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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2324


Mr LINDSAY(5.23) —The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill establishes a legislative basis for a number of agreements made between the Commonwealth and Queensland governments relating to the day to day management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. As a result, the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service will now carry out day to day management of the marine park , subject to supervision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Furthermore, the Hawke Government, an authentic Australian Government, will totally fund an initial capital works program necessary to ensure management of the marine park. All other capital and ongoing costs of management will be shared equally between the Federal and Queensland governments. In addition, the Federal Government will be responsible for half the recurrent costs of management of the Queensland national and marine parks within the outer boundaries of the marine park. The existing Act does not enable the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to pay to Queensland Commonwealth funds for the Federal Government's share of ongoing and capital costs associated with areas outside the marine park. Equally, the Authority cannot receive and disburse moneys paid by the Queensland Government for Queensland's share of such costs. The amendments set out in this Bill will enable the Authority to carry out the agreements made between the Federal and State governments.

I take the opportunity of speaking to the role that the Great Barrier Reef plays in the tourism industry of Queensland and with respect to the recreation and commercial activities along the Queensland coast. The Great Barrier Reef is about 2,000 kilometres long, stretching from Bundaberg up to Papua New Guinea. It extends from the low water mark on the Queensland coast to as much as 200 kilometres eastward. There are more than 2,500 individual reefs, ranging in size from less than one hectare to more than 100 square kilometres. The reef region covers an area of 348,700 kilometres, which is roughly the size of the United Kingdom or of the State of Victoria. There are several hundred islands in the reef, including many large continental islands, one of which is the world's largest island national park, Hinchinbrook Island, just off Townsville. More than 1500 species of fish have been identified on the reef and about 400 species of hard coral.

Our present reef started about 16,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age when the sea level was more than 100 metres below where it is today. Because it was tied up in ice, and as the ice melted and the sea level rose, the reef has grown with the surface of the sea from its old foundations. It reached its present level about 2,000 years ago. The reef is formed from the limestone skeletons of the ancestors of the coral polyps which are the chief reef building organisms. These are animals. They are closely related to sea anemones. The reef polyp is a small animal that lives in a colony. Each species builds a limestone skeleton of a characteristic shape. Within each coral polyp there is an organism which is called zooxanthellae. It is a form of algae, and the algae plant and its host, the polyp, work together to produce the calcium carbonate of which limestone is composed. So the reef coral grows very slightly at the roots, not exceeding a few millimetres per year. Even at these rates the total accumulation of calcium carbonate every year is immense.

Until 1975 the Great Barrier Reef was used increasingly for various commercial and recreational activities. Beche-de-mer and trochus fisheries have operated periodically on the Great Barrier Reef and have at times been extensive and involved considerable work for the people involved in the fishing industry. The Aborigines have used the Great Barrier Reef from time immemorial. They fished and used various islands of the Great Barrier Reef as ceremonial grounds.

In 1970, there was a proposal to use the Great Barrier Reef for limestone and a proposal to drill the Great Barrier Reef for oil. Following a royal commission into oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act was passed in 1975 with the support of all political parties. The Act provides for the establishment, control, care and development of a marine park in the Great Barrier Reef region. The Authority's Chairman, Mr Graeme Kelleher, has led the Authority with confidence and diligence and has exhibited himself as a most able Chairman. The 1975 Act created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, now located at Townsville. One task of the Authority is to advise the Federal Government on what areas of the Great Barrier Reef region should be included in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Another task of the Authority is to prepare zoning plans which divide each section of the marine park region into zones which define what uses are permitted within each zone and the conditions under which those activities can proceed.

One major function of the Authority is to carry out research or arrange for others to carry out research relevant to the marine park. Furthermore, an essential aim of the Authority is to provide for wise use of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity. Therefore, in making zoning plans the aim is to provide for sustainable use, that is, a level of use which can be carried out for ever without threatening the natural characteristics of the Reef or its environs. This is obviously in the interests of all of the users of the reef whether they be commercial or recreational and indeed, in the interests of all Australians.

The Capricornia section of the Marine Park has been in full operation for more than two years and in that time no major problems associated with the zoning plan have been identified. The zoning plan for the Cairns section and the small Cormorant Pass section will come into effect in the near future. The zoning process for the far northern section has commenced and the Authority has asked user groups and the public to provide information about how that section should be zoned. The Authority's policy is to minimise restrictions consistent with conserving the reef and this project has led to support of the program by every major group.

As I indicated earlier, this Bill amends the principal Act in two ways. Firstly , it allows the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to administer funds for capital works and management of the marine park. Secondly, it also ensures that zoning plans are tabled in Parliament within 15 sitting days of the zoning plan being accepted by the Ministers and reduces the parliamentary disallowance period from 20 to 15 sitting days.

The marine park program and concept have received international acclaim and that system is being promoted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Also, the reef has been inscribed on the World Heritage List and, increasingly, the Authority is being asked to advise other countries on ways to set up similar management systems, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.

I should mention that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the only active marine park of its kind in the world at the moment, although one would expect that, in the near future, similar legislation might be introduced in other countries. I repeat that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is by far the world' s largest marine park. This Bill is important in that it allows the Authority to administer funds in respect of capital works programs related to the marine park that are funded either by the Commonwealth or the Queensland Government and which are capital works projects built on Queensland-owned land. The Bill will allow the establishment of a complete management regime covering areas of jurisdiction of the Queensland Government, as well as that of the Federal Government. It will allow the whole of the Great Barrier Reef region to be managed as a single ecological system. Further, the Bill will, if enacted, allow the full implementation of the agreements that have been reached between the Federal and Queensland governments and the better operation of the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council.

The Great Barrier Reef is attracting more and more tourists each year. Their number, accomodation and transportation will have an effect on the reef. Such effects can be minimised by proper zoning and management. There are a number of threats to the reef: Oil pollution from tankers; runoff from the agriculural land on the Queensland coast increases the turbidity of the sea inside the reef; overfishing by both commercial and non-commercial fishermen; poaching of giant clams and other sea life from the reef; crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks over areas of the reef, and uncontrolled development.

The marine park covers only the sea and seabed up to the low water mark. The intertidal region and the Barrier Reef islands are under the control of Queensland. It is essential that these areas in the marine park have complementary management to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Queensland Marine Parks Act was passed partly to cover the international gap but to date there has been no declaration of the many parks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Area.

When the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region was placed on the World Heritage list so were the Queensland Islands, so they fall within the ambit of the World Heritage Properties Protection Act passed in May 1983. The Federal Government has an obligation, therefore, to ensure that the islands as well as the reef are protected.

The Great Barrier Reef provides some of the most spectacular scenery on earth and is of exceptional natural beauty. The Great Barrier Reef provides major feeding grounds for large populations of endangered species. In this regard, I again urge the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure that adequate steps are taken to project any endangered species in the marine park area.

The Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Cohen), who has exhibited such illustrious interest, experience and competence in the issue of the Great Barrier Reef, said in his second reading speech that tourism is a growth industry with the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent mainland centres attracting two million visitors per annum, of which 150,000 go to island resorts. He mentioned that the Ministerial Council was examining the matter of island tourist development and alternative access to the reef. I take this opportunity to call again on the Queensland Government to proceed with the establishment of the Florence Bay resort on Magnetic Island to provide suitable and adequate accommodation for international visitors who will continue to come through the Townsville International Airport. I commend the Bill to the House. Indeed, it is a commendable step in the continued development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as a true wonder of the world.