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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2319


Mr CONNOLLY(5.00) —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. It will in effect accomplish the agreement reached between the Fraser Government and the Queensland Government in June 1979. Accordingly, the Opposition supports the Bill. These agreed principles, which have been endorsed by the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council, comprising representatives of both governments, provide for the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service to carry out the day to day management of the marine park, subject to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; for the Commonwealth to fund 100 per cent of an initial capital works program required to establish management of the marine park on a sound basis, with all other capital and recurrent costs of management of the park being shared equally between the two governments; for the Commonwealth and Queensland to meet in equal shares the recurrent costs for management of Queensland national and marine parks within the outer boundaries of the marine park; and for Queensland to fund 100 per cent of the costs of capital works required in the management of the Queensland national and marine parks within the marine park other than those capital works included in the initial program referred to earlier. In addition to that, the Authority is to administer the funds provided by the Commonwealth and Queensland for the purposes outlined in the Act. Expenditure programs are to be developed by Queensland in consultation with the Authority and approved by it for submission to the Commonwealth and Queensland governments for consideration in their budgetary contexts.

There has been growing governmental interest in the Great Barrier Reef since as early as 1922 when the Great Barrier Reef Committee was established. The Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Cohen), in his second reading speech yesterday, also noted the close interest taken by Liberal Prime Ministers Holt and Gorton in the development and protection of the reef. The first major legislative action of this Parliament, however, was in June 1975 when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act was passed. It allowed for the declaration of a marine park within the Great Barrier Reef region and allocated some 382,000 square kilometres, which in effect makes it the largest marine park in the world . It established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to research the park, to make recommendations on the areas to be part of the park and to make recommendations governing the use of the various sections of it. It was laid down that one of the three members of the Authority would be nominated by the Queensland Government. The Authority established by this legislation provided an avenue for consultation between the Commonwealth and Queensland at officer level . The Chairman of the Authority, in evidence to the House of Representatives Environment and Conservation Committee in 1981, said:

So far the Authority model has been successful. Because there is a degree of automatic co-ordination built into the arrangements . . . I believe it would be a useful model for joint management programs which have major relevance to both Commonwealth and State responsibilities.

In this context, it is worth noting that this model could well be applied to other World Heritage listed areas throughout Australia. The continued interest of the Fraser Government was demonstrated on 4 June 1979 when the Prime Minister announced the Commonwealth's decision that 'there should be no further exploration for petroleum in the Great Barrier Reef region'. This was on the basis of the report by the Joint Royal Commission into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the Great Barrier Reef Region.

On 14 June of the same year the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland signed an agreement establishing the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council. The then Minister for Science and the Environment, Senator Webster, described the Council as a clearly recognisable forum for consultation and co-ordination at ministerial level. It goes without saying that over the years it has worked well . I join the Minister in complementing the Chairman of the Authority, Mr Graeme Kelleher, for the outstanding work he has done to make that an accomplished fact . It was decided that the Council should comprise Commonwealth and State Ministers representing marine parks, tourism, conservation and science. Both the Prime Minister and the Premier confirmed in their joint agreement that it was the policy of their respective governments to prohibit any drilling on the reef or any drilling or mining which could damage the reef. They agreed that the Authority should continue to have responsibility for declaration of areas of marine parks, for zoning plans and for research; and that after the proclamation the day to day management of sections of the marine park would be undertaken by officers of the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service who, in discharging those duties, would be responsible to the Authority.

In October 1979 the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef, comprising some 12,000 square kilometres, was also declared and added to the park. On 8 July 1980 the Great Barrier Reef region was entered into the register of the National Estate maintained by the Australian Heritage Commission. On 14 September 1980 the Great Barrier Reef was nominated by the Prime Minister and the Queensland Premier for inclusion on the World Heritage List. It was placed on the list in October 1981 by the Fraser Government. In October of the same year the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation recommended that the entire Great Barrier Reef region be immediately declared a marine park, excluding sections of the five kilometre strip along the Queensland coast where there are not strong environmental or other reasons for the marine park to be extended to the low water mark. It is worth noting that Labor members dissented, calling for the park to be extended to the low water mark along all the coast. It is also worth noting that the Labor Party in government has not met its commitment in this regard.

In November 1981 the then Fraser Government, overrode objections of the Queensland Government about the western boundaries of the Cairns section, declared that section-another 36,000 square kilometres-and set 30 per cent of the western boundary at the low water mark off the Queensland coast. This proves that the Fraser Government was prepared to assert itself in an area of genuine environmental concern and is yet another example of the coalition's record of performance in the environmental area. In August 1982 the Fraser Government announced increases in its allocation to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in the 1982-83 Budget to enable it to accelerate declaration programs during that period. In November 1982 the Ministerial Council communique issued after its sixth meeting stated:

Council agreed today that the declaration of the park should be accelerated . . . The intention is to move to declare the major parts of these three remaining areas-the Whitsunday area, Townsville area and the far north area-as soon as practicable and at the same time.

The Council asked the Authority to bring forward recommendations to the next Council meeting, due in March 1983, for the boundaries of the park sections in those three areas for agreement.

