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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Page: 5955


Mr PERRETT (6:54 PM) —I rise in support of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I think the House would agree that the term ‘Great’ is used a little indiscriminately in Australian geography. We have got the Great Dividing Range, which lengthwise is obviously significant but not particularly so heightwise. We have got the Great Sandy Desert and we have got the Great Australian Bight. I am not going to comment too much on those geographical phenomena. However, I will talk about the Great Barrier Reef, off Queensland’s coast, as being a particularly great phenomenon. In fact, it is the largest living organism in the world and, as the member for Flynn indicated, it is visible from outer space. It stretches from the tip of Cape York Peninsula to just north of Fraser Island, covering some 347,000 square kilometres. Thousands of visitors flock to Queensland every year from all over the world to marvel at this environmental wonder. Tourists enjoy scenic flights, reef cruises or snorkelling among the more than 2,800 coral reefs and abundant marine life. In fact, the waters of the Great Barrier Reef offer biological diversity unmatched anywhere else in the world. The Great Barrier Reef was World Heritage listed in 1981, making it the largest World Heritage area in the world—and I repeat that: the largest World Heritage area in the world.

It is estimated that the reef contributes nearly $6 billion to Australia’s economy through tourism alone and sustains some 63,000-plus jobs. It also generates millions of dollars through commercial fishing and recreational activities. Being married to a Cairns girl—a Babinda girl, more accurately—and having had lots of Christmases up with my in-laws I can certainly testify how wonderful the reef is.

But the threat of climate change and other environmental concerns loom large over the Great Barrier Reef. Climate change effects that will directly impact on the Great Barrier Reef include: increased water temperature; increased sea level, increased severity of storms and cyclones; ocean acidification, which obviously will destroy much of the coral; changed rainfall and run-off; and changes to the El Nino southern oscillation phenomenon. And around the world, environmental impacts like coral bleaching, overfishing and marine based pollution are expected to wipe out more than 50 per cent of coral reefs over the next 30 to 50 years. Unfortunately, the Great Barrier Reef has already experienced two significant coral bleaching events in 1998—yes, only 10 years ago—and more recently in 2002. In fact, in 2002 aerial surveys found that almost 60 per cent of the reefs were bleached to some degree.

Another threat to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is pollution carried in coastal water run-off. The fact that climate change impacts on the Great Barrier Reef is not a new science. As I said, there have been significant coral bleaching events back as far as 1998. There have been countless studies and research into the state of the Great Barrier Reef and all of them have called for the government to do more to protect the reef. Back in 2004, World Wildlife Fund Australia and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council released a study, The implications of climate change for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. As well as calling for action on national climate change—issues such as meeting Kyoto targets and investing in renewable energies—the report identified ways to directly increase the resilience of the reef. These included: sustainable management of fisheries throughout the Great Barrier Reef, a plan to improve the quality of water entering the reef from the coast and a responsive zoning plan to respond to emerging environmental threats.

Credit must go to the former government for establishing a network of zones which created a high level of environmental protection and an ecologically sustainable future for the marine park. However, this zoning plan requires greater grunt on the ground to be effective, and the World Heritage listed reef requires a comprehensive climate change plan for the future. This bill before the House will ensure greater long-term protection and ecological management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It implements the recommendations of the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. This act has been in law for more than 30 years and was introduced at a time when very few people were talking about climate change.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you are obviously too young to remember 1975, but most people were talking about the end of the Vietnam War and Abba. There was an environmental movement, and in retrospect, obviously, maybe we should have listened more to the environmental movement back then. The 1975 act established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and set up the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to manage the park. The 2006 review found that the authority has served its purpose well but, given that so much has changed since 1975, including the marine park’s World Heritage listing and the greater effects of pollution and climate change, the time has come to modernise the act. The bill before the House is long overdue. It establishes a new framework for the protection and ecologically sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef. I seek leave to continue my remarks later, so the House can deal with a Senate message.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.