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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9475

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services) (5:21 PM) —That was one of the best exposes that I have heard on the subject of the Barrier Reef. It should have been good, too, because Senator Scullion has been not only a fisherman but also in charge of the fishing industry in Australia. Halfway through his speech I commented to my colleague Senator Eggleston: `He certainly knows his stuff.' And he should know his stuff because he has been out there working on the reef. Fishermen farm the sea; farmers farm the land. They both know that if they abuse their respective industries or regions— the land or the sea—they will not get a living out of them. So they are conservationists, because they live on the land or on the sea, they do not want to spoil it and they want to pass it on to another generation. I was very impressed by what the relatively new senator had to say in his presentation to the Senate today.

As a Queensland senator, I am fully aware of the benefits of the Great Barrier Reef. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I asked the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Kemp, to come up and examine some of the problems that he had with certain industry groups and to let them point out their position to him. While we were up there we met with the people at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority whose job— some people would say they are overzealous in doing it—is protection of the reef. Nevertheless, if they err in any way it is certainly for the protection of the reef.

For the life of me I cannot understand why we are going through this bill, because it seems to be have been thought up in about 30 seconds—it has a whole lot of latitudes and longitudes on it and about two lines of anything else. Senator Scullion raises the very important point that, if you draw a couple of lines on the map, get a few latitudes and longitudes and then ban everything within the 200-mile zone, you can then think: `That's good. We've done our bit for the cause.' I can understand the Greens and the Democrats, but I cannot understand the Labor Party. Senator McLucas is one of the sponsors of this bill and she lives in Cairns. Maybe she has given up on the fishing industry, because they have certainly given up on her. I do not know why she would proceed with a bill that jeopardises not only jobs for fishermen but jobs in the processing works, the engineering works and the slipways. Fishing is a very high-impact industry: a boat goes out for two or three weeks and has to be recommissioned every 12 months or so, given new nets and so on—the jobs that the fishing industry provides are immense. So, just willy-nilly, out of the blue, we have a map, we have the latitudes and longitudes of the 200-mile zone: `We don't have to do much about that, we'll just pick them up, write a bill, get up in the Senate and try and pass this private member's bill.' There is no thought of any consequences for the industries that depend on access to that zone.

It was the coalition government that formed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority some time ago. The National Party and the Liberal Party have taken the practical steps of bringing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and, for areas beyond the boundaries of the park, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Senator Scullion mentioned a number of other acts that protect the reef—I think I counted five or six that he reeled off. So why do we need this bill? I cannot understand it—but that is not surprising because I do not understand a lot of what the Labor Party does. What surprises me is that there are only two speakers supporting Senator McLucas on the Labor Party side.

Senator Eggleston —Be fair—there are three!

Senator BOSWELL —I will be fair, Senator Eggleston, as I do not want to misrepresent the situation. They have had three speakers, while we have put up a number of speakers to oppose this very silly piece of legislation. Senator McLucas must have drawn the short straw to present this. Let me put it to the tactics committee of the Labor Party: if you want someone to move a bill like this, do not get someone who comes from the Cairns environment, where Senator McLucas lives, because the bill, if it is passed, will impact on that area. Fortunately, I do not think it will get through the lower house. It will impact heavily on Cairns.

Senator McLucas —You know it won't affect the fishing industry!

Senator BOSWELL —Senator McLucas, I was suggesting that you should keep out of the fishing industry.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Hutchins)—Senator Boswell, address your remarks through the chair, please.

Senator BOSWELL —Sorry, Mr Acting Deputy President—I was just addressing some of the prospects. Do not say that the fishing industry will be set free and let loose.

Senator BOSWELL —You well know that I have just spent time acting in concert with the Labor Party in Queensland to get $10 million out of this government to remove 250 boats from the Great Barrier Reef. I am not saying that was a bad thing; I think it was a good thing. But do not think you can just say, `We'll put these zones out here and draw a few lines on the map and nothing is going to happen to the people that fish.'

Senator McLucas —It will not affect the fishing industry!

Senator BOSWELL —It certainly affected them in the Great Barrier Reef. They are affected already. What you are—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Carry on, Senator Boswell. Do not be derailed by interjections.

Senator BOSWELL —I am being provoked. It was the coalition that created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority through legislation. We also introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. We have done many things, yet we are being asked to make a decision on this bill on a Thursday afternoon. The Democrat and Labor proposers of the bill say it is needed to protect the Great Barrier Reef from oil prospecting and ultimately oil drilling. That just cannot happen. The bill aims to extend the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef region to the extent of the economic zone. I have commented on that already. It is just an easy target because the latitudes and longitudes are already there. However, what surprises me is that this bill is very like the bill proposed by the Democrats last March when the ALP would not support them. I do not know what has happened to the Labor Party. They have had a conversion on the way to Damascus and now want to get into bed with the Democrats.

