Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9471

Senator SCULLION (5:02 PM) —I am very pleased that Senator Eggleston has entered the chamber so that I can perhaps take the opportunity to defend him. I am quite sure that neither Senator Eggleston nor I need a map to understand that Kakadu, the Olgas and the Great Barrier Reef belong to all Australians. In fact, they are three places that are managed by the Commonwealth on behalf of all Australians because of their iconic status. I would say to Senator Hogg that I can understand why Senator Eggleston would take such offence at the suggestion that he is too far away and that he does not, as an Australian, have an interest in that area.

There is simply no need for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from Oil Drilling and Exploration) Amendment Bill 2003 [No. 2]. You will have to look around and say, `What sort of mischief is out there that this piece of legislation seeks to apprehend and stop?' As I see it, there is no immediate threat to any of these things. I have heard of people talking about a number of applications that are happening and the great fear of something happening with a seismic survey. There has been much exploration north of the Northern Territory. It has been done under the legislation of this government and it has been very successful in ensuring that there has been absolutely no damage to the environment.

As has been mentioned many times in this chamber by both sides, the principal issue, which seems to have been ignored, is that mineral exploration is in fact banned completely from the marine park by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. There is absolutely no exploration there at all. As has been mentioned here before, there were obviously some concerns up to 1996 when we had a simple act—the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. That act, as has been stated often in this chamber, was completely insufficient to be able to manage comprehensive exploration activity in our marine reserves.

It is interesting and I suppose ironic that we have heard from the other side about how important it is to pursue exploration for minerals in our marine estates under very tight legislation. I find it very difficult to believe that the Labor Party are standing before us today saying we need tougher regulations when in the late eighties they actively pursued exploration around the reef under the offshore strategy, which promoted petroleum exploration in offshore areas, with very little protection provided in terms of legislation. I heard Senator Santoro talk about this particular legislation and about an automatic right. It is as if someone can say, `Look, I've got to make a decision on the environment. I'll just pick the phone up; I'll ring the minister and say, “How's it going, mate? Listen, we're doing a little bit of a pipeline thing—a bit of reef. Don't worry about it; I just want to seek your advice. But even if your advice is that I can't possibly do that, well, no worries, mate. Crack on.”' That is not legislation of any value and it is certainly not the sort of legislation that underpins an offshore strategy that pursues exploration, particularly in the Townsville trench. Isn't it ironic that we are in this chamber today considering legislation that has been triggered by this fear campaign in the same area that the Labor Party, in the eighties, was looking to explore under such flimsy legislation.

I heard Senator McLucas in her opening remarks on this legislation say that an application has been successful for seismic exploration around the area of the Townsville trench. That is not actually the case. She needs to understand that seismic exploration can take place subject to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—a very rigorous piece of legislation that lays out a whole suite of activities that have to be undertaken prior to the commencement of seismic or other exploration activities. It is a very important piece of legislation because it is very comprehensive. It ensures that the EIS deals with a whole range of issues associated with the biodiversity of the area and that it understands the complexity of the biospheres under which the proposed exploration is going to act.

So it certainly has not gone ahead. As I understand it, the EIS has not actually been completed at this stage. I know that was not misleading, but I thought people should really try to understand the process. Perhaps when they understand the process they can understand why people like me, who have a long association with the marine environment, are so confident that the suite of legislation provided by this government will give future generations of Australians confidence that they will have access to our marine resources. That might be for jobs or for the commercial interests that the members opposite resile so strongly from that provide huge amounts of employment and development in Queensland. If the EIS indicates any problem whatsoever, the seismic activity will not be able to continue. It is as simple as that.

This government has put in comprehensive arrangements to protect the park. To understand the management of natural resources you need to understand that no single tool will provide protection for the environment. It has to be a suite of tools, because the environment is diverse and the management tools need to be equally diverse. This government has expanded the size of the park and has developed extensive programs that now represent over 70 bioregions within the park. The boundary of the reef is well inside the boundary of the park. People say, `It is right up against the side of the park.' The marine park was designed with a boundary, a buffer zone, that is many kilometres outside any of the areas that the park seeks to protect. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been tasked with looking after the very delicate biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef. It is the tools that we find in the marine park management plan that are so good at doing those very things. To say that we will extend the park in some clumsy attempt to control something else is an absolute nonsense. It is a suggestion put forward by people who do not understand the principles of natural resource management.

