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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 215


Senator McLUCAS (8:14 PM) —I move opposition amendment (1) on sheet 5254 revised:

(1)    Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 27), at the end of the Schedule, add:

35 Schedule 1

Repeal paragraphs (a) to (j), substitute:

              (a)    commences at the point that, at low water, is the northernmost extremity of Cape York Peninsula Queensland;

              (b)    runs thence easterly along the geodesic to the intersection of parallel of Latitude 10º 41’ South with meridian of Longitude 145º19’33” East;

              (c)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 12º20’00” South Longitude 146º30’00”;

              (d)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 12º38’30” South Longitude 147º08’30” East;

              (e)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 13º10’30” South Longitude 148º05’00” East;

               (f)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º38’00” South Longitude 152º07’00” East;

              (g)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º45’00” South Longitude 154º15’00” East;

              (h)    runs thence north-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º05’00” South Longitude 156º37’00” East;

               (i)    runs thence north-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º04’00” South Longitude 157º00’00” East;

               (j)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 14º41’00” South Longitude 157º43’00” East;

              (k)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 15º44’07” South Longitude 158º45’39” East;

               (l)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 16º25’28” South Longitude 158º22’49” East;

             (m)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 16º34’51” South Longitude 158º16’26” East;

              (n)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 17º30’28” South Longitude 157º38’31” East;

              (o)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 17º54’40” South Longitude 157º21’59” East;

              (p)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 18º32’25” South Longitude 156º56’44” East;

              (q)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 18º55’54” South Longitude 156º37’29” East;

               (r)    runs thence south-westerly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 19º17’12” South Longitude 156º15’20” East;

              (s)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º08’28” South Longitude 156º49’34” East;

               (t)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º32’28” South Longitude 157º03’09” East;

              (u)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º42’52” South, Longitude 157º04’34” East;

              (v)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 20º53’33” South Longitude 157º06’25” East;

             (w)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 21º12’57” South, Longitude 157º10’17” East;

               (x)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 21º47’21” South Longitude 157º14’36” East;

              (y)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 22º10’31” South, Longitude 157º13’04” East;

               (z)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 22º31’38” South Longitude 157º18’43” East;

             (za)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 23º14’54” South Longitude 157º48’04” East;

            (zb)    runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 24º30’00” South Longitude 158º19’54” East;

             (zc)    runs thence westerly along the parallel of Latitude 24º 30’00” South to its intersection by the coastline of Queensland at low water; and

            (zd)    runs thence generally northerly along that coastline at low water to the point of commencement.

The purpose of this amendment is to extend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone. As Senator Abetz described in his speech at the end of the second reading debate, it is a large expansion of the region. But that is the important distinction that I think certainly the minister needs to understand and the Senate needs to understand. This is a simple and, I think, elegant solution to the problem that faces us. It is true that there are areas of oil prospectivity to the area east of the current Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. That is a fact: there is potentially oil and gas there. It is also a fact that the community of North Queensland does not want that oil to be extracted. It is true that the fishing industry, the tourism industry and our communities, particularly in the areas of Townsville and the Whitsundays where the areas of prospectivity have been identified, do not want oil drilling in that area. The marine science sector do not want oil drilling. In fact no-one in North Queensland wants any part of the area east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area to be exploited for oil or gas, and for very good reason. The potential damage if there were to be a spill is unimaginable. The potential damage to the natural values of the reef is something we do not want to contemplate. The potential damage to the economic values of the reef through tourism and the economic values through fishing are too horrific to contemplate.

Yet history shows us that, since the early 1960s, governments of Liberal and National persuasion have consistently tried to progress the potential of oil drilling in that area. That is why back in 2002 I moved a private members’ bill along with Senator Bartlett to extend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to the exclusive economic zone and thus rule out once and for all the potential for prospecting and therefore for drilling for oil or gas in that region. Senator Abetz made the mistake in his summing-up speech in the second reading debate that many people have made. The reason this amendment is such a simple and elegant solution is that it does nothing in terms of any of the other practices of the marine park authority except rule out oil drilling and prospecting. That is the beauty of it. It does not increase the management responsibilities of the authority. The authority does nothing more because the marine park area stays the same, and that is where the jurisdiction of the authority lies in terms of bringing in management plans, ensuring that they are complied with and doing all the work that the authority does—which, can I say, it does well. All that will happen is that oil drilling and prospecting for oil and gas will be a precluded use. That is why this is a great solution.