It is quite interesting from this side of parliament to watch the ALP being outflanked by the Democrats and the Greens trying to outflank the Democrats. It is almost like a circle: everyone is trying to move to the Left. It is quite interesting to watch. If it was wrong in March last year, I cannot see why it is suddenly right this year. Maybe it is because of the election that is coming up in New South Wales. Both the Democrats and the ALP are very concerned that the Greens have a run on and they think they have to produce a few green credentials. That is the only possible reason I can think of as to why the ALP would change their position and start to hang on to the coat-tails of the Democrats when they would not support the bill last year. The pressure that is building up from the Greens is pushing them continually to the Left.

The government has already ensured that the Great Barrier Reef region is protected. Drilling and exploration are completely banned under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act.

Senator McLucas —In the marine park area.

Senator BOSWELL —The marine park area does not extend right to the zone. There is a buffer zone in there too. You want to take the buffer zone out another 200 or 300 miles. You do not explain why you want to do it or go into any of the detail. The greater area sought to be covered by the bill is already covered by the government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. There are about five acts that protect the Great Barrier Reef.

No-one knows more than I do what the Great Barrier Reef is and what it means to Australia as far as the environment and the economics of the tourism industry are concerned. I am very much aware of that. As I said, I spent the last four days of the most recent non-sitting period investigating certain things with the minister up in the area. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the four or five acts reeled off by Senator Scullion are much wider in application than this phoney bill that has just been put up. Our legislation covers many more applications than this bill which limits oil exploration. I repeat that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act explicitly bans exploration and mining within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The park is fully covered under the government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

In the 13 years that I sat here in opposition—

Senator Eggleston —What an experience!

Senator BOSWELL —It was a terrible experience but it hardened us and made us tough. It fired us up and we came out of it a lot tougher and much more determined that we would never spend any more time on the other side. The opposition have to go through that experience and, if they are going to put up legislation, they ought to do it better than this.

In the 13 years I was in opposition, the only coverage of the reef I saw was abysmal legislation in the late eighties, when Labor was in government, which really allowed Labor to consider exploration on the reef. The only protective legislation has come from this government. As I said, it was a coalition government that formed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Why didn't Labor support the bill last time? When Senator Bartlett tabled his information last year, it showed that Labor was engaged in active promotion of offshore mineral and oil exploration in Australian waters and they had abysmal, paltry and ineffective legislation. Senator Bartlett's documents showed that Labor had a plan to promote exploration in areas immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, right up to its boundaries, including the Townsville Trough. That is in contrast to what we have done. This is certainly a change in attitude. The Democrats tabled the documents, and it was there in black and white that Labor wanted to explore right up to the very edge of the national park.

I do not think any government has done more than this government to protect the Great Barrier Reef. I agree that some little things escape me, as Senator Scullion has just told the Senate. But I do not think he raised the prospect of us, on this side of parliament, putting in $10 million to reduce the size of the fishing fleet, by pulling out around 250 boats, because we believed that the reef was overfished. And so did the fishing industry. They came to us and said, `We have to reduce the fishing effort and we would like some assistance.' I went to Senator Hill, the minister at the time, and said, `We have to help these people.' He said: `If it's going to help the reef, of course we have to help these people. I'm only too pleased to take the proposition to cabinet.' I do not think Senator Scullion mentioned that, but it also shows what a responsible government we are as far as the reef is concerned.

The America's Cup has just finished, and many superyachts will be coming to Australia. I think 30 or 40 are going to come to Australia. These superyachts are owned by the wealthiest people in the world, and they want to have a look at our barrier reef. They will come here not only to look at the reef, which is a major attraction to them, but also to repair and refit some of their boats. These boats are worth $60 million, $80 million or $90 million, and every three or four years they have to spend 10 per cent of the value of the boat on a refit. The main attraction to them is the barrier reef but the spin-offs for us include the refitting and the servicing of the boats, and the victualling of the boats with food and beverages. The barrier reef is a huge attraction for these wealthy boat owners, but their arrival is going to be absolutely fantastic for the Australian economy. So why would we, on this side of politics, not take every care, every precaution, to protect the reef? Of course we will. We will, even to the point of going up there with the minister to talk to the farmers, the people and the fishermen to get their views and for them to exchange views with the minister in order to protect the waters in the lagoon of the Great Barrier Reef.

I do not see the need to introduce this bill. It seems to me that someone in the Labor Party party room must have said: `Gee, what are we going to put up on Thursday? Does anyone have anything available? Who has a private member's bill? Let's give that one a run.' It is an absolute reinvention of the wheel—a wheel which does not need to be reinvented. This bill is not going to be helpful to anyone. It certainly will not be helpful to the fishermen. I cannot see the slightest need to go ahead with this legislation. As I said, I think Senator McLucas drew the short straw. I do not know why Senator McLucas always falls for these sorts of things. I suppose she is a new senator and she is easy to catch. (Time expired)