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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2331


Mr COHEN (Minister for Home Affairs and Environment)(6.06) —in reply-I thank all the honourable members who participated in this debate, and simply say that it has been an interesting hour. I must say that the comments by the shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Environment were strange. He seemed to be determined to play the role of the Opposition spokesman and therefore had to criticise everything and find all sorts of imaginary things wrong with our actions. He criticised me for not paying tribute to previous Liberal Ministers. If he looks at my speech he will find that I paid tribute particularly to Prime Ministers Gorton and Holt for their roles. I did not mention all the Liberal- National Party Ministers responsible for science and the environment such as Senator Webster, Mr Thompson, Senator Greenwood, Mr Ellicott, Mr Wilson, Mr MacKellar, Mr Newman and Mr McVeigh. A succession of Ministers took over so fast I cannot remember most of their names. I will take up the point that has been made about the Opposition claiming the credit.


Mr Connolly —Bipartisan.


Mr COHEN —Bipartisan, but bipartisan when we were the Government which introduced the Act and the Opposition was the Government that did very little over 7 1/2 years. We were the Government that received 84 per cent--


Mr Connolly —That is nonsense.


Mr COHEN —It is not nonsense. If the honourable member checks around he will find that while there was work done-I pay tribute to the previous Government for doing something-the previous Government was slow. It did not push the issue as quickly as it might have. There is no question that the matter has moved much faster this year because the Authority and this Government have made sure that things happened a little more quickly. I take up the point made by the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) about the Queensland Government. He is right. I should have paid tribute to it, because it has been co-operative, particularly in the last 12 months. However, it was not so co-operative earlier. It is now recognising the benefits. I apologise for that omission.

Let us make one thing clear about Hamilton Island. The work that was done on Hamilton Island by Mr Keith Williams was done before this Government came to office. I point out that it was not in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park until last Sunday. This feigned anguish about what is happening at Hamilton is all very well, but it was done under the Fraser Government. Honourable members opposite know well that this is true.


Mr Connolly —We ask that it not be a precedent.


Mr COHEN —We will certainly give the assurance that it will not be. I make the point though that the sovereignty of the continental islands-whilst those islands are obviously in the park-remains with the Queensland Government. Up to the low water mark it is our responsibility. What happens on Hamilton Island will be the responsibility of the Queensland Government. However, if Mr Williams decides to go out over the low water mark, and he does it without seeking and obtaining permission from the Authority, we will act. I have great admiration for many of the things that Keith Williams does. But occasionally he tends to be a bit of a buccaneer when it suits him. He does things and asks permission afterwards. If he wants things done in that area and if he is going to go into the marine park area he should consult with the Authority first. If he intends to do things we will have an environmental impact statement to see whether it is appropriate.

In regard to the honourable member's comment about the America's Cup, I am not so courageous as to suggest that at the moment we should take it away from Fremantle or Perth. I have a lot of courage, but it does not extend to alienating all my Western Australian colleagues. Perhaps a Queensland boat will enter the America's Cup race, become the challenger, win it and then the next challenge will be over on the east coast, in the barrier reef area.

I thank the honourable member for Dawson very much for his contribution. He was very gracious. He raised questions about the fringing reefs on Hayman Island. They are likely to be zoned to fit in with the operations of the existing enterprise. We depend on the operators to encourage protection of their reefs, to help their enterprises and to help preserve them. I was on Hayman Island a few weeks ago, for four days. I met Andre Maestracci, the gentleman to whom the honourable member referred. He was a bit nervous, about what might happen. We now have two years of consultation and planning before the zoning plan is ready. It may be even a little longer than that. There will be two years of consultation with the tourist operators and with the fishermen-the recreational, professional and commercial fishermen-to work out a zoning plan. I cannot give an absolute guarantee, but our object is to work out a plan that will enable the tourist operators to continue and to look after the reef, as the honourable member pointed out, in the way that it has been looked after in the past.

I make one or two final points. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) mentioned that I had praised Eddie Heggerl and then criticised him. I pay tribute to Eddie Heggerl's very important role as the guardian of the reef and recognise the contribution he has made. That is not to suggest that I have to agree with everything that Eddie Heggerl says. I admire a lot of the work he has done. I think he has made an enormous contribution, but I do not have to go along with everything he says. The honourable member for Bradfield suggested that the Bill does not guarantee full protection of the reef. I said it on Sunday, I said it the other day, and I will say it again: The honourable member is absolutely right. Of course it does not guarantee full protection. A whole range of people must be involved in protecting the reef. I am only the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment. I am not God. I cannot guarantee that nothing will ever happen to the reef. Many things need to be done. The Queensland Government has a role to play in protecting what happens on-shore. The flow of pesticides and insecticides that come down the rivers from farms needs to be looked at. The flow of discharge from processing and mining operations on the mainland and from any other operation must be looked at. Of course, that is the Queensland Government's responsibility.


Mr Connolly —That is precisely why the environmental groups are concerned about the areas that have been excised, because they cannot be looked at on that definition.


Mr COHEN —I have explained it once, twice, three times. How many more times do I need to explain why we have not gone on to the reef? I ask the honourable member whether he would have done so. Let us not forget that the Cairns section was declared under the previous Government and the previous Government did exactly the same thing. Obviously, the Fraser Government accepted the advice that it was not wise to go to the low water mark in all of that area. We have followed that pattern. We think that was right, I think that was right.


Mr Connolly —That was not your policy, though.


Mr COHEN —The honourable member is right; it was not our policy. I think that that was a mistake. Since we came to government I have listened to the advce of the Austhority. We have discussed it in Cabinet and in Caucus, and on reflection we think that the decision was the right one to make. I do not want to nitpick about that.


Mr Connolly —To your credit.


Mr COHEN —I think that we made a mistake. We have learnt from those mistakes. With regard to the Iwasaki development at Yeppoon, one of the criteria is that an area must be environmentally important and have important natural qualities. Some people may think that Yeppoon has important ecological significance. I, for one, do not. I am not denigrating it, it has a lot going for it, but it is not one of the most important areas. I had some differences of opinion about this with the environmental movement when I was the shadow Minister for the Environment.

I think I have covered most of the points that were raised. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys), the Government Whip, raised a question about Taiwanese fishing boats. He was right; it is not my responsibility. It is mainly the responsibility of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin). However, I will take up the points he raised with the Minister for Primary Industry. By the way, Australians are not clam meat eaters, so the clam meat is not likely to return to Australia. However, many of the other points that the honourable senator raised were very reasonable and I will have an inquiry made into all of those points and obtain a reply for him.

One other point that the honourable member for Griffith made related to the cost of tourism. Costs are reasonably low on Lady Elliott Island and there are a lot of camping facilities on the reef. However, we must accept the fact that the construction of reef resorts is very expensive. We have to provide landing facilities, wharves, electricity and water. Food must be shipped to the islands and accommodation must be provided for staff.


Mr Braithwaite —Penalty rates are very heavy.


Mr COHEN —Penalty rates are very high in the reef areas. All of those matters make the construction of resorts on the reef much more expensive than is the case on the mainland. We must accept that, for the ordinary investor, in the future costs of construction of reef resorts will be high. The only way that cheap accommodation will be provided is by way of government subsidy, and something that perhaps we ought to look at is the provision of facilities for those people who cannot ordinarily afford a reef holiday. I also hope that the Authority will provide ways in which people can visit the reef, such as at Green Island. Some proposals have suggested that people could go out to the reef for the day, and then return to stay on the mainland. Mr Deputy Speaker, time has run out. I thank the House and all those who have contributed to the debate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.