You have to look back over some of the history that we have had to deal with in North Queensland of the potential for oil and gas in that region. We cannot forget that in 1968 the Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, issued 16 licences to prospect for oil in the waters east of Queensland. In 1970 two companies—Ampol and Japex—postponed drilling near Whitsunday Island in the Whitsundays after significant opposition from the community. In 1974 we had to have a royal commission into oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef—that is the year it concluded. At that time the commissioners were split on whether oil drilling should be allowed on the Great Barrier Reef. I find it extraordinary that we would be in a situation where we would jeopardise not only the environmental value of the Great Barrier Reef but also, importantly, its economic value to our community. In 1981 the coalition government passed an act opening the Coral Sea to oil drilling. The government claimed that it would not allow oil drilling within 30 miles of the Great Barrier Reef. In 1990 oil exploration adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef was again proposed and the then Liberal shadow environment minister, Mr Fred Chaney, said on ABC radio:

I’m certainly in favour of continued oil exploration in prospective areas just as I’m firmly of the view that we make sure the Great Barrier Reef is protected.

There has been a consistency of approach from members and senators from the coalition on this issue. They consistently, stridently and strongly say: ‘We will protect the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and any potential oil spill. We love the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a fantastic thing. It’s really important.’ But at the same time they curry favour with the oil companies and quietly assure them that everything will be okay in the end.

Senator Ian Macdonald stood in this chamber the other day and said that he had spoken to the oil industry. He named a person from the oil industry—a woman who apparently only had a first name; that is unfortunate. Apparently the person he referred to told him that there was no interest in drilling for oil or gas in the Great Barrier Reef area or anywhere near it. Well, then, that makes it extremely easy for Senator Macdonald. He has been advised by the oil industry that they have no interest in it, so he can easily come in and vote for this amendment; he can easily support the extension of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region to cover areas where prospectivity exists. So I say to Senator Macdonald: given that you have received advice that there is no interest in this area, come over here and vote for this and protect the Great Barrier Reef—both the marine park and the area east of the marine park—from oil drilling into the future. We heard the member for Herbert, Mr Lindsay, happily talk about how passionate he is about protecting the Great Barrier Reef and how much he values it. He says that Labor’s proposal, our private members’ bill back in 2002, did not go far enough. He said in that year that the outermost reaches of the reef region needed protection and he flagged a future marine park expansion. That is not what we are doing. Mr Lindsay is suggesting that we actually increase the area that we would have marine protection over—that is, that we expand the marine park area. He went on to say that he could foresee a future boundary change.

That was back in 2002 and now it is 2007. Mr Lindsay, your crystal ball was not working. It has not changed. We are still in the situation where we have the potential for oil companies to put in licences for oil prospecting and drilling in an area that is less than 50 kilometres from the marine park area. I recall that during the debate in the 1970s, I think it was, a former National Party environment minister—I wish I could remember his name—said that he did not think there was going to be a problem with oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef because ‘as any schoolboy knows, oil floats on water’—and so, ipso facto, we would not have a problem with the reef because the oil would float on the surface and it therefore would not touch the coral. That is the sort of mentality that drove the Bjelke-Petersen government’s management of the environment. It is the same stuff that we are dealing with now, where you can quietly talk to the oil industry and say, ‘It’ll be all right,’ and then strongly and proudly proclaim that you are going to protect the reef. Well, you cannot have it both ways.

This is a simple way of protecting the Great Barrier Reef—the marine park area and also the reefs to the east of the marine park area—from any spills associated with oil drilling. I say to the government that, if they do value the reef for its economic, environmental and social values, this is a simple solution that does not cost a thing and it will provide protection into the future.

And we are not talking about ancient history here. You will recall, Minister, that on 28 December 2000—three days after Christmas—the government placed a notification on its website of the fact that an application for oil and gas exploration had been made by a company called TGS Nopec. There were not many of us trawling through Environment Australia’s website between Christmas and New Year, and we had a set period of time in which to respond to it. That happened. This is not ancient history; this is current. Then, only last year, Geoscience Australia published a map of areas east of Townsville—the Townsville Trough and an area near Lihou Reef—that indicated potentiality for oil exploration and drilling.

When you say to people in North Queensland, ‘This is current—this is on foot,’ they are honestly astonished. I understand that. Then you provide this evidence and they cannot believe it. They cannot believe that this government would jeopardise the natural values and also the economic values of the largest living coral reef in the world. That is what is happening here. I encourage some of the senators from the other side—those who think it is important that the economy of Queensland remains strong and that places like Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville and the Whitsunday area remain economically viable—to come across and support this amendment. It is a sensible amendment that does one thing: it stops oil and gas prospecting and oil drilling in the areas east of the Great Barrier Reef forever. I think that that is what Australians want.