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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 6077

Ms LIVERMORE (12:50 PM) —I would like to start by saying how wonderful it is to see so many speakers participating in this debate. As someone who lives in a community adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef—in fact, I have lived on the Queensland coast for most of my life—I can say that it is very encouraging to see not only the priority that the protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef is getting from the new Labor government but also that so many of my colleagues on this side of the House and also on the other side of the House have indicated the importance of the Great Barrier Reef in their minds.

I also want to commend the government for acting so quickly to introduce this set of amendments, the second set of amendments arising out of the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. That review took place in, I think, 2005. It is great to see, in the first six months of this government, that the government is acting to do everything it can to strengthen the management regime which underpins the protection of this incredible natural asset. As I said, these amendments implement the recommendations of that review.

It is true to say that, while the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has done its job in managing the marine park and advising governments over the last 30 years, the act that created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the authority needs to be updated. The original act provided for the creation of the marine park and the authority, and the authority’s job is to manage the marine park and advise government on matters relating to the reef and the marine park.

Being a member from Queensland, I know that the people in my electorate are well aware of the important and good work undertaken by the marine park authority, and in fact Capricornia has a special place in its history. The Capricornia section of the reef, some 12,000 square kilometres, was first established as part of the marine park back in 1979. Of course today the marine park covers some 344,000 square kilometres.

As I said, the act has been in place for 30 years. In its day, in 1975, it was groundbreaking legislation; and it has served us well in the intervening 30 years. However the 2006 review into the act demonstrated that it was starting to show its age. Two of the most glaring examples of that are the facts that the original act predates not only the EPBC Act—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—but also the listing of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage area. Going back to the EPBC Act, at present that act, which was established in 1999, largely overlaps with the Great Barrier Reef Park Act—and these two pieces of legislation do not work as well together as we would hope. There are definitely improvements that can be brought about by bringing those acts into better alignment. There is also in the current arrangements too little flexibility for the enforcement of penalties for the range of varying infringement circumstances and inefficiencies in the way that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act allows for responses to emergencies that pose a serious risk of environmental harm. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will address those issues amongst others.

The bill will put in place a 21st-century future focused framework for the efficient and effective protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef. It complements the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan, which was introduced in 2003 to provide a strong framework for protecting and managing the reef. This bill enhances the capability to effectively administer and enforce that framework so as to ensure its benefits are realised. This bill makes a number of changes to achieve those aims and I will just go through those one by one.

First of all, and significantly, the bill recognises the World Heritage status of the reef. The World Heritage values of the reef will be recognised in the objects of the act, and importantly the long-term protection of the reef will now be the primary object in the legislation. These changes will also ensure that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act will provide a modern framework to offer better management and protection of the reef in the 21st century. The act will now make specific reference to modern concepts such as ecosystem based management and the precautionary principle. The definition of these concepts in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act will now be consistent with that in the EPBC Act. This will also promote a fairer approach to compliance and offer fairer deterrence through a more tailored and flexible system of enforcement and penalties. The aim in these amendments is to reduce regulatory red tape. This involves better coordination between the state and federal management regimes. Another way that this will be achieved is to better align the act with the EPBC Act. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is now established as the primary basis for environmental impact assessment and the approval of activities within and affecting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

I am particularly pleased to note that the marine park is recognised as a matter of national environmental significance. This means that actions having a significant impact on the environment of the marine park must be approved under the EPBC Act and that regime. This will be of great comfort to those of us living adjacent to the reef as we watch the pressures of development slowly but surely encroach on the natural beauty of the reef and threaten the future of its unique environmental values.

