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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6071

Ms RISHWORTH (12:22 PM) —I rise today to express my support for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I am a little disappointed by the member for Fadden. It is interesting that he said that this was the Howard government’s legislation. However, the Howard government did not enact this legislation; it is up to the Rudd Labor government to do so. I hope it is not the intention of the member for Fadden to criticise the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts for attending the International Whaling Commission meeting, because certainly many people in my electorate are very concerned and like the decisive action that the Rudd Labor government is taking on whaling around the world.

This is an extremely important bill that will encourage responsible and ecologically sustainable use of the iconic Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most significant and identifiable parts of Australia. The importance of the Great Barrier Reef was recognised in 1981, when the area was internationally recognised with inscription on the World Heritage List. The great coral reef is by far the largest of any Commonwealth or state marine protected area, extending over 2,300 kilometres—approximately 300,000 square kilometres—and including 2,900 individual reefs. The biodiversity of reef inhabitants is amazing. The reef is home to 30 per cent of the world’s soft corals and 30 per cent of Australia’s sponges, and includes areas used for breeding by the humpback whale, the dugong and six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle.

If the Great Barrier Reef is not protected adequately then many of these diverse species may be lost forever. Among the key species under threat are the marine turtles. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the few nesting areas for the green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. This is a very important area for their breeding. Australia has some of the largest marine turtle nesting areas in the Indo-Pacific. The loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles are listed as endangered and could become extinct if the threats to their survival continue. The other turtles are listed as vulnerable and may become endangered if these threats continue. The marine turtles are just one of the many species which contribute to the huge biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.

I personally had no concept of the amazing ecosystems that existed at the Great Barrier Reef until I visited there on holiday. After putting on my lycra stinger swimsuit, I jumped into the water and quickly became absorbed by the ecological and biological surroundings on display. In fact, I was so amazed by the surroundings that I forgot to reapply my sunscreen and became severely sunburnt. However, this great national icon is under threat. The threat of coral bleaching caused by climate change and declining water quality needs to be addressed to preserve the reef long into the future.

The proposed changes before the House today complement measures already announced by the Rudd government to help protect the Great Barrier Reef. Threats to the Great Barrier Reef such as climate change and declining water quality will be tackled by the $200 million reef rescue plan announced in the 2008-09 budget. The funding will support land management grants to farmers and community groups and assist vital research. The rescue plan will help protect this natural wonder, while benefiting local conservation and Indigenous groups, agricultural production, tourism, and fishing and aquaculture industries. The combination of this bill and the $200 million in funding will establish a strong foundation for the future prosperity of the Great Barrier Reef. I congratulate the minister for introducing this important bill, which will create long-term security for the Great Barrier Reef by strengthening and amending the act.

Although the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 has served its purpose well over the past 30 years, a comprehensive update through this bill is required to ensure that one of our most significant environmental assets is preserved and enjoyed for future generations. The marine park is one of the largest and best-protected marine areas in the world, and now, more than ever, we need to ensure the appropriate action is taken to preserve this important environment asset.

The bill will establish a modern and robust regulatory framework that will provide capability for efficient and effective protection and ecologically sustainable management. The government is taking the vital steps to ensure the Great Barrier Reef can meet future needs and challenges. The bill will implement a number of recommendations of the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. These changes will update and establish a robust framework allowing for the successful management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. The bill will not change the marine park’s zoning, but the legislative changes will ensure it delivers a high level of protection for the Great Barrier Reef. The amendments will ensure that there is consistency between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, thus eliminating unnecessarily duplication and ensuring that the two pieces of legislation are operating in a cohesive and integrated manner.

The amendments also recognise the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef and apply new streamlined environmental impact assessment processes. Furthermore, the bill seeks to improve the enforcement and compliance regime, providing a wider range of enforcement options tailored to circumstances. In addition, the amendments will enhance deterrence and provide encouragement for responsible use of the marine park. Finally, the bill establishes new emergency management powers to enable the authority to respond in conjunction with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to incidents that present a serious risk to the environment of the park.

The bill before us today is yet another example of the government delivering on its election commitments. The bill provides an essential framework that is required to ensure the Greet Barrier Reef’s vast benefits and environmental prosperities are realised. In addition to the Great Barrier Reef, there are many smaller reefs around Australia also with very fragile ecosystems which are under threat. One of these is in my electorate of Kingston. The reef at Port Noarlunga, although much smaller than the Great Barrier Reef, is a popular recreation area for many holiday makers in South Australia. The reef lies about 400 metres offshore. It is estimated that 6,000 scuba divers visit the reef each year. In fact it has been said that the reef at Port Noarlunga is one of the best land based scuba dives in Australia.

As a result of geographic isolation and cooler waters in the Gulf of St Vincent, the Port Noarlunga reef has developed a unique ecosystem. However, the Port Noarlunga reef faces some of the same threats that the Great Barrier Reef does, despite being protected as an aquatic reserve in 1971. The reef is subject to a number of costal outflows including the Christies Beach sewage outfall and the Onkaparinga River and local stormwater outlets. The water that flows into the sea is high in nutrients, therefore having a big impact on the local reef ecosystem.

Therefore, I welcome all levels of government which have showed commitment to recycle and reuse the waste water at the Christies Beach sewerage plant. Many of the projects that will come on line in the following years will lessen the amount of water that flows into the gulf and hence decrease the damage to the local reef and seagrasses. Protecting our reef systems all around Australia is extremely important. This bill provides an effective framework to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef is protected. I therefore commend the bill to the House.