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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1144


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:13): I too rise to speak in support of the Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013. I do so on quite an extraordinary day. We have heard two fantastic speeches from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and from Minister Macklin as well. The two speeches from the two leaders show bipartisan support on a day that is significant for Indigenous Australians, the fifth anniversary of the apology.

But it is also the fifth anniversary of my first day in this parliament. I remember we started that day five years ago with an acknowledgement of country, so that is what I am going to do too—acknowledge the traditional owners and thank them for their continuing stewardship. It is strange to think that it has only been for five years that we have been doing that as a parliament. Now it is obviously a part of the fabric of this place and the fabric of the nation.

I agree with the member for Parramatta that Kakadu National Park is a treasure. I do not like the term 'bucket list' but I will use the member for Parramatta's term and indicate that it is a place I would love to visit. I have a nephew who lives up there and has also worked in Kakadu, and he assures me there are places he would love to take me to. I look forward to doing that in the future. The existence of Kakadu National Park is in no small measure due to two significant people in this process: Jeffrey Lee and Bob Hawke. And I am glad that I am here speaking before the member for Banks and with Minister Crean at the table, because I know they would have had a bit to do with that process over the years. Bob Hawke, as Prime Minister, was responsible for Kakadu stages 2 and 3. I think the nation owes him a great debt. Stage 2 was better known in the media at the time as the Coronation Hill decision. I was a bit young at the time and not as closely interested in politics, but it is my understanding that Prime Minister Hawke basically put his leadership on the line. No doubt that had repercussions for him later down the track. But I am glad he had the courage to make that brave call.

We look at Kakadu today, and no-one in the world would question that Bob Hawke was on the right side of history in the call he made. If you go to the rock lookout at Nourlangie, in Kakadu National Park, you will find historically significant rock art for Lightning Man dreaming. This is one of the most popular tourist sites in Kakadu National Park, which also overlooks Koongarra. What you are overlooking is an area that has had the shadow of potential uranium mining over it for the life of Kakadu National Park. I am proud to say that the Gillard Labor government is introducing this legislation into parliament to stop this occurring. We are now completing the million-year journey of Kakadu National Park, taking the final steps in making sure the area of Kakadu is indeed protected forever. This government has completed the Labor legacy that was advanced so far during the years of the Hawke government.

It is well known that Jeffrey Lee was offered in effect millions of dollars for his interests in the area, but made the brave call to care for the land the way his ancestors had for 60,000 years beforehand. Mr Lee is the sole member of the Djok clan and the senior custodian of the Koongarra uranium deposit and has effectively decided never to allow the ecologically sensitive land to be mined.

This decision is significant for Australia and the world. It affirms Kakadu's premier status as a World Heritage site. This, as people who understand the United Nations process would know, means that it is of international significance. I think we should all be very proud as Australians that part of our land is owned by Jeffrey Lee, and we should be especially proud of the decisions he has made.

This Labor government and all Labor governments, one would say—certainly since Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam—have had a proud history of great environmental achievements. Kakadu is only part of our story. We started as the party of jobs. I am sure that the shearers on strike out at Barcaldine were not talking about environmental issues, apart from how hot it was out at Barcaldine during the strike, sheltering under the gum trees and a bit of old canvas. But since then, particularly since the trade union activities of the 1960s and 1970s, we have also been the party of the environment. In fact some say that the blue-collar trade unions were at the forefront of the environmental movement.

In Queensland, where I come from, we have the Great Barrier Reef and some other significant environmental sites. I would mention Fraser Island for one. During the term of this government we have also made great advances in the Coral Sea. The Coral Sea is internationally recognised for its rich biodiversity and heritage value. The Labor government has recognised the need to protect the Coral Sea with a conservation marine park. This Coral Sea Marine Park initiative is recognised internationally because of its unique physical, ecological and heritage value. We can stand up proudly because of the global leadership we have shown in protecting this endangered biodiversity.

