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Wednesday, 3 March 2004
Page: 25754


Mr LINDSAY (1:09 PM) —The member for Dunkley articulated quite well the reasons for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2004 in the parliament today and the orderly process that it has gone through and he exposed very effectively the flaws in the argument of the member for Wills. This legislation simply settles the GST issue on the environmental management charge. It puts it beyond doubt, once and for all, and implements the government's policy as articulated when the EMC was first introduced.

I pay tribute to the member for the northern part of the reef, the Hon. Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt, who has done a great job in guiding this matter through the government. As the member for Herbert, which is based on Townsville, the Barrier Reef is very important to me, as it is to the member for Leichhardt, although I do have to say that sometimes I think that the reef off Cairns is perhaps a little better than the reef off Townsville—but I am not certain about that.

What does this bill actually achieve? It brings certainty for the operators, which is what is important. It brings certainty for the tax office as well. In bringing certainty for the operators, it allows them to levy the EMC separately on their customers, if they like—and it will not be subject to GST—or to include it in the overall charge to their customers for whatever the tourism experience might be. It is their choice. The bill also allows for guidance on procedures where an operator does not do the right thing—where the operator does not collect the GST—and there are procedural matters. The bill puts that beyond doubt as well.

I note that the EMC at about $4.50 is a charge that is much lower than the charges made on the terrestrial national parks. Terrestrial national park charges these days seem to range from, say, $7.50 a visit up to $19. So the EMC in the Great Barrier Reef is certainly very much value for money, but the dollars from it are well used and well spent by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, making sure that the health of the reef and the experience that users have are second to none. I also observe that AMPTO, the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, are very happy with the outcome. The government worked with that group and the member for Leichhardt worked with that group and we have an outcome today which everyone is certainly happy with.

I want to pay tribute to those at the marine park authority and particularly to the board, first of all. It is a small board of four people, headed by Virginia Chadwick. It also includes Dr Leo Keliher, Ms Fay Barker and Ms Evelyn Scott. They are very fine Queenslanders and they have done a marvellous job in guiding the authority through many of the difficult issues that it has faced over the last decade. I would also like to pay tribute to the staff. They are of course led by Virginia Chadwick, but I would particularly like to pay tribute to John Tanzer and John Day, who have done the day-to-day hard work, led their teams and produced some fantastic outcomes under trying circumstances. It is a great organisation. Heading all of that is their minister, Dr David Kemp. David is Minister for the Environment and Heritage. I think he will certainly go down on the public record as being as good an environment minister as we have seen. David is a very thoughtful minister. He concentrates on policy and on outcomes for Australia and does the right thing by the environment.

There is no doubt that you wonder where the Australian Greens are on these sorts of issues. You wonder where the Australian Greens are in relation to the Howard government, which would normally be their sworn enemy, yet the Howard government, as the member for Dunkley quite rightly said, has done more to protect the environment and the Great Barrier Reef than any other government in the nation's history. The environmental credentials of the Howard government are second to none. They are second to none through the leadership initially of Senator Robert Hill and then, of course, of Dr David Kemp, and that is ongoing. I ask the Australian Greens to recognise, grudgingly perhaps, that the work that the government has done has been outstanding for the environment in this country.

The Natural Heritage Trust, which came up earlier in this government's mandate, has been very widely received across Australia, and it has been very effective across Australia. Just in the Great Barrier Reef region, we now have the very effective operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and we have a great outcome from the Representative Areas Program, with more than a third of the marine park now protected in green zones. In addition, the member for Dunkley correctly referred to the World Heritage area in the marine park and the work that has been done there. Of course, it is not only the marine park; it is Magnetic Island off Townsville, in the federal seat of Herbert, which I represent: Magnetic Island is World Heritage listed as well. In a week or so, we will be recognising that at a ceremony in Townsville.

All of these outcomes combine to make sure that one of the wonders of the world is appropriately protected. It is in everybody's interest, and people like the World Wildlife Fund for Nature very much applaud the Howard government for what it has been able to do. I congratulate WWF for standing up and publicly saying that they very much appreciate and congratulate the Howard government for what it has done in relation to protecting the Great Barrier Reef. They know, as the government does, that we have to have a healthy reef system. We have to think not only about today but about the years ahead, and we have to leave the reef in a better situation than it is in today. That means some pretty tough action sometimes, but a mark of this government has been that it has been prepared to take that kind of tough action.

