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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9461

Senator MOORE (4:11 PM) —The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from Oil Drilling and Exploration) Amendment Bill 2003 [No. 2] will achieve what most people actually believe is already in place for the Great Barrier Reef—the full protection from oil prospecting and potential drilling. The extension of the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef region by amending the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 will ensure that our reef will not be threatened by damage or loss through any form of oil drilling or exploration. The Great Barrier Reef is an outstanding national wonder, as described by Elliott Napier in 1929:

In the Barrier Reef, Nature has bestowed a gift upon Australia which is as unique as it is wonderful.

This area we are talking about is not just a place of incredible beauty. It is also a place of enormous biological richness, spanning a high range of different habitats: mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass meadows, the large lagoon between the mainland and the outer reef and, as we would expect, over 2,900 different kinds of coral reef. The Great Barrier Reef, our Great Barrier Reef, holds a special place in the awareness of Australians. Somehow this debate is not actually well done with only words. We should be having this discussion aided by the outstanding pictures of reef beauty available through the web site and library of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority as well as the wealth of painting and artwork celebrating the unequalled wonder and the confounding, and even confronting, colours of our region. The seemingly fragile beauty of the marine life has captured our imaginations over generations and has led us to recognise the need to care for the life of the sea.

The relatively recent history—and I am not going to give a full history lesson—of the area reflects the particular role that the beauty and the vulnerability of the reef has had in the environmental awareness and action of many Australians. Since the 1960s, when the developmental enthusiasm of our then state government in Queensland led to the granting of exploration rights to the Great Barrier Reef area, the responsibilities of governments and the expectation of the community that legislation would protect the natural environment have caused extensive debates, not always and not necessarily acrimonious, and with some shared enthusiasm for a strong result.

A perception that the Great Barrier Reef was in dire peril was a fundamental force in the call for the establishment of the marine park. The principal threats were seen to be a proposal for the exploration of oil drilling and limestone mining and a severe risk of major pollution from shipping. We are talking about the 1960s, but those risks are just as real now and have the same threat. The call to save the reef was echoed amongst a growing force of people who were involved as community activists, many for the first time. Of course, there were leaders and, of course, there were larger scientific groups involved in submissions to the royal commission and governments.

Importantly, the people of Queensland and Australia as a whole became involved in the campaign. The widespread production and distribution of the now quite famous `Save the Barrier Reef' bumper stickers highlighted the extent of the campaign. Many thousands were printed and distributed, and there are still some around on some very old vehicles. That campaign enlivened the debate and in many ways caused the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The legislation in 1975 was truly significant. The managing authority created by that legislation— the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—has the goal:

To provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

This can be achieved. As stated in the annual report 2001-02, that goal is big; it is inclusive. Implicit in the goal is the primary obligation to ensure conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. There are many aims of the authority, and two of the key aims are:

· To protect the natural qualities of the Great Barrier Reef, while providing for reasonable use of the Reef Region—


· To involve the community meaningfully in the care and development of the Marine Park.

These statements reinforce the sense of community ownership and the expectation of genuine protection for the environment. Under the legislation, the Great Barrier Reef region and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park areas exist as separate entities. Currently, mining and petroleum drilling are not permitted in any part of the defined Great Barrier Reef region by regulation. The bill before us today effectively extends the protection required for the whole area. It is so straightforward but so necessary.

The community is involved with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and with their reef. There is a relationship. Indeed, the authority has an extensive community consultation and education program. School programs, web based information and library services, as well as community visits and meetings, link the community and ensure that there is knowledge and commitment. People own their reef and they respect it.