This bill also recognises the importance of having an Indigenous voice on the membership of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This step of including this measure in this bill honours an election commitment made by Labor to reinstate a requirement for the authority to have Indigenous representation. As someone who represents a region of Queensland where we have seen what is I think the first, or maybe the second, management agreement between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the state government and traditional owners, that is very significant to me. This bill will also complement the government’s reef rescue plan and other significant government measures to tackle head-on the effects of climate change. These are responsible and necessary improvements to the management regime for the reef and I am pleased to offer my support to this bill on behalf of a constituency which has a very close interest in this great natural wonder.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest and most complex coral reef ecosystem and is indeed one of our great national treasures, extending approximately 2,300 kilometres along the Queensland coast. A large chunk of that is in my electorate of Capricornia. It is because my electorate is blessed with being able to lay claim to a significant section of the unparalleled biodiversity that is the Great Barrier Reef that we in Capricornia are keenly aware of the challenges we face in safeguarding the reef for future generations. It can be said that Capricornia is a very diverse electorate. We are considered the beef capital of Australia, and the region’s coalmines provide an economic windfall for state and federal government coffers the likes of which this country has never seen before.

Of course my electorate also profits from the significant financial benefits of the reef. In Central Queensland we understand well the economic imperatives of protecting the reef, along with of course the important environmental imperatives. More than 63,000 people are employed in Great Barrier Reef tourism, fishing, and cultural and recreation related industries. This represents more than $6 billion in national gross domestic product every year, but of course most of that flows to the communities along the Queensland coast. I would also add that the large Aboriginal and South Sea Islander communities of Capricornia have their own strong cultural connection to the reef, and the coastal towns of Capricornia have that strong connection and love for our part of paradise.

As I said, we understand the benefits the reef brings to our communities, and we are also acutely aware of the threats to the health of the reef. We recognise the need to act if those threats are to be mitigated, and there is a distinct possibility that the worst-case scenarios depicted by scientists will become a reality in our lifetime. As we have heard from so many speakers, the reef has been identified as an area where the consequences of climate change will hit hard, and they are already in evidence.

We are fortunate in Australia that the Great Barrier Reef is well preserved. We are fortunate that those steps were taken in 1975 to recognise the value of the asset that we have in the Great Barrier Reef and that the management regime was put in place so that the reef is well preserved compared to other systems elsewhere in the world. This makes the Great Barrier Reef a drawcard for domestic and international tourists, but its iconic status also has the potential to make it an international symbol for the impacts of climate change. The eyes of the world are definitely upon Australia and how we manage the pressures that the reef is under.

Unlike the previous government, the Rudd Labor government is acting proactively to address climate change. The release of Climate change and the Great Barrier Reef: a vulnerability assessment and the Great Barrier Reef climate change action plan 2007-2012 and the $200 million reef rescue plan demonstrate the level of importance the government is giving to this threat. The reef rescue plan that Labor announced in the election was a very big part of my pledge to the people of Central Queensland. I campaigned very strongly on that initiative, and it was obviously very well received by communities throughout my electorate.

In Central Queensland we do not need the many reports and scientific papers to tell us about the impacts of climate change and the effect that it is having on our precious reef. Right in my backyard, in the Keppel region of the reef, just off Yeppoon and the Capricorn Coast, we have already experienced some of the worst bleaching events seen on the reef. I think it was back in 1998, or maybe 2000. We saw a precursor to what might lie ahead for the reef if we do not, firstly, do whatever we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change and, secondly, do everything we can to enhance the resilience of the reef to cope with the amount of climate change that is now inevitable as a result of our activities over the last few centuries. It is well known that we have already lost 10 years in these efforts with the previous government’s refusal to take climate change seriously and to prioritise the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. I understand that back in 2002, despite the then Prime Minister signing off on the 10-year Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, no funds were actually forthcoming to make that plan mean anything on the ground. So we are really 10 years behind on what needs to be done to protect the reef and to prepare it for climate change.

