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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Page: 5944


Mr LINDSAY (6:00 PM) —I am privileged to live on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Of course, my home is in Townsville. It is the headquarters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and I have had a close association over many years now with the works of the authority and the wonderful works that the people of the authority have carried out in protecting this major national and world asset.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park stretches more than 3,200 kilometres down the Queensland coast. Just imagine where you would end up, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you went 3,200 kilometres starting in Victoria. You would not be in Victoria, not by a long way. It is a very large area off the north-east coastline of our country. The park covers 345,400 square kilometres and it is the world’s largest World Heritage area. I think we as Australians can be very proud of that.

It was in the term of the last government—and I was certainly very much a part of it—that the government completed a review into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the authority. That was completed in 2006. We then released a response accepting all of the recommendations while pushing for new criminal sanctions for some breaches of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park regulations. The essential changes were to update the act to reflect the fact that the Great Barrier Reef had been World Heritage listed, that the coalition government had introduced the EPBC Act and that there were gaps in emergency management powers. The new bill also picks up the coalition government’s decision to move beyond a criminal penalty only system to allow for specific performance, such as reef recovery or civil penalties, for breaches such as fishing in no-take zones.

The government also released at the time a statement of expectations. When we finalised our response, the review concluded that the authority should continue as a statutory authority comprising a group of statutory office holders collectively responsible for the functioning and governance of the authority. The review also confirmed the rule of government in establishing expectations of the authority in relation to overarching performance objectives, values and application of broader government policies. The review recommended in recommendation 13 that, to provide structure, clarity and transparency in the setting of government expectations and the oversight of performance, the minister issue a regular statement of expectations and the authority respond with a statement of intent.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 before the parliament tonight is welcomed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. It brings the authority into the modern world. The recent history of the authority has propelled it from Townsville onto the world stage. I well remember what happened in the community and particularly the fishing community when we made the major decision to protect the World Heritage listed area through the increase in no-take zones. I well remember standing up before a meeting of 1,000 fishermen who wanted to take me out the back and hang me from the highest tree. But I stood my ground and stood in front of that community and said, ‘In the long run this will benefit the fishing industry, it will benefit the tourism industry, it will make sure that our country’s name as a protector of World Heritage will be enhanced and we may in fact get some dividends for the rest of the world.’ Later on in this presentation I will enlarge on that and indicate that I was right and the fishermen were wrong. We proceeded. The minister at the time was David Kemp and, to his eternal credit, he stuck by the policy, knowing that it was the right way to go, and so did the Prime Minister at the time. They made sure that we got the outcome that we wanted for the World Heritage area.

I was really pleased then that yesterday the Australian Institute of Marine Science—which is also based in Townsville along with other related organisations such as James Cook University and MTSRF—issued a press release. I would like to indicate to the House and my colleagues one of the outcomes of the green zone policy that was introduced. The press release goes like this:

Dramatic evidence that protected fish populations can bounce back rapidly from the impact of years of heavy fishing has been obtained by a team of marine scientists working on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

A spectacular recovery in coral trout numbers on unfished reefs has been reported by researchers following the imposition of a strict no-fishing policy across 33 per cent of the total GBR area in 2004, to form the world’s largest network of no-take reserves.

A team led by Professor Garry Russ of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, Dr Hugh Sweatman of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and supported by the Australian Government’s Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility—

which is what I referred to before as MTSRF—

has found coral trout numbers rebounded by 31-75 per cent on a majority of reefs which had been closed to fishing for as little as 1.5 to 2 years.

That is a terrific outcome. That has been reported now around the world. That outcome has attracted world attention to what we have been able to achieve.

For the closed inshore reefs of Palm Island, for example, which is an Indigenous community in my electorate, there were increases in coral trout population densities of 65 per cent to 75 per cent compared with reefs left open to fishing. What that says to fishermen is that, if you have no-take zones, the fish grow larger and produce more fingerlings. Those fish then go outside the no-take zones and in fact there are more fish for the fishermen to catch. But the thing is sustainable. The green zones, therefore, are very much working and the science supports that. I am pleased to see that the emotion that I saw at that meeting of 1,000 fishermen has been replaced—I think the fishermen realise this now—by science and it has been demonstrated that fishermen are better off because of what has happened.

