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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6073

Mr ZAPPIA (12:31 PM) —I want to begin by endorsing the comments from the member for Kingston in respect to the Port Noarlunga reef. She is absolutely right about it being a special place for those people who live in the Adelaide area. I too rise to support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. I commend the minister for introducing this bill into the House and I too point out that it is the Rudd Labor government that has introduced this bill into the House. I begin my remarks on this bill by quoting the opening statement of the 1991 House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts report titled, The injured coastline. A statement, which was part of a submission to the committee, was made by Paddy Roe, OAM, a Goolarbooloo elder of the Yawuru people. He said:

The Country now comes from Bugarri-Garri—

That is, the dreamtime—

It was made by all the dreamtime ancestors who left their tracks and statues behind and gave us our law, we still follow that law, which tells us how to look after this country and how to keep it alive.

The true people followed this law from generation to generation until today that is why this country is still good and gives us plenty, we never take more than we need and we respect each others areas.

Today everybody, all kind of people walk through this country, now all of us together have to respect and look after this land, and when we look after it the proper way, this land stays happy and it will make all of us happy.

That was signed Paddy Roe, Law-Keeper, Custodian, Broome Region on 7 February 1991. The Indigenous people of Australia certainly understood, valued and lived in harmony with the environment and we could learn a lot from them.

In my own lifetime, too much of the natural environment and landscape that I grew up with has been lost forever. I do not refer to areas of national or international significance. I make the observation, however, that the environment is changing around us and before our very eyes, in some cases for reasons beyond our control but in many cases because of human intervention. In isolation, the single loss of an environmental feature appears of no great consequence, but collectively the changes occurring are indeed significant. What is happening to our environment on a global scale should be of concern to us all and it is my strong belief that many of the causes of climate change can be attributed to mankind’s activities. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis 2005 report stated:

Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history ... This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

Concerningly, environmental mismanagement leads to an escalation in the rate of further destruction of our environment. That is what is occurring with the Great Barrier Reef and it is why action must be taken if we are to halt the growing threats to the reef’s survival.

The Great Barrier Reef is indeed the world’s largest and most complex coral reef ecosystem. It is much too valuable, with respect to its environmental value and its economic value, to allow it to deteriorate or even die. The minister and other speakers have all spoken of the value of the fishing and tourism industries which the reef sustains and I do not want to cover that ground again.

The gradual decline of the Australian coastline has been the subject of several national reports dating back to the 1970s. There are a number of common themes which emerge from those reports, but regrettably responses have continued to be fragmented and inadequate. Human impacts on our coastal waters associated with nutrient run-off, ship ballast discharge, clearing of coastal land, overfishing, discharge of sewage effluent, coastal mining activities, oil and gas drilling, recreation and tourist uses of our coastline and the man-made groynes, marinas, seawalls and breakwaters can all have and often do have serious environmental and ecological consequences over time. Whilst this bill focuses on the Great Barrier Reef, it does however begin to establish a model for a coordinated approach to coastal management. Firstly, it brings together all three levels of government. Secondly, it highlights the number of different government departments and acts of parliament which have to be coordinated in the effective management of our coastline. Thirdly, it begins to identify the land uses which ultimately impact on and cause damage to the coastline and to the coastal waters. In that respect it is quite often the case that what we do on the land is not apparent until many years later in the impact it has on our coastal waters. Part of the reason I guess for that is that, unlike what you see on the land, you cannot see what is happening to the waters themselves unless, of course, you are a scientist or a research person carrying out research activities. To most people, however, it is very difficult to understand the damage that may be caused by what we are doing elsewhere.

Whilst the Great Barrier Reef is in better shape than most other reefs, nutrient run-off and the loss of fish and marine mammals which graze on the seagrasses have been identified as two key threats to the health of the reef. According to the annual report of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, one-third of the world’s reefs have degraded in the past 30 years, making them of little use for tourism and fisheries. Commercial harvests of sharks and rays have increased fourfold since 1993. In 40 years the number of nesting turtles have plummeted 50 to 80 per cent. The coastal Queensland dugong population has dwindled to three per cent of the 1960s figure. Nutrient and sediment discharge has quadrupled over the last century. Those figures are concerning. Again, each of those changes in isolation would not be so disastrous but, collectively, they create an unhealthy environment for the reef, and I have not even included the risks associated with climate change. Much of the threat faced by the Great Barrier Reef is symptomatic of the lack of a national coordinated management plan for all of our coastal waters. It should be noted that our coastal waters cover a larger area than the Australian mainland, and are a source of significant environmental and economic wealth.

As I said earlier, this bill begins a process of coordinating the efforts of all three levels of government, the administrative agencies and the broader community in better managing our coastal waters. As Mayor of Salisbury, I had some personal experience in that process because the City of Salisbury shared responsibility for part of the Adelaide coastline in the vicinity of the area known as the Barker Inlet. Some eight years ago, I convened a summit which we entitled ‘Living on the Edge’. We invited to that summit the councils surrounding the city of Salisbury, a number of state government agencies including the EPA, SA Water and Primary Industries and Fisheries, some expert environmentalists, recreational fishers and other people with expertise in coastal management. The purpose of the summit was to coordinate a strategy to restore the health of the Gulf of St Vincent along the Adelaide coastline. The outcome of the summit was that a group came together which we referred to as the Barker Inlet and Port Estuary Committee. It was a group made up of representatives of all of those people that I mentioned earlier. Effectively, it was a group of all of the government agencies that had an interest in the management of the South Australian coastline and, as a result of that group’s work, action was taken to begin to reverse the process of degradation that had been occurring in and along the Barker Inlet where, for some 14 kilometres along the coastline and up to four kilometres into the waters, all of the seagrasses had pretty much disappeared and much of the mangroves had also begun to die.

