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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 132

Dr SOUTHCOTT (6:44 PM) —Since the election of the Howard government, protected zones within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have increased from 4½ per cent of the marine park to one-third of it, adding almost 5,000 square kilometres of protected areas. To do this required management of all the different stakeholders, considering their points of view and supporting fishermen and others who rely on the marine area for their income with a comprehensive and uncapped structural adjustment package. There is still more to be done, with a reef water quality action plan currently being implemented. In last night’s budget speech the Treasurer announced that another $14.2 million over four years from the Natural Heritage Trust would be used to comprehensively monitor and report on the water quality and ecosystem health of the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. The aim is to address one of the biggest current threats to reef health—the run-off of sediment and other undesirable nutrients into the reef lagoons.

As I have mentioned, there are many considerations that must be made when examining the future of the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007 has been introduced by the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources for the purpose of amending the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to include recommendations made in the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The authority was set up with specific responsibilities to protect the marine park while considering the interests that compete for how the park should be utilised. In particular, a primary function of the authority is to provide recommendations on declaring areas for inclusion in the marine park and for what uses these should be zoned. It also serves a further purpose in managing and promoting Commonwealth-state relations and assisting co-operative arrangements for the environmental management of the Great Barrier Reef region.

Some of the key amendments being introduced in this bill will serve to carefully examine the effects of any draft zoning plan through the preparation of a report on the environmental, economic and social values of the area with which the plan is concerned; increase from one month to three months the minimum amount of time for the acceptance of public comment on draft zoning plans; and repeal section 37 of the act, in response to one of the recommendations of the 2006 review. The proposed amendment to section 37 will ensure that any zoning plan cannot be amended for at least seven years and that a report on the progress of the plan must be tabled every five years. This will ensure that the benefits of zoning accrue, provide a suitable period for the ecosystem to flourish and give certainty to businesses to adapt to the requirements.

But the government is also aware that maintaining and protecting the environment is not just a local issue. The effect that coral bleaching disease is having on some of the healthiest reefs within the marine park has long been a concern for researchers. Just yesterday, researchers suggested that rising ocean temperatures may be a driver of disease outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef. This highlights the need for broad thinking—the need to think globally in order to address a national concern. As a nation, Australia contributes only 1.46 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. While there is much that can be done to cut our contribution, we will achieve far more through cooperative projects with other nations in our region. One example is the Asia-Pacific partnership for clean technology and development. Another solution is the Global Initiative on Forests and Climate. The government will provide almost $200 million to look at reforestation in South-East Asia. This is an initiative that Australia is leading. The Howard government recognises that greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are serious issues which require a whole range of practical responses and cannot be properly addressed without the cooperation of our neighbours.

This government has invested billions of dollars in environmental programs and research, and the evidence shows that this is a sound investment in our nation’s future. By 2010 the greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation will be 45 per cent of their 1990 levels. Further, since 1990 more than 1.1 million hectares of new forests have been planted, with the expected result being that 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be removed from the atmosphere each year by 2010. Over the last 10 years, $2 billion has been spent to combat climate change. This will see Australia being able to meet or, in fact, better the greenhouse targets set out in the Kyoto protocol, as recently outlined by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.

Much has been made over this government’s decision not to ratify Kyoto, but our long-held view that climate change must be treated as a global challenge incorporating the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters has been supported by the findings of the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released last Friday. The government understands the need to find a balance between environmental management and economic concerns. We have demonstrated this with our course of action to deal with climate change and with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007. We have sought to implement changes recommended by the 2006 review and to ensure the responsible management and conservation of one of the world’s greatest marine parks.

The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon. It was listed as a World Heritage Area by the Fraser government in 1981. It contributes something like $5 billion to the tourism industry and it is a resource for all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.