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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9455

Senator McLUCAS (3:32 PM) —It is with an enormous amount of pleasure that we are bringing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from Oil Drilling and Exploration) Amendment Bill 2003 [No. 2] into the chamber this afternoon. This is legislation that has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Mr Kelvin Thomson, Labor's shadow minister for the environment and heritage. In my view, it is a very sensible and practical bill. It will extend the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region—not the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area—to the exclusive economic zone. The purpose of it is very clear. Under the Great Barrier Marine Park Act 1975, any oil drilling or prospecting in the Great Barrier Reef region is prohibited. The purpose of this piece of legislation is to extend the region so that oil drilling and prospecting in the Great Barrier Reef region—that region east of the boundary of the current marine park to the exclusive economic zone—will therefore be prohibited.

When it became evident that a company called TGS-NOPEC was considering oil drilling in that area, the Labor Party, along with other opposition parties in this place, expressed concern. We called on the government and the Minister for the Environment and Heritage at that time, Senator Hill, to rule out once and for all oil drilling east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. Senator Hill and his successor, Dr Kemp, have not taken the opportunity to do something sensible on behalf of the residents of Queensland and all Australians to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef from any potential oil drilling. The response of Senator Hill and Dr Kemp is that, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, any process would have to go through scrutiny and of course nothing would ever occur. That is just not good enough for the people of Queensland and it is not good enough for the Labor Party and other opposition parties in this place.

We want to know for sure that oil drilling will never occur, especially in the Townsville Trough and the Capricorn Basin, but anywhere that the environmental, social and economic values of the Great Barrier Reef could in any way be threatened. The purpose of this legislation is to do what the government will not do—ensure that oil drilling cannot occur. TGS-NOPEC is a company which now has approval to undertake some seismic testing in an area near Lihou Reef and Marion Reef in the Townsville Trough. If that were to go ahead and they were to find that oil reserves exist there—and there is no reason to think that they would not—and that prospectivity were established, you can understand the pressure that would be brought to bear on any government to exploit that oil.

All of the community in North Queensland are opposed to any potential oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef, including the fishing industry, for example—both commercial and recreational fishers. The tourism industry in particular is outraged that we would compromise a $1.5 billion industry to the state of Queensland by allowing oil drilling on the reef. Conservationists and the science community are opposed to any oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef, along with the broader community. There is a very strong feeling of opposition to any potential drilling. But the other thing that comes across when you talk to people about it is the question, `Didn't we fix this problem when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was keen to exploit oil on the Great Barrier Reef?' And the answer is no, it has not been solved, but we do need to do it now.

It is with great pleasure that I cosponsor this piece of legislation. I encourage the government to consider it as a sensible and practical answer to a problem—an answer that has enormous support in the community. Please do not play politics with it. Please do not think that you cannot support it just because it has come from this side of the chamber. This legislation is a cheap option, unlike the option put up by Mr Peter Lindsay, the member for Herbert, who has suggested that the whole Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area—that is, the park itself—be extended to the exclusive economic zone. As you can imagine, that would be enormously expensive. This bill presents a simple answer to a real threat that we all want to avert. Please do not play politics with it. Please ensure that you do the right thing on behalf of North Queenslanders and on behalf of all of us who are interested in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. I commend the legislation to the chamber.