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Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Page: 5


Mr TURNBULL (Minister for the Environment and Water Resources) (9:16 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007 is to amend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to implement priority recommendations of the 2006 review of the act.

The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon. In 1975 the Australian government enacted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to establish a marine park in the Great Barrier Reef region and to set up an authority to manage the park. At the time the government stated that ‘the protection of our unique barrier reef is of paramount importance to Australia and to the world’. The act had bipartisan support in the parliament and was groundbreaking legislation. In providing for ‘reasonable use’ to coexist with conservation, it established the concept of a multiple-use park, and has since been an exemplar for marine management and conservation.

The Australian government has remained committed to the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Since 1975 much has been achieved and the Great Barrier Reef is in relatively good shape compared to other coral systems around the world. In 1981 the conservation values of the Great Barrier Reef were internationally recognised with its inscription on the World Heritage list. Between 1979 and 2001, 33 sections of the marine park were formally proclaimed. Throughout this period the Australian and Queensland governments have worked together collaboratively to protect the environmental, social and economic values of the Great Barrier Reef.

The marine park now extends over 344,400 square kilometres. Following the introduction in July 2004 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning plan in 2003, the marine park is now covered by a single zoning plan that has significantly increased the area and level of protection. This zoning plan has been recognised, both nationally and internationally, as an important milestone in the ecosystem based approach to conserving marine biodiversity.

The act has now been in place for over 30 years and the 2003 zoning plan formed a transition point in the management and protection of the marine park. In 2004, the Australian government undertook to review the act to improve the performance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, its office holders and its accountability frameworks.

The review commenced in August 2005. It encompassed the outcomes of the 2003 Uhrig review of corporate governance of statutory authorities, changes in the Commonwealth’s financial management frameworks that were introduced in 1997 and the need for better integration with the government’s key environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Some 227 public submissions were made to the review, and during its course there were 36 meetings with a wide range of stakeholders. The report from the review was publicly released in October 2006. The Australian government endorsed the review’s findings and recommendations and the review outcomes were widely welcomed by stakeholders.

The implementation of the review recommendations will deliver modern legislation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park capable of responding to the long-term protection needs of the future. This bill delivers the first tranche of changes that will strengthen governance arrangements and improve transparency and accountability, particularly in relation to the zoning plan process. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will have an improved ability to engage effectively and transparently with stakeholders. Later there will also be changes to better integrate the act’s environmental assessment and compliance and enforcement measures with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Equally important are the review recommendations that enhance the relationship with Queensland through an updated intergovernmental agreement with a clear charter for the ministerial council, but these do not require legislative change.

The amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 contained within this bill can be categorised as amendments aimed at improving transparency and accountability and strengthening the governance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The amendments will ensure that the current zoning plan for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park cannot be amended for at least seven years from the date it came into force. This will provide stability for business, communities and biological systems. A process to allow for the correction of typographical errors in a zoning plan is provided.

A regular and reliable means of assessing the protection of the Great Barrier Reef will be provided through a formal outlook report that is tabled in parliament every five years. This report will cover the management of the marine park, the overall condition of the ecosystem and the longer term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef. It will be peer reviewed by an appropriately qualified panel of experts appointed by the minister.

The minister will be responsible for any future decision to amend the zoning plan, and any such decision will be based on the outlook report and advice from the authority.

Engagement with stakeholders on the development of a new zoning plan will be improved and the process made more transparent, with comprehensive information being made publicly available throughout the process. This will include the rationale for amending the zoning plan, the principles on which the development of the zoning plan will be based, socioeconomic information, and a report on the final zoning plan and its outcomes.

In addition, each of the two public consultation periods will be increased from one month to three months.

The authority will remain a statutory authority and body corporate. The authority will become subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 recognising that its funding is predominantly sourced from public moneys rather than commercial activities.

The role of the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee has been superseded by consultation mechanisms of the authority. This committee will be replaced by a non-statutory advisory board to the minister to provide a means of engaging with representational bodies and key experts.

Under the act, the authority comprises a minimum of two and a maximum of four members. This will be increased to a maximum of five members who will be selected for their relevant expertise. This will allow for a broader range of appointments to the authority.

In commissioning the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, and endorsing the comprehensive outcomes of that review, the Australian government has recognised the evolving needs and challenges for safeguarding the Great Barrier Reef into the future.

Meeting these challenges requires up-to-date, relevant legislation and an approach that provides for continued protection for marine life and biodiversity, as well as for ongoing sustainable economic and recreational activity, and engagement with all stakeholders.

The Australian government is committed to the long-term protection and wise use of the Great Barrier Reef. This bill will bring about changes that set a clear direction for the future management of one of Australia’s most precious environmental assets. I commend the bill to the House.