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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6053


Mr CIOBO (11:01 AM) —I am certainly pleased to speak in support of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I understand if the member for Leichhardt needs to scoot off, as we know he is fond of doing. In speaking to this bill, I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the issues that were raised by the member for Leichhardt. This bill at its core goes to the preservation of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We know that this marine park is one of the key tourism icons for this country. There is no doubt that the Great Barrier Reef is up there together with Uluru, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as being among Australia’s greatest tourism icons. Having said that, it is important to recognise that the legislation before the House is essentially, in full, coalition legislation. So, from a coalition perspective, we are pleased that the Labor Party has now sought to bring about this legislation and to introduce it.

With respect to the timing of the introduction of this legislation, I am a little surprised, as indeed are many on the coalition side, that this bill is currently before the House at this point in time. The reason it is slightly surprising is that the coalition was informed that this legislation would not be brought on until after the winter recess. But what we know is that due to the long lists of government speakers on a number of bills before the House the Rudd Labor government has got no legislative agenda. The Rudd Labor government is so light on in their pursuit of legislation, so bereft of any legislative agenda, they have brought this bill forward from after the winter recess to this, the final sitting week, because there is nothing else for the Rudd Labor government to talk about. We have bills in front of the House with two or three opposition members speaking and about 20 government members speaking as they desperately try to pad out, each and every day, their legislative agenda. So that is why this bill is before the House now. This bill is an important bill and its significance should not be lost even though the government has brought it on early. It goes to the core of ensuring that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is maintained in pristine condition as much as possible going forward.

We know this reef is the world’s largest and, I would argue, the most complex ecosystem on the planet. It comprises not one continuous reef; there are in fact around 2,900 individual reefs, with about 760 fringing reefs around islands or along the mainland. There are about 900 islands and quays within the boundaries of the current marine park. It is little wonder then that tourists from around the world—millions of them each and every year—come to Australia to have the opportunity not only to look at the Great Barrier Reef but also to interact with it. There is no doubt that interaction with such an incredibly unique ecosystem is in fact one of the key reasons why people spend thousands of dollars to travel to Australia to explore the reef.

The tourism industry, for which I have the privilege of being the shadow minister, is an industry that contributes about $24 billion a year in export income to Australia. I listened with great interest to the comments that the member for Leichhardt made with respect to Australia’s tourism industry, because we know, especially in tropical Far North Queensland, that the tourism industry is doing it particularly tough. We know, despite the comments that the member for Leichhardt made that the tourism industry is well served by the Rudd government, that the exact opposite is the case.

What we saw only a couple of months ago was this new Labor government impose a billion dollars of new tourism taxes on the tourism industry, on an industry that the member for Leichhardt said was crucial to ensuring that the reef would be visited and that the reef would be interacted with. So, if the focus of this legislation and a side benefit of this legislation are to ensure that the reef is maintained and protected and importantly that tourist operators have the chance to showcase Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to international tourists, you would have to wonder why the government would impose a billion dollars of new tourism taxes. That is hardly support for Australia’s tourism industry at a time when the industry is suffering the headwind of a high Aussie dollar.

In addition to that I would like to address another particular comment the member for Leichhardt made, because the member for Leichhardt himself acknowledged that the tourism industry in tropical Far North Queensland is facing tough conditions. The member for Leichhardt made a comment which I found extraordinary. He said that the way that the Rudd Labor government’s support for the tourism industry could be assessed and evaluated was on the basis of the government’s $4 million contribution to tropical Far North Queensland’s tourism industry. Let us get this in context. The Rudd government has implemented $1 billion in new tourism taxes and has made a paltry and miserly $4 million contribution towards the tourism industry. That contribution is in some way meant to balance the imposition of the new taxes. I am not surprised that the member for Leichhardt has left the chamber; we know that he does not like to stick around in this place very much.


Ms Roxon —You were not here when he spoke.


Mr CIOBO —I correct the minister at the table. I was here for the entirety of the member for Leichhardt’s speech. Like so many aspects of what the minister at the table says, she is completely wrong. What is extraordinary is that the minister at the table, who wandered in—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order!


Mr CIOBO —I have addressed the interjection directly, Mr Deputy Speaker.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I ask the member to resume his seat. The honourable member for Moncrieff is ranging far and wide on a bill which has a reasonably narrow focus. I ask the honourable member to come back to the bill and address his remarks to it.


Mr CIOBO —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am addressing very directly every comment that was raised by the member for Leichhardt and drawing that back to the bill in the same way the member for Leichhardt did. I have not made a comment that has been contrary to what the member for Leichhardt has sought to do. In addition, in addressing the remarks of the minister at the table, I have been very directly responding to the minister’s allegation. The minister called me a hypocrite, which I found extraordinary—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member should not respond to interjections, and ministers at the table should not interject.


Mr CIOBO —I am simply seeking the protection of the chair when I am falsely accused of something by a minister who came in for the final five minutes and did not realise that I had been here for the entire contribution by the member for Leichhardt.

