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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6061

Mr BIDGOOD (11:32 AM) —I rise to speak in favour of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. The bill will establish a modern and robust regulatory framework, providing capability for the efficient and effective protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. The bill implements recommendations 18 to 28 of the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. That review found that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act has served its purpose well over the past 30 years but needs to be updated and better integrated with other legislation to meet future needs and challenges. This bill will establish a modern framework for administration of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that is aligned, integrated and not duplicated with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and other legislation. This includes a new objects section, recognition of the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef and the application of principles such as ‘ecologically sustainable use’ and the ‘precautionary principle’. This bill will also establish the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as the basis for environmental impact assessment and approval of actions in the marine park involving significant environmental impacts. This includes establishing the marine park as a matter of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act. This bill will also enhance capability for investigation and evidence collection, in particular by allowing inspectors appointed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to use the investigation related powers of the EPBC Act for the purposes of the GBRMP Act. The relevant GBRMP Act powers are repealed.

This bill will also provide a wider range of enforcement options, allowing for a more tailored and targeted approach to enforcement. This includes new administrative mechanisms, expanded availability of infringement notices and the introduction of civil penalty provisions. This proposed act will also enhance deterrence and encourage responsible use of the marine park. This includes adjusting penalties to ensure they are neither too lenient nor too harsh, depending on the circumstances; the introduction of alternative sanctions, such as remediation and publicity orders; and the establishment of an environmental duty applying to marine park users, similar to that applying under state legislation. This bill will also establish new emergency management powers, allowing the authority to respond to incidents presenting a serious risk to the environment of the marine park. These powers will complement and be subservient to those of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

As it happens, this bill also honours a Rudd Labor government election promise to reinstate a requirement for the authority to include an Indigenous member. I am particularly pleased to see this amendment because in my seat of Dawson we have the highest population of South Sea islanders gathered anywhere in Australia. It is only fair, right and just that someone from that large community in my electorate is on this authority to represent the interests of the traditional owners.

I asked the Parliamentary Library to do some fact finding for me on the coastline of the electorate, and I was quite interested with some of the answers I got back. As you travel through the seat of Dawson, you will see that there is one thing that we love to talk about, and that is tourism. We are passionate about international tourism and we have a slogan: ‘Queensland: beautiful one day, perfect the next.’ It is just like the Rudd Labor government! You just cannot beat this government, especially when there are two Queenslanders at the top of it—Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan. It is absolutely great leadership and great command. I am looking forward to this Sunday, when the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the vast majority of the federal cabinet are coming to Mackay to engage the local people and hear their concerns. The boundaries of the electorate of Dawson have been redrawn, so I asked the Parliamentary Library to find out how much coastline I actually have in my electorate. Mr Speaker, I was quite interested in the answer.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—I thank the member for Dawson for my elevation to the position of Mr Speaker, but I am Deputy Speaker.

Mr BIDGOOD —I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. Perhaps that is a prophecy for you! You never know your luck—just keep wishing! I asked the Parliamentary Library to find out how much coastline I have in the seat of Dawson. The coastal boundary of my electorate runs from Mackay to the Ross River in Townsville. To drive it by road is 400 kilometres. I was most intrigued to find out from the Library that the coastline of Dawson is approximately 977 kilometres long. I am also informed that within the boundaries of my electorate are 144 islands. It is a great seat to represent and obviously there is rich diversity in the electorate, not only in the culture of the people who live there but also in the geographical terrain and, of course, the wonderful Great Barrier Reef itself. If you travel around Dawson you will see publicity that says we have 74 beautiful islands for you to come and visit. I suppose a lot of the other islands are just small islands. We have 74 islands which are key destinations for our international tourists.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you may know that I originally came to Australia in 1991 as a backpacker—and now I am a backbencher, which shows what you can do in this country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —We are a very tolerant community!

Mr BIDGOOD —Very tolerant, indeed! I can tell you that it has been a long road, but it has been a good road. One of the main drawcards in coming to Australia was the Great Barrier Reef. I enjoyed my time in 1991. I was living in Sarina, which is just 30 minutes south of Mackay. In those days it was a small town of about 5,000 people and we had to travel into Mackay for our social life. In those days there was just one cinema. But how the times have changed! In 2008 there are now 20,000 people living in Sarina, and in Mackay there is not one cinema but 11. That gives you some idea of how things have changed. I have only ever lived in Mackay. One of the reasons that I love Mackay so much is because it is beside the Great Barrier Reef and we also have access to the beautiful rainforest in Yongala.

