five years?

Steven Marshall: Well the Adelaide Zoo is doing extraordinarily well in excess of 400,000 visitors each and every year to the zoo and of course, a major attraction are Wang Wang and Fu Ni, people love them. It's the only place in the country where you can see these giant pandas, I just wish they would get down to the work that they are here to do. I'm considering all options at the moment, some people have suggested a Barry White song, I'm thinking 'Love is in the air', look we'll do whatever it takes. We love these pandas, and we would love to have some panda cubs right here at the Adelaide Zoo.

Journalist: Premier is the project still achievable, no matter who is in federal government?

Steven Marshall: Yes, we've locked this funding in, so this is before the Federal Government has gone into caretaker mode. This has been a delicate negotiation to deal with the panda issue here at the Adelaide Zoo, but also the enormous development opportunity at Monarto. We couldn't be more excited about the redevelopment of Monarto, the extension of Monarto, its already a fantastic facility, now it's going to be absolutely world class.

Journalist: In terms of developing the Monarto area, you copped some flak from the Opposition Leader this morning about GlobeLink, is that still on the cards?

Steven Marshall: Absolutely we started the investigation into GlobeLink within the first 100 days of us coming to power, I'm sorry Peter Malinauskas doesn't know about that, but it's already underway in terms of the detailed planning for that important project. It is a large project, it's not going to be delivered within five minutes, it's a multi-billion dollar project but it's desperately needed for South Australia.

Journalist: You mentioned the issues with the pandas having cubs, has there been any consideration of getting different pandas in?

Steven Marshall: No we love Wang Wang and Fu Ni. They're a massive attraction here, and I think this five year extension to their time here, I think it's going to take the pressure off, you never know what could happen.

Journalist: Minister could we ask you a few questions? What did you need to do to twist the Prime Minister's arm because he wasn't always for the panda investment?

Simon Birmingham: Scott Morrison has got a tourism industry background and he recognised the value of this joint proposal to make sure that we supercharge the zoo experience in SA, giving people the safari experience at Monarto, the panda experience in Adelaide. That's going to keep tourists in SA longer and Scott Morrison well and truly sees the benefit there of growing our tourism economy.

Journalist: On Scott Morrison, is he playing games by waiting to call the election?

Simon Birmingham: The election will be held by the end of May, it will be held in the normal timeframe, by the end of May.

Journalist: Why can't you say when?

Simon Birmingham: I am saying it will happen by the end of May.

Journalist: A specific date?

Simon Birmingham: It will happen by the end of May and it will be called in the usual way.

Journalist: Do you expect to see a bounce in the polls after the Budget?

Simon Birmingham: I expect that we will have to work hard each and every day between now and the election sometime in May, where we will demonstrate to the Australian people that what's at risk for them, is the record jobs growth we've created, a balanced budget we've delivered, the fact that we've got tax cuts built in over the next few years …

Journalist: Is there a risk of that tax cuts won't pass by July 1 if the election is held in late May?

Simon Birmingham: We absolutely have the powers and plans to ensure that the tax cuts that were promised to Australians this year, will be delivered this year. …

Journalist: Premier can we ask you a few questions about what the opposition has been talking about today, in regards to the genetic and molecular pathology unit? Can you rule out that it won't be outsourced?

Steven Marshall: Well look the reality is we've made it very clear that there won't be any decisions regarding outsourcing for a 12 month period. We've been open and transparent, we released the report that was carried out into SA Pathology in full. We released it immediately after it went to Cabinet. So we've got plans to improve the efficiency of SA Pathology, we want to make sure we get the very best outcome for the taxpayers in South Australia, utilise their expenditure or their investment in SA Pathology, in the most efficient way possible. But our number one, number one focus is always on patient safety.

Journalist: Minister, I just have a couple more questions if that's okay? Given the recent stories about the Chinese government in a number of regards, is it a bit tricky to be having a feel-good story with the Federal Government and the Chinese Government in this circumstance? Wouldn't you want to be distancing yourself?

