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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9468

Senator HOGG (4:44 PM) —I participated in the debate on the last occasion that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from Oil Drilling and Exploration) Amendment Bill 2003 [No. 2] was before us, under the Democrats. I made it clear that my reasons for participating in the debate on that occasion were firstly that I had an interest in the reef because it is an icon—

Senator Carr —Not a commerical interest.

Senator HOGG —Not commercial—

Senator Carr —I hope the Liberals have declared their commercial interest.

Senator HOGG —I am sure they would have declared any interest, Senator Carr. But having said that, I had an interest in the reef going back not only to my time as a senator and a citizen of the state of Queensland but also as a member of the environment committee of this Senate. I was involved in a rather substantial inquiry which looked at the effects on the reef from damage caused by human intervention. On the occasion that I last spoke on this bill, although it is now under the sponsorship of Senator McLucas and Senator Bartlett, I did complain about schedule 1. I still complain about schedule 1 because, if one looks at schedule 1, it lists a whole lot of latitudes and longitudes which are very nice on paper but do not paint the true picture of what we are talking about.

Senator Carr —I can see that.

Senator HOGG —Yes. That is a very important thing.

Senator Abetz —You want a map.

Senator HOGG —I want a map—that is right, Senator Abetz; you have hit it in one— for the simple reason that a number of other people in this debate need a map as well. We had Senator Eggleston in here, who is from the western side of the nation, speaking about a pristine area off the coast of Queensland. I am sure that if he knew where the Barrier Reef was exactly situated, he might have been a little more fervent about the protection of the reef as those of us from the state of Queensland are.

Senator Abetz —Senator McLucas should have done her homework.

Senator HOGG —We are very fervent, Senator Abetz, in the protection of the reef. We know what an icon the reef is. We know what part it plays in the economy of not only the state of Queensland but also the whole of Australia. My friend on the other side Senator Santoro has just admirably told us of the quality of the reef in terms of tourism and what it draws to the state of Queensland. Senator McLucas, in her second reading speech, did allude to the economic usefulness of the reef in terms of the fishermen and fisherwomen of the state of Queensland. That is very important as well.

This legislation is absolutely necessary. It has been scoffed at from the other side, purely and simply, as being totally unnecessary and a piece of political mischief, as described by Senator Eggleston. Coming from a Western Australian, that was most unfair indeed. As I said, if he were to live in Queensland he would have a different view of it. Those of us in Queensland seek to protect this reef so that it remains not only for this generation but for generations into the future as well.

One of the attractions of the reef—which has prompted, in many ways, this bill as it appears in the second reading speech of my colleague Senator McLucas—is the prospect of oil and gas being there. Where there is oil and gas, there is money. Where there is money, people tend to push the iconic values of places such as the Barrier Reef to one side. Therefore, in my mind, that justifies this piece of legislation that is here today. Because the guarantees that have been provided by the senators opposite thus far in the debate are not really guarantees at all. There is a history associated with this issue. A brief history that I have been provided with looks at what happened back in 1968. In 1968, the then Bjelke-Petersen government issued 16 licences to prospect for oil in the waters east of Queensland.

Senator HOGG —Senator Abetz, even you would not want a pristine iconic reef, such as the Great Barrier Reef, to be the subject of oil exploration with all the attendant problems that can happen with oil exploration.

Senator Abetz —It won't go back to 1968. It was a very long time ago.

Senator HOGG —Going back to 1968 is very important, Senator Abetz, because governments—and there have been state Labor governments since the Bjelke-Petersen government—have not issued licences for prospecting on the reef. The only government to issue licences was a coalition government in the state of Queensland. That is the concern. In 1970, Ampol and Japex postponed drilling near Whitsunday Island. In 1972, the Whitlam government was elected, and in 1974 there was a royal commission into oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef that was completed. The commission, as I understand it, was at that time split on whether drilling should be allowed on the reef or not. I do not think it is a matter of whether or not it should be; I think it is a matter of total exclusion, because once it is laid waste the reef will never recover. It is such a fragile ecological system that, having been destroyed, the time for recovery is not 10, 20 or 30 years; it will take thousands of years. That is the problem with that system, unlike any other system that we have around the world. Some systems can be restored, but in the case of the Great Barrier Reef we are dealing with a very fragile system indeed.

In 1975, the Labor government established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Also in 1975, the Fraser government was elected. In 1980, the Fraser coalition government placed the Great Barrier Reef on the Register of the National Estate. That is laudable, that is praiseworthy and that is proper. That is what should be done. We have something that is unparalleled anywhere else throughout the world. That is why the tourists come to see it. That is why there is such a diverse range of fish life and coral life on the reef itself.

Of course, some people tried to take a cheap shot by referring to difficulties that occurred during the Hawke Labor government and alluded to some efforts that were made by Mr Griffiths at that time. The fact of life at that time was that Mr Hawke, the then Prime Minister of Australia, came down on the proposition like a tonne of bricks. What there was, in effect, was probably described in other words as a `rogue element'. But that was clearly and quickly stopped by Prime Minister Hawke. He was not entertaining any interference in any way whatsoever with the Great Barrier Reef.

