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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Page: 5948

Mr TREVOR (6:16 PM) —I rise to support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most important natural assets. It is the oldest living system in the world and began to form over 600,000 years ago. The Great Barrier Reef as we know it today has evolved since the last ice age—that is, over 6,000 years. It is the biggest single structure made by living organisms and is large enough to be viewed from space. The Great Barrier Reef is home to some 1,500 of the world’s marine fish species, over one-third of its soft coral species and six of the seven species of marine turtles. It is also home to one of the world’s remaining populations of dugong, a species of which has been listed internationally as vulnerable to extinction. The bill before the House demonstrates the Australian government’s commitment to securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef, and I support it wholeheartedly. We need long-term protection and ecologically sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef. The bill will help achieve this objective.

The Great Barrier Reef off Queensland’s east coast, including the electorate of Flynn, is an international tourism icon. It is made up of some 2,900 unconnected coral reefs stretching over some 2,000 kilometres from south of Papua New Guinea to Bundaberg. There are also about 900 islands within the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is a massive formation and is the only living structure that can be seen from the moon. Astronauts describe it as a thin white line in the blue ocean. The living reefs of today have grown since the last ice age. All of the sandy islands within the Great Barrier Reef are less than about 6,000 years old. Complementing the reef’s natural wonders is a rich cultural heritage. For thousands of years, this unique marine environment has been central to the social, economic and spiritual life of nearby coastal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed as a World Heritage area in 1981 in recognition of its natural significance. It is the largest World Heritage area ever established. Under the World Heritage convention, Australia has an international obligation to protect, conserve, preserve, present and transmit this magnificent area for all future generations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the traditional owners of the Great Barrier Reef region. For over 60,000 years, their traditional connections have been part of the unique living maritime culture and today their traditional customs and spiritual law continue to be practised in their use of sea country and natural resources. Sea country refers to areas of sea that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are traditionally affiliated with. There are more than 70 traditional owner clan groups along the Queensland coast from the eastern Torres Strait Islands to just north of Bundaberg. Each of these groups hold a range of past, present and future cultural and heritage values for their land and for surrounding sea countries.

The bill presently under consideration will bring about a modern and robust regulatory framework providing capability for the efficient and effective protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. The bill implements recommendations 18 to 28 of the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. That review established that the GBRMP Act has served its purpose well over the past 30 years but needs to be updated and better integrated with other legislation to meet future needs and challenges.

This bill will bring about a modern framework for administration of the GBRMP Act and management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that is aligned and integrated with but does not duplicate provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and other legislation. It includes a new objects section, recognises the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef and applies ecological, sustainability and precautionary principles. It makes the EPBC Act the basis for environmental impact assessment and approval of actions within the marine park involving significant environmental impacts. This includes establishing the marine park as a matter of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act. It will bring about capability for investigation and collection of evidence—in particular, by allowing inspectors appointed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to use the investigation related powers of the EPBC Act for the purposes of the GBRMP Act. It will bring about a wider range of enforcement options, allowing for a more tailored and targeted approach to enforcement which includes new administrative mechanisms, expanded availability of infringement notices and the introduction of civil penalty provisions.

This bill will bring about deterrence from misuse and encourage responsible use of the marine park. This includes adjusting penalties to ensure they are neither too lenient nor too harsh, depending on the circumstances; the introduction of alternative sanctions such as remediation and publicity orders; and the establishment of an environmental duty applying to marine park users, similar to that applying under state legislation. It will bring about new emergency management powers allowing the authority to respond to incidents presenting a serious risk to the environment of the marine park. These powers will complement and be subservient to those of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The proposed bill will honour an election commitment to reinstate a requirement for the authority to include an Indigenous member.

This bill forms part of the Rudd Labor government’s commitment to securing the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef. It will establish a modern and robust regulatory framework that provides capability for the efficient and effective protection and ecologically sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. The Great Barrier Reef forms part of my electorate of Flynn. Within the far eastern border of my electorate lie some wonderful islands—and I encourage all Australians to visit them. Some of these islands, forming part of and surrounding the Great Barrier Reef, are included in the electorate of Flynn and will benefit from this legislation. They include but are not limited to Heron Island—the jewel in the crown—Wilson Island, Lady Musgrave Island, Fitzroy Reef lagoon, Lady Elliot Island, North West Island and Mast Head Island.

