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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7328

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6:03 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The report of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is an important document for people to read. In a way it is a shame that we get so little time to consider annual reports and documents and to debate them formally, although I know that obviously Senate committees have that opportunity. As we have 207 different documents listed here, many of which are annual reports and many of which are reported because it is mandated by the parliament, it is a bit of a shame that so little recognition is given in this chamber for the various wide-ranging and important issues that all of these documents deal with. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority report is one in particular that I single out. I do so because of the extreme importance of the work of that authority and the extreme importance of the marine park. The marine park authority is legislatively responsible for overseeing and protecting the natural values and the world heritage values of that magnificent marine park. The marine park authority is obviously not going to put in its annual report that it is extremely stretched for resources, but in the view of the Democrats it is underfunded, given the enormous job that it has and the enormous economic value, let alone environmental value, of the asset that it seeks to protect and manage.

In many ways, in conjunction with many other agencies in the north of Queensland, my home state, it is a world leader in terms of the management of and research into reef ecosystems and reef related issues. I think it is often underrecognised that the world-leading, cutting edge research that is done by people in institutions in northern Queensland such as the James Cook University and many others is looked to by others around the world. I take this opportunity to urge the federal government and indeed the Queensland state government, which talks a lot about being the smart state and the knowledge economy, to look at that asset, which I think is significantly undervalued. I think that in northern Queensland we really do have an opportunity to be a centre of excellence in reef management issues and some of the important scientific research that is being done.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is currently conducting what I think is probably the most important task in its 25-year or more history: a complete review of the biodiversity of the marine park and mapping the different bioregions or ecosystems that are in the marine park. There is obviously a lot of focus on the coral in the reefs, which is appropriate, but there are lots of other aspects of the marine park and its ecosystems that do not get as much attention. It is a lot easier to try and save magnificent coral with colourful fish all around it than it is to try and save a mud flat. Saving a mud flat does not have quite the same resonance but it is often equally important in terms of the ecological values and the way it links into the matrix of the entire marine park.

The Democrats continue to remind the public and the government that there are a number of threats to the marine park that are not being properly addressed. There is the immediate threat of climate change leading to increased coral bleaching, which, due to this government's refusal to act properly on greenhouse gases and to ratify the Kyoto protocol, is a real and continuing danger. That danger is exacerbated by many of the other threats to the reef that are weakening its defences against shocks like coral bleaching.

Water quality is one threat that has been in the news lately, with more scientific research being produced, as well as the Productivity Commission's report, that demonstrates that water quality in the marine park is a major problem. Illegal fishing is undoubtedly a major problem and I think we only know the tip of the iceberg about that because, again, the authority does not have the resources to properly police this type of activity. It is immensely lucrative, the fines are not adequate in our view and the resources for policing that are not adequate. Those are just a few of the areas where there are threats.

I think the marine park authority does a good job in a very difficult situation. There are a lot of competing interests and the authority has to straddle the divide between state and federal governments, which would make life difficult for anybody. The authority needs extra resources. I think there needs to be more commitment and recognition given to the value of the reef, the real threats that it is under and the economic value of the scientific research surrounding that. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.