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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5160

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (12:37): Just like national parks on land, marine national parks are places in the sea where wildlife and their habitats are fully protected. Marine national parks are essential to protect the ocean's rich diversity of life. They are havens which allow fish to spawn and grow, and they protect vulnerable species. Marine national parks also provide us with places to visit, research and get a sense of what the ocean was like before the emergence of industrialised fishing.

For the protection of oceans, the 2003 World Parks Congress in Durban recommended to governments that they establish networks of marine protected areas free of fishing. The deadline for implementation of the recommendations is 2012, consistent with the protected area network recommendations from the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, which I attended, and meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Australia has been slowly developing its National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas over the past two decades. Thanks to large protected areas in the Great Barrier Reef, Macquarie Island and Heard and McDonald Islands, about 10 per cent of the exclusive economic zone is covered by marine protected areas. But only half of that is marine sanctuary level protection, with most in the tropics and subantarctic areas. The figure is even lower when we consider the four marine regions—south-west, north-west, north, and east, including the Coral Sea—which are currently part of the Gillard government's regional marine planning which continues the process begun by the Howard government. Less than one per cent of these regions have marine sanctuary level protection. This is vastly different from the National Reserve System, which over the past century or more has been expanded to give some protection to about 13 per cent of our land surface. No-one in this House should accept that one per cent is anywhere near enough to protect the ocean life of our marine regions. Australian scientists believe that even 10 per cent protection is too low to reverse the decline of our ocean life. They believe that protection levels similar to that of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—33 per cent in marine sanctuary level protection—are needed to protect and recover our ocean life.

At the 2010 election, the Gillard government committed to give sanctuary level protection to the important and special areas of our oceans. These should include breeding, feeding and spawning places, iconic areas and critical habitats. The South-West Marine Region, stretching from Kalbarri to Kangaroo Island, is the focus of the Gillard government's first regional marine plan and the draft was released earlier this month. The government is using the regional marine plans to expand the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas and include zones with varying levels of protection. The percentage of the regions covered by the network, and the size, number and location of marine sanctuaries within it, as the member for Fremantle has noted, need to be based on the best available science and the careful consideration of social, economic and cultural values.

Although the government's decision-making journey begins in the South-West Marine Region, the direction it chooses for the region's conservation values will set the course for the other marine regions of the next 12 months. If the private member's bill on regional planning currently in the Senate were to become law and make the marine reserve declarations disallowable, all of that certainty would disappear and the community's faith in the regional marine planning process would be shattered. It would also waste all of the money, time and other resources thus far spent and move us no closer to protecting our oceans.

The Australian government has international and national obligations to protect Australia's oceans. Through the current regional marine planning process, we need to establish a network of Commonwealth marine reserves by the end of 2012 with the conservation of ocean life and cultural values as its core objective. Of critical importance is education and capacity building in Indigenous communities. The engagement of traditional owners must be at the heart of the planning, protection and management of their sea country.

My electorate of Wills does not have any coast, but it is bordered by the Moonee Ponds Creek and the Merri Creek, which flow into the Yarra River which in turn enters Port Phillip Bay. I am acutely aware that what we do in the catchments of our coasts and oceans can have major impacts on our ocean life and recreational and commercial activities. Over the years I have been personally involved in actions to improve the water quality of these creeks and to reduce pollution loads going into Port Phillip Bay. We need to be doing this right across the country. But the most important step we can take right now for the future health of our oceans is the establishment of a national network of large marine sanctuaries. I urge members of this House to support the motion.