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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1520


Senator FURNER (Queensland) (17:58): I find it a privilege to be able to speak on this matter of public importance today about the decision on Abbot Point. As a Queenslander, it gives me great pride to be in a position to make some contribution to this debate. It was not that long ago that Senator Boyce and I, on many occasions in the lead-up to the election, were bumping into one another up the coast of Queensland, no doubt speaking to constituents about particular issues.

One particular area that I found a matter of importance and concern for people in the area around Bowen and the Great Barrier Reef was what would happen in the circumstances of the advancement of the expansion of the Abbot Point wharf. I went to the Bowen markets on a Sunday morning. Like any markets, you walk around and talk to many locals. I found that people had a diverse range of opinions on whether the wharf expansion should proceed or be stopped because of the likelihood of effects on the reef. So I think it is important that we consider the government's position in managing the progress of the project to ensure that proponents meet the obligations set out in the agreement that has been reached and was announced yesterday.

The government really has a responsibility in this area to the Great Barrier Reef. There is a great expectation within the community and internationally for them to do it properly. I had a look at the agreement today to see what the requirements are of this government in proceeding with this project, and I must admit there are a number of listed requirements that are put on the federal government to make sure these matters are reached. There are things like pile driving operations and listing the species of turtle, dolphin, dugong, humpback whale and so on. But I am concerned about who is going to be entrusted with the responsibility to make sure those requirements are met. Is it going to be a situation where the Queensland Liberal National Party government is going to be bestowed with the opportunity to ensure that checklists are crossed off? We know that in Queensland there have been over 14,000 jobs—primarily in the public service—cut with regard to the decision the premier up there made when he came to power.

In the particular area of public servants that I assume would be responsible for the reporting of these operations—the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection—there were 220 jobs cut. One of the casualties I know personally; Sandra Flanagan, who resides up in Rockhampton and is a very good friend of mine, was distraught that a long-term, engaged public servant lost her job as a result of those severe cuts the Queensland Liberal National Party government made.

So that is my question: who is going to be protecting and ensuring these requirements are met, to ensure the reef is not going to be put at risk and the companies that are going to be doing all this extension are conforming with the requirements the federal government has put upon them? When you look back in time, the then opposition—I will use an example I am very familiar with—does not have a very good track record. I use the example of a private members' bill. Mr Abbott sought to have a piece of legislation in this chamber overturned with regard to a piece of state legislation concerning wild rivers in the northern part of my home state.

One wild river that I am very familiar with as a result of my great relationship with the Irwins up on the Sunshine Coast is the Wenlock River. I have been fortunate enough to have visited that area on several occasions through work and other things. I have been fortunate to have been welcomed onto the Indigenous lands up in that area and to actually jump a crocodile on the banks of the Wenlock River, to do the research and examination of a reptile that was about 10½ feet long. To see those sorts of pristine areas and the environment we have in our great state of Queensland makes me concerned that these sorts of measures will not be a check when it comes time to make sure these issues are met.

I advocate to anyone if they get the opportunity: get up to North Queensland. I am talking right up around the cape. See those beautiful rivers and the environment we have around that area. They are the types of areas where we should not go in full steam ahead, particularly when we have lost public servants in Queensland and are not able to make sure these checks and balances are met.

Equally, we need to ensure that reasonable commitment is given by the federal government to make sure these matters are checked and reasonable safeguards are put in place. We heard today during question time, from questions by the Greens, that there are claims the government have provisions and procedures well in advance of what we had as a government, but I will believe it when I see it. There are something like 63,000 jobs that have some input from the area of the Great Barrier Reef. It ranges from tourism to recreational fishers and all sorts of walks of life. We know that, if this particular matter is not managed appropriately, we will lose up to $6 billion in tourism, a significant contribution to tourism in the state of Queensland and also the Commonwealth.

So I would like to ensure that these matters are dealt with appropriately and with competence. Also, as I have indicated, I have some concerns about the degree of commitment that this federal government has to the environment on some of the issues that I have raised—for example, the private member's bill by Mr Abbott dealing with the wild rivers legislation.

There have been other advocates out there expressing concerns as well. I can refer to one piece of media. I note claims that the dredging being proposed by three coal terminals will dump three million cubic metres of spoil onto the Great Barrier Reef. That has been raised as an issue by Richard Leck of the World Wildlife Fund, who has claimed that the spoil dumped on the World Heritage area would be equivalent to 150,000 dump trucks. He says, 'It can smother whatever it lands on whether that be seagrass or coral'—or turtles, dugongs or dolphins, or anything in that area of the ocean. Surely that would raise concerns for anyone who has a genuine issue with the management of the expansion of the Abbot Point facility. We are not in a position as the opposition to oppose or—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Order! The time for the discussion has expired.