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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Page: 5883

Dr STONE (1:40 PM) —I rise to also support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I agree with the previous speaker, the member for Wills, and also the member for Flinders that this is very good legislation. It carries on the work of the coalition government, which was of course long committed to making sure that this magnificent wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef, survived. We have here an evolution in the legislation to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most important ecosystems and tourism destinations in Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef, while one of the wonders of the world, is hugely vulnerable. The member for Wills has, very rightly, just described the great threats to the reef at this time. Those threats of course include overfishing, climate change impacts and the hole in the ozone, which has caused UV problems—like bleaching—for quite a number of years now. There is the coastline run-off and other pollutants. There are the marine accidents that can occur, like an oil spill. And of course there are the introduced predatory species like the crown-of-thorns starfish, which can do, and is already doing, enormous damage—though some feel it is now somewhat under control, particularly in some parts of the reef. This reef is an enormous geographic extension along the east coast of Australia and it is many millions of years old. It is very much in need of active, ongoing management if we are to try to reduce the impact of some of the detrimental effects already occuring, like climate change and ozone layer depletion.

The Howard government undertook a review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act back in 2006. This review was very comprehensive and met a key election commitment of the Howard government to review and improve the act’s management arrangements for the reef. In 1975 we saw the first Commonwealth legislation to establish and manage the marine park. This was passed unanimously by the parliament of the day, a great act of bipartisan agreement.

In 1981 the Fraser government announced the successful listing of the reef on the World Heritage List. Over the next 25 years, over 33 sections of the marine park were formally proclaimed as protected. In total, the marine park is now 1½ times bigger than the state of Victoria, covering over 244,400 square kilometres. It also generates many billions of dollars in tourism trade annually, and that in turn supports some 350,000 people. It is unique and one of the world’s oldest coral reefs, and successive Australian governments have sought to protect it.

In March 2007 the Howard government, with the support of the Labor Party opposition, passed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007. This bill implemented the key, urgent issues improving on the 1975 act, which was indeed showing signs of age. This included provision for the zoning plan process and for improvements in transparency and accountability. The changes to the zoning plan were initially for seven years; they will be extended to 10 years by this bill.

The House may be interested to know that the model developed to manage the reef is now considered international best practice and is emulated for other important reefs in the world. In 2004 an American legal commentator noted that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was an example of a ‘successful large-scale marine zoning project that allows for commercial use, recreational use and conservation’. This is a ringing endorsement of the work undertaken by the Howard government which is leading the way for reef management and protection into the future despite the enormous challenges of climate change, the growing pressures of human visitation and offshore demands, and the ongoing nutrition entering the marine environment.

This bill is important; we have to get it right. The first act, over 30 years old now, served this unique ecosystem well but it requires regular updates. While the opposition remain disappointed with the speed at which this legislation is being introduced into the parliament—because we believe there was more than passing interest from the industry and stakeholders wanting to comment further on the act—we support the bill in this place today.

This bill aims to establish a modern and robust registry framework that provides for the efficient and effective protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. The changes proposed by the bill are a response to the findings of the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act established by the coalition. That review found that the act had served its purpose well but needed to be updated and better integrated with other relevant legislation, in particular the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, in order to reduce red tape and confusion and to close loopholes—in other words, to provide a more effective framework for protection and management of the reef.

Since this act was first passed in 1975 there has been a significant change in the scale, scope and nature of the challenges in securing the long-term protection of the reef—and I have already listed some of these. The initial act focused on the establishment of the marine park, and of course that has been well and truly achieved. Today a new focus is needed to manage the impacts of climate change on the reef along with those other human related pressures, like the growing tourism and the potential for accidents. We need to ensure common user provisions for the reef for tourists, residents and businesses but always ensure that at no time is the reef itself compromised.

Schedule 1 establishes a new objects section in the act. This reflects the changing focus of the act away from establishing a marine park to providing for ecological sustainability and best possible management practice. It identifies long-term protection of the environment, biodiversity and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef as now being the primary objects of the act. The schedule also requires the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—or GBRMPA, as we commonly refer to it—to have regard to the new objects and the principles of ecologically sustainable use and the protection of the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

Schedule 2 makes amendments to the GBRMPA itself. It establishes a requirement for one member of the authority to be an Indigenous person. Given there are more than 70 traditional owner groups along the coast from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait, it is important they have input into the future direction of the reef and marine park. For example, the issue of Indigenous hunting of marine species using non-traditional methods requires sensitive consideration and discussion. It is just one of the many issues that our Indigenous original owners are concerned about, and they need to be at the table discussing the best ways to proceed.

