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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1111


Senator ZAKHAROV —I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment. In view of the Queensland Government's stated intention to grant freehold title to leaseholders of Great Barrier Reef islands, what action can the Government take to ensure that these areas retain their present status?


Senator RYAN —The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, has pointed to a number of steps that the Government could take in response to this appalling proposal emanating from the Government of Queensland in relation to the Barrier Reef islands. Mr Cohen has pointed to the inscription in 1981 of all the islands of the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage List. This listing was done with the agreement of the Queensland Government. Listing places an obligation on the nation to ensure that no action was permitted that would jeopardise the world heritage area. This obligation is met in Australia mainly by the provisions of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act. Mr Cohen has pointed out that the sale of leasehold land would almost certainly reduce the ability of the Queensland Government to protect the area, even if the Queensland Government continued to wish to protect the area, which it appears it does not.

Mr Cohen said that potential or existing developers should bear in mind that, while the islands are part of Queensland and are principally the responsibility of the Queensland Government, the provisions of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act apply to any action that could damage the islands' environment. The provisions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act apply to any action on those islands that could cause damaging pollution to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Further, corporations should be aware that the Commonwealth is fully responsible for all of the Great Barrier Reef below low water mark. So there are a range of ways in which the Commonwealth Government can take action to protect the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, actions which I believe would have the support of all Queenslanders and all Australians.