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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2178


Mr COHEN (Minister for Home Affairs and Environment)(11.27) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the main purpose of this Bill is to amend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to enable the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to give effect to principles agreed between the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments relating to the day to day management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Honourable members will be aware that comprehensive protection of the Great Barrier Reef has long been our policy. It was a Labor Government which put in place the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act in 1975. Since coming to power in March this year the Government has given life to the provisions of that Act. Zoning plans for the Cairns and Cormorant Pass sections of the Marine Park were tabled in May 1983 and I expect them to come into operation later this month. In August three further sections of the Marine Park were proclaimed, with proclamations for two further sections coming into effect on 30 October 1983. The addition of these sections means that this Government has increased from 14 per cent to 98.5 per cent the portion of the Great Barrier Reef region included in the Marine Park. Approximately 344,000 square kilometres of the region is now marine park. This makes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park the world's largest marine park.

It is thought that the island in the Torres Strait should be regarded as an integral part of the reef. In ecological terms there is merit in this proposal. However, it is not possible to examine this until the question of the border between Australia and Papua New Guinea has been resolved. This is a matter which is being actively considered by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). Once this question has been resolved, we will be able to look at the ecological aspect of the Torres Strait Islands in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.

In addition to proclaiming areas of the Marine Park, the Government introduced in September 1983 regulations to prohibit oil drilling in those small parts of the Great Barrier Reef region not included in the Marine Park. Recovery of minerals, including oil drilling, is prohibited in the Marine Park by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. In 1981 the Great Barrier Reef was inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage List, thereby bringing international recognition to the importance and uniqueness of this vast complex of coral reefs and their associated life forms. While these initiatives are vital to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, a significant action the Government must take to guarantee the reef's protection is to strengthen the management arrangements with the Queensland Government. It is with this intention in mind that this Bill has been introduced to Parliament.

The basis of agreement between the Queensland and Commonwealth governments for day-to-day management of the Marine Park provides for the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service to undertake management of the Marine Park subject to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Commonwealth is to fund 100 per cent of an initial capital works program for each section of the Marine Park , with all other capital and recurrent costs of management of the Marine Park being shared equally between the two governments. With regard to Queensland national and marine parks within the outer boundaries of the Marine Park, Queensland is to fund 100 per cent of the costs of the capital works, with the recurrent costs for management being shared equally between the two governments. The agreement also provides for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to administer funds from both governments for these purposes.

Under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act as currently drafted the Marine Park Authority cannot administer funds for the purposes described in the basis of agreement. This Bill will enable the Marine Park Authority to fully implement the agreed management and cost sharing arrangements. In addition clause 3 (b) of the Bill ensures that the Marine Park Authority will be able to contribute to complementary management of Queensland national and marine parks adjacent to or near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and other areas judged to be intimately associated with the Marine Park. Such areas are inseparable from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The additional cost to the Commonwealth from this extension is estimated to be $200,000 per annum.

The Bill also contains minor amendments with regard to tabling and disallowance of zoning plans. Clause 4 of the Bill provides for two amendments to section 33 of the principal Act. The first is to ensure that zoning plans are tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the plans have been accepted by the Minister. This amendment, while not precluding early tabling of zoning plans, will guarantee there are no undue delays. The second of the amendments to section 33 is to reduce the disallowance period for zoning plans from 20 to 15 sitting days. This amendment brings section 33 into line with tabling provisions in other legislation and provides for adequate time for the Parliament to consider zoning plans while enabling the plans to come into operation earlier.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it gave me great pleasure earlier this week to bring to fruition the initiatives taken by a previous Labor Government some eight years ago when the then Minister for the Environment, Dr Cass, introduced the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Bill. The first section of the Marine Park, the Capricornia section, was proclaimed in 1979, followed by the Cairns and Cormorant Pass sections in 1981. Proclamations were announced on 31 August 1983 of three further sections of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, namely the far northern, central and southern sections. These three sections of the Marine Park cover that area of the region north of the Cairns section and the main reef structures south of the Cairns section not covered by the Capricornia section. The Townsville and in-shore southern sections of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park were declared by proclamation of the Governor-General on 30 October 1983. These declarations now complete the establishment of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The two new sections cover an area of approximately 68,000 square kilometres and include waters in-shore of the central, southern and Capricornia sections, between the Cairns section in the north and the Great Barrier Reef region boundary in the south.

The criteria used to determine the inclusion of areas in these sections were as follows: Areas where there are significant fringing or in-shore reefs or areas of coral growth; areas adjacent to land areas which are subject to conservational management, such as national parks; critical habitats of endangered species, such as major dugong feeding areas and turtle nesting areas; areas which are important to the conservation of species of the Great Barrier Reef region, such as breeding or nursery areas of fish, or of prawns and other invertebrates; and heavily used tourist areas associated with the natural resources of the Great Barrier Reef region.

Existing or potential port areas and areas adjacent to significant agricultural , industrial or urbanised areas were excluded from the Marine Park. Unless there are overriding conservational reasons, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority did not seek the inclusion of port areas in the Marine Park because the involvement of the Authority in port administration would not be practicable and the use of the western boundary of the Great Barrier Reef region as a boundary for the entire length of the Queensland mainland could have placed unnecessary restrictions on Queensland local authorities and involve the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in minor administrative matters. The total prohibition of other activities, such as the commercial extraction of sand or gravel from close to the shore, may not be warranted on ecological grounds. Common sense dictates that this would be an excessive Commonwealth Government restriction on normal State activities.

