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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6048

Mr TURNOUR (10:41 AM) —I rise today to support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic and important natural asset, and one of the most spectacular in the world. It is the world’s largest coral reef, covering over 344,000 square kilometres. There is no place on earth like it. It contains numerous unique and precious ecosystems and incredible biodiversity. It is a mecca for not only scientists and researchers but also tourists, who flock to the North Queensland region to view this beautiful and wonderful part of the world. It is therefore pleasing to be able to speak today in favour of new legislation that will secure the long-term management and preservation of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will establish a solid regulatory framework that is modern and equipped to deal with the future of the marine park into the longer term. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act is the primary act with respect to the way the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is managed and preserved. Among the provisions included within this act are: the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Commonwealth authority responsible for the management of the marine park; the provision of a framework for the planning and management of the marine park, including zoning plans, permits et cetera; a framework that supports the prohibition of operations for the recovery of minerals in the marine park; requirements surrounding the pilotage of ships in prescribed areas of the Great Barrier Reef region; the collection of the environmental management charge and the implementation of enforcement measures as they relate to the Great Barrier Reef.

It has been 30 years since this act was first introduced and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was established. In 1975 this legislation was pioneering and innovative for its time and it set the foundation for a good framework that has seen this incredible natural asset managed in a responsible manner. There is strong consensus that this legislation has served us well over the past 30 years. However there is also strong consensus that it is now time to move this very important legislation into the 21st century and lay the foundation for the next 30 years.

Much has changed in the 30 years since 1975. The reef has received international recognition as a World Heritage listed area. We have enacted the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which greatly enhanced the role of the federal government in environmental regulations. The regulatory landscape in the fields of governance and financial management has also evolved. The introduction of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 and the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 has impacted on the operating environment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. We have also witnessed demand for access to and use of the marine park for commercial and recreational purposes increase vastly. Very importantly, we have seen the level of awareness of our environment heightened. Whether it be through science based research or anecdotal evidence, there is a strong shift towards environmental preservation, sustainability and education as we take part in the global effort to explore issues such as climate change and global warming. It is because of these factors that there is a strong need to amend the 1975 act to reflect the ever-changing landscape that is the 21st century. Given the integral role that the act plays in the protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef, it is sensible for the government to formally review the legislation and amend it so that it is a strong, relevant and timely piece of Australian law.

This legislation is part of a package of measures that the Australian government is enacting to support and protect the Great Barrier Reef. Critical to that is tackling climate change, one of the greatest social, economic and environmental challenges of our time. It is the challenge of our generation. In the Rudd government’s first budget, we committed $2.3 billion to help tackle the threats that climate change posed and to better manage and protect our natural environment. Tackling climate change is particularly critical to protecting the Great Barrier Reef, which as we know and as science has demonstrated is potentially under real risk and threat from global warming. This commitment is in stark contrast to the opposition of the Liberal and National parties, who for 12 years have neglected, and paid no attention to, issues in relation to climate change. They refused to accept that climate change was real, refused to sign Kyoto—which clearly demonstrates that—and would not commit to setting targets for cutting emissions. They effectively squibbed the issue of climate change. One of the reasons that the Rudd government was elected last year, and for the strong support that I received in my electorate, was that people were looking for clear change in this area. Protecting the Great Barrier Reef is very much about taking action on climate change.

Since being elected, the Rudd government has demonstrated commitment to this global issue. We are working towards the implementation of an emissions-trading scheme in 2010 and have set a national renewable energy target as a key measure for reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Of particular relevance to this bill, and to my electorate of Leichhardt in tropical North Queensland, is a $200-million commitment in the federal budget for the reef rescue package. This package, which falls under the new $2.25 billion Caring for our Country initiative, aims to address the impacts of climate change on the reef by improving the quality of water entering the reef from its catchment. The Great Barrier Reef rescue plan is a significant boost for the tropical north’s environment. We are lucky to have this amazing natural asset in reach, so it is important that a strong commitment has been made to combat the threats to the reef from land based sediments and nutrients and to preserve it for future generations. I am particularly pleased that the majority of that money, approximately $146 million, is earmarked for farmers and graziers to enable them to improve the way they manage their land and to reduce their impacts on the reef. Having worked with agriculture for most of my life and with many of those farmers, I know they welcome this commitment from the Rudd government.