The schedule also provides for the GBRMPA to conduct business outside of formal meetings, subject to an appropriate governance framework. On this point the coalition is also keen to see industry representation on the GBRMPA. Last week I met with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, AMPTO. They are one of the key representative bodies for tourism operators on the reef and the adjacent coastline. Members of such bodies could and indeed should make a very valuable contribution to policy formulation and the management of the park. A healthy, properly managed reef is essential for the success of the tourist operators, and it is important that we take on board the views of the evolving and changing industry.

Schedule 3 makes changes which will require the GBRMPA to publicly consult on any proposal to proclaim an area part of the marine park or to remove an area from the marine park by way of proclamation. It also updates the matters that must be considered in developing zoning plans and plans of management to build in better integration with relevant Commonwealth and Queensland legislation, particularly the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This schedule provides that a World Heritage management plan is not required under section 321 of the EPBC Act or a national heritage management plan under section 324X of the EPBC Act. This will improve integration and alignment of the two acts. It will remove the confusion, it will close loopholes and it will reduce the red tape and bureaucracy, especially given that 98 per cent of the marine park falls inside the World Heritage area.

Schedule 4 declares the marine park as a ‘matter of national environmental significance’ under the EPBC Act. As a consequence, the environmental impact assessment and approval requirements of the EPBC Act will apply where an action inside or outside the marine park has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the environment in the marine park itself. Further provisions will establish a single, integrated environmental impact assessment process under the EPBC Act.

Schedule 5 updates investigation and enforcement provisions to ensure that the provisions for the marine park are in line with those of the EPBC Act. It is about harmonisation, and that is of critical concern when too much time and energy can be lost in integrating parallel pieces of legislation which, at the end of the day, have the same objectives.

Schedule 6 goes on to make a number of changes to existing offence provisions of the GBRMP Act and establishes equivalent civil penalty provisions for most of those offences. It will not be the case in the future that someone who accidentally drifts a few metres across the marine park boundaries is in fact seen to have committed a criminal offence. The schedule establishes two new offences. One relates to the operation of a commercial fishing vessel in a zone where fishing is not permitted except for the purposes of transiting or anchoring in an emergency or as a result of an accident. The other provision relates to making a false or misleading representation concerning a person’s liability to pay a fee, tax, levy or other charge in connection with entry and use of the marine park.

The original marine park act was groundbreaking legislation. It was important at a time when little was known about the long-term management and sustainability of something as complex and amazing as the Great Barrier Reef. The original legislation provided for reasonable use to coexist with conservation, making the Great Barrier Reef a truly multiple-use park. This is important, but it also brings with it an enormously complex task in managing the various and sometimes competing interests of those who know and love the reef or earn an income from it.

Extending over 2,300 kilometres along the Queensland coast, the reef includes 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands and cays and 70 distinct bioregions. These bioregions contain great biodiversity, including 30 per cent of the world’s soft corals, 30 per cent of Australia’s sponges and six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle. And they are the breeding areas and migratory routes for humpback whales and dugongs.

When the coalition signed off on the World Heritage listing of the marine park in 1981, the reef became internationally recognised as an outstanding example of the major stages of the earth’s evolutionary history, a significant example of an ongoing ecological and biological process, a superlative natural phenomenon and a source of important and significant habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity. As we have already heard, however, the reef is now facing extraordinary threats, in particular due to climate change. It would be both an ecological and a human tragedy if on our watch we saw this reef destroyed.

This bill is an important part of managing the reef and doing all we can to make sure that generations to come enjoy the extraordinary biodiversity and sheer beauty of the reef. I repeat: the coalition supports this bill. It carries on the work of the Howard government. The first act lasted some 30 years. It has evolved to give us one of the best managed ecosystems in the world. But it is unfinished business, and we need to make sure that in the years to come we continue to have a bipartisan approach to what is one of Australia’s most important custodial tasks—seeing that the Great Barrier Reef survives. I commend the bill to the House.