The point must be made that, contrary to the published statements of the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Cohen), both in Brisbane last weekend and in this place yesterday, it is only fair to say that interest in the Great Barrier Reef existed long before the Whitlam Government and certainly following the Whitlam Government. I should also emphasise that in this House it has been a bipartisan view that the Barrier Reef is to be protected, that should now be an accomplished fact. However, there was a change of government in March 1983. At that time the Labor Party went to the Australian people with a policy in relation to the Great Barrier Reef which covered four points:

(a) Immediately declare the entire Great Barrier Reef region as a marine park to the low water mark on the Queensland coast.

(b) Extend the region northwards to the Papua New Guinea border in the Torres Strait and declare this area a marine park, subject to Papua New Guinea approval .

(c) Amend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act to enable the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to prepare zoning plans sequentially to properly manage the entire marine park.

(d) Allocate additional funds to expedite the development of zoning plans after the declaration of the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Of those four points the Hawke Government has more or less achieved one; and, of course, we live in hope of seeing the other three. Yesterday the Minister, in a statement on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio, as usual, claimed all the credit for this achievement, he said:

It has taken us years to negotiate this and get it amicably.

I remind him that it was the former Liberal-National Party Government which negotiated with the Queensland Government over the last seven years. The present Labor Government can take little credit for what we achieved during that period. The outcome of our achievement was in fact that statement made by the Minister in Brisbane last Sunday when he stated that now over 98 per cent of the reef is effectively part of the National Park. Those agreements were already well on the way to achievement at the time of the change of government.

May I say how disappointed I was that the Minister in his second reading speech did not see fit to mention the work of the former coalition science and environmental Ministers, namely, Senator Webster, the Hon. Robert Ellicott, the Hon. Ian Wilson, the Hon. Tom McVeigh and the Hon. David Thompson, all of whom worked assiduously in the interests of the Great Barrier Reef region, nor did he mention the work of the Queensland Government, the Premier Mr Bjelke-Petersen, and his Minister responsible for National Parks, Mr Tony Elliott. One cannot forget that this was a co-operative effort between these people, all of whom worked diligently to achieve the expansion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which the Minister was so happy to announce on Sunday as his creation. It will be an historical fact that he was fortunate to be the Minister at the time when this took place. I think it would be only fair for him to be at least statesmanlike and to give credit where it is due to the others who did so much to make his accomplishment a reality.

In the application of the policy of the Australian Labor Party as I have noted, the Government to date has been less than consistent in regard to the Great Barrier Reef. In October 1983-I mentioned this point earlier-three members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation dissented from the major report which recommended that the entire Great Barrier Reef Region be immediately declared a marine park, excluding sections of the five kilometre wide strip along the Queensland coast where there are not strong environmental or other reasons for the Marine Park to extend to the low water mark. The three dissenters were Dr Jenkins, now the Speaker, Mr Stewart West, now the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, and Mr Brian Howe, now the Minister for Defence Support. They all called for the Park to be extended up to the low water mark all along the coast. It is interesting to note the Minister's comments when declaring the Townsville and inshore southern areas of the reef region on 30 October. He stated:

There has been some criticism that the Great Barrier Reef has not been declared up to the low water mark along the whole coast. Had we done so, it would have created a bureaucratic nightmare of unprecedented proportions. It would have meant that every time the State Government, a local council, a port authority or a private individual wanted to take some minor action . . . permission would have to be sought from Canberra. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority advised me that it was not necessary to control the region to the low water mark along the major part of the coast.

Recently criticism has come from the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Littoral Society. I was very surprised to notice yesterday in the Minister's speech how he was happy to give credit to Mr Eddie Heggerl of the Queensland Littoral Society for the work he has accomplished. Yet he was happy to denigrate him on radio the other day and use language which I thought was somewhat inappropriate for the occasion. Nevertheless, many environmentalists are concerned. They do believe they have not yet received an adequate explanation from the Government as to why it is necessary not to declare the Park to the low water mark along the Queensland coast. It is up to the Minister to explain it more satisfactorily to them. In the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program the World Today the Minister enforced a point which the previous Liberal-National Party Government had made on several occasions in the past. He stated:

The responsibility for that part of the protection lies with the Queensland Government . . . the sovereignty of the Queensland Government is concerned.

It is interesting to see that the Minister recognises that some States do have sovereignty. Perhaps he has now recognised, somewhat after the event, how the people of Tasmania felt on the particular subject of sovereignty. The Opposition is concerned that the Hawke Government will, in time, tend to weaken the principle of co-operative federalism with the Queensland Government in regard to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, a principle which was in the forefront of all negotiations between the former Federal Government and the Queensland Government and which was abandoned when the present Federal Government introduced the World Heritage Properties Conservation Bill 1983 into this place. Bringing additional areas within the Park is consistent with the intentions of the previous Government and of course of the Opposition. I hope it will not be long before it is possible for the Minister to announce that the Torres Strait area, that is, the area south of the international boundary between Australia and Papua New Guinea, will also be included in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I am concerned as to whether the Authority has the resources to complete the new zoning plans which involve a very detailed study of the areas as well as public participation in that study. I ask the Minister whether he can assure the House that the Authority does have the resources available. Has adequate provision been made in the Budget which will meet these requirements?

