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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 58

Mr ENTSCH (1:21 PM) —I sat here with an element of disbelief as I heard the member for Kingsford Smith putting forth his vision for the Great Barrier Reef. I could not help but think that a lot of the problems, misconceptions, scare tactics and emotional claptrap that continues to be driven about this comes from his background in the cradle of the extreme greens. There is no science in these arguments.

Mr Garrett interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hatton)—Member for Kingsford Smith, you had your go.

Mr ENTSCH —He stands up in his place and talks about a whole range of issues here. One of the figures that I picked up here, which is basically one of the lies that was projected through the whole of the representative areas debate, is that 33 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef is now being protected. It is not 33 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef that is currently protected; it is 33 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which goes way outside the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, over 70 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef is protected.

This is where the issues started to come in. You have those like the previous speaker—coming from the ‘extreme green’ angle—who believe that people have no place in the environment. They believe that the only way you can manage these places is by shutting them down completely and removing people out of them—they do not know what the word ‘sustainability’ means—and, in doing so, destroying people’s livelihoods unnecessarily. That is what happened in relation to the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

I am certainly pleased to have the opportunity to speak here on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007, because these are very important amendments. They emanate from a review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which was completed last year. The review and its report delivered on a promise made by this government in 2004 after the travesty known as the Representative Areas Program. This legislation has been born out of a need and a desire of all government members to ensure that this type of event does not ever happen again. We cannot turn back the clock; we must learn from the experience, and we should not be repeating the sins of the past.

When these amendments come into force on 1 July this year, they will ensure the authority of future management decisions will not be exclusively within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority but that the impacts will be considered back here. The amendments will provide a seven-year moratorium for the future adjustments to provide stability—and this is absolutely necessary—and certainty for businesses and communities, which have suffered so unnecessarily in the years since the current zoning plan was imposed. They will also provide a regular and reliable means of accountability, assessing the protection of the marine park through a report that will be tabled in the parliament every five years, and this will be peer reviewed by a panel of experts appointed by the minister. That will ultimately mean that it will be the minister’s responsibility for future decisions about opening the zoning plan for amendment. Importantly, the process of engaging with stakeholders on future changes—and this is the area that was missed out significantly during the last process—will be improved and formalised, including extending each of the two public consultation periods from one month to three months. These are, in my view, very positive but very necessary changes.

If there is a reservation, it is the fact that unfortunately these changes have come a little too late for many of my constituents who have been impacted by these agendas. Anybody who has any doubts about the extent of the misery and the financial ruination wreaked by those ideological zealots who were in charge of this process through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority need only speak to people—good, honest, hardworking people—whose businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed, absolutely devastated, by this process; unfortunately, in many cases, totally unnecessarily.

I first expressed concerns about the rezoning in 2002 when it was first mooted, but I was reassured by the senior executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that the whole process would be based on science. On that basis, I accepted it. I accepted that advice in good faith. I spoke to the recreational fishing people, commercial fishing people and tourism industry people. They all agreed that, if science were applied to this and the science said that any activity—irrespective of what it was, whether it was swimming on the reef, fishing on the reef or a commercial activity—was deemed to be unsustainable, any such activity had to stop immediately. Every one of them was prepared to give up their livelihoods on that basis.

Unfortunately, that was the first lie. When the first round of plans came out and was presented to the stakeholders, everybody was quite pleasantly surprised. They believed that everything was okay, that it was quite reasonable. Even though the ‘extreme greens’ were promoting the idea that only three per cent of the reef was protected—a bit like the member for Kingsford Smith’s little slip with the words in his contribution—in fact it was three per cent of the marine park. So about 22 or 23 per cent of the reef was protected at that point in time. We were assured by the authority that they were looking at 25 per cent of the reef. They were looking at bioregions. At the end of the day, they ended up with over 70 per cent. You can imagine the impact that that has had on users of those reefs.

They presented those maps, and the maps appeared to be okay. They seemed to have a minimum impact, as we were assured by the bureaucracy. But the interesting thing was that the bureaucracy then invited the reef users, the marine park users, to mark the areas that they could never afford to lose, so that they could be taken into consideration in the final determination. The coordinates of those areas were very specifically marked on the map. When the next draft came out, every single area that had been marked by those reef users as an area they could not afford to lose was marked in either green or yellow, excluding them. And that set the tone for the treatment.

We had a coastal trawl industry which had been assessed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and by Environment Australia as the first ecologically sustainable coastal trawl fishery in the world—they were waiting on certification—but the changes to those maps, taking those areas out, totally wiped them out. There was clearly an intent within the senior bureaucracy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to get rid of reef and marine park users. They did this with the marine collectors, the commercial trawling industry, the line fishermen and the recreational fishing industry. They drove a wedge between each of the user groups, creating conflict, and they used that opportunity to go in and amend the maps accordingly. Make no bones about it, every one of the people affected by that was committed to stepping aside—losing their business if necessary—if it was deemed to be unsustainable. But it was no longer an issue. It was driving the same agenda, the same mantra, that was pushed by the member for Kingsford Smith in his previous interests as a member of the extreme greens and influenced very strongly by some members of the senior bureaucracy within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

I said to Minister Kemp that this would have a devastating effect on industry. I suggested to him that it could have as much as $2 million worth of impact on our industries. The minister said to me: ‘That can’t be possible, because the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has advised me that the maximum impact will be $1.5 million. What are you doing? You are stirring up a lot of trouble about nothing.’ But he erred on the side of caution and set aside $10 million in the original bill just in case the compensation was a little more—just in case the authority had miscalculated. We have not paid out $85 million, as was suggested by the member for Kingsford Smith. We are moving towards $200 million. There was another claim just the other day. Lyle Squire has a third generation small family business which breeds corals and collects small marine fish for aquariums. They have been doing it for three generations and it has been deemed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to be totally ecologically sustainable. I was advised a couple of days ago that they are looking at a compensation package of $3.5 million to compensate them for their loss—a small family business absolutely devastated.