There are currently some hot-button issues in the marine park. One of them is shale oil. That will not have been mentioned in this debate, but it is a hot-button issue. It is an emerging issue with what is happening with the world fuel supply at the moment. There are very significant shale oil beds stretching from Gladstone right up to the Whitsundays—very significant areas indeed. There will be pressure one day for them to be mined. There was an attempt quite some years ago in Gladstone to run pilot plants on this, but the problem is that the shale oil goes out under the sea and therefore under the marine park. That is something that we very much need to come to grips with. It currently impacts on the park if dredging goes on in that area. That disturbs the shale oil beds and, of course, you get pollution in the reef waters.

Another issue that has emerged during this sitting of the parliament has been the fear that carbon sequestration technology would be allowed to be used underneath the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. What generated that fear was that the bill that was presented to the parliament—last week, I think—did not rule out allowing carbon sequestration under the marine park. I am very pleased that the government has since said, ‘No, it’s not our intention to allow that.’ But I have certainly said publicly that when it comes time for the formal debate I will move an amendment to the bill, which I am sure the government will support in view of its announcement last week, that the bill include the prohibition of carbon sequestration under the reef. What alerted us, of course, was that a few weeks ago in the Australian a map was published showing areas underneath the marine park suitable for carbon sequestration. I guess that that rang alarm bells. It is a good process where the community can be alerted, the government will respond and we all get the outcome that we want. I thank the government for responding in the way it has.

There are two other issues that I want to alert the House to. The first one is the issue of sharks in the east coast inshore fin fishery and the pressure that is being put on that population. We have to manage that and make sure that the sharks are not further threatened in the way that they currently are.

Finally—and this is a very important issue to me—there is the potential extension of the park to the east of its current boundary. There are areas of sea, coral cay and so on in that very large area which are being fished inappropriately right now. There is really no management of it. We need to manage it, but there is no management because it is not in the park and because, if it were to be in the park, funds are needed to do that. Others have made claims that we should establish a park from our boundary all the away to New Caledonia. There are reasons for that, but this has to be done in bite-sized chunks. I think it is perfectly proper right now to be considering an extension of the marine park to the east, perhaps to Australia’s EEZ boundary, and to provide the authority with the funds to manage it.

Of course, that introduces another hot-button issue: resources. The authority does need resources to manage compliance and enforcement. You heard me say earlier that this is an area of 345,000 square kilometres that the authority is required to manage and it does need the resources. I appeal to the government to look at that issue in the next budget because, without proper resources, it is a ‘paper park’. I say it again: without proper resources it is a ‘paper park’—and nobody wants that. The government does not want it; the alternative government does not want it; the people do not want it. We want to make sure that the way we go is the right way to manage the authority.

The next five years are critical, in my view. There have to be these strategic outcomes. The World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have to be protected. No-one would disagree with that. We have to halt and reverse the decline in water quality of the marine park and to minimise the risk of degradation of the marine park arising from coastal development, downstream impact of land use or other activities. I am certainly not satisfied that all of the work that is being undertaken at the moment in relation to water quality is sufficient to get the outcome that we need. There are tremendous pressures on the Barrier Reef lagoon from what is occurring on the coast.

We have to achieve protection and wise use of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by ensuring that all fisheries in the marine park are ecologically sustainable. I think that is certainly under control, and, with the operation of the EPBC Act, we will be able to ensure that that outcome is achieved. We also have to have ecologically sustainable tourism and recreational use of the park provided for in partnership with the community and industry. That too is happening. I think that we should pay tribute to the tourism industry in North Queensland, who do in fact properly accept their responsibilities in relation to the management and the sustainability of the marine park.

I also want to pay tribute to the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, particularly to CEO Dr Russ Reichelt, who is widely experienced, having been previously the CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and also the CEO of the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. In Russ we have a good person who is doing an excellent job, leading a team of very dedicated people who have, as their vision, that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park be the best protected and managed marine park in the world. They understand that their role is to be the principal adviser to the Australian government on the control, care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and that they will be responsible for the management of the marine park.

When you look at how they articulate their aims and values, you see that they are second to none. That is why the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is known and respected around the world as a leader in protecting World Heritage areas in the tropical environment. I thank the people of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who do such a great job. I thank them for the way they interact with the community and their customers. I know that Australia will go on being very proud of what this nation has done in relation to protecting the great diversity in the Great Barrier Reef.