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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 194


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (12:35): The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world. It is one of the world's most unique and biologically diverse ecosystems, of which Australia is the international custodian. As an environmental asset it is priceless. Yet regrettably, like so many other environmental assets around the world, its preservation is being jeopardised because of the influence of big business and because of short-term economic gains all too often driving government policies.

In 1975 the reef was declared a marine park, and in 1981 the reef was placed on the World Heritage List, in recognition of the reef's unique status and the serious risks it faced. Since then, even with all of the protective actions taken, the health of the reef continues to deteriorate. The combined effects of human activity and climate change are taking their toll. Yet the Abbott government and the ousted Queensland Newman government remain in denial, pretending that all is well, boasting about their commitments to the reef and how they are protecting it, and yet fiercely opposing the UNESCO listing of the reef as being 'in danger'. Indeed, the Abbott government is furiously lobbying to ensure that the 'in danger' listing is not applied to the Great Barrier Reef by UNESCO, because the Abbott government does not want any additional barriers placed in the way of proponents of large-scale developments in the reef area. On 30 January 2015, Environment Minister Greg Hunt wrote to Kishore Rao, Director of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, stating:

… Australia firmly believes that the property does not warrant inclusion on the list of World Heritage properties in danger.

Minister Hunt may speak for the Australian government, but he does not speak for all Australians, many of whom simply do not agree with him, nor are his conclusions supported by many environmental experts. The minister draws on a report prepared for him jointly by his own environment department and by the Australian and Queensland government agencies prior to the recent Queensland state election. My view is that the Newman government's woeful environmental track record significantly contributed to the demise of the Newman government in the recent Queensland elections. Quite simply, if the reef were not in danger, there would not be any need to spend a purported $2 billion over the next decade to protect it, as Minister Hunt claims that his government will be doing. Even the government's own assessment shows that the reef is in danger. The state party report says:

… the property continued to face a number of significant pressures. It concluded that the overall outlook for the Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009, and is expected to further deteriorate in the future; and that greater reductions of all threats at all levels—Reef-wide, regional and local—are required to prevent the projected declines in the Reef and to improve its capacity to recover.

Simultaneously, we see the Abbott government supporting further industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park coastline, which, even with all the pretentious safeguards, can only add to the risk and possibly the ultimate demise of the reef. Warming ocean waters and ocean acidification, combined with cyclones and hurricanes, are compounding the risk to what is already a very fragile ecosystem. Adding more shipping, dredging and ports to the area, even with the best-laid-out management plans, can only be bad for this unique environmental asset.

My understanding is that currently over 4,000 bulk carriers pass through the Great Barrier Reef each year and under future plans the number could increase to 7,000 ships per year. More ships mean increased risks because, regrettably, shipping accidents do occur—not to mention water disturbance that obviously occurs. The risks become even greater as larger ships are used.

The motion is nothing but an attempt by the member for Leichhardt to portray the Abbott and former Queensland LNP governments of being proactive in protecting the Reef when, simultaneously, those governments are allowing the greatest risk to the Great Barrier Reef to become worse. Interestingly, the motion makes no mention of the in danger listing nor the Abbott government's attempts to block the listing. Right now what the Australian people see as the pressing issue—and they will not be fooled or sidetracked by other matters—is ensuring that the Reef is listed as in danger as is proposed. I understand that later on this year UNESCO will be considering the in danger listing.

The Great Barrier Reef, as other speakers have pointed out, covers 348,000 square kilometres— (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.