Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6042

Mr MORRISON (10:21 AM) —The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 states that the purpose of the bill is to establish a modern robust regulatory framework that provides the capacity for the efficient and effective protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. As the member for Flinders said, the coalition supports this bill for one very simple reason: it is our bill. This is the legislation and the process that was actually introduced by the previous government.

As a new member of this House, I must say that I am a little disappointed. Prior to the last election there was much fanfare from the then opposition, and now government, about their grand agenda. But in the last sitting week before we go into the recess, the government are literally running down the clock. They have basically run out of puff—they have run out of a program. It was only a few weeks ago they were ramming bills through this place with the cooperation of the opposition in speaking arrangements and so on—there was a reduction in the level of scrutiny of bills as they passed through this chamber. But now we find ourselves with the government running off the legislative fumes of the Howard government to literally limp across the line in this last sitting week. They will be watching the clock all day today. We saw a long list of speakers with a passionate interest in the bills debated in the last couple of days. There is a long list of speakers to this bill too, as they run down the clock by padding out the program.

That said, this bill is of significance for the reason that the former government believed that it was of significance and put the process in place. Not only have we seen it with this bill, with which the government are taking on—in this case, wisely—a process put forward by the Howard government, but we have also seen it in relation to tax cuts, which was another item of unfinished business put forward by the Howard government. We put forward tax cuts in the election campaign and the government adopted them. I am looking forward to next year’s budget because I will be interested to see where the policy initiatives come from. They will not have the member for Higgins, Mr Costello, to rely on. They will not have the member for Wentworth, Mr Turnbull, to rely on. And, looking back to Senator Ian Campbell, they will not have him to rely on as they have in relation to this measure. It will all be up to them to put forward policy and legislation. It will be interesting when we get to the June sitting of next year to see whether there will frankly be much to do because the grand revolutionary change on education and the other things has literally run out of steam before it has got out of the station. So as we look at this bill today, I think we look at it in that context—a government running on the legislative fumes of John Howard and his great government.

The previous coalition government completed a review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the authority in 2006. The previous coalition cabinet accepted all of the recommendations of the review and this legislation before the House is largely the result of the work undertaken by the previous government. At the time the report was released, the former Minister for Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said:

... the Australian Government has recognised the evolving needs and challenges of safeguarding the Marine Park for the future. Meeting these requires up-to-date, relevant legislation and an approach that provides for continued protection for marine life and biodiversity, as well as for ongoing sustainable economic and recreational activity and engagement with business and local communities.

Members on this side of the House give their support to these changes. The Great Barrier Reef is a place of unique environmental qualities and keen human interest. The Great Barrier Reef is literally the world’s largest coral reef system. There is an interesting connection between the reef and my electorate of Cook because of its namesake, Captain James Cook. He chose to visit Kurnell and the landing place in Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. Then, on 11 June of the same year he found himself in the middle of quite a storm in the Great Barrier Reef, which he happened upon by chance. Seven days after the Endeavour ran aground they made it to the beach at the Endeavour River and stayed there until 3 August. A range of things took place there at the time. The whole discovery of the east coast of Australia was held in the balance right there at that time in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef as Cook and his crew set about repairing the ship to enable them to get underway again. There are reports of other explorers who may have come and gone along the east coast but, unless they took those discoveries back to their home countries and moved forward to make the great modern nation of Australia a product of that voyage, they account for little. In thinking about the Great Barrier Reef, it is, I think, important to understand the connection with James Cook’s discovery, which was not by plan but a matter of almost being shipwrecked. It forever sits in our history.

There are other reasons that the reef is a unique place for all Australians. It is unique because of its environmental qualities; it is unique because of its Indigenous heritage, as those opposite have said; and it is unique in terms of its heritage value to modern Australia. It is unique all around the world for all of these reasons and that is why people have such a keen interest in it.

In terms of its environmental qualities, it can be seen from space and it is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. It comprises more than 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands, and it covers a distance of more than 2,600 kilometres. The reef is home to over 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral, between 5,000 and 8,000 species of molluscs, 22 species of sea birds, 32 species of shore birds, 17 species of sea snakes, six species of marine turtles, a large number of dugong plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans and many other varieties of marine life. I take the time to actually document this because this diversity is what we are trying to protect.