Simon Birmingham: Australia's relationship with China continues to be a very important one, China is our largest trading partner. Just one week ago I was announcing our plans for the new Festival of China that will see 40 events take place over 10 Chinese cities, in the lead up to the Port Adelaide versus include the AFL game in June of this year and that's an important showcasing of Australia within China. But this partnership in terms of the pandas being in Australia is also a part of the rich, cultural, exchange that we have between Australia and China, and that cultural exchange is important in the way that it underpins our economic exchange, our trading relationship and the stronger we can have those cultural understandings between one another, the more confidence that we can have that we can work through the sometimes difficult and sensitive issues that come up.

Journalist: Does the federal government have an understanding about the release of Yang Hengjun who's being detained by the Chinese government?

Simon Birmingham: We continue to make sure that all appropriate consular support is made available and to make representations where appropriate in relation to those matters, which we handle rightly with sensitivity to ensure we get the best possible outcome for any citizens involved.

Journalist: Minister could you just break down where the money is coming from for these individual projects (indistinct)?

Simon Birmingham: So the Federal Government is providing the bulk of the government funding for the Monarto investment, more than 11 million dollars coupled with an injection from the State Government there, and then around 35 million dollars of private funding on the land adjacent to the existing Monarto Zoo that is expected to deliver the new accommodation and other facilities at Monarto for which our combined government investment is leveraging that huge private sector investment in new tourism facilities, glamping and other accommodation facilities that will be so so essential. The State Government working with us as part of this zoos deal, is picking up the five-year licensing terms in relation to pandas. All of it together giving that combined, positive, brilliant experience to people, of pandas plus safari, meaning tourists have got multiple zoos experiences right here in SA.

Journalist: So the money for the pandas is from State Government?

Simon Birmingham: That's right. So the approach we're taking is that we're providing more than as I say, 11 million dollars of investment there in terms of the Monarto project, the State Government in terms of the pandas and some of the Monarto project, making a lesser contribution but I think it adds up to around 7 million.

Journalist: Did the Premier ask you for money for the pandas?

Simon Birmingham: We've been working together on this for the last few months. Steven Marshall as everybody knows always drives a hard bargain, which is why the Federal Government is putting such a large sum of money into Monarto, but by doing these things together, by working together, we're able to get the best of all worlds, pandas plus safari.

Journalist: Elaine, can we have a chat with you? Elaine what's the financial situation with zoos right now?

Elaine Bensted: Zoo South Australia as a conservation charity has a really strong focus on sound financial management, we've operated with a small surplus for the last couple of years and we've -certainly go that in our plan for the 2019-20 year.

Journalist: Is it fiscally responsible to keep the same two pandas? I mean if the fertility program hasn't worked, surely it would be seen as a failure?

Elaine Bensted: Not at all, the Giant Panda project was primarily a research and conservation project. Breeding is always challenging with Giant Pandas, even in China their facility probably have about one in five success rate. We've had five years of breeding attempts, yes we haven't been successful so far but we're always hopeful that maybe next year will be the year.

Journalist: So a new male is off the cards?

Elaine Bensted: I'm going to China shortly and I'll have the discussions with China and our counterparts in. the China Wildlife Conservation Agency. It's quite a challenge to move Giant Pandas from one side of the world to the other so I would imagine we would be keeping the same two pandas, but we are part of an international program so I'll have those discussions later this month.

Journalist: Is the pregnancy window closing at all, like at what point during the next five years (indistinct)?

Elaine Bensted: No, our pandas are only 13 and 14 years of age. So right through the five year window, they will certainty still be of breeding age.

Journalist: We've touched on patronage already, but can you describe what it will do, these two projects to patronage?

Elaine Bensted: Our two zoos combined have close to 600,000 visitors a year. Monarto for the last five years, each year has been a record with the previous year being a 20 percent increase. I think I heard the Premier say it was over 160,000 visitors to Monarto. We're very hopeful we have plans that that will increase about 220,000 visitors and here at Adelaide we get about 420,000 visitors every year and about a third of those come from outside of South Australia, so we really are a very critical part of the tourism sector.


This transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.

For a full transcript please visit www.senatorbirmingham.com.au/news/interview-transcripts/

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