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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Page: 5951

Mr KATTER (6:34 PM) —Much as I greatly respect my colleague the member for Flynn, I cannot say that I commend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 to the House. Like my worthy colleague, I have done a fair bit of scuba diving in my day on the reef. We North Queenslanders live in paradise and we love and enjoy it. I have a reason for saying I do not share his and every other speaker’s enthusiasm for this bill, much as I respect and like the member for Flynn.

Recently we had a great tragedy in North Queensland. Young Sam Hyytinen was taken by a shark off Tully. Huck, his father, is a good friend of mine, a bloke I like very much. I watched Huck that night on the television and the interviewer said, ‘What can we do to ensure that this terrible occurrence never happens again?’ Huck said: ‘You will do nothing. My son’s death will not be used by you to restrict the young men of North Queensland from going onto the reef and enjoying the great fun that my son’s life centred around.’ Sam was a leading free diver, diving without scuba gear, and one of the better divers in Australia. He loved the sea and the reef. I rang Huck because I was deeply moved by what he had said and done. There was a huge crowd, probably 1,000 people, who turned up for the funeral. There was great respect for the Hyytinen family but also I think a lot of them, like me, regarded it as our duty to turn up.

GBRMPA considers it their duty to eliminate people from the reef. They are not northerners. Every person I have met there has nothing in common with the member for Flynn or the member for Kennedy. They are not our sort of people. But they are people who have very great power. I was asked about the flagging tourism industry of North Queensland. It is a very seriously flagging tourism industry. From discussions with Paul Kamsler and other leading lights in the Cairns region, it looks like there has been a drop of 50 per cent. Where we had 200,000 Japanese coming to Far North Queensland we may have only 100,000 to 150,000 next year. That is very serious stuff indeed.

One thing that struck me when I was the northern development minister was that each new $100-plus million resort created its own market. To stay alive it would chase up Japanese people to come to Australia. Other people would come with them. They would not all necessarily go to that particular resort. They might come back next year and go to some other resort. The creation of each resort built the tourism industry of North Queensland. In a very great act of generosity, Peter Beattie at the funeral of Joh Bjelke-Petersen attributed both the tourism industry of Australia and the coal industry of Australia to Bjelke-Petersen. The only thing I disagreed with Peter on was that he should have also included the aluminium industry—and I will not go into that tonight.

We did everything humanly possible to facilitate the building of those $100 million resorts. In Queensland—and I am not saying just in North Queensland; some of them are on the Gold Coast—each year a $100-plus million resort was built. Quite frankly, since Bjelke-Petersen left the scene I am not aware of a single resort being built. Now we are reaping the whirlwind which we sowed with people like GBRMPA. They are anti people and anti North Queensland. They do not march to the same drum—or have the same belief system—that the member for Flynn or the member for Kennedy march to. They are different sorts of people altogether.

It is with no great pride that I tell the House that three years ago Queensland became the third most litigious state on earth. There are so many laws in Queensland which much litigation flows from that we became the third most litigious state on earth after California and a Midwest state in the United States. I am told that we were displaced last year by New South Wales. The great thing about being a North Queenslander was that you could go into the great jungles of North Queensland or out on the Barrier Reef to go fishing or scuba diving and it was so exciting and so much fun. Today, if you go out on the water in North Queensland you are looking over your shoulder all the time because the men in the uniforms are following. They are all over the place. There are national park rangers, GBRMPA rangers and Customs officials. There are hundreds of boats out there. They are men in uniform who restrict our freedom.

Every time we pass a law in this place it is at the expense of the freedom of Australians. Our legislation grows in inverse proportion to the freedom of Australians. Australians have never appreciated their freedom. The American national anthem has the word ‘freedom’ in it four times. None of our national songs have the word ‘freedom’ in them. We had so much freedom in the early days when the place was empty and we could go anywhere and do anything we liked. From listening to the member for Flynn, his childhood and his upbringing were similar to my own. You could just go anywhere and literally do anything.