In 1981 the Great Barrier Reef was nominated for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List by the Australian government. As part of the nomination statement, the ecological significance of the reef was put in the following terms:

Its enormous diversity is thought to reflect the maturity of an ecosystem which has evolved over millions of years on the north east Continental Shelf of Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act is now more than 30 years old. The act provided for the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and for the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to manage the park. At the time, the government stated that the protection of our unique Barrier Reef was of paramount importance to Australia and to the world. The act had bipartisan support in the parliament and was groundbreaking legislation. It also established the concept of a multiple-use park and has been an exemplar for marine management and conservation.

What is implicit in that is that this is an area that is supposed to be interacted with by human beings. This is not something we completely lock away and shut out from any sort of human interaction. That act originally provided for the engagement and association with the Great Barrier Reef and for human enjoyment and interaction with that incredible place of creation.

The marine park covers 98 per cent of the World Heritage area and a further one per cent is covered by Queensland national parks. Over the 30 years since the legislation has been enacted more sections of the reef have been progressively proclaimed to be part of the marine park and an achievement of the previous, coalition government was the consolidation of all sections into a single unit and the introduction of an integrated zoning plan.

While the act has generally withstood the test of time, as with most environmental legislation it needs an overhaul to reflect current attitudes to the environment and the challenges of the present day. The bill is a direct result of a review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act that commenced in August 2005. The report arising from the review was publicly released in October 2006. The recommendations of the review were endorsed by the former government. In March 2007 the parliament considered the first stage of several amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. The first bill provided stronger governance arrangements and improved transparency and accountability, specifically in relation to the zoning plan process. The current changes before the parliament were also foreshadowed. The then minister for the environment, the member for Wentworth, told the parliament there would be changes to better integrate the act’s environmental assessment, compliance and enforcement measures with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the single largest of any Commonwealth or state marine protected area. The marine park extends over 344,400 square kilometres. There is significant economic activity undertaken within the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding coastal areas. The reef coexists with tourism, recreational and commercial fishing, shipping, military activity and urban development. The Great Barrier Marine Park Act has successfully provided for a balanced approach between conservation and activity.

I would like to turn now to the tourism elements of, and interests in, the Great Barrier Reef. As members would know, prior to coming to this place I had the experience of being the managing director of Tourism Australia and have previously worked in the tourism industry in other roles. There are three things that people know about Australia in terms of the great tourism icons of this country. They are the reef, the rock and the bridge. When they show themselves in any news bulletin or any form of publicity relating to Australia these are the images that the world most commonly turns to.

Now, that is not what all of Australian tourism is about—it is certainly not the case—but those icons are focal points. What we see in the reef, the rock and the bridge are three very unique things about Australia. We have talked about the reef’s incredible environmental quality and biodiversity. We talk of similar things in the rock but we also draw in the unique Indigenous heritage of this country. The rock symbolises that heritage most significantly. The bridge—that is, the Sydney Harbour Bridge; not the Captain Cook Bridge or Tom Uglys Bridge in my electorate—talks of modern Australia: a modern place with modern cities, a modern way of life and a modern democracy.

These three icons go together to paint a very admirable picture of this country. In undertaking research into the views of international visitors to Australia, and reflecting on the comments I have made, I am taken by what I used to refer to as the trifecta of Australia’s attraction. That trifecta was: the people of Australia, the personality of Australians and the place. And when we are talking about the reef, we are very much talking about the place of Australia, because it is the place of Australia—its environment—which has contributed to who we are as a people. The lifestyle we live is the envy of the world. This is a function of the environment that we live in and our appreciation of it.

Those who come to Australia—particularly those who come from European countries, who tend to stay longer and spend more—are keenly fascinated and interested in the environmental quality of Australia. The Australian tourism industry is not the same as that in Cancun. The Australian tourism industry is not about high rise and lots of rooms; it is about environmental quality. It is about engagement with the people of Australia. It is about getting an appreciation of the heritage of Australia. This is what modern travellers are looking for when they come to this country. And this was the thinking that underpinned the campaign I was responsible for when at Tourism Australia.

There has been much comment about that campaign in the last few years. There was comment in this place recently by the Prime Minister who, when the campaign was first launched, was very quick to say on Sunrise on Friday, 24 February 2006:

But look, I saw them—

referring to the ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ ads—

on TV last night. I think they’re great. This is a bipartisan thing. Tourism is a huge export industry for Australia. The international tourism numbers are coming down a bit at the moment and that’s why we have to get behind a major new push to freshen up Australia’s global image. I think it’s important we all get behind the campaign.