The previous Government, following a bilateral agreement between Queensland and the Commonwealth ensured that the new areas to be zoned as part of the Park were adequately protected in advance. My concern is that full protection will not operate until zoning plans have been prepared and accepted. The Minister's action in declaring additional areas as part of the Park does not, in itself, guarantee full protection. Lest this be no more than just a symbolic gesture to meet an election commitment made some eight months ago, the Minister must give a firm commitment for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. A number of matters of concern for the future need to be commented on in this debate. The Minister, in a letter to the Australian Financial Review of the third of this month, noted the criteria used to determine the western boundary of sections of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. He was answering various criticisms that had been made by the Queensland Conservation Council. He mentioned that there were some five elements involved, as follows:

Areas where there are significant fringing or inshore reefs or areas of coral growth.

Areas adjacent to land areas which are subject to conservational management, such as national parks.

Critical habitat 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.

Heavily-used tourist areas associated with the natural resources of the Great Barrier Reef region.

It is on the fifth point, 'heavily-used tourist areas' that I have some concern and a query which I would like to put to the Minister. I find difficulty in understanding his definition of 'highly-used tourist areas'. It would appear that in the context of the announcement last weekend a number of areas which would apparently fit that definition have in fact been excluded. I refer specifically to Fitzroy Island, in the Cairns region, which was omitted from the Park. Yet it is undoubtedly and indisputedly a tourist resort. Similarly we have the Iwasaki proposal in the Yeppoon area. That was also omitted from the proposals last weekend. I refer now to Hamilton Island.


Mr Cohen —It is not in the region.


Mr CONNOLLY —If the Minister reads the map he will see that it is, quite clearly , in the region. I will pass the map to him for his benefit.


Mr Cohen —It is not in the region. It is on the land.


Mr CONNOLLY —I am talking about Hamilton Island. It is still affected. Yeppoon's existence can affect the region; that is the important thing. Regarding Hamilton Island the Parliamentary Committee on Conservation and Environment in a recent visit to north Queensland to observe the reef and see how the Authority was operating was somewhat concerned to see developments which had taken place on Hamilton Island. When we returned the Chairman took the matter up with both the Department of Home Affairs and Environment and also the Department of Aviation. It is a matter of some concern to us that the Department of Home Affairs and Environment stated in its response that in February of this year it became aware of a project which, in fact, received authority from the Queensland Government and local government authorities in October 1981.

Hamilton Island is within the Park area and must be administered in accordance with the interests of the Park. I do not wish to discuss here the advantages or disadvantages of the Hamilton Island development because the Opposition does support, in principle, tourist development in northern Queensland for obvious reasons. But the case must be studied because of its implications in relation to the long term questions which it raises in relation to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef region. Firstly, it casts doubts as to whether the Authority can adequately defend the interests of the Park and whether the Commonwealth is prepared to use its power in fields such as civil aviation to ensure that future island developments in this region are subject to environmental impact statements. The correspondence which I will seek leave to table from the Department of Home Affairs and Environment and the Department of Aviation to our Committee gives reason for real concern in this regard.

I ask the Minister: Can he assure the House that he will ensure that all development plans relevant to the Marine Park are brought to the notice of his Department at the planning stage? Can he further assure the House that he will, as the responsible Minister, do more than just use hyperbole? I remind him of his statement made last Sunday at the Brisbane meeting of the Wilderness Society and the Queensland Branch of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He said:

I will make Mr Williams put back every grain of sand if he extends his airstrip without permission.

The letter signed by Dr McMichael states that his Department became aware of the Hamilton Island development late in February 1983. I remind the Minister that the election took place on 5 March. Clearly, therefore, the present Government must take some responsibility for the fact that nothing has been done. Secondly, of even greater concern is the total silence from the Minister about whether the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act will be applied by his Department to similar developments in the future. Will the Minister commit himself to ensuring that Hamilton Island is not used as a precedent for similar developments on other islands which could have a negative effect on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, development which could have a major impact upon the reef's environment and the marine park itself?

I must emphasise that we believe that developers have every right to know in advance the requirements that must be met in order to receive the necessary approval. If we fail to achieve this the potential of the reef for tourism will obviously not be met. Therefore it is essential that the Government lay down criteria, in agreement with the Queensland Government, which will ensure that there is no uncertainty in policy. The Opposition believes that while ensuring environmental protection, especially for World Heritage areas, it is essential that all development proposals be consistent with world heritage protection. To achieve this, potential developers must know in advance the contents of management plans and their impact on possible developments. These matters are of great concern not only to the people of Queensland but to all those who have grown to know and love the reef. It is now a matter of outstanding importance. It is indeed something which Australians hold dear and which I believe the Minister should be prepared to support with all the power at his disposal, if he is prepared to put substance in the place of hyperbole. I seek leave to table the two letters from the Department of Aviation and the Department of Home Affairs and Environment.

Leave granted.