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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23629

Mr LINDSAY (3:11 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Would the minister advise the House on steps taken by the Howard government to protect and secure the future of one of the world's greatest natural icons—the Great Barrier Reef? What are the benefits for tourism and fishing as well as for the health of the reef itself?

Dr KEMP (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank the honourable member for Herbert for his question, and I acknowledge his very strong support for the process of rezoning the Great Barrier Reef to offer it greater protection. I have today announced a major environmental initiative to put the Great Barrier Reef on a sustainable basis for the long-term future. The Great Barrier Reef is Australia's greatest natural icon. The Great Barrier Reef is as Australian as the Boxing Day test match, it is as much a part of our identity as Waltzing Matilda. It is the largest coral reef on the planet and it is one of the world's great natural icons. The Great Barrier Reef is the economic powerhouse of northern Australia—responsible for tens of thousands of jobs and nearly $5 billion worth of economic activity. But it is under great pressure, and today the Howard government has accepted a plan to increase sixfold the protected zones and marine sanctuaries within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—creating the largest network of protected marine areas in the world. This plan is an insurance for the future to protect the reef. It lifts the area of high protection zoning from some 4.5 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to 33.3 per cent. It is a historic plan based on sound science and, internationally, it will be widely hailed.

This plan will ease pressures from land-based run-off, from pollution, from coral bleaching and from commercial and recreational fishing. At the same time, it will provide those involved in commercial fishing with much greater certainty for the future. It will lead to more and bigger fish within the Barrier Reef. It will ensure that this huge environmental asset, which is the foundation of the multibillion dollar tourist industry, will be protected for the future, and it will create additional jobs and opportunities in northern Queensland. I want to say that this plan has involved one of the most extensive public consultations on a natural resource matter in Australian history. Some 31,000 submissions have been received. It reflects the desires of the great majority of Australians to see this great national icon properly protected for the future. This is probably the largest environmental Christmas present that we could give the Australian people.