The Great Barrier Reef was World Heritage listed in 1981, having met the four criteria required. They are enormous. The first is that the reef had to be an outstanding example representing a major step of the Earth's evolutionary history. The second was that the reef had to be an outstanding example representing significant ongoing geological process, biological evolution and man's—forgive me for using that word; it is actually in the aim—interaction with his natural environment. The third was that the reef had to contain unique, rare and substantive natural phenomena, formations and features, and areas of exceptional natural beauty. The fourth was that the reef had to provide habitats where populations of rare and endangered species of plants and animals still survive. Ian McPhail, a previous chairperson of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, stated:

Although originally seen as a prize or badge of honour, World Heritage status is now increasingly being seen as an international obligation to maintain ...

This responsibility we have should not be too difficult. The good health and protection of the Great Barrier Reef is not just noble or morally sound but good business. There is no question that tourism gives a major economic boost to Queensland and our nation. The Great Barrier Reef attracts over 1.6 million visitors a year, with an estimated economic worth of more than $1 billion per annum. People want to visit the reef, view the natural beauty and experience the wonder of the area. This attraction would not be enhanced by oil drilling or any perception that the natural area could be threatened in any way. The CRC Reef Research Centre at James Cook University is currently conducting a project studying tourism and recreational use of the Great Barrier Reef. On its web site it states:

The sustainability of Great Barrier Reef (GBR) tourism and recreation is based on quality and continuity. A quality experience must be provided for visitors, while improving the quality of life of the host community and protecting the quality of the environment.

The private member's bill in front of us today continues Labor's commitment to protect the reef. The `No Rigs' campaign in 2002 received strong support. At the last election, Labor's policy entitled `Caring for the Great Barrier Reef' included a very straightforward statement. To preserve the health of the reef, Labor will:

Prohibit all mineral, oil and gas exploration and operations in Australian waters offshore of the Great Barrier Reef ...

This was our policy. This is our policy. This will always be our policy. The bill before us today continues the sense of cooperation. We need cooperation on issues to do with the environment. People across political parties in the past have succeeded in meeting on this issue to agree on the need to protect the reef. Former Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton stood very strongly to protect the reef and made many public statements and got great support in Queensland for his position. He had great passion for the environment and, in particular, for the Great Barrier Reef. A young shadow resources minister for the ALP named Keating also had a great passion for the reef and in speeches which were actually to do with the resources portfolio for which he was shadow minister made a clear statement that he would support the Great Barrier Reef's protection.

The private member's bill in front of us should not cause any fear, and I am surprised by the opposition of the government and their attempts to block, dismiss or minimalise it. The only motivation for us is to secure real protection from oil exploration and production, and any other form of recreational activity such as fishing or visiting will not be affected. What we want to do is to protect our reef, and we should accept that there are causes that go well beyond any inference of profit or gain or any particular past party allegiances. What we are talking about is cooperation on environmental protection.

As a senator from Queensland joining with at least three other senators from Queensland who will be speaking on this bill, I am very happy to support Senator McLucas and to be able to say that I have been fortunate enough to live in North Queensland and to visit our wonderful Great Barrier Reef. Any sense that it could be under threat needs to be addressed. I am sure we will be able to find some acceptance that we need to be together on this—dismiss any acceptance that we can make political points—and to look at the key issue, which is protection and security for something that is vulnerable.

Senator Bartlett referred to the strong work done by the current Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and we echo that. The authority is doing splendid work and we rely on that work to protect what is already there. However, this bill extends that to ensure that there is no opportunity for threat and that there cannot be any activity that could in any way reverse the legacy that we all have. As senators in this chamber know, there is strong legislation. The debates about setting up the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in 1975 were strong and in many ways they were an example of how people could work together to ensure a great result. But, as Senator Bartlett said, that was a long time ago and there needs to be some reconsideration. It is to be hoped that that reconsideration can be achieved in the same spirit. However, comments dismissing any attempts to put forward this bill make one question whether in fact there is that understanding across this house. I commend this private member's bill to the Senate. We can work together now to ensure that a natural wonder is protected, that the onerous national and international responsibility that we all share will be fulfilled and that future generations will be able to enjoy our Great Barrier Reef in the same safety that we do today.