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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 989


Senator MASON(4.23) —The Australian Democrats support Senator Missen's motion. He has been interested on a long term basis in conservation issues, and I give him full credit for that. We would go further than the motion. I refer particularly to Senator Macklin's private member's Bill, which is at the second reading stage in the Senate, to grant interim protection to the Daintree region until it can be entered on to the World Heritage Commission list. The view of the Democrats and, I believe, the conservation movement is that this is a non-negotiable position. Nevertheless, there is no reason why we should not support Senator Missen's initiative which we believe goes some of the distance towards solving some of the problems of that area. This motion refers mainly to the crown of thorns starfish issue.

Like Senator Missen, and no doubt many other honourable senators, I saw Bob Raymond's television documentary on the subject, which raised points that need to be resolved. This has been a controversial area for a great deal of time, with experts on both sides saying two different things. One side maintains there is nothing wrong with the crown of thorns; it is a cyclic occurrence which is normal. The other side maintains-and demonstrates with very graphic film, such as the Raymond documentary-that it is causing a great deal of damage. It is difficult for those of us who do not go up there regularly and swim the length of the reef underwater to know what the situation is.

Some kind of inquiry is necessary and I hope that inquiry will be able to get before it those people who really know. By that, I mean the people who dive on the reef, who spend a lot of time there and who have been acquainted with the scope of the problem. It seems to me the scope of the crown of thorns starfish issue is the important question. How far does it go; how much is being damaged; and, how quickly is the reef regenerating? Unless we establish these answers, we may have a situation that causes permanent harm to the reef.

The motion brought by Senator Missen notes recent reports that soil erosion arising from the building of a road in the Daintree Rainforest may be creating a threat to rare coral reefs just off the Daintree coast. We are pleased and interested to see that he has brought that point forward, because for more than a year the conservation movement in general and the Australian Democrats have been pointing out the tragic consequences of this road, which has become a symbol of environmental vandalism. I would state it at no less than that.

I will not repeat the points Senator Missen raised and I will not quote again the authorities he referred to, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that there is soil run-off into the sea which is threatening the fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef which comes very close to the land at that point. One can see from some graphic photographs which have come into my possession how close the reef comes in there. This is one of the unique beauty spots of the world and one of the most interesting curiousities-rain hills covered with a forest come down to an unspoiled beach coast, and the fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef come virtually within swimming distance off the coast.

Many of us who disliked right from the start the Bloomfield to Cape Tribulation road were not fully understood. I do not think people realised the main burden of our complaint was with the type of road that was built. It was a dirt surface subject to severe erosion. Indeed, when it was first opened it was so bad that the first vehicles across it were hopelessly bogged down. If honourable senators want to see photographs of the damage that has been done, they have only to go into the Australian Democrats Party room to see it all in proven photographic form. There is no doubt whatsoever that the road at that point is collapsing away in massive slips which are falling off into the sea. I would have thought it was a singularly bone-headed decision on the part of the people who built that road, for whatever reason, to have allowed it to be in that situation. They should have known before they even built the road that that consequence would occur. The thing now is to do something about it. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.