We have lost so many businesses because of this, and so many of them have been lost totally unnecessarily. Mitchell’s Marine, which is owned by Wayne and Sally Bayne, is a marine retail outlet which has been successfully trading since 1984. The impact of the actions by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority resulted in their unit number of sales falling by almost 40 per cent in both commercial and recreational markets—they just went into freefall. This has resulted in staff reductions, downsizing of premises and slashing of costs. It means a once-valuable asset that has provided security for the owners’ family and its future retirement has been unnecessarily and permanently damaged by a government department which is allowed to provide misinformation to government on which to base its decisions.

Another one is Bill Izzard. The day after the rezoning he woke up to find that he had lost nearly 90 per cent of his available grounds. He was collecting a specific product which they call leader prawns. He was targeting the aquaculture industry. He was very successful and he was very specific in what he was targeting. He needed only a very narrow area from which to take his product. He was one of those who sat down and marked those areas—none of them on the reef. He said: ‘These are the areas I need. Without these areas my business will go broke.’ This is where they took 90 per cent of his business. They wiped him out. It is just a disgrace. As Bill said, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and started the downhill spiral, sending dozens of family fishers like him to the wall. The industry has shrunk, investors have lost confidence and the industry has continued to lose experienced skippers and crews.

Marlin Charters at Airlie Beach is another one. It has been successfully operating since 1989. Its owner, Ken Bryant, was another victim of the scam. He was told, ‘Tell us which locations are important to you and we will make sure that we leave them alone.’ In fact, the opposite happened and, with the stroke of a pen, much of the operating grounds were lost. Left with virtually nowhere to operate, the business has suffered a 72 per cent drop in income. That has left the business absolutely devastated. I received an email from Ken the other day. He said: ‘I’ve had my business destroyed by RAP. I’m approximately $100,000 in debt and to date have been offered nothing in compensation or assistance. My life has been devastated by RAP, with no assistance or compensation. I need assistance not next week, not tomorrow, but now. I’m contemplating bankruptcy or, sadly, suicide.’ That is the sort of impact it has had on the lives of so many people.

McLeod Engineering, a land based business, is another example that I would like to highlight, because it demonstrates the flow-on effect for many onshore businesses as well. They are an iconic business which has been operating in the Cairns area for over 30 years. They provide marine engineering services for both recreational and commercial services. The introduction of the rezoning by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has seen their business halved. Staff levels have been reduced by 40 per cent and the owner is fighting to protect what is left of his once-thriving business. With a bleak future ahead, the owners are now left with no alternative but to reassess their commitment to the industry as they oversee the unnecessary destruction of their life’s work. I could go on. There have been dozens of these cases.

I have got to say that I was very disappointed that I was not listened to back in 2002 when the first tranche of this legislation came through. I have to give credit to the then Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Campbell, who did listen. He started the process of introducing the bill that we are talking to today and he was able to help us to gain some ground and to at least give some dignity, by trying to help them restructure, to some of those people who have lost so much. I also give credit to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Turnbull. He and his office have been very helpful in trying to sort out these problems.

The member for Kingsford Smith made reference to some individuals from the other side of politics that claim to have made some effort up there—but they were never heard of during the whole debate. We talk about Senator McLucas and others and about the previous shadow environment minister—I know his name; it is Mr Albanese, but I am not sure of his seat—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hatton)—He is the member for Grayndler.

Mr ENTSCH —Yes, the member for Grayndler. They actually fed a lot of the deception that created this problem and made no effort at all to try to do anything to save the situation. He talks about ‘a forward-looking government’ that would protect the industries and people depending on a healthy reef. What a load of nonsense! You do not see a forward-looking government on the other side, I can assure you of that, when we are talking about this. This was not about protecting the reef; this was all about pushing the lock-out views of the extreme greens. Unfortunately, some sections of the bureaucracy were captured by it and so many individuals’ healthy businesses that were very dependent on a healthy reef were destroyed unnecessarily. As I said at the beginning of my speech, had there been any issue as to sustainability then each and every owner of those businesses would have more than willingly walked away from the industries involved and started again, accepting that they could not afford to impact on what was their livelihood.

So I am pleased to see these legislative amendments coming through. I hope that by bringing these amendments through we do not allow this type of fiasco to occur again. I hope that we can resolve the outstanding problems of so many of those businesses that are struggling to survive. The government has been very generous in dealing with this issue, but unfortunately in some cases making assessments has taken far too much time. As I can understand the complexities of some of these businesses, I am sure there was no understanding by their owners at the beginning, given the misinformation that was being provided by the bureaucracy at the time, of the changes. There was no way that they would have been able to appreciate their impact and the damage that was being done.

On a final point, I refer to another matter raised by the member for Kingsford Smith. It was a little red herring, which was right up there with all the doom and gloom, about drilling on or around the Great Barrier Reef. This is a perpetual chestnut. Every time when they run out of good ideas they slip this one in. The reality is that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is protected in a way that it has never ever been protected before and there is absolutely no risk whatsoever of it being drilled or impacted. There is legislation in place that makes sure that will not and cannot happen. But it is all part of their scare tactics. When they have no ideas and they are looking at these ideological agendas that they try to push, they come out and push this nonsense about drilling on the reef, trying to frighten people. Those that know know it is absolute nonsense and there is no basis of fact whatsoever in it.