Returning to the core focus of the legislation before the House, I want to focus on the fact that this bill very much goes to ensuring that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is protected going forwards. This builds on the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in 2006, which played a large part in the direction of the former coalition government on these issues. This review received submissions from many interested parties across the country. There were 227 submissions and 36 consultations. The key focus of the review was to ensure that we developed a framework for protection of the Great Barrier Reef going forward.

This legislation, in large part, ensures the completion of that 2006 review—and the responses that the former government put forward basically accepted all the recommendations that flowed as a result of that review. Those proposed changes included the updating of the act to ensure that it reflected the development of the Great Barrier Reef and its accreditation as a World Heritage listed site. The coalition government in fact introduced the EPBC Act and ensured that any gaps in emergency management powers exposed as a result of the review process were closed. This new act also picked up on the decision of the former Howard government to move beyond a criminal penalty only system and provided for greater flexibility of enforcement options—for example, civil penalties for breaches such as fishing on an unintended basis in no-take zones—as well as ensuring that we have opportunity for reef recovery.

But the key aspect of the bill that I would also like to focus on is the recommendation that there be an expansion of board members from three to five. This is a fundamental and important point. In accordance with the previous government’s policies and this government’s policies, the coalition are proposing that one of those two additional places be filled by an Indigenous Australian and that the second position should be filled by an industry representative. It is important that industry does have a say at the table when it comes to the board of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We know that historically there has been a wealth of experience on the GBRMPA board, but now we have added opportunity to ensure that we bring in two additional members. The first additional member will be an Indigenous Australian. The coalition are supportive of that and we support this legislation which enables that. But we will be seeking to move an amendment in the Senate, as has been foreshadowed by the shadow minister for the environment, to ensure that we also allow for an industry representative on the board.

The Great Barrier Reef attracts some two million visitors a year—and others contributing to this debate have highlighted this—and generates in tropical Far North Queensland about $2 billion of revenue. Across the country, and most importantly in the state of Queensland, some $6 billion of income is produced from people visiting the Great Barrier Reef. So we know the significance, from an economic point of view, of tourism for the Great Barrier Reef.

I have spoken with many tour operators who run day tours and the like out to the Great Barrier Reef, such as Quicksilver and Passions of Paradise, so I know that these tour operators have a very strong understanding of the need to conserve and protect the Great Barrier Reef. Tour operators who run reef visits, scuba diving and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef recognise that the protection of the reef is critical to their livelihoods. They recognise that the protection of the Great Barrier Reef is crucial if they are going to have a sustainable business case. In addition to that, those tour operators who attract tourists to the reef recognise the importance of making sure that those people who visit the reef do so in a sustainable way and do not damage it.

Tour operators, among others, have the most profound connection to the reef and the strongest desire to ensure that it is protected and able to recover when it is damaged through man-made activities or, for example, a crown of thorns starfish infestation. It is therefore important that industry has a place on the board. It is important that industry’s thoughts, views, desires, aspirations and wishes are incorporated with the board and that the industry has a voice on the board. That is why the opposition will move in the Senate to introduce an amendment to ensure that the additional board position is given to an industry stakeholder.

In terms of the coalition’s past performance in respect of protecting the reef and in order to get a sense of the significance of what took place over the 2003-04 period, it is important to understand the extent to which the various marine park zones prior to 2004 and afterwards have changed. The marine national park zone, which is coloured green on the various maps, prior to 2004 accounted for about 4.6 per cent of the marine park. After 2004 that was increased to about 33⅓ per cent. The buffer zone, which was about 0.1 per cent prior to 2004, was increased to 2.9 per cent as a result of those 2003-04 changes. The habitat protection zone, which was about 15.2 per cent prior to 2004, became 28.2 per cent as a consequence of the changes. The area that decreased most significantly was the zone referred to as the ‘general use zone’. This light blue zone on the various maps was decreased from just under 78 per cent to around 33.8 per cent. The key facet with all of this is that a greater balance was achieved between the areas available for general use and the areas that needed to be protected. So in that respect the former coalition government took very significant and meaningful steps to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

This bill before the House reflects that work in some respects and the coalition is certainly pleased to be supportive of this legislation subject to the amendment. I say to all the new Labor government members that they should consider very seriously the amendment that the coalition will put forward with a view to building on that and incorporating that amendment into this legislation. That will improve the legislation. Industry does have something to contribute to this particular debate. Industry does have something to contribute to the preservation and management of the reef, and in that respect their voices should be heard by having a voice on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park board.

In essence, the coalition supports this legislation. I certainly support this legislation. I think that it is important that we do protect the reef to ensure its viability long term, and that it is protected to ensure that we continue to generate tourism interest in the Great Barrier Reef as well as attract tourists. We know that the tourism industry is doing it particularly tough, thanks to the billion dollars of new tourism taxes that the Rudd government has imposed. But hopefully, if we can continue to protect the reef to make sure that it is particularly attractive, it will continue to attract tourists despite all the new taxes that have been imposed by the Rudd government.