We understand that there have to be some restrictions, but I am not aware of GBRMPA having agreed to any proposal put forward to them unless the state government or the federal government bought in and heavied them, and there are only two or three occasions that I can remember when that occurred. We had a dirty, filthy mud hole created by the greenies. They had huge demonstrations and stopped the project at Port Hinchinbrook from going ahead. It was a grubby, muddy little creek that was always a disgrace, as far as I was concerned, with some moth-eaten scrub around it. Some people wanted to do some development there. Because they were stopped, they went broke and we were left with a great big giant mud hole.

The then Premier of Queensland, Wayne Goss, quite rightly described it as—and I will not denigrate the senator—his mud hole. Goss was right. I blamed myself; I was the minister then. A kilometre of coastline there was just a dirty great giant mud hole leaking muck into the ocean. It was there for nearly 20 years. We never saw greenies demonstrate about that. When someone came in to try to fix it up they demonstrated all day—morning, noon and night. My rage and anger were such that the police had to conduct me away from one confrontation, which ended up on the front of the Sunday Mail newspaper.

The point I am making is that that is a beautiful asset of Queensland now. They have put rock all around what was the great mud hole so that no mud leaks into the channel at all. What was a very moth-eaten piece of scrub is one of the most beautiful spots on the coast. Cardwell was not like other parts of North Queensland where you have beautiful jungle and big beaches. That is not the scene at Cardwell at all.

Some 3,000 reefs make up the Barrier Reef—it is not a single reef. It covers 35 million hectares. It is as big as Italy. There are 360 species of hard coral; 1,500 species of fish; 4,000 species of mollusc—shellfish, if you like; 400 species of sponge; and 800 echinoderms—starfish and urchins, if you like. In my scuba diving days starfish were prominent and nothing else was prominent, so I do not doubt for a moment that they have caused a lot of trouble. There are 500 micro-algae—seaweed, if you like. Women get injected with one of those seaweeds to make them look young, so it is a very valuable product. There are 23 species of marine mammal. Six out of seven of the world’s marine turtles and 30 per cent of the world’s soft coral are found on the reef. I thank the Institute of Marine Science, specifically Janice Lough and Katharina Fabricius, for making me look very erudite.

In sharp contrast, there is the deceitfulness and restrictiveness of GBRMPA—and, quite frankly, I cannot help but use the word ‘Gestapo’ in relation to them. Let me give you an example of the evilness of GBRMPA. They came out and said that the dugong was under attack and we had to close down a whole stack of fishing on the east coast. They declared that the dugong numbers had dropped clean in half. They put out a report, but nobody bothered to read it. But I did, because I was gunning for GBRMPA, and I was very interested to see just what their scientific information was.

In the first serious meeting I had with them, I said to Virginia Chadwick, ‘You put your figures on the table on the diminution of marine populations.’ She turned around to her chief lieutenants at GBRMPA and looked at them, and they did not say anything. I said: ‘Virginia, the reason they are putting nothing on the table is because those figures indicate that the marine populations have gone up, not down. That is why they won’t put anything on the table.’ I asked: ‘How do you justify wiping out half of the fishing fleet and, I might add, about half of the tourism as well?’ This was because recreational fishermen and the tourist operators were hit by these restrictions from GBRMPA. I asked: ‘How do you justify this?’

The gentleman there, second-in-charge to Virginia Chadwick, said, ‘I justify it on the basis of the precautionary principle.’ I had never heard of this, and I asked: ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘Well, we could be on the edge of disaster; we could be right on the edge of a cliff.’ I asked: ‘You’re not serious?’ and he said, ‘Yes, of course I am serious.’ I said: ‘A meteorite might be flashing in from outer space too. I mean, we are talking about science here. You are going to take away the livelihoods of 3,000 North Queenslanders on the basis of a precautionary principle—a bit of rubbish; just a discretionary power to do anything you like with and no-one can assail you.’

I am sorry, but the government, the previous government and, I must admit, I voted for the environmental protection act that had the precautionary principle in it. I did not pick it up. I did not understand it. We were not briefed on it in the party room. And some of you newer members will realise that you are the mushroom club, regardless of which party is in power. I did not pick that up, but I put my name to giving these people unlimited discretionary power. There is no reference to the minister; they have unlimited discretionary power.