When we first came to Sarina, my wife at the time was a GP and she had applied to do a locum. She was told: ‘You’ve got two places you can choose to go. One is Alice Springs and the other is Sarina.’ We knew where Alice Springs was but we did not know where Sarina was. They said, ‘It’s on the Great Barrier Reef.’ That is what hooked us. They got us like fish and we just had to go. I never regret for one minute going all the way to Sarina. I have only ever lived in Mackay, and one thing I love to do is enjoy the hospitality around the islands on the Great Barrier Reef. I have enjoyed some of the best snorkelling I have ever had in the world, and I have snorkelled in many different places in the world. There is a beautiful island called Hook Island, which is the best-kept secret. There are cabins and camping facilities on the island. It does not have a flash hotel or anything like that, but the diversity of coral is amazing. There are three main types of coral around the island—stag, table and brain coral—and there is a rich diversity of fish there as well. Of course, there was nothing more inspirational to the people who made the film Finding Nemo than the Great Barrier Reef. What great publicity for the Great Barrier Reef that was. That drew many people from across the world to Australia, to Mackay and the Whitsundays to see the Great Barrier Reef—and that has been a fantastic success.

We have to look after our Great Barrier Reef. When I first went there in 1991, I went to Brampton Island. I snorkelled around and looked at the coral there and thought that it was beautiful. I came back a few years later—in 1993 or 1994—and had another look at the coral. I was amazed at the amount of bleaching that had taken place in a couple of years. We have to realise that there is a real issue with climate change in our world. We have a World Heritage site in the Great Barrier Reef. It is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. We have to look after it.

This bill addresses the care of that reef. It addresses things like where you can or cannot fish and how people progress through it in vessels. It is very important. These provisions are up to date with global standards. As I said in my introduction, over the last 30 years we have been well served. But we have to review all laws from time to time and we need to make appropriate changes. The changes in this bill are such appropriate changes.

I spoke to Mr David Phillips of Mackay Tourism not so long ago. I asked him: ‘How can we attract more people to the beautiful region of Mackay, Whitsunday and Bowen?’ He said to me, ‘One of the greatest opportunities we have to get people to come and view our reef is the new film that is being made by Baz Luhrmann called Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.’ I am pleased that the Minister for Tourism, Martin Ferguson, is very much on the front foot with Tourism Australia. We are working together to maximise all opportunities. One of the major locations, apart from Western Australia, was the town of Bowen in Central Queensland, which is right in the heart of my seat of Dawson. We are preparing for an influx of international tourism as a result of that film. The local mayor of the Whitsunday Regional Council, Mr Mike Brunker, is more than keen to take full advantage of that opportunity and to showcase our beautiful Great Barrier Reef. So we are very much looking forward to that.

There are educational opportunities as well. One thing that schoolchildren in the seat of Dawson love to do is to go on a school trip to the islands and explore the coral that is there. That is why we need to keep it in such good condition. One of the schools from the seat of Dawson is visiting me today. I met them at 11 o’clock this morning. That school is St Joseph’s Catholic School from Mackay. There are about 30 students down here. I would like to acknowledge their presence at the top of the gallery today. It is nice to see you, kids. I hope that you are enjoying our modern democracy.

I was most pleased to say to them that democracy is wonderful because we have new forms of democracy in action here, which a lot of people do not realise. The fact that we are streaming live over the internet means that you can view this speech right now live across the other side of the world. That is a wonderful new form of democracy, which opens up parliament to the world. That is a fantastic development.

The internet has also provided us with a great opportunity to monitor the Great Barrier Reef. Just recently—last month—Senator Kim Carr came to southern Townsville to the Australian Institute of Marine Science to launch and open a digital skin across the reef. What is this? This is a series of buoys that have been set up across the barrier reef. They have cameras looking at the reef monitoring it and broadcasting live to the internet, so anyone in the world can see the development. They monitor the change in the coral, temperatures and things like that. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? New technology enables new observation and research. We figuratively have a digital skin across the Great Barrier Reef. I welcome the help that new technology, innovation and science can provide in protecting the great natural wonder that is our Great Barrier Reef.

As I said earlier, it is wonderful for children to explore. One thing that children love to do is to go out fishing. They love to fish—and I can see that you do, too, Deputy Speaker Schultz. But I need to inform you that it is not a free-for-all. We not believe in just anything happening in the jungle. We have to have order and we have to help nature along. Sometimes, some people want to fish in areas where they should not. This bill addresses where people can and cannot fish responsibly. What we have found since measures have come in saying where people can and cannot fish is that fishing stocks are now increasing in number.

The people of Bowen love their fishing. They love to get out on the reef. I have been along to the Bowen Fishing Festival, and the number of fish that are caught is quite staggering. If we do not look after our fishing stocks on the Great Barrier Reef, we will lose another major tourist attraction, because fishing is a big money earner for the people of Dawson and particularly the people in Bowen.

Another major thing to do on the Great Barrier Reef is sailing round the islands. With the help of the state government in 2000, we have down in Mackay a fantastic luxury marina. It has hosted some fantastic boats from around the world. What is the reason they come? They want to get out on the Great Barrier Reef.

We have to look after the quality of water; we have to look after the quality of the reef; we have to look after the stocks of fish. It is in our national interest to do so. And it is not only in the national interest but in the international interest. When people think of Australia, they think of a few icons. They think of the kangaroo, they think of Ayers Rock, they think of the Sydney Opera House. On the natural list, they say, ‘We want to visit the Great Barrier Reef.’ I conclude by saying that we have a great natural treasure and we must treasure it and look after it, and this bill does so. Thank you.