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Wednesday, 3 March 2004
Page: 25797

Dr KEMP (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (4:30 PM) —As I am the last speaker in this debate on the second reading of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2004, I propose to provide some comments by way of summing up the debate and a response to some of the comments that have been made during the debate.

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —If members wish to converse, will they please do so outside the chamber.

Dr KEMP —I thank all members for their contribution to the debate. I was impressed with the passionate speech by the member for Dunkley, which I thought made a very real contribution to the debate. I thank the member for Herbert, who has been a great champion for the tourism operators who depend on the reef for their livelihood, and the member for Leichhardt, who was the previous speaker, for his remarks. Tourism is by far the largest industry associated with the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The tourism industry welcomes this legislation and the fact that it honours the government's commitment to ensure that responsibility for the payment of the standard tourism charge rests with the visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Some suggestion was made by the opposition during this debate that, in some way or other, the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators was unhappy with the way in which the government has been managing policy development in the marine park. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that the marine park tourism operators are exceedingly happy and satisfied—one might almost say over the moon—with the decisions that the government has made in relation to the management of the marine park. I can put before the House as evidence of that the press release that was put out by the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators on the announcement of the reef rezoning plan. The press release from AMPTO said the following:

Dr Kemp and GBRMPA should be congratulated for their efforts, courage and vision.

Mr McKenzie, who is the executive director of AMPTO, said that. He went on to say:

I doubt that I will see a more important conservation effort anywhere in the world in my lifetime.

No comment could be stronger than that, and I think that puts paid completely to any suggestion that the marine park tourism operators have any degree of unhappiness at all over this. Indeed, they welcome this legislation and the major policy decisions that the government has taken to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Comments were also made during the debate about climate change and its impact on the reef by way of increasing the probability of bleaching events arising from the warming of the seas. There is no doubt at all that the warming of the seas over the 20th century has increased the probability of bleaching events through unusually hot waters bathing the coral reefs. Comment has been made particularly about the present circumstances, and I think it is appropriate to comment about the current situation of coral bleaching.

It has been an unusually hot summer this year, with above average temperatures through most of the Great Barrier Reef region. While these conditions were not as hot as were seen in the early part of the 200102 summer, which led to the most extensive coral bleaching event ever recorded for the Great Barrier Reef, temperatures have been hovering around levels known to result in bleaching. We have had reports of minor bleaching from numerous sites, ranging from Lizard Island in the north through to Cairns, Townsville, the Whitsunday Islands and Heron Island. Weather conditions have been hovering around levels known to trigger coral bleaching for several weeks now, but they have not yet caused enough stress to produce a mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef. This means that the reef has been on the brink of a serious bleaching event since late January.

The cooler conditions that brought some relief to the central and northern Great Barrier Reef over recent weeks have recently given way to hot conditions once more, increasing the risk of coral bleaching, especially in the southern Great Barrier Reef. The weather over the next two to three weeks will determine whether the Great Barrier Reef experiences widespread bleaching this summer. Cooler air temperatures, cloud cover and strong winds will all lessen the risk of widespread bleaching, while hot, cloudless and still days will greatly exacerbate temperature anomalies and increase stress levels on corals. The staff of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are monitoring key regional weather indicators on a daily basis and continue to monitor reports of reef conditions throughout the Great Barrier Reef with the assistance of marine park rangers and tourism operators.

I am very concerned about the potential effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef. The action that can be taken now—the only action that I am aware of—is to ensure that the resilience of the reef is improved by protecting it against overfishing, reducing pollution from coastal land uses and protecting biodiversity. This is what the government has been doing. Through the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, targets will now be set for permissible levels of water quality coming into the reef lagoon from all rivers emptying into it. Significant funding is being provided by the government through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust to ensure that appropriate land management actions are taken to improve the water quality in the rivers entering the lagoon, particularly in relation to sediment and nutrient levels, to ensure that stress from the river water quality is reduced to an absolute minimum.

The Representative Areas Program, reflected in the rezoning plan that has now been brought forward and that I have placed before the parliament for approval, is a key element of the government strategy. That plan will ensure that one-third of the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is protected from any extractive activities and that stress on the Great Barrier Reef is reduced.

The opposition, for purely rhetorical reasons, has suggested during the debate that somehow the ratification of the Kyoto protocol will assist in protecting the Great Barrier Reef. We need to be completely realistic—it will not. The Kyoto protocol, designed to suit the interests of the European nations, will make almost no difference to global greenhouse gas accumulations in the atmosphere. What will make a difference is a satisfactory set of arrangements which include all major emitters, which the Australian government is working for.

I was very interested to note that the shadow minister for the environment made the point that a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of 60 to 70 per cent will be necessary to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. While that statement is scientifically sound and gets no dissent from the government, I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition did dissent from it when he was the member from Werriwa plain and simple, when he was saying what he really thought. In the Cunningham by-election, he described statements of that kind, which were put forward by the Greens, as extremist statements that would lead to the closure of BHP in the Illawarra and the loss of some 10,000 jobs.

As we know, the Leader of the Opposition is not given to consistency in his statements—and I dare say he is now seeking to change his attitudes—but he seems very torn on the matter of Kyoto. When he was asked by the Canberra Times for some indication as to the opposition's policy, in a supplement published last weekend he admitted to that he had not turned his mind very much to the environment. No-one would be very surprised to read that because nothing much has come from the opposition or the Leader of the Opposition about the environment.

On Monday he went up to Gladstone and announced that not only was he in favour of ratifying Kyoto but he was in favour of a domestic carbon trading system in Australia, not realising that a domestic carbon trading system would impose particular costs on the aluminium and alumina industries that Gladstone, especially, depends on. If implemented, the domestic carbon trading system he was talking about would impose very significant costs on those high energy use industries, leading to a significant loss of jobs in the very city where he was making this announcement. So he is torn; while he says on the one hand that he wants to protect the environment, he says on the other hand that he wants to protect jobs of working-class Australians. In this area he seems to be utterly confused and is going around the country announcing policies which will have the effect of destroying jobs.

The government is taking a responsible attitude. We have committed and spent almost $1 billion to the reduction of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. We will meet the internationally negotiated target for greenhouse gas emissions from Australia, and there is no need for the job-destroying and discriminatory policies that the Labor Party is adopting in relation to climate change. In particular, there is no need for these policies because they will do nothing to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The government is doing what is required to improve water quality and to engage the tourism industry and other communities on the Great Barrier Reef in the appropriate action to ensure that the resilience of the reef is maximised to protect it against the inevitable warming events that will take place in oceans and seas surrounding the reef in the years ahead.

The legislation that is before the House now fulfils the government's commitments. It will be welcomed by all who value this remarkable natural icon in Australia, and I commend it to the House. The amendments that the opposition has put forward are not accepted by the government. They are purely empty rhetoric. They confirm that the opposition has no practical policies whatsoever to assist the government in its policy formulation, and the bill should go through unamended.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Wills has moved as an amendment that all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.