As a result of the Barker Inlet and Port Estuary Committee, that work was commenced. Subsequently, it was followed up with the state government’s legislation of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act. Again, I had some experience in that, because I was on the advisory committee which advised the state government in the establishment of the act, and once the act was established I was also on the board. The purpose of that act was very similar to the objectives in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, and that is to preserve a natural asset. In the case of the Dolphin Sanctuary Act it was the Port River dolphin colony that was unique to the Adelaide coastline and to the city of Adelaide. Like the Great Barrier Reef, it was also at risk and for the same reasons as the risks that are threatening the reef. Again, it was a case of having to coordinate the activities of all the various government agencies that need to work together if we are going to ensure that our coastal waters are no longer placed at risk. For too long we have allowed polluted waters to drain into the coastline. We have incrementally destroyed our coastal vegetation, we have allowed too much land clearing and we have ignored the warning signs. It is indeed disappointing to see the responses from the opposition in recent days. The opposition did very little for 12 years and are now running a fear campaign against the government’s efforts to manage the long-term effects of climate change.

I have spoken on other occasions about the economic and environmental costs of global warming. Global warming also poses a real threat to the Great Barrier Reef. An increase in water temperature will have serious consequences for the reef, and predictions of temperature increases of between two and five degrees by the year 2100 will inevitably cause mass bleaching of the corals. To quote Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

We can’t prevent future bleaching except through international action on greenhouse gas emissions. In the meantime, it’s important to do whatever we can to minimise the damage and assist reefs through these difficult times.

Australian research fellow, Morgan Pratchett, effectively endorsed that comment when he said:

For reefs to withstand the rigours of climate change, they need to be resilient—able to bounce back after a severe shock such as a bleaching episode, an outbreak of disease or a hurricane. That means maintaining the richness and diversity of their assemblages of coral, fish and other animals.

These consequences, however, will be minimised if the human induced threats are reduced. Of concern is a report, only yesterday, from the Canberra Times science and environmental reporter, Rosslyn Beeby. Reporting on the International Whaling Commission’s latest scientific report, she notes:

The world’s coastal oceans are in crisis, with oxygen-starved “dead zones” increasing by a third in just two years as global temperatures increase ...

Dead Zones, caused by over-enrichment of waters by nutrients from run-off, sewerage and warming waters, represent “the worst-case scenario for coastal biodiversity” and are the “severest form” of ocean habitat degradation, ...

The number of ocean dead zones has grown from the 44 areas reported in 1995 to more than 400, with some of the worst oxygen starved areas extending over 22,000 square kilometres.

Recent figures from the United Nations Environment Program estimate that fertilizers, sewage and other pollutants, combined with the impact of climate change, have led to a doubling in the number of oxygen deficient dead zones every decade since the1960s. The worst affected areas are in tropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean west of Africa and the equatorial areas of the Pacific. Where does the Great Barrier Reef lie? It lies in the equatorial areas of the Pacific.

Report after report provides worrying pictures of the impacts of climate change, and it is important that governments act appropriately. It is disappointing to hear the responses from the opposition in recent days. The environment and the disastrous consequences which will result from government’s inaction on global warming is much too serious a matter to be used for political point-scoring. Or perhaps it simply indicates a very real ignorance by opposition members on the subject of global warming and climate change. But I assure members opposite that the overwhelming number of people I speak to understand the impacts of climate change and want the government to implement policies that provide long-term security for future generations.

As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef—along with the member for Throsby and others—and to see first hand the unique beauty of this World Heritage listed Australian iconic site, and to hear from a range of experts about the repercussions of continuing to allow the mismanagement of the coastal waters along the Queensland coastline.

This bill, thankfully, constructively responds to many of the matters raised with the committee during our visit there. I was particularly interested to hear from a local sugar cane grower about the better farming practices which he had implemented to minimise the nutrient run-off into the coast. It is indeed most encouraging to hear of local initiatives being taken by local people. They understand their local area, they care about their local area, they have extensive knowledge of their local area and they have a genuine interest in the future of their local environment. What they do not have, however, is the ability to coordinate the functions of the many government departments which oversee the wellbeing of their local area. They do not have the authority to police those who wilfully ignore the laws which have been put in place to prevent unnecessary damage to the coastal waters and the reef.

From my observation the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has done, and continues to do, an excellent job in managing the marine park. However, it is clear that the act under which the authority operates needs to be strengthened. That is what this bill does, and other speakers have made specific reference to how the bill does that. It is also important that we continue to monitor and carry out research on our coastline, certainly with respect to the areas surrounding the Great Barrier Reef. As I said earlier, one of the problems that all governments face is that when you cannot see a problem it is harder politically to sell to the community the expenditure required for the measures needed to rectify the problem. But that work can be carried out—money is needed, obviously, to do that—if we engage the right people and if we continue to monitor the waters through the research scientists are out there because they are capable of doing that.

Ultimately, managing the Great Barrier Reef is an ongoing matter. It is not something where you can put a particular practice into place and ensure that forever and a day that is all you need to do. When the Great Barrier Reef Marine Act was brought in in 1975 it seemed appropriate; today it needs to be amended and upgraded, and that is exactly what this bill is doing. The research dollars need to be spent if we are to continue to ensure that the reef remains healthy.

I want to finish off with a comment on the section of the amendment to the act which talks about having an Indigenous person on the Marine Park Authority because I started with a quote from an Indigenous person. It is important to have one of their members on the authority, not just out of respect to the Indigenous community but because they, for thousands and thousands of years, lived in harmony with this land and with our environment. They have a great depth of wisdom and knowledge about how we should be managing our environment. I welcome the input of the Indigenous person on the authority. We have an obligation to the people of Australia, to future generations and to all people on earth to preserve this unique wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. I commend the bill to the House.