Some concern has been expressed that parts of the Great Barrier Reef region left out of the Marine Park may be unprotected. A major fear was that drilling for oil could occur in these areas. As I said before, to ensure that this does not happen, by regulations effective as of 1 September 1983, we have prohibited oil drilling in these areas. Should there by any proposals for developments in these excluded areas in the future which might adversely affect the Great Barrier Reef or the Marine Park, we will act quickly under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to ensure control of the proposed development.

The Great Barrier Reef region has been acknowledged by the Commonwealth Government as a priority research area. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has responsibilities for carrying out or arranging for research relevant to the Marine Park; for co-ordinating research in the region and for reporting the findings to both the Australian and Queensland governments, through the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council. The Authority also participates in the Australian marine research in progress program and conducts programs which complement research by other organisations and individuals. The Authority will be funding about sixty research and monitoring projects in 1983- 84 costing about $360,000.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 requires the Authority to prepare zoning plans for areas that have been declared to be parts of the Marine Park and to recommend regulations that should be made under the Act. On 26 May I tabled in this House zoning plans for the Cairns and Cormorant Pass sections of the Marine Park-an area of some 35,000 square kilometres. These zoning plans are to come into operation on 7 November 1983. The existing regulations applying to the Capricornia section are to be repealed and replaced by general regulations applying to all the zoned sections of the Marine Park.

The Authority began on 1 September 1983 a public participation program seeking representations regarding the zoning for the far northern section-approximately 80,000 square kilometres or 24 per cent of the reef region. I urge all interested individuals or organisations to respond to this invitation. As soon as is practicable, the Authority will be developing zoning plans for the areas south of the Cairns section. As part of Authority policy to review zoning plans every five years, the zoning plan for the Capricornia section will be reassessed in 1986. The zoning and management plans developed by the Authority are derived from the belief that opportunity for human enjoyment and use of the reef should be maximised, consistent with the conservation of the natural qualities of the reef which give it its unique value. The Marine Park is also an excellent example of Commonwealth-State co-operation. The officers of the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service carry out management policy for the Authority and a number of Queensland agencies contribute in the development of policies for the region.

Tourism is a significant growth sector in our economy. The Great Barrier Reef region and adjacent mainland centres currently attract approximately two million visitor trips per annum with 150,000 of these to the island resorts. Recently, there have been a number of expressions of interest by companies and individuals in establishing additional tourist facilities directly on the Great Barrier Reef , providing tourists with alternative access to the reef. The Government is aware of these proposed developments and recognises the need to facilitate access to the reef. Accordingly, this is a matter being examined by the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council.

An extensive commercial fishery, largely for prawns, is dependent on the living resources of the reef region as is the recreational fishing, mainly for reef fish and mackerel. The commercial fisheries catch in the Great Barrier Reef region in 1979-80 was estimated to be of the order of $30m for approximately 8.5 million kilograms of product. The recreational catch in the same year was estimated to be of the order of seven million kilograms of product.

To impart knowledge of the reef and to create a caring attitude to this unique natural wonder are among the challenges of the program of management. A balance must be struck between the various interest groups which make proposals concerning the use of the reef, and conservation of the reef's natural qualities . The underlying philosophy is management by education. It is recognised that there must be rules and regulations, and penalties for breaches, but ultimately the success of the park will depend on people accepting the need for management and co-operating by regulation their own activities themselves.

The Authority places great emphasis on establishing and maintaining liaison with the many and diverse user groups that depend on the resources of the Great Barrier Reef. Intensive public participation programs have been conducted in connection with the zoning of each section of the Marine Park. The Authority recognises that regular users of the reef have a wealth of information which can supplement that of scientists and managers. Daily aerial surveillance of the Great Barrier Reef is conducted in order to protect the reef from illegal activities and marine pollution.


Mr Wells —Hear, hear!


Mr COHEN —The Great Barrier Reef is accorded a well deserved place as one of the great wonders of the world. I thank the honourable member for Petrie for his interjection. Both he and the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Chynoweth), who are sitting in the chamber, are known for their deep and abiding interest in the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest and most complex expanse of living coral reefs on earth. Encompassing many unique forms of marine life, over 1,500 species of fish and more than 400 species of coral, the reef has for ages been a rich part of the environmental heritage of all Australians including the Aborginal peoples who have fished its bounty for thousands of years. Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is truly an outstanding achievement in the world- wide attempt to establish a balance between our use of natural resources and the conservation of the environment upon which our very existence and the quality of that existence depend.

I take this opportunity, in drawing attention to this significant landmark in the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef, to pay tribute to the many individuals and groups throughout Australia who, over the years, by their interest, concern and support, assisted in the development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Among those whose efforts must be remembered I include the former Liberal Prime Ministers Harold Holt and Sir John Gorton and, of course, the former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, under whose government the Act was brought down, and a former Minister, Dr Moss Cass, who introduced the Bill. Judith Wright's book Coral Battleground is an example of her dedication to the reef. John Busst, Eddie Heggerl of the Queensland littoral society, Patricia Mather, Don McMichael, the permanent head of my Department who is a marine biologist, and Graeme Kelleher, the present Director, all deserve special mention. From the work of the Great Barrier Reef Committee, founded in 1922, to promote scientific research and conservation in relation to the reef, to the numerous individuals and groups who are today involved in the zoning of the Marine Park through their representations, the Australian community has had a very active involvement in the development to date of the Marine Park, one of the world's most ambitious undertakings in the area of nature conservation. To those individuals who have battled hard over many years I pay a special tribute.

In concluding, I wish to emphasise that while the Government has made the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park a reality, the tremendous task of managing the Marine Park lies before us. The provisions of this Bill will give strength to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with regard to complementary management arrangements with Queensland and streamline procedures for bringing into force zoning plans for the Marine Park. I invite honourable members, senators and the Press to view a display on the wonders of the reef at 5.00 p.m. this evening in Senate Committee Room 3. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.