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Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Page: 6240


Mr GARRETT (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts) (5:56 PM) —in reply—I take this opportunity to congratulate the honourable member for Gippsland on his first speech in the House and wish him well in his time in this place. I know that he will diligently represent the interests of everyone in his electorate.

It was heartening to hear such strong support in the debate on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 from members on both sides of the House. That confirms the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is widely recognised as a national treasure and one of the world’s most important natural assets. Certainly the Australian government recognises the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef and has an enduring commitment to its protection and conservation and its transmission to future generations.

This bill will put in place a modern regulatory framework that will provide for the long-term protection and ecologically sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef into the future. I note that the honourable member for Herbert in his contribution to the debate remarked that neither members of this chamber nor the public want a ‘paper park’; they want a park that is actively managed and well managed. I can assure the member and other members that this bill will give the authority greater capacity to ensure that that happens. Marine park users, local communities and other key stakeholder groups who were consulted prior to the introduction of this bill have also acknowledged the importance and timeliness of these changes. Since its introduction I have received correspondence welcoming the reforms.

During debate, members opposite flagged an intention to seek an amendment to the bill in the Senate requiring one member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to be a person with knowledge of or experience in tourism or another industry associated with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Great Barrier Reef is of considerable economic importance and the government recognises the need to engage with the industries, businesses, communities and individuals that rely on it. However, the government does not believe that the appointment of a specific industry representative to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is an appropriate way to achieve that.

A wide range of industries have a strong interest in how the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is managed. Most obviously there are the on-water industries such as tourism, commercial fishing, shipping and aquaculture. A wide range of land based industries such as seafood processors, recreation related businesses, mines and manufacturers that ship their products from the many ports along the Great Barrier Reef coast, sugar growers, cattle farmers and others also operate in the catchments adjacent to the marine park. The list could be endless. A comprehensive range of mechanisms is already in place for engaging these industries in the protection and management of the marine park. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has four reef advisory committees providing for direct engagement of key stakeholders on the issues of tourism and recreation, fishing, water quality, coastal development and conservation and heritage. The authority has a further 11 local marine advisory committees providing for engagement of local committees on a regional basis. Their terms of reference require a range of industries to be represented on each committee. In addition, the authority has regional offices in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton. The government is also establishing an advisory body, as recommended by the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, and this body will comprise representatives from key stakeholder peak bodies and industries associated with the marine park. It will provide advice directly to the minister on specific matters affecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Membership of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is not the place to engage with particular industries. As members opposite noted during the debate, this bill implements key recommendations of the 2006 review of the act, a review that was commissioned and accepted by the then coalition government. This review considered the issue of industry appointments to the authority and found that such appointments do not provide for good governance. They lead to appointees having potential conflicting interests between promoting industry objectives on the one hand and pursuing the objectives of the authority on the other. Appointing a representative of one particular industry—for example, tourism—to the exclusion of others is clearly problematic, given the wide range of industries and others with an interest in the marine park.

I draw the attention of the House to the point made with some clarity by Senator Abetz—I did not think I would find myself saying that in the House!—last June during the debate on the bill with the first tranche of amendments implementing the 2006 review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. Senator Abetz said:

... if we start picking and choosing with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which has such a large and extensive range of interests associated with it, I daresay we could get a list with over a hundred different categories and classifications on it ...

He went on to say:

Quite frankly, the list could go on. In my own portfolio area of fisheries, undoubtedly there would be recreational fishing interests, commercial fishing interests—the list could go on.

I agree with Senator Abetz on this point. For these reasons the government will not support such an amendment should it be moved during Senate debate on the bill.

This bill provides for management of the marine park that is integrated and aligned with the EPBC Act and other relevant legislation. It will put in place robust and streamlined environmental impact assessment and permitting arrangements. Investigation capacity will be enhanced and allow for a more tailored and flexible approach to enforcement and compliance. Responsible and ecologically sustainable use of the marine park will be encouraged by ensuring appropriate incentives are in place and management tools are available.

The bill makes long overdue and much-needed changes to put in place a comprehensive, modern regulatory framework for the Great Barrier Reef. Together with the $200 million reef rescue plan and action on climate change, this bill demonstrates the Australian government’s commitment to the long-term protection of one of the world’s oldest, richest and most complex living systems, the Great Barrier Reef. I commend this bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.