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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 27

Mr JENKINS (10:48 AM) —The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007 amends the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. As was outlined earlier in the debate, the bill makes amendments arising from the Financial Management Accountability Act 1997 and from the Uhrig review. The bill establishes a periodic Great Barrier Reef Outlook report and it also establishes statutory provisions to ensure that the current zoning plan cannot be amended for a least seven years from the date it came into force. The bill also gives the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources more power by abolishing the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee.

Through a second reading amendment moved by the member for Kingsford Smith the opposition have indicated that, whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, we reaffirm the objects of the principal act but note that the reef is very much under threat, both in the short-term and in the long-term, as a result of many factors, including climate change. We note that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that, by 2050, 97 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef could be bleached every year.

In our second reading amendment we condemn the government’s handling of the structural adjustment package and we call on the government to develop and implement plans to protect the Great Barrier Reef from coral bleaching and to protect the Australian jobs and industries that depend upon a healthy reef. The opposition also call on the government to prohibit mineral, oil and gas exploration in the waters adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

If we review the history of the way in which legislation has been passed through this place to protect the Great Barrier Reef I think we will find that, in general, it is one of the success stories. But we cannot dwell on the successes of the past so much as not to recognise that the Great Barrier Reef has never been as threatened as it is currently, in this first decade of the 21st century. Back in the late 1980s, even after 10 years of protection, there was much mystery surrounding the fact that the Great Barrier Reef was a World Heritage listed area. World Heritage listing was associated with locking up areas, which was far from the truth, and an educative process had to be gone through that could indicate that not only could we protect World Heritage value areas but also they could continue to be used by people for a variety of economic and social uses. The Great Barrier Reef is one of those areas.

The work of GBRMPA, which has been acknowledged by members on this side, has been integral not only to the protection of the reef but also to the continuing use of the reef. The multi-use zones that have been developed and the ability of the authority to administer have been very important in that process. The scientific knowledge that GBRMPA and other institutions have developed has also been important, but there is much work to be done. We have a great understanding of the phenomenon of bleaching. We understand that in the past there has been an ability of the coral to show resilience, but we also know that the severity and the frequency of these incidents is on the rise. That really tests the resilience of the reef. That is the danger. That is why we need to make sure that we understand the threat that there is to the reef. In saying that, we also have to understand that it will not only affect the reef as a living organism but also have a great impact on the surrounding environment.

There has been emphasis on the loss of jobs that would arise in the tourism industry, but let’s go to the contentious issue of the fisheries. What we have said on this side of the House, quite correctly, is that when you step back and look at the recent past you find it is the government that has botched the restructure packages and has not been up-front. It has not been the authority’s fault in any way that these things have gone pear-shaped. The impact of climate change on the fishing stocks of the reef marine park is going to be dramatic. The Treasurer in his budget speech this week talked about adaptation required following climate change. He has to understand that the mitigation has to go on but, correctly, adaptation will occur. We do not have the environmental economic case for what is going to happen as a result of climate change to the fishing stocks. That is really an appalling situation, because there are plenty of examples around the world where people are well in advance.

If we look at the Caribbean, not only does it have probably the second-largest coral reef; it has, of course, large fishing stocks and commercial and recreational fishing. The Caribbean people working on climate change have been able to model the changes that will occur to fishing stocks and have been able to model the way in which fishing stocks will change in different parts of the Caribbean. That is the type of work that we need to see in Australia.

I thought that when the Treasurer produced his Intergenerational report 2007 we might have seen one of the major intergenerational problems that confront Australia being given due coverage. Of course I talk about climate change. But, in 122 pages, what do we get? We get about three or four pages of discussion of environmental matters, including climate change—that is how it is referred to—and what do we get? We get that it is ‘very difficult’ to do the modelling, ‘very difficult’ to predict the economic impact. This is a nonsense. If Australia is really going to prepare itself for the impact of climate change, it has to have a better review than the words that are in the Intergenerational report. I express my disappointment that this report, which the Treasurer keeps telling us is a very important aspect of the discussion of government policy, was tabled at a national press conference two days after the last weeks of sitting had concluded. So there is no opportunity, in a sense, for the parliament to be able to fully debate this document.

For the future generations we have to understand that we cannot discuss the economic impacts of intergenerational problems without looking at the social and environmental aspects. In a speech that touched upon the Great Barrier Reef that I made in the chamber in 1989, I quoted Dick Pratt, who used a quote out of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. I repeat, this was nearly 20 years ago. As a major industrialist at that time in Australia—and he continues to be—he emphasised, and I quote again:

Those responsible for managing natural resources are separated from those responsible for managing the economy. The real world of interlocked economic and ecological systems will not change; the policies and institutions concerned must.

That is why, when the government produces a document like the Intergenerational report 2007, it should not be just a financial economic document. It should have great emphasis on the interlocking of environmental and economic matters. And this document failed us. As has been stated by my colleagues in this debate, the Great Barrier Reef is a great barometer of what is happening in climate change. The bleaching of the reef gives us an absolute indication of what the waters along the east coast are doing. What we have to see is a better analysis of what is required than the suggestions of floating pontoons of shadecloth or having shadecloth orbiting the earth and things like that. At the end of the day we have to have a greater understanding of what is happening. We have to continue to match what we confront with actions that will mitigate and ensure that industry, which relies on the reef, is able to continue.