There are some examples of other people who have looked at managing their fisheries well into the future and who have done it very well. I point to the Torres Strait Treaty. It says that there is a five-year moratorium on any exploration in the area. In that five years we are developing a management plan to ensure that we can have access perhaps to petroleum resources within our region, but that has to be done sustainably and in a way that ensures that the environment is not impacted in any way. That is a very sensible approach. We have already heard about this government's suite of measures, including the wonderful sugar package that came out. That was also associated with ensuring that the activities of the sugar farmers did not affect the marine park of such iconic value that is adjacent to them.

Places like Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve and Lihou Reef Natural Nature Reserve are within this area that we speak about. There is absolutely no petroleum exploration there. We do not need to regulate for it; we do not need to legislate for it. It is within a management plan, and protection has already been achieved. The Commonwealth government have recognised that there are iconic areas to the east of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea, so they have managed them within a suite of management plans. The government have made these areas national nature reserves in order to manage them effectively and efficiently. The Coral Sea Fishery in that area is also very efficiently managed by the Commonwealth government through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. There is also the Coral Sea Islands Act. We have layers of regulation that ensure that every bit of activity that occurs not only in the areas within the reef but outside the reef is managed perfectly and sustainably. People are saying, `Let's just extend it out there. This is a bill that is supposed to protect the reef, so we will extend the park all the way to the EEZ.' There is no concise appreciation of the issues that we are trying to resolve. There is no appreciation that the Townsville trench might have some special diversity that we need to protect. There is none of that. The idea is to take the park all the way to the EEZ. Do you know why? Because there is an arbitrary line there. No Australian should need a map to know that there are an awful lot of resources and an awful lot of area between the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and the EEZ.

The trick is to watch how things are perceived to so easily transfer. This has gone from being an area adjacent to the park to actually spreading out to become part of the park, yet there is the notion that this proposal for an extension to the region would impose no management or cost implications for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This clearly is not the case. Once an area is determined to be within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the authority has a legislative obligation to administer the area in accordance with its objectives and functions. I can assure you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that, should it be declared part of the marine park, it is anticipated that there will be a reasonable community expectation that once the Coral Sea area is incorporated into the region it will be incorporated into the marine park. That is the flow. Section 32 of the act requires that as soon as practicable we need to prepare a zoning plan for the area. This is not just something you do over breakfast; this is a comprehensive process second to none in the entire world. We look very carefully at the impacts, and that is how we have zoned the Great Barrier Reef. But suddenly we are going to be preparing a zoning plan that goes from the Great Barrier Reef to the edge of the EEZ and we are going to say, `That is not going to cost a thing—not a cent.' What a lot of rubbish.

There are two full phases of public consultation. It is a huge area and there are so many stakeholders in that area to be consulted. I do not know that they are all going to say, `That will take two days. We will do it over breakfast; it will be easy.' What a lot of absolute nonsense. It flies in the face of reality. The same issues are associated with people trying understand marine management. It is about managing people. It is an absolute insult to Queenslanders and Australians to say that we are suddenly going to be able to do this widespread consultation at no cost. Let us talk about some of the stakeholders. Let us say the park has now expanded to the edge of the EEZ. The fishing industry does not care, tourism is all right and everyone is happy. I have just been on the phone today to the CEO of the East Coast Tuna Association. He said, `If the marine park goes anywhere else but where it is, you will put an awful lot of people out of business, Nigel.' I said, `I am not suggesting that at all. I resile from that. This is just a suggestion—some bill that is being put up that is supposed to be protecting the park but is in fact going to do other things.'

Senator McLucas —That is not true, Nigel, and you know that.

Senator SCULLION —While you were out of the room, Senator McLucas, I explained how we went from an extension under section 32 of the act to it being a marine park. One of the problems with the park was that they were excluded because they had a multihook fishing capacity. They have $20 million to $40 million in production; there are 800 to 1,200 people; there is $150 million to $180 million in capital invested in the northern area of the zone; and there are 50 boats in Mooloolaba, 10 boats in Cairns and four boats in Bundaberg. You cannot be too flippant about this. These people are deeply concerned about the regulatory arrangements in the area that they fish—because they have been excluded, and they accept that—which is between the EEZ and the reef. I can tell you right now, judging by the phone call I had today, that it will not take too long to consult with that part of industry. They will certainly not be too happy about it.

