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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 35

Mr TURNBULL (Minister for the Environment and Water Resources) (11:17 AM) —The extension of the Great Barrier Reef region in the manner proposed by the honourable member’s amendment was considered in the context of the government’s review of the act. The review noted that the Coral Sea, while containing ecologically important areas, is separated from the Great Barrier Reef by an area of deep water and forms a largely distinct ecosystem. The review concluded, therefore, that where protection is appropriate the establishment of Commonwealth reserves under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is the appropriate mechanism, rather than extension of the Great Barrier Reef region. In fact, two such Commonwealth reserves already exist—Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef national nature reserves.

The Australian Coral Sea area is currently the subject of marine bioregional planning. In last year’s budget, the government allocated more than $30 million for marine bioregional planning, a significant proportion of which is being spent to better understand the conservation values and human uses of the Coral Sea. This information will lead to the establishment of a network of representative marine protected areas throughout the Coral Sea as an adjunct to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the two existing Coral Sea Commonwealth reserves. There are in fact no active oil and gas leases in the area and there has been no recent oil and gas exploration. Only relatively small areas of the Coral Sea are thought to be prospective for oil and gas. Other potential pressures, such as those from tourism and fishing, are also known to be low at present.

In the absence of real threats to the ecological integrity of the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef as a result of activities in the Coral Sea, it is difficult to justify pre-empting the marine planning process with an ill-considered extension to the Great Barrier Reef region. The proposal would not simply prohibit mining in those areas; it would make the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act the basis for managing Coral Sea areas, rather than the more appropriate framework of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Extending the Great Barrier Reef region in the manner proposed by the honourable member would add 922,000 square kilometres to the current 345,000 square kilometre area of the Great Barrier Reef region, an excessive addition if a buffer for the reef is the intention.

I should add that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act already provides mechanisms for managing activities outside the marine mark that impact on the marine park. Furthermore, the Great Barrier Reef outlook report—which I noticed the honourable member welcomed in his speech on the second reading—which is proposed in this bill, will facilitate the identification and assessment of any risks to the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, including potential threats from petroleum and mining in areas outside the marine park. The government recognises the importance of, and has made great progress in protecting, the Great Barrier Reef and Australia’s marine environment more generally. The government will continue to base its policies and its legislative program on good science and prior, careful and considered consultation with affected businesses and communities.

Question negatived.

Bill agreed to.