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Tuesday, 9 March 2004
Page: 21069


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (1:49 PM) —I begin my comments on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2004 by thanking those who have made a contribution to the issue and those who have shown interest in the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's—and indeed the world's—seven wonders, I think. It is certainly Australia's greatest icon. The tourism that flows from the reef is very important to the area from which I hale in North Queensland and it is very important to the Australian economy. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the things for which people around the world recognise Australia, as is the magnificent way in which it has been managed, particularly in recent years by this government.

I also want to thank those who have been very involved in this issue, complex though it is. I want to thank the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators—AMPTO—and both David Windsor and Col McKenzie, both of whom have had a long involvement in this. David in particular has been involved with this for many years. Laurie Stroud has also been very much involved in issues relating to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the tourism aspect of it. Laurie and I go back a long way and I know his great dedication to the cause he serves through his representations on this. I also want to thank my colleagues in the area: Mr Warren Entsch, the Liberal member for Leichhardt in the north of our country; Mr Peter Lindsay, the Liberal member for the Townsville based seat of Herbert; Mrs De-Anne Kelly, the National Party member for Dawson; and Mr Paul Neville, the National Party member for Hinkler. Those four members, over the years, have continued to knock on Dr Kemp's door—and before him, on Senator Hill's door—and on my door to make representations on behalf of the industry.

I have heard from Senator McLucas and others that all of this good work is somehow a result of their efforts. I have just checked this: Senator McLucas has never been to my office. And I have checked this with Dr Kemp's office. She has never been to Dr Kemp's office to make a representation in relation to this particular issue. It is easy to get up and speak in the parliament and it is easy to issue press releases, but when you want to actually achieve something in this parliament and in the government of the nation you make representations to the minister involved, which in this case is the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.


Senator Sherry —Senator Kemp?


Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am not sure that Senator Kemp has ever been the minister for the environment, but certainly his brother, Dr David Kemp, is the minister for the environment—and a very good one. Senator Kemp did have an involvement in the environment when he was the shadow minister for the environment before the very successful 1996 election. A lot of the very good environmental policies of the coalition government are in fact a credit to the work that Senator Kemp did. But his brother, Dr Kemp, is doing a fabulous job in the environment portfolio, as did Senator Hill before him. I am very proud to mention them, because the Howard government has done more for the environment in Australia than any other government in history.

Senator McLucas has some concerns about mining, the marine park and RAP. I ask Senator McLucas: your party was in government for 13 long years; what did it do about all of these crucial things at that particular time? Did it do anything at all? It did nothing. So it is typical of the Labor Party and its current leader to just sit back, pretend the past never happened and try to attack the very good work that this government has done in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.

I particularly note that Senator Bartlett acknowledged the great work that the Howard government and Dr Kemp have done in so many ways in relation to the Great Barrier Reef, most notably in recent times with the Representative Areas Program under which over 30 per cent is reserved as marine park. I note Mr Entsch's very great support for that program. Indeed, Mr Peter Lindsay was perhaps the first voice to call for that quite some years ago—long before Senator McLucas woke up and thought she could make some political capital out of it. They have done a very good representative job to achieve what we have on the reef.

There is one difference between the way we have handled the Representative Areas Program and the way in which Labor governments have, which is very obvious in Queensland at the moment. Because of the Representative Areas Program, some of the fishermen will have a severe curtailment of their ability to maintain an income. Some of them will have to go out of the industry. What is the federal government doing? We say to those people: we understand that this is being done for the greater public good, so we will get the greater public good—that is, the taxpayer—to help you adjust. But, let us switch over to what the Queensland state government have done with their fisheries. They have done the right thing by the fisheries, I have to say. They were overfished and they have brought in fisheries plans. But have they even thought about anything to help those who will be put out of work by this? No, there has not been a red cent for it. The stark contrast that the fishing industry sees between the way the federal government does it by helping them with industry adjustment and the way the Labor Party do it by not giving them a brass razoo is so very obvious.

This signifies the difference between having a Howard federal government and a Latham federal government: we will do the work. We will compensate and we will adjust for those industries that have been affected by decisions of government; whereas a Latham Labor government, should that ever be, would simply do a lot of talking and do nothing about the Great Barrier Reef, as Labor did in the 13 years they were in government. They did absolutely nothing for the Great Barrier Reef. If they do do anything, they will simply ignore those whom their decisions impact badly upon.

The issue before us is one that we are conscious of. I think some of the speakers quite rightly said that in our GST package we made it very clear, in either section 87 or section 88, that there would be no GST on the reef tax—on the environment management charge, I should say, not the reef tax.


Senator Sherry —That's a slip; it's another tax.


Senator IAN MACDONALD —Mr Stroud and I remember when Labor introduced a reef tax. The government quite clearly said that there would not be a GST on the environment management charge. Any of you who have been in government—and there are not many over there who understand what government is about—will realise that the Australian Taxation Office is, some of us would say regrettably, a law unto itself. The Australian Taxation Office had a different view from the government, which has been discussed at some great length over a period of years between the government and the tax office.


Senator Sherry —It's your tax, and you've taken five years to fix it.


Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Sherry says it has been five years. Senator Sherry, you obviously have little idea about this particular issue. At least Senator McLucas does understand the issue, so perhaps you had better butt out of this and let someone who understands this particular bill give you some tuition and advice on it. In fact, because of the ATO rulings, which disagreed with the government's interpretation, there has been some misunderstanding and some uncertainty. I understand that, since 1 September last year, the ATO have insisted that parties collect the GST on the environment management charge. That is contrary to the government's policy and it is contrary to our understanding. We found it necessary to legislate to address that problem as quickly as we were able.

There are some people who will have to bear the GST for that short period of time. That is something we have talked through very closely with the industry and, in particular, with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators. They, unlike some others, understand the complexity of these issues. We have addressed the issue before us, and that is what this particular bill is all about. Unfortunately, I will not be able to finish my contribution before question time and will need a further five minutes or so after question time to sum up the bill before we proceed with it further.

Debate interrupted.