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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1959

Great Barrier Reef

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:39): My question is to Senator Birmingham, representing the Minister for the Environment. It relates to that wonderful natural asset we have in Australia that has been so well managed and protected by coalition governments since John Gorton's time. Will the minister update the Senate on what the Abbott government has been doing to protect our Great Barrier Reef, and what progress has been made?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:40): I thank Senator Ian Macdonald for that question, because no senator in this place has for longer and with greater diligence and determination fought for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef than Senator Ian Macdonald. Not quite since the days of the Gorton government, but certainly for a very long period of time has Senator Ian Macdonald come to this Senate and championed the cause of protection of the Great Barrier Reef. It is entirely appropriate that he should be asking this question about the next great protection that a coalition government is putting in place to protect the Great Barrier Reef. This week the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, released the details around our plan to ban capital dredge material disposal within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This is a significant step forward and a significant step taken by those on this side of the chamber, and for all of the interjections from Senator Singh or others on the other side, they never chose to take this action.

We are delivering on our commitment to end what has been a century old practice of capital dredge material disposal. Our plan will provide for a complete ban on capital dredge disposal in the entire area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There will be zero capital disposal anywhere in the entire 345,000 square kilometre marine park area, which covers the full area of Commonwealth legislative control. Further, the Queensland government is committed to providing cover for an additional 3,000 square kilometres, including existing port areas that are not held in the marine park. This is a great step forward by a coalition government building on a long track record of protecting this great natural asset. (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and particularly for the advice about banning capital dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef area. Could I ask the minister to explain the significance of the decision to ban the capital dredge spoil?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:43): Contrary to some of the interjections from those opposite that we heard before, this is very significant because the combination of the Commonwealth act, in conjunction with the Queensland act, will provide coverage for 100 per cent of the World Heritage area. It will ensure that we have total coverage in terms of the ban on capital dredge material disposal. As Senator Colbeck rightly points out, they got that point wrong as well in their interjections. It does ensure that the World Heritage area is covered through the regulations this government will put in place. Of course, in contrast, when we came into government, we inherited five major proposals that the Labor government was considering to dispose of dredge spoil in the marine park. We have reduced this to zero and we are no putting in place this ban to ensure that never again can an irresponsible Labor government consider undertaking such actions. (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Well done, Minister. Could the minister tell the Senate of any additional on-ground practical measures the government will be taking to improve water quality and reduce run-off into the Great Barrier Reef area?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:44): I can inform Senator Macdonald and the Senate that this is part of a comprehensive suite of actions that this government is taking to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park not just now but well into the future for all future generations.

Alongside the Queensland government, we are investing $2 billion over the next decade for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. We have dedicated $40 million to a reef trust to invest in water quality, biodiversity and ecosystem health. We are working directly with farmers to help them in the reef with an innovative market-based mechanism offering financial incentives, to cane farmers in particular, to improve nitrogen-use efficiency through the Reef Trust Tender—Wet Tropics program. More than 325,000 crown-of-thorns starfish have been culled through a $10 million investment in a targeted cull program. We have passed laws to triple the penalties applying to turtle and dugong poaching and are providing $700,000 to help reduce marine debris. (Time expired)