I am pleased to say that that is no longer the case. The Rudd Labor government made it very clear in the election that we made the protection of the reef a priority. We made the announcement then of the $200 million reef rescue plan, which is very much about enabling all stakeholders in the reef to adopt better practices that enhance the quality of water going onto the reef and also to improve the resilience of the reef. The $200 million, five-year reef rescue plan includes grants to farmers, cane growers, Indigenous communities and landholders for improved land management. That totals $146 million. I am certainly working closely with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts to make sure that that money is available as soon as possible, because there is a great deal of interest in that program in my electorate. People want to accelerate the good work that they are doing to change land-use practices and to better protect the reef. There is also money in there for monitoring water quality and land condition and for investing in research and development. So, as I say, it was very well received in my electorate and is greatly needed if we are serious about protecting the health of the reef to prepare for climate change. In that context, the measures in this bill will provide a much more comprehensive framework through which the people of Capricornia can do their part to help protect the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is indisputably one of the world’s most important natural assets and we in Central Queensland are well aware of the significant steps that are required to safeguard this asset for future generations.

I have already spoken of Capricornia’s close ties to the act’s inception back in the 1970s, but I would like to talk now about some of the things that the people of my electorate are engaged in right now to help safeguard the reef into the future. There are currently 14 schools in my electorate that very actively take part in the Reef Guardian Schools program. This is an action based environmental education initiative that engages schools to promote their ideas, initiatives and activities to communities and to encourage people in the school and the broader community to protect the reef and its supporting environments. I must say that I dread the times when I forget to take my green cloth bags to the supermarket in Rockhampton for fear of running into some of the students. They would be on to me about using plastic bags because that has obviously been a very big focus for some of the schools engaged in the Reef Guardian Schools project. Other initiatives include energy efficiency audits in the schools. One school came up with a range of measures to prevent cigarette butts entering our waterways and flowing out to the reef. I recognise that these students of today are the decision makers of tomorrow and the foundation stones of a sustainable future for the reef. I would like to commend the schools for the work they are doing to educate the rest of us and to work towards a sustainable future.

One of the reasons that the Reef Guardian Schools program is so popular in my electorate is the decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to open an office in Central Queensland to service Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast. The presence of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority right in our region has brought the reef closer to us and increased the awareness in the broader community of the impact so many land based activities have on the reef and our collective responsibility and ability to take every step we can in our everyday lives to avoid indirect harm to the reef. The office has also provided a source of information about the zoning system and reef management practices. Importantly, it is a way for the community to interact with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and to provide feedback on the condition of the reef and the management processes that the authority undertakes.

I would encourage the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to maintain these growing ties with communities along the coast of Queensland and to continue to build relationships with the broad range of stakeholders whose activities impact on the reef and who want to be involved in its protection and management.

My electorate also has a significant primary industries sector, which has gone to significant lengths to put in place best-practice farm management for the benefit of the reef system. I have only recently returned from discussions with farming groups, and I am thankful for all the work they are doing to mitigate their impacts on the reef, whether it is through fertiliser run-off or other farming methods that have been in place for many years. I understand that changing these traditional practices has taken a very deliberate and active effort on the part of their industry sectors, particularly those involved in sugar and beef production, and I commend them for their actions. In this context I also want to acknowledge the great work of both the Mackay Whitsunday Natural Resource Management Group and the Fitzroy Basin Association for the leadership they demonstrate and the support they give to local landholders who want to know more about current best practice and sustainable land management.

Another important stakeholder group in my electorate is the recreational fishing sector. I think one of the good things that have happened in recent years is the closer interaction that we had seen between that sector and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, particularly through the zoning process and the opening of the office. One of the groups that work closely with the fishing sector is CapReef. They are currently preparing a submission to government seeking funding under the Coastcare community initiative—I think submissions close very shortly—and I will certainly be giving that group every bit of support that I can to ensure that they get the funding that they need to continue their important monitoring and education activities.

This bill demonstrates the Australian government’s commitment to securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef and strengthens our capacity to preserve this important feature of our nation’s and the world’s heritage for future generations. I welcome the government’s proactive stance on this issue and I will welcome the quick passage of this bill through both houses of parliament. I commend the bill to the House.