You will not find a word against GBRMPA from amongst the fishermen or any of the tourist operators—unless they are drunk and it is late at night and they are talking to me and nobody else—because they are terrified of them. They have the discretionary power to do anything. They can smash you and destroy you tomorrow—as they did with the livelihood of 3,000 North Queenslanders. As to those waters that GBRMPA are supposed to be protecting so well, we know the figures because they have been through the House on many occasions. Whilst they have restricted Australian fishing licences to 6,000—they have said we can only have 6,000 Australians fishing in the water—we have continuously had 12,000 foreign fishing vessels in our waters. So that is how good GBRMPA are and how well they are protecting a third of the Australian coastline.

Going back to the Institute of Marine Science, it was said of Dr Joe Baker, who founded the institute, that he should have got a Nobel Prize. But one of the reasons that this very great man did not get a Nobel Prize was that he attributed every single achievement of the Institute of Marine Science to other people. He was a very generous man. He was a man, I might also add, who played lock forward for Queensland and, if it had not been for Johnny Raper, he would have played lock forward for Australia. Under Dr Joe Baker, the institute did coral coring, which can give us a weather pattern going back 2,000 years. This is absolutely vital information when we are talking about climate change and all of those things.

The coral coring breakthrough was just the most brilliant piece of science; it really was. It opened a door to knowledge that we never dreamed we could access. The institute found out that coral spawned on a single night—a quite remarkable achievement in itself. None of the world’s marine scientists had ever been able to figure that out, but the Institute of Marine Science did. The institute found out about and delineated the feeding cycle of barramundi. Sometimes people might describe Dr Joe Baker as a bit green. I might too, but he took great delight in pointing out to me that the mangroves play an integral part in the feeding cycle of the barramundi, which meant we had to leave the mangroves alone.

The prawn and fish farming industry of Australia stands as a great monument to Joe Baker. It stands as a great, tragic gravestone indicating the work of GBRMPA. When Baker came to us in 1984 and said that we needed an industry, there was not one single prawn or fish farm operating commercially in Australia. There were some experimental ones but there were none operating commercially. A number of them had opened but they had all gone broke and collapsed. The government did not take them very seriously. But Baker was relentless in his pursuit of convincing the Queensland government that we should be going in that direction. He eventually convinced us, and we got the prawn and fish farming industry of Australia underway. I think at one stage we were producing about $250 million worth of prawns in Queensland.

We expected to catch up to Thailand. North Queensland has very suitable waters for prawn farming—the most suitable waters in the world, actually. We thought we could catch up to Thailand. We had a greater length of coastline and more amenable circumstances than Thailand. They were doing $2,000 million a year, and we felt that by about 1995 to 2000 we would catch up to them. We reckoned that they might have gone up to about $2,500 million and we would also be up to $2,500 million. When the government fell in 1989, we were pretty hopeful that we were getting there; we were going to catch them.

Why I talk about a gravestone representing the works of GBRMPA is because the prawn farming industry in Australia has declined to a point where it hardly exists now at all, and Thailand is doing $8,000 million a year. They have gone up from $2,000 million to $8,000 million and we have been just about completely destroyed. As far as I can see, GBRMPA has closed more farms than we have been able to open in those 20 years since 1989, so they have got a lot to answer for.

Going back to the dugong—I got sidetracked—GBRMPA said that the dugong numbers had dropped clean in half. I read their report and I was quite astounded to find out that what they had said publicly was deceitful in the extreme, because the dugong numbers had dropped clean in half on the southern part of the reef, which they had quoted the numbers for, but they forgot to mention the northern half of the reef where the numbers had almost doubled. So when they said that the dugong were dying out, that their numbers had collapsed, they were telling a flagrant lie. They knew from the report that all that had happened was that the dugong had migrated north.

The member for Flynn will be very interested in this, as I was, because I asked myself: why did they migrate north? There had been a big drought throughout Central Queensland so there had been no effluent—run-off, if you like—going out onto the reef from the land. Whether the fertilisers have had anything to do with it, I do not know, but obviously if you fertilise something it grows a lot better. Dugong live off seagrass and, if it is being top-dressed all the time, and top-dressed with a bit of fertiliser as well, obviously the dugong were on pretty good tucker in the southern part, where of course there is very extensive farming taking place—Central Queensland. That piece of information will be very interesting for the member for Flynn and I pass it on to the House. (Time expired)