The reef rescue plan is complementary to the bill we are presently debating. Together they provide a strong, comprehensive framework for the protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef. It is also pleasing to be able to note that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 has generated bipartisan support. It is reassuring to know that we are working in unison to ensure that this bill is passed as promptly as possible. The previous government, under the former Minister for Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, commissioned a review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 in 2005. Following that, a series of recommendations were proposed to strengthen legal, governance and policy frameworks relating to management and long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I am pleased to advise that during this time, whilst in opposition, Labor supported these recommendations. Throughout the review, the government undertook an extensive consultation process. A number of organisations and individuals contributed to the review process, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, numerous tourism operators, fishing representatives, natural resource management groups like my local Terrain NRM group and a range of environmental groups. I believe a solid legislative framework has been developed, in line with industry and community sentiments, as a result of these consultations.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 has important ramifications for my electorate of Leichhardt. Over 1,400 kilometres of Leichhardt borders the coast, and the Great Barrier Reef covers a significant watery expanse in this vicinity. There are numerous coastal communities located along this stretch, and many thousands of people rely on this asset as a means of income and a way of life. One obvious example is the tourism industry. Picking up some comments from the member for Cook a little while ago, we can bleat all we like about the ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign, but you have only to go to tropical North Queensland and talk to tourism operators or hear what the Prime Minister had to say about feedback from Japan and other parts of the world to know that that campaign was seen as a failure, and the member for Cook was responsible for that failure.

The tourism industry is fundamentally important to tropical North Queensland. It is also an important contributor to the national economy. Many foreigners associate Australia with the natural icon that is the Great Barrier Reef, and it is a major reason why they come to Cairns, Cooktown, Port Douglas and other places within my electorate. Tourism Tropical North Queensland estimates that the value of tourism to the tropical North Queensland region is over $2 billion. We have more than two million visitors a year, and the overall value to the Queensland economy, I understand, is approximately $6 billion. So it is a very important icon, not only from an environmental perspective but also from an economic perspective and a way-of-life perspective, for those of us who live in tropical North Queensland. As has recently been mentioned in this House, we have taken a hit recently with the cancellation of a number of flights between Japan and Cairns—180,000 or so seats. We are seeing a significant impact, with $100 million and, potentially, 1,200 jobs lost from tropical North Queensland.

I am pleased that while the Prime Minister was over in Japan we had the opportunity to talk about this issue, and he responded appropriately, committing an additional $4 million to go with the $4 million that the Queensland government provided—that is, an $8 million package. We are developing plans for the longer term, and I appreciate the interest the Prime Minister takes in tropical North Queensland and the tourism industry and the support that he has given us. I also particularly appreciate the work that the Minister for Tourism, the Hon. Martin Ferguson, has done. I appreciate their support.

I know that we have taken a hit up in Cairns, and that is well known within the community, but we are kicking on, we are striking back, and there has been a supportive response from the Cairns Post. I was talking to the editor of the Cairns Post today, Mr Mark Alexander, who was recently down here for an editor conference, and he was pleased to let me know that the local community and the Cairns Post are showing some leadership here and really want to continue to support the recovery of the local tourism industry. On the weekend they will be launching the ‘why we love it here’ campaign, where locals can get onto their website and put up 100 to 150 words about why they love it in tropical North Queensland.

And we do love it. I love getting out to the Great Barrier Reef, doing some snorkelling and the odd bit of sailing—I have had the great pleasure of sailing up the east coast. It is a fantastic initiative by the Cairns Post, and I am pleased that I will be able to get involved in that and put up what I love about the Great Barrier Reef, what I love about the Wet Tropics Rainforest, what I love about Cairns and the whole region, because it is a fantastic part of the world.

So that is a fantastic initiative by the Cairns Post. It will allow people from all around the world to click on and read directly about the real benefits of coming to tropical North Queensland from the people who live and experience and love the place, talking about how their families enjoy it, maybe some of the fishing they might do on the reef or some of the snorkelling or sailing activities that they might undertake. We have got some other fantastic icons up there, like the World Heritage listed rainforests. People might talk about the times they have spent there, walking through the bush, experiencing and enjoying the rainforest, or even just having a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner on the beach and walking on the sand with their families and friends.

Tropical North Queensland is a wonderful part of the world. Along with the Queensland government, the Rudd government is supporting the recovery of the tourism industry, and I am proud to be a part of that government. I also welcome the Cairns Post initiative to get locals involved by putting down why they love it in tropical North Queensland as part of its campaign to support the tourism industry.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has a very important role to play, because, putting aside the environmental importance of the reef, it is a very important economic driver of the region. So this bill is particularly important in terms of making sure that we protect not only the environment in tropical North Queensland but also that economic resource.

