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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5984


Mr TURNOUR (9:44 PM) —I rise tonight to present a petition approved by the Standing Committee on Petitions. The petition has been organised by Mr Wayne Bayne, Mr Robert Erskine and other concerned citizens, who have since established the Coral Sea Access Alliance Group to campaign against the establishment of the Coral Sea Heritage Park as proposed by the Pew Environment Group. The Pew Environment Group’s proposal would effectively ban fishing and a range of other uses in more than one million square kilometres of the Coral Sea. There have been 2,053 signatures collected in support of this petition. They are not in a format that allows them to be tabled tonight but I do have them here in my hand. Nine hundred signatures were collected in one night at a meeting I attended in Cairns, organised by Mr Bayne and local fishers.

The Pew Coral Sea Heritage Park would effectively ban fishing in an area bordered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and our maritime border with PNG, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. This, as I said, is an area of more than one million square kilometres of sea. The petition raises concerns about government actions ‘that will result in any usage restrictions, access or additional controls over the area known as the Coral Sea beyond those that exist under current legislation’.

I have discussed the Pew proposal with a broad cross-section of the community and representative groups, including recreational and professional fishers, tourism representatives, the Super Yacht Group and environmental groups. This is a large and broad cross-section of local stakeholders and interest groups, as well as many members of the local community. The vast majority of people see the Pew proposal as extreme and an ambit claim to lock up the Coral Sea. I share this view and have discussed this with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Hon. Peter Garrett. Sadly, the Pew proposal has divided the community and has sought to pre-empt a bioregional planning process being undertaken by the Australian government.

Since the petition was established, the environment minister has released the bioregional plan for the area and established a conservation zone covering the Coral Sea. I sought to ensure that any conservation zoning while the bioregional planning is proceeding would not impact on fishers in the Coral Sea. I am pleased that the minister has ensured that this has happened. The Pew group have not got their no-take zone and I will continue to fight any such proposal. Existing tourism operators and other commercial users of the area will have to obtain free permits to continue operating. Concerns about this permit process have been raised with me by the Coral Sea Access Alliance and I will be raising these with the minister.

Yes, the government is moving forward with its bioregional planning process, including consultations on whether there needs to be increased protection in the area, but no final decision has been made. People do recognise that this is a valuable and important area and that there are areas that need to be protected, but we need to work through a proper process, which is what the Australian government is doing. I will continue working to ensure that fishing and other interests are considered in this process, as I did prior to the announcement of the conservation zone.

There are consultation meetings in Cairns today and tomorrow as part of the bioregional planning process. This petition highlights concerns about government consultation processes when it comes to environmental issues and seeks to ensure that any consultations be ‘conducted transparently and not purely for the purpose of fulfilling a bureaucratic requirement’. In many ways people seem cynical about consultations, but it is very important that we do engage properly with the community about this process. I am committed to that. I can assure petitioners that I will be following with considerable interest these consultations and will continue to raise any issues and concerns with the minister.

Finally, the petition raises concerns about foreign based groups—in this case, Pew—instigating Australian environmental policy. I can assure petitioners that the Pew Environment Group, funded out of the United States, is not in control of environmental planning in Australia. The bioregional planning process was instigated and begun under the former Howard government, following the establishment of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Rudd government is moving forward with this bioregional planning and I would encourage all those with an interest in the Coral Sea to engage in the consultation processes constructively. I congratulate Mr Bayne, Mr Erskine and all of the 2,053 people who have signed these petitions in support for actively participating in our Australian democracy. I look forward to the parliament’s response to this petition.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of the citizens of Australia.

Draws to the attention of the House:

Our concern over any possible actions by any government departments, ministers or government authorities that will result in any usage restrictions, access, or additional controls over the area known as The Coral Sea beyond those that exist under current legislation. We express considerable concern over several aspects of the PEW Foundation’s proposal to establish the Coral Sea Heritage Park and demand that this proposal be dismissed immediately in its entirety. Public consultations on previous environmental issues have been extremely poorly advertised with little concern for the public opinions expressed.

We therefore ask the House to:

That any proposed environmental policies in Australia be instigated by Australian organisations and that Australian environmental policy be under the control of a duly elected Australian Government. In future we demand that the public consultation process be conducted transparently and not purely for the purpose of fulfilling a bureaucratic requirement.

from 1 citizen

Petition received.