The legislation today really gets to the point of ensuring the lasting value of the reef is preserved for all time. We have real concerns that, with the passage of ships through that area, if a tanker, for example, were to hit then one faces the prospect of calamitous damage to the reef. But, of course, fortunately there has not been anything of great magnitude at this stage. Having said that, one should also then look at the views of the locals, particularly in the area where there was talk of seismic testing in the Townsville Trough. It is interesting to look at the Townsville Bulletin of 17 April 2002. I can assure you that I do not think the Townsville Bulletin is noted as being overly sympathetic towards the Labor Party, but it is interesting to look at the editorial of that day. It notes:

... Opposition Leader Simon Crean ... pledged a Labor government would ban exploration or drilling for oil on or around the Great Barrier Reef.

That is important. People thought that I was having a bit of a joke before when I was talking about the map, because when you look at the map, whilst it will have a boundary for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the area that we are talking about, you see there is no partition dividing the two areas. Movement between the two areas defies the boundary. The boundary, in effect, is something that we as human beings have created but there is no boundary in terms of the movement of water, the movement of fish life, the movement of bird life and the movement of species across those boundaries. It is not simply about looking at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, as has been raised in this debate. One needs to also look at the areas adjacent to, abutting, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area so that one excludes dangerous activities from taking place in that area. That is what this bill seeks to do. It is not doing anything extraordinary; it is simply saying that oil prospecting and oil drilling, being the target of the bill, will be stopped.

There is no reason why anyone on the other side of politics in this debate should not be able to sign up, whether they think that it is excessive to existing provision or whatever and whether they believe it is even a political stunt. It is not a political stunt in the eyes of the people of Queensland. It is not a political stunt, because it has iconic values. The editorial in the Townsville Bulletin goes on to say:

The reef, he—

that is, Simon Crean—

rightly observed, was one of Australia's greatest natural tourism assets and legislation may be required to protect it from further oil exploration.

The article goes on:

Federal Environment Minister David Kemp meanwhile is adamant that under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, oil drilling and exploration have been “explicitly, totally and unambiguously” banned on the reef for more than 25 years.

That is right, but we are not talking about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park solely. There is the area adjacent to it. It does not live in isolation. Whilst Minister Kemp, quoted in this editorial, may well be correct, the fact of life is that you have to live with the area that is adjacent to it as well. And that is the area that is targeted by the legislation presented by Senator McLucas. That is why I said it would have been very helpful if we had had a map, rather than a series of latitudes and longitudes. It would have assisted people such as Senator Eggleston when participating in the debate. I do not blame him: he is from Western Australia, and I know it is a long way away. It would have helped him, though, to realise where the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority area is in relation to the area that is being described by Senator McLucas's legislation. Maybe we can get someone to convert it to a map and send it to Senator Eggleston. I must say that my colleague Senator McLucas has tried to draw a map for me, but I said that that was completely insufficient for my needs. The Townsville Bulletin editorial goes on to say:

We should all rest easy then, knowing that politicians at all levels are opposed to any harm coming to this wonderful asset. But even though the reef might well be protected under the Marine Park Act, other legislation is in place that is allowing a seismic survey to go ahead in an undersea area known as the Townsville Trough which, if the survey confirms the suspected presence of vast oil reserves, will spark intense pressure from oil companies for drilling to proceed.

That is the nub of it. If there is oil there, if there is gas there, then as the editorial— which is not normally sympathetic to the Labor perspective and the Labor point of view—identifies, it will spark intense pressure from oil companies for drilling to proceed. They will harangue and they will harass until they get their way. The article goes on to say—

Senator Abetz —It's your reef, too.

Senator HOGG —It is your reef, too. Senator Eggleston, I am glad to see you here. I am going to get a map produced for you.

Senator Eggleston —I brought them out of the office.

Senator HOGG —That is good. Although everyone agrees the reef cannot be drilled, there is interest in whether oil is in the region and in determining at what distance from the reef drilling would be acceptable to the Australian public. That is the other issue that is raised in this. Having established that there is oil there, will that then put pressure to bear on politicians and the like to ensure that the reef is drilled? The article concludes:

Without doubt, the Government and Opposition will be lobbied—and lobbied hard—if and when the presence of a vast reservoir is determined.

The article goes on to say:

That confirmation could occur at any time and so it is vital that the public holds the politicians to their word and ensures that the reef can never be harmed.

The operative word there is `never'—`holds the politicians to their word' and `never be harmed'. If this legislation ensures that the Great Barrier Reef can never be harmed then it is a positive step in the right direction. It is not a step that is a political stunt; it is not a step that is going to do anything other than protect the lifestyle, the livelihood, of many people in Australia and protect an iconic world-class attraction for many tourists throughout this world.