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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1482

Mr COHEN (Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment) —Pursuant to sub-section 33 (1) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, I present the zoning plan for the central section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I seek leave to make a statement on the zoning plan.

Leave granted.

Mr COHEN —Honourable members will recall the proclamation, as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, of the central section on 11 October, 1984. The zoning plan I have just tabled provides the basis for managing human use and enjoyment of the marine park so that activities do not conflict with each other, and the natural qualities of the reef are conserved. Honourable members will also, no doubt, recall the declaration of other sections of the marine park which brought almost the whole of the Great Barrier Reef region, 98.5 per cent of it in fact, within the marine park, during the first year of office of the present Government. Declaration of marine park sections is not an end in itself but is only the first stage in a process of zoning and management.

The Government's initiative in declaring such a large area in such a short time has involved the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in an accelerated program of zoning and management activities. These activities will become evident to honourable members in a series of zoning plans for regulations to be laid before the House between now and 1988. It is intended that zoning plans will be in operation for all sections of the marine park in our bicentennial year.

The concept of the marine park is based upon the need for conservation of the reef and its prolific animal and plant life, while providing for all reasonable uses by tourists, fishermen, collectors, divers, charter operators and others. To protect the reef, mining is strictly prohibited, except for approved research purposes. Oil drilling is prohibited throughout the region. The use of the reef by tourists is increasing at an annual rate of approximately 10 per cent. All other uses are increasing annually as well. These activities are vital to the nation both economically and socially. This Government is determined that the marine park will be managed so that the reef's natural qualities on which these activities absolutely depend are protected forever.

The central section of the marine park extends from just south of the Whitsunday Islands to Dunk Island in the north. The section covers 77,000 square kilometres in area and comprises approximately one-fifth of the total area within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The zoning plan for the central section has been developed following a process of scientific research, information gathering and public review. A draft zoning plan was prepared for this section following a four-month period for receipt of public representations. The draft zoning plan was then released for a further period of public review. The plan was subsequently revised, where appropriate, taking into account representations received. Four hundred and eighty six representations were made on the draft zoning plan, many of them by organisations representing large numbers of people.

Users of the central section are many and varied. The area is best known for its rich fishing grounds, tourist resorts and charter boat operations. Many major tourism developments are occurring, including a floating hotel off Townsville and large resorts in the Whitsunday Islands. Sport and recreational fishing is growing rapidly, doubling approximately every decade. Much marine research is also focused on this section because of the proximity of two major research centres, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University. Prior resolution of potential conflicts between users of the marine park is a major role of the zoning and management undertaken by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has, with the help of public participation, developed a zoning plan for the central section which balances human use with the need to conserve the reef.

In summary, the main features of the central section zoning plan are as follows: The central section zoning plan provides for commercial, recreational and scientific use of the reef consistent with conservation, by creating six zones. The general use `A' zone comprises slightly less than 75 per cent of the central section and provides for all reasonable activities. Of course, mining is not permitted. The general use `B' zone, comprising 22 per cent of the section, provides opportunities for activities free from trawling and generally free from shipping. Two marine national park zones, comprising approximately 3 per cent of the section, provide for unrestricted public access to areas maintained generally free from harvesting or extractive activities. A scientific research zone and a preservation zone provide small, special areas protected in their natural state undisturbed by man except for approved scientific research.

Within the zones, small areas of restricted activity are provided for, namely: Replenishment areas which can be closed from time to time to activities which remove fish and other living natural resources to allow for the recovery of those resources. Special management areas may also be declared to regulate the use of particularly sensitive or heavily used areas, providing an ability to deal with unforeseen needs and changing circumstances. Provision for national and international shipping and the requirement for defence training areas have also received careful consideration by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and are dealt with in the plan.

The tabling of this zoning plan is but the first step in the establishment of management arrangements for the central section. Regulations to give effect to the plan are being developed. The plan will come into operation on a date to be specified by public notice. The ever increasing and changing usage of the marine park necessitates an innovative approach to management which is reflected in this zoning plan.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority believes that the opportunities for human use and enjoyment of the reef should be maximised consistent with the conservation of the natural qualities of the system. In keeping with this view this zoning plan has kept restrictions on activities to a minimum necessary to protect the reef. Management of the marine park focuses on achieving the co-operation of users through education, although repeated or serious infringements are prosecuted. The Great Barrier Reef aquarium in Townsville, which was originally conceived and proposed by the Chairman of the Authority in 1980 as part of the Great Barrier Reef wonderland project, is the Authority's principal education tool. It will be open to the public on 24 June 1987. I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Premier of Queensland will jointly open the venture. I hope that honourable members who have taken a longstanding interest in this project will take the opportunity to be present.

Mr Everingham —It might be the same person by then, Barry.

Mr COHEN —The Leader of the Opposition is going to change again, is he? We have to live with that.

The principles followed in the development of the zoning plan which I have described are applied to all developmental and environmental issues in relation to the Great Barrier Reef and are consistent with the goal of the Authority to provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity through the development and care of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Government thoroughly endorses the goal and I commend the zoning plan for the central section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to honourable members.

I would like to conclude by paying a tribute to the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Mr Graeme Kelleher. I believe that no Minister could have a more dedicated and competent public servant than Graeme Kelleher. I regard him as one of the outstanding members of the Australian Public Service. Whilst a great deal of the credit goes to the Government-he was appointed by the previous Government-I believe that it has been his continual, persistent work and diplomacy in getting the two governments to work together which has made this project a reality. I hope that history will record the great role that he has played in making the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park a reality.