When the Representative Areas Program was first announced, many of the fishermen thought that the end of the world had arrived. In fact, now that they have seen what GBRMPA under the able leadership of Virginia Chadwick has been able to achieve—and under the leadership of Dr David Kemp—they have realised that they are not going to be impacted upon but the reef is going to be looked after for centuries to come. That is the outcome. The green zones were always going to be very popular with the tourism industry. They are going to be places where you can look, swim and touch, but you just cannot take. They are also going to be very popular with fishermen. As the member for Dunkley again said, these areas produce significantly increased numbers of fish and they produce larger fish, and larger fish have more babies, and more babies mean more fish. So it actually works in the interests of fishermen to have significant green zone protection.

The objective now with the Great Barrier Reef is to make sure that we repair and restore water quality. Surely the Australian Greens can see what the government is doing in that regard. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan is very important in its monitoring and auditing processes, and that is going to continue.

In relation to climate change, coral bleaching is a very significant issue. It is a disturbing issue when it occurs, as the water temperature rises. But I make this simple point: the reef recovers more quickly if it is in a healthy condition in the first place. The reef recovers from a bleaching event more quickly if it is a healthy reef system. That is the government's and the marine park authority's objective—to have A-1 water quality in the Barrier Reef lagoon. Of course, that means that there is going to need to be help from those on the land—those who have primary production causing run-off problems, suspended solids in the water and so on. People have to care for the land so that that results in care for the Barrier Reef.

Another issue for the marine park authority is the compliance issue. There is a level of illegal activity, and the marine park authority has to manage that. There is now a much bigger green zone area that the marine park authority has to make sure is protected, but there are very good linkages between other Australian government departments these days. I have been privileged to have flown with Coastwatch, for example, to see the work they do, the facilities they have and the very good tools they have to watch the reef. GBRMPA will work with a range of other government agencies—AFFA and so on—and its own people to make sure that compliance is enforced.

As part of his contribution, the member for Wills talked about a tax on a tax. I was quite surprised to hear that, because I immediately thought of what happens with the Queensland state Labor government. If anybody is good at putting a tax on a tax, it is Labor state governments. I refer the parliament to things like the stamp duty on insurance policies, which of course has a GST element. That is obnoxious, and it is a tax on a tax. It is double dipping, and it should not be allowed to continue. It is the same—and the member for Leichhardt will agree with me on this—with the ambulance levy on electricity bills. Not only is that a tax on your electricity bill but there is GST on top of that as well—and of course that all goes to the state government. The GST, although it is collected by the Commonwealth, is returned 100 per cent to the state governments. So there is no incentive for state governments to stop this tax on a tax business because they get the tax on the tax. The state governments really need to face up to that and be fair dinkum.

I note the amendment moved by the member for Wills. I was surprised that the member for Wills claimed that he wanted to condemn the government for `its continued ignorance and disregard for the concerns of marine park tourist operators'. Goodness gracious me! How wrong could that be! The government is the first to understand that if the reef is not pristine, if it is not 110 per cent, the marine park tourist operators do not have a business. That is why we have gone to great lengths to make sure that they have been consulted and that they have understood what we have been doing through the EPBC Act, RAP and the World Heritage listing—and we will continue to do that.

Looking ahead at emerging issues for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, it currently concerns me that the marine park covers only about 25 per cent of the area between the Australian coastline and the outer boundary of Australia's economic exclusion zone. I have said previously in the parliament, and I reinforce it today, that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has been well researched—that is, the area within the park itself—but beyond its eastern boundaries little is known and there is little protection for what happens in that area. I think it is time that Australia looked at extending the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I know that is a brave statement to make, because it has budgetary implications. There is no point extending the park unless we adequately resource the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to manage the extra area, but I think we need to be doing that now. I think that is the next step.

I was privileged to be able to go to CSIRO in Hobart and talk with the marine scientists down there. They have a very definite view that the sea within Australia's economic exclusion zone—and few people understand that it is twice the land mass of Australia—provides many opportunities for wealth. There are many opportunities for expanding the contribution to GDP that is made by our marine resources. In the context of protecting the Great Barrier Reef, we need to look at those opportunities. It is my view that we can do that best by considering an extension to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and then properly managing and understanding those new areas that currently have no protection or understanding. That is the challenge ahead. It will be a challenge for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, but they have not resiled from challenges previously and I am sure that they will not resile from this particular challenge. I indicate my support for the clarification that this bill brings to the application of GST to the environmental management charge. In doing so, I commend the bill to the House.