I have been in some confusion trying to come to grips with this terrible fear that we have out there, that at any minute now oil will gush out of something and it will then run all over the top of the ocean and kill everything. As an Australian and someone who has worked, studied and been closely associated not only with the Great Barrier Reef but also with many similar biosystems around Australia, I am passionate about making sure that not only the icon values but also those commercial interests that those opposite resile from so much are protected in the future. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

The oil industry no longer drills holes in the ground, with all those associated nightmares. It is a heavily regulated industry in Australia. It cannot do anything anywhere near the Great Barrier Reef in any event because we have the border of the Great Barrier Reef a long way from the reef itself. There is a buffer zone that was designed to make sure that such activities would occur far enough away. We could not have ended it at the reef edge; that would have been silly. The oil industry cannot just do anything; it operates under the seas and submerged lands act, another piece of Commonwealth legislation, another layer of sensible resource management. It controls the expansion of activities within the petroleum industry and it does it very well. Environmental plans have to be in place before you can engage in some activity, whatever it is. That is in the submerged seas and lands act. We also have the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

We have layers of legislation and regulation to ensure that the iconic areas in the reef are not the only ones protected—because there are other areas that we do not know anything about. I know that Senator McLucas is very keen on preserving biodiversity wherever it exists. I know that she is aware that in other areas outside the reef, particularly in those deep waters, there is new biodiversity that we still have to protect. I do not think that they should be allowed to do anything they like outside the reef at all. In fact, this is why the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act throws a blanket across all of our territories and all of our waters. Look to the north-west and the oil and gas exploration happening there. Look at the Timor Sea. It is already happening. It is providing jobs for people. It is a wonderful industry that is well regulated, and it has not done a single thing to the environment over there—not one single thing. I think people are saying that we cannot possibly have oil development anywhere near anything that has some sort of icon status, but Senator Eggleston will tell you about some of the magnificent biodiversity areas off the north-west of Australia that are greatly valued. The industry certainly works in with the environment there.

Having a bit of a history in the fishing industry, I have to say that we have learned a bit from the approach taken by the oil industry, and I think there are still some lessons to be learned in the future. I think the industry's only failure is to not publicise and educate people on the very rigorous process that they have to go through to establish development programs and exploration. So where is the risk? Senator Moore and Senator Hogg touched on very important issues, including shipping. Last year, on the way to a committee hearing at Thursday Island, I flew over a boat stuck on the Great Barrier Reef. We all peered out of the window—fantastic stuff! Luckily it was not an oil tanker spilling oil everywhere, but somebody from the other side came to me and said, `We have got some real risks; we have had three boats hit the reef. We need to change the legislation.' This government is looking at that now. In concert with the IMO, we are putting things in place to make sure that shipping passes through these iconic areas without having a negative interaction with the environment.

It is anathema to me that people on the other side who represent people in Queensland would be saying, `I don't think we need to have a hydrocarbon industry at all.' The potential area between the end of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the EEZ is huge. It is quite possible there are going to be hydrocarbons in that area. I do not know why we need to resile from that and say, `Oh no, not jobs for Queenslanders. Not development. Not a future for our children. That would be horrific.' I just do not get why we should resile from an industry that has brought so much benefit in such a sustainable way to Australia already.

Understanding marine resources is about understanding the sorts of tools that you have to use. Marine parks are used to protect marine biodiversity. It is self evident. It is in the name, we have established it and that is the sort of thing they do. They are there to ensure that we prevent the mischief of unsustainable use or unsustainable behaviour, and I think the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority ensures that that is what happens within that area. We have the submerged seas and lands act and other acts that regulate the petroleum industry, and that is exactly what we should do. We have national reserves and their regulations to preserve special areas of iconic value. We have fisheries management plans. We have all these tools, but what we have to understand is this: if you want to somehow control the petroleum industry, I would have thought it would have been self evident that you would not use a marine park plan to do that. You have to look at the comprehensive suite of regulation and legislation in this country that adequately protects the Great Barrier Reef. This bill, if supported, will bring grief to Queensland rather than the benefits of the protective measures that this government have taken to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef is protected in perpetuity for our children.