This campaign was designed to do something very different to previous campaigns. One of the biggest problems in the tourism industry is that it focuses on volume, not yield. Anyone in business will tell you that you can have the turnstiles clicking over but if you do not have the cash register ringing then you do not have a viable business. The purpose of the ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign was to appeal to a type of visitor who would come, stay longer, spend more and travel further around the country. That does not refer just to people who sit up the front end of the plane but also to backpackers. A backpacker will often leave as much money behind as a high-spending tourist in five or six days; it will just take them six months to do it. So, both of those types of tourists produce major economic dividends for Australia.

I put on the record that in the year previous to the year in which the campaign was launched—at the end of February 2006—there was a nought per cent increase in the inbound economic value: that is, the international tourism earnings of Australia. There was a nought per cent increase. At that time it was $19.7 billion. In the year following that campaign being rolled out that increased by 12 per cent to over $22 billion, and in the next year it increased by a further eight per cent to almost $24 billion a year. There have been criticisms of that ad, which by the way was voted one of the top 30 ads in Australia’s marketing history. When that campaign was launched we said that it was not about visitor numbers—visitor numbers could have, by all means, remained flat—but rather getting the spending to go up; and the spending increased by over $4.2 billion. The new government have brought that campaign to an end, and that is their prerogative. I look forward to seeing their efforts and I look forward to seeing what benchmarks they will put out there.

When you run a campaign you set out very clear benchmarks about what you hope it is going to achieve. What that campaign was designed to achieve was an increase in spending, and it achieved a more than 20 per cent increase in the international value of tourism. This was at a time when the Australian dollar was appreciating, making it even harder—the dollars that people were spending from overseas were worth less and less as they were spending them in this country so they had to spend even more. This was a major challenge that we had to face as we became more uncompetitive in that way yet we were able to lift earnings by more than $4.2 billion. That came with the force of the campaign and it also came with the force of the spend that we were able to put behind that campaign into a range of markets—there was a range of markets we really put the heavy dollar into. That was made possible by the significant investment through the white paper that was introduced by the member for North Sydney—the single largest investment in the tourism industry that has ever been made in this country.

The Prime Minister can waltz in here and make criticisms about a campaign which he supported and which, for populist reasons, he now opposes. I note that the Prime Minister recently went to Japan—and I know that the member for Moncrieff would know this as well—a market that has been absolutely struggling, and no advertising campaign is going to fix what is going on in Japan. The Minister for Tourism would understand that—he is the last honest man in the Rudd government. He understands the challenges of what is going on in Japan. When the Prime Minister went to Japan, a market which the member for Leichhardt would know is very important to his part of the world and the Great Barrier Reef, did he go and meet with tour operators at the embassy? Did he go and hold meetings with Qantas staff? Did he go and hold meetings with their counterparts at Japan Airlines and places like that in order to get more cooperative funding into tourism promotion for this country? No, he did not. He did none of those things. He scooted off. He scooted away from the tourism industry when he was in Japan. He scooted away, and here is another scooter—

Mr Turnour —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am just not sure of the relevance of this to the bill before the parliament.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—I ask the honourable member to come back to the bill before the parliament, which is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008.

Mr MORRISON —This is very relevant and I am glad the member for Leichhardt has raised the relevance of this.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will determine what is relevant. I ask the honourable member to address the bill.

Mr MORRISON —The Great Barrier Reef is the subject of this bill and my comments—which I began I think, Mr Deputy Speaker, before you entered the room—relate to the importance of tourism to the Great Barrier Reef. One of the single biggest markets over the last 10 to 20 years for Great Barrier Reef tourism has been the Japanese market. The Prime Minister went to Japan and completely scooted off in terms of supporting the tourism industry whilst he was in Japan. I found that every time I went to Japan as Managing Director of Tourism Australia the embassy up there and Ambassador Murray McLean were fantastic in helping bring together and support the tourism industry and in hosting various events and functions at our fantastic embassy there in Tokyo to support the tourism industry. So, frankly, this government have no credit to make criticisms of previous campaigns. They need to stump up their own cash on this. They need to stump up now with their own campaign. The campaign that was run under the incredible funding of the Howard government delivered a $4.2 billion increase in tourism revenue for Australia.