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Thursday, 7 June 2001
Page: 27621


Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (10:28 AM) —in reply—In summing up this debate today, I want to thank the member for Wills and the member for Herbert for their contributions. The member for Herbert, who has this magnificent Great Barrier Reef as very much a part of his world, is absolutely right in describing the significance of this bill not only for Australia but also for the world. The Great Barrier Reef has world heritage status. It is one of the great natural wonders of the world, but it is an extraordinarily fragile ecosystem—one that can very easily be destroyed. The Malaysian cargo ship coming aground in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef was the trigger that sent alarm bells ringing across the nation. We understood that we needed to do more to protect this great reef; hence, the amendments to the bill today.

The government are also taking this opportunity to further protect the interests of the vast majority of honest fishermen by seeking to discourage illegal fishing, and the member for Wills very rightly described the damage that trawling does on the reef. There is, in fact, an estimated yearly total of over 3,260 days of illegal trawling occurring on the cross-shelf closure, giving an estimated 69 days of illegal trawling per regular offender. So, quite clearly, there is a significant level of non-compliance. We had to do something about that, and we hope this bill changes the attitude of those who at the moment feel that the fines that could be levied are less than the worth of the take if they are illegally trawling. The damage they do to the reef is now well understood.

I was disappointed that while he was on his feet the member for Wills took the opportunity that this bill presented to have a jab at Australia's stance on greenhouse emissions. It was a cheap shot because Australia is leading internationally in terms of its commitment to greenhouse gas emissions. We understand that, per capita, Australia has emissions that we simply must rein in, both for our own domestic wellbeing and to redress global climate change problems. We, in fact, lead the world by being one of the first countries to establish a dedicated office—the Australian Greenhouse Office—which works across portfolios and has had more than $1 billion of federal government commitment. Through its work, we have engaged with local councils in Australia to the point where we have had more local government authorities undertake climate change specific work, compared to any other developed nation, in terms of demonstrating their commitment by being prepared to do something about global warming.

I think it is a nonsense to suggest Australia is going soft on carbon emissions because we are concerned that the United States have, at this stage, indicated that they are not very interested in the Kyoto agreement. We are not withdrawing any of our support but rather are very realistically indicating that the United States have over 25 per cent of the world's emissions of the damaging greenhouse gases. Therefore, we need to make sure that they are at the table. Like the United States we are concerned that, if developing nations are not aware of the problems and are not participating in solutions, that is an issue.

The member for Wills referred to representations the member for Lowe has received. I understand that the member for Robertson had also received representations on the issue of marine aquarium hobbyists, who wonder whether their interests will be damaged or in some way overlooked in these regulations. There was a question on notice lodged by the member for Robertson, which appears in the papers today, which asks the minister to, in particular, demonstrate what impact our Great Barrier Reef protection might have on the aquarium trade. Obviously, as it is a question on notice, that will be dealt with. Of course, the member for Lowe, the member for Robertson and others can be assured that everyone's interests are fundamentally served by protecting the reef. There are individuals and others who might feel that what they have been doing for a very long time might have to be modified. We will explore everyone's requests in terms of the coral reef's usage, and that question will be answered in due course.

This is a very important amendment to the bill, as the Great Barrier Reef is one of the wonders of the world. I am very pleased with the bipartisan support for this bill, and may it be the sort of amendment that very swiftly becomes legislation. I commend this bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.