I have been heartened by discussions that I have been involved in with the tourism industry, which requires the reef for its survival. Firstly, they understand the challenges that confront the Great Barrier Reef because of climate change and, secondly, they acknowledge the good work of GBRMPA. That is important. This is a partnership between government, through government agencies, industry and the community. As my colleague the member for Throsby said, the community in this part of the world importantly includes Indigenous people. There is an understanding of the importance to those Indigenous people of the reef and its waters and an understanding of the ecological systems that the reef presents us.

As has been stated in debate, throughout the globe’s history, events have arisen because of changes in levels of carbon emissions. But the simple fact is that, as a result of anthropogenic carbon emissions, the globe is under stress that it has never been under before. It is the severity and the rate of the increase in carbon emissions that we must confront. It is time for action. All those who have been sceptical should go back to their burrows, because it is clear that we have to take some action. If, in the case of Australia, we cannot use as the pre-eminent model the protection of the Great Barrier Reef to show what is required then we should not be in the business of discussing these issues. As the member for Capricornia said, when it suits the government, they praise the efforts of the authority; when it does not suit them for local political purposes, they try to make out that the authority is the demon.

It is interesting that only two members of the government have participated in this debate, apart from the minister. The member for Boothby participated in a more general sense, while the member for Leichhardt, who has been an open and continuing critic of the work of the authority, tried to justify his position by discussing the way in which the commercial fishing industry had been treated. But if you take a fair, arms-length view of the way in which the restructure of the fishing industry has occurred, you will see that it is really the responsibility of the government to sort out these problems. As I said, if they think they have got problems now, the changing nature of the fish stocks of the marine park as a result of climate change will mean that further assessment of the restructure will be required. If other countries and regions are already doing this, why isn’t Australia? That is just one example of where the government will have to be in partnership with industry because of the impact of climate change on the economy.

I come back to the Intergenerational report. It ignores climate change; it is as if climate change were simply a footnote to the intergenerational concerns of this nation. It should be of concern not only to this nation but to the globe, but, if the Intergenerational report is about Australia, I would have thought it would not just have been included as ‘environmental consequences, including climate change’. There should have been a whole chapter about climate change. It is then suggested, with respect to Stern, that: ‘Oh, it might be difficult to do the modelling.’ It has been admitted here, in answers during question time, that there is no modelling. It is an absolute disgrace that a nation confronting this challenge has not done the appropriate modelling, has not made it public and has not put it into the public domain as part of the debate, because this is the pre-eminent problem that confronts us.

In saying that it is a problem, it might also, like all problems, be a great opportunity. With the attitude of the government to climate change, any opportunities that arise from the way we tackle it are just thrown to the wind, as if they are incidental. All the technologies that have been developed in Australia that have a consequence for diminishing carbon emissions have only gone forward if they have gone offshore. If you go down to Tasmania and visit a wind energy park or wind farm, what do you see? They have had to form a joint relationship with the Chinese. Because we have stepped outside Kyoto, we have not gained the full impact of the CD mechanism. That is just crazy.

We would agree, of course, that the next round of Kyoto is important, but the government should not just throw the baby out with the bathwater because they want to be in the blame game. I have just returned from an IPU conference, where the central debate was about climate change. It sickened me a little that we had this north-south debate, whereby developing countries said, ‘Well, it’s the developed countries’ fault.’ We have to go beyond that in the debate. We heard yesterday in this debate and during question time the same response—‘until China does this’ and ‘until India does that’. The government cannot sit there and wash their hands of the matter; they should just get on with it.

There could be a lot of accommodation regarding the way in which nations are tackling this matter. For instance, a decrease of 40 per cent in the number of living global coral reefs in a couple of years time represents a great impact that we will all share. There is also the divided debate in Australia: in the traditional way in which Prime Minister Howard conducts business, which is always to find an excuse for pitting Australian against Australian, he wants somehow to dwell on the fact that this debate is all about people who work in the coal industry and the future of their jobs. Well, we acknowledge that. We are being fitted up by being told that we just want to exterminate that industry. That is not the case.

We agree that we have to continue to build technologies that display the cleanest use of coal—that we need to pursue technologies that do in fact efficiently capture and store carbon. But at the same time we have to look at a whole host of other things, because it is not only the threat to jobs in the coal industry; it is the threat to the jobs in the tourism industry along the Great Barrier Reef, and it is the threat to the jobs of the commercial fishers who depend upon the fishing stocks along the Great Barrier Reef. There are no winners from inaction against climate change. In fact, we all have to recognise that we all have to take some part of the pain—and I think that we acknowledge that. It is like any other adjustment that we have seen in Australia over the last few decades: you have to make sure that, when you are looking at changes, they are shared.

So I would hope that a minister like the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, who is sitting at the table and who does have an understanding of these problems, would step back from the blame game, would step back from the Pontius Pilate washing of hands in the national sense and would see that we can be a leading light to the world in the way that we tackle climate change. If we cannot take appropriate action in relation to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on the question of climate change then we are not going to be this exemplar. The opportunity is there for us to lead the world in showing the ways forward on not only the way we apply technology but the way we manage the reef. He is right to say that GBRMPA has done a great job. It has been very hard. It has been in the context of suspicion. (Time expired)