The Gillard government is focused on conserving our environment, its ecological features and its marine regions. The Coral Sea is home to a number of historic shipwrecks, as students of World War II history would know. These are significant to Australian heritage. Obviously they include the region where the Battle of the Coral Sea took place during World War II, where many shipwrecks can still be found among the reefs.

Australia is well known for its vast marine environment, containing many iconic, ecologically important and fragile places that are in need of protection. Environmental policy within Australia seeks to improve how the decisions are made regarding the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our ocean resources. In June last year the Centre for Policy Development released an economic evaluation of the proposed Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network. The evaluation reported a number of important aspects that support the Labor ambition to create permanent protection for the Coral Sea, emphasising the government's plans to increase Australia's fully protected marine parks to $2 billion a year in ecosystem services—the services come from coral reefs, seagrasses, coastal shelf and open ocean. The plan will preserve Australia's marine economy, maintaining long-term productivity of the marine estate. It will reduce the damaging forms of fishing, including bottom trawling, and this will deliver long-term benefits for recreational and commercial fishers using more sustainable practices. I particularly commend the commercial fishers for the great work they have done in this process already, despite some of the fear campaigns that are out there. Recent studies in the protected Great Barrier Reef have shown rebuilding of biomass of local fish populations in ways that are likely to produce long-term benefits to fishers.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature identified that 42 per cent of the world's most critically endangered and vulnerable coral species are found in the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. This region is internationally recognised as a significant location for threatened marine species. So, the Australian government's decision to implement a permanent Coral Sea marine park demonstrates global leadership by acting to preserve this important region and reduce the loss of global biodiversity. I note Minister Burke, who is in the chamber, for the great work he has done in this area.

Another environmental achievement I am proud of is the Gillard government's plan to deliver an additional 450 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin. This measure recently passed through the parliament. This legislation secures $1.77 billion to relax key operating constraints and to recover the additional water through projects that do not have a social and economic impact on communities. This will be achieved through improvements in irrigation efficiency. We are looking after jobs, but we are also looking after the environment for the future. It will address existing constraints that limit higher water flows, including outflows from storage dams, low-lying infrastructure, and the need to provide for flood easements or agreements with landholders.

The Gillard Labor government is driven to protect our precious environment. We recently opened applications for funding under the second round of the Biodiversity Fund and the first round of Target Area Grants, under the Caring for our Country program. These funding opportunities are a step towards investing in a healthy and more resilient environment by supporting volunteers, farmers and community groups, all together, to make a real difference in their local area.

In my electorate of Moreton, there is a number of fantastic volunteer working groups who work hard to protect local environment. Just to name a few: the activists at Beyond Zero Emissions; the Benarrawa Bushcare Group; the Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee; the local conservation volunteers; the Friends of Oxley Creek Common and the Oxley Creek Catchment Association—they do incredible work and have been recognised with awards; the Friends of Stable Swamp Creek; the Gaddes Park Bushcare Group; the Moorooka Greening Group; and the friends of Toohey Forest, who need a bit of a rejig at the moment. I have had dirt under my fingernails with some of these groups and I am proud of the work that they do. It is good for their soul and good for their health as well, but also good for the environment.

There are countless initiatives this government has taken towards environmental protection, including banning supertrawlers—and I see Minister Burke made some comments about that yesterday, with some additional safeguards—adding Tarkine to the National Heritage List, the recruitment of specialised local staff to restore the Murray-Darling Basin, investing to help improve urban waterways, the Western Australian marine parks program, and the internationally recognised price on carbon. We are a world leader in this area.

In Kakadu, we have one of the most precious places on earth. The governments of the world have recognised that, so this bill helps us to complete Kakadu National Park. It allows this Labor government to conclude the legacy of the Hawke Labor government and allows Australia to proudly respect the wishes of the traditional owners and say that the wishes that they have had for their land will be respected for ever and Kakadu National Park will be complete. I commend the bill to the House.