Comparatively, Australia has done a fair job of preserving the Great Barrier Reef when assessed against other reef systems throughout the world. We have learnt an enormous amount over the last 30 years and globally we excel in the field of science, being more aware than ever of the impact the human population has had on the environment. And we know that more can be done. We need to ensure appropriate action is taken in a timely manner, before any further degradation of the reef occurs. Failure to do so will see the abolition of an entire economy, an entire industry and the livelihoods of many in tropical North Queensland. So this legislation is very important, because it sets a framework for the management of the reef through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

I mentioned the Cairns Post and the fantastic job they are doing in supporting the tourism industry, but I have also been looking forward to talking a bit about some of the work that local tourism operators are doing to protect this local environment. Even prior to the loss of the flights between Cairns and Japan, they had been working to improve the green footprint of the tourism industry and ensure that the tourism industry is doing all it can to limit its impact on the reef and combat the threats of climate change. In an era when going green has taken precedence, there is real potential for operators and the community in general to capitalise on the reef as a symbol of the climate change movement and do so at an international level. Some tourism operators in the region are already looking to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner and market their greenness to their competitive advantage. Tropical North Queensland contains many coastal communities which are more susceptible to climate change, and they know our locals are quite protective of their reef. So I believe there will be strong support by the local industry and community in embracing such a concept.

The strong links between my electorate, our reliance on tourism and the integral part the reef plays in this clearly demonstrate the importance of this amendment bill to tropical North Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will set a clear direction for the future management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. One of the most crucial aspects of this bill is the removal of the duplication and inconsistency that exist in the current legislation. More specifically, the impact that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has had is a key matter that needs to be addressed and will be thanks to the introduction of this amendment bill by the Rudd government into this House.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is Australia’s centrepiece of environmental heritage legislation. It provides a legal framework for the way in which our nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecologically significant habitats and heritage locations are protected and managed.

As this act was introduced over 20 years after the Great Barrier Park Marine Park Act 1975, there is a real need to bring these two pieces of legislation into alignment. Both acts represent important objectives, and there are a range of issues in common; however, there are also a number of inconsistencies, gaps and overlaps. This can be restrictive in the practical administering of the legislation, making it quite bureaucratic, with a lot of red tape that can get in the way of effective implementation of the act’s provisions. We want to ensure that that does not get in the way of not only the management of the marine park but also the economic activity that needs to happen around the reef. For example, the amendment bill will address issues such as the way in which environmental impact assessments are undertaken, as well as enforcement action and penalty options. At present, such issues under these acts are inconsistent and poorly integrated with each other, which ultimately burdens business, community and general users of the reef.

Another specific aspect that demonstrates the age of the current marine park act and its inconsistency with provisions in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is that the 1975 act does not recognise the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage area, despite it being one of the first World Heritage areas to be listed on the international register managed by UNESCO and one of the best known in the world. There is no recognition of this status in the current legislation.

The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981. Australia was the first country in the world to enact specific legislation to protect such areas, which are now covered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Recognising the reef as a World Heritage listed area translates to improved conservation power for our authorities. The reef is a marvel; it is a precious natural environment. With the knowledge we now possess about environmental impact and sustainability, any measure that will enhance the ability of our authorities to protect such areas should be encouraged. Technically speaking, the declaration of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage area means that the current objects section of the 1975 act is now inaccurate given it is so out of date. The amendment bill outlines a new objects section that will bring this act into the 21st century.

A particularly important matter I would like to conclude on is the fact that this amendment bill will ensure that we again have an Indigenous member on the board of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This was an election commitment of the Rudd Labor government and the government is honouring its promise to the Australian people, including the Indigenous people, not only in my region but all the way along the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef. With over 70 traditional Indigenous groups that have ownership and/or links to the land and sea along the coast from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait, it is logical and important that a member of the authority that oversees the management of the Great Barrier Reef is Indigenous. Traditional owners have an intimate knowledge of the local area which will prove invaluable to the ecological and cultural management of the reef. I am sure the Indigenous member on the board will contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the authority’s team.

Federal Labor has demonstrated their commitment to preserving the Great Barrier Reef. The passing of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 is a key element in this effort. The Tropical North’s tourism industry is just one of the significant benefactors of the work that is being done by the government to bring this legislation to fruition. I look forward to working with my region and continuing close contact with the local marine park authority to ensure they are well equipped and supported in continuing their very important work. I commend this legislation to the House.