Heron Island is a jewel of an island with an extensive complex of reefs. You can experience world-renowned diving at Heron Island as well as snorkelling, fishing, reef walking and nature walks. Heron Island lies some 72 kilometres off the coast north-east of Gladstone and covers a total area of some 18 hectares. The waters are teeming with colourful life and, between October and March, green turtles laying their eggs and hatching baby turtles are joined on the island by up to 100,000 terns and mutton-birds nesting and raising their young. I have had the fortunate and great opportunity to spend many a time with my wife and family on this fantastic island. Only two years ago, at Christmas, we spent some time there and witnessed hundreds of turtles laying their eggs.

Lady Musgrave Island, just to the south, is the southernmost island of the Capricorn-Bunker group. It is a 14-hectare coral cay with 1,192 hectares of surrounding reef. The island is a major seabird and turtle nesting area. It has a central pisonia forest surrounded by fringing vegetation including coastal she-oaks, octopus bushes, pandanus and bird’s beak grass. Fitzroy Reef is the largest reef in the Bunker group. It is a 3,650-hectare closed ring reef with a large, deep lagoon which can be entered through two narrow, natural channels.

North West Island is a 100-hectare coral cay at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is situated some 75 kilometres north-east of Gladstone and is the largest of nine islands in the Capricorn Bunker group. North West Island’s pisonia forest is the largest occurrence of the species in Australia. North West Island is also a major seabird nesting area and the largest green turtle nesting site on the southern Great Barrier Reef.

Mast Head Island is the second largest island on the nine vegetated coral cays in the Capricorn group of islands. It covers 45 hectares and lies between the Irving and Polmaise reefs and Erskine Island, approximately 60 kilometres north-east of Gladstone, the community in which I live. Mast Head’s population of nesting loggerhead turtles is the fifth most important in the South Pacific region. While Mast Head Island is a minor nesting area for green turtles, it forms part of the Capricorn-Bunker nesting area, which is of world importance. Mast Head also has the highest diversity of seabirds and shore birds of all the islands on the Great Barrier Reef. It is an important seabird nesting area, particularly for black noddies and wedgetail shearwaters.

I have been very fortunate in my life to have lived and breathed the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef in the electorate of Flynn and the surrounding areas. I am well qualified to speak on its spectacular beauty and the need to preserve it by way of the passage of this legislation. I am so grateful to be part of a government that is taking additional steps to protect it. I have swum on it, I have dived on it, I have fished on it, I have holidayed on it and I have even lived on an island very close by it.

I spent a lot of my childhood years on Curtis Island, just to the east of Gladstone. Curtis Island has a magnificent eastern coastline of beaches and headlands overlooking the Coral Sea. It is an interesting location for recreation: swimming, bushwalking, bird and turtle watching and exploring wilderness areas. It is a home to the wonderful people in my electorate of Flynn. How do I know this? As I say, I used to own a home there. But, after one of my sons ran through a plate-glass door, my wife stood on a stingray and another young son sustained severe head injuries in a freak accident, I thought it was time to move on while my luck was still in.

Another island in my electorate is Facing Island. From where I live, I can see it every day and I pray some days that I could swim over and be on it. Facing Island was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802. It is largely a sand island with beaches and rocky outcrops on the eastern side, including Sable Chief Rocks, which extend out several hundred metres. Mangroves and estuaries form the shoreline on the western side. On the eastern side there are volcanic and exposed reef formations together with protected Aboriginal middens. To the west of that island is Tide Island, where my mother grew up with her sisters and parents during the Depression, living off the sea on bountiful supplies of fish, including barramundi and jewfish and an unending supply of that famous crustacean, the Gladstone mud crab.

In my short life on this earth, as I have said, I have lived and breathed the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and I am so grateful to the Rudd Labor government for moving this legislation in this House. It is our duty to protect the reef. I am honoured and proud that the Rudd Labor government is doing just that with this legislation. No doubt the Labor member for Capricornia, Kirsten Livermore; the member for Dawson, James Bidgood; and the member for Leichhardt, Jim Turnour, would be as proud as I am. I have travelled extensively and stayed on islands forming part of the Great Barrier Reef in their electorates too, including Great Keppel Island, Brampton Island, South Molle Island many times, Dunk Island and Lindeman Island. I hope to journey to Hayman Island at Christmas time this year.

I have seen a lot of changes over the years to the Great Barrier Reef not only in my electorate of Flynn but in other electorates to the north. Old salts can speak more definitively of these changes than I, but suffice to say that one of the biggest challenges facing modern-day politicians is to protect this great wonder of the natural world. This needs to be done for future generations to enjoy. I unequivocally and wholeheartedly on behalf of all Australians commend this most worthy bill to the House.